Wednesday, 12 April 2017

An Axolotl and Art at Tate St.Ives 2017

Tate St.Ives April 2017

Our Tate reopened with a huge number of people attending the occasion. As usual there was more excitement in the roar of the crowd and opportunity for brief conversations with friends and acquaintances than in the art, many people promising to return for a better considered look another day. The bar serves a very delicious white wine.

I was a bit worried about the salamander in a tank alongside a huge ceramic dog's head. Others were afterwards anxious and obtained information designed to reassure that Aaron Angell, the artist the axolotl belongs to, was ensuring it was cared for but some thought it is unacceptable to subject live creatures to being art exhibits. I returned to try to work out why it was part of the show and it seems to be just a whimsical notion, rather than a trip to Rio. Other artists have made other ceramic tank furniture that may be exchanged with the dog's head and these are on show nearby. Children were taking  a great interest in the axolotl while I was there and one of the attendants clearly knew a lot about its care. I couldn't help thinking since these animal inclusions are always controversial that it might be a bid for fame. I walked round everything again and had to admit it was the most interesting item, but I still wanted to make a ripost to it, which I will exhibit at the Crypt in the Taking Space show from April 29 toMay 5th, perhaps my own attempt to gain notoriety without any living beings being used.

Aaron Angell


The first room of the show has a nice selection of Leach ceramics, notwithstanding the existence of the Leach pottery museum up the hill. It's all very beautifully made, elegant and functional and there is also a lively ridge roof tile in a room with a film of how to make a teapot and a group of attractive examples.

Leach roof tile

This pottery is an absolute contrast with the ceramics from California and  London, which are said to be art not craft, being non functional and more thrown together. These are shown rather en masse with a lack of different height stands and with the names and titles on separate borrowable large laminated sheets like they have in museums . The effect of these two sections was like a school  ceramics show  I had seen in Kalamata in Greece, excellent and interesting to find there but to see similar stuff in Tate St.Ives was baffling and made me see how brilliant Grayson Perry's work is in comparison. The display is of many random objects by many different people and has no coherence.

Malcolm McClain 'Chamber of spheres'

Tom Salt 'Mushroom Cloud'
Jessica Warboys has been throwing paint on canvas into the sea to make large attractive marks, hung ceiling to floor in the curved gallery. This is described rather ridiculously as collaborating with the sea. She has other objects and three films. I watched two and they were largely handheld wobbly images of places in Wales and Cornwall. Sometimes a red square construction appeared wedged into space between two stones of an ancient quoit. It was the sort of thing my MA tutors would have torn to shreds as woolly unfocused rambling. Of all the artists in all the world why has Jessica Warboys come into my local Tate?

In the roofed in clay play area two nicely dressed children were rejecting the opportunity to play with clay, to the distress of their Dad. I felt a bit like them, invited to enjoy two shows and all I could do was feel concerned about a salamander, ungrateful and bolshy.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Porthmeor Programme -end of year show.

Porthmeor Programme

This one year programme at the Arts School in St.Ives provides students with time to explore and ends with an exhibition displayed by their tutors, who are varied and it seems open to all sorts of media. One of the students told me she found them encouraging rather than indulging in the stereotyped notion of arts school tutors, mostly in my experience male, who feel it essential to tear into students to test their confidence, and traditionally leave a trail of tears.

The Crypt and Penwith back gallery have recently shown been transformed from their usual quiet display of paintings into rooms giving each artist an individual space, some incorporating use of video and performance. Each has statements on the wall which help to give a way into understanding their intentions.
To me it felt refreshing and interesting. 

Kay Lynn had performed in her space but having missed this I was left with the gestural painted surface indicating movement. This raises the question of whether a video of the performance would have been a good idea or at least some photographs.

Mandi Stewart uses video in ‘R is for Rose, R is for Refugee’ In her installation she contrasts the safety with which roses are transported with the dangers for refugees. This unusual juxtaposition brought fragility to mind and the horror of war in a quietly emotive way.

Seona Myerscough had a video discussing the pros and cons of changing from lawyer to artist in a zany way and paintings of the landscape that captured a crepuscular atmosphere.

