International Women’s Day 2020 by Charlotte Elliston

This week in the UK, we are celebrating the start of Women’s History Month, as well as looking forward to International Women’s Day on 8 March.

As an organisation working from an intersectional feminist standpoint, we love to take part in International Women’s Day and have had some (even though we say it ourselves) great events; from Y Not? , where we partnered with sister organisations Lensational and LPM to exhibit artworks internationally, to T’Art where we created our first collaborative zine and smashed the patriarchy in the form of Donald Trump, to our recent Intersect portraiture project at WOW Festival. Not forgetting of course, that Sweet ‘Art itself was founded with Show#1, our very first exhibition which took place for IWD 2013.

This year, we are having to take a back seat. An exhibition, to make it the showstopping all-singing-all-dancing event that our artists and visitors have come to expect, takes an awful lot of work (the vagina cupcakes alone take 2 days work). With limited time (and funds), we want to focus our energy in creating something more permanent – a home for Sweet ‘Art which we can occupy for longer than a week or two. So this is what we are working on behind-the-scenes, looking for ways to make this work.

We know that the work we do is still needed; The National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, currently the only museum in the world dedicated to female visual artists, is using the hashtag #5WomenArtists, asking their followers if they can name five women artists – because, unfortunately, many people can’t!

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Looking back to our Intersect project in 2018

And we know lots of people have heard this before, but for those of you at the back, here are some stats about representation of women in the visual arts in the UK.

  • Only 9 out of 34 Turner Prize winners have been women (excluding this year where all 4 of the nominees shared the prize).
  • In 2017 only 28% of artists represented by major commercial galleries in London were women. (and over the past decade, 83% of LissonGallery’s solo shows, 71% of Hauser and Wirth’s solo shows, 88% of Gagosian’s shows, 76% of White Cube’s shows and 59% of Victoria Miro’s shows were by men)
  • At London’s major institutions only 22% of solo shows in 2017 were by female artists, falling by 8% since 2016 and by 3% since 2014–15.
  • In the National Gallery’s collection, paintings by female artists comprise less than 1%.
  • In terms of auction sales, the top female artist in 2018 was Yayoi Kusama, with sales of $102,532,176- far below the top male artist Pablo Picasso’s $602,865,747

So hopefully we can all agree that women continue to need support in reaching equality in the artworld. And that goes for double and treble when you look at things from an intersectional point of view and consider women with disabilities, trans women, women of colour, women from a working class background…

If ‘the arts contribute to collective identity through shared stories of experiences, including ones that challenge viewers to recognise the perspectives of the other’ then we really need to hear the voices of a multitude of women.

Sweet ‘Art are proud to have shown work by around 400 female artists since our formation, 79% of our total exhibited, in over 30 exhibitions. We hope to continue bringing you all exciting and challenging artwork for years to come. Thanks for all your support!

If you’ve ever been to a show, read our zine, had your portrait drawn or even checked out our pictures and artist work online, you might like to consider supporting us with either a one-off donation or via Patreon. For International Women’s Day we are offering our supporters an additional gift; if you are already a patron, or if you sign up to any tier between now and 9 March 2020, we are going to gift you one of our fab ‘reclaim’ totes as a thank you! Go on, you know you want one!

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Nab yourself a fab ‘reclaim’ tote by becoming our patron.

A Women’s day Experience by Sian Matthews

I had a bad experience for International women’s day and it helps prove how far we still need to go.

A friend and I decided to spend IWD at a few galleries in London which were holding exhibitions and tours about women artists, the female gaze and the influential women who helped shape certain institutions. I hadn’t seen my friend for a while, I was looking forward to celebrating women and art with her.

The day started strong with a coffee and a catch up before moving on to the newly opened Richard Saltoun gallery in Mayfair. The first exhibition held at this new gallery space, ‘Women Look at Women’ explored themes such as feminine identity, censorship, gender stereotypes, sex and relationships through the work of thirteen international artists. The exhibition included beautiful but honest black and white photography by artists like Renate Bertlmann, Francesca Woodman and Annegret Soltau, as well as sculptural works by Helen Chadwick.

