Tag Archives: Anish Kapoor

Encounters in the Turbine Hall – Tacita Dean’s FILM

21 Oct

Pictures of the latest Unilever installation seemed to confirm my Turbine Hall pet hate; this has long been one of my favourite spaces yet, although some of the installations have been magnificent, no one really seems to quite master the enormity of this space at Tate Modern.  The Turbine Hall, which once housed the electricity generators of the old power station, is five storeys tall with 3,400 square metres of floor space.  The Unilever Series has been going since 2000 when Louise Bourgeois embarked on the first commission.  Since then many famous artists, including Anish Kapoor, Rachel Whiteread and, most recently, Ai Weiwei, have undertaken the project.

The Turbine Hall. Image via www.tate.org.uk.

It is a daunting challenge.  Do you fill it all like Kapoor’s Marsyas did?  Fill it vertically? Use just a bit of it?  There must be a checklist –Olafur  Eliasson did light, Bruce Nauman, who played with the concept of empty space, conquered sound, Carsten Hőller even turned it into a giant playground.  There is often controversy or debate surrounding the installations and, last year, Ai Weiwei’s sunflower seeds famously had to be portioned for health and safety reasons.

Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds. Image via http://contemporary-art-blog.tumblr.com. 

Tacita Dean has decided to embrace the height of the space.  Her work calls to mind many forerunners who tried this too.  In 2006-7, Hőller’s Test Site (five spiralling steel Makrolon slides) descended from various levels of Tate Modern, culminating under the bridge of the Turbine Hall.  Visitors were able to interact personally with the works that aimed to release them from everyday restraints, questioning human behaviour and offering the possibility of self-exploration in the process.

Carsten Hőller’s Test Site. Own photograph.

This was the first installation, until now, to take real advantage of the tremendous verticality of the hall.  Test Site made viewers, or participants, look at the Turbine Hall and the slides from different perspectives and heights and to experience the sensation of descending through the hall.  No other commission had attempted anything to such an extent, although the three steel towers of Louise Bourgeois’ 2000 installation, I Do, I Undo and I Redo, encouraged its audience to climb the spiral staircases that ascended around central columns supporting platforms surrounded by large circular mirrors.

Louise Bourgeois’ I Do, I Undo, I Redo.  Image via http://poulwebb.blogspot.com

Like Test Site, Dean’s work neglects most of the available horizontal space of the Turbine Hall.  When you first enter Tate Modern, the piece is quite insignificant within the cavernous architecture and does not attract your first glance.  The entry to the commission is equally underwhelming, compared to the spectacle of its predecessors.  But, when you do arrive at the section given over to Dean’s work it is brilliant, atmospheric and near-perfect.

The entrance to Tacita Dean’s FILM. Own photograph.

FILM is an 11 minute, silent, 35mm looped film, that is projected onto an enormous monolith dwarfing all who approach the darkened end of the hall.  The work upends the usual landscape format of moving image. Taking the appearance of a filmstrip with sprocket holes, exposed onto the emulsion, it pays homage to the traditional analogue process, highlighting the threat to which film is subjected nowadays and the impact its loss will have on our culture.  The work often looks transparent, as if someone is hanging a film reel from the ceiling.  Rather than being an actual film, FILM seems to offer a portrait of a film shown in portrait format.  The work is about the importance and specificity of the medium.  The film itself is a montage of imagery – a Mondrian painting, hand-tinted pictures, the mountains of René Daumal’s novel Mount Analogue, a spurting fountain, the Paramount Studio logo, a giant snail, the Turbine Hall, a giant ostrich leg, escalators, pigeons, the sea….  I don’t think the content is the key factor here.  Dean has transformed this end of the Turbine Hall into a cinematic theatre where visitors sprawl across the floor, transfixed by the giant screen.

Tacita Dean’s FILM. Own photograph.

