Thursday, 14 May 2020

Mierle Laderman Ukeles - her talk on youtube

Mierle Laderman Ukeles 'Maintenance/Survival/and its Relation to Freedom' YouTube. 14 Feb 2013, 2,558 views - 1 hour 32 minutes.


Krzysztof Wodiczko, Professor of Art and Design at Harvard University, who introduces this talk, asks if an artist by working with people can de-alienate the worker whose plight was explained by Marx.
Twelve minutes in Ukeles appears, the screen goes blank disconcertingly but then she is back, an impressive, calm, assured speaker with a wealth of experience and plenty to say.

Useless mentions names familiar from the avant garde of the 60's - Pollock, Duchamp and Rothko, pointing out that that they didn't change diapers and that when she had a baby daughter she was suddenly in a world of maintenance, of both mind bending boredom but also rediscovering the world as her baby did.
In October 1969 Ukeles wrote her Manifesto, unfortunately shown on slides too fuzzy to read, and she found her theme of connecting with the world's maintenance workers and making her art about them and their vital work.

Ceremonial Arch 4-1988,93,94 and 2016 Queens Museum photo Jillian Steinhauer

Ukeles explains several projects including the 30 year making of 'Fresh Kills' a park on Statton Island, New York, constructed on top of fifty years deposited garbage, where she is organising that a million people donate valued objects, hand size, to be documented, archived, and incorporated into the walls and paths encased in glass blocks.

She tells her audience about working with snow truck drivers in Japan to make a mechanised ballet based on Romeo and Juliet.

She also met garbage truck drivers to make a display in a Madison Avenue art parade. She describes holding on to get these drivers to come up with their own ideas because, 'it can't be art if I tell you what to do'- in great contrast to Anthony Gormley who used volunteer labour to carry out his instructions for the many terracotta figures made for his 'field for the British Isles'.
She says in that work or in the studio it's the same process of waiting for the ideas 'to rise up, in the vacuum of terror'.

However it is Ukeles 11 month project in the 70's when she shook hands with every one of the 8,700 sanitation workers in New York City, thanking each one and rising early to walk all the garbage collection routes with them that made her famous and which is so relevant now because the worth of all maintenance workers is so apparent in the Coronavirus crisis.

Book by Patricia C Phillips, 2016

Ukeles has earned her place in the contemporary canon of art made from social cooperation.
One can argue that she might have been more involved politically in the workers' union struggle but it's certainly worth giving her projects your attention.

 In her Manifesto Ukeles said anything was art if she said it was - and I believe her.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Keith Piper 'The Perfect City' on vimeo

Keith Piper 'The Perfect City'.  2007 12mins. Vimeo.

This video work was first shown as a two screen installation in PM Gallery London, funded by Film London.

The version on Vimeo is a compelling short narrative by the artist with a complex visual series of images. There is the paper model of the design he is making of an archetypal city. There are shots of people in London, of police, of beautiful scripts in different languages, of fire and water, ofthe Tower of Babel in past art, of maps.
The sound includes quietly sonorous menacing music and a ticking clock.
Piper speaks of the 'memory of drowning'- floods- the refuge Tower of Babel that he says challenged God.
Aptly for our time of Coronavirus  there is a section on contamination, pandemics, the use of infected bodies as weapons, of smallpox inflicted on  Native Americans.
What Piper calls 'the memory of amputation' shows boundaries between areas of wealth and poverty. This is followed by 'cleansing', regulation, surveillance, the words are spoken calmly with the disquieting soundtrack behind them.
Finally there is burning, the destruction by God of Sodom and Gomorrah, his angels having failed to find ten pious people. Fires are mentioned that destroyed St.Pierre in Martinique, and in  Monserrat, both in the twentieth century, and before that the Fire of London, 1666,  that ended the Plague. Piper says that God seems to have a fondness for fire.
It ends with Piper reciting that God gave Noah the rainbow sign- still as we see recently a symbol of hope as we in lock down to  escape our current pestilence put rainbows in our wi- but 'it won't be water but fire next time'.

I don't know if Piper believes in God or simply finds the Biblical stories suitably apocalyptic. It's not a narrative with a clear plot but what is clear is that he expects the worst.

Keith Piper, born 1960 in Malta but brought up and living in Britain as a black artist, part of a group called the BLK art group, has done a great deal of work, exhibited widely,  and teaches at Middlesex University.
I loved his work that  I saw in Derby about how everyone has moved from one place to another, everyone's family have been migrants for personal betterment or to escape something. This was done very cleverly by inviting visitors to answer a questionnaire which was projected on the wall to reveal every person as a migrant.
He has done work about slavery- the 'Lost Vitrines' that were installed in the V & A to bring a new awareness about the Georgian exhibits and that era.
Recently in 2017 his 'Unearthing the bankers' bones' used fiction, history painting and video to make a complicated show about the evils of class and race discrimination.

