Francis Alÿs, Paradox of Praxis I (Sometimes Making Something Leads to Nothing), 1997
It’s the idea of making art by making a journey that’s brought Francis Alÿs to mind now. Alÿs is an artist whose work I find fascinating. It can be funny, moving, thought-provoking and, in a couple of cases, really quite alarming. And quite a few of his video works are all about the journey. I’m pretty sure I’ll write about other works by Alÿs at some point but the idea of the dismantling and remaking of the shed in Simon Starling’s Shedboatshed (Mobile Architecture no. 2) in my mind, has made me think about Alÿs turning something into nothing by making a journey.
In fairness, a block of ice in Mexico City stood a proverbial snowball’s chance in hell really, but Alÿs has made facilitating the act of disappearing the ice into a pleasingly futile act through the application of hard work in the hot sun.
Lindsay Seers, installation view of Entangled² at Turner Contemporary, 2012
Seeing Lindsay Seers’s work is never straightforward. Her work is essentially video but it’s never as simple as watching something on a monitor or projected onto the gallery wall. Entangled² is no exception. Unlike previous works I’ve seen, Seers hasn’t built a space within a space to contain the work here. Instead it’s shown in an existing part of the gallery building but one the publicity material refers to as a ‘secret location within Turner Contemporary’. There are screenings every half hour; those wanting to see the work are met in the foyer and led out through the car park to the space. While this is something that could easily irritate me, I’ve found all the work I’ve seen by Seers so far really intriguing so I quite enjoyed loitering in the foyer and wondering who else was on a Seers-seeing mission. And, a real plus, it mean that the whole audience was in placed and headphoned-up before the piece started which meant no distracting comings and goings during the film. So far so good, but what about the work?
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
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.
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.
Gillian Wearing, Signs that say what you want them to say and not signs that say what someone else wants you to say (Help) and (I’m desperate), 1992-3
Though Gillian Wearing doesn’t re-enact the work of a scientist to make art, arguably she does nonetheless take on another role: that of the confessor. In a number of different works, Wearing allows those she encounters – either through approaching strangers on the street or by advertising – to express their innermost thoughts in one way or another.
For the series of photographs Signs that say what you want them to say and not signs that say what someone else wants you to say, made in 1992-3, Wearing asked people to write a sign that said something they really wanted to say and hold it up for the camera. Some of the signs comment on the wider political situation of the time – like now, Britain was in a recession – others expose the anxieties of those who made them, with the subjects’ inner thoughts often jarring with their images.
For Kim Rugg, the chaos of a newspaper front page is something to be organised. I’m sure we’ve all seen publications we think could be better presented but few would go to Rugg’s lengths to create a different order out of the information on offer. Rugg painstakingly cuts up the page and reorganises the content according to her own system, so that here the letters in each section are in alphabetical order.
It’s easy to recognise the paper as the Guardian but harder to determine the news of the day and certainly impossible to make sense of it in any conventional way.
Looking at Jeanne Dunning’s mouldy still lives yesterday made me think about Sam Taylor Wood’s Still Life, a time-lapse video work in which a basket of fruit reminiscent of countless still life paintings gradually decays and is taken over by rather beautiful white mold. At first sight, shown on a plasma screen, the work mimics a painting and it takes time to realise that the fruit is gradually changing as it starts to rot. This is beautiful decay but it’s still hard not to feel a little repulsed by the outcome.
Gary Hill, Inasmuch As It Is Always Already Taking Place, 1990
Like Nam June Paik, Gary Hill often uses the physicality of the television as part of the work but for Hill the box is something to shed leaving the screen and the tube behind it to occupy the space. Multi-screen video works become installations in which the means of display takes on its own significance. Inasmuch As It Is Always Already Taking Place is, in a way, a self portrait, albeit a fragmented one and one which tells us little about Hill.
As we lose the analogue television signal, the impetus to get rid of old analogue televisions is even stronger. The cathode ray tube makes them bulky and heavy next to the sleek lines of plasma and LCD televisions and the need to have an external box to pick up a signal adds to the feeling that the time has come. But that same bulk that seems so annoying in the average living room is key to quite a lot of art from the last few decades. The box is part of what can blur the boundaries between moving image and sculpture. In the case if Nam June Paik’s TV is Kitsch it is the physical presence of the television casings that gives the work its form.