It was great to experience an exhibition, curated by a woman, working with female artists, feminine themes and the female gaze. You know, other then when Sweet ‘Art does it. For the most part I was impressed by it. The exhibition felt refreshing; it was clean and well thought out, and most importantly for the viewer, it was insightful and thought provoking. Of course, any exhibition has space for improvement, to learn and ensure you do things better the next time. ‘Women Look at Women’ could have been more inclusive. It could have included a wider, more diverse group of works, but it did what it was meant to do well enough for me.

After such a great start you will understand my disappointment and, honestly, outrage at our next visit.  This year for International Women’s Day, the Royal Academy intended to celebrate with ‘Feminine Futures’, a series of events and tours from the 1st – 10th of March.

We got to the RA at noon for the IWD tour, which was billed as an event that will “explore the lives of some of the important women in the history of the RA”. What we were greeted with however was anything but!

Before I explain why I was so disappointed, I should point out that this tour was one of six or seven delivered over ten days. The tour is presented by a different guide each day and therefore is different every time. For all I know the rest of the tours were spot on.

To start, the male guide took us into a small corridor next to a staircase which was decorated with photographs of the current eighty academicians. He pointed out Tracey Emin and Cornelia Parker and briefly spoke about them (they were the only female artists mentioned for the whole tour). He then spent the next 5 minutes talking about several of the men on the wall.  He made no effort to mention any other female academicians, he didn’t even mention Sonya Boyce, the first woman of colour to be made a Royal Academician, as recently as 2016.

Moving on he spoke about two paintings depicting some of the life drawing classes at the RA many years ago. These paintings showed female models being drawn by male artists and were themselves by men, although I cannot remember who. While standing in front of these paintings we were told that at this point in the RA’s history, women were banned from attending life drawing classes because it was thought that it objectified them. The guide also informed us that all female life models were from local brothels as it was inappropriate for women other than prostitutes to model nude. But according to him, all of that was ok… because they were paid a little more than their male counterparts.

Throughout the rest of the tour the guide spoke about not only the building it currently occupies, Burlington house, but also when it occupied the top floors of Somerset House and the National Gallery. He spoke about the architects, the owners of buildings and artists who have worked within the RA: all men, including Constable and even Churchill. It would have been far more interesting to tell us the little-known fact that’s among the 34 founding members of the RA there were two women! Mary Moser and Angelica Kaufmann.

A few times other members of the group asked about the role of women at the RA, which was met with the guide asking if any of us were artists and what our practice consists of. Both myself and my friend answered, explaining that we are installation artists with an interest in the work of the YBA’s. So we were already familiar with Tracey Emin who’s work he promptly explained to us as if we had no idea who she was. ‘My bed’ he said was a “product of her realisation of the mess around her” not exactly what I would call an in depth, insightful or accurate description.

'My Bed' by Tracey Emin

Right at the end of the tour, after someone asked about them, he briefly mentioned the suffragettes, how they had “slashed a couple of paintings in protest” basically referring to them as trouble makers who had ruined a precious painting. There is a lot of information to be found about this incident at the 1914 RA Summer Exhibition on their own website, surely a tour guide at the RA should be able to talk freely and in a respectful manner about this event?

Reading back through this it probably sounds like I am making this up. But I can promise I am not. You expect to come away from a tour of influential women at the RA feeling proud of what these women achieved in an industry that wasn’t always accepting, I expected to hear about how the women before me helped to pave the way for myself to be an artist and work in the arts today and instead I was told about how women had been mistreated by the RA until after WWII. I left feeling deflated, like we had gone backwards for an hour and honestly, I was angry.

Another point I feel I should add here is that on the 8th of March, International Women’s Day, the same day I was trying to celebrate with a friend. An exhibition opened at Tate Modern, all about famous “ladies man” Picasso.

After all of this I had just one question on my mind. How did such a small gallery in Mayfair, and countless other small organisations manage to get their shows and messages so right when the big institutions with all their money and resources get it so wrong? Do they not care? Do they not listen? It seems ridiculous to me and it highlights just how far we all still must go in not only getting, but understanding and respecting equality.

Threesome – an exhibition of three women painters, by Charlotte Elliston

As it was recently the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People act, which gave women who were over 30 and property-owners, the right to vote in the UK, and will soon be Women’s History Month (including International Women’s Day on 8 March), the Sweet ‘Art team will be trying to see, and post about as many relevant exhibitions and events as possible.

