Elizabeth Price, The Woolworths Choir of 1979 (still), 2012
With the end of the year rapidly approaching and with the start of the academic year having provide rather too hectic for me to manage regular blogging as well, now seems like a good time to close some of the gaps by looking back at some of the art I’ve seen but not written about this in 2012. And where better to start than with the Turner Prize – which in fact I have already written about but for MostlyFilm rather than here – and with the work I correctly predicted would win. Of the work in the Turner Prize exhibition, other than Paul Noble’s Nobson drawings which I’ve seen from time to time over the years that he’s been making them, it was Elizabeth Price’s The Woolworths Choir of 1979 and that I was most familiar with having seen it quite by accident at MOT International earlier in the year. That encounter was an intriguing one; I’d headed to Bond Street to see, I think, Nancy Holt or maybe Jamie Shovlin at Haunch of Venison and had a enough time to spare to pop in to MOT without having checked what was on there.
Lis Rhodes, Light Music, 1975 (installed at Tate Modern, 2012)
Performance art in museums is still something of a rarity. Though film/video installations do fare a bit better, the prospect of having a space dedicated to showing practices such as these in a major museum is an exciting one. Given that I am also intrigued by the reuse of former industrial spaces, all in all I’m quite excited about the opening of The Tanks – the vast underground tanks that once held the oil for Bankside power station – at Tate Modern. Converted, like the building itself, by architects Herzog + De Meuron, The Tanks are not remotely like the white wall gallery spaces we’ve come to expect. Like the Turbine Hall, The Tanks – two large circular spaces plus some smaller rooms – have been left unashamedly industrial.
In many ways Lis Rhodes’s Light Music which I saw in The Tanks at Tate Modern reminded me of Anthony McCall’s solid light works, such as Line Describing a Cone (1973). There is the same use of a hazy space to accentuate the beams of projected light. But it is also a very different work. Though both can be described as drawings, Light Music feels more random, as the lines one screen come and go; like much of Rhodes’s work, in some ways, this feels more like collage.
Given my recent preoccupation with work that transforms the space its shown in, making us focus on the gallery in a new way, it’s really about time I wrote about Observation Point, Zoe Leonard’s exhibition at Camden Arts Centre. Doubtless I would have written about this sooner, but I kept forgetting to go and see it; I love Camden Arts Centre and it’s really easy to get to for me but somehow those two facts seem to conspire to make me miss show after show there. Thankfully, this is one I didn’t miss.
Pretty much the only thing I knew about the exhibition before hand was that Leonard had turned one of the gallery spaces into a camera obscura. I was slightly worried that making my visit during a late night opening might prove to be a mistake but though the space – and the projected image of the road outside – was dim, it was nonetheless fascinating. Despite the work taking its title from the road the gallery is on, the lens points not at Arkwright Road but at the relentlessly busy Finchley Road to the side of the building. The traffic is constant but the skyline is also arresting with a large crane stretching from the wall onto the floor and across the space.
There are lots of ways to paint, as a quick wander through any major art museum will amply demonstrate. But there are those who change out understanding of art through their work, and Gustav Metzger is one such. Metzger’s notion of auto-destructive art, which he initially defined in 1959, was an interesting and highly-influential on which was rooted in the belief that Western society was failing (Metzger has been a Marxist all his adult life). The idea is that the work has the capacity to destroy itself or that it is destroyed by the actions of its creator.
Gustav Metzger: Auto-Destructive Art (1959)
Auto-destructive art is primarily a form of public art for industrial societies.
Self-destructive painting, sculpture and construction is a total unity of idea, site, form, colour, method, and timing of the disintegrative process.
Auto-destructive art can be created with natural forces, traditional art techniques and technological techniques.
The amplified sound of the auto-destructive process can be an element of the total conception.
The artist may collaborate with scientists, engineers.
Self-destructive art can be machine produced and factory assembled.
Auto-destructive paintings, sculptures and constructions have a life time varying from a few moments to twenty years. When the disintegrative process is complete the work is to be removed from the site and scrapped.
Krzysztof Wodiczko, City Projections – Nelson’s Column, 1985
Commissioned to make a projection onto Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Sqaure for two nights in 1985, Krzysztof Wodiczko focused on the military aspects of the square and decided to project an image of a missile wrapped in barbed wire. But while in London for the event, Wodiczko realised that the square, as home of South Africa House, also played host to a longterm protest against the apartheid regime still very much in charge of South Africa and supported by then British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.
Redirecting his projector, Wodiczko changed the image…
Jenny Holzer, Truisms, 1977-9 displayed at Times Square, 1982
For Jenny Holzer the work lies in the words rather than the particular way in which they are disseminated. So her Truisms have been projected in public spaces, worn as T-shirts, placed on gallery walls, plaques, stickers and postcards and more. The art lies in getting the words out there. Of course there are aesthetic and conceptual decisions about how and where they appear but it is the text and the way the audience encounters it that drives these.
Among the means of display Holzer employs, several involve sites or approaches more usually associated with advertising automatically colouring our response to the messages. Holzer’s slogans often challenge the political status quo in some way, making this appropriation of public display mechanisms all the more interesting.
The relationship between art and technology is a long and complex one and not something I want to explore in any depth today. In these works the means of production is there for all to see so I’ll use the simplicity of the work as a space for contemplation of the possibilities offered by low technology, in this case the humble overhead projector.