n. pl. cor·po·ra (-pr-)
1. A large collection of writings of a specific kind or on a specific subject.
2. A collection of writings or recorded remarks used for linguistic analysis.
3. The main part of a bodily structure or organ.
//Reviews of art. Art and language. Art and the body.
What does it mean to say “I love you”? And what qualifies someone to say it? When do they know for sure that it is actually love that they are feeling, and not just strong affection, attraction, or lust?
The current group photography show at Tenderpixel, curated by Richard Ansett, explores just this question, taking the work of five artists, who each approach the subject from their own unique perspective, but whose responses, nevertheless, share common traits, reinforcing the fact that love, whatever it may be, is something of a universal phenomenon.
19-year-old Grace Brown’s Gillian Wearing-esque photograph of a girl holding up a sign saying “I love you” is, superficially, the simplest. The only one-piece work in the show, it greets the visitor as he enters the gallery. Dig a little deeper, however, and all is not as it might seem. The work comes from a series called Project Unbreakable, in which Brown asked victims of sexual abuse to write a quote from their attacker on to a poster and hold it up. She claims to be using photography as a means to “help heal.” As Ansett explains, with regards to his choice of photography as the medium for tackling this theme: “The power – indeed, the danger – of photography is in its closeness to depriving us of reality. Simple acceptance of what we see only masks the deep issues that direct its core subject matter.”
Uttering “I love you” as part of a ritual of hate and hurt is something which is usually resonant in Natasha Caruana’s works as well, where she focuses on betrayal and deception within marriage. For this exhibition, however, she has produced a set of small wedding photographs, Fairytale For Sale, where the faces are scribbled or blotted out, and the purpose is to advertise the dress for sale. This might either be interpreted as a melancholy reflection of the temporal nature of any earthly union, of which the white dress, so costly, yet worn for just one short day, is a symbol of this transience, or, conversely, it might be seen as a sign of lifelong commitment, for better or worse, with the dress rendered redundant, since the marriage bond will last for eternity. Perhaps it’s a case of your glass being either half empty or half full when you look at the pictures?
Certainly there is cause to be feeling a little low whilst perusing the photographs on display here, since the remaining works all centre on the theme of loss, either of oneself, or of the person to whom the title statement is addressed. Andre Penteado’s two poignant works – a series of 36 “portraits” of clothes hangers, and an hour-long film documentary with relatives talking about their loss and the process of grief following the suicide of a loved one – are part of a larger body of work called Dad’s Suicide, and stem from his personal experience of the trauma. The visual of the film focuses on the clasped hands of the various narrators, wringing together and fidgeting, fingers tightly interlocked, a clear sign of the pent up emotions and pain behind the brave face they are putting on as they speak of acceptance and trying to remember only the good times. Is this what love is? Grief and loss? Something which is only truly recognised too late in the day?
A realisation of one’s own mortality is reflected in EJ Major’s 12 part mug shot series, Marie Claire RIP, in which the artist restages the NYPD photographs of an unnamed woman, over a 14 year period, as she succumbed to her heroin addiction, and ultimately died. The original images, which appeared in an article in Marie Claire in 2002, formed part of an anti heroin campaign. Major’s version, in which she herself takes on the triple role of model, photographer, and retoucher, grew out of a desire to memorialise an unnamed person, as well as out of her own fear of death. The sad demise and lonely anonymity of this woman are a harsh reflection of the emptiness which one can experience in the absence of love, but, at the same time, Major’s wish to remember her is perhaps suggestive of a type of agape love, or love of one’s fellow human being.
Lastly, Pete McGovern’s Trespass consists of a small selection of six photographs, from a series of thousands, of building site images he has taken over the past couple of years. McGovern, who describes himself as “male to female gender dysphoric,” reflects, in the broken concrete, dug up and churned ground, and piles of rubble, the remains of a previous existence, a grave, and a birth site for a new life – a life filled with love for and acceptance of oneself – for in the words of the song, perhaps that truly is the greatest love of all.
This may be Sarah Lederman’s first London solo show, but she has been a name about town for quite some time now, since being tipped by Kay Saatchi, in 2008, as an “artist to watch”, and then winning, over the following couple of years, various prizes, including the prestigious Catlin Art Prize (2009). In 2010, she exhibited alongside Tracey Emin in part two of the three-part travelling exhibition, The Body in Women’s Art Now, and, indeed, it is with representations of the female body that her work remains concerned.
