Lucy Skaer, Leviathan Edge part of the installation Thames and Hudson, 2009
Since I’m on a bit of a skull theme, Lucy Skaer’s Leviathan Edge – the skull of a sperm whale borrowed from National Museums Scotland for inclusion in her installation Thames and Hudson – popped into my mind. The skull is rather larger than those adorned by Damien Hirst or Gabriel Orozco. By about 14 foot or so. The whale skull is vast and its shape utterly unfamiliar. It’s a curious object made all the more fascinating by Skaer’s tantalising presentation of it in an enclosed space so that we can only see small sections of it through narrow slits.
The reputation of the 1970s isn’t great. If you type ‘1970s the decade’ into its search box, Google helpfully suggests the additions ‘that taste forgot’ and ‘style forgot’. Thanks for that. In fairness, in all sorts of ways it was a pretty rubbish decade. But it was also a decade in which some pretty great art was made and one in which women used art as a political weapon as never before. Probably. I’m sure there are plenty of earlier examples, but there was a pretty significant connection between female artists and the emerging women’s movement. Feminist artists like Mary Kelly, Martha Rosler, Judy Chicago and others made work that challenged previous modes of representation and sought to celebrate women and the female body on their own terms. Inevitably, the results weren’t always pretty.
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Barbara Kruger, Untitled (It’s a small world), 1990
If art reflects and comments on the world around us then it’s not surprising that it also has the potential to change minds. There are lots of artists whose work engages with political issues with the aim of helping bring about social change. And while I’m on a text theme it makes sense to think about some of those who use text directly to get their message across.
Barbara Kruger’s work draws on her own background in design and particularly in the magazine business. In her work, Kruger combines black and white photographs – often from magazines that promote the lifestyle she critiques – combined with text on a red ground. It’s a simple formula but it’s also a powerful one.
Stories can be told in many different ways, words on the page and images on a cinema screen being two of the most common. It’s when the means of story-telling becomes words on a cinema screen that things start to get confusing. I’m not sure how easy it’d be to try to follow the story of Apocalypse Now from Banner’s piece of the same name, but the narrative is all there. It’s just that it’s there as a hand-written text on a page the size and shape of a cinema screen. And only yesterday there I was claiming Sean Landers choice of line length seemed excessive!
Thomas Schütte, Low Tide Wanderings, 2001 (installed in Print/Out at MoMA, 2011)
In 2001, with digital practices becoming increasingly widespread in the visual arts, Thomas Schütte decided to use very traditional, analogue image-making as a way of keeping a visual diary. Rather than drawing in sketchbooks, as he usually would, Schütte adopted the more labour-intensive approach of etching. He subsequently produced an edition of 139 prints, one of which is included in the Print/Off at MoMA.
Reading someone else’s diary, a decade after the event, isn’t necessarily that interesting and in part the fascination of this work lies in the installation rather than the images. The prints are suspended on lines criss-crossed through the gallery just above head height (if, like me, you’re quite short).