Art Pilgrimage – by Sarah Kingham

I have spent at least an hour today queuing to experience art. Firstly, because I mistakenly got to the Hayward Gallery an hour before it opened, so I passed a peaceful 40 minutes in the National Theatre expresso bar watching a man stick lines of dots to the windows. This seemed to presage the second part of my day, at least in retrospect. There was a small line of people waiting at the door to the Hayward when we returned at 10:58am.

Then I queued because I waited in line twice to commune with pieces of art. The first of these was Richard Wilson’s 20:50. The work is so popular at the Hayward’s current show, ‘Space Shifters’, that the ticketing staff advised us to go straight to see it, before the queue built up. That they gave this advice to everyone entering the show possibly nullified its efficacy. None the less, we chose to follow it.

 

There was a queue of around twenty people on the first floor. We joined it. A series of tape barriers showed that the queue could be four times longer later in the day, when things get busier. Out on the roof garden a huge convex, blue tinted mirror by Anish Kapoor reflected the clouds. They never seemed to move while I looked at them. It was peaceful; the air was heavy with the odour of sump oil and anticipation. As we approached the work, laminated health and safety sheets were handed out. We needed to remove coats and bags (there was a pair of storage boxes, like those in theme parks, before rollercoasters). If we got vertigo, we should look out of the window, but definitely not grab the sides of the path into the work; the oil in 20:50 goes right to the top of its container; the edges curve in voluptuous surface tension.

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Sky Mirror, Blue – Anish Kapoor

I absolutely love this piece. I first saw it in the second incarnation of the Saatchi Gallery, at the former GLC County Hall building. There it reflected the Edwardian splendour of the top two-thirds of a high windowed and wood panelled room back to itself, darkly. The realisation that the surface is flawed, marred by tiny motes of dust, does not detract from its black splendour. How deep is it? You imagine it could engulf you. Surely the director of ‘Under the Skin’ must have visited it at some point and sublimated its darkness as a future image to use. The space at Hayward is truer to the first conception of this site-specific work, a white cube lit by a grid of skylights. On the far side of the room, the oil continues through an open doorway and out of sight. The path cut through the slightly more than waist deep pool of oil narrows as you reach the centre of the space. (Surely it’s only a few inches deep? Otherwise the weight would bring the building down.) Despite the queue, and the gallery assistant hovering, I felt awe. It is a rare man-made exemplifier of the sublime. I was sad to hear that Saatchi sold it to a Tasmanian museum in in 2015. Two versions can exist simultaneously, one there and one on loan. I wish the Tate had bought it. They could’ve filled the ground level of the Turbine Hall with it. Imagine it installed in the whale gallery of the Natural History Museum.

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20:50 – Richard Wilson

Later we went to Victoria Miro Gallery. Somehow I had managed to secure a timed ticket to see the Yayoi Kusama show. I’d originally had two but their website had crashed before they were processed. Kindly they allowed themselves to be persuaded to let my friend in too. We queued into the building and were handed dot-covered passes to the infinity room installation, ‘My Heart is Dancing into the Universe’; these were also laminated. We queued up some stairs. The top floor of the gallery is a reclaimed industrial space with grey concrete and exposed beams, supported by an iron girder. We agreed that it was like queuing for something at a squat party. It was a long queue, and we had a lot of time to talk.

I first came across Kusama at the start of the new millennia, at a big Serpentine retrospective, her first in the UK. She’s one of those artists who fascinates through living her art as much as making work, like Kahlo or Warhol. Her New York happenings, her now self-imposed seclusion in an institution; the way that she chooses to embrace her overwhelming hallucinations, covering her work (and her costumes) with a riot of seething dots, multi-coloured or black on crimson or primary yellow, undulating with the forms they engulf. The Serpentine show also had an infinity room (possibly a box rather than a room; I remember something smaller). Mobile phones didn’t have cameras back then, so no one was taking selfies.

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Still from one of Yayoi Kusama’s 1960’s performances

When we reached the threshold of the infinity room at Victoria Miro we were shown a plan of the L-shaped space. We must follow the path, staying within the low barriers that delineated it. Rather facetiously (or hopefully) I asked if anyone had strayed off the path and become lost in infinity. No, but apparently a few people had blundered into the installation.

Inside it was a fairyland of black paper lantern spheres suspended in darkness. Each one was patterned with large dots that glowed through a range of colours, pink into purple or yellow into green. The colour changes were gradual. There seemed to be a whole universe of them falling away from us. We gawped and took some photographs (including, I’m afraid, the now obligatory ‘art selfie’). Seemingly seconds later the gallery assistant told us it was time to move on. We had to leave so the next person or pair could be entranced by it. Later I realised that another highlight of the Hayward show, the installation ‘Narcissus Garden’ was also by Kusama.

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Infinity Mirrored Room – Yayoi Kusama

It was impossible for many people to get tickets to see the Kusama show, which is a pity. I hope she gets another UK retrospective soon, it’s been eighteen years since the last one and she turns ninety next year, still prolifically designing large scale sculptures and painting dazzlingly intricate, vivid canvases, examples of both of which were on show at the Miro. The Hayward show is well worth a visit; there are many fantastic pieces there, and they interact wonderfully. Perhaps queuing for these works intensified them; we live in an age of instantaneous gratification, and the novelty of waiting added to the experience. I would have liked to have longer alone with both works, without the pressure of a queue behind me, but you can’t have everything.

