Friday, 2 November 2012

Experiencing The Uncanny at Chapel Gallery

Frillip Moolog beings. 'Cyril', 'Reg' and 'Fin' in The Uncanny exhibition at Chapel Gallery, Ormskirk
In his essay The Uncanny (1919), Freud writes about how the uncanny is associated with the bringing to light of what was hidden and secret. He distinguishes the uncanny from the simply frightening by defining it as ‘that class of the terrifying which leads us back to something long known to us, once very familiar' (but now buried in our memory). 

When we experience something which is uncanny we often get goosebumps, we feel uncomfortable and confused. We try to put our finger on what it is that is disturbing but it isn’t always that simple to explain. 
The uncanny is something best understood by experiencing it oneself. 

I have been fascinated by the phenomenon of the uncanny for many years... actually since I was a small child.

If I were to curate an exhibition with the theme of The Uncanny then I would definitely include Beast, an early work by Laura Ford and Dish Cover (1993) by Dorothy Cross.
Beast is made from familiar and usually very comforting woolen blanket but Laura Ford's Beast is very definitely disconcerting. His pose seems that of a docile and harmless beast but actually he also is very sinister at the same time. You know you’ve played with blankets as a child, did you ever make your own beast; is this the same one come back to play again?

Beast By Laura Ford, New Art Gallery Walsall
Dorothy Cross’ Dish Cover appeals to me especially because of her incongruous mix of materials; there are not many people who feel completely relaxed in the presence of a piece of art such as this. I also like the apparent simplicity of this piece and enjoy that it can be understood on several levels.
”I rely on old tricks, old systems. The ancient, mysterious notion - collective knowledge - of the power of objects or colours…makes sense to me... I like to explore the histories of objects and how we project our fears onto them and read them as metaphors and symbols.” Dorothy Cross Art Monthly Feb 1997

Dish Cover (1993) by Dorothy Cross
My own earlier works were very heavily influenced by furniture forms, this modified chair from  Jurgen Bey’s Healing series (2000) was very inspiring. There are various ways of seeing things, chair? toy?... nothing is fixed and possibilities are limitless.

Chair by Jurgen Bey part of his Healing Series (2000) 
I currently have six Frillip Moolog beings in an exhibition entitled The Uncanny at Chapel Gallery, Ormskirk. There are drawings, paintings, sculpture, ceramics, photographic and video works in this show which has been curated by Ruth Owen.

In the foreground Rachel 2010 one of my Frillip Moolog beings. Her chiffon curtains are an obvious reference to human clothing and unbeknownst to the viewer the brass curtain rail has a long history in my family; having been part of not only my bedroom furniture but years earlier my mother's bedroom furniture too. 

In the exhibition essay Ruth says of my work, “ Kirsty E Smith’s three-dimensional beings are joyfully absurd. They marry furniture and fabric with elements suggestive of legs or hair. This incorporation of materials so closely associated with human characteristics encourages the viewer to anthropomorphise these essentially abstract works.”  

The exhibition is curated in such away that certain pieces seems to speak to one another.  'Rachel' and 'Colin' communicate well with this Caroline Watson painting
The Uncanny is most often associated with domestic spaces; familiar spaces, places that are lived in or at least were once lived and this is one of the reasons why the The Uncanny Room (2002) exhibition at Pitzhanger Manor was so successful. In that exhibition the curators, Tessa Peters and Janice West explored the ways in which certain objects can invoke a feeling of strangely elusive familiarity. 
They suggested that it is not just the object itself that gives rise to this uncanniness, but also the context in which it is experienced. 

Pitzhanger Manor was once the country residence of Sir John Soane. (He bought it in 1800 and completed his remodelling by 1804.) The house uses many typical Soane features: curved ceilings, inset mirrors, false doors, and wooden paneling with many cupboards; these all make it a beautiful and atmospheric building and one perfect for staging an exhibition on The Uncanny. 
An interesting viewpoint within the Chapel Gallery
For the current exhibition at Chapel Gallery Ruth had a challenge as the gallery is not a domestic space, however it is a central venue in the town of Ormskirk and has many visitors who visit on a frequent basis- these regular visitors will be extremely familiar with the space. 

