Saturday, 26 February 2011


I went to the opening of Artemesia, a group show (in which I have two new works showing) last night. Curated by Ruth Cayford, the show is at St David's Hall Gallery in Cardiff and features the work of over 40 contemporary women artists currently practicing in Wales, celebrating the ideas they have in 2011. Here is the essay written for the show by Sue Griffith, Head of School of Contextual Studies & Fine Art, Swansea Metropolitan University.

"Maybe the existing forms of art for the ideas men have had are inadequate for the ideas women have."' Susana Torre, 1976

Artemisia Gentileschi lends her name to this extensive exhibition, which brings together the work of numerous women artists currently active in Wales. She was not only an extraordinary Renaissance artist, but also occupied a key role in the recovery of women artists’ history begun by feminists around forty years ago, who sifted through centuries of neglect, not only to uncover forgotten women artists, but perhaps more importantly, they identified shared expressions for the women artists yet to come.

Art’s forms and content have not been without issues for women artists, since both had been defined by male artists. It took a further ideological leap for women to shift from battling with exclusion to a positive questioning of approaches to creativity, emerging from a wish to express their differences, differently. That women might re-define art’s practice by exploring what had hitherto been invisible or defined as ‘not art’, produced some provocative work. Stylistic innovation was perhaps not the most important of these differences, the ‘ideas that women have’ most certainly was. It became clear that historical frictions bound in to the two roles - woman and artist - presented them with unique challenges. What has become clearer now, is that these challenges have enriched their work.

Women’s greater participation in art has transformed art, flipping the subtly nuanced labels sometimes used to relegate their work to obscurity in the Fine Arts (charming, decorative, domestic) entirely on their heads. Refusing hierarchies, they have explored (using that old feminist adage) the personal with the political, intimacy with the allegorical, sensitivity with edginess, the fragile with the dark, fantasy with fetish. In short their creative strategies are as diverse and multi-textured as women themselves, and are abundantly evidenced in this exhibition.

The complexity of human relationships, including self-identity, is navigated through memory and fantasy, and is just as likely to be intensely personal as it is universally symbolic. Desires for connection are also explored through responses to place or location, and might reference the landscape of history, or even pre-history, or the personal space of the domestic. The body, that well contested area, is still of immense importance to a number of the artists here, particularly evidenced through performance based art; its potential for ritual significance seems endless. Drawing is clearly immensely valued as a visualising tool, but no more so than stitching, printing, constructing, photographing, filming and mark making from the fragile to the urgent.

But never forget that whilst our recognition of the ideas and creativity which women have brought to art may seem a recent understanding, in truth Artemisia was already there; it is recognised that her intense portrayal of powerful women differed from interpretations by her male peers. The contest we now face, in a time when arts education is seriously threatened, is that of ensuring that the gains women artists have made in the past forty years are never underestimated and continue to influence art. This exhibition is a timely reminder that Artemisia’s legacy needs to be wholeheartedly celebrated.

The exhibition Features works from:

Sue Williams, Rozanne Hawksley, Catrin Webster, Di Setch, Dilys Jackson, Virginia Head, Rebecca Spooner, Adele Vye, Fern Thomas, Amanda Roderick, Gemma Copp, Anna Barrett, Jacqueline Alkema, Corrie Chiswell, Becky Adams, Susan Adams, Kathryn Ashhill, Kathryn Campbell Dodd, Heather Eastes, Annie Giles Hobbs, Ruth Harries, Penny Hallas, Mary Husted, Daphne Hurn, Ann Jordon, Tiff Oben, Luned Rhys Parri, Jane Taylor, Miranda Whall, Dawn Woolley, Sue Hunt, Rebecca Gould, Eirian Llwyd, Lisa Jones, Nicola O’Neill, Ruth McLees, Bella Kerr, Helen Booth, Jean Walcot, Jo Alexander, Wendy Couling, Su Roberts, Janet Walters and Lisa Tann.

Artemesia continues until April 9th.

Nam June Paik at Tate Liverpool

Nam June Paik - Buddha - seen here

I went to Liverpool this week for the first time, I've been meaning to go there for such a long time. What a beautiful city. The reason for my visit was the Nam June Paik show at Tate Liverpool and FACT

This retrospective show of the Korean/American artist, who died in 2006, is large and comprehensive, showing key works from his career along side documentation, photographs and film. Paik was a member of the Fluxus movement of artists, having met the influential artist John Cage in 1958 (he called the period before this meeting BC - Before Cage). A classically trained pianist, Paik studied at The University of Tokyo and wrote his thesis on the composer Arnold Shoenberg. Later, whilst studying in Germany he met Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Joseph Beuys.

The show includes many of Paik's television based pieces, he understood very early in his career the potential influence of television on culture and is credited with being the first video artist and a pre-curser to the MTV generation. Experimental, funny, ridiculous and pioneering, he plays with the medium and its possibilities. Music is central to his work, and his collaborations with cellist and muse Charlotte Moorman are pure Fluxus madness.

Paik's agenda throughout his career was to humanise technology, make parallels between TV, music, performance and human physiognomy. He was interested in the the conversation between technology and nature and the human spirit. My favourite works in the show were a room of his Buddha television pieces. I felt these pieces had a depth and relevance that held true, they lightly parody the TV generation.  Buddha figures stare contemplatively at CCTV of themselves or empty TV shells sometimes lit with a candle, sometimes meditative, sometimes laughing.

