Sunday 9 June 2013

Welsh Artist of the Year 2013

Sarah Ball - Gang member IV

I was privileged to be a selector for Welsh Artist of the Year 2013 this year, along with artist and broadcaster, Richard Huw Morgan, painter, Neale Howells, Ceramicist, Christine Jones and St David's Gallery Exhibition Officer, Ruth Cayford. Today the awards ceremony was held at St David's Hall in Cardiff.

The winner, painter Sarah Ball was for me a clear contender from the start. The diminutive size of her skilfully made portraits bring a powerful intensity to her work and echo the photographs from which they were sourced (often from police records and museum archives).  They have the slightly unsettling presence of subjects in a rogues’ gallery. Isolated from the background paraphernalia of life, like mug shots or passport photos, the faces and titles alone must tell you their story. They have a ghost-like quality which reminds us of the very function of a portrait, to capture a fleeting, living moment and hold it still for our gaze forever. Peering in to the fine details, as you must to appreciate these pieces, you are drawn in to imagine the circumstances and stories that might lie behind the image.

John Abell - Three Graces: All the Floods Left Them
The runner-up this year was also a very strong voice in the mix. John Abell is a young print-maker of exuberant talents – he describes himself on his blog as ‘…artist, vagabond and part-time dandy ’and that energy and swagger is apparent in his large-scale woodcuts. Like Sarah Ball, he is telling stories but the techniques could not be more different, Abell’s work is audaciously vigorous and bold. The materials he uses to make his printing plates are scavenged and makeshift bringing an edgy immediacy to an ancient technique.

David Barnes received the photography prize this year for his image Swan. Again we are invited to engage with implied story telling through his cleverly realised compositions and subjects which often hint at nefarious or marginal antics and exchanges but also bring into play sophisticated subtexts of visual language.

There are two sculpture prizes this year, for quite different pieces of work. Sean Olsen's intriguing robot Paint-Bot V-2 which we imagine might create its own strange artworks – it has the dormant quality of a ‘sorcerer’s apprentice’ that might be snapped into life at any moment. Jonathan Anderson’s glossy, black ‘Dark Anomaly’ is a departure from his often-used material of coal-dust, bringing a raw edge to his sculpture that simultaneously talks about the beauty and mystery of the infinite cosmos and the lumpen materiality and insatiable consumption of human beings.

We were spoiled for choice with ceramics this year with a very strong submission of exceptional work, the winner, Morgen Hall surprised us with her new collection of soda fired porcelain tapas dishes that could as easily be sculptural objects as functional ceramic ware.

The drawing prize, awarded to Iwan Bala recognised the media and techniques he has used in his work on paper. There is a distinct sense of materiality, with the rough textures and the use of drawing implements and washes to create this and his other distinctive works. Bala is known for the political and polemical content of his work, but this prize also acknowledges the artistic choices in their making.

A photograph by Patricia Zaid won the Student Prize and takes a quite traditional subject of a chapel interior bringing a timeless poignancy and atmospheric quality to the image.
Four artists were highly commended, Jin Eui Kim for his ceramic piece Object No. 8, Jo Berry for her painting, Untitled, Jonathan Williams for his photograph, Home is not where you live, but where they understand you and Angharad Pearce Jones' for her sculpture triptych Disc Cutter Landscapes.

Monday 10 September 2012

Spirit of Things

Yoriko Murayama - seen here

I like the look of the next exhibition at Flow Gallery in London's Notting Hill - Spirit of Things: Crosscurrents between Japanese and Finnish Crafts. Gallery owner, Yvonna Demczynska says of the show: "I have travelled to both Japan and Finland and from these trips I have often wondered why the two cultures share the same spirit of simplicity, organic formations and pared down essence in the objects they create"Artist's Include: Akiko Hirai, Anelma Savolainen, Anna Maria Väätäinen, Chioyoko Tanaka,  Hisako Sekijima, Kati Tuominen-Niittylä, Kristina Riska, Ritsuko Jinnouchi, Ulla Maija Vikman, Yoriko Murayama, Yoshimura Toshiharu. The show runs from 12 September - 10 November.

Sunday 9 September 2012

Graduate/Graddedig 2012

I went along to the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff last night to the opening of a survey show curated from Wales' graduate courses by Carmarthenshire artist and educator, Peter Finnemore. The show was displayed within the main body of the Centre on three floors and, as Peter Finnemore outlined in his Curators Notes, the architecture of the venue was influential on the choices as well as the quality of the works. It is not an easy space at all in which to show artworks, and with that taken into account it was a good show; it is heartening to see the quality of new work being produced here.

