The female nude is an all too familiar figure in the history of Western art. There is a lot that is troubling about representations of the female form in art and the notion of beauty as an essential facet of art. Seen in the context of this, Marina Abramović’s Art Must Be Beautiful is an intriguing work. Abramović is seen brushing and combing her hair, repeatedly and with an intensity that makes the performance – or the video documentation of it – really hard to watch at times. Abramović accompanies the often violent hair brushing with a mantra ‘art must be beautiful, artist must be beautiful’. The notion that art must – or at least, should – be beautiful remains a quite widely held belief albeit one that has been widely challenged over the last hundred and fifty years or so.
No car maintenance manual would be complete without an exploded view diagram or two, so it seems appropriate that it should be a car that Damián Ortega chose to break apart and display as a kind of three-dimensional diagrammatic representation of itself; indeed Ortega based the car’s deconstruction on the diagram in the car’s repair manual. The car in question in Ortega’s sculpture Cosmic Thing is a 1989 VW Beetle. The Beetle is one of the Seen from the side – or the front, albeit to a lesser extent, as the picture after the jump will show – the car is immediately recognisable and the work seems like a drawing in many ways.
Mel Brimfield, Vincent (Portrait with Fur Hat and Bandaged Ear), 2012
Mel Brimfield makes art about art in a very different way to others that I’ve written about here before (the reworkings of Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress by David Hockney and Yinka Shonibare or Gregory Crewdson’s remained Edward Hopper picture, for instance). As with Shonibare’s Diary of a Victorian Dandy, Brimfield’s work is performative but there’s a humour in the work that feels more connected to Nina Katchadourian’s Self-portrait as Sir Ernest Shackleton though in Brimfield’s work the performances are collaborations between artist and performer. The resulting works – photographs, videos and sculpture – reference not only the artists Brimfield is looking at but also our ideas about art and the way the artists have been represented in films. Brimfield’s exhibition Between Genius and Desire at Ceri Hand Gallery Project Space – the gallery’s first show in London – gave me a lot to both think and smile about.
From the start, the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern has been unusual. Taking its name from the function of the vast space when the building was still a power station, it’s really not a typical museum space. The artists commissioned to make work for it have all responded to it in very different ways but it’s the response of the audience, almost as much as the work itself, that makes the annual Unilever Commission fascinating. From Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project (which I’ve written about before) to those brief few days when visitors to Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds were allowed the access the artist had intended before health and safety concerns caused the work to be cordoned off, the Turbine Hall somehow makes people behave more like they would at the beach than in an art museum. All of which makes Tino Sehgal (whose work I’ve touched upon before elsewhere) an intriguing choice for this year’s commission. How would an artist whose work lies in the dynamic between audience and performer make work for such a cavernous space? And how would the audience respond?
David Wojnarowicz, image from A Fire in My Belly, 1989
David Wojnarowicz is one of those artists. I find his work really interesting and immensely powerful but I haven’t seen very much of it in real life. One day I hope to get the chance to rectify that but in the meanwhile I’ll carry on looking at his work in reproduction. I like his approach to putting images – and often text – together in collages, prints and paintings but it’s his film work that interests me most, in part because it’s here that everything comes together.
And in terms of this blog and the way I let my attention move from one artist to the next by following the most literal of connections – I’m all about the unashamedly clunky segue after all – the use of read thread in his film A Fire in My Belly is more than a little convenient.
Sofia Hultén, Fuck It Up and Start Again, 2001 (one guitar smashed and mended 7 times
The idea of auto-destructive art may to a very large extent be of its time, something that fitted with other forms of protest – particularly the anti-nuclear movement – of the late 1950s and the 1960s, but its influences continue to be felt. And, of course, the idea of smashing guitars has long since gone from shocking indication of the state of young people and their music to rock cliché.
I should have known from the start that there would be more to Adel Abdessemed’s Mémoire than was apparent at first glance. After all, his work is never quite as it seems and there is almost always a degree of violence and pain somewhere in the work. But watching Mémoire, my first response was laughter. This was a baboon spelling words out on an magnetic whiteboard. Maybe if I watched long enough it would start writing Shakespeare. Isn’t that what monkeys are meant to do given time?
Martha Rosler, Semiotics of the Kitchen, 1975 (video still)
They took things very seriously in the 1970s. Well, some things anyway. And two of those things were video art and feminism. In art terms, there was the whole postmodern emphasis on parody and pastiche going on. With video, though artists might have enjoyed the playfulness of exploring a new medium and freeing performance art from the one-off event, the resulting work was often somewhat po-faced. And of course, challenging the longstanding notion that a woman’s place was in the home, where she should be chained to the kitchen sink, metaphorically at least, wasn’t to be taken lightly.