I stepped out and she stepped in again, 13/09 -26/10 2018, Belfast, Atypical Gallery

Curated by Hugh O’Donnell this is a display of video, photography, embroidery,  painting and “poured bitumen relief”

Elaine McGinn, Permeate, 2017, Bitumen and mixed media

a la Lynda Benglis  (see  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynda_Benglis ).

Then, two days after the opening, the five artists came for a 2 hours durational performance, leaving its traces.

Schizophrenic exhibition?  Or overconfident?  Neither. It revives the memory of Situationists and Bruce Naumann, inter alia. If Ludist art was a fundamental method of critique of the consumerist culture  – what is this display a critique of?

One clue is already in its title. Habitually artists work as individuals, or in pairs, e.g. Gilbert &George. Over the last decade, the Belfast based performance group  Bbeyond developed a tradition of monthly group performances harnessing exchange and free co-operation between individual artist, making the aura of authorship to become an unnamed multiple.  The five exhibitors appeared in some of the Bbeyond Monthly.  The decision to keep the individual autorship on one hand and to give it up on the other may be strange.  Strangeness, estrangement, is a value that permeated Modernism  – as witnessed by the early essays by Victor Shklovsky. And it seems to be coming back.

 

Svetlana Boym writes, in Architecture of the Off-Modern:

By making things strange, the artist does not simply displace them from an everyday context into an artistic framework; he also helps to “return sensation” to life itself, to reinvent the world, to experience it anew. Estrangement is what makes art artistic; but, by the same token, it makes life lively, or worth living.

( Buell Center/FORUM Project & Princeton Architectural Press 2008, p. 18–19.)

This is different from the Marxist alienation of the worker from the product, but similar to Bertold Brecht’s concept of estrangement as a method of enhancing criticality and an awareness of the levels of fiction. It is also similar to Shklovsky’s foregrounding – drawing attention to.

Elaine Ginn, Waft, 2018, mixed media

The plastic has become a ubiquitous threat to life, a knowledge borne out of current research, made accessible in TV documentaries.  Ginn lets the material to become a poetic mover, seemingly innocent but dependent on electricity, which in turn is still far too dependent on fossil fuels. The use of energy other than the maker’s own is prevalent in this display of machine embroidery,  video, and photography.

Jane Cherry, You told me I deserved it 12 times, 2010 – 2018, bamboo cotton fabric, watercolour, embroidery floss, glass beads

It is latently there in all the materials used: bamboo cotton fabric, glass beads, bitumen, wooden sticks, roses  … all recycled away from the original function.

 

That foregrounds our significant challenges, existential issues.

 

 

 

 

Elvira Santamaria Torres  used her signature motif of flowers and a photography. I do not know who left the residue of that installation on the floor.

It is, unintentionally,  reminiscent of mosaic still lifes found in Roman villas by foregrounding chance and disorder as an aesthetic function.  The charm of leftovers resonates with this exhibition.

Next to the roses is a photographic still of a  bare foot with sticks between toes, as if to rectify a degenerative change.

Elvira Santamaria, The steps of memory, from Parable VI -I: Suspended process. Art Process and Gestures, 2015, El Mozote, Mozaran, El Salvador. Image Eduardo del Corral

It reminds me of “calculative image”  by Luke Evans:

accessed on http://www.wren.agency/luke-evans.html

Through an intentional arrangement, both images evoke play as a resource.  That, in turn, invites reminders of surrealism’s equivalence between observed and imagined, harvested with panache in the video by Katrina Sheena Smyth.

Katrina Sheena Smyth, Residue, 2016, video, 3 minutes

 

She exhibited also a still from a more recent video Providence, 2018.

Videographer : Jordan Hutchings

The strangeness of this image lies in not telling what experience became its source.  It may be a play or sorrow.  Thus it foregrounds the observation that a strength of a belief is not a strength of evidence.  Something very apt in relation to the conditions for life in Northern Ireland.

That became intensified in a video Dislocating the origin, 2002, 2018  by Siobhan Mullen

I may be wrong, but I assumed that the mixed media display on the floor near it  treats the same subject.

Those words  “dislocating the origin”  resonate deeply with a critique of focusing only on differences.  They allow accepting differences and similarities together, rejecting the submission of one to the other. Evoking the current theories of the beginning of life in our universe that observe the similarities and differences as equivalent forces are harnessed to increase awareness that our most significant challenges like clean air, water, and soil are not tethered to one gender, one belief system, one tradition.

This exhibition by minimizing the artist’s aura and by installing anonymous co-operation  makes meaning of what is made visible to depend on lived life.