By curating this themed exhibition visitors are exposed to the Uncanny from the viewpoint of twelve different artists and so they cannot help but notice that something is different about this exhibition.

 I like this view of Caroline Watson's 'Tinpot Cabaret' through the central bridge of my Frillip Moolog being 'Reg'. I also can't help but make visual connections between the fingers in Caroline's painting and the radiating stripes in 'Cyril'.  
Ruth summarised in her exhibition essay,
“In a very literal way, the gallery space itself embodies the sense of something familiar yet different; each time a new exhibition is installed. We hope you enjoy the current manifestation of the Chapel Gallery and that it draws you through to explore the curious uncanny world we have constructed with you in mind”.

The Uncanny 
show continues until 17th Nov 2012
Chapel Gallery,
Ormskirk UK
L39 4QR

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Being part of A Few More Friends: Something Stolen at Testbed1

Having fun, being playful and connecting with other creative people and laughing are all things that improve our own creative abilities. We know this but why then isn’t it higher up our list of priorities more of the time? Mmm I suppose the serious sensible things in life do have to take priority every now and then!

I was delighted to be invited to take part in Will Alsop’s latest show at Testbed1 last week; the title was A Few More Friends and the theme was Something Stolen.

Everyone who was there had worked with or was good friends with Will while others, like myself, have brushed shoulders with him much more recently. (Back in January of this year I helped to create one of his 3D paintings at The Public in West Bromwich).

A Few More Friends: Something Stolen was a one night only show and was the perfect combination of organisation and laid-backness. George Wade had sent out various exhibition plans in the run up to the show and I set up Hyacinth working to one of those plans but it was quite late into the evening before I realised that there was an even more recent plan; one that had only been finalised that day! So I may have inadvertently pinched someone else's spot on the plan but luckily everyone was very good spirited.

Model for Will Alsop's The Neuron Pod-science education centre for Queen Mary, University of London (due to be completed end 2013)
There was a mix of architects, designers, creative agencies and artists taking part. Suffice to say that everyone was creative and we were all there to have fun, connect with others and show off a little of our own creativity.

The more people that I chatted during the evening the more that I realised that Will Alsop is a magnet for mavericks and free thinkers: we had even more in common with each other than at usual art events or private views.

At first I was a little worried that Hyacinth might be interpreted as being straight, just pretty and traditional. Her body is a biscuit tin (a 1952 Carrs biscuit tin) and her legs are classic cabriole furniture legs, the kind usually associated with hand embroidered tapestry footstools. But her engaging personality shone through and she got a lot of positive interest over the evening. 

My friend Sydney Levinson was all too pleased to get up close and personal with Hyacinth's underbelly of scratchy synthetic grass.
There are often intimate details in my Frillip Moolog beings; things that people only notice after spending a bit of time with them. 

It is impossible to speak about all of the work on show and I don’t have photos of some of my favourite pieces either.

For example I especially loved Steve Bunn’s Shed and Aldi sculptures but I didn’t get a photo of either of these so here’s an out of focus photo of Steve himself! It was great to chat to him about the narratives that he weaves within his work and also good to spot the other half of another of his sculptures Remote Control (hidden in the beams above people’s heads.)
Steve Bunn with Bryony Simcox and Dom Simcox
Feix and Merlin’s installation of lit candles was pure genius. The candles spelled out Steal Me however each candle had Buy Be printed onto its surface. 

In their own words, “We stand for delight and enjoyment; truth and mystery; honesty and deception; texture, colour, light, humour, wit.” 

Their installation, Steal Me Buy Me Blow, was perfect and of course at the end of the night most of the candles had been stolen!

Earlier in the day we visited Designersblock’s London Design week show at The Southbank Centre. There we met and chatted to Flora McLean of House of Flora -who was also part of Something Stolen that evening.  

Here my son Dom models a House of Flora black felt cat hat at Designersblock and the neighbouring image shows part of Flora's cat burglar crime scene installation back at Testbed1 for Something Stolen.

Flora also teaches at the Architectural Association at RCA so it is fitting that she should design and wear a Tatlin’s Tower inspired headpiece. But of course no excuse required to wear an iconic peace of wearable art?

Meeting and chatting to Iain Carson and Paul Stallan at the end of the evening was brilliant. They were both overflowing with energy and enthusiasm, and they were very funny too! 