This response to Dean’s FILM reminds me of the climatic landscape that Eliasson’s large sun created in the Turbine Hall when a gigantic, illuminated orange disc was suspended from the ceiling at the far end of the hall.   The Weather Project, was, in actual fact, an illusion; in reality, a semi-circular, fragmentary mirror was hung on the lit ceiling creating the appearance of a full circle.  Visitors became immersed in the piece, lying on the floor of the Turbine Hall for hours in an attempt to find their own reflection in the mass of swarming shapes.  The Eliasson, the Hőller and now the Dean installations have initiated cults; filling the Turbine Hall with people and turning it into a meeting place for social interaction with art, leading to various interpretations of social activism where the pieces are not only sculptures and installations but performances and encounters.

Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project. Image via www.urban75.org.uk

I personally didn’t lie down – still exhausted from last night’s art exhibition at Chinawhite, I was worried I might have fallen asleep.

The Unilever Series 2011 – Tacita Dean: FILM will be in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern until 11th March 2012, www.tate.org.uk.

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Frantic at the Fringe – Part I

20 Aug

I have a tendency to overdo it when I go to Edinburgh for the Fringe.  As soon as the Fringe Guide is released in June, I plan our schedule and come August we’re raring to go.

This year we only had three days in which to ‘do’ the Fringe and I managed to timetable 12 productions and 10 galleries plus nice restaurants in which to give our feet a break and our bodies a cocktail or two (or three).  Tempting as it is, I’m not going to mention the theatre side of the Fringe after this very brief paragraph.  Suffice to say it was fantastic.  Highlights were Out of the Blue (an amazing Oxford all-male a cappella group), 2401 Objects (Analogue Productions’ remarkable story of the world’s most famous amnesiac patient), Manscaping by Russell Kane (a comic genius who had us in stitches for an hour), Steven Berkoff’s Oedipus (an exciting modern rendition of Sophocles’ play), Fat Kitten vs the World (a brilliant improvised comedy group and one to watch for future years), Audience – Ontroend Goed (one of the best productions I’ve seen at the Fringe) and Ten Plagues (telling one man’s struggle through a city in dire crisis).  But, I had to start with seeing some art…

Audience – Ontroend Goed. Image via http://utopiaparkway.wordpress.com

Anish Kapoor’s Flashback at the Edinburgh College of Art features two works – his early seminal pigment piece, White Sand, Red Millet, Many Flowers (1982), and the new Untitled, a self-generating wax sculpture, exhibited here for the first time in the UK.  In White Sand, Red Millet, Many Flowers Kapoor places a strong emphasis on the relationships between the forms, presenting contrasts and similarities between these initially highly varied sculptures.

Anish Kapoor, White Sand, Red Millet, Many Flowers, 1982. Own photograph.

Untitled recalls his two crimson wax-works that were so popular at last year’s Royal Academy retrospective.  Here, a large steel-cutter journeys around a circular track, maintaining the blood-red bell sculpture that stands over 5 metres tall.  The journey is relentless yet almost invisible.  Those of you familiar with the girolle that shaves tête de moine cheese will understand the principle.  In the Classical setting of the ECA, Untitled resembles a memorial monument – the bell suggesting pain and death, the stillness presenting a solemnity.  From a distance, the bell appears smooth and lifeless.  Moving closer, the wax is blemished and damaged, stuck to the edge of the steel.  The sculpture is both beautiful and horrific, playful yet serious.  This was a wonderful start to the Edinburgh Art Festival and I was ready for more.

Anish Kapoor, Untitled, 2010. Own photograph.

In the same building is Body Bags: Simonides, an exhibition that incorporates the ECA’s famous collection of Classical sculpture.  The Greek poet, Simonides, is famous for his epitaphs for the Spartan dead at Thermopylae.  Here, his poetic fragments are translated by Robert Crawford and juxtaposed with photographs by Norman McBeath that provoke a contemplation on loss.

Body Bags: Simonides. Own photograph.

Next, it was time for one of the Fringe blockbusters and to see the work of a Scottish artist.  David Mach’s Precious Light is a revelation (excuse the pun).  I know Mach from his amazing assembled postcard-collage portraits but beyond those, I wasn’t that familiar with the rest of his oeuvre and how far his collage genius extends.

