Tag Archives: Thames

A Game Plan with No Energy – Boetti at Tate Modern

4 Mar

It has been nearly a week since I visited the Alighiero Boetti exhibition at Tate Modern.  Generally, I like to write about exhibitions as soon as possible but, for this, I needed time to digest.  I felt thoroughly bamboozled by parts of the show.  To be honest, I still do.

Boetti is one of the most influential Italian artists of the 20th century, strongly associated with the Arte Povera movement of the late 1960s (which he then rejected in 1969 with his work Niente da vedere niente da nascondere).  The exhibition begins with his Arte Povera objects at a time when he was experimenting with the figure and identity of the artist.  Taking this to extremes, Boetti began to represent himself as split in two, as twins called Alighiero E Boetti.

In the background – Alighiero Boetti, Niente da vedere niente da nascondere, 1969. Own photograph.

The exhibition highlights Boetti’s engagement with travel, geopolitics, games, numbers, words, dates, sequences, systems… with far too many things in fact.  It is very hard to tie Boetti down; throughout his career, he always jumped around, never remaining in one place for long and, for this reason, after the second room there is no route around the exhibition.  Instead, it is structured by ideas rather than arranged chronologically.  Game Plan is playful and conceptual, aiming to be the exact manifestation of the artist himself.

Game Plan at Tate Modern. Own photograph.

Boetti is most widely-known for his maps where each country is created using the colours and symbols of its flag.  From June 1967, not having any interest in learning the skill himself, Boetti asked his wife to embroider the shapes for him.  When travelling, he commissioned local craftswomen as he was intrigued by the female approach to colour.  At one point, supposedly, the embroiderers did not recognise the ocean as an ocean and used a colour that was more plentiful in their supplies.  After this time he gave them leeway to choose the colours they preferred for the seas; the values of the locals are woven into the pictures along with the artist’s ideas.  Boetti was fascinated by systems of which maps are the very embodiment, the human method of representing the world through shapes and symbolic colours.  At the heart of this exhibition are 12 maps embroidered in his characteristic, vivid colours.  This room is certainly the highlight of the exhibition and one where we most coherently get a sense of Boetti’s personality and ideals.

Alighiero Boetti, Mappa, 1971-72. Own photograph.

There are other well-known highlights; his 1973 work ordine e disordine covers a whole wall with a hundred embroidered squares featuring the randomly-dispersed phrase.   Also included are his monumental embroideries and a book created in an attempt to classify the thousand longest rivers in the world.  Shown in a room with windows, through which it’s possible to see the Thames, the hangings take a vivid actuality with their sense of movement and research mirrored by the flowing fluvial contours outside.

Alighiero Boetti,Ordine e Disordine, 1973. Own photograph.

I found his postal works particularly interesting; in 1969, Boetti selected 25 characters to be part of his Viaggi  Postali.  He created 25 different journeys.  The first envelopes were sent to the first addresses but were obviously returned to sender as the addressee didn’t live there.  Boetti photocopied both sides of the envelope and filed the copies in grey folders.  The original envelopes were then placed in larger envelopes and sent to the second address.  And so the same thing would continue as part of Boetti’s own strange game.  19 envelopes remain in the final work, the others having got lost on their travels.

Alighiero Boetti,Viaggi Postali, 1969-70. Own photograph.

And then there’s the work generating most attention – his Lampada Annuale, a black box holding a single light bulb that only illuminates for 11 seconds a year.  Few people will ever see it alight but there will always be a great sense of expectation when approaching it.  But, Boetti will always have the last laugh; no doubt the work will illuminate one night, enjoying its 11-second glory in solitude.

In the foreground – Alighiero Boetti, Lampada Annuale, 1966. Own photograph.

Game Plan is another exhibition that Tate has dimly lit, making it gloomy and exhausting.  It is highly likely that the tapestries dictate these low light levels but the curatorial decisions have removed any playfulness from the exhibition.  Tate has done nothing to jazz this show up.  I’d only seen a few of Boetti’s works before but the sheer diversity is incredible.  However, if you don’t know anything about the artist, Tate’s choice of labelling and explanations is strange.  I found the catalogue to be far more palatable than the show and it is through this that I’ve been able to understand some of the more baffling elements in greater detail.  It clearly elucidates Boetti’s multi-faceted career in a non-exhausting way.

Alighiero Boetti,detail of I mille fiumi più lunghi del mondo, 1976-78. Own photograph.

Even on a preview morning, as people ‘accidentally’ stepped over the boundary lines, a ridiculous symphony of beeps deafened everyone in the gallery.  The alarms were like a sound installation which I imagine will get tiresome.

