When I think about the role of art – if it can be said to have one – I think I fundamentally see it as holding a mirror up to the world. I guess this means art tells us stuff me already know, it just switches things around a bit, creating familiarity tinged with an oddness that somehow focuses the mind. Having just written that, I’m inclined to think it proves I probably shouldn’t think about the role of art at all. It just makes me spout art crap.
One of the things I know about Thomas Dane Gallery – apart from stuff like where it is and that I’ve seen some great shows there – is that it closes at 4pm on a Saturday. I know this because I am disorganised and find 4pm a bit too early. On my way in to town last weekend I double-checked the website just in case and noticed that the gallery was open until 6pm which made it possible to both have a late lunch and get to the Tony Morgan show. This was cheering news.
When we think of moving image art it’s usually film and video works that spring to mind first, but artists like to play and there’s more than one way to make an image move. One of the works I’ve enjoyed the most in recent years is Juan Fontanive’s Quicknesse, a simple flipbook device which traps a hummingbird in a loop of hovering. The sound of the work conjures a sense of agitation and urgency; the bird is beautiful, trapped in our gaze.
There is something extraordinary about this work. Whether it’s the simplicity of the device or the touching beauty of the image, in which the bird is isolated from its surroundings (the background of the image is painted out in white so that the bird floats), I’m not sure, but it has stayed with me since the first time I saw it. Effectively this is stop motion animation as sculpture. Juan Fontanive has another London show opening at Riflemaker Gallery next month. Can’t wait.
The list of art works I really want to see is quite a long one, but somewhere towards the top – and part of an as yet imaginary art holiday that includes other pieces of American land art – is Walter de Maria’s The Lightning Field. In the middle of nowhere, about three hours drive from Albuquerque, The Lightning Field is, um, basically a field. With, if you’re very lucky (and most who visit it won’t be), some lightning.
Wendy McMurdo, Helen, Sheffield from the series In a shaded place, 1996
At first sight pretty much any of the pictures in Wendy McMurdo’s series In a shaded place could be a straight photograph. If what you see is what you get, these are twins, dressed the same as some twins are. There is a slight oddness, possibly from the exact similarity of the outfits, but nothing more. But the titles suggest a singularity that is absent from the image. Which twin is Helen?
Steven Pippin, Self-Portrait Made Using a House Converted into a Pinhole Camera, 1986
There are quicker and easier ways to take pictures. It’s not as though cameras aren’t readily available in shops. For Steven Pippin though, the process of making a picture usually starts with the process of making a camera. In itself that’s not so unusual. There are probably countless art teachers out there who have encouraged students to make pinhole cameras. Usually such undertakings begin with a box of some sort, often a biscuit tin. But that would be way too easy for Pippin.
There are many artists who explore the relationship between painting and photography and plenty who use photography to render studio installations flat – Thomas Demand for instance, who I wrote about yesterday – what makes Calum Colvin’s approach unusual and why talk about his work now?