Brian Macshane has been interested in motorway signs, reproducing them on mirrors to ‘create an unwelcome dialogue’.

Claire Voss-Bark quoted from Shakespeare ‘Like as waves make towards the pebble’d shore.
So do our minutes hasten to their end..’ 
from sonnet no. 60. This gave her quite a task to match the imaginative simile from our so famous poet with her more literal photographs however beautifully made.

Mary Trapp expressed intense personal experience about being in water.

Helen Falconar had used fungi to make prints emphasizing pattern and sublety.

 Bridget Roseberry had large experimental landscape inspired drawings hung from bullgog clips. 

Many of the artists were using paint in largely abstract marks applied with a lively insoucience, refering to their own life experience in various ways, incorprating memory and observation. Perhaps this is largely the theme of the course? Maybe it reflects the painting background of many of the tutors and the art heritage of St.Ives, still dominated by modern gestural abstraction related to landscape?

Caroline Darke

Lucia Jones 'Sake at bar Vitelli'

Seona Myerscough

It is in some ways a terrible injustice to visit such a show for a short while when the artists have clearly been working intensely and seriously for a year, some engaging in a second year.

I would be glad to read comments from others who saw the show or participated in the course as tutors or students.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

CMR 'Everything is F**ked' Feb 2017

Fred McVittie made a proposal to have this theme for a show and there were several weeks beforehand when cmr members could go into the building in Redruth, Cornwall, and be in residence to work on it.
Fred had given a talk about the idea for cmr. He and Mary Fletcher and Jacqui Orly arranged to go at the same time on some Mondays so there was some discussion and working alongside one another and I found it helpful to focus whilst there and to also continue ideas in my studio.

Stuart Blackmore had volunteered to curate and put in a lot of work. He and I both learnt that communication over this was best done by phone not e-mail and that the boundaries of how curating is to be done would be best agreed at the start of a group show.

Alice Mahoney ably put together and produced a booklet showing images and words from each of the ten artists involved which in retrospect needed more time to be available to buy during the show but will be afterwards. Since the show was only on Friday evening and Sat and Sun this documentation is especially valuable. 

Personally I would have liked our names on the poster, and posters to be available for members to put up to invite visitors from Redruth and elsewhere. There was online publicity and on source fm radio and I sent something to especially local paper in St.Ives. The Echo,  about my part in it, which was printed and had everyone’s names.

Opening Night at CMR
The names of artists by the work and titles, and the handouts about it were rather discreet to the point of being difficult to locate and the instructions for my participatory anti bullfight postcards to take and insert in postcard racks in Spain were printed in a font so tiny that a magnifying glass could have helped. The idea of selling work was mentioned as a possible line in the handouts but I did not see any reference to it . All these facets of showing work were not discussed by the group and I think we could benefit from doing this. 
What are the reasons for keeping publicity mostly to the cognoscenti, playing down sales opportunities and minimising use of the artists' names? Is it de rigueur in  alternative art anti commercial circles to be so carefully good taste about this? Is there a nervousness that the local population might be a problem if we succeeded in attracting the in ?

However, the show looked well presented, sharing preview night with Back Lane West residency brought in more people I think and a lively sense of walking up and down to visit both shows. It became a parallel world just behind the Redruth's thoroughfare.

139 visitors were recorded over the three days.

Performance by J.Orly
The opening night warmed up to a buzzing atmosphere, dramatically silenced by the appearance of a woman, naked apart from a head obscuring headdress, feeling her way outside into the cold                                                                                                                                                                                                                      evening to empty out water from a container, returning inside to sit in the window under a dripping  tin of black treacle and then donning a wetsuit. The audience was entirely respectful and attentive and no doubt un phased by this performance art but the attendance of two youths who were passing by chance added a less art schooled reaction as their amazement, consternation and politely controlled nervous laughter in the face of adult seriousness, particularly when the artist's bottom was seen to have brown stains on it, presumably from the treacle, were authentically apparent.
audience react
 I suppose every watcher has their own reaction. Jacqui Orly's performance was certainly memorable, puzzling, brave and done beautifully. It had a title 'everything is not black and white' and  somehow related to her room with photocopies of cloth in black through to white tones and shells with amplified sounds.
I think J .Orly is one of those artists whose work evolves through surreal half conscious associations which are inexplicable but leave a strong albeit bewildering impression.

