It’s that time again. The year turns and I conclude it might be time I got back to writing about art a bit. This year I plan to be better at keeping it up but I’ll aim for regular(ish) but not especially frequent posts, perhaps two or three a week but with no long gaps. Maybe. And, probably inevitably, I’ll start things off by thinking back at the work I’ve seen over the past year and withering on about the works that have stayed with me. As usual, I’ve managed to miss a lot of shows I really wanted to see and some of the shows I did see were forgotten pretty much as soon as I’d left the space. So what managed to work its way into my head and stay put? The first thing that comes to mind is Untitled (Human Mask), a film work by Pierre Huyghe which I saw at Hauser and Wirth in October in Huyghe’s exhibition IN. BORDER. DEEP. Huyghe is an artist whose work I know rather less well than I should given that I think I’ve liked pretty much everything I’ve seen by him and writing about this work reminds me that I would love to get to know his work rather better.
Chris Marker, A Grin Without a Cat installation view
I guess it’s seeing the two within a week or two that means that Richard Grayson’s Nothing Can Stop Us Now reminded me in a way of Chris Marker’s Silent Movie which is included in the Whitechapel Gallery exhibition Chris Marker: A Grin Without a Cat. The connection is a simple but somewhat tenuous one: both works feature five monitors. In Grayson’s piece, these run in a horizontal line across the front of the space using the full width of the building. In Marker’s Silent Movie the monitors are in a vertical tower. The tower is a bolt together structure which is both the simplest solution to housing the monitors and also, in its industrial simplicity, somewhat constructivist in feel.
A Brief History of John Baldessari, 2012 – title screen
In a way it’s just a short leap from Tips for Artists Who Want to Sell to the three things John Baldessari believes every young artist should know, though rather than painting these he chose to impart them to Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the directors of the short – very short, we’re talking six minutes here – documentary A short History of John Baldessari. It turns out it’s possible to find out quite a lot about Baldessari in six minutes, though I suspect knowing a certain amount about the man and his work before hand does help.
It’s just possible that art informs my understanding of the world a bit too much.
On holiday last month while driving through the Cornish countryside, conversation turned to the nature of farming in Cornwall. I knew there was arable farming from buying Cornish vegetables in the supermarket. Fair enough. But I realised that it wasn’t the cream teas or the plentiful local ice-cream that brought dairy farming to mind. No. It was art. Tacita Dean’s 1999 film Banewl to be precise.
Banewl is hardly action packed. Made during the total eclipse of the sun visible – albeit mostly masked by clouds – in the West Country, the hour-long work shows the edited highlights of a couple of hours in the lives of a herd of dairy cows on the day the sky went dark.
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.
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.
If there’s a hellishness to When Parallel Lines Meet at Infinity that makes it possible to see Mark Wallinger’s journey through the underground as a journey to the underworld, then his work Threshold to the Kingdom can be seen as representing an altogether better passage to a different world. The journey here is a simple one – through a set of automatic doors into the arrivals hall at London City Airport – but it is made in slow motion and to the accompaniment of glorious choral music which gives the arrival an uplifting feel. Some are greeted by friends, others pass through to continue their journey alone but there is a feeling of calm even when it briefly looks like paths might converge and collisions occur.
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.
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.
There are many ways of making political art. For some the point needs to be made in an explicit way while others are happier to leave things open to interpretation. Though Summer Camp is much easier to make sense of than And Europe Will Be Stunned, which I wrote about here recently, Yael Bartana is clearly towards the open to interpretation end of the scale. In Summer Camp, Bartana records the rebuilding of the house of a Palestinian family in the village of Anata (east of Jerusalem) by volunteers organised by the Isreali Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), a non-violent direct action group both protests about house demolitions and seeks to rebuild demolished houses. The team of volunteers filmed by Bartana included both Palestinians and Isrealis as well as people from other countries. In a sense then, Summer Camp is effectively a documentary, but as with the films that form And Europe Will Be Stunned there’s more to it than that.