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Friday, 23 May 2014

Rolling together Marvin Gaye Chetwynd and The Magic Roundabout. It makes sense to me!

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd 'Diorama' at Nottingham Contemporary 
Moments where you are reaffirmed that you are on the right artistic track are like buses; you can wait ages for one and then several come along all at once.

Or maybe it is that they suddenly make sense all at once.

I was lucky enough to get over to Nottingham Contemporary to see Marvin Gaye Chetwynd’s first solo exhibition at a public gallery in Britain. I managed to visit not once but twice.. 
On my first visit I had only 30 minutes to do a whirlwind visit. 

However I was so excited and so struck by the completely luscious and gorgeously sensual aesthetics of the work that I knew immediately that I would HAVE to get back before it closed.


Claws from Marvin Gaye Chetwynd's Catbus. These claws are worn by several performers when her Catbus is part of a performance. The Catbus was originally a character in Hayao Miyazaki's animated film, My Neighbour Totoro. 
On my second visit, in the show’s closing week, Chetwynd’s work’s uplifting effect on me hadn’t dimmed at all. It was fantastic to be charmed by Cousin Itt (from Addams Family fame) and also good to see the Brain Bug (during one of it’s mid-day animated phases) but for me the absolute winner of the show was the sequence of scaled-down dioramas of film sets. 


Surprised by Cousin Itt
The Brain Bug... a character taken from the, not very successful, sci-fi film StarshipTroopers 
This time I sat and listened to the soundscape which accompanied the dioramas and it was fantastic! 
For me the obvious fun that the two people giving their interpretations (both in basic schoolboy French - and the English translations of this) was so much fun. 


The fragile and precarious nature of the construction of the Diorama somehow just makes it all the more appealing. 
It is obvious that despite the serious issues that she tackles in her work (personal debt being one current theme) Marvin Gaye Chetwynd is very happy (in-fact she encourages) a good dose of irreverence and humour. Her work can be read on several levels so if you simply love textures, materials and a sense of the dramatic then her show at Nottingham Contemporary was perfect to visit. But if you are also intrigued by how an artist can make videos, performances and sculptural works which reference, low-brow B movies, bad sci-fi movies and juxtapose these with classical Greek philosophical treatises and literary classics then Marvin Gaye Chetwynd is the artist for you.

“She is at home with the classics and with popular culture – and she uses one to give new meaning to the other.” 

Performance is at the heart of Chetwynd’s practice so actually everything that was in the show at Nottingham supported either previous performances or was used in The Greenroom, the performance that was specially commissioned by Nottingham Contemporary. 
You can watch an excerpt of the performance online. 

In the exhibition booklet it says that Chetwynd likes the excitement of problem solving when on a low budget and also the sense of autonomy and spontaneity that comes from working on her own or in a small team. 
One of the gallery attendants told me that Marvin Gaye Chetwynd has a troupe of people who work with her, these are people that she has made an emotional connection with- people who are on the same wavelength as her. I understand this approach as her work is so individual and definitely energy driven and I can see why people want to not just watch it but to also be part of it. The gallery attendant also said that the members of her troupe are very loyal and many have worked on several versions of her performances and filmed pieces.

Her work has an energy that I am very definitely attracted to.

I also like when we don’t know the whole story I enjoy when things are not completely explained; when there are loose ends in a story or performance. I have been an avid fan of street theatre for years and very definitely a fan of the absurd.

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd says, “I like Carnival Comedy and Nonsense”. Well me too!

I am drawn to the anarchic and the surreal and so (as I have said in previous blog posts) my touchstone in life is The Magic Roundabout. After confessing my love of the Magic Roundabout I always very quickly add, “Not the animated film but the original Magic Roundabout, the one with Eric Thompson as narrator.”

I now have a video player which I have kept for the sole purpose of being able to watch my VHS Magic Roundabout tape. If I am ever feeling sad or low the completely nonsensical Magic Roundabout stories help me regain my equilibrium. Of course life is messy and ends are rarely neatly tied up (as in sentimental Hollywood films or 'CSI Miami' - or 'CSI shitty' as I prefer to call it.) 