First up was a visit to New Art Projects gallery in London for a panel discussion about their current exhibition Threesome. Threesome is an exhibition featuring artists Roxana Halls, Sarah Jane Moon and Sadie Lee, and has been curated by Anna McNay. The focus of the exhibition is the female gaze; each of the artists are figurative painters, female, and identify as queer.  This follows on from the recent Tate show Queer British Art, which was a show timed to coincide with the anniversary of the  1967 Sexual Offences Act.  This was a great show of art by gay white men, but was a bit lacking on other forms of queerness. Threesome was partly intended as a response to this – showcasing the work of three contemporary lesbian artists. I knew in advance that the premise of the exhibition was that each artist was painting each other as well as themselves, and had also each painted a nude study of performance artist Ursula Martinez. (Along with Corrina, and some of the fab WIA group, we had recently seen Ursula in discussion with Sadie at the National Portrait Gallery for their Queer Perspectives Lates).

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Sadie Lee and Ursula Martinez in conversation at Queer Perspectives

So I was excited to see the full exhibition, and the works ‘in the flesh’ (pun intended) rather than just as images. The event featured all artists and Ursula Martinez in discussion with Anna McNay, and the gallery has said that the full transcript of the discussion will be added to their website in due course. I highly recommend keeping an eye out for this! The discussion began with Anna McNay inviting each of the artists to discuss their works in turn, before moving on to the portraits of Ursula and finally opening up the discussion to encompass more general themes from the exhibition.

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Portrait of Sarah Jane Moon, by Roxana Halls

 

Each of Roxana Halls’ portraits use heightened colours (in the discussion she mentioned positioning her subjects within a set of neon lights to create the effect) and stylised poses reminiscent of dolls, to create what I would describe as a ‘nightclub’ effect. Her subjects are flanked by mannequins dressed as iconic lesbian characters from films and are posed almost as if they are mid-dance. For most of the discussion I was facing the portrait of Sadie, and (I don’t think it was just the fact that she was wearing glasses), I was reminded of some of the iconic images of Grace Jones. I attributed this mental link to the almost luminescent skin tones Roxana created, and to the strength and power of her images.

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Bulletproof Heart album cover.

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Ms Jones in 1984 in London, by Adrian Boot

In the discussion, Roxana said that she often uses mannequins within her work, not always so explicitly. Her reason for doing so is that straight male film directors will often use mannequins in their films to represent lesbian women; somehow implying that lesbian women are not quite ‘real’ women, or not quite human. Judith Butler says in her essay Imitation and Gender Insubordination “I suffered for a long time, and I suspect many people have, from being told, explicitly or implicitly, that what I “am” is a copy, an imitation, a derivative example, a shadow of the real”. This was echoed by the ideas present in Roxana’s work

The discussion of the use of the mannequin to represent lesbian women also made me consider the myth of Pygmalion, and the use of this trope in art and culture. Pygmalion was a sculptor who fell in love with the figure of a woman he had carved, and she was brought to life with magic and became his wife. The myth has been widely used in painting, film and literature.

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Pygmalion and Galatea, by Jean-Léon Gérôme

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Still from the film, Mannequin, dir. Michael Gottlieb

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Still from My Fair Lady, dir. George Cukor (They changed the ending from the original play to add ‘romantic’ interest)

In both the straight and queer versions, these tropes appear to be created with the fear of the unknown, and the desire to impose control by not just objectifying, but actually making the woman into an object. The myth also places the creative agency in the hands of the male, whether that be the sculptor Pygmalion, shop-window dresser Jonathan Switcher, or linguist ‘Enry ‘Iggins. In these instances not only a creative, but a sexual power is also conferred to the male as in each instance, the bringing of the ‘mannequin’ to life results in sexual union.

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Portrait of Roxana Halls, by Sadie Lee

 Sadie Lee’s work focuses on the ideas of intimacy and sexuality. Her three artist portraits are reclining figures, shown in their underwear, on rumpled beds. Within the discussion, Sadie said that her aim was to use (and I think to subvert) the traditional Venus pose, where the subject had one arm bent over her head, and another around her waist.

