Thursday, 8 November 2018

Onya McCausland LANDSCAPES

Onya McCausland LANDSCAPES 
Anima Mundi Gallery, St.Ives 
October 20 to December 8 2018

From outside the show looks minimal..Several yellow ochre and red ochre canvasses with geometric designs, very carefully painted. One or two with organic branched designs. Some overhead plans of sites on the floor.
On the back of the price list are grey small print details about mine sites and water treatment although the why and how are not clear. Prices from £1,600 to £10,600.
The artist is ‘working with the Coal Authority to designate five Mine Water Treatment schemes as living paintings that perform the production of ochre, while generating an income for the local economy and producing high quality pigment for artists.’
The images are hung sparsely and look elegant and people are ecstatic about them in the visitors’ book.

Isabelle Bucklow has written an exhibition essay, to my mind contender for art bullshit of the year at 4 pages of pretentious references to Calvino, to ‘porosity between the raw and the cooked’, Freud, Manzoni, Bataille, Nietsche, Whitman, ‘time is not a container but a component, where all is in process, all is song’.,..’McCausland does not halt at the surface, rather she plunges into the depths of terrain entering into a dialogue with that which the earth provides.’

Anima Mundi takes a swerve into geometric abstraction from its usual slightly gruesome expressionism. Succombing to the St.Ives pervading quiet interior decoration?
Is it all a smugglers’  lantern?


Saturday, 27 October 2018

Two talks, Lubaina Himid and Nashashibi and Skaer

Lubaina Himid, Turner Prize Winner, talk at Pothmeor Studios, St.Ives Cornwall, 2018

Lubaina Himid speaks well. The moment she began I relaxed into the absolute pleasure of hearing
a well prepared talk by someone who can speak clearly with wit and also was adept at answering
various complicated questions at the end before we milled about with delicious soup provided
Lubaina Himid has taught at the University of Central Lancashire at Preston for a long time and
has been working also as an artist since 1981. Because of this busy life she found her residency at
Tate St.Ives in the 90's, when Mike Tooby was director, very valuable as a space and time for
uninterrupted concentration. She returns to work at Porthmeor studios next Spring and will give
more talks and invite people in to see her work in progress.
Her themes have included slavery, fear and dread, safety and survival, and her media have been
various, including wooden figures and painting on ceramics she found, or on wooden carts or on
Inspired by two piece East African clothing called 'tangas', which use text and image, she has
produced work including philosophy and politics and seeking an audience that imaginatively
respond. Often she allows the audience to touch or move elements of the installation. Lubaina
trained as a theatre designer and wants to communicate.
Recently Lubaina was at the Guardian for 3 days, one of the many opportunities now open to her
since winning the Turner prize. She has long collected all the pages of the Guardian that feature
images of black people and she has used them to make work that draws attention to the
unthinkingly insensitive juxtapositions that happen because no one is noticing how the pages work
Lubaina Himid told us that in the past her work was often made for shows in museums, referencing
their collections. Often she considered throwing out works because they were taking up space but
luckily was persuaded to keep them. Now that she is a famous Turner prize winner galleries are
keen to have her shows, allowing greater freedom to work in ways that museums cannot because
they need to be so careful of their objects.
At Folkestone Trienale Lubaina Himid showed 100 life size cut out freestanding figures, each of a
black slave with their real name, their slave name and their circumstances written on them. Visitors
could walk amongst them.
We saw an accompanying slide show of works, often brightly coloured, lively figures, always with
important ideas in the making, with consciousness of dire situations in life, but hopes for people to
work to improve society.
I was very impressed.

Tate St.Ives talk by Nashashibi and Skaer on their exhibition, October 2018

The audience persuaded the organiser that we would rather see the screen images than have light
stream in and that she needed to speak louder.The speakers were introduced by the curator who
said their names so rapidly that I did not get which was which. The speakers had not trained to use
microphones or to be animated and their delivery was tentative and glacier-like.
These two ex Turner nominees work together on projects using other peoples' art to prompt their
responses. I think of this as what Griselda Polock described as 'an avant-garde gambit' and I also
note the trendy a la Tacita Dean use of analogue film, then often translated to digital video.
The artists have the jargon, 'transgression', 'male gaze' etc., they have some ideas, but talking of
symbolic gestures I feel like making one because it's years since I felt so bored and I leave wanting
to scream. I sympathise with the priest at Matisse' Vence chapel who co-operated with them
Afterwards I went round the show.
It's an excuse to bring us a lot of interesting paintings from the Tate and elsewhere, Bonnard,
Gauguin, Nash, Sickert, the Lee Miller photo of her in Hitler's bath, etc. The artists have been to
New York to take photos of museum objects at night, to Hongkong to film the ex-British consul and
to Tahiti to shoot where Gauguin painted. They have selected all sorts of art with vague
connections. Their videos are so slow moving that I couldn't watch them through.They have
selected a few  contemporary women artists none of whom are very attention grabbing.


