Thursday, 9 June 2011

British Art Show 7: In the Days of the Comet, Hayward Gallery, London (16 February-17 April 2011)

The curators of British Art Show 7 (“BAS7”) have announced that their show is recognised as being the most ambitious and influential exhibition of contemporary British art.  With Newspeak: British Art Now Parts I and II  (in which 6 BAS7 artists area also featured) appearing at the Saatchi Gallery 2010-11, Charles Saatchi may disagree with this statement, as might the ICA with its recent Bloomberg New Contemporaries or indeed the organizers of the annual Turner Prize exhibition. 

Also, I am not sure how influential BAS7 is, but held very 5 years it does succeed in holding up a magnifying glass to the wide range of contemporary art practices (as chosen by the curators) and certainly appeared popular, if the number of visitors crowding into the gallery during my visit was anything to go by.

Bringing together work produced since 2005 by 39 selected artists, BOS7 presents the whole range of creative mediums, although installation and video work appeared to dominate.  The curators describe the underlying theme of the exhibition being the ways in which artists “make use of histories, be they distant or proximate, longingly imaged or all too real, to illuminate our present moment”[1].

They also promised that the range of works on display will challenge, amuse and delight.  To truly delight me a work of art has to have the double-punch of committed conceptual exploration and what Grayson Perry has described in his defence of aesthetics in art, as visceral visual pleasure[2].

Charles Avery’s wonderfully named installation “Untitled (Miss Miss finally gives in by the place where Aean sought to bamboozle the one-armed snake by attaching himself to the tree to make himself a larger thing)” dominates the first room within the gallery.  Its size and theatricality completely epitomises a longingly imaged place and associated history. 

Unfortunately, I found many works challenging in a non-positive way and therefore very difficult to engage with.  Cullinan Richards’s “Vertical Plastic” and “Two Rolls of Selotape” installations by the gallery stairwell seemed curiously dated and seemed more suitable for inclusion in Sensation exhibition of 1997 than in the British Art Show 2011.  Indeed, a number of works on display had more than a whiff of Sensation about them, which I found a little tiresome.  Sarah Lucas’s “Nuds” - stuffed nylon tights knotted into biomorphic forms - seemed a complete throwback to her YBA glory years and I have seen versions of Wolfgang Tillmans’s tabletop installation of newspapers, magazine cuttings, pamphlets and advertisements covering subjects which included global consumerism, female genital mutilation, homophobia “Truth Study Center” at numerous graduate shows before.

Steven Claydon’s “Untitled (Trom Bell)” was unwittingly rung twice by visitors (the discreetly displayed “please do not touch sign” was a little too discreetly displayed).  Perhaps the most disappointing (and frustrating) priece was Nathanial Mellors’s animatronic sculpture “The Object (Our House)”, rendered motionless as it is currently awaiting technical maintenance. 

Of course there were many other works which did fascinate and enthral.  Christian Marclay’s film “The Clock” and Elizabeth Price’s film “User Group Disco” both showed the possibilities of elevating the medium from its habitual unfathomable nature. 

Juliette Blightman’s vase, lamp and net curtain intervention raised a wry smile.

Of all the work on display, it was Roger Hiorns’s “Untitled” installation comprising of a black municipal bench with intermittent flame and naked man appearing at unspecified intervals which completely met my own “double punch” criteria. It was stark, simple and beautifully fascinating. 

The exhibition’s subtitle “In the Days of the Comet” referencing the H G Wells novel and Hailey’s Comet, allowed the curators to include artists such as Hiorns, whose work would probably not fit as neatly into their original exhibition theme.  Ossian Ward points out in his review for Time Out magazine that it is almost impossible to fix something as variable and subjective as a moment in British Art[3].   BOS7 has at least captured some of its manifestations in its own curatorial net.

[1] Exhibition Statement by curators Lisa Le Feuvre and Tom Morton, 2010
[2] Grayson Perry during an interview in Contemporary Art Today, Open University, BBC2, broadcast February 2011
[3] British Art Burns Bright, Time Out Magazine, 3-9 March 2011

awful/FANTASTIC! (2007-2010)

awful/FANTASTIC! was a not-for-profit art organisation with I co-founded with art college friend, Laura Jones, which aimed to contribute to creating, encouraging and promoting a dynamic contemporary art climate within the Value of Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire (where I was living at the time).

It presented exhibitions which explored and responded to contemporary art issues in alternative exhibiting sites and venues. Our other activities included offering networking and professional development opportunities and events for our member artists, in order to enrich both the individual working practices and overall artistic experience of our membership and increase the visibility of their work.

It worked in partnership with a number of local organisations which enabled them to host their exhibitions and activities.

