Phantom shapes & ghost events exhibition

Phantom shapes & ghost events

Leslie Mutchler & Jason Urban
6-16 March 2018
F-Block Gallery, Bower Ashton, UWE

These images are works by artists Leslie Mutchler & Jason Urban who exhibited ‘Phantom Shapes & Ghost Events’ in F-Block Gallery, Bower Ashton, UWE, from 6-16 March 2018. This was a must see exhibit for anyone who was interested in print, instillation, the materiality of memory, history, and the documentation of the ephemeral (and more). Bristol’s print girth is slightly rotund, but here we get to see print in a completely new way, one of the reasons why this exhibit is so timely and important. It rearranges our expectations.

A few months ago Paul Laidler planted a seed that was extremely weighty and has formed roots in my thinking when he said the words ‘conceptual screenprinting’. Of course, I fumbled along with some flimsy ways of trying to visually express this, but the work by Mutchler and Urban illustrates this concept perfectly and gave me an aha moment. 

Leslie Mutchler & Jason Urban are making conceptual works related to print, but not making work that we would typically see from printmakers. For example, on their website, you can see images from a project titled ‘UNIVERSAL’, there is one image that shows a rock sitting on a stack of printed newspapers. The rock references the history of lithography printing, and printing from slabs of limestone. Modern plates replaced limestone, and that increased production for the newspaper industry. Today we have print on demand digital print companies, such as the Newspaper Club in the UK, that allows you to print small editions and distribute your own newspapers. I suspect Mutchler and Urban used a similar company, or possibly printed their own small edition of newspapers that we see in this image. The pile of small run newspapers under the limestone rock gives you the history of print without having to show a framed work conventionally hung on the wall.

Babel Unbound and Babel Revisited, is another interesting project that you can see on their website.

The work disrupts our expectations in how we experience book(s). Whether in a library, bookstore, or how we turn the page. On a superficial level, I love how both Babel Unbound and Revisited look. And I can see how this project takes us to their recent project ‘Phantom Shapes & Ghost Events’, in how the instillation of an idea occupies and overwhelms beautifully.

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Kim Yong-Ik: I Believe My Works Are Still Valid

Kim Yong-Ik I Believe My Works Are Still Valid

I thought this exhibition was an excellent example of conceptual screenprinting. I know that wasn’t the motivation behind this work, but it has been a concept floating around in my mind, and seemed to come to life in this exhibition. Primarily because of the polka dot motif that seemed to be used throughout his work.  Also, the layering used in his sculptural works. For example, one of his pieces titled Triptych (1970-2015), was a large wall mounted box of layered mixed-media pieces.  Layers of painting, ink on paper, found objects, almost like a shrine, but if you put your eyes slightly out of focus, this could have been one painting, almost in the style of Rauschenberg, but less representational, and more muted in colour. A controversial statement I realise, but there is a similarity I cannot ignore.

Other pieces were much more minimal, like the Untitled paintings from the 1990s. These are large works, maybe 7 feet x 7 feet, with large coloured dots the size of your hand.  These made me think more of zoomed in dots through an overhead enlarger from primary school. The way they were painted soft, like a memory, nostalgic.

I think one of my favourite parts of this exhibition was his sense of humour. He left handwritten notes in pencil beside some of the works.  It was a real treat to find these.  Often conceptual work can be very serious and inward thinking, cerebral and difficult, empty and pretentious, but I really admired his sense of play.  Without knowing his work, I can’t help but make a huge assumption that it is the artist’s age that has allowed him to relax. Imagine if we all started that way!?Spike Island, Bristol, 30 September to 17 December 2017

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Tessa Lynch: L-Shaped Room

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Tessa Lynch’s L-Shaped Room at Spike Island are primarily sculptures, some obvious everyday domestic environments like a kitchen sink in Ikea yellow, and other pieces felt more abstract and seemed to be memories of urban spaces, such as Tunnel 1/4. This piece could be an upside down skateboarders half pipe, or what looked to me like a shelter at a bus stop, but made with portrait canvas, so wouldn’t keep you dry from the rain. Societal suggestions found in her work makes this exhibit a portrait of our times.