A very animated conversation; Bryony Simcox, Iain Carson and Paul Stallan
Their cheeky take on the Stolen theme was to gain access to a skip full of a day’s model-making waste from a very well known architects practice whose offices are very very close to Testbed1. 
With that exciting load of ‘scrap’ they played and had a huge amount of fun. 
Their construction/concoction called Tunnel Vision was delightful, exciting, fun, cheeky and jam packed with beautiful little moments that were worth photographing. I could go on... but I won’t!

Even an old broom was included!
And as I love stories and stories do have beginnings it was great to see Graham Peet and his team of animation and games design apprentices at Testbed1. Graham is the Exhibitions Manager at The Public in West Bromwich. The Public is one of Will Alsop’s designs and it was Graham who first invited me to exhibit some of my Frillip Moolog beings at The Public back in summer 2011. 
At the entrance to Testbed1 several screens showed the virtual version of The Public which Creative Apprentices designed using Little Big Planet 

Stories have beginnings but no ends they just go on and on and hopefully they never become predictable; surprises and enjoyable twists in a tale are good. Roll on my next exciting adventure!

Sunday, 22 July 2012

The power of The Scallop, Nest magazine and everything in between

Detail of Hurgle Lenz

I’ve been very busy in the studio lately; busy thinking and busy creating. As an artist thinking time is vital; it is one of the most important elements of the creative process. 
I have read articles about creative thinking but in my experience the only thing required to be creative is periods (long or short) where you can let your imagination run wild and just see what comes out. 
Sometimes other things in my life can take over my thoughts and at those times having playful and fun thoughts can be nigh on impossible. 
BUT being an artist is what I’m about so whenever my mind has a chance to it is thinking about possibilities.

I have just completed a new being. She / he is called Hurgle Lenz and is a close relation of Mi Wawa.
Mi Wawa, Hurgle Lenz and a third new Frillip Moolog being (who will also be large in size) together comprise my commission for Wirksworth Festival.
When I put my proposal forward to the Wirksworth Festival Committee back in April. I felt that it was completely and absolutely right that these three beings should have the opportunity to inhabit the ancient and atmospheric space of Wirksworth’s St Mary’s Church this September. I am delighted that the committee agreed with me!

As I don’t want to spoil the surprise I won’t reveal all of Hurgle Lenz just yet but see above photo for a tiny peek.....So now let's talk about Scallops!

I’ve always loved stripes and when I was a little girl learning to knit I felt that there was nothing more satisfying than changing colours of knitting yarn and getting onto my next stripe. Then back in my teenage years I realised that my perfect job I would allow me to wear dangly earrings and stripey jumpers on a daily basis. Many of the Frillip Moolog beings have stripes in them (Colin is one such example) and these stripes can take on interesting contours. Bettina is made up of segments with feathered seam definition and in Madeleine I let the contours and stripes continue right through to Madeleine’s ‘hair’.

Back in March 2011, I had the opportunity to read a few issues of the intriguing and quite idiosyncratic Nest magazine (now sadly defunct) and was captivated by the issue dedicated solely to The Scallop.

Joseph Holtzman, whose baby Nest was, really understood how as humans we love to handle objects and if you ever get the opportunity to read an issue of Nest you will understand just what I mean. Don’t be surprised if there is a hole drilled right through the centre of the pages or, as in the Scallop issue, the magazine’s edges are actually scalloped themselves. 
It gives a whole new take to the act of flicking through a magazine. (I still flick from back to front... not your logical and linear magazine reader).

....."In its seven years, Nest won two National Magazine Awards and gained a loyal following in creative circles, less for the interiors it featured than for the risky ways it featured them...
...It's more about the pathologies of interior design than its perfect execution...
...The photographer Nan Goldin, the fashion designers Todd Oldham and Karl Lagerfeld, the novelists Michael Cunningham and Dennis Cooper and the artist Richard Tuttle helped Mr. Holtzman prove his point. Mr.Tuttle said that Mr. Holtzman, with his almost baroque approach to graphic design, ''channeled the collective unconscious, to give us the pleasure of ornament before we even knew we wanted it.''
New York Times (article by Fred A. Bernstein).