Keith Piper is not an artist to repeat a signature piece. His work tackles serious and political themes in a variety of media. It's often complicated and requires time to absorb.
I think he is saying important things in imaginative and powerful ways.

Somehow this doesn't make him well known but he keeps at it with a controlled passion.

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Leonardo da Vinci - on tv

Leonardo da Vinci   

BBC One - Da Vinci: The Lost Treasure

I am watching Fiona Bruce go from country to country showing on tv Leonardo da Vinci's work.
She started with the Salvator Mundi in New York thought to be by him. To me it looks unlike his work, too ill defined and fuzzy.
She is good at this exposition, rather self consciously strutting about in Italian sunshine in a very expensive looking yellow dress, then in a dark embroidered number.
There are lovely Italian words - the sound entrances me, thinking of a visit to Florence with my beloved husband, sadly killed by docetaxl. How glad I am we went as he had always wanted to.

When I was an undergraduate we had a trip to Italy to study art but the Last Supper was closed as it was Easter, so I have only seen a copy in Caglieri in Sicily. Fiona Bruce shows a us a richly coloured English copy. Such a lively composition.

Then it's the Madonna of the Rocks - Luke Syson from our National Gallery talks about light and sfumato. A restorer is shown working on it.

We get a good explanation of Leonardo's multi faceted explorations into weapon design and anatomy.

Now we get to the Mona Lisa, which I remember feeling surprised to find so small.
I think it's the way the background doesn't match up in a straight line that keeps us looking, and of course the slight smile, about to change, to react to us as the viewer as if we have just met her, and the quiet glow of her in the darkness.

So, ten minutes left for the discovered painting, revealed by infra red photography.
I still don't buy it - not that I could afford it.

They say it's a real Leonardo.

If so its his worst.

Friday, 13 March 2020

Issues re Corona Virus 2020

Issues re virus
Thinking about stuff.

1.Many people who are old, sick or alone won't find it that much different to 'self-isolate' from normal.

2.If everyone who is sick stays at home there should be a lot fewer colds and normal flu and a change from virtuous masochistic culture.

3. Would it be a good time to try out universal pay to cover food-claim it back from most later in tax?

4. If children are left with un checked adults there could be increased abuse.

5.Many parents might enjoy being at home with their children and want a life with a better work-life balance.

6.Home-schooling might increase in future and children might enjoy not being in chaotic overcrowded bullying environments where classes are too large. Some might learn more.

7 A year with no exams might be ok.

8. Time to read and play music and talk together at home.

9.Would be far worse without online stuff and phones.

10 Might be pressure to improve daytime tv.

11 Apparantly a lot cleaner air in Bejing etc where factories have closed?

12 Will humanity one day be wiped out by a similar but more deadly virus spread?

13.If they accidentally find a cure for the common cold during research for the new virus will we get the cure?

14. Motive to move the homeless into accommodation so they aren't coughing all over those that pass by?

15. Rationing may be needed if people panic buy.

Thursday, 5 March 2020

Evelyn Williams and Carlos Zapata at Anima Mundi, St.Ives

Evelyn Williams and Carlos Zapata at Anima Mundi, St.Ives, Cornwall, UK

Feb 22nd to March 31st , 2020

Evelyn Williams died 2012, aged 83, having completed a body of work said to be hard to categorise and having left a Trust to help women artists. I was told at Anima Mundi that the director, Joseph Clark, found a painting by her in a charity shop and purchased it. It turned out to have been stolen from a show and he decided to organise this exhibition of her paintings. There were two books about her oeuvre to peruse.

Most of the works had two figures in them so the relationship between them seemed to be the subject. One had a naked woman emerging from the side of a naked man, recalling the biblical creation story.

I didn't like the very pink fleshy tones of the bodies, a bit like Lucian Freud but not I think observed but imagined. The backgrounds contrasted with the bodies to emphasise them as the focus. They are striking works but to me didn't embody clear feelings. Maybe they are worked on too long which results in a certain heavy handedness. One small picture of two heads in watercolour was much more free and spontaneous

looking so I thought the artist in making large works had found it difficult to maintain her freshness of approach or maybe didn't value that and wanted to make more deliberated images when working on a larger scale. The artist said her subject was 'inner thoughts, other worlds'.

Reading about her I am horrified to see Evelyn Williams was sent to board at Summerhill before she was three and spoke of a remaining sadness from this. I would say she suffered abandonment by her parents. She also felt her whole generation were affected by the holocaust and did a great picture of a huge bomb exploding over a mass of people- depicted naked to show their vulnerability and give a timeless quality.

Anima Mundi shows a interesting video on the website of an interview of the artist on bbc Wales 2007 and I am left pleased to learn about her.