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Venus Anadyomene, by Jean Dominique Ingres (with a barbie-doll genital area)

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Venus Williams, taken by Hirakawa for ESPN Magazine

Her portraits were created by looking at the subjects from a position between the legs (described by Sadie as a position a lover might see them from), lit from below with a harsh raking light. They pick up qualities of the skin like dimples and stretch marks. The underwear is everyday; big knickers, 100 denier tights, bras with the label sticking out. In the discussion, Sadie said that she wanted the portraits to be real and mundane. She deliberately used a harsh light, to challenge traditional notions of female portraiture equalling female beauty. Her aim was to contest the thought that a portrait of a woman has to be flattering.

The portrait of herself was based on Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus, where the model is purportedly using her hand to hide her genitals, but could equally be masturbating.

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Sleeping Venus, by Giorgione,

Sadie’s self-portrait replicates this pose, but turned away from the viewer in order to make the pose “more threatening”. She explained that by turning her back on the viewer, she removes complicity in the voyeurism. The subject knows that the viewer is there, but is performing the act for herself and not them. Sadie’s portraits lie in direct contrast to the European tradition of the female nude, in which the subject displays her nudity for the observing male’s pleasure. John Berger sums this up in Ways of Seeing “In the art-form of the European nude the painters and the spectator-owners were usually men and the persons treated as objects, usually women. This unequal relationship is so deeply embedded in our culture that it still structures the consciousness of many women. They do to themselves what men do to them” – I really hope Venus Williams actively sought out her nude photoshoot of herself as a Venus!

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Portrait of Sadie Lee, by Sarah Jane Moon

Sarah Jane Moon’s portraits were created with the aim of giving her sitters agency. The fact that they are all painters was important to her, and she wanted to show them as creators in their own right. Each of the portraits was painted from visiting the artist in their own studio, and the studio features as a backdrop. Each of the artists is also featured holding a tool of their painting. The subjects all stare back at the viewer, making eye contact which is direct and unapologetic and could even be described as challenging. The paintings show that in each case the viewed is also the viewer.

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Self Portrait in a Straw Hat, by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun

Sarah’s portraits made me remember the self-portraits of Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, the 18th century French painter, and the thoughts of Griselda Pollock on this piece in particular. The artist has painted herself with the tools of her profession, but she is also portrayed as unambiguously female. She is well groomed, well dressed and beautiful. The shadow of her hat across her face and her gaze avoid confrontation. Her mouth is slightly parted in a demure smile. Pollock says that the aim of the piece is still to create a spectacle for us, the viewer, as through Western art history there has always been “an insuperable distance between the notion of the artist and the notion of a woman”.

Sarah’s pieces also critique the tradition of portraying the male artist in his studio, with his female (nude) model. In two of her portraits, we see completed works, or works-in-progress depicting naked female bodies. Within the discussion, it was revealed that one of the pieces behind Sadie was actually a self-portrait, further subverting the idea.

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The Artist’s Studio, by Gustav Courbet

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Lucian Freud, shot for Vanity Fair

Although each of the Threesome painters has a very distinct style, and is aiming to explore different things within their work, the discussion also drew out common themes. The idea of agency seemed very relevant. It seemed important to each of the artists that they were not simply producing a passive image of someone, but were creating a piece where the subject was active, dynamic and powerful – in some cases, stripping the viewer of their agency and relegating them to the role of passive consumer.

The discussion ended with the questioning of what is different about the female gaze. The panellists mentioned ideas of empathy, truth and respect; possibly even love, certainly from a queer female perspective. The point was also raised as to whether defining the female gaze was reductive. Is art created by women inherently different to that created by men? Should differentiation even be employed between art created by women and that of men?

 

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Anna McNay, Sadie Lee, Sarah Jane Moon, Roxana Halls and Ursula Martinez in conversation

There was also the acknowledgement that the idea of the female is seen through a history of the male dominated society. Notions of femaleness, and queerness are both linked to notions of otherness, perpetuated in the Western art tradition, so what does being ‘female’ even mean – how can this be defined in a society which has always just seen ‘female’ in opposition to ‘male’ and ‘queer’ in opposition to ‘heterosexual’.