I particularly liked Peter's insightful comments in the introduction of the exhibition catalogue, a clear statement of the political dangers inherent in an environment of austerity and financial anxiety where the arts are a soft target for swingeing cuts.

"...It is well documented that the creative arts (in its many forms) is one of the biggest industries within the UK. It is a tool for regeneration, it drives wealth and it enriches individual well-being, communities and culture. It can also be utilized as a soft power to increase national standing and promotion upon the international stage. A career within the arts is a useful and productive life. The arts and humanities are not a luxury but a necessity. Creative thinking and the acquirement and mastery of artistic skills in traditional and new technological forms are essential to new economies, which themselves are driven by innovation, invention and imaginative problem solving. Creativity is capital.

An investment in art and education is an investment for the future. George Orwell’s laments on the failings of the UK were likened to the wrong family members being in charge; this is true in 2012 as it was in 1941. A political climate of austerity and anxiety, the rise in tuition fees, the arts and humanities being a soft target for cuts, bodes to the fostering of a new dark age upon culture and innovation. Fine Art courses are the creative emblem for any arts based universities; the closing down of an arts course with strong historical traditions, such as the fine art course at the University of Newport, is folly. However this model of thinking is not for everyone, there is room for expansion of the arts; for example, Trinity St David’s in Carmarthen will be starting a new BA (hons) course in Fine Art and Design (Celf a Dylunio) mediated through the Welsh language and a bilingual MA beginning this September.

Set amongst this background there is a continuing personal, social and cultural need for expression, creativity and innovation. Current graduates have a professional outlook upon art making activities and a career within the arts; this exhibition gives evidence to this and the quality and diverse creativity of the arts produced in colleges throughout Wales..." 
from Peter Finnemore, Curator's Notes

I also enjoyed being a passive 'performer' in Tiff Oben's MA piece, VIP Area. It was initiated with a formal RSVP invitation sent out through Tiff's mailing list to attend an exclusive VIP event at the opening with complimentary Möet and Chandon champagne. We were required to attend in formal wear and told that the door staff would be refusing entry to informally dressed guests.

"Tiff Oben’s participatory installation, VIP Area, is activated and extended through the viewer’s unknowing participation as they act as central protagonists within the works’ narratives. Blurring the boundaries between reality and performance art, the elitist opening event wilfully aims to create an antagonizing sense of difference within the viewing- audience. The strict and prejudicial entrance requirements upheld by doormen divide friends and acquaintances, segregating and generating a sense of otherness between those on the inside and those on the out. The viewer on the outside focuses, often surreptitiously, on the revelry on the inside. Their exclusion is integral to the work which visualizes and makes an exhibition of exclusivity. Negative responses, confusion, anger, bafflement and division are deliberately and unethically fostered so that it becomes truly inclusive (despite exclusions) and truly participatory (even with those who feel that they could not, or are not allowed to, participate). Thus the politics of viewing are inverted as the viewer becomes
the subject of the work of grotesque, excitement, repression, beauty, fun, and the mundane."
From Graduate/Graddedig 2012 catalogue.

I liked the insider-outsider tensions that were set up, and the clever layers of looking that were at play. I don't really own much in the way of formal wear, so that was a challenge before I even got to the venue - I felt suitably discomfited.  It was smart to set this up within the opening of an art exhibition, an event seemingly run-through with exclusive and excluding protocol.

In a similar vein, I've thought a lot recently about the 'Private View' as a phenomena and an accepted term within the art world, it is curiously misleading. For any arts organisation in receipt of public funding, the evaluated focus of pretty much all and every activity is inclusivity and reach into the community, it is only within the purely commercial sector that the term has any true meaning - an event to court the wealthy collector/buyer to part with their cash in advance of the onslaught of the hoi-polloi. I'm all for an opening celebration, but the persistence of 'Private View' as a term means something; something rather dubious perhaps about the institutions of art. The democracy espoused within a lot of art practice and insisted upon through arts funding maintains a revealing dissonance with the protocols and language of the industry.

Monday 3 September 2012

On the Edge of the World

We said goodbye to our summer exhibition at Oriel Myrddin Gallery today, On the Edge of the World has been a delight to live with for the eight weeks it has been with us. The work was curated from the British Council Collection and was originally shown at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh in 2010 as part of a bi-centenary programme of events to celebrate the achievements and lasting legacy of Charles Darwin.