My precious Magic Roundabout VHS tape
I identify with the cheerful, optimistic and mischievous Brian (the snail) and a favourite Magic Roundabout moment is when Brian is wearing his headphones and acting as an air traffic controller ‘trying’ to guide the runaway flying carpet (which has kidnapped Dougal and flown away with him). But Brian isn’t trying very hard and is actually loving seeing the grumpy and cynical Dougal getting dizzy as he is whizzed about on the carpet. 

Moments of mischief are at the heart of the Magic Roundabout because the narrator Eric Thompson (being a bit suspicious of the French) took it upon himself to rewrite the original French scripts that went with the puppet production.

“His calm tones, at odds with the hyperactive animation, lent a curiously mismatched feel.”

This 'not quite rightness' of the Magic Roundabout is one of the things that makes it appeal so much to me. 

As a visual person most I often make connections based on visual qualities rather than themes. When I encountered Zoe Walker and Neil Bromwich’s show, ‘The Encampment of Eternal Hope’ at The Baltic, Gateshead UK in October 2012 I almost felt that I was in an alternate version of The Magic Roundabout; the simplified spikey inflatable trees were the link in my mind. 




I felt like a small Florence in the Magic Roundabout garden. 


Me (Kirsty E Smith) enjoying the participative aspect of The Encampment of Eternal Hope
My view from one of the Encampment of Eternal Hope shelters 
Although Neil Bromwich and Zoe Walker’s work was on a serious note looking at ways of coping with possible future apocalypse - (Making apocalyptic predictions for 21 December 2012 – the end date for the Mayan Calendar – as an imaginative catalyst, the project envisages a post-apocalyptic utopian community, a kind of ‘garden of earthly delights’) you can’t help but be lured in by the colours, simplified / childlike forms of the trees and the meditative and so possibly calming and hopeful vibe of the processional performance (videos of which were playing in the gallery space) that were part of the show. 


Photograph from the Baltic website 
Rolling these all together in my mind I ask myself what is it that I am drawing from these three disparate creative works and artists? 

My thoughts on this so far are: 
- positive energy, 
- a maverick approach, 
- anarchic humour 
and 
- eternal hope.


Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Anthropomorphism and The Absurd; so much to learn from William Kentridge.


Universal Archive (12 coffee pots) by William Kentridge 2012
Things linger with me and if I am ever in doubt about what is important to me I just ask myself what has been hanging about in my subconscious for a few weeks or months. Important things stand the test of time. 

Back in January last year I visited The Tanks at Tate Modern. William Kentridge’s 8 channel video, 'I am not me, the horse is not mine', was the inaugural show at The Tanks and it made quite an impression on me.
Surrounded by 8 huge screens in The Tanks at Tate Modern.
I was most likely drawn at first to his appreciation of the absurd; something which has always interested me. The idea of a man’s nose taking on a life of its own and then the nose's life becoming more important than the man’s is definitely absurd and strange and interesting too.
(This storyline makes up much of, 'I am not the horse, the horse is not mine'). 

I did make a short video of it however this one by erased culture is a better snapshot than mine. 



 Later in March 2013 I went to see 'A Universal Archive: William Kentridge as Printmaker' at The Midlands Arts Centre in Birmingham. The show is a Hayward Touring show (Southbank Centre London) and it’s next venue is Aberystwyth Arts Centre 8th March- 16th May 2014.

The show is a fantastic overview of William Kentridge’s (printmaking) career and includes over 100 prints from 1988 to the present. However his work is almost completely monotone and I personally need colour in my own work so I was still a bit puzzled as to what it was exactly that was drawing me to this artist’s work. 

Throughout the prints, drawings and etchings in the show there were some recurring visual motifs including: typewriters, telephones and the very classic Bialetti facetted metal coffee percolator. 

'Self-Portrait as Coffee Pot' 2012 says it all. For me it is a perfect combination of the concept of the anthropomorphic and also a wonderful enjoyment of the the absurd.


Self Portrait as a Coffee Pot by William Kentridge 2012
It has been said that my own sculptures (Frillip Moolog beings) have strong anthropomorphical qualities and I also have to admit to really liking the faceting on this style of coffee pot. Maybe I also enjoy seeing a solid shape sectioned into similarly shaped components?