Born in London in 1986, Lederman graduated from Chelsea College of Art and Design in 2008, and is set to return to studying for a Masters at Goldsmith’s from October 2012. Although no longer an adolescent herself, her sketchy pubescent figures couldn’t be mistaken for anything else. With tentative pencil outlines, suggestive and uncertain, treading the fine line of trial and error, of becoming, her shadowy shapes are then filled in or overlaid with watered down oil paint, so fluid that it drips across the canvas, collecting in pools, and leaving scratchy patches of pigment, like a caterpillar shedding its chrysalis, or the formation of a new skin. Lederman has said: “I use paint to conjure the illusion of skin and containment in the body. For me, paint is a way of building up cells and filth to allude to the surface of the skin. My painting makes the disgusting and repulsive become beautiful. The containable becomes uncontainable. The body becomes fluid, unfixed.” Certainly there is something about the dripping and leaking fluids which encourages an abject response, and the abject, as any reader of Kristeva will know, is all about the process of separation, of individuation, of becoming oneself, the subject, separate from the (M)Other. Put simply, it’s about growing up, and Lederman’s paintings capture this painful process in action, portraying shadowy figures, no longer children, but not quite adults. Angels (2012), for example, with its title suggestive of innocence and purity, depicts two girls, cropped so as to be headless and footless, provocatively clad with sheer black tights, arms semi-interlinked. One is wearing a bra, the other not, thus capturing that moment of discovering and henceforth covering the body.
This exhibition also showcases a new body of Lederman’s work, inspired by J W Waterhouse, and vibrant in its glistening blues, greens, and yellows. This water nymph series seems to offer a progression from the dark and haunting depiction of adolescence in Lederman’s other works, instead hinting at the beginning of a recognition of the power of being a developed adult, sexual female, capable of seduction. These sirens, actively aware of their potency and desirability, are no longer blinded by the innocence of childhood, and all have their eyes wide open, a vivid blue to match the watery background, whereas the unformed, awkward creatures elsewhere have mere daubed blotches where their eyes ought to be.
There is something very Spring Awakening about Lederman’s works, and, as the artist herself confesses, she continually finds herself returning to her teenage years, “examining the desire to be something that the body won’t let itself be.” Having passed her first quarter centenary, however, one wonders whether she will remain so ensconced in this developmental era of her life, or whether, and if so how, she might progress, art mirroring life experience of an assured and successful young woman? Whichever way she goes, Kay Saatchi was right to mark out this artist as one to watch.
Oil on canvas
60 x 50 cm
Oil on canvas
80 x 70 cm
Girl with Blue Eye
Oil on canvas
60 x 55 cm
All images courtesy the artist and ROLLO Contemporary Art.
Down Stairs at Great Brampton House, Herefordshire
22 September – 18 November 2012
“Love is an incurable disease […] In love, there is permanent suffering.” So said Marcel Proust, and, certainly, over the centuries, this is a belief which has been reiterated and propounded by many a broken heart. “We’ve all been crushed by love. No one can avoid the pain of a broken heart, unless, of course, they have no feelings.” Whilst love, in its pure form, ought to bring joy and happiness, it all too often springs forth in a less than perfect form – unrequited, impossible, fantastical, dark, obsessional – a desire for desire, and a desire to be desired; in Lacanian terms, the impossible need to fill the void inside, and the creation of an objet petit a, or object of desire, which can never be achieved.
The group exhibition curated by Corinna Spencer, currently on show at Transition Gallery, but due to tour to Coventry and Herefordshire later in the year, is a celebration, or perhaps a lamentation, of this kind of tainted love. The division of the gallery space with partition walls gives each participating artist his own space in which to divulge his private fantasy world, with an almost confessional overtone. With pinned up photos, collages, and shrines of devotional objects, however, a more sinister comparison might be with the cellar of the serial killer in any modern day psycho crime drama. Indeed, Spencer herself describes the exhibition as “a day-dreamingly dark installation questioning what it means to desire, cherish, seek, long, admire, envy, celebrate, protect or destroy.”
Some of the works are fairly innocuous, and purely an attempt to capture and preserve, or recreate, something beautiful, as, for example, Annabel Dover’s three simple and small painted studies of flowers and leaves, a homage to Victorian botany, and, in particular, her hero, Anna Atkins, daughter of the scientist J.G. Children.
