Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Grand Tour: The Arsenale in Venice, Italy

written by Ashley Eldridge-Ford

Needless to say, The Grand Tour 2007 (for me, sadly, only at this point encompassing Venice and Basel), was fantastic. Predominantly because it reinvigorated my perception of the contemporary art market. Having arrived within the first week, there was, of course, much to see and much to do. Having only two full days, I restricted my viewing to predominantly the main sections of the biennale - the Giardini and the Arsenale, both curated by the director, Robert Storr. If I had been lucky enough to have had a few more days there, I would dearly have liked to have explored the numerous other pavilions that are scattered throughout Venice. 'Think with the Senses - Feel with the Mind. Art in the Present Tense', showing in the Arsenale was an incredibly interesting, absorbing exhibition (if one can label such a wide variety under one collective).

Gabriele Basilico
Beirut 1991
9 fotografie / 9 pictures
Pure pigmented print.
Courtesy dell’artista e Studio Guenzani, Milano

The first installation of artwork to fully catch my attention was that of Gabriele Basilico whose series of photographs, 'Beirut' (2007) reminded me almost instantly of the work of the Australian photographer, Simryn Gill. What calls to mind this comparison is the sense of beauty in decay and destruction. Basilico's photographs contain shots of buildings pockmarked with bullets or buildings that looks as though they have exploded internally. One has the distinct impression that the buildings and the streets were once very beautiful. What is poignant and sad is that one remembers how this city has already built itself up from the ruins of war once before and how it has once again been reduced to squalor and rubble. As with Gill's work, the ugly offensive (such as bullet holes peppering exterior walls) becomes inherently beautiful due to a stillness, an absence (of humankind) and a subsequent timelessness enhanced by the immortality of these buildings.

Yang Fudong
Seven Intellectuals in Bamboo Forest, Part 1
Pellicola da 35mm, bianco e nero / 35mm film, black and white
Durata / Duration 29’
Courtesy of the author

A second series of work that quickened my pace from room to room is the film series by young Chinese film artist, Yang Fudong, entitled 'Seven Intellectuals in Bamboo Forest' (2003 - 07). The film is based on the history of seven talented intellectuals - poets and artists - in the Chinese ancient Wei and Jin Dynasty. Open and unruly, they used to gather and drink in the bamboo forest, singing songs and playing traditional Chinese musical instruments in the hope to escape from the earthly life. They pursued individuality, freedom and liberty. Their remarkable talent and passion made them a notable group in Chinese history. Hauntingly re-interpreted, there are seven films in total, each shot on 35mm black and white film. The detail and choreography therein is exquisite and I was only disappointed to discover that the final two were closed upon my arrival (being dispersed in separate video chambers throughout the exhibition).

Emily Prince
American Servicemen and Women Who Have Died in Iraq and Afghanistan (But Not Including the Wounded, Nor the Iraqis nor the Afghanis)
2004 fino ad oggi / to the present
Matita su pergamena colorata / Pencil on color coated vellum
Progetto composto da circa 3,800 disegni da aggiungere giornalmente / Project comprised of approximately 3,800 drawings to be added to daily
Ogni Immagine / Each image: 4 x 3 in. / 10.2 x 7.6 cm.
In totale / Overall: 300 x 540 in. / 762 x 1371.6 cm.
© Emily Prince
Courtesy of the artist and Kent Gallery, New York

Emily Prince's 'American servicemen and women who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan (but not including the wounded, nor Iraqis, nor the Afghans)' (2004) was evocative and effective in bringing home to the viewer the number of US casualties. The installation piece contains 10x8cm cards containing delicate pen and ink drawings. What is evocative and moving is that each card contains a portrait of the serviceman or woman killed and a sentence that describes a part of them - that makes them human and familiar: ' He was a good footballer'; 'Father to a two-year-old daughter', etc. Opposite the piece, that takes up an entire wall, was a glass vitrine that I longed to penetrate, in which an index box contains the names of every person, I presume, who was on the wall. Those done by Prince create a brief catalogue of their life as well as of their death.

