Tag Archives: oil

Flesh, Despair and Glistening Oil – Haunch and Saatchi

4 Dec

This is certainly not the first time we have seen Patricia Piccinini at Haunch of Venison and I doubt it will be the last but this is her first solo UK exhibition.  I popped into the opening one night last week but I have to say it lacked the normal buzz of Haunch’s exhibitions.  I don’t know if it was the cold or that this has been done and seen before – it’s impossible not to mention Mueck when looking at her works.

Piccinini’s work blurs the boundaries between the artificial and the natural, encompassing many different media along the way.  She explores our desire to homogenise the human body and considers if we do, or do not, accept those who don’t measure up to a manufactured ideal of perfection.

the carrier

Looking at Piccinini’s The Carrier at Haunch. Own photograph.

Her fascination with medical science is obvious and she uses this to attempt to explain our contemporary world.  Piccinini’s figures are far removed from the people we are used to seeing – they are mutated human/animal hybrids that are alarmingly lifelike.  The panels on the walls have been presented in a square format – silicone, fibreglass and human hair resembling a slab of butchered meat.  Her anthropomorphised machines reference both a universal instinct to apply human emotions to all animals and things as well as a consideration that people and technology are increasingly, and unavoidably, intertwined.

lovers

Patricia Piccinini, The Lovers, 2011. Own photograph.

Haunch haven’t overcrowded this exhibition or been over-ambitious.  The space afforded to the works allows us to form a baffling relationship with the pieces as we look at these familiar, yet alien, forms.  Piccinini is fetishising scarred and damaged flesh but the honesty of the material and her process removes some of the repulsion which we may otherwise feel here.

The hyper-realism draws us in closer.  Although I was disgusted by the sculptures, I couldn’t stop looking at them, admiring her technique and ideas.  Haunch state that the works both ‘attract and unsettle the viewer’ and this could not be more accurate.  This contradiction of emotions is Piccinini’s aim and couples perfectly with the juxtaposition of ideas in the works.

scarred flesh

Scarred Flesh. Own photograph.

On Sunday afternoon, I popped to Saatchi who have just opened Gaiety is the Most Outstanding Feature of the Soviet Union: Art from Russia.  Saatchi like to do things big and recent exhibitions have looked at art from India, America, Germany, Korea and China.  This time they tackle Russia but this exhibition presents Russia in a grim and unforgiving light, with little optimism.

Before I make any comment, I have to say this is one exhibition that truly teaches the importance of being able to put aside personal taste.  To be honest, I am not a fan of the works in this show but it cannot be ignored that this is a powerful and well put together exhibition that doesn’t cower from conveying its messages.

A mono photo-like print of a bare chested man with tattoos

Sergei Vasiliev, Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia Print No.12, 2010.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

The exhibition opens with works by Sergei Vasiliev, possibly the images that, for me, were the most enduring.  Put simply, Vasiliev, a former prison warden, has photographed tattoos.  But there is so much more here.  Tattoos were, in fact, illegal and these images aren’t just about making a mark and an image but an act of defiance created with a scalpel using blood and urine.  This isn’t a subtle veil but a coded message that we see recur again and again on worn flesh.  These men are in prison and many don’t ever expect to be released.

All of the works in this exhibition are intertwined with the unavoidable political history of Russia.  The works are immediate and exposing; Vikenti Nilin’s photographs show people sitting on the windowsills or roofs of towering buildings.  They don’t seem as if they are about to jump or are on the verge of falling, instead they sit calmly on the edge – a fascinating comment about their day-to-day existence.

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Vikenti Nilin, from the Neighbours Series. Image via www.culture24.org.uk

Boris Mikhailov’s works repel and mesmerise us, in the same way that Piccinini does at Haunch, and two galleries here are dedicated to his work.  These photographs are a small portion of 400 images he took in his homeland of Ukraine showing the distressed, desperate, dying, destitute and decaying.  The drama and theatricality of the poses would be comic if the people weren’t baring all to reveal gashes, cuts, bruises, cancerous cysts and far worse.

boris

Boris Mikhailov photographs.  Image via www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk

The photographs are at the epicentre; not all of the works deliver their messages in such a compelling way and I don’t think some of the pieces translate to a London audience.  It would have been stronger if it wasn’t quite so big and determined to show a survey of Russian contemporary art.  Of the 18 artists on show, many have never been seen outside Russia.