Monica Sjoo by Rupert White

Monica Sjoo by Rupert White.

This book is a condensed diary for Monica Sjoo, presented after a useful introduction about her life and work's contribution to art, feminism and Godess worship, so that it takes a sort of headlong rush through her life. After a while I really liked this dash through the years as I came across lots of names I knew and events I had been to and the whole era was evoked with all the earnest and
changing enthusiasms of youth. I found I was in 1982 at the demonstration against the US at Greenham 'Embrace the base' in which Monica Sjoo was also participating.

It is clear that Monica Sjoo found her kind of feminist spiritual belief must be linked with political action. She was very keen on ecology, leftwing trends, anti war protest and her own bisexuality.
She put a lot of energy into exhibiting widely and going to speak in several different countries.
Somehow she endured through the grief of the death of two of her three sons when they were quite young, killed one by a car hitting him and one by cancer. She then went onto suffer herself from cancer but went on contributing to events indomitably.
I do not particularly like Monica Sjoo's art in its highly stylised form, strangely similar in some ways  to socialist realism say in Diego Riviera's murals, but with a love of Neolithic monuments and belief that there were pre patriarchal religions that revered goddesses. My own feminism rejects idealising a list of the 'feminine' qualities although the idea that once in Crete images of women were worshipped I find an exciting probability that emphasises the cultural construction of patriarchy that came after.
'God giving birth' was an important work by Sjoo, first shown in St.Ives,1970, often seen as controversial and used many times in various publications. Her book, 'The Great Cosmic Mother' was named by Alice Walker as her favourite work of literature and I now want to take it out to read again.
I found out a lot about Sjoo from Rupert White's researches and I ended up respecting her wide ranging work and realising that it amounts to more than I had thought before.

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Abigail Reynolds Lost Libraries talk and Book

Abigail Reynolds:Lost Libraries.

This event was a film and talk at the library in St.Ives as part of the September festival 2018. Abigail Reynolds had won a BMW grant that financed and organised every detail of her proposed trip on the Silk Rd from China to Rome to the sites of 15 lost Libraries.. Part of the deal was also the production of a book which looked very beautiful and can be purchased or borrowed from the library. The film was made using an old 16mm Bolex movie camera and edited to be shown as two simultaneous images, done because the medium of books presents two pages to us. It was 18minutes long and designed to be looped but we viewed it from start to finish. It was rather enigmatic, full of brief romantic glimpses and ranged from her small daughter asking questions to the artist being arrested in Egypt and a shot of her next to the magnificent BMW motorcycle provided for her to ride part of the way.

Abigail then told us more about the project and how her adventurous trips went. I hoped she was recording this because she spoke very well about both the personal aspects of being a woman undertaking the three visits and about the importance of libraries as non commercial public places and the danger of possibly future disintegration and loss of digital media. She chose film deliberately as a physical medium and wanted to actually go to the places to experience them.

The questions from the audience were very interesting although the one referencing the first translation by a woman of an ancient greek work into english was made by a man whose lengthy sideways approach to asking a question verged on giving a talk of his own.

Abigail spoke enthusiastically about the privately endowed large libraries in Americnd I was surprised to hear her attributing the present lack of valuing of uk libraries which are closing down not to the political Conservative government austerity cuts but to the fact that people took for granted what the welfare state had been providing.
I hope there was some understanding that it is politics that drives these cuts and that a Labour government is our hope of maintaining and investing in public facilities for education such as libraries.

 I left before I could raise this as I needed to catch the last bus which was unfortunately at 6 o'clock, another symptom of having to rely on private profit to provide services. I was able to email a query to Abigail. Her reply supports libraries being a public service but still suggests that this prevents private philanthropy saving them, whereas I would say private benefactors would be welcome to donate large sums to preserve them but have not been doing that and that we cannot rely on private benevolence.

' Lost Libraries' by Abigail Reynolds. 2017 This is an interesting book to handle and read. It has been lovingly put together with different textures and colours and layouts and a new technology that allows smartphone users to access soundtracks.

 I have quibbles with a few details, particularly the author's way of referring to Cornwall as England even though living in St.Just she might know many of us consider this inappropriate and although as she travels from country to country she might be sensitised to issues of boundaries and identity.

