Monthly Archives: October 2008

Drawing in the Community

(Published in the Guernsey Globe today)

Art enthusiasts of all ages got creative last Thursday night at Trinity Square’s Centre Fold Gallery as part of an international drawing festival.

The gallery joined venues across the UK and Europe by holding a public doodle session as part of The Big Draw event. It’s an initiative launched by the independent charity, The Campaign for Drawing, and takes place every October. More than 1000 galleries, museums and libraries are getting involved by organising their own Big Draw events this month.

 

Local artist Dred gets his draw on

Local artist Dred gets his draw on

 

Kat Mather, one of the four artists who run the gallery, says that the Centre Fold Gallery always strives to get involved in new projects. ‘Drawing is therapeutic and events like this bring communities together. The turnout was fairly small, but we weren’t too disappointed because it meant the atmosphere was friendly and intimate.’

The Big Draw has been running for nine years, and this is the second time it has taken place in Guernsey. The Centre Fold Gallery opened its doors at 6.30pm, and welcomed around 15 people over the course of the evening. Beginners drew alongside practiced artists, using a variety of materials provided free of charge by the gallery.

The youngest artist to grace the event was Eugene Dowdney, age 7. ‘I like drawing planes, trains and submarines, and everything to do with transport,’ said Eugene, as he added the finishing touches to a detailed illustration of a British Airways jet.

 

Eugene Dowdney and his dope drawing

Eugene Dowdney and his dope drawing

 

Eugene worked next to Dred, an artist whose show at the Centre Fold last month featured intricate pen drawings of space wars. ‘Eugene has a very vivid imagination, and pays real attention to detail,’ said Dred. ‘He’s obviously very bright and talented.’

The Big Draw evening is just one of many cultural events staged at the gallery in recent months. Their Bubblegum Bangers Rally show, complete with a giant Scalextric track, is still open to the public at evenings and weekends. 

Visit the Big Draw webpage: http://www.campaignfordrawing.org/bigdraw/ 

Foxy Paw

The Race Is On…

(Published in The Guernsey Globe, Wednesday 22nd October)

On Friday night, the Centre Fold Gallery hosted a night of daredevil speeding for would-be joyriders, in the form of a huge Scalextric rally.

The Readerswives, the art and graphic design collective which runs Trinity Square’s gallery, has constructed an extensive toy-car racing circuit 34 metres long. It is made up of 105 pieces of the popular Scalextric track and forms art of an exhibition to celebrate the success of the Bubblegum Bangers Rally, which in late September raised more than £40,000 for the Mines Awareness Trust.

 

guaranteed fun

Scalextric: guaranteed fun

 

Anybody visiting the exhibition on Friday’s opening night could choose from six colourful cars and have a go, as well as enjoying a complimentary chilled beverage. Many punters tried their hand at the hairpin bends and hazardous chicanes of the racetrack, which winds through six cardboard countries, loosely mirroring the route of the Bubblegum Bangers’ European tour.

Guernsey’s toy car racers turned out in force. ‘We must have had about 40 people through the doors,’ said a spokesperson for Readerswives. ‘It was just a really light-hearted and fun way of commemorating the rally.’

The spokesperson also said there had been more passers-by peering in through the windows at that exhibition than there normally were during an opening evening. 

Newly appointed community arts development officer Andy Smith said it was a good example of ‘art disguised as fun’. He said it had been ‘wonderful to see people get involved in such an inclusive, creative activity.’

 

The Centre Fold Gallery, run by Readerswives

The Centre Fold Gallery, run by Readerswives

 

The exhibition is open till the 14th November, and members of the public are encouraged to go along and try their hand at racing. They can even take their own Scalextric cars. The Centre Fold Gallery is open every evening, as well as on Saturdays.

You can learn more about the Bubblegum Bangers Rally at http://www.bubblegumbangers.org, and more about The Centre Fold Gallery at http://www.centrefoldgallery.com. 

Foxy Paw

Third time’s the charm! XEROX Issue 3: October

It’s a small world. These words are often uttered, particularly in Guernsey, where you can’t meet anyone without discovering that you’re incestuously related to them in some way. Nevertheless, looking at the contents of Xerox issue 3, it might well be true.

Our articles cover happenings in the art world in locations as diverse as London, Brighton and Guernsey, but there are unexpected links between them all. It’s a bit like an obscure ‘Connections’
round in a dodgy game show.

 

And the odd one out is...

And the odd one out is...

