Category | Art

Ranting about the love of God

Damien Hirst’s retrospective opened at London’s Tate Modern on April 4th and I didn’t want to write about it. In fact I didn’t even want to acknowledge its existence. But having attended a range of exhibitions lately where the gallery spaces resemble more of an amusement park than places of culture and learning, I had to see the Hirst show and wonder for myself if his show represents the place  where public spaces are heading?

I don’t mean this in a grumpy, ‘everything must be serious all the time’ kind of way. It just seems that more and more galleries are relenting curatorial rigour to making galleries all play, no consideration in order to draw the crowds.

Reading about Christian Marclay, another artist on the White Cube rota, put these suspicions to light.  Marclay spoke with The New Yorker about his work The Clock and exhibiting it in public spaces. This seminal 2010 video work is a 24-hour montage of thousands of film and television clips all showing glimpses of time as captured on celluloid. The work was created to be shown in real time so as well as providing an ambitious montage of time-specificity, the work acts as fantastic, impractical clock. Exhibited to huge critical acclaim, Marclay found himself embroiled in an intense bidding war over the six copies available of the work.

For Marclay, he felt that the museum curators involved in the bidding, didn’t think through the subtleties of showing his video. With the lengthy real time aspect and a carefully orchestrated score, The Clock requires specific viewing conditions of simultaneous comfort and concentration. Marclay said of the process, “Venerable museums are acting like greedy kids. There’s a lack of scholarship. It’s all about how many people they can get through the doors.… They just want a hit.”

Well if a gallery wants a crowd drawing hit, with easy to digest surface scholarship, retrospectives are an easy option, and Damien Hirst is a guaranteed crowd pleaser. The debates surrounding his work have never centred on any notions of aesthetics (he’s a repackager), method (assistants make everything) or what lasting importance his work will have. Rather, to talk of Hirst is talk about publicity, money, of how that skull sold for £50 million.

But unfortunately, it’s a no-brainer that galleries are susceptible to market forces. Ben Eltham wrote an excellent piece recently on  how museum directors being susceptible to market forces and in a similar vein, Robert Storr talks about the reality that contemporary museums are increasingly business-oriented in their approach to every aspect of operation, often at the expense of artistic vision.

But if these are the facts, why get so caught up in the fact that one of the world’s most renowned artists is enjoying a retrospective? At the time of writing, two other major career artists are enjoying sold out London shows (David Hockney and Lucien Freud) so why not feel so vitriolic against them?

The difference is that Damien Hirst represents the way the art world has gone and holding a retrospective for an artist who is known more for his publicity skills and commercial acumen than his art represents a huge leap from his forebears. In The Mona Lisa Curse (2008), Robert Hughes argues the traditional values that judge art by its quality have been overridden by marketing and hype, and that in the present consumer culture, the only meaning left for art is a financial one. Hirst defines this rule and of the artist, Hughes says “The idea that there is some special magic attached to Hirst’s work that shoves it into the multimillion pound realm is ludicrous. [The price] has to do with promotion and publicity and not with the quality of the works themselves.”

Showing an artist such as Hirst is a very public confirmation that galleries are curating shows that will guarantee crowds, but not necessarily critical acclaim. Perhaps I am degenerating into an irrelevant rant. In this era of smart phones and sensationalist TV, most people don’t want ‘high culture’ rammed down their throats and being sensationalist is perhaps the only way to get people to pay attention.

But ranting is important. Galleries at the end of the day were founded on vision and art has always existed to reflect and question our condition. Damien Hirst might regurgitate aspects of our world, but he doesn’t really manipulate them and he certainly doesn’t make make much of a comment beyond the monetary factor. The Guardian’s Adrian Searle says at the end of the day, his retrospective is repetitive. “My problem with Hirst is not the money (Picasso made lots, and nobody cares), nor the vulgarity he has opted for, but his capitulation as an artist. He could have been so much better. It is an enormous disappointment.”

If you need any more convincing, check out Hennesy Youngman’s thoughtz on Damien Hirst. He’s hilarious and he’s spot on.

 

Rozzy Middleton is on occasional arts and music blogger. 

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Make-Space for Architecture : Draft One

On March 28 we’ll be unofficially opening the doors on a shifty new architecture dedicated gallery for Sydney named Make-Space for Architecture. Unofficially. Officially we open in May – and not a day sooner with all the work still to be done – but in the meantime we’ve been generously offered a space in Sydney’s historic Rocks to (confusingly) pre-open in.