The bright pink L shaped piece, Building per hour/bin shelter, was the most powerful in the way that it allowed me to attach my own meaning to it. It was painted in horizontal gradation, that looked like a sedimentary scene of pink, and triggered the idea that this L is a sample of an Anthropocene of gender.

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I feel slightly guilty that this work seems to speak to me. The domestic scenes. The pink. The metaphorical bus shelter implying, in waiting. These are historical female themes. And as much as I hate the themes that these pieces are hinting at, I still find her work appealing.  It is a conundrum. Is it like secretly enjoying a romantic comedy? This work is far from Bridget Jones.  This work feels like Tessa Lynch in drag walking the streets at a flâneur’s pace through a disapproving lens.

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Her work at first glance appears simple and playful, but when you take the time, rich meaning is revealed. Similar, I suppose, in how many of us are initially judged, especially if you are female.

This exhibition was on at Spike Island in Bristol from 8 July to 17 September 2017.

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Giles Round: They bow. Curtain. No applause.

50 years ago the film The Graduate was made. Dustin Hoffman’s character Benjamin Braddock was given some advice about his future, “plastics” was whispered into his ear. Plastics was the future.

Plastics is the lens in which I approach two exhibitions at Spike Island in Bristol featuring the work from Giles Round and Andrea Luka Zimmerman. These two artists are curiously brought together, and why I’d like to metaphorically wrap their work together with a sheet of plastic. These shows feel rather poignant given our current social/political climate.

Round’s work at first glance seems rather playful. There are low hanging cumulus steel structures, artificially lit, with what looked like to me safety lighting used in large construction projects. A sky blue curtain with an image of a tower block style building made from chain, like the kind that keeps flies out of your local butcher, hangs amongst the steel clouds.


The curtain is the perfect link to Andrea Luka Zimmerman’s film Estate, a Reverie (2015). The film painfully shows that we should have been investing in people rather than plastics. It reminds me of Ken Loach’s depictions of England that our government(s) try to ignore, but the people in Zimmerman’s film are not actors.
Insincere objects with people left to rot. Pliable and brittle. Are we ready to be kinder to one another?

Round also invited artist Alex Cecchetti for an evening performance in collaboration with his work. I was reminded of a scene from The Karate Kid (1984) of Mr Miyagi trying to teach Daniel son muscle memory by making him wax his car and painting his fence. Wax on, wax off, wax on, wax off… Cecchetti’s version involved the clitoris, well, an imaginary one, but still it was a group tutorial.

Alex Cecchetti’s performance (and ours) was thrilling, in the way that it was unexpected and spontaneous. Love, feminism, toe nail clippings, Noah’s Ark, swarms of herons, mating animals, the holding of a foot, a whisper in an ear, and a face massage. It was fascinating how we completely surrendered our trust to him. Giles Round’s work set the perfect stage for this performance, and the performance added another dimension to this already thick veneer that protects the meaning behind the works in this exhibition.

This work is definitely not an Anti-Climax Climax. It was wonderfully generous, insightful, and rich with layers of meaning and complexity, oh and funny. Applauding the bow, the curtain, the words, the ladder, the clouds, the thunder, the climax, the letterpress text, the furniture, the carpet, the darkness and the toxic light.

Basim Magdy: The Stars Were Aligned for a Century of New Beginnings

#dearbasim
Basim Magdy’s exhibition titled The Stars Were Aligned for a Century of New Beginnings at the Arnolfini, Bristol, felt like cutting through a stick of room temperature butter with a sharp knife. Strangely pleasing. Easy. Mixes well with sugar. When I left the gallery I wanted to go right back in. Like finishing a novel that you immediately want to start again.

Above are my words in response to Basim Magdy in conversation with curator Lucy Badrocke, you can listen to it here.

