Sunday, 28 February 2010

The Pembrokeshire Open Art Exhibition

The Pembrokeshire Open 2010

I went with my friend Louise Bird to the opening of The Pembrokeshire Open Art Exhibition last Saturday. It is a new annual open competition for emerging and established artists showing at the Joanna Field Gallery at the Torch Theatre, Milford Haven.

Louise was chosen for the show with Iota, a 260 metre crocheted fishing line piece which was installed on the upper floor, a good spot which utilised the natural light and views across the harbour.

Louise Bird - Iota - reflected in the windows of the Torch Theatre - seen here

My own choice of winner would have been Amanda Benson, a London based artist who was showing two small pieces of sculpture commenting on luxury property.

Amanda Benson - Holiday Home St. Pere de Ribes - seen here

"Running simultaneously with and counter to the vogue for property make-overs Amanda Benson presents Dreamhomes that, although they have their origins in California or Nantucket, are constructed from the primitive materials to be found to hand in a Hackney artist's studio. The gap between Jackie O or Elvis' mansion and the plasticine and cardboard re-interpretations express both a grand and poignant wish-fulfillment and the basic human need for shelter common to both. The everyday materials make up delicate and beautiful structures that pique our imagination, let us re-build the lives of the rich and/or famous in our own image and with whatever means are at our disposal." seen here

Blast House

I went to The Lyric Theatre in Carmarthen on Friday evening for the first in a new series of poetry, music and art cabaret events. Congratulations to the 'curator' and organiser of Blast House, poet, Chris Ozzard. The identity of Blast House comes from the short lived literary magazine Blast published in 1914 and 1915 as a mouthpiece for the Vorticist movement and seen as emblematic for the first modern art movement in England.

The cover of the first edition of BLAST, 1914 from the Tate Collection

This is a brave and welcome development for Carmarthen. The evening was a brew of art films, jazz and poetry. I particularly enjoyed orfeo 5 headed up by electro-composer Shaun Blezard, and poet and saxophonist Keith Jafrate they collaborated for this performance with Carmarthenshire musician Susan Matthews.

I'm looking forward to the next event on 30th March which will include Zoë Skoulding, Poetry from Menna Elfyn, David Greenslade, Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch and Alexander Trowbridge-Matthews, films from artist Gareth Hugh Davies and hopefully more from orfeo5.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot - From Hear to Ear - Seen here

I'm intrigued by this installation currently showing in The Barbican. Musician and composer, Céleste Boursier-Mougenot has turned the gallery into a walk through aviary/sound garden for zebra finches. Furnished with electric guitars and other objects, the finches go about their daily lives, using the guitars for perching and feeding whilst co-incidentally making haphazard live sound.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Écoute le temps

Écoute le temps - Directed by Alanté Kavaïté - seen here

Part of the project I am working on for The Last Gallery in Llangadog, Absent But Not Forgotten, has been to watch lots of films and TV within the horror/ghost story genre. We have especially been interested in the way that the aesthetics and methods of the media has informed its own development - art-imitating-life-imitating-art. One of the films I have found particularly beautiful is a French thriller called Écoute le temps - the English Language distribution title is Fissures.

Following the murder of her clairvoyant mother, a young sound recordist returns to her home in the French countryside. She begins to unravel the mystery of the killer through realising she can intercept the voices of the past with her sound equipment. She creates an extraordinary web of threads and markers as she attempts to plot the locations of the sound and discover the truth.

Here is a links list to some of the things we have been watching.

Mark Z. Danielewski - Cover of House of Leaves

This idea about the house as a container for its own histories has been an abiding theme for me in recent years, I was deeply effected by the book House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (2000). It is a hugely ambitious book which uses footnotes, type and design to reinforce the plots within. It is a kind of physical version of hyperlinked text. The use of a number of narrators creates a claustrophobic, neurotically tense story. This book was picked up in a similar way to The Blair Witch Project (1999) by Internet promotion and rumours of its alleged authenticity.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Ralph Turner - Crafts curator

Ralph Turner talking about Collecting a Kaleidoscope curated from the The Crafts Council Collection

The Glynn Vivian Gallery in Swansea has a small space which is used to show exhibitions of craft and design objects, the shows are curated by Ralph Turner. A former exhibitions Officer for The Crafts Council, Ralph Turner is renowned as a curator, writer and craft critic. Quiet and understated, these shows are exquisite little gems showing important and significant makers.