The exhibition featured work from: boredomresearch, Christine Borland, Dalziel+Scullion, Anya Gallaccio, Tania Kovats, Rob Kesseler, Michael Landy,  Heather & Ivan Morison, Simon Starling, Alison Turnbull, Marc Quinn.

"The 14 contemporary artists selected for this exhibition assume the role of modern-day explorers.  Through their work, they make connections between us, our environment and nature.  For many of them, travel is an important part of their practice; they seek to examine and interpret the complex and changing natural world around us.  Here we see the enduring legacy of Darwin and his commitment to bringing new interpretations, rare discoveries and insights to a wider world carried beyond a scientific community into the imaginations of artists today."

My personal favourite from the show was Tania Kovats' two hundred and eight two, a slice of oak tree  onto which Kovats has traced each individual ring in india ink to make a delicate, poignant record of the  tree's life span.

It was also a great pleasure to host 8 of Michael Landy's etchings from his 2003 Nourishment series. Each etching depicts a common weed that might grow between paving slabs - 'street flowers' as Landy describes them. These were the works that emerged after Landy's famous work Break-down which saw him destroy all of his posessions in 2001.

One of the favourite pieces in the show for our visitors was boredomresearch's Oriental Bug Garden (2004), a digital piece that uses gaming and artificial life modelling technology to create a screen based work that has a self-generating pattern of triggers and collisions which, in turn create an incidental soundtrack. Meditative and tranquil, the sound sets the tone for the whole exhibition in many ways.

The centre piece of the show was arguably Anya Gallaccio's installation, Preserve Beauty (2003). 800 brilliant red Gerbera flowers were installed behind a sheet of glass and left to disintegrate over the duration of the exhibition. The process of decay was quite present in the gallery as the piece went through various stages - sometimes the smell was quite interesting!

Sunday 2 September 2012

Vetch Veg

Owen Griffiths seen here

Swansea has seen a marvelous art project develop on part of the old Vetch site of Swansea City Football Club over the last nine months. Owen Griffiths has been the inspiration and the engine behind creating and populating a community vegetable garden on the site with the enthusiastic participation of local residents and groups. Glynn Vivian Gallery is holding an off-site event, the Sandfields Festival of Ideas on the site this weekend with a lovely programme of events including performance from Peter Finnemore, food from the Bangladeshi Community who have a plot at the garden, music from Joan Joans, Sarah Passmore and the Swansea Ukelele Orchestra, yoga with Glynn Vivian Gallery's Karen MacKinnon and much more...

Vetch Veg is a socially engaged art project commissioned as part of the Cultural  Olympiad, you can read all about the project on the Vetch Veg site.

Monday 27 August 2012

Assemble/Cydosod at Melin Glonc

If you missed Mike Murray's exhibition, Assemble/Cydosod at Goat Major Projects in Cardiff, you can see selected works at Melic Glonc in Carmarthenshire until 1 September.

Saturday 25 August 2012

Antonia Dewhurst - Ty Unnos/One Night House

Antonia Dewhurst - Unnos/One Night House - courtesy of Antonia Dewhurst

 If you are in the Newtown area of Mid Wales, make sure you drop into Oriel Davies to see Antonia Dewhurst's Test Bed Project - Tŷ Unnos in the park adjacent to the gallery. Antonia built the house in accordance with the historical Tŷ Unnos/One Night House tradition:

"Tŷ Unnos is an old Welsh tradition dating back to the 17th century: if one could build a house between the hours of sunset and sunrise and have smoke rising from the chimney by dawn, the ownership of the land could be claimed. While Antonia does not lay claim to Newtown’s park on 19 July she will build a Tŷ Unnos - literally overnight - in the town’s parkland opposite Oriel Davies. This will be a temporary structure made from recycled materials - wooden pallets, tarpaulin and corrugated iron. After a night of feverish building the structure will be in place by the morning of 20 July, complete with smoke rising from the chimney."

Here's a short stop motion video of the construction.

You can also see Antonia's Gimme Shelter series of small scale constructions in the Test Bed Space inside the gallery - including the newly made piece of the Tŷ Unnos in the park.

Courtesy of Antonia Dewhurst

The house remains in situ until 5 September and Antonia is occasionally 'In Residence' - ring the gallery for times on 01686 625 041