The Brighton Photo Biennial 2008, reviewed by Toot Sweet, is curated by Julian Stallabrass. When he’s not busy curating, Stallabrass does a spot of lecturing for Lady Muck and new contributor Southern Fairy. In his book Art Incorporated, Stally slags off the celebrity culture surrounding the Turner Prize, which happens to be the subject of Lady Muck’s article Turnip Eyes. Turnip Eyes is what happens when you rub Branston Pickle over your face.

This kid clearly has a bad case of Turnip Eyes

This kid clearly has a bad case of Turnip Eyes

In ‘Hirst’s Art Market Pickle’, Southern Fairy goes undercover to reveal the dark secrets of Damien Hirst, the Turner Prize winner of 1995. The year before that, the winner was Anthony Gormley, a speaker at the recent Art and Islands Conference at Castle Cornet, which is also a featured article in this issue. The Brighton Photo Biennial 2008 is an example of a small-ish seaside venue holding an internationally important art event – a bit like the ones discussed at the Art and Islands. ‘The Guernsey Can’, Rostone’s article this month, has very little to do with biennials or art prizes, but the cans could probably be used to make a pickle in. Phew!

 

The art world - fits right in the palm of your hand

The art world - fits right in the palm of your hand

 

Guernsey, an island, is a small world. Maybe the art world is a small world too. Or even an island. We’re confused now. Anyway – enjoy!

All our love,
Lady Muck & Foxy Paw

XEROX Issue 3

War of Images / Images of War

It’s that time of year again. The leaves are glowing crimson, the air is crisp, and out have come the chunky knits and felt coats (and, to my horror, Ugg boots, again!). Autumn has made a welcome return, and this year she brings with her the 2008 Brighton Photo Biennial.

 

That's right!

That's right!

The BPB is a high-profile event in the international photographic calendar. Showcasing images by profession and amateur photographers alike, the BPB comprises ten exhibitions held at various venues in Brighton and around the South-East coast (of England, not Guernsey, dear reader). The purpose of the festival is not only to celebrate international photographic practice, but also to provoke topical debate.

This year’s Biennial, guest curated by writer and critic, Julian Stallabrass, lives up to this aim. For the past few years, we have been bombarded by images of Iraq and Afghanistan; so much so that, in this age of spin, we have come to question the integrity of the photographic image. How much of war photography is about depicting a reality, and how much of it is heavily biased by political allegiances? Such questions are raised by 2008’s Biennial, which offers the public a look at a range of images taken and circulated during times of conflict.

 

Philip Jones Griffith's 'Vietnam' (1967)

The BPB’s focal exhibition, Iraq through the Lens of Vietnam, explores the idea that images of Iraq have conjured into public consciousness grisly memories of Vietnam. The layout of the exhibition leads the visitor to look first at Vietnam and then at Iraq. It urges the viewer to consider how the photographic documentation of how Vietnam has informed the images we now see online and in the mainstream press. One of the legacies of Vietnam is the ideologically-charged photo, and what is made its strong influence on the photographic representation of Iraq.

This is highlighted by the contrast between presentations of (apparently) heroic US soldiers in soft-focus, and horrifying snapshots of dismembered Iraqi civilians. The ‘image war’ spoken of by Donald Rumsfeld is starkly illuminated. It is made even more apparent by the depiction of children in each; on the one hand, kids are shown playing football with Western soldiers, and on the other, they are shown as the victims of cruel and indiscriminate warfare. The news editors on both sides certainly know how to attract the sympathetic public gaze.

 

Abu Ghraib detainee, from camera of Cpl. Charles A Graner
Abu Ghraib detainee, from camera of Cpl. Charles A Graner

It is this focus on how the images are used, as well as the obvious issue of what they depict, that makes the theme of this year’s Biennial particularly powerful. Rather than acting simply as a crusade against war, it probes deeper to show us how images are used by all sides to shape public opinion. Essentially underpinning this is a reflection on our own global culture, a culture saturated by image and the news equivalent of fast-food. We are forced to question our faith in the media – an act of independence which is, surely, a good thing.

Despite delving into the deeper implications of today’s images of conflict, there is one thing about the Biennial that really sticks: the undeniable horror and inhumanity of war. Photographers on the opposition may have been photographing with an agenda in mind, but their visual documentations of the ravages of war do not lie.

As the economic Winter draws in, such images are being replaced by falling graphs of the Dower Jones Index. Ultimately, in the face of this media shift, this year’s Brighton Photo Biennial is a crucial reminder of what is still tragically going on in the world. Its tone is sombre, and at times harrowing. It is also informative, and absolutely necessary.

The Brighton Photo Biennial runs until the 23rd November. For more information visit www.bpb.org.uk

Toot Sweet

XEROX Issue 3

Nice Can!