Hooty 2012 by Kirsty E Smith 
While walking round the show at MAC (Midlands Arts Centre) I got a strong sense of the absurd. And this is something that is given special mention in the excellent learning resource which accompanies the show.


The Nose gets ideas of grandeur; here it is on the horse. 
The Nose as a ballerina. William Kentridge
“Many of Kentridge’s works make reference to the idea of ‘the absurd’. Explored through literature, theatre, and art, absurdism was a philosophical movement linked to surrealism and existentialism, based on the idea that beneath the logic and structure by which we attempt to live or lives, there is meaningless to human existence. As well as exploring the idea that tragedy and disaster can befall us all, absurdism also makes evident the ridiculousness of the habits and structures by which we exist. Kentridge’s explorations also extent to the absurdity of apartheid; a system that had become brutally lost in its own ridiculous logic."
Absurdism also plays with coincidence chance and possibility. An aspect of this is the process by which meanings are created when random objects are put together.”
Excerpt from Education Pack written by Fiona Godfrey

Kentridge says that objects have suggested themselves to him (there is no political intent) and he and the audience project their own meanings onto these objects. 

Putting my own work in situations which might be interpreted as absurd is also of interest to me. 'Mi Wawa with Cows' and 'Hurgle Lenz: donkeydays'; do these photographs have absurd qualities?


Mi Wawa with Cow. sculpture and photograph by Kirsty E Smith 
Hurgle Lenz: donkey days. Sculpture and photograph by Kirsty E Smith 
In the show there is a huge print of a woman with telephone in place of her head. 'Telephone Lady' (2000) At the time I didn’t realise that it was in fact a lino cut print; one on a very large scale 216cmx 120cm. 
Anyone who portrays a woman with a telephone as her head is definitely very interesting to me! 
Photograph: © the artist and David Krut Fine Art, New York and Johannesburg
As I walked through the multitude of prints what became very evident is that William Kentridge is fantastic at story telling and so that was another big reason why I was intrigued and interested. 

“Kentridge's prints are a theatre of the mind: you see his imaginary world performed on a small stage, with all its familiar characters – Ubu, Felix, Soho; even the objects that feature in his work amount to recurring characters. Soho's Bakelite telephone morphs into his neglected mistress, waiting for his call. The studio coffee pot doubles up as the artist's own buzzy head. And the film camera strides the landscape on its tripod legs, a heartless, if watchful machine.” 
Laura Cumming The Observer 25.08.13

Although the show is a show of William Kentridge’s prints (and he himself says that whether it is his work with ballet, opera, theatre or animation, always at the heart of his practice is printmaking) what I see is a storyteller who has a strong sense of the theatrical in his work.

I am especially interested in this as I too am very interested in the theatrical but at present I am struggling to find ways to introduce more performance into my practice.

But I should not be too hard on myself; William Kentridge’s practice has developed over many years and things didn’t happen over night for him either. In the 1970’s he spent five years acting and directing theatre in South Africa and then he spent several years studying mime at L’Ecole international de Theatre Jaques Lecoq in Paris before returning to South Africa in 1985. His practice became truly multi disciplinary when he started to work collaboratively with Handspring Puppet Company in 1992.

There are various videos online of his presentations, some which feature snippets of his animated drawings projected behind him and others which which actually feature himself having a conversation with himself. These videos give a brilliant insight into an artist who enjoys the creative process, who has refused to restrict himself, who keeps an open mind ... even to the extent that while making his animated drawings he develops the story during the drawing process. He says that the the story unfolds (even to himself) during the physical process of drawing. Ideas develop and evolve during the short walk between the camera and the drawing and these then dictate what he draws or rubs out, re-draws or amends.

"Kentridge’s art is an extended thinking process; a fluid intelligent and playful reflection on the world, a constant capturing of experience, of making connections. In his printmaking process this journeying occurs from the initial creation of the plate, to what arises in the printing process, to where this may lead next. In the animation process this journeying occurs from frame to frame, while over his lifetime we see it evolving from art work to art work”. 
Excerpt from Education Pack written by Fiona Godfrey

If my enthusiasm has resulted in me writing a blog post which seems a bit confusing then just watch this 3 minute video where the artist speaks very eloquently and engagingly himself. 

