Tag Archives: film

Tate needed to make a Bigger Splash

18 Nov

I don’t enjoy being offensive about exhibitions as I know how much hard work goes into their planning.  It gives me no pleasure to leave a great gallery and be so disappointed and bored by a show that I don’t really have anything to say.  But, Tate’s latest exhibition is so bland and irrelevant that I feel it is one of the worst shows I have seen in years.

A Bigger Splash claims to look at the ‘dynamic relationship between performance and painting from 1950 to the present day’, bringing together artists such as Yves Klein, Cindy Sherman, Nike de Saint Phalle, Wang Peng and Sam Gilliam.  It apparently ‘shows how the key period of post-war performance art has challenged and energised the medium of painting for successive generations’.  I felt the need to include this quote as, without it, I don’t think you’d have a clue as to their intentions.

Sam Gilliam, Simmering, 1970. Own photograph.

The exhibition, of course, opens with David Hockney’s A Bigger Splash – Tate obviously felt they had to include the work around which the exhibition marketing revolves.  After all, this is the title that’s going to pull in the punters.  Make sure to read the subtitle of Painting after Performance as this is not a Hockney show and the painting doesn’t really fit here at all.  Is Hockney’s painting a meditation on performance?  I think not.  Hockney’s work is certainly not the best link to performance art.

Alongside, A Bigger Splash is Pollock’s Summertime and then both artists are shown ‘performing’ in the accompanying films.  Although slightly random, this room seems quite good – it poses questions and it juxtaposes exciting major works.  But, don’t hold your breath, as this excitement swiftly fades away.  In fact, the more we think about this room and the lack of continuity between the works, the more we realise the exhibition is fundamentally flawed.

David Hockney, A Bigger Splash, 1967. Own photograph.

Both Hockney and Pollock look at the action of painting. If we want to call these artists ‘performers’ then surely any artist, in fact any creator, is a performer and then what the hell is the point of the exhibition.  Neither artist was, in my opinion ‘energised’ by performance art.

Pollock’s Summertime seen horizontal as it was painted.  Image via www.independent.co.uk

Most of the works in the exhibition are accompanied by film footage – dreary archive material that cannot make up for the lack of actual performance.  The exhibition is a mess, bringing together every sort of art, performance and media that the curators could possibly cram into one space.  Plus it’s hung on Tate grey – my favourite wall colour!

I’m not going to discuss the individual works as to see them in this context does them a disservice.  There are some powerful works if you have the energy to seek them out but, more often than not, they are lost in the ruckus.

Painting after Performance at Tate. Own photograph.

The exhibition takes a dramatic turn half-way through, concentrating on one artist per room, looking at large-scale installations.  Here, I felt the connection to painting pretty much faded away completely.  The exhibition did improve but not sufficiently to pull me out of the depression that the first six galleries had induced.  It was still pretty lacklustre.

Joan Jonas, The Juniper Tree. Own photograph.

My favourite part of the show was the last room.  Not only because it was the exit but because Lucy McKenzie’s work is thought-provoking and beautiful.  Her paintings make use of trompe l’oeil techniques that mimic architectural surfaces and the gallery becomes an imaginary room with fake walls, the interior of a stylish house.

Lucy McKenzie at Tate. Own photograph.

Even though I hoard books, I didn’t want this catalogue which, from the reviews I’ve read, seems to be an abomination, even worse than the exhibition itself.  A perverse part of me wants to get one just to see how Tate has gone so wrong with this too but, to be honest, I just can’t be bothered.

There are no performers in an exhibition surveying performance art.  It becomes very difficult to engage, difficult to feel invigorated and difficult to spend very much time at all in there.  Tired archive footage heard through headphones cannot capture the spirit of performance.  So, was painting affected by performance art?  I don’t think we leave the exhibition any the wiser.  Tate may ask the question but they certainly don’t attempt to give us an answer.

A Bigger Splash: Painting after Performance is at Tate Modern until 1st April 2013, www.tate.org.uk.

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Celebrated Cinema Costumes Come to Life at the V&A

21 Oct

I love clothes and I will often ooh and aah at a particularly gorgeous outfit on the television or cinema screen.  And don’t even get me started on shoes as everyone knows I have a thing for them.  So, I was excited to see Hollywood Costume at the V&A which opened last week, an exhibition that brings together over 130 of the most iconic costumes designed for cinema.

A Royal Romance. Own photograph.