Space Shifters was at the Hayward Gallery, South Bank and closed 6th January 2019

Yayoi Kusama; The Moving Moment I Went to the Universe was at Victoria Miro, Wharf Road, closed 21st December.

Turner Prize 2016 by Charlotte Elliston

In the lead up to Frieze week, I decided to go and check out the 2016 Turner Prize at Tate Britain. Having heard that for the first time, 3 of the artists in the running to win the prize were female, I was interested to check out the works on show.

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Another first for Tate was to allow photography in the exhibition. Someone clearly has seen the opportunities for social media within the exhibition, and realised the selfie potential from the works on display!

The first room presents the artist Helen Marten (who also has an exhibition on currently at the Serpentine I now want to see). Her sculptural works are assemblages of found and manipulated objects – a mixture of the domestic (cotton buds, eggs, money, fruit) and the esoteric (a shed snake-skin?). The blurb from Tate says each sculpture is meant to suggest a “workstation or terminal where some unknown human activity has been interrupted” but both the shapes and randomness of the collections in each piece reminded me more of an animal creating a den or home – the way a bird will collect items purely for shape and colour, with no knowledge or interest in their previous use.

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An aspect of Helen Marten’s work I did find curious, and which none of the reviews I’ve read mentioned, were the curious artist-made aspects of the work. In places, it was evident that metal and plastic had been worked by the artist to form shapes. The most obvious of these was in the first chrysalis-like sculpture formed of interlocking metal parts. Within this sculpture were shapes very reminiscent of a vagina dentata – imagine if Marnie Scarlet’s Vagball from SHE had teeth – this is how clear the reference seemed, to me at least, and yet no mention of this anywhere in the literature I have yet read.

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Next up was Anthea Hamilton’s work and yes, this is the most ‘grammable piece of work in the exhibition, with visitors posing in the ‘crack’ for photos. The piece Project for a Door (After Gaetano Pesce) was created from designs for a New York apartment door through which people would enter. It is possibly a comment on social housing – those of lower social status would have to enter via the rear, but here, in a gallery space, being photographed by affluent visitors, seems to lose any of this. Perhaps if visitors to the exhibition had been forced to actually walk through the doorway it may have been different.

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I preferred this piece of Hamilton’s work. A brick print suit set against a brick print wall. With references to surrealism, and hints of the nature of camouflage, I also felt it referenced ideas of invisibility, blending in, and the way clothes can enhance or deflect notice.

The third room was dedicated to Josephine Pryde, with a mainly photographic display. I had read the text handout on the artist before I entered the room and was excited by the sound of her new works created by Pryde, where she “placed objects on the back of the worktops, and then exposed them to sunlight in London, Athens, and Berlin” as I love a photogram, and was intrigued by the introduction of the domestic – expecting something similar to Běla Kolářová’s work  seen in Double Take earlier this year. I was quite disappointed in the actuality of the piece, where mostly vague shapes were seen on vague backgrounds. In one piece the artist had clearly imposed the word ‘Jo’ herself, and the most interesting of the series was the piece where a griddle had been placed a few times on the worktop, leaving a geometric design.

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The other half of the room was taken up by a scale model of a graffiti covered train, and photographs of hands interacting with objects. These were created to resemble advertising or fashion images but just arranged as to display hands at the point of touching an object – pine cone, lamp, etc. The most noticeable thing for me in these images was the large number of electronic devices chosen – phones and Ipads seemed to dominate. Perhaps this was even more noticeable now that everyone was photographing all of the works in the gallery (yes, I was one of them too!)

The final room led to Michael Dean’s installation. Entering the room, visitors had to negotiate bits of metal, cement chunks and debris which led round into the centre of the room. Bent metal poles and chains formed half-letters, possibly spelling out variants on the word SHORE, which was also present in stickers in the walls and papers on the floor. Hands and fists emerge from piles of rubble, as if trying to escape from a cave-in.

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In the centre of the floor is a huge pile of pennies. This is titled United Kingdom poverty line for two adults and two children: twenty thousand four hundred and thirty six pounds sterling as published on 1st September 2016 and is £20,436 in pennies. The government states that this is the minimum a family of 4 require to live on for a year. When installing the piece, Micheal Dean removed one penny, meaning that this family would now be below the poverty line. What strikes me most about this installation is how little the money looks. Although a large pile of pennies, I would image £20,000 worth of pennies to fill a swimming pool, not a few meters of a gallery floor. The installation as a whole seems more thoughtful, political and relevant to the current UK zeitgeist than the other three exhibiting artists. Whilst I loved Hannah Marten’s strange sculptures, I am rooting for Michael Dean to win.

