As the media marks the death of Margaret Thatcher with blanket television coverage looking back at her time in office some familiar images are brought back to mind. But sometimes it’s hard to disentangle the memories: which of the images am I really recalling from the 1980s? In the case of the images of the 1983/4 miners’ strike, the boundaries between news footage and re-enactment are very blurry in my head. I remember the strike very well; I remember the marches and the benefit gigs, I remember throwing money into collection buckets every day on my way to and from work, probably with a ‘coal not dole’ badge on my coat, and I remember the news reports. At least, I think I do. But there’s a distinct possibility that some of that memory is somewhat second hand. The images of Orgreave that are so clear in my mind come not just from the news reports of the time, shocking though they were, but also from Jeremy Deller’s 2001 re-enactment of the event, filmed by Mike Figgis.
Snow is one of my very favourite things. I might not like the inconvenience of it and I’m not keen on the slip hazard aspect but that fades into insignificance against the way it looks. So snow as art is something I might reasonably be expected to love, right? Well, as it turns out, not necessarily.
In the run up to his exhibition at the Barbican in 2000, Andy Goldsworthy brought thirteen giant snowballs to London, placing them around the city to be discovered on midsummer day. The snowballs, each weighing approximately a ton and approximately 2m across, had been made in Scotland during the previous two winters and kept in cold-storage in readiness. Embedded in them were reminders of the rural landscape from which they originated which would become more apparent as the snow melted leaving behind the twigs, pebbles, sheep’s wool, barbed wire and so on.
Allan Kaprow, Poster for Fluids: a Happening by Allan Kaprow, 1967
While Francis Alÿs choose to melt ice the hard way, he’s not the only – or the first – artist to make art from ice melting away. In 1967, Allan Kaprow staged a Fluxus ‘happening’ in which enclosures were built from large blocks of ice around the Los Angeles area; they were then left to melt away. Kaprow advertised the event in advance to find volunteers to help build the enclosures, a major undertaking given their size.
The event was documented photographically – by Dennis Hopper (yes, that Dennis Hopper) – but essentially this was an event to be experienced in real life rather; it existed for those who were involved in the building process and in a different way for those who came across the ice enclosures before they melted away.
Lindsay Seers, installation view of Entangled² at Turner Contemporary, 2012
Seeing Lindsay Seers’s work is never straightforward. Her work is essentially video but it’s never as simple as watching something on a monitor or projected onto the gallery wall. Entangled² is no exception. Unlike previous works I’ve seen, Seers hasn’t built a space within a space to contain the work here. Instead it’s shown in an existing part of the gallery building but one the publicity material refers to as a ‘secret location within Turner Contemporary’. There are screenings every half hour; those wanting to see the work are met in the foyer and led out through the car park to the space. While this is something that could easily irritate me, I’ve found all the work I’ve seen by Seers so far really intriguing so I quite enjoyed loitering in the foyer and wondering who else was on a Seers-seeing mission. And, a real plus, it mean that the whole audience was in placed and headphoned-up before the piece started which meant no distracting comings and goings during the film. So far so good, but what about the work?
Dan Graham, Triangular Solid with Circular Inserts, 1989
(installed at Peggy Guggenheim, Venice)
Over the last couple of posts we’ve kind of established that reflections can be confusing and can change the way we experience space. But regular readers must know by now that once I’ve caught hold of a thread I’ll pull at it just that bit longer than is reasonable so today is, um, well, more of the same really. Sorry about that.
Much of Dan Graham’s work, in particular his two-way mirror pavilions – could be seen as architecture as well as art. The pavilions are small glass structures which are usually partly made of mirrored glass which confuses the way the structure reflects the environment it sits in. The effect of this is that people are prone to wandering in and out of view unexpectedly and the space seems to change as one walks round or through the structure.
Daniel Buren, Borrowing and Multiplying the Landscape, 2011
Art is a window on the world. Well, in the case of Daniel Buren’s Borrowing and Multiplying the Landscape, installed for the opening of Turner Contemporary in Margate last year, it is. Buren’s installation modifies the view of the sea beyond the windows of the gallery foyer by covering much of the glass with coloured tape so that the sea is seen through a circular window cut into the yellow stripes. In a sense the work forms an inverse sun framing, on my visit at least, the greyness of and English summer afternoon. Ah well.
Richard Wilson, 20:50, 1987 (Matt’s Gallery, Martello Street, London)
Art can make us see the world differently. Certainly the way both Gordon Matta-Clark and Richard Wilson have cut away sections of buildings challenges our perception of architecture making us see city spaces differenttly in a literal but nonethheless interesting way.
Wilson’s iinstallation 20:50, a room with a seemingly mirrored surface at roughly waist height, offers a strangely new understanding of the space it’s installed in. For the unsuspecting visitor, the first clue about the nature of the surface is the smell, approaching the room one is greeted with a powerful aroma of oil. Suddenly the title – 20:50 – makes sense: the room is flooded with used engine oil. A walkway leads out into the middle of the space, from which you get to see the features of the room reflected all around you.
Quite high on the list of art I wish I’d seen is Richard Wilson’s installation for the 2007 Liverpool Biennial. Like other works by Wilson, who is probably best known for his installation 20:50 at the Saatchi Gallery (about which more another time, possibly even tomorrow now that it’s in my head), Turning the Place Over was an architectural intervention on an ambitious scale but unlike 20:50 this was a temporary installation made by messing with the fabric of an empty building.
One of my main preoccupations over the last couple of weeks while preparing for the end of year exhibition is how to divide up the space. Obviously for me this involves figuring out where the walls should go and what should go where to make the exhibition make as much sense as possible. But, you know, a bit of literal mindedness and it’s only a small leap from how to divide the studio to Gordon Matta-Clark and the chainsaw and sledgehammer approach to redefining architectural space.
The 1970s may have a lot to answer for in all sorts of ways, but some pretty ground-breaking – or in Matta-Clark’s case building-breaking – art was made then and it’s work that still resonates and that continues to influence subsequent generations of artists.
As the end of the academic year approaches, the time has come to turn a very messy art school studio into as good an approximation of a white cube gallery space as possible. I love the process of making the end of year exhibition but I’m not so keen on the construction part of it. All that filling, sanding, cleaning and painting is stupidly tiring – even for me, and frankly I mostly direct proceedings while others to the actual work – and pretty stressful. We always get it done but there’s always a point where it seems like we won’t. Which brings my thoughts to work that reminds me of the tools we need and the work that needs doing.
Susan Collis’s work fits the bill perfectly. After all, her exhibition Don’t Get Your Hopes was basically a gallery in need of some art, right? Well, appearances can be deceptive.