This is the biggest exhibition Mach has ever staged.  The works tell the story of the Bible (no wonder it took him 10 years to plan and four years to execute), focusing on the King James Bible, which celebrates its 400th anniversary this year and was the first Bible to be produced en masse.  In the entrance and free for all to see is Mach’s Golgotha, three crucified figures screaming with pain, nails impaling them at every conceivable point.  Regardless of your religious beliefs and how you connect with these works, they provoke immediate reaction – awe, disgust, bewilderment, fear…  The strength of Golgotha overpowers some of the sculpture in the upper galleries such as his matchstick head of Jesus which cannot compete.

David Mach, Golgotha, 2011. Own photograph.

We are more used to seeing Biblical subjects depicted in darkened oils by the Old Masters yet Mach’s dynamic collages have a raw edge.  Collage is an incredibly time-consuming medium with which to work and the intricacy of his detail is superb.   It’s easy to get lost in Mach’s world, fascinated by his characters, their actions and behaviour.  The works are serious but playful, commenting not only on religious history but the disparities in today’s worldwide cultures.  Hell is ironically depicted in Paris, Tokyo, Dublin, Disneyland (here overrun by riots, fighting, religious animosity and disaster) while Heaven is shown through simple and innocent pleasures across the four seasons.  Autumn is particularly luminescent and Mach’s use of colour radiates across the room.  The works require close inspection as well as viewing from a distance.  Money Lenders, hung alongside the escalator, does allow you to soak up the detail but fails to offer adequate space to see the work as a whole.

David Mach, Hell – Paris. Image via www.oranges-and-apples.com

Mach’s London Studio has temporarily relocated to the third floor of the City Art Centre for visitors to watch the final exhibition work being created.  This monumental piece, The Last Supper, will be unveiled on 20th September.  It is fascinating to watch the work in progress and it also breaks up the exhibition nicely.  The fourth floor is given over to the history and language of the Bible itself but, to be honest, I was exhausted by the time I reached this level.  As you journey through the building, the volume of work lessens.   Rather than the initial overload, it would have been better if the works were more spread out.  This is a huge exhibition, spread over five floors and, if anything, it is too big.  As I was conscious of the time, it was impossible for me to spend as much time with each piece as I would have liked.  This exhibition is a tour de force, a powerful portrayal of our modern world in Mach’s own inimitable style.

David Mach, Noah and the Ark. Image via www.davidmach.com

Time was ticking by and I crossed the road to the Fruitmarket Gallery, one of my favourite Edinburgh spaces.  I had never before heard of the American artist, Ingrid Calame who finds a unique visual vocabulary in the ground, tracing individual stains, cracks and markings from specific sites and turning them into artworks.  On first glance, I thought these were just pretty coloured patterns but when you learn of the principle behind these works, they are fascinating, transposing the ground we are walking on into art.  Her constellations (as she calls the layered patterns) move the ground to the wall.

Ingrid Calame. Own photograph.

Her wall drawing, L.A. River at Clearwater Street 2006-8, has been specially made for this exhibition.  Working in a slightly different style to her other pieces, Calame has pricked tiny holes through what is effectively a large transfer drawing, leaving pure pigment on the wall.  It focuses on the graffiti at one site and how it has changed and developed over a two-year period.  The works are about collecting evidence.  What first appear to be pretty pictures are actually full of an unimaginable depth about society’s imprint on the world.

Ingrid Calame, L.A. River at Clearwater Street 2006-8, 2011. Own photograph.

Whenever I now walk up the Fruitmarket staircase I think of last year’s exhibition where Martin Creed had transformed the stairs into a musical scale.  As you walked onto each stair, a note sounded.  The higher you ascended, the higher the note and the larger your smile.

Martin Creed, Work No. 1061, 2010. Own photograph.