William Kentridge as Printmaker continues at Aberystwyth Arts Centre 8th March -16th May 2014


Thursday, 31 October 2013

55th Venice Biennale - even more recommendations of what to see before it closes


I did promise a second blog post about our exploits at the 55th Venice Biennale and as it nears its end I though I had better get a move on.
  
Sunny skies, relaxing canals, and plenty to see and do; what more could you want from an art holiday? It also helped that our apartment was fairly central and also being 600 years old it added to the atmospheric Venetian experience. As mentioned in my previous blog post we did get lost often and so my advice is to allow time for everything to take a bit longer than you expect. 


Our perfect apartment in Venice, home for 5 nights in July 
In my first post about the Biennale I mentioned the artist and artworks that sprang immediately to mind when people asked about my favorites and in this post I will continue with more from other memorable biennale experiences. 

Arriving at our apartment at 2pm we still had time to walk through the city to The Giardini and buy tickets in readiness for a full day of art the following day. I was also very pleased  that we were able to hop onto Joana Vasconcelos’s pavilion Trafaria Praia on time for the 5pm sail around the lagoon. Having watched online updates of the Portugese ferry boat being renovated over the previous months I was definitely focused on experiencing it for myself. The gentle sail around the lagoon sitting on Portuguese cork stools and then getting up close and personal with her luscious textile glad grotto below deck were very definitely worth  it.

Detail of the luxurious, textural and sensual delight that was the below deck 'grotto' on Trafaria Praia
The next day we did our best at ‘doing’ The Giardini. The Encyclopedic Palace exhibition which has been curated by Massimiliano Gioni is split in half; half is within The Giardini and the other half in The Arsenale. 

The first item of the Encyclopedic Palace show that you encounter in The Giardini is Carl Jung’s famous Red Book. Photographs of this weren’t allowed but you can see selected images here. However experiencing it was absolutely fantastic; with theatrical lighting and luscious pigments the illustrations in his book are really quite breathtaking and it all felt quite wondrous. The book is especially important as it was during the period in which he worked on this book (1914 - 1930) that Jung developed his principal theories of archetypes, collective unconscious, and the process of individuation. 

His illustrations are records of the visions that he achieved through what he called 'active imagination' - a process that helped inspire his concept of the collective unconscious. It is said to be possibly the most influential unpublished work in the history of psychology. 

Massimiliano Gioni has curated an exhibition which tries to show the amazing breadth and variety of art that has been made by artists (worldwide and over many years) in an attempt to discover what the world really is about. He has selected works by both artists and outsider artists all of whom have tried, or are still trying, to find a way to make sense of the world. And then the question is, "Is it 'The' world or their world?" There are many many possibilities and a sense of the cosmic very definitely runs throughout the show. Some artists seem to take a fairly systematic approach to their explorations where others tackle the subject from many angles at once. They all have incredibly idiosyncratic views of the world; and isn’t this precisely what makes humans so interesting? 

Eva Kotátková’s installation, Unsigned (Gugging), is a visual presentation of the parallel worlds of psychiatric patients, prisoners and people held in (and who feel trapped) in educational institutions. She is interested in their own inner universes. 



Just a few worries as recorded during Eva Kotatkova's research
Faced with such a concentration of visual stimulation as you are in the Biennale you do start to respond by listening first and foremost to your instinct. I fell in love with this painting by Friedrich Schröder-Sonnenstern, my personal name for it is, 'A bit bitey', (a favourite phrase of mine from the film Shaun of the Dead) but I didn’t read the entry in the guidebook until months later when I noticed that a cousin who is currently at the Biennale was also sharing images of his work online. I decided to find out more- I had assumed that he was an outsider artist and I was right but there is much more to know about him including: that he created his own mystical cult, was admired by the Surrealists and also worked as a dairy farmer and a circus performer during his very strange and eventful life. 