It is the last surviving relic of Guernsey’s Norman ancestry, with a pedigree of nearly one thousand years. It’s the pride of every true Guernsey home, be it a granite cottage, a farmhouse, or the fancy manor of a feudal fief. Oh yes, it’s the Guernsey Can.

 

 

Check out those cans! Okay, so the joke's getting old already

Check out those cans!

 

Its function is now purely decorative, but it was used in industry as late as the beginning of the 20th Century. The design of the can has changed very little over the years. The functionality and ergonomics of the original can cannot be disputed. The traditional Guernsey Field Can was made from tin plate steel and was soldered on the outside. It was constructed from 10 or 11 individual pieces, depending on which one of the 17 different sizes was being made. The neck of the Guernsey Field Can has a proportionally larger circumference compared to the smaller sized table cans. The larger opening makes for a bigger target during milking, and means the neck is lower down the spherical body of the can, resulting in a lower more stable centre of gravity. The can is made steadier by three domed feet, which offer maximum stability on a grassy surface. The spherical shape of the can offers a handy fit between the maid’s legs during milking, whilst minimising the amount of milk slopping out of the top. The narrow opening means that the can has an advantage over a bucket as it is less prone to being tipped by stray cows’ feet.

These design features mean that, ergonomically, the Guernsey Can is incredibly strong. Rather like an egg, it can carry the maximum amount of liquid possible using the minimum of materials. The modern half pint can is constructed from just one 8.5 inch square of half millimeter copper. Although the can does not have a spout, its ingenious design means it will pour with the precision of a jug, and yet can be hermetically sealed.

 

 

A man and his can, some years ago

A man and his can, some years ago

 

The transition from the practical Guernsey Can to a decorative feature is a point of debate. Some believe that the combination of the introduction of new materials such as plastic together with the influx of tourism during the 1950’s played a big part in the shift. Some of the oldies out there might even remember that Guernsey was also keen to embrace the introduction of the Tetra Pak closely followed by the stylish milk bag.

All in all, the Guernsey Can is an amazing legacy of Guernsey tradition, combining efficiency with aesthetics. Yet surprisingly few Guerns are aware of the cans and their rich history. Well, consider yourself informed!

You can learn more about Guernsey Cans at www.guernseycans.co.uk

Rostone

XEROX Issue 3

Hirst: The Art Market’s Pickle

Damien Hirst, currently the highest-earning contemporary artist, shocked the art world recently by making the revolutionary decision to sell his latest works directly through the auction house.

 

 

Hirst Lego love

Hirst Lego love

 

It’s not the first time he’s stirred up controversy. Hirst makes no secret of the fact that he has a workshop of artists to produce his many weird and wonderful creations – but then, why should he? For as long as art has been recognised as an industry, masters have had assistants to aid the rate of production of their work. Is this, in essence, any different? The focus of modern art today seems to lie not so much in the actual manufacture of the works, but rather the concept behind it. One would hardly be able to present such a saleable collection of works by simply employing a group of young artists to come and work in an empty workshop; there needs to be a driving force, which the artist’s concept provides.

I spoke to one employee of Hirst’s business enterprise, Science Ltd., who seemed quite content to have what is essentially his own work sold under another’s name, regardless of the price it was sold for, and even seemed to regard the whole experience as a privilege. Surely one could become slightly bitter about the whole situation, when something they have done most of the work for is being sold for hundreds of thousands of pounds, suggesting that perhaps it is just his branding that makes these pieces sell like proverbial hot cakes.

 

 

Hirst's 'The Dream' (2007)

Hirst's 'The Dream' (2007)

 

 

As I walked around his latest collection, entitled Beautiful Inside My Head Forever, there was a sense of being inside a shop, with his signature spot paintings seemingly purchasable in every colour under the sun. In fairness, that is, to all intents and purposes, what an auction house is: a place where items are bought and sold. But the fact that an overwhelming majority of these works were sold to first time buyers at Sotheby’s gives us the impression that they are now predominantly considered to be sound investments at a time when little else is. They are the latest commodity of the über wealthy.

I can’t help but wonder whether Damien is actually just having a laugh at the expense of the entire art market. There certainly is a sense of irony in the millions of pounds he will receive for work that in many ways serves to critique the pursuit or idolisation of material wealth. In this most recent collection, The Golden Calf (yet another of Hirst’s formaldehyde-pickled animals) is a Biblically-inspired reference to exactly that. Hirst’s entrepreneurial approach is pretty transparent here, making him an easy target for criticism, but you’ve got to admit that where contemporary art is concerned, he’s got vision.