The current exhibition is called Sitting Pretty and features chairs as design objects.

Mario Botta - Seconda Chair 1982 - photo Louise Bird

The gallery says: A well designed chair can bring a sculptural element to any room and, as this exhibition shows, there are a number of ways of achieving this. Starting in the early 20th Century with the revolutionary work of Gerrit Rietveld and Alvar Aalto, the exhibition includes later examples of Italian design from the 1950s & 60s by Giancarlo Piretti and Anna Castelli Ferrieri.

Swiss architect, Mario Botta is represented with structured work from the 1980s, alongside Britain's Richard La Trobe-Batemen and Fred Baier. More recently, BarberOsgerby's successful London practice covers a wide range of products, as does Jasper Morrison, whose cool handling of aesthetics has established his global reputation.

Alongside Rietveld, there are four more contemporary Dutch contributors to the show with individual approaches to furniture: Ruud-Jan Kokke, Tejo Remy, Erik de Graaff, and Tord Boontje. In Britain, Jim Partridge and Edward Teasdale both work with wood, whilst Joe Wentworth, the youngest maker in this exhibition, produces unexpected designs such as cement stools, demonstrating that experiments with unorthodox materials can pay off.
Seen here

Monday, 22 February 2010

Roger Cecil

Roger Cecil - Rising Up

We are very pleased at Oriel Myrddin Gallery to be originating a solo show in 2011 for Roger Cecil; Valley's painter based in Abertillery. Roger's show Cariad was shown at the gallery in 2006 (before I started working there). He is a remarkable artist, and in my eyes, underestimated for the exceptional work he has produced through his long career.

I first saw his work in London in the mid-late 90's at one of the big art fairs in Islington's Business Design Centre. A minimal, blacked plaster image with marks and patterns in its surface - it stood out to me as the best work I'd seen that day and I began to follow his career. I next went along to an opening for him in Cork Street with his gallery at the time, Gordon Hepworth and bought a small piece of his work (above). I had no idea at this time that he lived in Wales, I knew nothing of him except his work. Reading the exhibition catalogue I found out a bit about him, suddenly it seemed so obvious he was a Welshman!

Roger is now a friend and I'm very lucky to have a few of his works on my walls which are very highly treasured. I was asked to write a little piece for the Western Mail newspaper a couple of years past with the title My Favourite Work of Art - it's about the work shown above:

My favourite work of art is always in flux, my passions shift as my own ideas evolve – there is a trail of ‘favourites’ like way-markers throughout my own development. However I do own a little painting by the Valley’s artist Roger Cecil called ‘Rising Up’ which is a quiet but abiding influence and presence in my life. It is 20 x 25 cm, mixed media on canvas – a simple abstract composition but alive with the instinctively pure compositional vision which is present in all Roger’s work. The surface of finely polished plaster, grate blacking and oil paint scratched through with little lines and marks is refined and almost crafted, but in no way inhibits the spontaneity of the work. He manages a lovely and enviable balancing act between freedom and discipline, simplicity and sophistication. Joan Miró said “It is essential to have your feet firmly planted on the soil in order to leap into the air” and this tiny painting reminds me that the best work (and probably the best life) is always grounded and honest.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Absent But Not Forgotten

This is the publicity image for my forthcoming show Absent But Not Forgotten a collaboration with Jacob Whittaker at The Last Gallery in Llangadog, it opens on Friday 19 March.

This is what it's about: "Belief in the paranormal can be controversial; but there is a strong human desire to find pattern and meaning in the unexplained. This multimedia exhibition uses video and sound experiments, textiles and technical objects to evoke the world of ‘ghost hunting’. The project visits the territory between belief and parody to explore the technological, psychological and aesthetically self-referent influence of TV and films on the phenomenon.