'A Bit Bitey' is the perfect name... in my opinion!
I turned around in the gallery teeming with other Biennale visitors and was drawn to a collection of small dolls house like models; intrigued I inspected them more closely and I observed that each drab and dingy model room seemed to be supported on small funnels. This art required that I open the guide book straight away! So this contemporary artist, Andra Ursuta, has made these in an attempt to purge herself of, "past physic trauma”. These are models of her childhood home in Transylvania where her family made a living from rendering down pig fat to make soap. For me the funnel shaped pedestals/ legs represent the draining away of this fairly repulsive material. Not pretty but very personal. 


The amazing collection of 387 model buildings made by Austrian insurance clerk, Peter Fritz and presented as an artwork by artist Oliver Croy and architecture critic Oliver Elser is very definitely pretty, but for me it is especially of interest because of the story behind it. I personally love the homemade aesthetic of models (flowery wall paper and (now) vintage DYMO tape sign writing) but I would prefer to put more emphasis on and celebrate the creative endeavours of Peter Fritz. What I feel uneasy with is that simply by discovering it and presenting them collectively in an art situation should that give the discoverer of the models (Oliver Croy and the architecture critic Oliver Elsner the elevated importance that they seem to have been given - their names are at the head of page 66 of the Biennale Guide Book. Does discovering work (admittedly after it’s creator had died) and going to the bother of presenting it give you any amount of artistic ownership? 


Spot the DYMO tape sign-writing on this one 
Back out in the Giardini we appreciated not only the art but also the variety of pavilion buildings themselves. 
I have no idea which country this pavilion belongs to but I do love the roofline.

I have no idea which country this pavilion belongs to but I do love the roofline
Talking of roofs, Simryn Gill, representing Australia this year, took the roof off of their pavilion completely. This building was designed by Philip Cox and built in 1988. A new building has been commissioned and will be completed by 2015. This one has done very well as it was only intended to be temporary and has lasted 25 years. 

The building has very appealing curves and also a certain 'open-ness' now
Sadly we just missed the last entry to the Republic of Korean pavilion so I wasn’t able to experience the, much talked about, immersive experience. All I have is this tantalising glimpse into something kaleidoscopic, etherial (and sparkly!)


However we did time it just right for the Polish pavilion. Once an hour you hear the very impressive sound art of Konrad Smoleński. Smoleński has composed a symphony using traditional bronze bells, full-range speakers and other sonorous objects (metal lockers with doors which reverberate) and the guide book explains, “By using a delay effect, Konrad Smoleński offers an insight into a world where history has come to a standstill, thereby approaching the radical propositions of contemporary physics with its perception of the passage of time as an illusion”. 

That’s the ‘art stuff’ and now for my description- From outside it doesn’t seem all that loud, then while I sat at the entrance preparing my ears for the thundering, booming, buzzing, vibrations I watched as people exited (some of them with hands over their ears and looking in pain). So I took the plunge and stepped into this magnificent wall of sound; it completely vibrated through my body and felt extremely powerful. Sadly this video does not do it justice at all and when I tried to record it myself my video replayed completely silently as it is beyond the limits of most small electronic recording devices. 

One of the two cast bronze bells, speakers and metals lockers , all part of the Polish pavilion sound art
Sometimes art can be a bit too clever well too clever for art tourists which have a lot of art to see in a limited period of time. We later read that the front of the Danish Pavilion had been modified so it’s no wonder that we failed to find the entrance and so sadly didn’t get to see Jesper Just’s video pieces. This Designboom article shows more pictures of what I was up against and explains that the work was both video and also an architectural intervention playing with the architecture of the space. 

But if you can’t find the door within 30 seconds I’m afraid we had to move on; Pavilions to go to and Art to see!

I really can't find the door!
Would I be blowing the British trumpet too loudly if I said that Jeremy Deller got it just right? Art should be refreshing so serve your weary art visitors tea, show them something really old (and of course present it well) and then give them a chance to make their own souvenir print to take home. He ticks a lot of my boxes!


Neolithic flint axe heads .... and of course beautifully presented. 
I think Jeremy Deller would be happy to know that every time I use my downstairs toilet I am reminded of him and his 55th Venice Biennale show. A do-it-yourself souvenir always wins support!
I still haven’t mentioned all that is worthy of mention so my advice is to either hop on a plane now and catch the 55 The Venice Bienalle before it closes on 24th November 2013 or alternatively plan ahead for the next one in 2015. 


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