The power of song: Richard Grayson’s Nothing Can Stop Us Now

Richard Grayson, Nothing Can Stop Us Now, 2014

Richard Grayson, Nothing Can Stop Us Now, 2014 (video still)

There’s something about the image on the Matt’s Gallery website to promote Richard Grayson’s Nothing Can Stop Us Now at Dilston Grove that makes me think of The Apprentice. I guess it’s the slightly upward camera angle and the way the group are gathered in front of a building that immediately suggests high finance. The five people in question – Leo Chadburn, Bishi, Laura Moody, Tom Herbert and Sophie Ramsay – are the performers in Grayson’s multiscreen sound and video installation at Dilston Grove, a former church in Southwark Park. The image is a screenshot from one of the five screens that see the performers congregate outside locations that of cultural, political and financial importance. That the act of gathering outside such locations now speaks both of solidarity and protest and of competition and capital and the power of the media is interesting in the context of the work.

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Precisely drawn confusion

Susan Collis, Conchi, 2008

Susan Collis, Conchi, 2008

Even knowing about Collis’s transformations of ordinary objects, there’s something surprising about her works that mimic laundry bags. These aren’t readymades subtly transformed by the inlaying of jewels; they’re even less what they seem to be at first glance. Rather than woven plastic, the bags are made of paper – okay for thoroughly dry laundry, but run out of coins in the laundrette and there’s a chance your bag could collapse on the way home – and their woven appearance is just that: an appearance. A very carefully drawn on one.

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Sitting pretty

installation view of Japan Pavilion, Venice 2013

Koki Tanaka, installation view of exhibition in Japan Pavilion, Venice Biennale, 2013

One of the frustrations of art fairs, biennales and the like is the intense time pressure of trying to see everything you want to see in a day (or contemplate buying another ticket to go back, an unappealing option even if one has an extra day free to make it possible), making video and performance works really tricky. On the plus side, the excuse to have a bit of a sit down is often welcome so it’s not all bad. Certainly at last year’s Venice Biennale some of the works I enjoyed the most were time based including a number I really wanted to go back and spend more time with given the chance (didn’t really happen in the case of the things I most wanted to revisit, unfortunately, but that’s the way it goes really). I’ll write more about some of the works that have stayed with me most clearly in the coming days, I hope, but I’ll start with a show that mixed video and objects in a space that still bore the traces of the previous year’s architecture biennale. None of which is what interests me most about the work.

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In painful pursuit of beauty

Marina Abramovic, Art Must be Beautiful, 1975

Marina Abramović, Art Must Be Beautiful, 1975

The female nude is an all too familiar figure in the history of Western art. There is a lot that is troubling about representations of the female form in art and the notion of beauty as an essential facet of art. Seen in the context of this, Marina Abramović’s Art Must Be Beautiful is an intriguing work. Abramović is seen brushing and combing her hair, repeatedly and with an intensity that makes the performance – or the video documentation of it – really hard to watch at times. Abramović accompanies the often violent hair brushing with a mantra ‘art must be beautiful, artist must be beautiful’. The notion that art must – or at least, should – be beautiful remains a quite widely held belief albeit one that has been widely challenged over the last hundred and fifty years or so.

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Unmaking the readymade

Damián Ortega, Cosmic Thing, 2002

No car maintenance manual would be complete without an exploded view diagram or two, so it seems appropriate that it should be a car that Damián Ortega chose to break apart and display as a kind of three-dimensional diagrammatic representation of itself; indeed Ortega based the car’s deconstruction on the diagram in the car’s repair manual. The car in question in Ortega’s sculpture Cosmic Thing is a 1989 VW Beetle. The Beetle is one of the Seen from the side – or the front, albeit to a lesser extent, as the picture after the jump will show – the car is immediately recognisable and the work seems like a drawing in many ways.

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Art about art – Mel Brimfield: Between genius and desire at Ceri Hand Gallery

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.

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Ordinary people

Tino Sehgal, These Associations, 2012

From the start, the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern has been unusual. Taking its name from the function of the vast space when the building was still a power station, it’s really not a typical museum space. The artists commissioned to make work for it have all responded to it in very different ways but it’s the response of the audience, almost as much as the work itself, that makes the annual Unilever Commission fascinating. From Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project (which I’ve written about before) to those brief few days when visitors to Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds were allowed the access the artist had intended before health and safety concerns caused the work to be cordoned off, the Turbine Hall somehow makes people behave more like they would at the beach than in an art museum. All of which makes Tino Sehgal (whose work I’ve touched upon before elsewhere) an intriguing choice for this year’s commission. How would an artist whose work lies in the dynamic between audience and performer make work for such a cavernous space? And how would the audience respond?

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