We’re setting up this gallery to be an independent venue promoting the agency of architecture in Sydney, focussing particularly on engaging the public in thinking and talking about architecture. We’re also playing with – at least initially – making the gallery mobile so that it can temporarily inhabit various places around Sydney.

In line with our tentative developmental state, we’ll be ‘not opening’ with an exhibition called Draft One – an informal series of events loosely forming a month long conversation about contemporary Sydney, architecture, what Make-Space could be and who would like to be involved (this involvement invitation extends to all freerangers, of course). Documenting this will be an on-site drawing (inspired by Byron Kinnairds wonderful ‘The Institution of Architecture’) collating Make-Space’s draft documents with anything that gallery visitors feel compelled to add around 3 themes: The Way We Live, Architecture/Make-Space and Utopia.

A series of small events will provoke and support this conversation:

  • An evolving 3-dimensional drawing that engages the public and visitors in 3 topics: The Way We Live, Architecture/Make-Space and Utopia.
  • Online conversation occurring across Facebook and Twitter
  • 3 public conversations with local experts: Politics in architectural production, Ethical/Critical Praxis and Experimentation
  • A series of public meetings discussing organisational aspects of Make-Space
  • Hosting screenings for BLDBLOG’s Breaking Out and Breaking In Distributed Film Festival
  • Continuous streaming of videos and podcasts about architecture
  • Hosting student design studios

We’ve also compiled an over-ambitious and broad set of goals to simmer and reduce over the next four weeks:

MAINTAIN INDEPENDENCE : Agility to respond. Support diverse and pluralist points of view.

CATALYSE CREATIVITY : Seed creative moments through events. Unlock creative potential.

NURTURE CRITICAL PRACTICE : Use design as a tool to challenge the status quo. Explore the extremes of practice modes.

FOSTER PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT : Engage and inform communities and the public about the agency of design and architecture in the city.

AGITATE POWER STRUCTURES : Publish and support alternative positions on established power structures.

DEMYSTIFY DESIGN PROCESSES : Open up the priorities and processes of architectural production to public view and scrutiny.

RECALIBRATE VALUE : Explore alternative value structures within the city.

SUPPORT URBAN EXPERIMENTATION : Learning through failure. Incremental development.

EMBRACE DIVERSITY : Retain an inclusive and diverse platform of opinions. Examine pluralism in urban society within a framework of rigorous debate.

POLITICISE DESIGN : Expose the political nature of design and it’s use in the manifestation of ideologies.

If you’re in Sydney in April, come visit us in the Rocks – otherwise our progress can be tracked here (www) and here (twitter) and here (spacechook)

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Bricolage and the Open Toolbox of Culture

This brief bipartite sojourn is a story about the peculiar nature of one of the most commonplace (yet subversive) forms of visual culture and artistic production: collage. It goes without saying that it’s a common tool amongst the creative literacy of artists / designers / illustrators / musicians / writers, however when one drills a bit deeper, it appears that this very human form of artistic representation and production has more to it than meets the eye. The first part is specific art-historical snapshots (as a bit of background) before arriving at the heart of the matter.

Part 1: Bricolage: Assemblage and Collage

In the case of Dadaist artists and poets, the protagonists were a mere handful of people committed to the same umbrella purpose of protesting against the mass carnage of the first world war – by exposing society’s moral decay as a form of political radicalism. Dada was essentially a movement that was anti-art, as it attempted to reduce the process of creating art to the primacy of spontaneous activity or stream of consciousness thought in order to mock or ridicule as an assault on established conventions in society.

Instead of just deploring the war, the Dadaists took an ideological stand. Theirs was an assault on the complacency of their audience, an introduction of chaos into a life in which mass slaughter was being carefully undertaken by warring nations. The movement was founded in 1916 in Zurich, a neutral city in the middle of a war-torn Europe, by a group of exiles from countries on both sides of the conflict. Some were draft dodgers; most were pacifists; all found refuge on Swiss soil and were outraged by the slaughter-taking place on all sides. The centerpiece for all this artistic activity was called the Cabaret Voltaire, which was founded by Tristan Tzara, Hugo Ball and Emmy Hennings.