As Jan Mukarovsky observed, the aesthetic function of art is transparent.  Dissolving ego, taking risks,  perhaps enhance the cognitive dissonance between need and want.

Elaine McGinn, 2017

Paul Klee warned that art does not reproduce the visible it makes visible. This exhibition, like several others recently,  makes visible at least two conditions for truth and change: freedom of thought and courage to dislocate the origin.

 

Images courtesy Atypical Gallery.

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Travis Somerville and Ian Cumberland at Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast, 04.08 – 22.09 2018

The gallery calls it a “simultaneous solo exhibitions” connected to “the current themes (….) explored by the GTG  2018 – 2019 programme of approaching ways of looking” (Gallery handout). Like Humpty Dumpty I – you- GTG may  give those words different meaning. One is that the gallery programme aims to present some distinct ways of looking. But – by who? The curator? The artist? The viewer? Is it not always the case?  Seduced by the 20th C obsession with “la différence”, often that becomes the main value.  However, these exhibits allow for sameness to enter.

Travis Somerville, Invasion, 2017, graphite and charcoal on feed sack, Soviet issues gas mask and bag, 118x96cm
Travis Somerville, Invasion, 2017, graphite and charcoal on feed sack, Soviet issues gas mask and bag, 118x96cm

Painting or drawing a person transmutes a sentient person into an inanimate object. Nevertheless, verism holds on to more of the “soul”.  Nothing new about that. Look at Gentile Bellini’s self- portrait, how similar his way of looking at the live body is to that of Somerville above. I am not suggesting the debt of the younger to the older artist. Rather, a comparison of pose and modelling illustrates that the ways of looking do not depend on temporal context. Whereas, using vintage cotton pick sack as a ground, does, as do references to a Soviet gas mask and bag.

Gentile Bellini, Self-portrait, 1496 -97
Gentile Bellini, Self-portrait, 1496 -97

Bellini also added accessories in a portrait of another:  In line with the trends in European portraiture of the time, Bellini depicted the sultan in resplendent detail, his three-quarter profile framed by an illusionistic archway.

Gentile Bellini, Portrait of Sultan Mehmet, 1480
Gentile Bellini, Portrait of Sultan Mehmet, 1480

Mehmet is also represented by the trappings of Islamic authority: His red caftan and luxurious fur mantle are accompanied by a headdress (a wrapped turban over a red taj) that indicates his rank and religious identity; a piece of jewel-encrusted Ottoman embroidery hangs down the front of the frame; and the three crowns of Constantinople, Iconium, and Trebizond flank him on each side.

Travis Somerville, Exiled, 2017, Graphite and charcoal on feed sack, Soviet soldiers epaulets, 106.7 x 96.5 cm
Travis Somerville, Exiled, 2017, Graphite and charcoal on feed sack, Soviet soldiers epaulets, 106.7 x 96.5 cm

Quite a few “samenesses” between the then and now.

I am not sure that the double meaning is intentional in the terms GTG prints in its handout: “approaching ways of looking” – from where? to whom? by what? Are ways of looking distinct from ways of seeing? 

The verbs seeing, looking and watching, situate each activity in subtly different realms of attention and meaning.  In life and in art. Yet – what I see  I perceive as a process to make visible – even, particularly,  the invisible, e.g. empathy, fear, insecurity.  Human condition.

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Travis Somerville, This Land, 2017, graphite on vintage cotton pick sack, appr 256.5 x 133.3. cm

Drawing and painting, both have near hypnotising capacity to find correspondence between a fleeting perception and the unmovable marks on the ground. Between seeing and naming.  Between observed and made up.  I recall  Paul Klee: “Art does not reproduce the visible, it makes visible.”

Therefore, thinking of the art, I tend to replace the words “ways of looking”  with “ways of making visible”.

In the above drawing, the fatal experience of being “lost at sea” between escape and arrival arrests the retrieval of that experience in one moment.  While the reality is inherently fugitive.  As is generally the case with visual perception.  It may imprint on memory if my eidetic memory is good.  The rest is, as Balzac pointed out,  indéfinissable.

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On the image immediately above – a challenging 8-part painting by Travis Somerville that echoes Géricault’s Raft of Medusa, with its political charge. The Raft, 2016, demands to fragment perception into a stream of many partial views, resisting offering one all-embracing one.

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Travis Somerville, The Raft, 2017, Oil on Canvas 8 sections, 67 in. x 126 in.