Fluxus is still exerting its influence on current art practice, we are beginning to contextualise its impact more thoroughly. This show raises all sorts of uncomfortable thoughts. It is very hard to encounter the works as anything other than archaic, although their original manifestations were as cutting edge works using the new technology of the era; it is almost impossible not to overlay the sense of the museum on the work. The necessary curation of the work in the Tate space brings a quite sad element to the experience. Most of the pieces were made to be performed, to be part of a happening and definitely not made to be on plinths and under Perspex preserved for our scrutiny. The Fluxus manifesto is diametrically opposed to this show, and in this sense it points to the failure of the revolution it was meant to embody. It doesn't come much more corporate than Tate, and the gallery shop with its Paik merchandise is its testament. I made my own little unintentional 'action' at the till whilst paying for a postcard by managing to knock a box of Tate badges flying scattershot across the floor...embarrassing, but somehow right.

Fluxus Manifesto - seen here

Tacita Dean at Tate Modern

Tacita Dean - From Prisoner Pair - seen here

I'm really excited that Tacita Dean has been chosen as the next artist for the Unilever series in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, the work will be installed this October.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

David Nash - Force of Nature

David Nash - seen here

If you haven't caught it yet, do take an hour to watch this beautiful documentary, Force of Nature about North Wales sculptor David Nash screened on BBC Four this week (only available to view until Wednesday 2 March) . The work of Culture Colony's Pete Telfer, the documentary is the result of the long working relationship Pete has had with Nash, and the lovely direction of the piece reflects that deep affinity and knowledge of the processes, the work and the man himself.

David Nash - Oculus - Image Courtesy of YSP - photographer Jonty Wilde
© Jonty Wilde

Nash's work has such authority, such enviable focus and continuity. There is nothing artificial, nothing pretentious about it. Straightforward and poetic, the curator of work for his current show at The Yorkshire Sculpture Park talks about the monumental piece Oculus as 'calligraphic', Zen-like in it's way of being, and I feel that is a feature of so much of Nash's work. It is - it is meant to be - it could not be anything other than that which it is.

Friday, 18 February 2011


Pile - Chapter Arts Centre - seen here

I popped into Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff yesterday and had a look at the current exhibition, Pile. On the first look round I didn't quite know how to negotiate the work, so I went out of the gallery and came in again with the intention of looking in a less prescribed way.

None of the work from the 31 artists represented is labeled, it has been arranged in groups, sometimes piled on top of other work. The conversation is an art hubbub, all the voices are speaking at once. It's an interesting idea, and ultimately the only clear voice, ringing like a bell is that of the curator, Craig Fisher.

On my second approach I looked at the gallery as a whole, much more as one unified installation than individual works. In that way it made a very cohesive and satisfying experience. The intention of the show is to "...question the conventions of showing work within a group exhibition." This aspect of the show is very successful - it felt quite weird to be looking at art in a gallery without the comforting language of labelling that we are used to. I realise that my own convention is to look at the work, and then look for the label, I want to find some kind of pivot through which to stabilise my experience. It's actually rather liberating to be denied that clarification.

The other question that is raised with this show is the role of the curator; the relationship and weighting of the curator's vision with the artist's work. I live in a strange no-man's land in my role as a gallery person on one hand and a practising artist on the other. I see the story from both sides of the fence and appreciate the role both play. It is probably the inevitable outcome of Post-modernism that the curator has become a deeply powerful creative force in his/her own right; arguably sometimes more powerful than the individual artist and even the art itself. Is this relationship good for 'art'? Does it contextualise the artist's work or manipulate it? Does it allow the work to speak or drown out it's authentic voice? Is it all about careers or all about interpretation? In this instance that curator is also a participating artist, so the debate is softened somewhat, he perhaps has more authority to play with the art in this way.

These are the participating artists: David Bance, Jonathan Baldock, Katriona Beales, Lotti V Closs, Sean Cummins, Sam Dargan, Sean Edwards, David Ersser, Craig Fisher, Dan Ford, Simon Franklin, Lynn Fulton, S Mark Gubb, Frank Kent, Brendan Lyons, Laura McCafferty, Zoe Mendelson, Clare Mitten, Jock Mooney, Lauren O’Grady, Audrey Reynolds, Gary Simmonds, Lucienne Simpson, Derek Sprawson, Debra Swann, Lee Triming, Gerard Williams, Annie Whiles, Richard Woodsand Neil Zakiewicz.

Thursday, 10 February 2011


London Fieldworks - Outlandia - seen here

Thanks to Dezeen for this morning's post on this amazing art project in Glen Nevis in the Scottish Highlands. This is my dream studio! Commissioned by artist led, London Fieldwork and realised by architects, Malcolm Fraser, Outlandia has been developed as a flexible space and field station in which artists and community groups can come together to consider creative responses to environmental concerns. The structure is inspired by "...childhood dens, wildlife hides and bothies, by forest outlaws and Japanese poetry platforms."

London Fieldworks - Outlandia - seen here

Built in the Glen and facing out to the slopes of Ben Nevis, the project encapsulates and explores the issues of wilderness and human intervention. Tensions between areas of outstanding natural beauty, industry and community have under pinned the project.

London Fieldworks - Outlandia - seen here