Others, also turning to traditional forms of art and craft, seek, perhaps, to create the perfect dream. Andrea Hannon, for example, has filled an open sewing chest with books, each one painstakingly carved into, with images cut out and intricately assembled into a relief installation, further adorned with hanging threads, like the yarns of all the potential tales which might unravel as we journey through life and love, creating our own stories. The work suggests a blurring of fantasy and reality, a Wonderland into which one could step, if only the drink me bottle of potion were available to make one shrink sufficiently.
Equally fragile is Georgie Flood’s ephemeral white voile, daubed with an intimate black painted image of lovers’ faces resting against one another – suggestive of a transient, fleeting moment, but also one which has been captured and preserved forever. A pile of masks at its foot, however, disturbs the idyll somewhat with a painful reminder of spurned loves past.
Several works refer to celebrity culture, with Cathy Lomax’s strips of canvas beautifully painted with profiles of male film stars – long standing symbols of unattainable desire – and Jessica Voorsanger’s more sinister installation of paintings and costumes representing three “stars” shot by obsessives – Andy Warhol, Abraham Lincoln, and John Lennon.
Alli Sharma’s canvases are based on the Smiths’ record sleeves from her youth. There is an intensity to them, inherent to adolescence, that period when emotions seem set to destroy, and, despite being confined to black and white, there is more depth and devotion to these images than any pyrotechnic firework display of coloured paint could ever convey. Simultaneously, however, they remain at a slight remove from present reality, creating a detachment, and rendering them the stuff of dreams and memories.
The most abstract work in the show is, undoubtedly, Alice Anderson’s series of columns of tightly bound copper thread, woven around personal objects of devotion which she holds so dear that she seeks to protect them and keep them entirely for herself. As with Voorsanger’s destroyed idols, this is symptomatic of an obsession which is on the verge of turning into mania and illness – an object has become so desired that if the devotee cannot have it himself, no one else can. To return to Lacan and the notion of unattainable fulfilment: the only way to truly possess something is to destroy it. And, as this exhibition reminds us, love that tainted can certainly be nothing more than a cause of permanent suffering.
“Together let us desire, conceive, and create the new structure of the future, which will embrace architecture and sculpture and painting in one unity and which will one day rise toward heaven from the hands of a million workers like the crystal symbol of a new faith.”
These words epitomise the vision of Walter Gropius when, in 1919, following the birth of the new Weimar Republic at the end of the First World War, he set up what was to become the most influential art school of the 20th century, the Bauhaus (1919-1933). The current exhibition at the Barbican Art Gallery, “undoubtedly one of the most ambitious in the Barbican’s 30 year history” [according to Kate Bush, the head of the gallery], is the largest UK Bauhaus exhibition since that of the Royal Academy in 1967, and the first ever to collaborate with all three Bauhaus centres in Germany – Weimar, Dessau, and Berlin – which has only become possible since the reunification of 1990.
The exhibition, which includes more than 400 works – paintings, wood cuts, sculptures, ceramics, textiles, furniture, graphics, architecture, film and photography – is structured chronologically, so as to give a sense of evolution of the school, from its early Expressionist roots, through the influence of parallel movements, such as Constructivism and De Stijl, to its final few years in Berlin, under the leadership of Mies van der Rohe, when it became principally a school of architecture, for which it is, perhaps erroneously, best known to this day. Actually, the architectural and furniture aspects are but a small part of what the school had to offer, as will quickly be realised if one visits this immense and wide-ranging show.
In its early days, Bauhaus training focused on such things as visual analysis, figure drawing and the study of nature, materials, colour, rhythm and form, but even from the very beginning, teachers such as Johannes Itten sought to “free students of all conventions, and to liberate their creative potential.” To this end, he ran courses, alongside the preliminary essentials, in gymnastics and breathing exercises. He later dedicated a period to the making of toys and games – a joyful variety of which are on show here, including puppets made by Paul Klee for his son Felix, and some straw and wool dolls, and brightly coloured wooden building bricks, similar to those one can still buy in German toy shops today, by Alma Buscher. As Itten explained: “I struck a powerful blow to the old academic tradition of the nude and drawing from nature and I am leading all creative activity back to its roots, to play.”