It successfully transfers to me the impossibility of grasping it as a whole.  Like any of Breughel’s “tableaux”.  The event’s dynamic is not susceptible to one dominant view. This ragged composition mediates an experience of being inside a story.   There is no sign of the order of Alberti’s disegno.  Instead, the colours weep, accuse, make hope not to be swallowed by dark waves. The darkness of what it is they collectively make visible.

The choice of painting it in fragments removes the narrative from sliding into sentimental historical drama. Instead, it revives a mechanism of restraint akin to  Zola’s “j’accuse”… and hits hard the central issue:  the tragedy strikes and unfolds, strikes and unfolds … its duration unpredictable.  Homeland Insecurity  mirrors the experience as it would be lived,  a part after a part.

 

Mediation of reality by subverting the convention by control and absurdity appears in a display of the five exhibits by Ian Cumberland  in Gallery One.

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The title A common fiction appears both ironic and wondrous.  Is it a futile literalism that turns a portrait into a genre, à la Pieter Breughel the Elder? Just with one person, not as many as the 16th painter would do.  Or is it turning a portrait into a still life?

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The first “tableau” includes a carpet covering the floor, also painted on the panel with a fallen man. Suspended from a rough wooden support on the painting’s dorso, the body is seen from its back,  moving its head slightly now and then, movement afforded by the virtue of lens-based media.

Higher up on the wall, two video screens run information about various health issues.

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The All Consuming Selfie (2918)   presents a tromp l’oeil of the carpet around the hyperrealist (photorealist) rendering of the body. The painting and its support are the mute, unmovable parts.  The faith in the power of the painted image is immediately undermined by screens with words on the wall and projection of the pose of the man seen from the back.  Is it a pleonasm? Is it needed because the trust in mute poetry is waining? Matching up the two modes of representation cannot escape the dominance of “la différance” in the perception of visual images and text.

Adrian Navarro (Boston, 1973. Living and working in London)  pointed to a paradox inherent in painting practice.

“Man is an alienated being who thinks he is free. The same thing happens with painting, it is a free and expressive medium whose aim is the communication of a view of the world, where that freedom is not possible. This is the paradox I try to represent. “

Cumberland also explores the dichotomy between confinement and freedom inherent in painting and by focusing on a figure,  extended to the human being.

Ian Cumberland, Boom and Bust, 2017/18, oil on linen, video.
Ian Cumberland, Boom and Bust, 2017/18, oil on linen, video.

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To a certain extent, the installations are similar to still life.  The presence of the human being does not violate the terms of still life, as formulated by 17th C Dutch paintings.  Hypnotic ambivalence erases any chance of hebetude. Like Paul Cezanne, the painter is first true to the motif, but after that he plays with omens of impermanence.  Spark -germinate-unravel.  There are clues in brushtrokes and in attachments of real objects: flag, cage, wood, neon, carpet….

Ian Cumberland, Manufacturing consent (detail), 2018, oil on linen, wood, metal, 200 x 340 x 156 cm
Ian Cumberland, Manufacturing consent (detail), 2018, oil on linen, wood, metal, 200 x 340 x 156 cm
Ian Cumberland, Manufacturing consent, 2018, oil on linen, wood, metal, 200 x 340 x 156 cm
Ian Cumberland, Manufacturing consent, 2018, oil on linen, wood, metal, 200 x 340 x 156 cm

Quiet confrontations of representational accuracy and installed objects create less dissonance than the sudden “blind” gris-en-gris divided brushstrokes. Could be intentional or not. Make me think of decay.

Objects are there as if the painting needed them.  As if without them it would be incomplete.  Their “reality” results in estrangement of the painted part.  The question arises – what kind of alienation is that?

Ian Cumberland, False Flags 2018, oil on linen, mixed media
Ian Cumberland, False Flags 2018, oil on linen, mixed media

Marxism  defines alienation as hiatus between the worker and the product of work.  That’s not the case here.  Bertold Brecht established that estrangement enhances criticality and awareness.

That is applicable to these exhibits.  The caged painting and the woman’s gesture align to indicate a court procedure. Only to be undermined by the domestic setting behind her.  So this alienation is both similar and different from Brecht’s proposition.

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Ian Cumberland, Get the look, 2027-18, oil on linen, neon
Ian Cumberland, Get the look, 2027-18, oil on linen, neon

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Handwritten over the above  painting is the cost of each item in GBP, e.g. material, the model, etc.

Listing the model is a significant marker, that the painter works in the European tradition  – not the newer way of using photographs or video or cinema stills.