Creed is never far away in Edinburgh and, to make up for my disappointment that the musical stairs have disappeared, I went to visit his Work No. 1059 at The Scotsman Steps just across the road.  Creed has re-generated these 104 steps; every stair is now a different kind and colour of marble and a leaflet produced by Fruitmarket Gallery, who commissioned the work in a bid to help restore this dilapidated staircase, lists all the different marbles and their origins.  The staircase is fit for royalty and yet the city rushes up and down it without even noticing the spectacular beauty beneath their feet.  Perhaps this is the charm of the work. It is so beautifully integrated into Edinburgh that it is easy to miss, yet when you spot it, you just have to stop and stare at the stairs.  Creed lives in Italy where it is not at all unusual to have marble underfoot and he has brought a piece of this Italian luxury to Edinburgh, to a staircase that acts as a thoroughfare in the centre of a busy city right next to Waverley station, linking the old and the new towns.

Martin Creed, Work No. 1059, 2011. Own photograph.

Walking back up Cockburn Street, I popped into Stills who are showing works by Stephen Sutcliffe, an artist fascinated with the idea of high culture and its representation in film and on television, and then into Collective, who have an installation entitled Remains of the Day by Hans Schabus.  This exhibition was met with derisory comments by my Fringe buddy who thought the work looked like a larger version of her recycling pile on a Sunday evening.  Yes, she’s not that far off as the work is an accumulation of rubbish by the artist and his family during one calendar year that has been installed, cleaned and displayed linearly along the gallery space.  The work is visible from outside or you can go inside and climb over the mounds of rubbish to fully explore the space.  Through his installation, Schabus questions the spatial layout of the gallery and subverts the standard exhibition experience.  He asks us to consider our relationship to the goods we use and the scarcity of certain products.  This is a good and interesting exhibition for a quick peek, either from the street or inside if you’ve got the time.

Hans Schabus, Remains of the Day, 2011. Own photograph.

And that’s a morning at the Fringe.  We slowly ambled back up the Mile to the Witchery for my favourite fish pie in Edinburgh.  By now you’ve probably realised that this trip necessitated a fair bit of walking. Sticking to my guns though, I wore skater boots for my first day of adventures over the cobbles.  Up and down various staircases, climbing hills, around galleries, running to venues – I was practically crippled by the end of Day One.  But it was worth it!

At the Edinburgh College of Art, Anish Kapoor, Flashback is on until 9th October 2011 and Body Bags: Simonides  is on until 9th September 2011, www.eca.ac.uk.  David Mach, Precious Light, is at the City Art Centre until 16th October 2011, www.edinburghmuseums.org.ukIngrid Calame is at the Fruitmarket Gallery until 9th October 2011, www.fruitmarket.co.uk.  Martin Creed, Work No. 1059 is a permanent installation at The Scotsman Steps, www.martincreed.com.  Stephen Sutcliffe: Runaway, Success is at Stills until 30th October 2011, www.stills.orgHans Schabus: Remains of the Day is at Collective Gallery until 2nd October 2011, www.collectivegallery.net.

A Salon for Summer: the RA’s Summer Exhibition

5 Jun

It’s that crazy time of year again – the summer season has begun.

Since the Royal Academy’s Foundation in 1768, the Summer Exhibition has been an annual fixture.  Historically, the exhibition was an opportunity for Royal Academicians to showcase their work but, today, it is renowned as the show where amateurs stand proudly alongside the gods of the modern-day art world.  It is part of the social calendar with all the glossies covering the grand party that marks the opening.  It is the show that is hated by the art world (many don’t even bother to visit) but it is packed every day until August.  You couldn’t hold this exhibition without the expected criticism.  Now, I won’t pretend that I’m not a Summer Exhibition critic but I did enjoy this year’s more than most.

Visitors at The Summer Exhibition.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

I’d been eagerly anticipating the exhibition since Jeff Koons’ sculpture was installed in the courtyard a few weeks ago.  Although quite abstract, the work stems from a line drawing of Piglet in Winnie the Pooh – one of my all-time favourite children’s’ books.  Koons explores the joyous playfulness of child-like marks in a colouring book.

Jeff Koons, Colouring Book.  Own photograph.

Royal Academicians Christopher Le Brun and Michael Craig-Martin (both of whom have wonderful works on display) have played major roles in this year’s curation.  Key to the changes introduced this year is that there is no theme.  I applaud their decision to accept the random nature of the exhibition and to go with it.