The Last Gallery is a contemporary art space showing work by artists from across the UK. Housed in a former Victorian cobblers shop in the village of Llangadog in west Wales, the building retains its original features. The gallery is un-manned, so visitors can experience the artworks completely alone..."

I'm busy finishing the works for the show as well as working with Jake on the technical elements - that's his expertise.

“The idea for this project came about on a drive from west Wales to Bristol. I was working with the idea that I wanted to use an old armchair that Jake had previously given me to make a kind of ghostly telephone/chair hybrid object. At this point Jake began to relate the tale of his Grandfather, Bernard, an inventor who had experimented with EVP techniques to make a telephone to speak with the dead. Just to seal the deal, we spent some of the journey driving on the M4 motorway alongside the black hearse used by Ghostwatch Wales.” Kathryn

“Aspects of the exhibition are loosely based on some of my Grandfather's research into EVP. As an electrical engineer and inventor he was convinced he could make a telephone that would communicate with 'the other side'. Oddly enough, he, like me, had a barn full of semi-working and broken Hifi and TV - interesting that we both share a fascination with what might be found in the broken, silent or noisy portions of recorded media.” Jacob

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Sandra Winkworth - Sleeping Beauties

Sandra Winkworth - seen here

I like this new work by Australian artist Sandra Winkworth. She has recently been working with the collections of bird 'studyskins' kept in the Macleay Museum in the University of Sydney and has made a series of paintings called Sleeping Beauties.
Sandra Winkworth - seen here
Sandra Winkworth - seen here

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Milkwood Gallery

Kathryn Campbell Dodd - Butterfly Charm

I am exhibiting with textile designer and artist Louise West at the Milkwood Gallery in Roath, Cardiff from 4 March - 10 April 2010. I'll be showing my new jewellery pieces alongside some other recent work.

Louise West - Magpie - seen here

The Silent Village

Rachel Trezise text - The Silent Village

The subject matter of this exhibition at Ffotogallery in Turner House Gallery, Penarth is heavy weight. You need to spend some time with it and you need to feel ready to be moved, effected and appalled. I went yesterday with the particular agenda to see Peter Finnemore's series of photographs. I ended up spending time with every element of the show. Emma Geliot has written an excellent review on her blog, giving the background to the work.

Photographers, Peter Finnemore and Paolo Ventura and writer Rachel Trezise resond to the WW2 events in the Nazi occupied village of Lidice in Czechoslovakia which saw 340 villagers massacred, sent to concentration camps or, in the case of some of the children 'Germanised'. The village itself was razed to the ground in an attempt to obliterate it from the world in revenge for the death of the SS Nazi officer placed in command of the protectorate. In an attempt to contextualise the outrage felt internationally at the time, the events of this horrific war crime were transposed by the Film maker Humphrey Jennings (commissioned by the British Ministry of Information), to the mining village of Cwmgeidd in the Swansea Valley in his film Silent Village. Similar in its industry and ordinariness to Lidice, the film used no actors, just the actual residents of Cwmgeidd using their own names as they re-enacted the atrocity. The film is showing on a loop in the gallery, an extraordinary testament forming the heart of the exhibition.

It reminds us that we can chose to resist, and to remember; standing in quiet solidarity with the will towards humanity and empathy.

Peter Finnemore - Silent Village - seen here

The exhibition also tells us about a bygone era; when it was made Silent Village was a contemporary piece, it spoke directly to the people of the time. It is now a remarkable documentary of a Welsh Village in the 1940's, and there is another layer of nostalgia and melancholy layered into the film for a modern viewer. This is where Peter Finnemore excels. I found Peter's images deeply moving and incredibly beautiful, he is so adept at lightly touching his subject matter, allowing it to unfold obliquely and subtly in our minds. I always find myself returning to his images with new layers of understanding and meaning long after I have seen them. Never didactic, never blunt or clumsy, he lets us feel a little of his own vulnerability to let us get in touch with our own.