The theory of there being a somehow unified female gaze also implies that there is a shared way of looking which links women through history and across the world. Griselda Pollock also references these kinds of theories that art produced by women has commonality, saying that this idea will “…efface the fact that although women as a sex have been oppressed in most societies, their oppression, and the way they have lived it, or even resisted, has varied from society to society, and period to period, from class to class. This historicity of women’s oppression and resistance disappears when all women are placed in a homogenous category based on the commonest and most unhistoricized denominator”.

Many of these discussions and debates are far to large and unwieldy to continue here, but I am sure that we will touch on them again in our various exhibition visits. I also again recommend getting down to see the show for yourself before it closes. It is also running on conjunction with 3X3, also curated by Anna McNay, which is a photographic show from 9 queer female artists.

Threesome opened on 11 January 2018 and runs until 4 March 2018 at New Art Projects, London.

Sweet ‘Art on the road part 2: Santa Fe to LA – by Corrina Eastwood

So after some very long drives through the high planes of west Texas and New Mexico, past grain silos and rolling tumble weeds, and after a lot of coffee, we arrived in Santa Fe with excited anticipation, primarily of visiting the Georgia O,Keefe museum. Before that we come across the SITE (www.sitesantafa.org) an amazing space that really drew us in as we passed by despite it being a little on the periphery of the town centre.

Site, Santa Fe.

Site, Santa Fe.

SITE is a non profit arts organisation that opened in 1995 to present what was then the only international art biennial in the United States, and one of a handful around the world. We were lucky enough to catch their current show Feast: Radical Hospitality In Contemporary Art and really enjoyed the show as well as the interesting curating style. The exhibition examines the history of the artist-orchestrated meal and 30 artists explore the social, political and commercial structures that surround the experience of eating together.

I was particularly struck by the documentation of the piece ‘International Dinner Party’ by Suzanne Lacy. Lacy called for participation of women from all over the globe to hold and document dinner parties honouring women important to their own cultures. All parties were to take place in March 1979, in the hope of creating a network of women, acknowledging women that would extend around the world. This made me think of our launch show in aid of international women’s day and to also feel inspired with ideas for our IWD show next year!

I found the documentation of the response to Lacy’s call fascinating and emotive with archives of postcards that she used as a call for participation, along with highlights from a trove of letters, photographs and other materials that participants sent describing their meals. Also exhibited was a wall map pinpointing the countries in which parties took place.

Archives from International Dinner Party by Suzanne Lacy

Archives from International Dinner Party by Suzanne Lacy

I love the use of found objects in art and feel my fascination with the archives of a documentation of such a happening relates to this love. A sense that an object can so strongly retain the sense of its importance in the past, translated in the present. We were helped by the gallery assistant to search through the archives for the telegrams relating to parties that took place in London, the assistant seemed to really enjoy our enthusiasm for the piece and the show as a whole.

Map documenting International Dinner Party by Suzanne Lacy

Map documenting International Dinner Party by Suzanne Lacy

Untitled by Felixstowe Gonzalez- Torres

Untitled by Felixstowe Gonzalez- Torres

Here is another piece (untitled) in the show by Felixstowe Gonzalez-Torres. We were invited to take a sweet to eat which complemented the spoonful of delicious Slatko, a type of Serbian jam also on offer!

So with our Sweet ‘Art sweet tooth satisfied we head off, next stop; the David Richard Gallery (www.davidrichardgallery.com) to catch an exhibition by Paul Pascarella. This is a really cool contemporary space and the work looked great, the guys in the gallery were also super friendly and welcoming.

Sweet 'Art at the David Richard Gallery

Sweet ‘Art at the David Richard Gallery

Sunset Gold by Paul Pascarella

Sunset Gold by Paul Pascarella

Pascarella’s recent paintings are inspired by the powerful forces observed in nature and seen in person convey a dynamic energy emphasised by the large scale of most works.

We also popped in to Charlotte Jackson Fine Art (www.charlottejackson.com) and took a look at the exhibition of works by Ronald Davis.

Stronger from the 'Floater' series by Ronald Davis

Stronger from the ‘Floater’ series by Ronald Davis

Davis’ work makes interesting analogies between the materials and techniques of traditional painting and the digital tools of graphic imaging. He seemingly applies the same artistic decision making considered in traditional painting, such as conventional brushwork and perspective, to his use of a mouse and keyboard. Also worth noting, another beautiful airy contemporary space; Santa Fe seemed to be good at this.