Alice Mahoney

Other works were on video. Alice Mahoney had a complex montage of high end consumerism entitled ‘I’d rather have a lot of shoes and bags than having animals’.

Stuart Blackmore showed the frustration of a tangled Newton's cradle. He had also made the entrance to the show dramatically dark with flashing words in lights.

 Mary Fletcher had caught two pigeons in mating behaviour on the wall at the back of cmr, which seemed to invite the audience to identify with them and aptly fitted the theme.
Her other work included a subversion of the show's title by adding 'NOT' in red with a red wedge recalling 1917 Russian revolution art, a drawing recalling her abandoned suicide attempt as a young woman when struck by tragedy and grief, her anti bull fighting piece and two images about the refugee crisis. She had a list of 'positive verbs for action in the world' which was a new take on Serra's verbs for action which applied to his work in sculpture

Mary Fletcher
Fred McVittie had been out on the hillside as a scientist despairingly arriving from a great distance away to hold up a misspelt sign about the state of everything, which coinciding with the title of the show was not a surprise but brought over a desperate, sad appeal to the unknown watchers.
Also he had transformed himself into a swastika as which he impotently struggled to be able to move or to be terrifying in an inadequate space. The tv monitor was set in a dolls house reduced scale domestic interior which I think made the piece, with a hint from its title, about the absurd horrors of domestic violence.
Fred McVittie
Fred also had some embroidered baseball caps, such as 'make America good again' and' make Redruth great again'.
I was a bit disappointed to find the Trump substitute grunting pig I had seen when I had been in residence there earlier had been edited out, but a whole wall of collaged cuttings and ideas gave some idea of the range of peoples' sources.

Merryn Tresidder had three paintings with implied interconnections and complex titles.’
The Solution to “Brexit” explained with rope,
 1.CTRL[and Seize the means of Production]
2. ALT [Ownership of Land and Property]
3. DEL [Any Remaining Framework Allowing Existence of the Bourgeoisie}

David Axtell

 David Axtell had a range of collages and montaged puns and comments referencing, viagra, 
Trump and Farage and other things including a rewriting in less optimistic mode of a work from Yoko Ono.

Liam Jolly had a mystifying combination of curved and straight bananas with a canvas representation of a computer screen and a website address reference that needed technology to make sense of.

Liam Jolly
Tim Prykke had altered two chairs so that they would only function where they were placed and made some eloquently absurd photographs using bricks, grapes, eggs and concrete which seemed to be metaphors for impossible situations.

Tim Prykke
Jonathan Hayter had a whole room installation and used fluorescent paint and ultra violet lighting to great effect so that his expressionist anguished imagery using images of war, of religion and phallic sculpture made a powerful glowing experience once you committed to going through the curtain to be immersed in it.

Jonathan Hayter
I think the show was lively and left people with memories and images that might embody something of our difficult  times and showed artists grappling with how to express some things that were questioning and painful.

Please keep in touch with CMR, the artists's collective in Redruth, for information about future shows.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Falmouth BA show 2016

 I wake up early, eager to get to this show. Why? I want to see what this year of graduates have to show. Maybe I expect too much. Most of them are very young. The way the fine art is shown indicates nothing of the breadth and amount they have experienced. Their essays are not there, their books of ideas, we see no photos of them, very few give statements and some that do seem to be entering for pseuds' corner.

 This year I was largely disappointed. This wasn't helped by the usual lack of a canteen on Sunday or even a stocked drinks machine, and the fact that catalogues had run out and most videos were not operating.

 When I strayed briefly into illustration and found the room very dark to the point of eye strain and asked a student about this she said 'we do not find it too dark.' We found some lights and switched them on. This year the illustrators had their work on low cloche like displays on desks instead of in wooden booths at normal exhibition height for walking around. This made the room more open and spacious looking but it was harder to concentrate on an individual's work. Unlike the fine artists the illustrators show a lot of stuff. I just could not settle to examining it all and only admired one, Rachel Summers. She had illustrations to do with therapy and a light, witty, economical style.