After its move to Dessau, in 1924, into a purpose-built, functionally-designed new “home”, living, socialising and working became largely inseparable. Social life was a key component of the school’s curriculum, and other artistic activities, such as theatre and dance, came to the fore. Several rooms of the exhibition are turned over to intimate, family album style photographs from these years, showing the relationships between students and teachers, and their playful approaches towards each other and their experimental work. Alongside individual, hand-designed diplomas, one of the most touching exhibits in the show is a collective birthday card with collaged lip prints from masters and students to demonstrate their high regard for Gropius on his 44th birthday (Herbert Bayer Prospectus: the mouth. 44 caresses in DIN, 18 May 1927).
But it was not all fun and games, and following funding cuts, the need for the Bauhaus school to produce and market products increased. Seemingly lighting fixtures and wallpapers were the most successful, and many examples of such items are also on display, alongside fabrics for curtains and carpets, and, of course, the recognisable Bauhaus styles of chairs and tables.
Lessons also continued in colour and form, and another interesting item to be seen is a response to a questionnaire sent out by Wassily Kandinsky, who, with a personal interest in sensory perception of and relationship between the two, asked his students to match each of the basic geometric forms with a primary colour, and, where possible, to provide an explanation. The results affirmed his own correlation between yellow and the triangle, red and the square, and blue and the circle, but, sadly, none of the students’ rationales are provided here (unless you can make out the faded and scribbled pencil markings on the sample on show!).
As well as the final rooms of experimental series of photographs and photograms (a camera-less process for making photographs), there are many “action” photographs of the various workshops over the years – pottery, weaving, printing, metalwork, stained-glass, stone-carving and wood sculpture, to name but a few – focusing, again, not so much on the materials and art works, but on the students and tutors themselves. As Kate Bush concludes, the term Bauhaus means a lot of things to a lot of people, but, primarily, it was “a community of exceptionally creative people […] who lived and worked and played together.” With a goal to market and sell real products to real people, its values still have resonance today, and, as a celebration of a truly international community, both in terms of teachers and of students, it seems particularly apt to host this exhibition now, in London, on the eve of the arrival of visitors from across the globe for the 2012 Olympics.
“Yes, my paintings are oxymoronic. They are contradictory just as I am. That’s where I come from – from thinking absurdly.” This is the proud proclamation of accidental artist, Patrick Hughes (born 20 October 1939), during a talk as part of an open studio afternoon he is hosting in his spacious workshop in the heart of London’s trendy Shoreditch.
“I became a visual artist when I went to college. In the English Department to which I was applying they asked me which writers I liked. I answered Franz Kafka, Eugene Ionesco, Lawrence Sterne, N.F. Simpson, Christian Morgenstern and Samuel Butler. They said, ‘You should be in the Art Department.’ So I became an artist.”
Sacha, a young woman in her 20s, is cowering on the floor in her underwear. An older woman, her mother, comes over to comfort her, but then, unexpectedly, pulls her hair hard, shakes her, and pushes her back to the ground. She grabs the towel around the girl’s shoulders, almost suffocating her. The daughter’s cries are accompanied by those of a remorseful mother, looking on in shame, before holding her tight once more. They both cry together, hug, hold one another tight, laugh, all the while muffled by the deliberate sound distortion in the video recording. Then the cycle begins again. Chilling and disturbing, this scene of domestic violence, more commonly expected between a husband and wife, freezes one’s blood, transposed, as it is, on to a mother-daughter pairing, where one might expect unconditional and tender love. And such is the response the visitor might have to a great many pieces in the Whitechapel Gallery’s current survey show of over 100 works by Turner Prize winning artist Gillian Wearing. Famed for her vox populi interventions, such as the photo series Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say (1992-3) and the masked, video-taped confessions in Confess All On Video. Don’t Worry, You Will Be In Disguise. Intrigued? Call Gillian… (1994), Wearing plays with the distinction between public and private space and the masks which we all don every day before going outside to face the world. Her photographs and films are honest and revealing, unsettling and brutal, since, ironically, by putting both herself and others behind masks and hiding the external self, she unreservedly reveals what’s going on inside.
“To me there is no past or future in art. If a work of art cannot live always in the present it must not be considered at all. The art of the Greeks, of the Egyptians, of the great painters who lived in other times, is not an art of the past; perhaps it is more alive today than it ever was.”