And then we finally made it! To the Georgia O’Keefe museum. O’Keeffe is described as one of the most significant artists of the 20th century and was devoted to creating imagery that expressed what she called “the wideness and wonder of the world as I live in it.” She was a leading member of the Stieglitz Circle artists, headed by Alfred Stieglitz, America’s first advocate of modern art in America.

O’Keeffe was one of the first artists that I studied when at art school. I loved her use of mark and colour and her evocative and dreamy washes. I also liked, in retrospect what I feel was a very feminine symbolism in her imagery as well as her character as a person and artist, strong, sexy and compelling.

We spent majority of the show enjoying some of her instantly recognisable works, specifically the works in which she collaborated somewhat with Ansel Adams exploring their interpretations of landscapes in Hawaii, following a visit.

I was particularly struck by seeing Horses Skull With White Rose in person which I remember as being an inspirational and important piece for me when I began studying and developing my own practice.

Horses Skull with White Rose

However, as we ventured further into the show I found my self feeling quite disappointed. Many works I had hoped to see where not in the permanent collection and I found the most compelling and interesting works were in fact photographs of the artist her self taken by other artists depicting her very strong and enigmatic style. I was pleased to have seen these as well as displays of the brushes a pallets that were left in O’Keffe’s studio before her death and an easel holding an unfinished work. The last work she was pencilling out before her death, the outline of a tree.

I began to realise that maybe in some ways I had built up such great expectations of seeing so many works of an artist I had so admired that this was always to end in disappointment, as I tried to fulfil the wishes of the young artist I once was. I am in retrospect so very grateful to have gained a greater insight in to the woman and artist that showed such dedication to her practice.

We were sad to leave Santa Fe although I was relieved to discover that in fact I was not developing a chest infection but was actually suffering a bit from being 7,000 ft above sea level, I had no idea!

So we hit the road again and headed to LA via a weekend in Vegas (you don’t want to hear too much about that!) We were excited to get to LA as we had a few meetings planned and a studio visit with artist Water Kerner (www.waterkerner.com). Water currently has two pieces showing at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery and had offered to take us to visit the show followed by lunch and a visit to her studio.

Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery (LAMAG) is a facility of the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs and showcases art from residents of LA at all levels of their careers as well as artist from other parts of the world whose work is of relevance to the people of the City of LA (www.lamag.org).

It’s an amazing and dramatic industrial space of 10,000 square foot and has breathtaking views of the Hollywood hills from the grounds complete with a great view of the Hollywood sign which gets us embarrassingly excited!

View from LAMAG

View from LAMAG

LAMAG entrance

LAMAG entrance

This does in no way faze Water who is excitement personified with a dynamic energy that makes me wonder how she may get by if it were not for her passion for her practice as an artist to focus on. We learn later that Water has had many successful creative careers and this answers my question as it transpires that this energy and creative passion have resulted in many achievements. She mentions in passing later with great humility that she founded Lati2d in the early 90s, a company that specialised in providing cutting edge graphics for TV and film. If I’m honest even after Water patiently explained Lati2d and it’s success I was still confused by the technicalities but the several trophies and awards at her studio for achievements in the field helped my simple mind a tad! Water then went on to be a successful director working on commercials and music videos and again I understood to a greater existent on seeing photos of her posing with Janet Jackson in her studio toilet!

For now however we get to know Water through her works at the LAMAG open call 2014. Unfortunately we missed the private view by just one night but enjoyed looking around the varied works on display. The space is huge and the amount of works a little overwhelming to view but with shows like this I always feel it’s best to let the whole show wash over you a bit and the important stuff will stick.

Here are a few of the peices that stuck….

Beachy by Aaron Rivera

Beachy by Aaron Rivera

Stacked #1 by Jodie Weber

Stacked #1 by Jodie Weber

……..and Water’s work definitely fell in to this category also.

As I have mentioned I love work that incorporates found objects and the first piece of Water’s that we spot stands out amongst the other sculptural pieces. ‘Blue Danube Family Portrait’ combines found objects and the juxtaposition of the chosen objects strikes me as important and interests me as I imagine the cans as actors, taking centre stage for a bow.