Dadameise

Some two months later, under circumstances about which the participants themselves have never agreed, the name “Dada” was chosen for the movement, which was growing out of the cabaret’s activities. The most popular version of the story is that the word was picked at random by Richard Huelsenbeck from a French-German dictionary after sticking a knife into it[1]. This assault on logic by Huelsenbeck was to typify the chaotic process in which the artists used to create their work. As Tristan Tzara had revealed, the word ‘Dada’ has various meanings across a number of different languages; it’s most common usage derived from French, which is a child’s name for a hobbyhorse.

It would be hard for us to find much that was overtly political in the early Dada performances and publications, but from the beginning the movement dedicated itself to attacking the bourgeois cultural values of the time, which its members believed had led to the world war. The tools for this attack, radical at the time, are familiar to us all as the most basic concepts of the modern arts, which are: chance, collage, abstraction, audience confrontation, eclectic typography, sound and visual poetry and simultaneity. This was attempted through experimenting with automatism, modern technology, anarchism, oriental philosophy, Freudian psychoanalysis, Jungian psychoanalysis, eroticism, Marxist dialectics, (investigations into truths of philosophy by systematic reasoning) as well as many other approaches. Essentially Tristan Tzara’s ambitions were nihilistic in nature, as they involved the abolition of all traditions. Some would argue that he was utopian in his beliefs, as he may have thought that all of these efforts ‘may wipe the slate’ clean so to speak, as a form of political liberation.

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Children, theatre, death and climate change

I recently went to see The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer, an award-winning one-man children’s show that blends puppetry, multimedia, animation, technology, projection, and live and recorded music.

Alvin Sputnik tells the tale of one man’s journey to save a post-apocalyptic world in which rising sea levels have killed billions of people, Those who are left live in a sort of uber-Venice, where farms perch precariously on top of skyscrapers and their inhabitants sit on their verandas and fish the seas all day long. Scientists have tried everything to ‘save’ the earth: floating islands (sank), space-probing the universe for inhabitable planets (we are alone), giant sponges (rotting), chemically altering sea salt (epic fail). In a last effort they believe there may be a ‘second earth’ inside the earth’s core, an idea reminiscent of Jules Verne’s 1864 novel Journey to the Centre of the Earth. The scientists recruit crusaders to journey into the sea and activate a volcanic eruption that they believe will force the second earth to the surface.

“Many of you will die,” the brave crusaders are told by their Commander; “In fact, you will all probably die, but that is a risk I am willing to take.”

Alvin signs up as a crusader, so that he may swim in search of the soul of his dead wife, which, represented by a bobbing light globe, has slipped into the sea and down into its depths, away from Alvin’s life.

Alvin Sputnik is cute and funny – a little foam ball atop of the puppeteer’s hand, with fingers for limbs. He can swim, walk, dance, hug, and even do the moonwalk – he is the perfect hero for a children’s show.

And yet, despite the charm of the central character, the issues this show is dealing with are profound, particularly given its status as a children’s show: climate change and the extinction of much of the world’s population, the death of a loved one, the continued living presence of a soul, the self-sacrifice of an individual, and lack of acceptance of death of a loved one.

One of the interesting things about attending artistic shows with children (and live theatre certainly has more resonance here than a pre-recorded film) is that they have not developed a ‘theatre-etiquette’ of behavioural rules while watching a show. As such, they often vocalise feelings and questions which most adult-going audience members internalise. Normally, I find vocalisation from audiences frustrating and distracting (self-entitling and self-righteous members of artistic institutions, complaining or doddering elderly, or too-cute children) but in this instance I was fascinated to see how much of the youthful audience (about one third of which was under the age of ten) responded to these themes.

I was particularly moved by a small boy sitting behind me – let’s call him Tom, for the sake of ease.

At one point Alvin rows from house to house, trying to find the scientist’s headquarters. Tom asks, “where is that”, to which his mother replies, “that is earth”. “What is earth?” “That’s where we live.” “Why is there so much water Mummy?” “It’s just pretend, honey.”

Although really, with the ever-present and increasingly-accepted reality of climate change, island states preparing for their eventual submersion, and the creation of new human rights laws to deal with environmental refugees, how much of this story really will be just pretend by the time these audience members have grown up?

Further questions arose from Tom as to why Alvin is crying, what the bobbing light is and how it relates to Alvin’s wife. The mother explains that the light is the soul of Alvin’s wife, but that although the soul continues to live, Alvin’s wife herself is really dead. “It’s just pretend,” the mother repeats.