More words in response to 5 films by Basim Magdy. These films are not part of this exhibition, so it was a real treat to be taken on Magdy’s artistic journey. The event began with an excellent introduction by critic and programmer Tara Judah. This was the running order:

The Many Colours of the Sky Radiate Forgetfulness (2014)

Crystal Ball (2013)

My Father Looks For an Honest City (2010)

Turtles All the Way Down (2009)

Time Laughs Back at You Like a Sunken Ship (2012)

You can watch these films from his website here, but it is always better in the dark, on a big screen, a velvet seat, and proper audio.

Basim Magdy

The videos are like kaleidoscopic streams of consciousness. The accompanying text in the films reminded me of the absurdity of Miranda July. Quirky. Amusing. Someone you wish was your friend.

Perhaps it is the memory of seeing monkeys in his piece The Everyday Ritual of Solitude Hatching Monkeys, 2014, and the warped colours, chemical stains on emulsions, and light leaked exposures on film, but it all made me think that I was a part of a hallucinogenic version of the Planet of the Apes.  Sci-fi scenes of the past or future or both.

My exhausted eyes from seeing too many images everyday found these sequences to be country air fresh. I haven’t figured out why I found comfort sitting in front of these films or looking at Magdy’s works on paper, but it brought back those feelings of hiding out in childhood forts made from couch cushions and blankets.

Impressive to have a body of work fill a building, but I do wish that all of the pieces could somehow be exhibited in one gallery space, so I wouldn’t have to be forced back to reality when going from one gallery to the next. Maybe that makes the spaces all the more special, bothy like, sheltering us from the mundane.

On my second visit, it felt like the circus elephant was sitting on my chest. I was resuscitated by waves of colour, absurd thoughts and the sheen of metallic paint.

 

 

Do Ho Suh: Passage/s

Victoria Miro, London, until 18 March 2017.

Entrance, Unit 2, 348 West 22nd Street, New York, NY 10011, USA, 2016

Bristol’s Museum and Art Gallery had shown Do Ho Suh in 2015, I hadn’t heard of him before, and was very surprised by the exhibition. I was looking forward to seeing his work again, but anticipated it would be similar to what I had seen before. Did I necessarily need to see it again?  There are so many shows to see in London, perhaps I should go to one of the others on my long list of, try to see.

It is almost like seeing the x-rays of architecture, but not in a scientific way, more ephemeral.  We were reminded by the fleeting delicacy of this work by the gallery attendants, as we were herded through the fabric structures of brightly coloured polyester.

Do Ho Suh: Passage/s

It was intensely busy for a commercial gallery, and perhaps this work would be better suited to a permanent collection, as people want to experience it. If there is an afterlife, I am sure this is how the buildings would look. And perhaps that was the appeal, like moths to light.

Do Ho Suh: Passage/s

I was not expecting to see works on paper, and these were just as inventive as his structures.  Thread drawing, gelatine sheet embedded on STPI handmade cotton paper. These were pressed architectural details of apartment entrances which you might find squished in the middle of a book, like one does with flowers.  Much too large for a book, roughly 150 x 100 inches.

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Architectural replicas of memory, place and questions of identity. If these pieces weren’t so beautiful, you might get a better sense of displacement. Just passing through. Even the delicate structure hints at the lack of anchored structure one desires from a shelter. The steel structures themselves are very reminiscent of tenting.

Equally as beautiful and technically competent, was a drawing titled, My Homes. This showed an almost metamorphosis of three dwellings. Were they actual places in which he lived?  I am not interested to debate that actual question, but they were empty spaces, just like his fabric structures. Perhaps more reflective on time, like snake skins.

Lubaina Himid, Navigation Charts, Spike Island

I knew before visiting Lubaina Himid’s exhibition, Navigation Charts, at Spike Island, that it wouldn’t directly relate to my own work, but an important show to see and support, as it isn’t often that a black female artist has a gallery all to herself.

