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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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.

79th Annual Exhibition of the Society of Wood Engravers, 44AD Art Gallery, Bath.

1 Nov 2016- 79th Annual Exhibition of the Society of Wood Engravers, 44AD Art Gallery, Bath.

I attended this exhibition from the recommendation of Ben Goodman, who taught the typesetting workshop last week, and is also in the show. His portrait titled Margit, is a wonderful display of contemporary wood engraving. I also was fortunate enough to meet artist David Robertson, the partner of a fellow MAMDP student, Leonie Bradley. There seems to be a new generation carving out from tradition.

79th Annual Exhibition of the Society of Wood Engravers Exhibition Catalogue.
79th Annual Exhibition of the Society of Wood Engravers Exhibition Catalogue.

Ben Goodman will be doing a workshop in the new year, that I am really looking forward to. I am not sure that it is the best suited medium for me, but I am so curious.

I love the work of Christiane Baumgartner, who makes amazing woodcuts that feels like you are viewing an old TV or computer monitor, therefore has the mystic of the machine/technology.  Her abstracted work is also exciting for me to see, as my brain is still trying to process the idea of the sharpness and angularity needed to cut away the surface of the wood, but she makes soft organic shapes that seem to float.

Christiane Baumgartner, Cosmic Fruits – Wild Cherry  2016.
Christiane Baumgartner, Cosmic Fruits – Wild Cherry 2016.

Daphne Wright, Emotional Archeology, exhibition at the Arnolfini

23 October 2016- Daphne Wright, Emotional Archeology, exhibition at the Arnolfini. 30 September 2016 to 31 December 2016, curated by Josephine Lanyon.

Daphne Wright, Cacti.
Daphne Wright, Cacti.

I have not visited the National Trust Tyntesfield site, nor do I know anything about the occupants of this property, specifically the Gibbs family, who through their generations lived there between 1846-2001. Apparently, this site and family, influenced the making of these life size (because they were cast by actual dead animals), impressive, marble dust and resin sculptures of dead animals. I am not sure that the history of this property or the people who occupied it, make me feel more or less for these pieces, but I often find this with history.  It can be personal.

I am conflicted by this exhibit. I celebrate the fact that the Arnolfini is exhibiting an expansive solo show by a female artist, and she is local to Bristol (Bristol and Dublin). She also makes large, physical, sculptures, which still feels like a male domain, or at least men are usually in the headliners getting the big solo shows.

The conflict comes with the work of the marble dust sculptures of animals, the sculptures you have probably seen being used for publicity. When viewing this work, I was struck in the same way as I do when watching David Attenborough’s planet earth series, when fledglings are suddenly eaten by a nearby predator, and the mother returns to an empty nest. I can’t help but feel manipulated, or at least that using animals in this way is an easy way to get an emotional response. Hence the title this exhibit, Emotional Archaeology. Why don’t we call the planet earth series, emotional planet earth, or emotional Attenborough. Maybe we should, but I always need to switch the channel.

Daphne Wright, Stallion

What I did like very much where her pieces in the other galleries, in particular Where do Broken Hearts Go? Tin foil cacti. Luminous towers of jolly characters waving hello or so long cowboy, if that is the sentimentality that this work is commenting on.

Another highlight from this show is the photo below of a tin foil sculpture from a budding artist, a child, who had attended one of the educational workshops for children reacting to the exhibit.

Unknown Child Artist, Tin Foil Sculpture.
Unknown Child Artist, Tin Foil Sculpture.

This work is very different from mine, so I cannot comment directly how Wright might influence my work today. But, it is important to attend, participate, and share in what other artists are doing. Also to experience a space transformed by work, and how different that same space has been only just a few months ago.