Tuesday, 10 December 2013

REVIEW: [Thinking with the Body] by Wayne McGregor @ The Wellcome Collection

Thinking with the Body by Wayne McGregor
The Wellcome Collection
19 September - 27 October 2013

This is my recent review I wrote for the online publishing site: http://intuition-online.co.uk/article.php?id=3416

A study of mind, movement and dance, 'Thinking with the body' was the most recent exhibition presented by the Wellcome Collection in the increasing emergence of collaborative art and science practice. In recent years, artists have become ever more interdisciplinary and multi-faceted practitioners in their own right; engaging with an array of experts, scientists and consultants alike to fuel the research invested in their artworks. In this exhibition Wayne McGregor investigates aspects of perception, sensation and physical movement in relation to cognitive and social sciences, demonstrated through the art of dance itself.

The exhibition certainly addressed some really intriguing ideas around the body as a tool and vessel of physical expression. Using dance as a case study, this spontaneous and inexplicable expressive form of behaviour allows the dancer to use their body as their chosen medium. In fact using the body as an artistic medium is not purely restricted to just dancers, performance artists have been doing the same thing for years. Whilst watching the interchange between both the dancers and choreographers, you feel very much like a voyeur; looking in on a unique form of language by those who possess an obvious enriched understanding and utility of the body as an instrument. It goes beyond ordinary gesture, its flexible, sometimes exaggerated, sometimes amazingly subtle, as if they own a completely different embedded vocabulary of movements they are able to appropriate at will. Just like any other type of artist, dancing explores the endless possibilities of the chosen medium and in this respect, the limits to which the body can be used to express both emotion and narrative. Dance is certainly not just a visually spectacular practice but an innate form of expression drawn from the emotive core. As with many art forms; what appears on the surface  is only half the story, the rather more interesting art lies in the cognitive and psychological intentions driving the resulting physical catharsis.

What struck me as being so successful about this particular exhibition was its obvious awareness of the viewing public as an audience. Merging both art and science aspects is no easy feat and done badly can produce a bias in either direction, alienating those who have no knowledge of the scientific or artistic aspects. Creating a cohesive exhibition highlighting both areas requires a carefully considered approach translated in an accessible method of display. Through a series of interviews, rehearsal footage and filmed performance, viewers are able to hear the explanations of those involved in the featured projects from various perspectives of the practitioners involved. What was really pleasant was the degree to which the viewer is invited to participate and asked to engage. Titled as a series of activities asking the viewer to 'recontextualise', an area of the exhibition was reserved specifically for participation. Various forms of audio, visual and spatial installations allowed the viewer to challenge their sensory and spatial perceptions, and in effect offered the opportunity for the individual to literally 'think with their body'.

'Recontextualise' interactive area @ Thinking with the Body, photograph taken by Vivienne Du

The exhibition didn't feel like it belonged in a gallery. For one the white cube conventions were clearly disobeyed —and yet the exhibition didn't feel like a museum archive either; simply featuring detailed factual excerpts. In this instance, The Wellcome Collection delivered a resonant balance that did all the areas of interest justice, offering a depth of research and analysis through forms easy enough to understand from varying degrees of knowledge. It is definitely intriguing to note the Wellcome Collection's angle as an institution; aiming to exhibit from both a scientific and artistic perspective - there is a definite nod to typical aesthetic conventions in the finish and professionalism of the display, and yet the presentation doesn't quite pass as a typical gallery exhibit nor a museum archive. I am pleased to see such a refreshing stand between the two types of institutions, paving the way for a new hybridised approach that doesn't require either schools of convention to dictate.

So can such artistic phenomena be accurately explained through science? There are those who will certainly try, and such collaborations between art and science practitioners is an exciting new era of accepting that we require both in order to truly appreciate creative forms from all angles. 'Thinking with the body' asks you to think physically as well as physically think and I certainly enjoyed doing both.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

INDUSTRY: Art Internships

Since starting my fine art degree, I have been on three different art internships. All of these internships have varied from each other, not only in the tasks and roles I have been involved in but also in the nature of the actual organisations themselves.