All of our most-loved film characters’ clothes are present – Dorothy’s blue and white gingham dress that we know from The Wizard of Oz, Scarlett O’Hara’s green number from Gone with the Wind, Holly Golightly’s famous LBD from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the fabulous white tailored suit worn by Kate Winslet in Titanic, Captain Jack Sparrow’s 18th century style costume from Pirates of the Caribbean, clothes from Harry Potter, Anna Karenina (that only hit the big screens a few weeks ago) and that wonderful pink suit from Legally Blonde.

Hollywood Costume at the V&A.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk 

It is an enormous achievement and very different to previous costume shows – it is a multi-media spectacular.  Hollywood Costume is not just trying to showcase these fabulous outfits, it is an exploration of the role of costume design and its tool in storytelling.  It takes us through the designer’s creative process from script to screen.

The dummies are all bespoke which gives the clothes a sense of being worn by a real person but, many of the costumes have a square screen of the actor’s face in place of the head, bringing the clothes to life.  Creepy?  The jury is still out.  Not all of the costumes need this though as some are famous in their own right.  We know who wore them as soon as we approach the headless models.  They are impossible to forget.

Superman flies high.  Image via www.metro.co.uk.  

The exhibition makes use of montages, moving mood boards, film clips and projections to show interviews with key costume designers, directors and actors.  Labels are printed like film notes or scripts.  The whole experience is designed to be cinematic and the exhibition even has its own score.  There are tables on which books turn their own pages.  It is overwhelming and you’d need the whole day to really appreciate the work that has gone into this.  But, it is a noisy exhibition and it is hard to focus on all the sound that comes together (this is a problem the V&A have had in the past although to a lesser extent).  My main worry is that maybe this show is trying to be too clever, there is just so much going on (although it is all incredible) that I worry the majority of the detail and excellent footage will be missed.

Labels at the V&A. Own photograph.

This exhibition is going to pull in the crowds but there are bad bottlenecks throughout.  It’s beautiful but with so many people I think it will be hell to get round.  It was busy enough on press morning.  But, don’t be put off by this.  Sharpen your elbows and push your way through!

Hollywood Costume is split into three ‘acts’ – they have really thought about every last detail.  Act One explores Deconstruction looking at the link between clothing and identity and how designers create the unique individuals.  Act Two is Dialogue looking at the intimate creative collaborations involved – it explores four director/designer pairings: Alfred Hitchcock and Edith Head, Tim Burton and Colleen Atwood, Martin Scorsese and Sandy Powell and Mike Nichols and Ann Roth.  The room finishes with two fascinating case-studies on Robert de Niro and Meryl Streep.

Tim Burton having a chat. Own photograph.

Everything leads to the phenomenal tableau of the awe-inspiring final room; Act Three is, of course, the Finale, presenting the best-known and much-loved costumes in cinematic history and showing how they have inspired generations, fashion trends and enriched popular culture.  So many different costumes are placed side by side.  Not all of them are glamorous when seen close up but they show the power of costume to create a character and the importance of costume for film.

Finale. Own photograph.

The exhibition offers the opportunity to compare costumes too as remakes of stories provide a compelling opportunity for designers to put their own interpretations on familiar icons.  Both Cleopatra costumes, for example, are plausible but each has contemporary touches for its own time.

Two Cleopatra costumes. Own photograph.

The exhibition has the perfect sponsor in Harry Winston, ‘Jeweller to the Stars’.  As you reach the end, there’s an amazing recreation of the Harry Winston Isodora necklace that features in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days – the only piece of fine jewellery in the exhibition.

Kate Hudson in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days wearing the Isodora necklace. Image via www.cocosteaparty.com

The show finishes with none other than the original Ruby Slippers worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz in 1939.  It’s the first time the shoes will have been seen in Europe and the first time they will be on display with Dorothy’s pinafore dress since the film was made.  Only four pairs of these slippers still exist.  They are only on display until 18th November when have to return to the Smithsonian for Thanksgiving; they will be replaced by a replica pair so hurry along early if you’re a shoe fiend and want to see the real things.

Dorothy’s dress.  Own photograph.

The exhibition shop is equally incredible and I could have happily maxed out my credit card in there.  And the catalogue is amazing too – I’ve only just touched the surface and need more time to enjoy it properly.  Of course, the costumes naturally lose something when not being worn but this is a tribute to Hollywood film at its finest and the V&A has ensured this is an all-singing, all-dancing affair.  We feel we know these costumes because we have seen the films so many times.   Five years in the planning, there can be no doubt that this is a five star show.