Southern Fairy

XEROX Issue 3

Turnip Eyes

We’re experiencing a crisis of engagement with the Turner Prize. In many ways, maybe it’s not surprising. Since it started in 1984, it has borne the brunt of countless critiques and attacks from all sides for its undemocratic approach and often-controversial shortlists. How can the average visitor be expected to view the show without prejudice, when the media has set it up as the emblem of everything that is supposedly wrong with British art today?

 

 

Many viewers approach the show with pre-meditated contempt, unwilling to take their experience of the exhibition at face value. This metaphorical barrier might be down to a lack of confidence in our own convictions. Countless visitors to the exhibition, if not unwilling, feel inadequately prepared to initiate a personal response to the works. It is widely assumed that the Turner Prize shortlists a particular type of art, a type that uses unusual media and presents a complex conceptual message: work that is believed to
be ‘difficult’.

Many people feel that an advanced knowledge of contemporary art is required to extract meaning from the work. They are further alienated when they consult the captions on the wall, and their thoughts do not accord with the supplied interpretation. Curators can say all they want about dichotomies or questioning of the self, but by placing these assertions on the gallery walls, I think they’re contributing to the widespread disillusionment with the Prize that was only too evident at this year’s exhibition.

Goshka Macuga’s installation is an assemblage of several seemingly divergent works. A rainstorm, drawn simply in pencil, covers each wall. On top of this hangs a series of surreal scale-bending photo-collages depicting such things as an anatomically drawn hand touching the tip of a rocky cliff. Dominating the room are three large glass and metal geometric constructions with names like Deutsches Volk-Deutsches Arbeit. It’s all pretty subtle: concerted looking is rewarded with some interesting visual material, but it isn’t easy to see any connection between the works. Consult the caption, and you’re informed that it is, in fact, all about the relationships between Paul Nash and Eileen Agar and Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich. Apparently, we’re welcome to consider a political reading related to the promotion of German industry too. Well that was obvious, wasn’t it?

 

 

Goshka Macuga's 'Objects in Relation' (2007)

Goshka Macuga's 'Objects in Relation' (2007)

 

Glasgow-based artist Cathy Wilkes has installed two supermarket checkouts, female mannequins, dirty dishes and various other paraphernalia of modern life in the next room of the exhibition space. One near-naked mannequin wears a hamster cage on her head as she leans back onto the checkout, pushchair alongside. On the conveyor belt are rows of dirty bowls, some of them containing a single upright battery. What does it all mean? A depiction of a post-credit crunch Tesco? A feminist critique of women’s place in society? A celebration of the energy-giving powers of a bowl of porridge in the morning? The most interesting thing about this surreal installation is the variety of interpretations that could be drawn from its many layers. It seems pretty brutal to terminate all that before it has begun by proclaiming that it shows, as the exhibition text baldly declares, an ‘uncompromising questioning of the self’. 

Runa Islam’s films are perhaps the most visually pleasing works in the show. One depicts a woman slowly and gracefully smashing chintz crockery, the cups and saucers viewed in detail to accentuate their delicate physical qualities. However, the repetition, stillness and silence of the films, as with a lot of video art, seemed to put off many audience members, who hurried through these works after only watching for a few seconds. Perhaps this time I can’t lay all the blame on the captions or the Prize itself, but it’s certainly true that since its inception, video art has not been the easiest of media for art novices, or even art nerds, to engage with.

 

 

Runa Islam's 'Be The First To See What You See As You See It' (2008)

Runa Islam's 'Be The First To See What You See As You See It' (2008)

 

Maybe this is why Mark Leckey was so popular with the massive number of visitors, who, on the comments board in the final room, made comments like, ‘Leckey speaks to the people’. The artist-narrated video that forms the centre piece of his submission features mass culture references to The Simpsons, Garfield and the Titanic, as Leckey muses on varying subjects such as cinema and cats. I’m not trying to make out that the Turner Prize audience only ‘got’ it when they had something easily recognisable explained to them, or indeed that people liked it simply because it was the end, and they were finally offered the chance to sit in a comfortable chair. But after the ridiculously complex jargon of the exhibition’s captions, it was certainly a relief to hear some down-to-earth conversation.

It is an interesting, but not ground breaking shortlist, an exhibition in which there is plenty to move, amuse and engage the audience. Given the problematic framework in which the work is now presented, the question of whether or not the artists will get the reception they deserve is another matter entirely. 

The Turner Prize 2008 exhibition is showing at the Tate Britain until the 18th January 2009. You can learn more about it at www.tate.org.uk/britain/turnerprize

Lady Muck

XEROX Issue 3