The Cutting Room, Nottingham Playhouse, Nottingham
(3+ months)
The Cutting Room comprises two graduates from the NTU fine art degree course: Jennifer Ross and Clare Harris. One of the best ways of seeking out opportunities is to utilise the contacts and networks that already exist on your course and at your university. As recent graduates still based in Nottingham, they were offering internships to students particularly on our course. Not only did I benefit from being an intern in a working art organisation but I also gained valuable advice and mentorship from people who had already done what I had.

I did a huge variety of jobs whilst I was there but some of the highlights were looking through exhibition submissions and choosing artists for forthcoming exhibitions, filming and recording interviews for a private view showreel and designing the marketing material that eventually went to print.

The Way Forward (2012) Exhibition Flyer, designed by Vivienne Du

The Summer Lodge, NTU, Nottingham
(2 weeks)
As I mentioned above, my course was excellent when providing extra opportunities. Every year the members of staff run a two week artist residence in the university studios during the summer months. This residency brings together many of the lecturers and tutors on the course, local artists and graduates. As an intern, we were able to work side to side with those in the Nottingham art scene. One of the intriguing pleasures was working with tutors on your course and getting to learn about their practices and their working methods, it felt very much like a role reversal. At the end of the residency, every member and intern came together for a day long symposium that addressed some interesting issues of concern and debate. It was a fantastic series of discussions.

Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham
(3 months)
Having done internships with more familiar organisations, working at Nottingham Contemporary allowed me to get a completely new experience - one from a more established institution. Nottingham Contemporary is possibly the largest contemporary gallery in Nottingham, and getting an internship in their exhibitions department was a fantastic prospect. I was assigned to work specifically on their current exhibition Aquatopia, handling, organising and updating the status of over 100 artworks from galleries and museums alike. I was asked to correspond with the involved artists and intuitions. I did a bit of everything whilst working at this gallery, from hands-on installation and condition-checking of artworks, to sieving through artist submissions.

What I would suggest is taking any opportunity you can be offered. It may not be directly relevant to your practice but it really gives you a better understanding of the industry you want to work in, as well as the types of people you will be working with as an artist. Many internships no longer have the luxury of paying their interns anymore, but I wouldn't let this faze you. I have participated as a volunteer in a lot of unpaid jobs, and all of this amounts to a lot of experience on your artist CV.

REVIEW: [Dalston House] by Leandro Erlich @ Barbican

Dalston House by Leandro Erlich
Barbican Centre
26 June - 4 August 2013

I've always been a fan of interactive and participatory artworks and installations, and London's latest instalment Dalston House was just the type of work I love going to see. Having read about Leandro Erlich's work before, I was intrigued to experience his manipulation of visual and spatial dimensions in the flesh.

What struck me immediately was its nonchalant and honest simplicity. The first thing you see is the huge and imposing mirror, and in effect that is all there is to this illusion: the mirror. However I found myself drawn to the metal scaffolding holding the mirror up. Erlich has purposely allowed the viewer to be able to see the exposed mechanism behind the illusion. Nothing is concealed, there are no smoke and mirrors to the work's production. Every person participating in this work knows more or less how it works, how the illusion transpires and still...the magic and curiosity is still very much there. If anything, the pleasure received from the work is even more so somehow when you realise how straightforward it is in its construction.