With an attitude like this, it is no surprise to see the plethora of classical motifs present in Picasso’s Vollard Suite, a set of 100 prints, currently on show for the first time in their entirety in a British public institution, at the British Museum. Named after avant-garde Paris art dealer and print publisher Ambroise Vollard, who was responsible both for giving Picasso his first Parisian exhibition (joint with fellow Spanish painter, Francisco Iturrino, in 1901), and for establishing his reputation as a printmaker, this particular set is a new acquisition for the museum, and, having never been shown in public before, is in pristine condition.
Nothing at the Saatchi Gallery is ever just about art in the traditional sense – that is, it’s never just about looking, seeing, and responding aesthetically; there’s always a conceptual element, something clever, something subversive about the works. And this is certainly the case with the current exhibition, Out of Focus, the first major photography show at the gallery in over ten years. Showcasing the work of 38 international artists – for the term “photographer” is too narrow, and alternative suggestions span such neologisms as “photoworkers”, “photoartists”, “camera artists”, and “cross-platform mediators” – old ideas about the “professional” and “amateur” are disregarded, just as are the boundaries between categories such as documentary, fashion, advertising and art.
A large number of the works turn the medium into their subject, celebrating the process of photography itself, as, for example, with Jennifer West’s filmstrips, in which images of surfers, in saturated purples, pinks and blues, are displayed like grand scale negatives, capturing the movement in a style similar to early pioneer in the field, Eadweard Muybridge, and Mariah Robertson’s 88 (2010), a unique photographic print on an entire roll of glossy archival paper, hung down the height of the wall and unrolled across the gallery floor, again reminiscent of a roll of negatives. Taking a more modern angle, Anders Clausen’s Picture 35 and Green (both 2010) present screenshots of desktops, both exploiting and satirising digital photography. At the opposite extreme, Matt Collishaw has created a number of monumental black and white and mirrored mosaics, breaking down the images, as he says, like pixels, but simultaneously using one of the oldest art forms there is.
Beyond the specifics of the medium, and stripping bare the underlying mechanisms of image-formation and image-capturing, Hannah Sawtell’s Degreasor In the Province of Accumulation 6 (2011) depicts a large close up of an eyeball and what appears to be a lens separating from it. Here, we are put in the position of actually looking at looking and becoming aware of the sensory and physical elements of the process.
More creative, and playing with illusions and trompe l’oeil, Noémie Goudal’s Les Amants (Cascade) (2009) appears, at first glance, to be a fast flowing waterfall, but, upon closer examination, reveals itself to be a man-made installation of transparent plastic sheeting. Is it still beautiful? Do we still stand there in breathtaking awe? Or do only natural realities deserve such a response? Does a created image of a created artefact deserve equivalent reverence?
The works in gallery 8, by Meredith Sparks and David Noonan, push the definitions of photography to the extreme, comprising 3D sculptures which are part photograph, part print, part fabric, part painting, part performance and part installation. Although nowhere else taken quite this far, the other rooms abound with instances of collage, ranging from Olaf Breuning’s Collage Family (2007), to Daniel Gordon’s and John Stezaker’s collaged portraits, Michele Abeles’ fragmented body parts, pots and plants, and Sohei Nishino’s dioramas of Paris, Tokyo, and New York, where aerial views blend with straight up façades to create strangely disorienting but beautifully evocative city plans.
There are, nonetheless, some more typical works, such as the landscapes of David Benjamin Sherry, and Ryan McGinley’s single coloured cave interiors, Blue Breakdown and Jonas (Molten) (both 2009), which draw the viewer in with their intensity, so that the image uncannily captures the onlooker, rather than vice versa.
Portraiture is also present in the works of Pinar Yolaçan, whose series Perishables portrays stoic British women, clad in ruffled pink blouses, disturbingly tailored out of animal flesh, and Katy Grannan’s poignantly anonymous Boulevard series, depicting American citizens of all ages and genders (sometimes this latter distinction is not so clear), wrinkled, hairy, fat and thin, proudly standing against an equalising white wall.
To me, it is these works which stand out as highlights of the show – beautiful in their simplicity and uncomplicatedness – letting the image speak for itself and reflecting a reality, whilst simultaneously creating a new one, a moment caught in time. For all the cleverness and self-examination of the main body of works on display, it is these straightforward and old fashioned – if one must reprove them thus – similitudes which seem most wholeheartedly to capture the essence of photography as an art form worthy of celebration.
Jennifer West Dawn Surf Jellybowl Filmstrip 1
Archival inkjet print
183 x 30 cm