Suburban stories: the borrowers

Gregory Crewdson, Untitled (Woman at Vanity), 2004 (from the series Beneath the Roses)

Although Gregory Crewdson’s strongest influences seem to come from Hollywood cinema, and his works are easy to read as film stills, in some of his pictures there are also clear art historical references. Untitled (Woman at Vanity) could easily be a still from a film or and American television series. I find myself wondering about the open curtains – especially given that this is a ground floor bedroom – and worrying about the slightly open patio door. The couple seem sad, but this is not a shared state; each looks lost in their own thoughts and their own private disappointment. The setting and the relationship between the couple might scream Crewdson but coupled with a hint of Edward Hopper.

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The power of place

Yael Bartana, An Europe will be Stunned, exterior installation view, Polish Pavilion, Venice Biennale, 2011

Given the subject matter of identity and nationhood that lies at the heart of Yael Bartana’s And Europe will be Stunned and the way the trilogy explores the possibility of return and the dangers of nationalism and totalitarianism, the context in which I first came across the work – in the Polish Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale – was a fascinating one. It is unusual but not unheard of for an artist who neither lives in nor comes from a country to be selected to represent it at Venice and this was the first time Poland had been represented by an artist who wasn’t a Polish national. And, of course, the history of the Venice Biennale along with the architecture of the national pavilions, the positioning of them within the Giardini and factors like when different countries built or acquired their pavilions offers an interesting, albeit inevitably incomplete, picture of the politics of Europe in particular. Add to this the fact that in 2009 Poland was represented by Krzysztof Wodiczko, who left Poland in 1977 and has been a Canadian citizen since 1984, with Guests, a work about migration and the status of immigrants who remain forever ‘guests’ in their new homes, and the Polish pavilion becomes a fascinating, and intensely loaded, location for Bartana’s installation.

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More questions than answers

Yael Bartana, Mary Koszmary (Nightmares), 2007

I don’t go to see art expecting easy answers. I like work that makes me think. (I like work that just bowls me over visually too, but I’m going to assume that’s a given rather than getting bogged down by trying to make an exhaustive list of types of art I like. Let’s just work on the basis that I like art. And, for my purposes here, that thinking is a bonus and a bit of confusion is fine.) I’m not scared of challenging work and I don’t necessarily expect to get it straight away. I’m pretty tenacious; I’ll go back for a second look (if I can, my tendency to see exhibitions on the day they close can be something of a limitation in this respect) or read whatever background information I can find. All of which should be borne in mind when I say that I’ve seen Yael Bartana’s And Europe will be Stunned three times now and I’m still trying to figure out exactly what I think about it.

The work is made up of three connected films – Mary Koszmary (Nightmares), Mur i wieża (Wall and Tower) and Zamach (Assassination) – made over a period of several years and is based around the premise of a movement encouraging the return of Jews to Europe. You won’t often find me focusing on biographical information, but it’s relevant here: The artist, Yael Bartana, is an Isreali Jew whose grandparents died in Poland during the Holocaust.

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Artist describing a square

Bruce Nauman, Dance or Exercise on the Perimeter of a Square, 1967-68

‘If I was an artist and I was in the studio, then whatever I was doing in the studio must be art.’ – Bruce Nauman in conversation with Ian Wallace and Russell Keziere, Vanguard, Vol. 8 #1, 1979

In the late 1960s and the 1970s, when moving image was making its way into the gallery in a big way as 16mm film started to be replaced by video, they often took a pretty descriptive approach to titling work. Bruce Nauman’s film and video works of that period – a number of which are on show in the North Gallery of White Cube Bermondsey at the moment as part of the Inside the White Cube programme – are simply made and descriptively titled and driven by Nauman’s assertion that as an artist, everything he made in the studio must surely be art; an argument that works well enough for Nauman himself but one which is immediately undermined by the collection of Damien Hirst paintings on display here in the South Galleries, which I wrote about yesterday.

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Drawing sculpture in the dark

Anthony McCall, Line Describing a Cone, 1973

While I’m on the subject of almost non-existent sculpture, especially almost non-existent sculpture that might in some way be seen as drawing, it’s perhaps inevitable that Anthony McCall’s Solid Light Works should worm their way into my thoughts. I can remember the first time I saw Line Describing a Cone very clearly indeed. It’s just one of those works: astonishing, engaging, playful, uplifting even. There’s something about the way it plays tricks on both eye and mind. That first encounter was at an almost deserted Hayward Gallery – it was about two days before Christmas, which turns out to be a great time to see art almost in private – in the exhibition Eyes, Lies and Illusions which brought together a collection of magic lanterns, zoetropes and other optical devices with works by contemporary artists. It was a great show. And then, there was one final room just before the exit. When I went in it was empty and, my friend and me aside, it stayed that way for a good five minutes or so.

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Dividing the space

Gordon Matta-Clark, Splitting, 1974

One of my main preoccupations over the last couple of weeks while preparing for the end of year exhibition is how to divide up the space. Obviously for me this involves figuring out where the walls should go and what should go where to make the exhibition make as much sense as possible. But, you know, a bit of literal mindedness and it’s only a small leap from how to divide the studio to Gordon Matta-Clark and the chainsaw and sledgehammer approach to redefining architectural space.

The 1970s may have a lot to answer for in all sorts of ways, but some pretty ground-breaking – or in Matta-Clark’s case building-breaking – art was made then and it’s work that still resonates and that continues to influence subsequent generations of artists.

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We interrupt this broadcast…

David Hall, Interruption piece and Tap piece from TV Interruptions (7 TV pieces), 1971

Art and television don’t have much of a relationship. There are programmes about art, of course, but even though video art is pretty common in galleries, there’s not much actual art on TV. To an extent, it was ever thus. But there are some interesting examples, and as the analogue switch-off approaches here in London, it seems like a good time to think about them, especially as the occasion is being marked at Ambika P3 with a timely exhibition of David Hall’s work.

Trained as a sculptor, David Hall turned his attention to experimental film at the start of the 1970s, ultimately becoming a pioneer artists’ film and video in Britain, and coining the phrase time-based media. In 1971, Hall was commissioned to make a series of works to be broadcast on Scottish television. This series of TV interruptions were broadcast unannounced and uncredited to what must have been a somewhat baffled audience.

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The whole story

Fiona Banner, Apocalypse Now, 1997

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!

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After dark

Michael Raedecker, Ins and Outs, 2000

There’s something about houses in the middle of nowhere. In some respects I can see the attraction of living in a modernist box surrounded by trees, although clearly in practice I’d miss the tube and being able to get to galleries and theatres and the cinema and decent shops and, oh, the list goes on but it gets too boring to type. In the end though, surprisingly, it’s not fear of not being in London that’s the biggest factor, it’s the fear of just not knowing what’s out there. Okay, so being in a hermetically sealed glass box might be warm and safe but if you can’t see what’s outside, well, it could be anything.

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Are you sitting comfortably?

Ilja Karilampi, installation view at Wilkinson Gallery

I’ve been preoccupied with seating recently and in particular with the way film and video is shown in gallery spaces. It turns out that my attention span is much reduced if I’m not sitting comfortably. (Well, durr.) A particular low is the woefully inadequate seating at the ICA for the Lis Rhodes: Dissonance and Disturbance exhibition. When I came to write about that exhibition for MostlyFilm, all I could think about was how uncomfortable I’d been. So visiting galleries in east London yesterday it was pleasing to come across a couple of more interesting approaches.

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