Lockdown Art, Part 1 – by Charlotte Elliston

It’s been three weeks since serious preventive measures against Covid-19 hit the UK; businesses closed, and many of us became restricted to our homes. We Sweet ‘Arts are lucky in that we all have access to laptops and wifi, so can access the cultural resources that many museums and galleries are making available online. (I did a quick list at the beginning of the lockdown, but I think this has expanded greatly since then). However, we still feel that there is no substitute for experiencing a work of art in real life, rather than from a screen. So we are taking our art viewing a little closer to home, and really enjoying looking at some of the work we already have in our homes and will bring you a short series of blogs about some of the stuff we look at on a daily basis – getting stuck in to really seeing it and thinking about it, rather than just glancing at it on the way out of the door.

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From the film Ferris Bueller’s day off – they are not paying attention to the art!

Like many people who work with visual art, my home is full of the stuff. Pretty much every spare wall has some kind of image on it, and alongside this, there is the art I own, but don’t have space to hang (I live in a 2 room flat) but am saving until I have that ever elusive prize in London, a house of my own. I tend to only buy art  which I have a personal connection with; most of my artwork has been created by people I know, and a few of the pieces are much-loved gifts over the years. Here is just a small selection of what I’ve enjoyed looking at lately (please bear in mind that images are taken in my home, behind glass and not always in good light – follow the links to the artist pages for their professional shots).

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Untitled by Kevin Percival

Untitled? (2018) – Kevin Percival

If this piece did have a title, I’m afraid I have forgotten it – sorry Kev! This artwork comes from photographer Kevin Percival’s Tanera (Ar Duthaich) project. For 14 months, he lived and worked on the Scottish island Tanera Mor, once a port for herring fishing, but then a tiny community where a handful of people resided. The series as a whole is a beautiful and moving exploration of the end of a community and way of life (the island has now been purchased for development into a holiday retreat and there are no current residents on the island). I love the photograph I own due to its humour (the unexpected pair of legs emerging from behind the washing line), and unusual and contemporary take on the idea of the portrait. These elements, along with the clever composition and tangible texture of the grass, keep me looking at this piece again and again. The book with photos from the project is for sale on Kevin’s website and there are further images of his work on this and other projects online too.

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Some more images from the project in Kevin’s book

Fortune Cookie (2019) – Jenny Chan

I am a fiddler. At my desk at work, I’ve acquired a large amount of stuff that was going into the bin that I can fiddle with; 3d printed figures, a wooden farmer with one leg, bits of cotton tape and the like. On my home work desk, I’ve been able to pick some of my beautiful tactile items to enjoy. One of these is Jenny Chan’s fortune cookie, given to me by my friend Amelia who knows lots about contemporary ceramic artists. The artist was born in Hong Kong but now lives in the UK and much of her work explores her identity and Chinese heritage.

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My fortune cookie – excuse the old lady looking hands which are even worse then normal right now.

Nina (2019) – John Lee Bird

Nina Simone also sits on my home desk. The work is a lino cut in a vibrant red ink and seems to be taken from a publicity image of the singer. The piece comes from a series of 72 lino cuts created by John called Idle Love, where he explored his creative influences which continue to inspire him today.

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Nina by John Lee Bird

I love Nina Simone’s music and admire the way that she used her platform to speak (sing) about civil rights, women’s rights and racism. John often works with line and colour to create portraits of contemporary performers, and this recent series is an extension of his work as a painter – I visited his studio in 2014 and you can read the blog about this visit here. In this image, Nina oozes the power and pride she had in her black-womanhood and this is why I love it.

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Original 1955 publicity shot of Nina Simone

Boy (2013) – Joanna Layla

This piece was exhibited as part of Sweet Art’s Summer Show in 2013, which was my first exhibition on-board as co-curator. I loved Joanna’s sensitive minimal line, which captured the expression and absorption of the boy in this image, which was part of her collection of drawings created while travelling in South East Asia. As someone with a complete inability to draw from life myself, I also admire her skill in creating these images from sketches done on the move.

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Boy by Joanna Layla

Joanna has gone on to become a successful and very in-demand illustrator, teaching at London College of Fashion and Central St Martins as well as continuing her own practice. This piece on her website of Mary Katranzou’s designs is one of my favourites from her recent work.

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Mary Katranzou by Joanna Layla

This is just a tiny snippet of some of the art I have at home and, along with Corrina and Siân, we hope to introduce you to some more artists and their work over the coming weeks.

 

The problem with Frieze Week ’18 by Sian Matthews

 

That title is a little misleading because I did actually have a really great time at Frieze London. It has been over a month now since the fair and I have had plenty of time to contemplate it all, although there is one thing that has been playing on my mind that I would like to discuss. But let’s start on a good note! This year was my first time attending the art fair itself, although I have explored the sculpture park in previous years, and thanks to Sweet ‘Art I had a press pass!