Looking, Thinking, Drawing, Queens Park Arts Centre, Aylesbury, Bucks (22 September-13 October 2008)

awful/FANTASTIC's second exhibition Looking, Thinking Drawing took place in the Main Gallery at Queens Park Arts Centre from 22 September to 12 October 2008 and was held as part of The Big Draw 2008.

The exhibition was a chance to show the wide and diverse uses and interpretations of drawing within contemporary art practice.  The fourteen selected artists whose work was included, were:
  • Sara Brown
  • Zoe Eaton
  • Jeannelise Edelsten
  • Isabel Fallow
  • Pete Giles
  • Christine Harris
  • Laura Jones
  • Lucy Landers
  • Liz Meier
  • Katarina Nyman
  • Hilary Sussum
  • Cally Trench
  • Georgina Vinsun
  • Jayne Wilton
Whilst it was difficult to determine visitor numbers as the exhibition was not stewarded, we received a great amount of very positive feedback from visitors, members and other artists regarding the standard of work on display and the curatorial vision of the show.

Pavillion II, Buckinghamshire County Museum, Aylesbury, Bucks (8-29 November 2008)

Following the success of their first open themed exhibition in 2007, awful/FANTASTIC! were invited by Buckinghamshire County Museum in Aylesbury to hold a show in their central Art Gallery from 8-29 November 2008. Thirty-one selected artists presented a wonderful mix of both commercial and experimental work which included sculpture, video and site-specific installation. Exhibiting artists were a mix of members already known to us, people joining awful/FANTASTIC! in order to submit work and artists invited from local art college graduation shows, which added to the richness of the work displayed.

Around one hundred and fifty people attended the Preview on 8 November, with an encouraging number of visitors attending through the exhibition's three week run. Sales of work by Carry Ackroyd, Patricia Lynch and Sue Weinstock were achieved and their profile was raised by a number of articles in local press and the distribution of posters to key venues in surrounding counties in order to attract more visitors into Aylesbury.

We received incredibly positive feedback from comments left in our visitor book and verbally from people who were either involved in, or came to see the exhibition regarding its organisation, mix of engaging/thought provoking work and its overall presentation, for which we are very grateful and hope it benefits both us for future events and the individual profiles of our members.

The artists whose work was included, were:
  • Carry Ackroyd
  • Joanna Bryant
  • Heather Burwell
  • Stuart Bush
  • Celia Buttigieg
  • Katrina Covill
  • Jackie Crabtree
  • Zoe Eaton
  • Jeannelise Edelsten
  • Isabel Fallow
  • Mitzie Green
  • Christine Harris
  • Patricia Lynch
  • Mick Maslen
  • Pamela McMenamin
  • Liz Meier
  • Diana Noel
  • Katarina Nyman
  • Rowena Quilleash
  • Jayne Rawlings
  • Melissa Setterington
  • Kay Singla
  • Victoria Stanway
  • Linda Travers Smith
  • Cally Trench
  • Georgina Vinsun
  • Sue Weinstock
  • Rachel Westlake
  • Jayne Wilton
  • Ann Winder-Boyle
  • Roger Woodiwiss

Press Cuttings

Thread(s), University Centre, Milton Keynes, Bucks (1-29 October 2010)

'Thread(s)' was held at University Centre, Milton Keynes from 1-29 October and featured sculpture and installation work by four member artists of awful/FANTASTIC!:

Jeannelise Edelsten, Patricia Rozental, Pippa Andrews and Debbie White.

Jeannelise Edelsten and Patricia Rozental studied together on the same art degree course. During that time they explored similar themes of time and decay in their practices and utilised similar materials. The individual results of their explorations reflect the diversity of visual responses possible by two artists. Patricia's work focuses on topics such as anatomy, self-portraiture, nature and female iconography and Jeannelise's most recent work has concentrated on creating a series of small plaster and porcelain coil pots. These 'thought pots' explore dyslexia and the feeling of exclusion by dyslexic students within the framework of current educational methods.

Pippa Andrews and Debbie White are members of Material Space, a group of artists who have a common background in stitched textiles. Whilst each individual artist continues to experiment and develop their own ideas and techniques, all members share an interest in working dimensionally, frequently producing 3-D pieces and installations. Often large in scale, and regularly incorporating a wide variety of media, these artists push the boundaries of conventional ideas and challenge their audiences’ perceptions of textiles and how they respond to them.

Pippa creates three dimensional forms informed by natural structures and zoomorphic architecture with their undulating planes, structural ‘ribs’ and surface ‘skins’. She uses natural and manufactured materials, recycled when possible and often juxtaposes these contrasting elements within a piece of work.

Debbie’s work centres on the relationship between repetitive processes and time with particular reference to textile construction.  She creates dimensional drawings in thread using spatial knotting, experimenting with form, materials and methods to explore vertical and horizontal layering and the transition from one plane to another.