Visualising an idea: Fischli/Weiss’s Rock on Top of Another Rock

Fischli/Weiss, Rock on Top pf Another Rock, 2010, NorwayFischli/Weiss, Rock on Top of Another Rock, 2010

By the side of a tourist route in Norway a large rock sits improbably on top of another rock. Were one to drive past and fleetingly glimpse this rock pairing, it would be possible to catch sight of them and wonder idly whether this was a balancing act made by man or nature. Are the rocks there to mark the way? Are the the site of some ancient ritual? Are they like that following a landslide? If one weren’t looking out for them, contemporary art probably wouldn’t be one’s first thought. In fact though, this curious arrangement – the momunmental equivalent of countless pictures on Flickr – is Rock on Top of Another Rock by the Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss. Londoners might know a newer incarnation of the work which currently occupies a site in Kensington Gardens just outside the Serpentine Galley (of which, more later I rather suspect).

What interests me here isn’t the work – though that does fascinate me and it’s a work I’d really love to see – it’s the process of proposing such a sculpture. Just as Michael Landy drew out his idea for Break Down – the subject of a previous post – so, according to Peter Fischli, who spoke about the work and the process of its commissioning at the V&A earlier in the year, Fischli/Weiss used an image as a core element of their proposal. Unlike Landy though, they didn’t make a drawing. Instead, they found an image on the internet. The nature of the image may come as a bit of a surprise…

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Memory bank

George Shaw, Scenes from the Passion: The Swing, 2002-3

The landscapes in George Shaw’s paintings all conceal stories but in this case the narratives are Shaw’s own childhood memories. For the series Scenes from the Passion, Shaw worked from photographs taken within a half mile radius of the house he grew up in. The area is unremarkable and, in Shaw’s paintings, unpopulated. There is a bleakness here but also perhaps a sense of anticipation. Though the area is very specifically the territory of Shaw’s childhood in a way it feels like the paintings depict a kind of everytown. There are certainly scenes here that I can match against my own suburban London upbringing.

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Every picture hides a story

Mats Bergsmeden, from the series Border Line, 2004–12

The pictures in Mats Bergsmeden’s series Border Line are very beautiful landscape photographs. Most seem like idyllic places, indeed my immediate thought was of the pastoral idyll of landscape painting and this seems to be Bergsmeden’s intention, with the specific reference of the landscape tradition in European painting during the Age of Enlightenment. Some of the pictures are of places where man’s intervention is limited to controlling nature but in some there are signs of the built environment and industry. Though all the images are unpopulated, in some we seem to be approaching signs of human activity; there is a sense that we are on the outside looking in. It would be possible to appreciate these as beautiful landscape photographs without reading anything more into them, but that would be to completely miss the point.

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Signs of life

Nancy Holt, from California Sun Signs, 1972

The idea of representing existing text as art intrigues me and is something that can work in very different ways. It’s essentially the basis of Nancy Holt’s 1972 work California Sun Signs but this is a body of work driven by the inclusion of text in the image but in which the text is only a small part of the piece. Presented in a somewhat random but broadly circular arrangement on the wall, the individual images that make up California Sun Signs each show a sign found in the Californian landscape, which in each case includes the word sun.

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Today, tomorrow and yesterday

The unmediated sea at Margate.

There’s something compelling about the sea. It looks so flat and innocent but it demands our respect and we know how violent it can be. But even on the dullest, stillest day, I think I could stare out to sea for quite a long time without getting bored. Standing outside Turner Contemporary at Margate, Mark Wallinger’s Sinema Amnesia is watching the sea this summer and showing it back to us in the form of The Waste Land. The installation takes the form of a shipping container supported by scaffolding and not trying to pretend otherwise. There are references to cinema not just in the title but also the signage but otherwise it’s essentially just a black box in a car park in a run-down seaside town, albeit a car park outside a contemporary art gallery.

Mark Wallinger, Sinema Amnesia installed in Margate, 2012

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Contested land

Willie Doherty, Dead Pool II, 2011

At first sight, Willie Doherty’s recent photographs – included, along with works from throughout Doherty’s career, in the exhibition Disturbance, currently at the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne – are beatiful if somewhat bleak images of a desolate  landscape. But like all Doherty’s work the subject matter is Northern Ireland and even that basic level of knowledge – coupled with the titles of works such as Dead Pool II or Seepage – means that the photographs carry a very different resonance.

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The sound of melting ice

Katie Paterson, Vatnajökull, 2007

Vatnajökull in Iceland is the largest glacier in Europe. But it’s melting into a lagoon, thanks, one assumes, to climate change. For a week in June 2007, artist Katie Paterson submerged a microphone, attached to a mobile phone, into the freezing waters of the ever expanding Jökulsárlón lagoon making it possible to listen to the sound of the ice melting.

For the work Vatnajökull (the sound of), Paterson displayed the phone number – in the form of a neon sign – at the Slade School of Fine Art in London as part of her MFA degree show.

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