Jason Rhoades
Installazione / Installation views
CAC Malaga
Courtesy: David Zwirner Gallery

Jason Rhoades 'Tijuanatanjiechandelier' (2006) was a veritable feast for the eyes and one's imagination. A room is dedicated to a host of paraphernalia lining the floor and suspended in dread-locked clusters from the ceiling. Beds with colourful rugs encouraged those brave enough to take in such a hodge-podge of material to lie down and stare up and around at the installation. Neon-lit words, feathers, bowls, masks, lamps, plastic dolls, hats, a dog jacket, shells, etc. fight for definition. The effect is loud and encourages exploration.

Sophie Whettnall
Shadow Boxing
Proiezione video / video projection
3min, 16mm on dvd
Photo of video projection by Peter Duhon

Sophie Wettnall's 'Shadow Boxing' (2004) stood out. An interesting intestinal-squirming video piece shows a bald-headed man air boxing either side, and within inches of, a stationary, unmoving female figure who wears a fitted patterned dress. At one stage I decided that the two figures must be superimposed but then I began to notice how the female figure's hair is swotted by the fist rushing through the air around her head. She almost looks bored.

Faustin Titi e Eyoum Ngangué
Une éternité à Tanger(detail)
46 tavole a colori in formato A3 / 46 Coulored Tables in A3 size.
Acquerelli e pennarello su carta /Watercolour and felt-tip pen on paper.
Courtesy: Africa e Mediterraneo

Eyoum Ngangué and Faustin Titi's 'Une éternitè à Tangers (2003). This is a harrowing cartoon style strip dealing directly with the difficulties and dangers facing the emigrants from Africa who attempt to enter Europe where they imagine and dream a better life awaits them. We read frequently (until it fell from front page news) here in the UK that the Canary Islands have become a favoured destination for African emigrants seeking to make it to Europe to look for work. Illegal immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa have increasingly chosen a sea route to the Canary Islands over the last two years, especially since Madrid tightened security around two Spanish enclaves in North Africa that were being used as a bridge into Europe. In 2006, 30,259 illegal immigrants arrived in the Canary Islands by sea, according to Spanish government figures.

Christian Capurro
Another Misspent Portrait of Etienne de Silhouette
85 x 60 cm
Courtesy of the Artist

Christian Capurro et al 'Another Misspent Portrait of Etienne de Silhouette' (1999 - 2007) is an interesting piece. Created with the help of 260 people from all walks of life, each was asked to completely and anonymously erase with a rubber one page of an approximately 246-page Vogue Hommes (September 1986, #92) magazine, with Sylvester Stallone on the cover. They were each asked to write in pencil on the page the time it took them to erase the page (the shortest time being 9 minutes while the longest was beyond 3.5 hours) and whatever monetary value translated into an hourly rate they currently received for their time. As a result, each page has a nominal 'value' based on the sum of these indices. The dollar value accrued 'on' each page ranges from nothing, in a number of instances (some contributors were receiving no calculable money for their time), to one page 'worth' over USD$1,000. Taken together the accumulated monetary value of all these peoples' pages proposes a value, of sorts, for the work as a whole. The finished 'work' (the erased copy of Vogue Hommes was presented within a glass vitrine, soft and white, like a Claus Oldenburg version of a magazine.

Nedko Solakov
Discussion (Property) 2007
Detail of “5,56 x 45 mm AR–M9 with UBGL-M6” from 12 life-size drawings of recently manufactured Bulgarian assault rifles,
executed by Mihaela Vlaseva and Svetozara Alexandrova, charcoal and white chalk on paper
76 x 112 cm ciascuno / each
Photo by Angel Tzvetanov
Courtesy the artist, Galerie Arndt & Partner, Berlin/Zurich and Galleria Continua, San Gimignano/Beijing. © Nedko Solakov.

Of note also was Nedko Solakov's 'Discussion (Property)' (2007), Malick Sidibé 'L'Afrique chante contre le SIDA (Portraits)' (2005).