Her work is strong, colourful, illustrative, and certainly nods to her past as a set designer, especially the large life-sized painted figures on woodcuts titled Naming the Money (2004). Her almost naïve painting style, bold colour, and flatness remind me of picture books for children from the 70’s.  This isn’t a criticism, rather the opposite, as I am a big fan of picture books from this time, and one of the reasons I recently purchased Stephen Fowlers book titled, Rubber Stamping: Get creative with stamps, rollers, and other print making techniques. Perhaps there is a twig of sentimentality in the deep folds of my brain that latches on to this painting style, reminiscent of visuals seen in my formative years.

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Sound recordings could also be heard in the gallery to go along with the figures, such as:

My name is Walukaga

They call me Sam

I used to chase wild boar

Now the dogs do it for me

And they have the meat

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The layers of imagery, sound, colour, pattern, cutouts, flat painting, made me imagine how this could work in stop motion-esque animated films. I couldn’t help but wonder what a collaborative project between Lubaina Himid and William Kentridge might look like. I certainly wouldn’t want to include a white male to give her legitimacy, she can do that on her own, but it was more the style of Kentridge’s films that triggered this thought. Along with, his own telling of a colonial past.

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At one point it struck me how odd it was to watch a bunch of white people move amongst the sea of Hamid’s life-sized figures. It seemed almost as if she was recreating an auction style preview to see who to bid on. These are the moments when my skin colour is disappointing. The weight and history it reflects.

In the exhibition leaflet/programme about this work, there is a passage about how slaves are portrayed in European paintings:

“Depictions of African servants are found in paintings of high society figures from the 17th Century where they are typically isolated and shown in the margins of the image, there to signify the wealth of their masters and mistresses”. On the backs of the painted life-sized wood cutouts, there is a description of the person, for example Dog Trainer, and their African name, as well as the name they have been given, along with a stated monetary value, which was zero, no value. Also on the back were little zip lock bags, tiny, like evidence bags, and each one had what looked like fragments from a painting, or tapestries. I wondered if Himid was placed the pieces of the 17th Century artwork where she may have seen these slaves before, in the corners of paintings, but recreated them, and gave them life, rather than in the margins, she has given them life.

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Finally, Bristol seems to have some momentum representing the large West Indies and African communities in its major exhibitions featured in the last year. Situations produced Theaster Gates’ Sanctum, John Akomfrah’s Vertigo Sea was at the Arnolfini, the RWA curated Jamaican Pulse, and now Lubaina Himid’s exhibition at Spike Island. I am sure there were others that I have missed, but I sure hope the trend continues.

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Sarah Bodman, Ian Chamberlain and Paul Laidler, Artist Talks

Sarah Bodman, Ian Chamberlain and Paul Laidler gave talks on their arts practice. I have to say that I do feel rather lucky that I resonate with each of them in different ways, despite the fact that they do such different work from one another, but there are certain themes that chime with my own interests, which certainly confirms that I am in the right place at the right time.


Sarah Bodman

I actually got to hear Sarah give two talks on the same day, which was a real treat. Sarah has endlessly promoted the good works of others, but doesn’t do the same for her own amazing work, so it was long overdue to find out more about her artists’ books.

The first talk was organised by Leonie Bradley and Catherine Cartwright, 2nd year MAMDP students, for the Artist Book Club. This was a lunchtime talk, and longer than the one she gave to our group with Ian and Paul, so it was beneficial to be able to see both, as those who received the abridged version, did miss out.

The overall aesthetic of Sarah’s books varies, and she does not seem bound to make her books look a certain way, but rather she alters them to suit the subject inside. So, you might not necessarily know immediately that the book you are holding is a Sarah Bodman book, unless you read, by Sarah Bodman, but you may know that you have a book by Sarah Bodman if you pick up one from the brilliant series Flowers in Hotel Rooms.

Sarah Bodman, Flowers in Hotel Rooms, Volume IV

There are two things that I want to talk about related to this series. First, factors that I think make a book a desired object. The look and feel. How it is printed, and quality of paper. Does it contain images or only text? What is the subject matter of the images, and how are the images printed? Are the images, photographs, screenprints, etchings or woodcuts (and of course there are many more possibilities)? How much text is there, and how it is printed. What is the overall design? The covers and bindings. All of these factors, and many more contribute to the book as a desired object.