Unusually this year, visitors enter the exhibition through the central octagon filled with large-scale photographic works and Martin Creed’s Work No. 998 (familiar from his exhibition at The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, last year) where he has stacked chairs one on top of the other.  Although the chairs are different from each other they appear the same through the calming influence of rhythm, sequence and harmony.

Martin Creed, Work No. 998.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

 The selling point of the show has been the ‘Salon Hang’ in the RA’s grandest space.  Room III is certainly a success but, ironically, what I think works best is that it isn’t quite as crammed as in previous years.  The Royal Academy was originally housed at what is now The Courtauld Gallery and an 18th century salon hang was a dense floor-to-ceiling collective of works where the prime positions were ‘on the line’, a moulding placed at eye level.  This was excellently re-created in the ambitious exhibition, Art On The Line, in 2002.

Art On The Line, The Courtauld Gallery, 2002, curated by Professor David Solkin.  Image www.courtauld.ac.uk

Although not necessarily as busy as these hangs once were, Le Brun has followed traditional ideals with pieces radiating out from the large-scale works in the centre of each long wall.  He wanted visitors to find their own way through the gallery rather than being controlled by curatorial ideas.  He succeeds.  The strong grey wall colour suits the gravitas of many of the pieces on display.

Room III.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

For me, in this room and across the whole exhibition, Keith Tyson’s Deep Impact has to take first prize.  This mixed media on aluminium is a burning fire of molten fury, the swirling colours conjuring passion, turmoil and power, grabbing viewers’ attention as they amble through the thousands of works on display.

Keith Tyson with his work, Deep Impact.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

It is very hard to discuss this exhibition without pinpointing particular works.  As ever, at the Summer Exhibition, the best works stand out and the others merge into a panoply of dross.  I clacked around (the RA floors have some of the best heel acoustics in London) clutching my champagne, list of works and pen, noting interesting pieces.  But, flicking back, I now see I circled more than I expected so I will try to be brief.

Anselm Kiefer’s Aurora haunts the Large Weston Room.  This room, usually subdivided into sections on one side, has been left open and this is very successful.  There are still loads of works but, finally, there is the space to see them.

The Lecture Room, curated by Craig-Martin with his own specially invited artists, gathers together all the famous names of art with Allen Jones, Gary Hume, Michael Craig-Martin himself, Tracey Emin, Jenny Saville, Anish Kapoor, Christopher Le Brun, Antony Gormley, Richard Long… I could go on!  The works are all signature pieces from the artists as Craig-Martin wished the works to reveal ‘the true, distinct, and singular voice of an individual artist’.

Allen Jones, Think Pink.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

There are the usual ‘pretty’ works (Ice-Hiss by Vanessa Cuthbert and Mr Muscle by Tor Hildyard) and, yes, there is a lot of rubbish (including some disappointing pieces from big names) and the last room is particularly weak.  But, if you search thoroughly, there are some wonderful things: David Nash’s Funnel, an amazing severed trunk that we can peer through, and Dae Kwon’s 250510R, that has won the Jack Goldhill award, both stood out for me.

Dae Kwon, 250510R.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

Dog In a Bin by Simon Brundret is a kinetic sculpture made from silicone, rubber, bin and a motor, showing a dog devouring rubbish.  There is no doubt that this has the novelty factor but it left me with a smile.  I dare you not to look at it and grin.

Simon Brundret, Dog In A Bin.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

The RA receives no public money and the Summer Exhibition generates much revenue for the gallery.  Sales from the Summer Show also contribute to funding the RA schools (the only non-fee paying UK art school) which produce some of our greatest artists.

No-one is pretending that the Summer Exhibition is a collection of the best art in the UK today – accept it for what it is and enjoy it for all those reasons.  It is a gathering both of art and people, a mish-mash and an essential fixture in our summer calendar that provides an opportunity to see what’s going on in all echelons of the art world.

Anish Kapoor, Untitled.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

The Summer Exhibition at The Royal Academy opens on 7th June until 15th August 2011, www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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