I was already working on Mi Wawa when I experienced the Scallop issue of Nest and it was exciting to realise that the curvaceous sculpted stripes that I was working with were forming scallops.

Back in 2010 writer Anneka French had asked me if there was a special name for the padded tubes that I liked to work with. Anneka wrote the exhibition text for one of my solo shows, Inventions of the Mind and more recently her essay, Lurking with Intent: A short essay on the sculptural practice of Kirsty E. Smith which was published in the ‘Waiting’ edition of Conjunction magazine.

This illustration leapt from the pages of Nest. I feel excited that my current Frillip Moolog beings are an evolution of the Scallop: they are part of history! 

Suddenly it was obvious that I have held a passion for The Scallop for a long long time. I have quite a collection of scallop photos in my own library of images; here’s a small selection.

A favourite holiday photo from years ago

This vase has sat on my studio window sill for a couple of years now

Vases designed by Constance Spry for Fulham Potteryware. This display was photographed at Quindry, Lillie Road, London SW6 7LL

You've got to just love this ceramic butter dish in the form of a WW2 Anderson air raid shelter!

A Photoshopped sketch for Bristle, one of my early Frillip Moolog beings.

The curvaceous form of a Paul paraffin heater

Cute squidgy and spongy paint rollers.... and together they form some lovely scallops.

Grayson Perry strikes again!  Check out these scallops with their own scalloped edges! 

Mi Wawa, Hurgle Lenz and the being that I am currently working on all have a central element of a vintage cooling element from a dairy farm milk tank. This common element unites these larger sculptures as a small body of work, but perhaps more importantly in each of these beings I have experimented further with making sculpted curvaceous forms. I have moved the scallop on from its status as a mere decorative edging and developed it into a tool to construct sculptural forms (or as I prefer to call them Frillip Moolog beings).

Forthcoming Show 
Wirksworth Festival 8th- 23rd September 2012
Commissioned Frillip Moolog beings will inhabit St Mary’s Church Wirksworth.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Potatoes, Celebrities and Ornament in Contemporary Art

Is this a blog post about potatoes or is it really about the merits (or not) of decoration in contemporary art? That question sounds intriguing but maybe it just demonstrates the power of the humble potato! You only have to say the word ‘potatoes’ in our house and someone will respond with, “What’s Taters?”, a line from Lord of the Rings which was immortalised in this classic little Albino Blacksheep animation .

I have a love of art galleries and museums and for me visiting them is akin to dipping your hand into a deep bran tub of treasures; you just don’t know what you will pull out. You may have visited for a museum for a specific reason but while there you are guaranteed to stumble across other unexpected delights. 

Back in October 2011 I visited Brighton Museum and Art Gallery. It had been more than ten years since my last visit but I did remember that they had a good collection of furniture design classics which I fancied seeing again. 
However it has been this ceramic potato that has haunted me for these past few months (see photo above).
I really did a double take when I first saw it; it looked like a potato and yes the label confirms that it is in fact a ceramic stirrup cup in the shape of a potato. I know that fruit and vegetables have inspired ceramic artists for years but this is a potato not something pretty like a pineapple! I mean are the eyes on the surface of this potato decorative... they do say ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’! 

Over the past months questions around this potato’s beauty and decoration have lurked in my mind. Of course there are the other questions too;  I have wondered if there is any link at all between the choice of decoration and the function of this 18th century stirrup cup. It could be that its owner’s spirit of choice was Poitín (made from fermented potatoes) or maybe the potter just had a sense of humour and a bit of a thing about potatoes? You can spend too much time pondering over such things.

There is an ongoing debate about the role of Decoration in Contemporary Art and you can watch this ICA video What is the Use of Ornament in Contemporary Art and Architecture? for more on that. A fair chunk of the debate revolves around architecture but if you want the most entertainment fast forward to 25 minutes in when Grayson Perry speaks. 

Grayson and I have something big in common we both believe in the power of stories; we both believe that humans thrive on stories and actually need them to keep us sane. In his presentation Grayson points out that decoration is used to tell stories so in fact decoration is actually providing a much needed function; decoration is adding to our wellbeing and keeping us sane.