The show continues until February 27th and there is a beautiful cloth bound, boxed publication accompanying the exhibition.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Buy One Get One Free

Exhibition poster - seen here

I went to a symposium today at West Wales School of the Arts about artist collaborations. Organised by Contextual Studies duo Helen Lindsay and Marilyn Allen (a dynamic duo in their own right!) the day featured presentations from Tracey Warr, Anthony Shapland from Cardiff's g39, Sean Edwards from WARP and Secondeditions

It was a good day, looking at the ways in which visual artists collaborate and some of the issues that are brought to light when they do. Tracey Warr gave an excellent introductory talk sweeping through art historical collaborations from Modernist groups and pairings to contemporary work. She talked about artists she has worked with, collaborating essentially as a curator/writer and the nature of equality in such scenarios. She highlighted the different dimensions of collaboration, the many varied ways in which people come together to make art and the peaks and pitfalls that can be encountered. Warr has published a series of conversations about collaboration - ‘On Collaboration: Interviews with Heather Ackroyd & Dan Harvey and Phelim McDermott’, Doubt Guardian. In press. 2008.

I have collaborated with other artists and technicians on various occasions and have run into many of the difficult territories discussed. Ideas of ownership, attribution, financial allocation, divergent ideals to name a few. I have also benefited tremendously from the generous and productive aspects of sharing with and learning from other practitioners. It's always a sensitive negotiation and requires a lot of grown up skills to bring the best out of the situation. I was personally a little relieved to find that other artists' collaborations are as individual, particular and potentially contentious as those I have engaged with - phew! I'm normal!

I like the idea Tracey Warr discussed of The Third Mind that can be created through the process of collaborating. A kind of reflexive entity that lets the work find a less ego-bound outcome; an autonomy outside the grasp of the individuals involved.

We heard from Anthony Shapland about the genesis of the hugely influential artists run gallery, g39, its unfolding story and current developments, including WARP, the resource service headed up by practising artist Sean Edwards. The network-style ethos of the project was celebrated at their 10 year celebration exhibition If You Build It They Will Come in 2008.

There were a few interesting suggestions as to why artists working currently have embraced this mode of practice. Perhaps a reaction to a current lack of any genuine political agency; or a compensation for the loss of communism and socialism; even an obfuscation to political action, a muddying of incisive action. My own feeling is that it mirrors the paradigm shifts in all other areas of our lives towards network orientated systems rather than hierarchies - the Internet being a primary expression of that idea. It is perhaps an inevitable outcome of Roland Barthes ideas in Death of the Author. The flip-side - the birth of the reader/viewer becomes a further collaboration, the participating audience. Marcel Duchamp in his 1957 lecture The Creative Act says: "All in all, the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualification and thus adds his contribution to the creative act."

I am engaged in two collaborations at the moment - a forthcoming show with Jacob Whittaker, Absent But Not Forgotten opening in March at The Last Gallery in Llangadog. In May I will show a piece at Rhôd at New Mill, Drefelin on which I will have collaborated on construction and technical issues with Bristol based Marcus FitzGibbon. Two very different types of collaboration. Jacob and I have worked conceptually on the show together from the beginning bringing elements to the project as a whole, the result is conjoined. Marcus is helping me realise my own concept through his construction skills, we've worked together many many times and have an aesthetic shorthand which allows things to emerge quite fluently, he will help me bring my idea into reality and inevitably bring some of his own aesthetic to the project.

I like working with other people, I like the way it forces me to let go control of my entrenched ideas. When it works well the expansive sense of realisation is sublime.

Here's a video clip about the collaboration between Andy Warhol and Jean Michel Basquiat in 1986 - collaboration or Oedipal face-off...? Fascinating.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Alexander McQueen

Alexander McQueen - seen here

Alexander McQueen: Iconic Moments from Jean Hürxkens on Vimeo.

Alexander McQueen design - seen here

R.I.P Alexander McQueen 1969 - 2010.

Article here

Mat Collishaw, Tracey Emin & Paula Rego: At the Foundling

Mat Collishaw - Children of a Lesser God - seen here

I hope I get a chance to see this show at the Foundling Museum in London, it's on until 9 May. The museum memorialises Britain's first home for abandoned children. These three artists have not shown together before, but their themes and subject matter sit particularly well in this context. The Museum has a history of working with artists to highlight the plight of vulnerable children and mothers begun by William Hogarth in the 18th Century.