 Fine art had the usual almost universal lack of interest in life in Falmouth, in politics, in ordinary day to day scenes, even in ecology that I have noted before. This year there was four times more interest in porn, that is four notices warning of 'adult content' whereas before I have only noticed one per year. A depressing trend.Feminism only featured, if you can call it that, which I don't, via pink vaginas.
What were the predominant themes? I can't remember but many paintings, quite a lot of installations, a bit of sound, one computer thing.

Painters seemed to have a similar palette of green, pink and yellow as if the college had provided vats of certain colours. Drawing skills were scarce and in the drawing BA favoured laboured detail using H pencils with a few flashes of acute observation.

 As an aging adult I am entirely unwilling to stoop to pick up information from the floor, to crawl into spaces, to remove my shoes, to subject myself to loud noise, claustrophobic constructions, or insanely bright light a la Don Flavin and I therefore missed a fair amount.

 Travelling to the college hopefully, with a sustaining supermarket breakfast inside me, enjoying Wood Lane's lovely trees and birdsong, plus an old pond with tadpoles and stained glass windows, and Tremough's beds of daisies were more enjoyable than the art, although maybe because the exhausting looking at the show made my senses sharper as I became more sourly dismissive yet still craving excitement.

 Best in show, and why not give the audience, which is meagre on the Sunday, a vote on this, was unhesitatingly awarded unaminously by myself and my companion to Finbar Conran's 'The protagonist and their lover' a charming, amusing, interactive piece with revolving trees and lights and music that were wired to come on if a couple sat down. It satirised romance whilst at the same time evoking it, changing our state of mind, making us laugh and getting us to participate despite being at the end of our walk round.

Whilst I was fresh and willing the first item I saw was a disturbing installation , 'Excruciating play' by J.F.Wilson. Lots to look at, many materials used and drawing us in to examine the quirky and sinister playground.

 A couple of students, out of how many? Referred to refugee migrants. By combining deck chair canvas stripes with sand castles in the shape of coffins I thought Duncan Walters expressed how sitting on a beach nowadays brings to mind those dangerous voyages of desperate people.

 A painter I liked was Grace Green because her pictures were well drawn, many layered, elaborate, decorative constructions.

 Over in the soon to be abandoned craft BA at Tremough there were several who could just as well have been in fine art although without these craft courses in the college how will students use glass, ceramics etc? Here there were references to the importance of bees and an impressive oil ruined mutation of a beast with the sound of its laboured breathing by Emily Yates, 'A toxic relationship'

 I missed so much, because it is far far too much. I missed all of architecture and product design and planning, photography of various sorts, film., performance, dance, and most of fashion and textiles.

What a pity to see no more than a dozen other visitors in several hours of looking round. Surely the college could advertise better, open the canteens and encourage the local population in and art dealers in? Isn't it worth even a double spread supplement in the local press? It's worth two days attention, but there we are, here today, gone in a few more as it ends on Wednesday, and for most students only a few business cards may fall into the hands of a rare helpful contact.

 There they go, lambs to the proverbial, degrees on their cvs and thanks to the cruelties of capitalism only a small proportion can make a career that pays any bills. Nevertheless, I believe the three or four years gap for thinking , experimenting and experiencing before their noses strike sparks from the grindstone will help us all in a society too given over to merciless daily toil versus desolation row.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

'Lost for Words' Cafe Morte, Falmouth art college project space, Woodlane. Jan 2-10 2016

'Lost for Words' Cafe Morte, Falmouth Project Space, 

Jan 6-10th 2016

It's quite unusual to find an exhibition with a theme of death, grief, loss etc. The show was very diverse, some work only slightly engaging with the theme and other art that was personal and moving.