Secondly, what about the conceptual, academic, and ideas that feed into the making of a book. Are the ideas and aesthetic equal? Is the concept stronger than the visuals or vice-versa?

I have not seen all of the books from the series Flowers in Hotel Rooms. I have only got my hands on Volume IV. The cover is tactile, and begins us on our journey that this book is a desired object. It has a concertina fold, which also requires interaction. And, I do find that the concertina book design can have a very cinematic feel, so the fact that in this case the images inside are photographs, works very well in this format. Each photograph is moody and intriguing, and they could easily in and of themselves be stand alone pieces.

Sarah Bodman, Flowers in Hotel Rooms, Volume IV

The concept for this series grew from an idea spurred from Richard Brautigan’s novel, The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966. One of the characters from this novel grows flowers in hotel rooms by candlelight, so it was this visual that caused immediate action for Sarah to create her own manufactured scenes in hotel rooms. Now that this idea has blossomed into a series, it takes 10 trips to make one book, so there are layers of ideas, research, and sense of place that all gets inter-weaved into the folds of these books. I am not an expert, but if one is in any doubt about what an artists’ book is, then I do think this series displays a perfect definition of what an artists’ book is. This series perfectly straddles the book as an object of desire along with the intellectual. Branches of thought and making that one craves when looking at art. Thank you Sarah!


Ian Chamberlain

Architecture and otherworldliness are recurring themes throughout Ian’s work, and something that is attractive to me when I glean for my own work. Ian uses traditional printing methods with technological and futuristic subject matter. Even if the buildings are historical, they have an element of futurism, because many of them resemble modernist quasi-Brutalist architecture. The piece that I would want to purchase, if I had the money would be Dome I, 2016. I can’t help think of Buckminster Fuller’s Geodesic Domes. Fuller is a hero of mine, and although he is a historic figure now, he still represents the future to me, and perhaps it is the reason why Ian chooses the architectural sites he does. They look so modern despite the fact they are now ruins.

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He talked about possible future work that may include the concrete ruins found along the Atlantic Wall. Sarah Bodman asked the question about graffiti, and wondered whether Ian would include it in this new work, as these structures are now covered with it. The graffiti would suggest a time stamp. He seemed okay with this possibility, but I have to say, I am not sure I would. I would much prefer to see these structure bare, and un-touched by vandals, as they are so beautiful in their natural raw state. Not that beauty should be the end result. But it would be such a strange and wonderful surprise to come across these walking along the coast. It is this element of surprise, and which makes this work otherworldly, and why it strikes a chord with me. But of course it is difficult to erase all history of the buildings, they are almost monuments, which adds extra weight to them, and makes them more than technical masterpieces.

Buckminster Fuller Dome


Paul Laidler

What little I do know about Paul’s work, I will write about here, but I do hope to get to know more, as it is this strand of printmaking that is making some serious leaps in the world of print, and is an area that I really want to incorporate in my own work. It involves the aspect of the print world that sometimes isn’t favoured by those who savour the slow processes of traditional printmaking. Digital. It was this digital world that almost kept us from hearing Paul’s talk. Irony. But the digital can be a tremendously slow process too. Not just getting your laptop to sync properly to a projector, but what about the world of 3-D printing. We are all attracted to the endless possibilities, but how do you do it!? Are you still the maker if you rely so much on others to make?

This leads to Paul’s talk, and specifically, process. I am sure all of us on the MAMDP programme will probably mention the importances of process in our work, or will do at some stage. But, in Paul’s case, the meaning of process is at a higher degree, maybe to the degree of a polynomial. I don’t actually know what that means, what I just said. I know nothing about polynomials, but it just seems appropriate here, as the heavily processed can lose us in the digital world, but, the part I like, also gives us the otherworldliness that I mentioned earlier when talking about Ian’s work. The otherworldliness, the future, the endless possibilities, is what is so appealing in the digital realm. And although it can be slow when learning something new, digital also gives us speed and access to a world that wouldn’t have been possible for all of us in the analogue world. It was just too expensive.