 However, overall the text and pictures are fascinating , facts, observations and personal feelings given equal parts. There are some lovely original remarks such as likening people queuing to see a cave as like the film going through the gate of the Bolex movie camera that she has chosen to use. This decision seems to be because of film's physical non digital form but makes for difficulties and is a heavy camera whilst also perhaps being an art cred gambit a la Tacita Dean.

Abigail Reynolds acknowledges the strain of travelling alone, needing some contact, someone on her side, and I can hardly imagine her wanting to leave her young children and partner to take on these trips. She was able to include them on part of the Italian researches. Her ambition to achieve the project when her proposal won this huge prize must have been enormous.

 There are many lovely phrases, of her imagining the harem women at Qu'on Palace in Uzbekistan when she sees the museum attendants in a courtyard, 'a sort of sherbet leisure of bright dresses and laughter', and watching the sun set over Tashkent, ' a peach skewering itself on the distant spike of the TV tower'.

There isn't more than a hint of her political views, nothing positive to say about the soviet era or Mao, but the courage to contest the need for women to wear heavy make up to enhance their beauty.

 I enjoyed all the quotes for example Petrarch, 'What has been lost cannot be destroyed or diminished'. I learnt all sorts of things such as that Trajan's column was originally in the centre of a library of several floors so that its narrative could be followed easily. Also that a whole Iibrary, The Villa of Papyri, remains in burnt fragments which we now have the technology to decipher if the Italian government had the will to do this using multi spectral digital imaging.

She deduces from a remark of Augustus that reading was normally aloud not to oneself in the fourth century CE. She asserts that Romans at the time of the eruption at Herculaneum had no word for volcano and no understanding of what it was. I want to question these assertions.

Abigail bothers to credit the help of many people at the end of the book, all in alphabetical order except that Theresa Gleadowe, wife of Nicolas Serota, and very important person in establishing the CAST project for art in Cornwall, is singled out separately.

I would have liked to hear about what is happening to St.Just library and to have the credit for austerities' damages firmly attributed to Conservative government, but Abigail Reynolds is not one to make a clear political statement. One wonders if BMW 's grant prohibits this?

She does however say,'We take for granted the stability of peacetime, the subtleties of freedom. We squander our resources on trivia and, with our attention diverted, allow the things that generations have fought for to slip through our fingers'. Do buy the book or even more appropriately request and borrow it from your library

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

MA Illustration Falmouth

Falmouth Illustration MA. Sept 2018
This show is now the only surviving MA show at Woodlane as sadly the Contemporary Art, the
Environmental art and the Craft MAs have gone, victims of Tory austerity ?

There were about two dozen artists in 3 studios.
At first I though it looked a bit tame, small scale and quiet colours, but I needed time to adjust and
then found the show varied and absorbing.

Wonderfully generously a free catalogue was provided and everyone had postcards to collect with
their contact details. There were also books to buy but sadly no refreshments or cafe area.

A few people were there taking a great interest. I always feel the college should make a lot more of
the MA show to help the artists and should have the show still up for the new students to see who
are embarking on courses. There were several of the students there available to chat and those I
asked thought it was a good course. It is the refuge of artists that can draw and want to in these
postmodern times.

Unusually there was someone who actually drew Falmouth docks and local beaches with great flair
and fluency.
Georgie Bennett

I liked the way one illustrator, Judith Ohamizo Jurado,  invited us to sit at her desk and examine many small books that took
us into her life including pictures about her mother's death.

Then I was entertained by a political foray using sound, song and charicature to lampoon the way
Jeremy Corbyn has been presented but in an affectionate way.

Kat Johnson

I liked the wooden movable plant forms that knocked together gently.

Sarah Hougham-Slade

There were attractive stories, especially one with an urban and a country fox by Anita Stuart Andrews

There was reference by Valerie Dalton to painful experience of child abuse.

There was something using video about sea swimming.
There was work about the present bombardment of images versus quiet looking at a physical

AND I was delighted to find a booklet of manifesto statements.

So well worth a visit and I left enriched by meeting a number of artists through their works. 

In the past I have heard some tutors at Falmouth disparage illustration, indeed 'illustration' is used as a
term of abuse for people's art on occasion, but why? 

The illustration MA shows us artists finding
their own individual expression in a variety of ways and the fact that they can all draw and can
make a living in the world of books etc is fine with me.

As Danya Todd puts it,
'Explode! Art is not a numbing agent, be volcanic'.