This year Frieze week had a huge focus on women in the arts. Frieze itself commissioned some large-scale artworks, installations and performances such as Tatiana Trouvé’s ‘The Shaman’ (pictured below) a 1.2 tonne bronze tree and water pump. It was one of the first things I saw as I went into the fair and it definitely commanded the attention it was receiving.

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At the other end of the fair there was a curated section of stands showcasing the work of 9 female artists who had used their work as a form of political activism in the 80s and 90s called ‘Social Work’ I quite enjoyed Social Work as it was diverse on all levels, including race, age, backgrounds and even mediums and subject matter. The section included artists such as Nancy Spero, Helen Chadwick, Berni Searle and Ipek Duben; artists who use the female experience and themes of sexuality, gender, alienation and identity to challenge both aesthetic and political conventions. It worked really well and was an insightful look into the practice of some very influential artists. I was also lucky enough to wander past just as Sonia Boyce was giving an interview about her work! (I won’t lie, I felt a little starstruck!) It was fascinating to listen in and hear what she had to say about the motives and messages behind her work and what she thought of Social Work itself.

The stand I connected with most in Social Work was the Pippy Houldsworth Gallery who were showcasing the work of Mary Kelly. ‘Interim Part 1: Corpus’ is the culmination of 3 years of documentation by Kelly of conversations she had with women of her generation and displays their words in first-person text panels alongside screen printed images of fashion ads and medical photography of ‘hysterical women’. It feels personal and almost candid in its delivery, you get the feeling you’re reading something like a diary entry, something you shouldn’t be reading, and I appreciated the fact I was being told something so intimate.

The one thing that really disappointed me about Social Work is that it was hyped up quite a lot beforehand, but then felt like it was squished into a corner at the actual event. I would have preferred it to have had a more prominent spot in the fair.

Another nice touch to the fair this year was a fund-raising event hosted by Tracey Emin in the form of a postcard auction, with the proceeds going to women’s charities. Although unfortunately I didn’t manage to catch any of it!

Elsewhere in the city, galleries such as White Cube, Victoria Miro, the Parasol Unit and even the RA celebrated women by opening exhibitions and installations of works by artists such as Yayoi Kusama (who I love but sadly missed out on tickets for!), Cornelia Parker brought her PsychoBarn installation to the courtyard of the RA, Heidi Bucher and her beautifully haunting latex skinnings, and Doris Salcedo (pictured below) at White Cube. Women really did take over London for Frieze week!

 

On the Friday night I attended The Other Art Fair which also had a whole section dedicated to female artists. They had their own building across the road from Victoria House which was designed to be a statement called ‘not 30%’ to draw attention to the fact women typically get only 30% representation in art fairs. I thought it was a great idea (although I wasn’t sure about segregating them in another building away from the main event), and there was a diverse selection of work, from painting and sculpture to taxidermy and even tattooing. I so badly wanted to get a tattoo by artist Emily Malice but I missed her by a couple of hours as Friday night was the only time she wasn’t there! (maybe next time!)

Whilst we were there we also met two recent graduates who had turned their stall into a fun and inviting participatory project.  As Illustrators, they were drawing visitors to the art fair as any animal of their choosing for a small donation, so obviously we had to take part! See us below as a cat, a leopard and a jellyfish!

 

Overall I think The Other Art Fair may have been more enjoyable on a social level. More interactive, more inviting, it was more appealing to a wider spectrum of people. Dare I say more inclusive?

All of this sounds great doesn’t it? Women finally getting the recognition they so badly deserve. So going back to my clickbait title, where is the problem?

What has been playing on my mind is the idea that all of this new attention from large institutions, galleries and companies is just a form of box ticking, it felt like they were just ticking women off their inclusion list. I am not really sure of the exact thing that made me feel like this, maybe it’s the fact that both art fairs felt the need to over-publicise their inclusion of women and make a song and dance about it as if for attention; to be seen to be doing the right thing instead of recognising the issues faced by female artists, educating themselves and making the necessary changes. Obviously, I’m not saying we shouldn’t shout about the needs and rights of women in this industry, its massively important to talk about it! There was just something about Frieze week that made me feel like the motives behind it were off.  As you all must know by now, 2018 marks 100 years since the first women in the UK won the right to vote. This means that women’s rights are very much the theme of the year. It means that right now equality and women’s rights seem to be a bit of a fashion statement unfortunately and these companies need to be seen to be doing the right thing or they face huge backlash.

While I think its amazing what happened at this year’s Frieze week, and I certainly do not want to belittle the success of the artists featured. I can’t shake the feeling that we should all be a little wary of the motives and the intentions behind this sudden push for women. I am worried that next year this will all go away and no real progress will have been made. I hope I am wrong.

I have taken a photo of an article written in the free art news paper given out at the Frieze art fair itself which I feel sums up my feelings well and highlighted certain points for you. I feel it quite clearly explains why the focus of this years Frieze week only felt skin deep.

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Let me know what you think, am I just being pessimistic? Did you visit Frieze or any of the other events going on that week and what was your experience? I’d really like to know.