People are always fascinated by their reflections. Even now when you see someone walk down the street and they catch their reflection in a mirror unexpectedly, they look intrigued or surprised as if seeing themselves for the first time. Seeing one's self allows an unusual, out of body semblance; an awareness of one's body and its ordinary constructs and restrictions in real time and space. Dalston House enables the impossible but not in actual physicality, just in the reflected image. Yet this is enough to reverse our rational understanding of our bodies and its capabilities. Participants became acrobats, superheroes, people with gravity defying abilities and contortions. Ironically enough, most viewers were adamantly trying to recreate a realistic portrayal of gravity, dangling upside down for example was popular, or sitting a window ledge from a seeming twenty or so feet off the ground. People were trying to create fantastical scenarios but within the realms of believable physics, as if this makes the illusion even more seductively deceptive. Creating a sub-real reality from the unreal. You get how it works, you see how it works, but you still find yourself staring at your own reflection thinking "I'm dangling upside down from a window ledge." You may know you're lying on the ground but this feels irrelevant when your body becomes the best full scale puppet you've ever had to play with.

It appears that Erlich's main intention is to encourage creativity and play within a collective group arena. It was an opportunity for imaginative activity where families, couples and groups came together to create the most original and inventive compositions. Anticipation was just as much a part of the work as the actual taking part, for those queuing would begin discussing their own grand master plans of what to perform next whilst observing those already doing so. The work becomes a playground for all ages, where all of a sudden anyone and everyone who approaches the work becomes a performer on a stage to be watched. It is just as enjoyable watching others perform as it is performing yourself.

Its placement on a sleepy London street means it could have been easily bypassed by anyone who didn't know it was there, suggesting that Erlich is trying to reiterate the spectacles we may find in the seemingly ordinary constructs of everyday life, easily missable if you don't care to look.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

tactile in texture

How do you define space?

Often I find this relentlessly perplexing. Space, to me is free, moving and fluctuating around us, it never holds any true form or dimension. I often experiment with the way in which space can be 'divided', how in which our perception of space can be manipulated through creating 'walls' within space.

What is a 'wall' and how can this represent solidness and physicality?

Because of this, I find myself drawn to materials that exist in a uncertain medium between opaqueness and transparency. There is always ambiguity, and I feel that my work should be an enquiry, a tool in which to allow people to question space in the same way. These tactile, moving, sensuous materials often allow me to play with this idea of the divide, of the barrier. Nothing is definite, nothing if finite or as simple as what you physically see. Is there such a thing as a barrier when space is constantly flowing around us. Is this actually a case of a somewhat mental barrier instead?

Reverse of Volume (2012) by Yasuaki Onishi
The Garden Document (2010) by Edith Maybin
Hero (2002) directed by Zhang YiMou

Sunday, 7 October 2012

a brush with space

Gregor Schneider

Walking in Contrapposto (1968) by Bruce Nauman

Walking in Contrapposto (1968) by Bruce Nauman

a route to nowhere

Ministry of Magic Set Design, Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix (2007) directed by David Yates

Resident Evil Retribution (2012) directed Paul W.S. Anderson

Sliding Doors (2003) by Carston Höller

Friday, 21 September 2012

[Blackout] WEYA @ Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham

As part of the World Event Young Artists Festival in Nottingham, the majority of art venues and galleries were getting involved in this huge event, with exclusive performances and showcases from a wide variety of artists. Nottingham Contemporary hosted the sensory experience of Blackout, described as "a rare opportunity to explore the potential of our minds. With sensory limitations placed on the artists and audience, cutting edge musicians play anonymously and are never revealed in the pitch black...leaving the crowd to personally explore the sensory interplay between their imagination and the music."

This sounded like a fantastic method of heightening senses, and producing an unusual platform to experience music and visual art. As with any type of artwork of this kind, there is always a trepidation in not knowing what to expect. The programme stated that the artist playing would also remain unknown and therefore there was no way of knowing what to prepare for, what may lie beyond the darkness.