Some of Boetti’s works are a revelation and his use of texture throughout is amazing but overall it’s not for me.  The volume of work at Tate shows how active Boetti was.  Although, he made very few of the pieces himself, he saw thought as a sixth sense and was constantly bubbling with ideas.  There may be no continuity in his medium but Tate aims to show that his principles are consistent and that his eccentricity was omnipresent.

Alighiero Boetti: Game Plan is at Tate Modern until 27th May 2012, www.tate.org.uk.

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Blistering Heat: EB&Flow’s latest exhibitions

7 Aug

EB&Flow is still a relatively new gallery (having only opened this spring) and one that I hadn’t previously visited.  So, on my way to lunch with a friend in Spitalfields last Friday, I decided to meander down Leonard Street and take a look.  Opposite Westland London, a wonderful and quirky reclamation yard, EB&Flow is currently exhibiting young artists Katie Louise Surridge and Dylan Culhane.

EB&Flow, Leonard Street. Own photograph.

The gallery is lovely, a calming space in an old East End building.  The painted grey floor boards are warming and give the gallery a satisfying acoustic (the click clack of my heels made wonderful reverberations).  The directors didn’t want their gallery to be a cold sterile place and it isn’t.

Surridge’s often large-scale installations play with found objects.

Katie Louise Surridge’s work. Own photograph.

Live Through This incorporates Victorian tobacco clay-pipes that she has scavenged from the banks of the Thames along with shire horse collars and a cattle feeder.  The process of discovery is key to Surridge and her works develop as the found objects grow and form relationships with one another.  Most of her works on show here incorporate elements of animal or botanical origin.  In touch with nature, she is interested in exploiting textures, fabrics and materials. Often playing on the conditions in which animals live, the detail in her sculptural installations is fascinating.

Katie Louise Surridge, So Over, mixed media ( including fence posting, skins, straw, bunting, roofing felt), 2010.  Image via www.ebandflowgallery.com (and courtesy of the artist).

I found some of the wall-based works quite strange – the birds and skulls aren’t really to my taste but, on the whole, the exhibition works well.  There is a native rusticity to the gallery and the tactility of the works is inviting.  One piece is reminiscent of a merry-go-round but with a raw edge.

Katie Louise Surridge, Skull and Nails, mixed media (fox skull, wood, found nails) 2011.  Image via www.ebandflowgallery.com (and courtesy of the artist).

Culhane’s exhibition downstairs is more conventional.

Dylan Culhane downstairs at the gallery. Own photograph.

He plays with clever photography utilising layered multiple exposures.  His works resemble painted canvases which present a striking contrast to the wilderness upstairs.  Many of these works have been taken in or around Culhane’s native Cape Town.

Dylan Culhane, Church Square, Cape Town, 2011. Image via www.ebandflowgallery.com (and courtesy of the artist).

His unique representations of place push conventional photographic boundaries; beginning with geometric shapes as the exhibition progresses, the overlays become more adventurous blending with the original photograph and merging the juxtaposed layers.  His works are almost illusionistic, transforming well-known landscapes and pushing the visual boundaries of his medium as well as the capabilities of his camera.

Dylan Culhane, U-Turn, South Africa, 2011. Image via www.ebandflowgallery.com (and courtesy of the artist).

The space is great and, although I didn’t think the exhibitions were brilliant, they were interesting.  This new gallery is already flying in its first year and I’m most interested to see what they do next.

The sun was shining and, after lunch, having escorted my friend back to his office, I decided to walk down Brick Lane to the wonderful Beigel Bake.  Carrying three dozen beigels (they freeze well and I’m not one to do things in halves), I set off for the tube.  A note for anyone thinking this is a good idea – high heels, heavy bags of beigels and humidity is not a good combination and my poor feet blistered badly.  I’m paying the price and salted ice footbaths have dominated my weekend in an attempt to ensure I’ll be back in stilettos next week!

Beigel Bake, 159 Brick Lane. Image via www.britishfoodinamerica.com.

Katie Louise Surridge: Voo-dology and Dylan Culhane is at EB&Flow until 26th August 2011, http://www.ebandflowgallery.com.

Messing About in Boats: A Day in Greenwich

2 Aug

I’ve a confession to make… Today’s outing necessitated wearing flip-flops due to the crazy humidity that has suffocated London and the vast amounts of walking I knew we’d end up doing.  The flip-flops were co-ordinated with my neon yellow nails though so at least I was wearing flats in style.

Parliament from the Thames. Own photograph.

In my opinion, the best way to get to Greenwich is by boat.  River travel used to be the predominant means of transport up and down the Thames and we often forget what a great and quick method this is.  Thames Clippers, our commuter boats, are London’s vaporetti and I disembarked at Greenwich Pier.

Tower Bridge. Own photograph.