But, what about the haptic in our making and the haptic as the viewer. It should be no surprise to see new generations of artists using woodcut as their print choice, relief done by hand and by the laser cutter. And I suppose it is this binary that gives meaning to the post digital “movement”. If one can strike the right balance between traditional and digital, then the results could be splendid. I hope I can do this one day.

I went to a Thread talk, last February, the theme was digital innovation. One of the speakers Dan Efergan, Creative Director of Aardman Digital, talked about virtual reality and the emotional human story that is missing at this stage of VR technology. This is a good example of when technology is really amazing and innovative, but the user cannot connect to it in the same way we do when we watch a film. It is missing the haptic anchoring that humans need.

Just because something is made by hand, doesn’t mean it is an automatic emotion generator. Paul showed us the process of sending his photograph/replica of his 3-D printed scull, to a paint by demand company in China. A photograph of the replica, printed, then painted then photographed, and then repeated on a continuous cycle creating a hall of mirrors effect. This is done in a factory of artisans who in effect are replacing a machine, but basically are performing as machines. I guess this process is a good segue to Paul’s other project Looking through the eyes of machines.

Paul Laidler

On the one hand, Paul is incredibly futuristic in his making, progressive processes, and academic results. But I can’t help but feel the bittersweet. Which is, I suppose, the point. A sense of loss under the shiny veneer. This could easily be missed if you don’t pay attention, but then again, you might be happy enough with the sheen.

Paul Laidler, Replica.

Smiljan Radić, Radić Pavilion, Hauser & Wirth Somerset

5 Nov 2016, Smiljan Radić, Radić Pavilion, Hauser & Wirth Somerset.

Smiljan Radić, Radić Pavilion.
Smiljan Radić, Radić Pavilion.
Detail, Smiljan Radić, Radić Pavilion.
Detail, Smiljan Radić, Radić Pavilion.

 

Smiljan Radić, Radić Pavilion.
Smiljan Radić, Radić Pavilion.

It was a real surprise to find this pavilion here, I wasn’t expecting to see it, and I had missed seeing it at the Serpentine Pavilion in 2014. It was wonderful approaching this building, viewing it through the almost decayed, but still standing garden. The fiberglass was incredibly tactile, and almost had a cast like quality for holding broken bones in place. From the inside the sun could penetrate ever so lightly, to give a warm glow. Luckily it was sunny, as this could so easily be missed.

Architecture is critically important to me, especially if I am required to do any illustrative pieces. Although funnily enough, someone recently commented when seeing what I was printing from one of our workshops, “oh are you doing another landscape?” No! These are my buildings. Sites. Urban planning systems. But, architecture is part of the landscape, so I guess I am ‘doing another landscape’.  One cannot ignore the landscape that surrounds the Radić Pavilion, and it wouldn’t look as spectacular without it.

Louise Bourgeois: Turning Inwards, Hauser & Wirth Somerset

Louise Bourgeois, The Smell of Eucalyptus (#2).
Louise Bourgeois, The Smell of Eucalyptus (#2).

Louise Bourgeois was a varied, prolific, and accomplished artist. Artist in every sense of the word, she owned it. She had around 75 years to hone her craft. I am not sure we will get to see that duration of art production again.

I am probably more aware of her sculptural work, such as the large bronze Spider, 1996, that got her a lot of publicity, especially in 2007, when she showed Maman at Tate Modern, London.

Louise Bourgeois, Spider.
Louise Bourgeois, Spider.

What was very timely for me to see were her lovely minimal etchings. In her 90s, only a few years away from her death, and she was still producing such relevant work.

Louise Bourgeois, Swaying.
Louise Bourgeois, Swaying.
Louise Bourgeois, The Fall.
Louise Bourgeois, The Fall.

I do wish that this show had some of her artists’ books. I have only seen these online, and am very curious about them as objects.

The gallery also has a ‘book lab’ that gives space to print and books and the importance they have on arts practice. I was somewhat underwhelmed, but I think I have missed something here, otherwise my bookshelves at home might prove to be more interesting.