It's great that Falmouth art college after a gap of many years now again has a space where art exhibitions can be placed. 
There were many aspects of its presentation that might be improved in future. More publicity would help and having a longer show, and more posters, especially when entering the art college site. I went back in through the new graphics entrance and at first thought the small related graphics display which was very low key was the show, only finding the actual exhibition by further exploration as it was not sign posted.
Also the numbers by works were very tiny. These then took me to a numbered list and then a catalogue arranged with the artists names in alphabetical order. There were only copies to borrow but a website for further information, although no online device to use there. Coping with a numbered list and an alphabetically ordered catalogue took some patience and dedication.
If information had been on wall labels negotiating the exhibition's multifaceted artworks would have been easier.

There were four young women sitting in the corner on an arrangement of upholstered seats, all working on lap tops. One of these greeted me and later when I asked to see Belinda Whiting's book, showed me that it and other items were in that corner. The women then moved up to make room for me to sit, but it felt as if this was their corner and I was intruding.

 I doubt many visitors got themselves into the corner, where there was also a related library of books to see and an unopened package of a cake and some tea things. I am sure there was a good intention to make a sociable space for refreshments and browsing, maybe conversation, but in the hour I was there no one had used the corner for this. 

I suggest two invigilators would be adequate and that they could helpfully pay some attention to the viewers. It seemed as if these four were simply using that room to catch up on work as a handy corner and questions were an interruption to what they were busy with.
When I asked what language Janet McEwan was speaking on her video 'Riveresco' they thought it was being played backwards and had no interest in what was said, so that although one woman said wasn't it a marvellous video, I felt they were probably just liking it as a trendily super eight film, hand developed to be very scratched and old looking, not that they were not interested in any meaning. I was referred to the catalogue, in which Janet had made no mention of the work but had  given a general paragraph about her practice.

Janet's voice through the headphones was very beautiful to hear, gentle and musical, alongside images of countryside and a grave, but I really wanted more information and a translation.

The tent with objects in the centre of the room, made by Bram Arnold and entitled 'Resting Place', unfortunately had a commentary  on a device whose battery had run down. Before it ran out I heard an amusing snippet about a child calling a car  a 'flat car' when it was a fiat. I missed the human ashes, reading about them later.

Nicola Bealing contributed a large painting , 'An elegy on the Melancholy Accident at Porthleven' relating to a disaster at sea which was striking but I felt would have been better placed at one of the two ends of the room to allow a long view.

Another striking  thing was a video, by Tanith Gould, a play on 'nature Morte'  with still life and very un dead  nude young woman taking up a pose in a Renaissance sort of composition. I suppose it was light relief.

About half the exhibits, of which there were about 30, were very obscure to me or very dull. 
A lot of bits of dust even if they were collected at a doctor's surgery by Jess Russell and placed on scientific slides in a grid said nothing much to me.

The show was of interest, but I was disappointed. This was partly because of wondering why my own contributions had not been selected from the open submission. Some list of the rejected works would have been interesting. It seemed that whoever selected had wanted a wide selection of media and an  email had informed me that they had a lot submitted.
This knowledge of course made me more critical of the choices made.

The most moving item for me was the small book that Belinda Whiting had made to commemorate the short life of her daughter Sophie, who died during a heart operation at age three. The story was simply told, showing Sophie enjoying her life, and made me cry. It wasn't done in any tear jerking way, it was unsentimental and even cheerful in its way, but in its clarity and honesty and expression of personal experience it really touched me.

The idea of the show was a brave one and apparently connected to a research group at the college and there had been some discussions and other held during the show. Lucy Willow and Mercedes Kemp I think organised it.

I await hopefully a lot more art exhibitions at the college, maybe with comment books so that some feedback is sought.

I welcome comments to add to this short review.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

CMR, Redruth-Digital Film Installation alongside Cornwall Film Festival

CMR. Digital film installation alongside Cornwall Film Festival. Saturday Nov 14th 2015

As far as I know CMR got involved to put this on at short notice because of a contact Cat Bagg had with Cinestar at Back Lane West. She and Alice Mahoney acted speedily to get this going and some of us put work in, installed all round the building in Redruth, which is conveniently near the cinema where Cornwall Film Festival was happening that weekend. Stuart Blackmore was technical backup. 
I managed to get a poster put up inside the cinema just where people were passing to go into the films and I decided to add all our names to it as contributors to try to interest more people.
Attendance wasn't high, it was bad weather, but a lot of those going to the analogue originated films at Back Lane West probably came to it.
There was a nice spirit of helping together at the installation and feeling it had been a good idea at the end of the day drinks. Redruth closes early, most shops were shut at 4pm, it was dark and almost deserted, four saffron buns for a pound at Warren's, and they go outside and shout this to the few people passing.