Here's a Guardian video about the show.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Delaine Le Bas at Chapter Arts Centre

Delaine Le Bas - Witch Hunt - seen here

We drove to Cardiff this evening for an opening event at Chapter Arts Centre. Delaine Le Bas' Witch Hunt exhibition was accompanied by a short performance by the artist and her compadres. We were accompanied by a house guest from London we have been trying to wean off London-centric thinking, she has been feeling jaundiced by the whole business of elitism and cliques; she so often feels like an outsider in her own world.

I have been really looking forward to this show, it appeared to have all the ingredients for an edgy, effecting experience. As a British Romany, Le Bas promised a show that would explore 'otherness', the power of language in the process of 'othering', the cultural ostracisation of the gypsy. I really wanted to like it but I have to admit that I was sincerely disappointed. There were a few interesting enough elements to the series of installed structures (transitional dwellings) and tableaux; some nice sewn work, some evocative figures. I remembered the Cameroon artist, Pascale Marthine Tayou, at the Venice Biennale last year - but the comparison did not fare well.

I was very suprised by the seeming naivety of the work. I am aware that the artist operates like an outsider artist, but it must be pointed out that she attended St Martins College of Art and cannot, with any authenticity, claim that ground. The political messages and imagery scrawled throughout the show seemed to me quite juvenile, and artless. The show was peppered with Mighty Boosh type skulls, which are perfectly placed in surreal comedy, but totally misplaced in this context. I am even more upset to say that I found the performance piece lacking in all subtlety, depth and maturity. I felt really uncomfortable with the whole thing, it actually reinforced the problematic stereotypes I wanted to see overcome. Being Romany is not enough in itself; take off that tag and how does it stand up as art? In that respect it felt dangerously close to cultural exploitation. I do not doubt the sincerity of the artist and her views in any way I should add, but bringing the work to a publically funded white wall gallery space brings particular baggage - it alters the contexts of the work, it's a very edgy conundrum. Jean Michel Basquiat wrestled these problems in the 1980's, but his work was visionary, it still stands apart in its extraordinary visual literacy.

On the issue of language, I felt very unsure about the inclusion of Welsh in the show. I'm an 'incomer', not a native Welsh speaker, I continue to learn the lanuage. We are so sensitised to language as an issue of inclusion and exclusion here; it is a troublingly deep and traumatic issue. The simplistic comparisons and connections made in the show were, for me, problematic. It's such a loaded issue, I nearly didn't mention it here - because I was born in England, because I live in Wales, because I'm not a fluent speaker....

This blog has been deliberately pitched with a positive slant on the work I see day to day. I'd generally rather not comment on work I don't like or respond to - it's tough out there for artists, curators and venues alike. In this instance I actually felt upset by the whole experience however. Chapter is a beacon, a fabulous cultural oasis; I felt a bit let down. The opening was attended by many people of note and high reputation from the Cardiff art scene. I chatted to a fellow visitor, a retired outreach teacher who had worked for 20 years with gypsies and Irish travellers in Cardiff, I don't think she felt at all connected to this experience, she said: "It's not really what I was expecting, to be honest I'm a bit confused". Our London friend said: "Same old same old..." meaning one can't escape the machinery of the art world.

I took my camera but was very pointedly told by the official photographer to refrain from using it (not very egalitarian chaps!), so I didn't - but I was assured that the whole event would be documented on my behalf for posterity...

Tuesday, 2 February 2010


Jenny Crisp - Oval Frame Basket - seen here

Our next show at Oriel Myrddin Gallery will be Reap & Sew, a contemporary craft and design show inspired by gardens and growing things. We were looking at basket makers today, here are a few of my favourites.

Susie Vaughan - Apple Basket - seen here
Joe Hogan - Pods, at back Birth, at front Saved from the Saw - seen here
Dail Behennah - Blackthorn Bowl - seen here