I am a fan of his playful approach and humour. Playfulness doesn’t mean that a piece of art is lightweight, no far from it. I would say that we need an element of playfulness to lighten the heavy load of life. Playfulness and humour give us a lift and remind us of all the fun that there is to be had. 

I will shortly be exhibiting in At Play 2012. Boris is one the six Frillip Moolog beings included in this 3 venue project. Although I like detail (some would say decoration) I am not drawn to ‘fussy’ and patterned fabrics or materials. Boris is one of the exceptions as a major component of this strange little being is the vintage Win-el-Ware table mats. 

Why do I have several sets of these mats, is their appeal the kitschness of the (decorative) images? What is kitsch? (Watch the complete ICA video to hear Charles Jenks thoughts on kitsch and postmodernism). 
Boris by Kirsty E Smith 2008

For me I think that the strongest appeal of these mats is because of the stories that they tell. They obviously remind me of a time when a visit to your grandma would mean a tea table laid with them (remember High-Tea). Their small size reminds us how items of food have all got so much bigger now (except WagonWheel biscuits). Their images tell stories; I mean fox hunting images on polite table mats, that would be unheard of now! 

When I made Boris I did have some politically incorrect thoughts such as, “Foxhunting is thirsty work.” 
Of course the potato above is labelled as being a stirrup cup so maybe a good swig of something strong at the beginning of the hunt and then a nice cup of tea at end?
Vintage Win-el-Ware tablemats
I have been saving these food themed Win-el-Ware mats for the right occasion. But they lead me to thoughts of perfect hostesses and chiffon negliges. 

Take a mythogeographical detour and have a peek at my (very entertaining) cookery book Celebrity Cooking: dishes chosen by the famous
It was a whole different world back in 1967 when the secret ingredient in Meat Loaf Exotique’s was a banana and Julie Andrew’s very basic recipe was upgraded from stew to casserole. 
Grayson Perry’s selected slides for his contribution to the What is the Use of Ornament in Contemporary Art and Architecture? debate at the ICA are eclectic. They range from gothic churches and castles in Bavaria to a couple of his own pots and also include a photo of some decorative tiles ("looking like a poor man’s Guernica") outside a butcher’s shop in France. Yes eclectic that appeals to me; I enjoy taking inspiration from all around me.

I too have a nice photo of tiles in a Spanish doorway but for an extra special tiling job you have to make a special visit to the public toilets in Chichester.

Now what story was this workman telling us; was he homesick for his farm childhood or was he just bored stiff? I see a freethinking artist breaking loose from the shackles of council regulations.

At Play 2012
Dates for New Ashgate Gallery element of this 3 venue exhibition
08 Jun-14 Jul 2012
Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 5pm
New Ashgate Gallery, Waggon Yard, Farnham, Surrey, GU9 7PS.UK

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Grayson Perry and a pilgrim's detour to Nuneaton

Visiting the Grayson Perry show, The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman, at the British Museum earlier this year was a truly memorable experience. But there are quite a number of dramatic twists before we even got a sniff of his gorgeous motorbike!

Where to start? 
1. Agreeing on a date that suited the whole family and buying our train tickets.
2. Several days elapsing and me forgetting to actually book the exhibition tickets.
3. Drama, tears and despair (mine) when I discovered that the British Museum had sold out of tickets for the day that we planned to visit and had bought train tickets for.
4. Emotion and lots of kindness... The British Museum put some tickets aside for us. (They must keep a few spare for special cases!)

So our train chugged out of Lichfield and off we went....
But we didn’t get very far before the real drama started. Sadly someone committed suicide  and used our train to do the deed.

There was more drama, a very shaken but professional train driver and conductor, police, air-ambulance, police dogs and free water!
Three hours later we crawled the half mile into Nuneaton and that is where our Alternative Grayson Perry Day began.

It was weird. Of course it was serious and extremely sad that someone had chosen to end their life but the black humour wouldn’t stop and what was the first shop that we should happen across in Nuneaton?.... The Air Ambulance Charity Shop. So we bought some Warwickshire and Northamptonshire Air Ambulance pencils; a memento of the day 

In true British style we started the alternative day with tea and bacon butties in a proper caff. I tried to see the specialness of our unplanned visit to Nuneaton. It was almost a matter of, “What would Grayson Perry think?”