Approaching from the water, the view of the Old Royal Naval College majestically fronting the Thames is unsurpassable.  Originally the Royal Hospital for Seaman – the Greenwich pensioners used to wear blue coats like the red ones of their Chelsea counterparts – and later the officer training centre for the Royal Navy, these 18th century Christopher Wren buildings, on the site of the former Greenwich Palace, are stunning.  Wren’s symmetrical arrangement of courtyards, domes and colonnades works around a central axis and the buildings stand virtually unchanged from his original plans.  Even if you’ve not visited before they probably look familiar having featured in so many films and period dramas, most recently in The King’s Speech (wonderful by the way).

The Old Royal Naval College from the water. Own photograph.

The Old Naval College now houses Greenwich University and Trinity College of Music – jazz melodies from the summer schools floated out across the quads.

Part of the Old Royal Naval College. Own photograph.

My first, and most important, stop was The Painted Hall.  One of Europe’s finest banqueting halls, this took Sir James Thornhill 19 years to paint.  Supposedly he was paid £3 per square yard on the ceiling and £1 for the walls making a grand total of £6,685.  And that was then!  The artist’s skill is remarkable and his use of trompe l’oeil and grisaille is most realistic.  The Vestibule entrance includes three fascinating plaques listing donations towards the cost of the building.  The paintings reference the Hospital’s Royal patrons and the importance of the Navy, interwoven with stories from Classical mythology.  The main theme tells the triumph of Peace and Liberty over Tyranny, paying tribute to William and Mary and British Maritime Power.  The Naval College’s own website has a wonderful analysis of the paintings.

The Painted Hall. Own photograph.

A particularly nice touch, and the quirky sort of thing that makes me smile, is a facsimile of the original An Explanation of the Painting in the Royal Hospital at Greenwich written by Thornhill himself that they have on sale for only £1 (they don’t have this in the shop and don’t really have a float so make sure you have change).

You couldn’t go to Greenwich and not visit the Painted Chapel.  In fact, if you only have time to visit one thing here then make sure it is this building (admittedly, this is coming from a slightly biased 18th century art historian’s point of view).

The Painted Hall. Own photograph.

Next, and directly opposite, is the Chapel of St Peter and St Paul, a neo-Classical chapel built by James Stuart and William Newton and finished in 1751.  The Chapel contains a beautiful mix of Greek and naval imagery that covers nearly every surface.  If you don’t have a neckache from staring at the ceiling in the Painted Hall, you will have by the time you’ve finished gazing up in here.  The ceiling design of squares and octagons with centrally positioned ornate details were carved by a master plasterer – it is truly fabulous and a testament to the craftman’s skill that this looks like painted wood.  The colour scheme is Wedgewood-inspired contrasting with the beautiful black and white marble floor.

The Chapel Ceiling. Own photograph.

Above the altar hangs a work by Benjamin West showing St Paul’s Shipwreck on the Island of Malta.  It is one of West’s only paintings to remain in the place for which it was commissioned.

The Chapel showing West’s painting. Own photograph.

The World Heritage Site at Greenwich is full of places to visit and things to do.  After a pub lunch at the Trafalgar Tavern (as depicted by Jacques-Joseph Tissot), we headed off to the National Maritime Museum, the largest of its kind in the world, which tells the story of Britain’s maritime past.

Jacques-Joseph Tissot, The Trafalgar Tavern, 1878. Image via www.portcities.org.uk.

I don’t wish to do the museum an injustice and I’m sure it is brilliant but maritime history isn’t really what lights my fire and this was quite a quick visit.  But, suffering a moment of madness, I went in a simulator for the Volvo Ocean Yacht race.  Now, I hadn’t heard of this race but after my ‘extreme’ experience of the dangers of being at sea I had a google.  This race is exceptional – the Everest of Sailing – and takes nine months to complete where crews of only 11 sail 39,000 nautical miles around the world’s most treacherous seas.  It is thought to be one of the most demanding team sporting events in the world.  I was exhausted after my 4 minutes so I don’t think I’ll have an invitation to crew on the next race.

The Simulator. Own photograph.

Also nearby and well worth a visit is The Queen’s House, commissioned by Anne of Denmark, and the Royal Observatory (be warned this is up a fairly steep hill so thank heavens I wasn’t in the heels), home to Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian of the World.

The Observatory at Greenwich. Own photograph.

It probably goes without saying but the views from the Observatory are stunning (it has a great view of the Equestrian area for the 2012 Olympics).

Looking down from The Observatory. Own photograph.

Having crammed in quite a lot for one day, I headed back to the Clipper where a welcome splash cooled me down as we pulled away.  I’ve always loved being on the water and “simply messing about in boats”.

www.oldroyalnavalcollege.org and www.nmm.ac.uk.

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