Cat Bagg, Alice Mahoney, Jonathan Hayter, Claire Stockings-Baker, Frances Walsh, Fred McVittie, David Axtell, 
Morwenna Morrison and myself took part.

Alice chose my 'Art Notes' from what I offered. It's a satirical piece about trying to make a mark as an artist and the sound, a song, is essential to it. I saw someone using the headphones and laughing so I was pleased. It can be seen on my Vimeo page, 1min 46.

This brings me to a point that I like the length of films to be posted so I can decide whether to embark on them. I also like a notice about them posted by them and only some of the work had this, otherwise there were notes in a handout but only three copies of it. The notes were very interesting and illuminating.

On the same floor Fred McVittie had a piece which a young man told me he was very confused about. I asked if he was an artist and he said no, he was a media studies student, which seemed a bit sad to me to differentiate between the two. Fred's blurb referred to graffiti and protest art and the film, rather strange and menacing perhaps embodied I thought frustrated rage and alienation.

Alice Mahoney's 'feast' was really a metaphor about consumption, a rather grotesque meal slowed down.

Jonathan Hayter showed experimental colourful imaginatively made forms, with music by David Handford, and strobe lights.

Claire Baker's video was projected in one of the rooms and made an impact as a lone adolescent girl wandered in a stark landscape, rather poetic and moody, a sublime contrast to Fred's figure emerging in a lonely landscape, and my person in an urban cul-de-sac.

Downstairs Cat Bagg had work using standing stones that were seen in a whirling around inventive way inside circular vignettes with a pattern of lights on the floor. She explained to me some of the complexity of working out how this was done to fit the space.

David Axtell had a brooding sunset behind a structure of Tibetan flags on a sea edge cliff and went alongside a poem about loss and war by Laurence Binyon.

Frances Walsh showed 'Lighting a fire' , a beautifully filmed piece with clear colours and subtle sounds in which the artist collaborated with her young son.

Morwenna Morrison also used a room to install her piece, which had a lovely old armchair for viewing and getting into the mood of her montaged shots from old footage about marriage, which cast rather a jaundiced and wry comment on the institution and is part of her focus on nostalgia in her work.

As usual a very mixed bag, easy to move amongst and take in as the visitor felt inclined.
This was in contrast to the Cinestar films at Back Lane West, which had the advantage of being seen from start to finish but the disadvantage that the rolling programme leaves a viewer stuck in experiences they may tire of because they are not to their taste. Some of it was very fuzzy, some abstract experiments that were a bit long for me. Also it was even colder than CMR and with only a hard box to sit on whereas up the road we did have a few chairs.

Meanwhile the festival was at the  proper cinema, this year warm enough thank goodness. It's quite expensive to go to things, it's reduced in scope, little publicity, no Cornish films, no artist-made experimental section now and I regret none of the cameraderie I  felt when it was all in Falmouth Poly or Princess Pavilions and one got into conversation and film making and film makers felt like a wonderful group of colleagues. There was more of that at CMR's impromptu drinks.

I saw at the cinema the films from Falmouth media program, and the room was packed with new students from the course. Oddly only three films were chosen to be screened and although they had some interest for me, some good acting, some novel ideas, the overall impression made on me was that all the students would be thinking they would do much better themselves.

This was followed by ' Taxi Tehran'  by Jafar Panahi , winner of the Golden Bear at Berlin Film Festival  this year, which I loved. It was ingenious, brave, funny and moving and so apt on the day after the Paris atrocities to see a film maker persisting in expressing himself within the oppressive regime of Iran, where he has been forbidden from making films and I read that one of his works was smuggled out to to Europe on a data stick hidden in a cake. I started to applaud and after a moment others joined in. It's the sort of thing that can happen at a festival showing.

So, from a completely realised drama about the most important things in life to experimental scratching on celluloid. An amazing day of contrasts.