Tom’s response perfectly captures way art can blur the boundaries between what is real, what is ‘pretend’, what is a depiction of what is real, and how to tell the difference between these, or indeed whether there even is a clearly defined difference.

How confusing would it be, at eight-odd years of age, to discriminate between an alive person, a dead person, and an alive soul; an earth where we live that is simultaneously a pretend version of where we live; and why you would accept to go on a mission in which you will probably die.

Probably, at eight years of age, many of these concepts are beyond one’s immediate comprehension. While I am no psychologist, I would hope that recollections from this performance would perhaps be stowed away for future grappling, or as reference points for the inevitable dawning realisation of the meaning and impacts of death.

There have been many studies and documentation about the role of entertainment to educate children about death, and in particular the reaction children have toward death in Disney movies. Certainly in my own experience I have vivid memories of crying profusely during Bambi at the point in which Bambi’s mother dies, and of the relevance it had for me in coming to understand that my own mother would one day die too. I remember that it was not the way that Bambi’s mother dies (spoiler: she is shot) that particularly got to me, but rather the very extended amount of time it takes Bambi to realise that his mother has been shot. He thinks his mother is also escaping with him, running just behind him, and is elated upon reaching a hiding place. When he turns around to share his excitement with his mother it seems an age before he finally comes to realise that his mother is dead.

While I was doing some research for this blog I re-watched this scene in Bambi, and his dawning realisation only lasts for a couple of minutes. Nonetheless, to me as a child the points of realisation appeared to take forever: the mix of excitement at reaching safety, of the expectation of sharing a feeling of happiness with your mother, the confusion at the absence of your mother, the excruciatingly slowly dawning awareness of what has happened, and that he must come to his own realisation without the guidance of another loved one. It was that slow and detailed process of Bambi’s realisation which really hit home on the reality of death and what kind of an impact losing your mother could have. In fact, from the research that I did it, Bambi and The Lion King are costantly referenced as the two hardest-hitting Disney shows for young audiences, and which seem to have most resonance for those in their twenties. All of which is to say, that entertainment and performance has a crucial role to play in educating children about the reality and inevitability of death.

While much of this post is a review of Alvin Sputnik, I particularly wanted to explore the importance of performances such as this for children: not only to understand the reality of death, but also its educative and preparatory value in exposing children to the reality of climate change, the changes that may happen to the planet, the ceasing of the earth as we know it, and the deaths which are likely to occur as a result of this change.

It seems to me that in a world in which the extent of climate change is still much debated, and in which at a political level the establishment of measures to mitigate climate change is glacially slow (pardon the pun), it is really in the arts and in performances such as this, particularly those which reach a young audience, in which education about and preparation for the reality of climate change is able to happen. This will hopefully make some difference to the way humanity develops response measures during this coming generation’s life-time.

The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer is created and performed by Tim Watts. It is a Weeping Spoon Production, currently produced by the Perth Theatre Company.

http://www.weepingspoon.com/AlvinSputnik/Welcome.html

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Common Ground: exploring domestic ritual in Kenya

It’s like this – I’m going to Kenya!! And I’m super excited!!

I made this super awesome Pitch Video (see above) to go along with my crowdfunding campaign on indiegogo.

This project will be my third that delves into family interactions. The first body of work that I made, You are a Perpetual Tourist, looks at everyday gesture between children and their parents, or adult relatives (and sometimes between brothers and sisters). The second project is still in process and has the current title Potential Spaces. Here is a video still:

I started Potential Spaces with my partner Matías Muñoz R., Chilean filmmaker and producer, during a residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris. We documented two bicultural couples over the period of two months during their times of leisure.

Now I’m going to Kenya in February to start Common Ground, where I will document rural Kenyan families doing their daily routines.

Thanks to everyone who has made each and everyone of these projects possible and PLEASE continue to spread the word!

twitter: @nicrademacher

facebook: Nicole Rademacher

indiegogo: Common Ground

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New Book: 10.98 Seconds Of Wellington Artists

Freerange Press is now selling copies of Lennart Maschmeyer’s fabulous new book 10.98 Seconds of Wellington Artists. 

$NZ50.

Click Here to go the Freerange shop to buy it. 

Over the past two years, German-born photographer Lennart Maschmeyer has been working on a Portrait of Wellington’s thriving art community. The resulting book titled “10.98 seconds of Wellington Artists” is the first work of its kind in Wellington. Its aim is to capture an authentic impression of the people creating and carrying the spirit of the city.

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