Prices were between £2,800 and £13,000

Carlos Zapata is from Colombia but lives in Falmouth. He uses a variety of materials for his sculptures of figures and works in different sizes. There are references to gods and to celtic culture. The waxed steel 'sacred book' has ragged looking pages with no discernible text as if it has been burnt.

I liked best 'celtic mother', in grey polyphant stone, smaller than life size and a gentle, tender image.

There was an expressive charcoal drawing 'bog man' and a roughly textured textile version in 3D.
'Celt' was a painting of a man as if dead with the head and genitals blocked out by added pieces of hessian - the reason not being apparent.

I like his figures when they are whole but the torsos and heads are more macabre.

I've liked other works by Zapata more than these but it's always interesting to see his sculptures because at their best they have are simple directness that is very appealing.

Prices are from £1,800 to £7,200.

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Cecilia 'Leaps and bounds' performance at Porthmeor studios, St.Ives, UK

Cecilia, 'Leaps and Bounds' , a performance at Porthmeor studios , St.Ives, Cornwall, UK
29th Feb 2020

About 25 of St.Ives arty cognoscenti assembled to watch this 13 minute free performance.
I invited someone from the Pool club but he said it would be ultra sophisticated middle class impenetrable nonsense.

So was it?

The dancer was a largish woman, probably over 50, who moved very deliberately and confidently, using various props and with a recording playing of seagulls, song and guitar.

There was a photo of a young man, a womb shape on the floor outlined in red cord, blank paper at first cradled like a baby and then torn up, finally some of it made into a bird shape that could fly away. There was some vigorous sort of South American dance, a bit scary at eye level from where I sat. There were stones moved and placed in a line and the performer sat gazing out of the window, sometimes reacting as if sharply noticing something.

I took it to be a sorrowful discarding of the torn up paper, perhaps the unlived life of a son who died? The dancing seemed a wild attempt to maybe pretend to be happy, or a brief respite from sorrow, followed by looking through the window for a shred of hope.

It had meaning to the maker but wasn't all that clear for the viewer. Dance usually has a written program that tells you the story and can be read before or after. As it was, seeing it cold, I spent all my time puzzling over the meaning.

At the end we were invited to ask questions but this was rather cut short by the performer saying she had said what she wanted to say in the performance. We were given cards on which to respond. Most people reacted by doing curvilinear drawings which were pegged on a line. I put a question mark.

I thought it was for the artist a lost opportunity to find out honestly what folk made of it.
These opportunities are rare outside college and here was a group of people who could have helped her communicate better in future - if she had been really interested in their understanding.

Reflecting on it I seem to have formed a cohesive interpretation - so perhaps inviting a response by email later would have been appropriate.

It was not nonsense, it was an effort to express something meaningful, done with serious intent and worthy of respect.

Note: I found out later that Cecilia is a student on the Porthmeor Programme - a lengthy mentoring course for artists.

Friday, 28 February 2020

Michael Wood, bbc channel 4 tv., 'The Lady of the Mercians' from the series 'King Alfred and the Anglo -Saxons'

Michael Wood, bbc channel 4 tv., 'The Lady of the Mercians' from the series 'King Alfred and the Anglo -Saxons'

This hour long program shows Michael Wood with his usual impish enthusiasm exploring the life of Aethelflaed in the tenth century in Britain, before England existed as a unified country, Queen of Mercia, at a time when she needed to either fight or to negotiate with Vikings and did both.

I thought this program was really beautifully made. Every shot of bleak countryside or present day towns was stunningly beautifully composed and lit. A shot of a field's rich earth surface was like an abstract painting. My own home town of Derby, a place the Vikings named, was shown looking so beautiful that I almost felt like returning there.


Derby - Sadlergate

Suitably spare and evocative music was used.

In addition to this there were many images of medieval manuscripts, hand written, which the presenter was able to read and translate from the Anglo Saxon. There was an elaborate illustrated family tree of the Monarchs on a scroll. There were drawings done with that lively economy of line in pen and ink that is so delightful and with which in my own drawings I feel a great affinity.


Michael Wood talked to various learned historians and archaeologists who each made interesting contributions.
We saw precious objects and ancient buildings. Above all we learnt that occasionally a woman could have a lot of power and influence in the middle ages.

There were a lot of battles and inhumane slaughter. It was almost the custom that plotters would murder rival heirs to the throne.

Returning to our present political democracy it seemed with all its difficulties a good deal more tolerant and peaceful.

Michael Wood turned the pages of a book made about a thousand years ago - not wearing gloves, in direct contact with the scribe who wrote it, and we participated in his wonderful enthusiasm and knowledge.

Note- there is a controversy over the term 'Anglo-Saxon' which has been used by racists in USA
but was used from early times without any such connotations as is explained by Michael Wood elsewhere.