When it came to actually entering the darkened space, ushered in one by one, the intensity of the dark is quite intimidating. I don't think anyone nearly expects darkness that is so pitch black that you literally cannot see your hand in front of your face. I realised that as soon as I entered the room and couldn't see, I was reaching out in front of me for someone, anyone. I felt comforted when I could feel my fingers brush across a complete stranger's back. There's an odd sense of reassurance. The expanse of black seemed so vast, and yet you feel trapped in a bubble, unable to reach anyone else, even though you can hear people around you. I think the most unnerving sensation throughout all of this is the sense of displacement. You cannot locate yourself in relation to anyone else or the space. You have no idea exactly how many people are sharing the space with you, and how close or far away they all are. It is rather disorientating. After a short period, as more and more viewers were entering, you could hear people sitting down, and I felt uneasy about what the appropriate behaviour was in this circumstance. I didn't know whether I was expected to sit, stand, walk, regardless that at this point I was much more comfortable standing still. I found that when I actually decided to sit down,  I felt a sense of relief. The ground seemed to give me a better sense of where I was, where I could sit and slowly move my arms around me. My biggest concern was whether people would bump or step into you unexpectedly, but surprisingly that didn't happen. Perhaps everyone was staying still.

As your eyes begin to adjust to the space, you begin to make out very vague outlines, shapes, and these were from high above the space, in the ceiling where I suppose they couldn't eliminate all sources of light, however dull it was. The effect of darkness still was extreme during the whole performance. When the music started, it was not what I had expected. From the description in the progamme, I expected there to be noises, sounds, music coming from all sides, from above, below, and in reality the performer was obviously staged in one spot behind a huge screen. This ruined the effect quite a bit for me. The music was loud, but I didn't feel completely immersed. Maybe the intention was not to disorientate, but to allow the viewer to come to a calm, blank state where they could focus on the music completely. Even so, throughout the performance, people were murmuring, which made the intention of isolation through the use of darkness not as successful. I could understand what was trying to be achieved, but I was a little disappointed.

When the anonymous performer finished, light began to slowly gather behind the screen, like the sun rising. Slowly, you could make out the people all around you, and it was as if the space and audience was revealed. This was a transition from one performer to another. Shortly after, the huge projection screen lit up with intense colour, and this I think was the most wonderful moment of the whole performance. The change from complete darkness, to almost blinding colour was magnificent. It reminded me briefly of Olafur Eliasson's Weather Project in the Turbine Hall, how everyone was suddenly bathed in light, from one source.

What followed was artist Mark Colasso performing an electronic audio-visual performance using sensors and digital instruments. The work is stated to be an "exploration of the frequencies connecting the world and its inhabitants, and the relationships that occur between them. The audio technology piece named "Because" uses DIY instruments and extemporisation from the human to reflect the rhythms of life. Colasso's musical display was innovative and enrapturing, the space transformed into a theater in seconds, and when I looked round, people were lying on their backs, sat down, bathed in light and sound that was coming from the screen.

QSG Quad Soundscape Generator Technology performed by Mark Colasso

Mark Colasso states that by using this technology, he is able to "play with different modes of listening, different attitudes in sound perception.  I use a wide a palette of sounds, ranging from the artificial to the real world, from real to imaginary spaces, play with connotative, evocative power of a 'soundmark' or 'soundscape' to the particular beauty that can give a composition with abstract sounds which cannot be related to their causes or generation."

From sensory deprivation to sensory overload, it was quite an experience. Not quite one I had expected, but with the growing number of performances and installations experimenting with the senses, there certainly won't be a lack of artworks to compare to.

Speaking of darkness, a recent Tate Modern innovation caught my attention. Light artist Olafur Eliasson, brought a new project to the Tate, transforming floors of the gallery into full darkness, accompanied only by small solar powered lights dubbed "little suns". It included spaces for viewers to create light graffiti, learn about solar power and short films on light and life. Using the old converted factory as a venue for "blackout" walks sounded like an amazing concept. Viewing the gallery in darkness, seeing the artworks with only small torches seemed a real feat of audience experience.

Little Sun (2012) by Olafur Eliasson & Frederik Ottesen

Perhaps it is only in darkness, when our realities are masked, that we are able to really listen, really see, really feel, really touch and really experience the world around us.