Everything was seen through a lens of it being ... not the Grayson Perry exhibition.

So we took in the sights of Nuneaton, a once coal mining and textile manufacturing town which is now fairly down at heel.

Nuneaton Library, no comparison to the British Museum but a strange little building that still catches my interest. I used to pass it when I came to Nuneaton for hula-hooping classes!

Next stop was the Museum and Art Gallery. Grayson did you know that George Elliot came from Nuneaton?
How about Larry Grayson? Yes he came from Nuneaton too!

This was really very entertaining.
Remember 'Shut that door' ?

To be honest I love these small museums. I like to be surprised. You can be sure that I will always visit a museum and art gallery in any town that I visit. And for me the less ‘done up’ it is the better. I am interested in idiosyncrasies and individuality. In this age of globalisation the small town museum must cling onto their individuality.

Yes Grayson Perry would probably have found something that he liked in Nuneaton's museum and Art Gallery. In the costume gallery I felt very drawn to this chunky radiator; Plenty of curvaceous ridges and a sensual form.

Also this dressing table of course. 

Small tangent here.... 
My mum had a kidney shaped dressing table in her bedroom when 
she was a little girl. I had the same one in my bedroom when I was little and years later I rescued it from my Dad’s shed. I salvaged the brass curtain rails from it and these rails are now part of Rachel (see next photo) a Frillip Moolog being that I completed back in 2010.

Back to Nuneaton....
A street fountain but not one worthy of anyone wishing to drink holy waters. Honestly what were these town planners thinking of when they put this here? 

But when we did get to actually sample the delights of The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman a few days later it was interesting to note that my absolute favourite of Grayson’s selected items from the British Museum's collections was a small lead item (very similar to the one in the following photo). This  curiously shaped item from medieval times was labelled as being a pilgrim badge. 

That little item stuck in my mind and days later I suddenly realised. Of course it's obvious (to me) those elbow shapes and the bulbous body remind me of the ants in the animated film, A Bug's Life. 

Strange I know but it's just the way that my brain works. These visual connections cannot be denied!

I had reason to visit Scunthorpe a few weeks later. Yes of course I went to visit an art gallery (20:21 Visual Arts Centre ) but I was also delighted by the local museum. 

In Scunthorpe's Museum of Lincolnshire Life there is tons of fantastic stuff! They have fossils coming out of their ears, hoards of Roman coins and quite a few of these medieval lead curiosities.

Although the label in the British Museum said that it was a pilgrim badge I’m believing the museum in Scunthorpe's label....ampullae. Yes these would have been used to carry home some holy water. 

Here is my Air Ambulance pencil alongside two of my other favourite pencils. You can't beat a sleek black pencil topped with a pink or green Swarovski crystal. 

Not quite Swarovski Crystals but fantastically fun, colourful and sparkly none the less, these coloured gems add the perfect finishing touch to the leather saddle on Grayson Perry's spectacular hand-built motorbike (Alan Measles' pope-mobile). 

Can you ever have too many finishing touches?

The exhibition itself was very definitely worth the two attempts that it took us to get there but even having visited the exhibition in the flesh is that enough? 

In the words of Alan Measles, Grayson Perry's 50 year old teddy, 
"How is a young demi-god to get on without an online profile?"

Yes of course! 
Since discovering Alan Measles' blog I have had many moments of bursting into spontaneous laughter. Here's an excerpt to whet your appetite.
The chattering classes fall silent and all across Hoxton, Hampstead, Primrose Hill, dinner party guests take another unconstrained chug on the Chardonnay in a desperate attempt to cover the embarrassed silence that has hollowed out their cultural lives now that ‘it’ is over. Salads wilt and confessional writings die on uncharged I-pads across swathes of good school catchment areas.

School children sit stumped, crayon in hand all enthusiasm for a drawing gone, the playground quietens, Beckham, Bono or whoever they ape in play these days no substitute for the briefly glittering shrine to a small relic of tatted foam. ‘Daddy’ they say ‘ I want to be wandering holy man when I grow up’.

Alan Measles, the bear behind Grayson Perry writes rib ticklingly funny blog posts. He is wise, irreverent and far far from being pretentious. 

Grayson Perry the artist and Alan Measles the demi-god and blogger; what's not to like?