Liu Bolin, Hiding in the City – Mobile Phones, 2012
Every stood in the supermarket in a state of bafflement wondering which of the 2378297 (or more) different types of shampoo to buy? I know I have. Often. We are always being told that choice is good, but too much choice can be bewildering. Out shopping, especially in the supermarket, unless I fancy a change for some reason, I’m generally pretty focussed; there are definitely things I buy again and again. There’s often a lot to be said for sticking with what you know, of course, but as consumers we all need to make choices and often the sheer range of stuff on offer is overwhelming.* And, of course, when it comes to consumer goods, to a considerable extent we are what we buy. I’m thinking about getting a new phone so, with Liu Bolin firmly in my mind, this feels like a good time to distract myself from decisions by looking at Liu’s pictures.
Other than knowing that they’re very rare and eat bamboo, I know very little about pandas. But the continued survival of the panda triplets born in China in late July gives me an excuse for a long overdue post about the work of Liu Bolin, the art world’s invisible man. Liu somehow manages to paint himself into the landscape allowing himself to disappear into the city. The resulting photographs are intriguing not least for the tension between the challenge of finding the artist – not always easy – and thinking about the significance of the scene and why Liu has chosen to hide himself within it.
I’ve written about Francis Alÿs going for a walk here before (that time in the form of his Pradox of Praxisfor which he pushed a block of ice around the streets of Mexico City until all he had to show for his efforts was a rapidly drying water mark of the pavement) but this week, given the awful news from Gaza, it’s his 2004 work The Green Line: Sometimes doing something poetic can become political and sometimes doing something political can become poetic that’s worked it’s way back into my mind.
I can’t pretend to have anything more than the most rudimentary understanding of the politics of the middle east but this is a work that at least helps with some basics by taking us back to the division of Jerusalem after the end of the Arab-Isreali war in 1948: the green line drawn on a map of the city by Moshe Dyan.
Richard Grayson, Nothing Can Stop Us Now, 2014 (video still)
There’s something about the image on the Matt’s Gallery website to promote Richard Grayson’s Nothing Can Stop Us Now at Dilston Grove that makes me think of The Apprentice. I guess it’s the slightly upward camera angle and the way the group are gathered in front of a building that immediately suggests high finance. The five people in question – Leo Chadburn, Bishi, Laura Moody, Tom Herbert and Sophie Ramsay – are the performers in Grayson’s multiscreen sound and video installation at Dilston Grove, a former church in Southwark Park. The image is a screenshot from one of the five screens that see the performers congregate outside locations that of cultural, political and financial importance. That the act of gathering outside such locations now speaks both of solidarity and protest and of competition and capital and the power of the media is interesting in the context of the work.
Even knowing about Collis’s transformations of ordinary objects, there’s something surprising about her works that mimic laundry bags. These aren’t readymades subtly transformed by the inlaying of jewels; they’re even less what they seem to be at first glance. Rather than woven plastic, the bags are made of paper – okay for thoroughly dry laundry, but run out of coins in the laundrette and there’s a chance your bag could collapse on the way home – and their woven appearance is just that: an appearance. A very carefully drawn on one.
Koki Tanaka, installation view of exhibition in Japan Pavilion, Venice Biennale, 2013
One of the frustrations of art fairs, biennales and the like is the intense time pressure of trying to see everything you want to see in a day (or contemplate buying another ticket to go back, an unappealing option even if one has an extra day free to make it possible), making video and performance works really tricky. On the plus side, the excuse to have a bit of a sit down is often welcome so it’s not all bad. Certainly at last year’s Venice Biennale some of the works I enjoyed the most were time based including a number I really wanted to go back and spend more time with given the chance (didn’t really happen in the case of the things I most wanted to revisit, unfortunately, but that’s the way it goes really). I’ll write more about some of the works that have stayed with me most clearly in the coming days, I hope, but I’ll start with a show that mixed video and objects in a space that still bore the traces of the previous year’s architecture biennale. None of which is what interests me most about the work.
I’ve written about Michael Landy’s Break Down here before, but at the time I focused firmly on the event and the photographic documentation. Breakdown, an Artangel commission that saw Landy destroy all his possessions with the help of a team of overall-clad operatives and a production line style ‘disposal facilty’ set up in the former C&A store on Oxford Street, came back to mind for a few reasons. Mainly, I’ve been trying to reduce the clutter levels in my house and while there’s a long way to go I’ve become pretty familiar with the local charity shops and reacquainted myself with stuff that’s long been lurking in what can only reasonably be described as the junk room. While I’m probably worse than most people at getting round to dumping the clutter, I think many of us do attach memories to things in a way that can make it hard to acknowledge our lack of practical need for objects that may hold sentimental value, however slight.
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.
Bob and Roberta Smith knows how to make a point. In the exhibition The Art Party USA Comes to the UK at Hales Gallery at the moment (okay, not for much longer but there’s still a chance to catch the show if you’re quick), he’s in full-on soap box mode – he’s even made his own soap boxes for the occasion – in a bid to entice us to join the Art Party of the USA. The starting point for the Art Party was Bob and Roberta Smith’s May 2011 letter to Michael Gove, which he published to encourage others to write in to emphasise the importance of art in the school curriculum. Not a political party in any traditional sense, according to the website in order to join one simply needs to “make some art and encourage others to do so!”
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.