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The Turner Prize is on until 2 January 2016 at Tate Britain

Helen Marten: Drunk Brown House is on until 20 November 2016 at the Serpentine

 

 

Studio Visit with Artist Sophie Wellan – by Corrina Eastwood

I first came across the work of Sophie Wellan when I was asked to judge on the panel of the British Women Artists Competition in 2013. Struck by the power of her work, along with the rest of the panel, Sophie’s installation ‘This Too Shall Pass’ was selected as a judges favourite.

A decision to indulge further in the intrigue evoked in me by Sophie’s work came when Sophie was also chosen by the Sweet ‘Art selection panel for our upcoming show Seams, and a studio visit then felt in order! I now find myself again considering the visceral nature of Sophie’s work and its ability to command the viewer, packing a punch while simultaneously sweetening the blow.

The work itself not only provokes in me a tenacious desire to investigate the found objects themselves, asking questions such as ‘Where did these objects come from?’, ‘How did they come together?’ and ‘What history do they hold?’. I am also left wondering about the artist herself, what part, if any, of the very personal sense I gain from these works is her and how willing would she be to reveal herself through them.

Dark is a Way, Light is a place.

Dark is a Way, Light is a place.

I imagined before our interview that Sophie may respond that she is every bit of the works, yet paradoxically also none of them. With her artist statement reflecting an interest in the metaphysical and “a connection between all things” I wonder if for her, despite the incredible craftsmanship and attention to detail evident in their execution, that they can be both everything and nothing.

This ‘connection’ is something I strongly feel with many of Sophie’s works yet with some this also leaves me feeling uncomfortable. There is something hypnotic, something that is both comforting yet toxic, like a pain that can feel like home.

The clinical nature of ‘This Too Shall Pass’ meets a tension in its seeming desperation to order chaos, to muffle pain and to fix the unfixable. The result is an incredibly moving testament to personal connection and all it can or cannot be, or heal.

This Too Shall Pass.

This Too Shall Pass.

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This Too Shall Pass

This Too Shall Pass

I have questions for Sophie that may lead to some answers about her practice but I wonder if for me her works may still remain like ghosts, with there being a strong and often chilling sense of the desire to communicate, yet despite this you are left with a certainty that you may never quite grasp the ungraspable.

How long have you been an artist and what drives your practice?

I have always created, throughout my life, although it is only in the last 17 years I have realised my passion for materials and the language within them. This is what really drives me to make the work that I do. The essence of the material is what I am trying to discover and how it speaks and then how that language might change when one material is juxtaposed with another.

What was the last exhibition you visited by another artist and what were your impressions?

The last exhibition I visited by another artist was by Roseanne Hawksley, a sculptor whose work is often to do with war and death. I love her work as it is not only poetic but also beautifully crafted, she manages to create a great beauty from materials such as animal bones. Roseanne is now in her mid eighties and is still working; that is also really impressive, and how I would like to be.

There is a great spiritual sense in your work, a sense of a communication of the past in the present through the use of found objects. Can you say a bit about that and how it has become important in your work?

I am aware of the sense of the past in the present within my work, and I often wonder where it comes from. All I can think of is that as a child my mother would drag me around museums, especially the British Museum looking at relics from the past. I can only recollect not liking it at the time, but these things stick and come out somewhere (Ironically, the British Museum is one of my favourite places to visit now). It has been suggested in the past that some of my work has the look of something that might have been found in an ancient dig somewhere, with an ancient quality to it. Most if not all of the materials I use have always been part of the natural world so we intrinsically know them and on some level I believe, will feel connected to them. I feel strongly a sense of the spiritual nature within a material. It is the material which evokes, and I think that by putting the materials together to form a symbolic object which speaks of being human (a shoe, a dress or a cloak) it immediately connects us on that level. My favourite book which talks a lot about the spirit within a material is ‘The Nature Of Substance’ by Rudolph Haushka, a beautiful old book for anyone wanting to learn more about this subject.

I find your work incredibly visceral in its ability to emote. How consciously is this an intention in your creative process and do you have a surfaced awareness of your work speaking on many levels?

I guess any art is fundamentally about communication. My most recent work ‘As Above So Below’ series speaks on many levels, with ideas of how everything in the universe is connected from seeds to metals, to crystal formation to star constellations and the energetic pathways in our own bodies. However, I am also trying to describe how I personally feel amongst all of this on a more spiritual level. The work came out of a time in my life when I wasn’t able to sleep and would go into the garden at night and look at the incredible night sky in its vastness, terror and glory. I guess the work is about how it made me feel.

For me your work is interesting because it has such a paradoxical sense of beauty and calm but also feels somewhat uncomfortable to view. Can you say a bit more about this and if it is how you intend the work to be received?

I feel that for me to create a piece of work which I think has succeeded in some way, it needs to possess a dynamic tension. I love to create beautiful things, I am very aware and in awe of the beauty and majesty within the natural world, I am also aware that that is not all there is. The discomfort felt viewing my work might well be touching on a collective angst. My work is a way for me personally to attempt to work out the difficult questions of life . It is always really exciting and reassuring for me when somebody ‘gets’ what I am doing. It reminds me that I am not alone.

Shipbuilding

Shipbuilding

You can see two pieces of Sophie Wellan’s work exhibited at Sweet ‘Art’s upcoming show Seams running form the 13th -17th September 2014.

Corrina Eastwood