That leads me to conclude that this painter defends representational figurative painting by wishing it, letting it, win a competition with real objects.  That is, what I sense to be foregrounded. Through exposing it to estrangement, alienation works like Shklovsky’s foregrounding or defamiliarisation.

In his 1917 text Art as Technique he distinguishes poetic language from ordinary language :

The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects ‘unfamiliar,’ to make forms difficult to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged.” (Shklovsky 16)

Cumberland  moves in the world of common reality, such as the animation of inanimate objects, but evolves defamiliarizing the viewer and provoking an uncanny feeling.

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The slowing down of perception ( like the smear of the blind blue-grey of the pills onto the hand) injects energy into a physical system of paint to “originate” difference, change, value, motion, presence.  Making painting strange (e.g. both by tromp l’oeil of the carpet and confrontation with real carpet) motivates comparison and recognition of “la différance”…

____

Images courtesy Simon Mills and Golden Thread Gallery.

Phil Collins: This is the day. MAC Belfast, 10 Aug – 21 Oct 2018

A mix of installation,  still photography, video, painting, sound, water and black sand, are installed in all three MAC galleries:

Ceremony, 2017 in Upper Gallery

Delete Beach, 2o16, in the Tall Gallery

Free Fotolab, 2009 in the adjacent room

The meaning of Style,2011 in the Sunken Gallery

John Stuart Mill thought in On Liberty (1859) that a largely mistaken position can still contain some small elements of truth, as well as serving as a stimulus to thought by provoking us to demonstrate what is wrong with it.  By “a mistaken position” I mean the decision to stretch the story of moving a mediocre sculpture of F Engels from a Ukrainian village to Manchester to 60 minutes.  Visitors to the art gallery were overheard on returning the handout with words – “I do not have an hour ” – few others stayed.  I did not watch it in its entirety, although visited it twice.

This installation with HD video, colour and sound have been supported by Arts Council England’s Ambition for Excellence, the BBC, the Henry Moore Foundation and My Festival Circle.  No mere visitor can add to these fanfares. It was co-commissioned by 14 – 18 Now, Home, Manchester and the Manchester International Festival and produced by them, Shady Lane Production and Tigerlily Production.

Collins has a master’s touch to enliven the elements of truth with a chance  and a whim as well as with meticulously planned and executed craft, which I sensed to be valuable for a film director.

The installation underestimates mute poetry, propping the visual thoughts at all times with words.  As if the appropriation of a documentary mode cannot be visually beautiful and exciting without speaking. As if a video had not a gate for every value from vulgar curiosity to sublime imagination.  Whim aligns with the description in visual terms,  I recall one powerful detail, when the screen is filled with a part of the side of the container lorry.  Vertigo ensued.  Or the comical details of the torso of the statue anchored in a car tyre for stability.  The images on the sides of the screen were bloodless.  Lifeless in the shadows.  Banal. They attracted curiosity and repelled the attention.

The world does not need another video.  As if anticipating that fatigue, the appropriated mode and look of Japanese anime was projected in darkness on the screen and accessed over heaps of – what seems to be – polluted sand, black from oil, with puddles of dark liquid.  Ostensibly, the environmental “death”  revives the need to end dependence on fossil fuels.

Delete Beach (4 min 50 sec)  was commissioned by Bergen Assembly and supported by Vestnorsk Filmsenter and the German Cultural Foundation.

Again, it is quite verbose, as if not trusting that visual thought can stand alone. It is an erroneous hope that independence from fossil fuels will remove inequality.

The Free Fotolab  is a 35 mm slide projection of 80 anonymous archival photographs, the result of Collins’s call for rolls of undeveloped films.  After being developed,  they were returned to participants on condition that they relinquish the copyright to the artist.  The images come from Milton Keynes, St Gallen, Belgrade, Eindhoven and Banja Luka (=my favourite stopover).

A jet photographic print  Mici’s Last Night, 2002, completes the Tall Gallery installation.

As art belongs more to the viewer than its creator,  Collins’s propulsive efficiency sways the installations and projections into a spectacle.   The Meaning of Style, 2011, is a particularly immersive take on cinéma verité. Aesthetically it flattens into a stasis which insists on sameness. The wish to break free descends palpably in the views of men silently reading, or letting butterflies perch on one’s ear.

Made me think of Fluxus – specifically Eric Andersen’s mastery of “being busy” reading words backward.

Indeed, the economy of means matters, when escaping from that cave (Plato)

Écho, parlant quant bruit on mène
Dessus rivière ou sus étang,
Qui beauté   trop plus qu’humaine ?
Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?

(Francois Villon….)