Blue Danube Family Portrait by Water Kerner

Blue Danube Family Portrait by Water Kerner

The anthropomorphism I attribute to the piece and the sense of theatre comes before I learn the title. Water explains that Blue Danube is the piece of music that can be heard when turing the handle to the music box amongst the cans, her desire being for visitors to interact with the piece. Later she describes her inspiration for the piece and a recurrent theme in her work which appears to be a desire to draw the attention of the viewer to that which is fragile and ephemeral and to Water, precious. Particularly with reference to the environment and our need to protect our planet. Water remembers the film ‘Soylent Green’ saying it had a great impact on her and segues a little into her passion for film and it’s power in conveying important messages. “Sound, light, music, motion!” she exclaimed commenting on what influences her work. I haven’t seen the film ‘Soylent Green’ and Water refuses to give away the ending but for her it began a concern for the environment and our careless attitude towards conserving our planet.

This feels to be an incredibly important issue to her and I get the sense that when something is important to Water it needs to be worked through and extensively explored. She described the piece a little further, her ideas relating to consumerism with the cans having once been a part of this preoccupation and explains the wooden built QR code for viewers to discover and be taken to her website.

Blue Danube Family Portrait (QR detail) by Water Kerner

Blue Danube Family Portrait (QR detail) by Water Kerner

She mentions that she finds the many music boxes that she uses in her work on eBay and I notice this also fits with her exploration of ways in which we can reuse the worlds resources with eBay often being a very modern form of recycling.

I also begin to feel that as an artist Water is very process led, taken by an unconscious need to purchase something or manipulate a found object to use, a need that may become clearer to her later. It is this gut lead process that give the work it’s edge. She describes the process of rusting the cans for around a year, spraying them and carefully observing the decay. She then wonders aloud if her interest in rust and the ageing process relates to more personal feelings. Water is keen to discuss feminist ideas relating to women in the work place and views about women in general in society.

For me Water’s work feels incredibly personal, it is this sense that touches me and draws me further in. It is a possibility in her work that I ask if she has considered and this leads us to her second piece at the LAMAG show.

Illuminated Tryptic by Water Kerner

Illuminated Tryptic by Water Kerner

Illuminated Tryptic by Water Kerner

Illuminated Tryptic by Water Kerner

‘Illuminated Tryptic’ is what appears to be a collection of personal artefacts and found objects brought together in a way that feels to me to serve as evidence. A testimony to some thing deeply personal and important, gathered and considered, pieced together like a puzzle, making real something internal and intangible. The complete picture of the puzzle is of course unclear and open for interpretation as I imagine is the intention, yet I am intrigued by the illuminated aspect of the work and the x-ray effect achieved by the use of light, an x-ray being something that searches to reveal the internal, as an aid to healing. There is also an actual x-ray scan included in the piece yet I wonder more about the symbolic than the literal.

Later I ask Water about the piece and she comments that she would not know where to start in describing it. That for her it in some way relates to spirituality, that it holds personal meaning yet with this piece she struggles to share.

What moves me about the piece, that I feel is captured with such dignity, is the representation of the beautiful in that which is flawed. Found objects of little monetary value, discarded and no longer of use given reverence and with good reason. I notice the reference to Water’s name within the piece, the sterile water containers, hidden behind layers of meaning, the tap on top of the piece that feels a little tongue in cheek and I gain a sense of what may need to be revelled or hidden about these personal elements, this very much represented in the overall aesthetic. For me the piece holds a moving sense of the questioning of what is to be valued or discarded. What is beautiful, valuable or important? For me the answer is found far more often than not in the most surprising, flawed places. An idea of the existence of beauty because of flaws, not in spite of them, is communicated, maybe a tricky mantra to maintain in a town like LA!

An exciting visit to Water's amazing studio

An exciting visit to Water’s amazing studio

Water shows us the installation she's currently working on.

Water shows us the installation she’s currently working on.

Detail of Water's work in progress

Detail of Water’s work in progress

Another exciting piece from Water's studio.

Another exciting piece from Water’s studio.

Water Kerner in her LA studio

Water Kerner in her LA studio

Inspiring to see the beautiful space and all works in process!