The title Gaiety is the Most Outstanding Feature of the Soviet Union comes from a speech by Joseph Stalin but there is no gaiety here and the work comments on the aftermath of the regimes that have gone before.  The irony could not be more poignant.

A dummy of a man hangs in a hand-built row of cells

Gosha Ostretsov, Criminal Government, 2008  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

The highlight of visiting the Saatchi has to be the opportunity to gaze into Richard Wilson’s 20:50, an incredible reservoir of metal, filled with engine oil, that takes the shape of the room.  You’ve probably seen it before; the oil reflects its surroundings, it glows and glistens.  It perfectly harmonises with the architecture around us, confounding our ideas of distance and space.  Sadly, the walkway into the pool of black was closed on Sunday but I had experienced this at County Hall.  It could not be simpler; it could not be more perfect and concrete despite the fluidity.

richard_wilson_doy

Richard Wilson, 20:50.  Image via www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk

As strange as this may sound, 20:50 provides the perfect counter-balance to the grim despair of the Russian exhibition.  For me, this work is timeless and whatever Saatchi may be showing make sure you get lost in Wilson’s black depths.

shoes

Patricia Piccinini: Those who dream by night is at Haunch of Venison, New Bond Street, until 12th January 2013, www.haunchofvenison.comGaiety is the Most Outstanding Feature of the Soviet Union: Art from Russia is at the Saatchi Gallery until 5th May 2013, www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk.

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Flash Bang Wallop, What A Let Down…

21 May

I was not the only one expecting big things from the re-launch of The Photographers’ Gallery which has been closed for two years for a mega £9.2 million restoration programme.  The obvious ‘big’ is that the building now features a two-storey extension that doubles the size of the old gallery.  Designed by Irish architects O’Donnell + Tuomey, the original Victorian red-brick warehouse is linked to the modern steel extension by an external sleeve of black render, terrazzo and Angelim Pedra wood.  There is no doubt that the exterior is striking.  The design is all about the importance of linking exterior and interior with picture-perfect windows punctuating the building that provide amazing views onto surrounding Soho.

The ‘new’ Photographers’ Gallery. Own photograph.

The gallery space itself is stunning but this is yet another slick building with no heart.  The opening exhibition mounts a selection of works by renowned photographer Edward Burtynsky, showcasing over thirty images from his series OIL that looks at the mechanics of the manufacture, distribution and use of this highly controversial resource.

Edward Burtynsky, Highway #5, 2009. Own photograph.

Reading Adrian Searle’s review on Guardian online I couldn’t help but laugh at some of the obnoxious comments that had been posted in response to his description of the exhibition as ‘so-so’.  In this instance, I think Searle is spot-on.  Any photography fan will have seen these works before.  Any photography fan will appreciate the visual dynamism of these works.  Any photography fan will think this is an unadventurous choice of artist.  I thought the gallery would have taken more risks.  With low-level lighting (another gallery falling going down this gloomy path), the works aren’t shown to their full potential and I’m far more excited to see the display of his works at Flowers that opens later this week.

Edward Burtynsky photographs at The Photographers’ Gallery. Own photograph.

The gallery does have some interesting features.  The Eranda studio includes its own camera obscura (offering a 360 degree view of the surrounding area which visitors can see by using a rotating turret in the window) plus there’s an environmentally-controlled floor which will allow the more extensive exhibition of works from archives and museum collections.  There is also The Wall on the ground floor which is part of the new digital programme – this particular display will present guest-curated projects, artist commissions and collaborative photographic work.   Currently The Wall is showing The Animated GIF, featuring over forty GIF images by practitioners from a range of creative disciplines.  The GIF was first created in 1987 and this display seeks to celebrate its history and the aesthetic qualities of this medium, looking at the wide variety of approaches using this restricted palette of 265 colours.

The Wall on the ground floor. Own photograph.

There was still a lot of snagging to do when I went round although I’m sure this would have been righted before doors opened to the public.  The stairs are rather hidden and use of the lift is being encouraged but it is so slow; make sure you’ve got ample time, not to walk around the exhibition, but to actually get up to it!

When we found the stairs…. Own photograph.

This is one of those spaces that will, no doubt, change drastically for each exhibition and I will be back for the Deutsche Börse prize in July to see if different works can spice up this attractive warehouse.  I think it’s easy to get these spaces right but, seemingly, it’s even easier to get them wrong.

Burtynsky: Oil is at The Photographers’ Gallery until 1st July 2012, www.thephotographersgallery.org.uk.

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