Cerith Wyn Evans, Astrophotography…The Traditional Measure of Photographic Speed in Astronomy…’ by Siegfried Marx (1987), 2006
Thinking about Kris Martin’s Mandi iii and its futile attempts to communicate information reminds me about Cerith Wyn Evans’s chandeliers, one of which – the snappily titled Astrophotography…The Traditional Measure of Photographic Speed in Astronomy…’ by Siegfried Marx (1987) – was in the Fade In/Fade Out exhibition at Bloomberg SPACE. Unlike Martin’s piece though, Wyn Evans’s did communicate its message, alebit in a way few could read without assistance. Astrophotography…The Traditional Measure of Photographic Speed in Astronomy…’ by Siegfried Marx (1987) is not just the title of the work but also of the text it is painstakingly spelling out in morse code.
Writing about Bruce Nauman’s Days yesterday put the idea of sound and the way information is communicated firmly in my mind, so coming across a leaflet for Fade In/Fade Out – a show I saw at Bloomberg SPACE a few years ago – while sorting through a pile of random paperwork felt like a very good coincidence. There were a few great pieces in the exhibition, but the work that’s stayed with me most clearly is Kris Martin’s Mandi iii, a station information board loudly and relentlessly updating to make sure we have up to the minute information. But as the flaps clicked over the lack of information remained; every surface on the board was plain black.
Nancy Burson, Warhead I (55% Reagan, 45% Brezhnev, less than 1% each of Thatcher, Mitterand, and Deng), 1982
The idea of the digital composite that Idris Khan uses to such great effect isn’t a new one by any means. Possibly somewhat surprisingly it goes back several decades, with Nancy Burson – who had been involved with Experiments in Art and Technology (EAT) since leaving college in the late 1960s – making composite portraits digitally in the early 1980s. Composite photographic portraits of course have a much longer history – Francis Galton’s composites of criminal types were made in the late nineteenth century for instance – but the use of digital is something Burson pioneered.
It’s not all about the technology though. Indeed, it’s as art that Burson’s work interests me more. In building her composites, Burson is effectively making layered photomontages and accordingly her work can be seen as the combining of two (or more) elements to reveal a third meaning. In Warhead I, Burson has combined the imagges of world leaders accoring to the percentage of the world’s nuclear arsenal they had at their disposal. This being 1982 that effectively mean merging the faces of Leeonid Brezhnev and Ronald Reagan. Though in a way this makes me think about the significance of nuclear weapons during the Cold War it’s also interesting that it seems to come from a simpler time. How many faces would be in the mix now? And would anyone be able to accurately pinpoint the percentages?
As of Wednesday, analogue telly is a thing of the past. Well okay, it’s clinging on for a few more months in a couple of parts of the country, but for most of us in the UK old tellies either need to be attached to a digibox or it’s all over. At Ambika P3, David Hall’s End Piece … exhibition (part of which I wrote about here a week or two ago) is a fitting way to mark its passing. The centrepiece of the exhibition is the extraordinary, descriptively titled installation 1001 TV Sets (End Piece). With the analogue switchoff on Wednesday the work went from being a bewildering jumble of images with a cacophonous soundtrack to 1001 different types of snow. The sound is still loud but it’s a constant static now rather than the chaos of five competing television channels.
Gary Hill, Inasmuch As It Is Always Already Taking Place, 1990
Like Nam June Paik, Gary Hill often uses the physicality of the television as part of the work but for Hill the box is something to shed leaving the screen and the tube behind it to occupy the space. Multi-screen video works become installations in which the means of display takes on its own significance. Inasmuch As It Is Always Already Taking Place is, in a way, a self portrait, albeit a fragmented one and one which tells us little about Hill.
As we lose the analogue television signal, the impetus to get rid of old analogue televisions is even stronger. The cathode ray tube makes them bulky and heavy next to the sleek lines of plasma and LCD televisions and the need to have an external box to pick up a signal adds to the feeling that the time has come. But that same bulk that seems so annoying in the average living room is key to quite a lot of art from the last few decades. The box is part of what can blur the boundaries between moving image and sculpture. In the case if Nam June Paik’s TV is Kitsch it is the physical presence of the television casings that gives the work its form.
For Chris Burden, best known at the time for difficult and dangerous performances such as Shoot (1971), television offered an appealing platform. His initial proposals for performance works having been turned down, his first television appearance was a 1972 interview that he – literally – hijacked to pursue his own agenda, turning the interview into a performance called TV Hijack. It’s not this that I want to write about though, mostly because I find the idea quite hard to contemplate but also because I find his subsequent strategy of buying advertising time rather more interesting.
Art isn’t usually advertised on television – the Damien Hirst retrospective at Tate Modern notwithstanding – and the idea of an artist working with the format of a 10 second advert is an intriguing one.
David Hall, Interruption piece and Tap piece from TV Interruptions (7 TV pieces), 1971
Art and television don’t have much of a relationship. There are programmes about art, of course, but even though video art is pretty common in galleries, there’s not much actual art on TV. To an extent, it was ever thus. But there are some interesting examples, and as the analogue switch-off approaches here in London, it seems like a good time to think about them, especially as the occasion is being marked at Ambika P3 with a timely exhibition of David Hall’s work.
Trained as a sculptor, David Hall turned his attention to experimental film at the start of the 1970s, ultimately becoming a pioneer artists’ film and video in Britain, and coining the phrase time-based media. In 1971, Hall was commissioned to make a series of works to be broadcast on Scottish television. This series of TV interruptions were broadcast unannounced and uncredited to what must have been a somewhat baffled audience.
Spending a week in New York is a great way to see a lot of art. There’s all the stuff you expect to see of course – great exhibitions at MoMA, the Met, the Guggenheim etc – and there are the big name commercial galleries that are always worth a visit and then there are the galleries you just wander into because something catches your eye. By the end of this visit, I felt – as usual, I suppose – that there was so much I’d wanted to see but hadn’t managed to get to. I could happily spend a week wandering round Chelsea and probably the same again elsewhere.
Aware of how little I’d seen I snuck a last quick visit to Chelsea into my final morning, in the main wandeing at random, and just as I really needed to start thinking about getting back to the hostel – oh, this glamorous life! – I spotted Alan Rath’s work in Bryce Wolkowitz and had to take a look.
Yinka Shonibare MBE, Addio del Passato at James Cohan Gallery
The key characteristic of Yinka Shonibare’s work is his use of Dutch wax fabric. Based on Indonesian batik fabrics but manufactured in Europe by the Dutch, who then exported it to West Africa when it failed to catch on in the Netherlands, and bought by Shonibare from Brixton market in London, the fabric has connotations of colonialism, post-colonialism and the movement of cultures thereby engendered and of the multi-culturalism of contemporary London. Thus it neatly connects the different aspects Shonibare’s own background as a British-born, Nigerian-raised Londoner and has allowed him to build a practice that is simultaneously coherent and diverse and both serious and playful. These complexities and contradictions are reinforced by Shonibare’s adoption of the letters MBE after his name when he was given the honour in 2005: an artist whose work could be seen as commenting on empire accepted and uses an honour that makes him a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
It’s not surprising then the work in Shonibare’s exhibition Addio del Passato at James Cohan Gallery is by turns beautiful and fascinating and very, very funny. Equally unsurprising perhaps is that the work I especially want to write about is all of these things. And also really rather rude…