Hollywood Costume is at the V&A until 27th January 2013, www.vam.ac.uk.

Endless Impossibilities – Lindsay Seers at the Tin Tabernacle

20 Sep

It has been nearly a week since I visited the Tin Tabernacle in Kilburn and I’m digesting what I saw.  But, I think that is the point of the work – it is intentionally so complex that we go on pondering its meanings and will never quite fully understand every component.

The Tin Taberacle. Own photograph.

Artangel’s latest project is a commission by artist Lindsay Seers taking place in the Tin Tabernacle in Kilburn, a remarkable corrugated iron chapel that I was quite curious to see.  Artangel seek to take art out of traditional gallery settings and open their projects up to new audiences.  They are offering free tickets on a Wednesday afternoon to allow those who may not be able to afford to pay an opportunity to experience the work.  Not only have they hit the nail on the head with this incredible project but they have made it accessible and, as ever, they must be applauded.

Flat-packed corrugated buildings, such as the Tin Tabernacle, were sent by the Victorians to colonies all over the world to act as temporary places of worship.  This specific example, constructed in 1863, is now a Grade II listed building that has been home to the Willesden and St Marylebone Sea Cadets since 1949.  Shortly after occupying the site, they transformed it into a training ship so the building has portholes, rigging, a 1943 anti-aircraft gun and much more besides.  Although the outlines of a ship are normally present, the building is no longer recognisable and a lot more has been added to it in the creation of Seers’ piece.

Inside The Tin Tab. Own photograph.

Entering the Tin Tabernacle was the start of my adventure.  You walk through a grubby yard at the side of the church and are shown into a waiting room – the ship’s wardroom.  Music calls softly from everyone’s headphones.  When everyone has arrived, you’re shown into Seers’ world where nothing is as it seems.

Entering the building. Own photograph.

The idea of creating spaces and buildings is not new to Seers.  The Tin Tabernacle is a living museum and much of what you see belongs to the Cadets although it’s impossible to tell what was here and what was not.  And so starts the endless impossibilities of this piece.

Nowhere Less Now is a poignant amalgam of film, photography, sculpture, performance, animation, philosophy and writing that brings together research, history, autobiography and fiction in an exploration of time, place, family, sea-faring, masonry and more besides.  The work consists of two films projected simultaneously onto specially designed screens, resembling two eyes – a theme which is omnipresent throughout the work in the discussion of heterochromia, a condition that results in different coloured eyes.  The multi-layered soundtrack is played through the headphones creating an intimate and more personal experience.

A still from the film piece.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

Magical realism comes into play with Seer’s multi-media installation, blurring boundaries between truth and fiction; the magic of Seers’ art is that we are unable to distinguish which is which.  She establishes extraordinary connections and creates experiences that set off connections within your mind.  The story tells us of her great great uncle, George Edwards, a sailor who was born on 27th September 1866, a hundred years to the day before she was born (look carefully and you can find a photograph of George on one of the walls).  He sailed to Zanzibar where she had previously discovered another prefabricated church.  The story also involves a present day African sailor called George and takes us to a George in the future where photographs have ceased to exist.

A still from the film piece.  Image via www.timeout.com

Seers feels that we experience everything through complicated connections and her work aims to represent the experience of ‘being’, jumping backwards and forwards as these connections progress and develop.  When the film ends, we’re left with so many questions.  I don’t want to describe the video in any more depth as part of the beauty of the work is the mystery.  Before leaving the Tin Tabernacle, you have the opportunity to wander round the dimly lit space for ten minutes not really knowing what to make of the surroundings.  The act of experiencing the site is a one-off voyage of discovery.  On the way out, visitors are handed a fairly substantial book and this is my one criticism – everything is meant to be unresolved and no-one should have to feel the need to read nearly 200 pages in a bid to help them untangle the webs of Seers’ work.

The book that’s handed out on exit.  Image via www.immprint.com

It’s easy to forget where you are and walking back onto the street is quite disorientating.  Seers has a unique way of seeing things.  Is this an autobiographical piece or is this all fiction?  We’ll never know.  Are the people in the film who we think they are?  Again, the implausibility of the story is meant to baffle and move us.  Whatever you take from the content of the piece, the method of projection, design and transformation of building and the overall construction are so beautiful and dreamlike and executed to such a high degree of finish that you can’t help but be moved in some way.

Lindsay Seers: Nowhere Less Now is at The Tin Tabernacle until 21st October 2012, www.artangel.org.uk.

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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