The Africa Pavilion, 'Check List Luanda Pop', was an interesting exhibition of work from some artists originating from Africa - and this is my biggest criticism of it: there were pieces therein by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol as well. Could the wall space not better have been used for artists working out of Africa who have no means by which to get the international exposure such an event as the Venice Biennale gives? Haven't Basquiat and Warhol exhausted our sensibilities? I had envisaged the essence behind the Africa Pavilion would be to act as a mouthpiece for the artwork originating from Africa by those whose voices are too weak to be heard being drowned out by the international art market and art institutions. Why always the Big Names? Here was a unique opportunity and yet again the work of Yinka Shonibare is there - yes, tick. Kendell Greers? Yes, tick. Whilst obviously these two artists' work is essential for summing up the struggle of African art to achieve international recognition and to be housed at the Venice Biennale and in the Arsenale no less, but, a foothold is a foothold and once a grip has been found perhaps complete originality should come rushing forth rather than the predictable?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


written by Don Porcella in New York

Scope Hamptons has inspired some offshoot art shows and galleries and this year was no exception. Among them were the Salomon Contemporary and the McNeil Group who held events in Wainscott close to the Scope Hamptons event. Both galleries had booths at the fair but chose to heighten the experience and exposure as they offered an offsite art event. Another art event that was in the vicinity of Scope Hamptons was a group show of 6 artists called Bonac Tonic, which I participate in as an artist, at the Wainscott Chapel. The show was curated by local artist Grant Haffner from the Bonac Tonic Art Collective of the East End. Below are a few pictures from the Bonac Tonic show:

“Car Sculpture” by Carly Haffner playfully dominated the entry way of the space.
Later in the evening, lights illuminated the sculpture and it took on an even more mysterious and foreboding tone.

Wonderfully creative illustrations and paintings by Justin Smith.

Innovative sculpture that incorporates found art and woodworking

to create magnificent sculptural objects with a deeper message.

Encaustic Painting by Don Porcella

A hidden gem in the show.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Art Comments | Visual Arts Review

Blind Light: Anthony Gormley at The Hayward

written by ashley eldridge-ford in london

Fending off a nasty cold this weekend, I visited the Hayward with a friend of mine from Paris. Having had to book a time slot for entry earlier in the week, I was still surprised at the number of people queuing outside the gallery. It transpired that the queue was for those unfortunates who had not had the foresight or tip-off to book in advance. So much for public spaces appealing to the spontaneity of the general public. No wonder people consider art as an elitist past time when it’s only those in the know and who know better (on the whole those already in the art world or connected to it however tenuously) and who are given the speedy right of entry. 3pm and in we go. In my humble opinion, the Hayward is a difficult space in which to show artwork.

I have seen some exhibitions that have worked extremely well in the space (Jean Lartigue and Roy Lichtenstein are two that come to mind immediately) and others not so much. I would say that for an exhibition of Gormley’s work that, the Hayward hasdone the best possible within the restrictions of the space (making use of the dead space running opposite a stairwell or a wall that sits between the door exiting on to an exterior deck and the upstairs exhibition rooms, a wall perpendicular to the stairwell). However, I would say that the main visitor attraction, Blind Light (2007), sits right bang in the middle of a raised open-plan room and somewhat detracts from the other pieces that sit in the immediate entrance space (that runs by ramp up to the raised open-plan room) to the left and also the water colour drawings that run the length of said open-plan space. This is predominantly because the main source of light emanates from said work and the eye is therefore immediately drawn to it. This piece in fact, paradoxically, dwarfs the first piece to the left of the entrance, Space Station (2007). It is a 27-ton porous corten mild steel structure that, in Gormely’s words, “conjures a dark, labyrinthine, prison-like space but also has the feeling of a sieve, of something perceptually open. Looking through the peepholes into the interior spces of the boxes, we find strange places that are disorientating yet familiar.” One is meant to see the compressed foetal form of the human body and also the collective city environment in its densest form. In part, the latter explanation is easier to interpret. Although the exhibition as a whole explores both the human body and architecture - their relation to one another and independence from one another also – this is the only piece in which I can see no emergence of both, despite Gormley’s suggestions. Architecturally, the piece reminds me of the lit windows one sees at night when living in Manhattan and it is more in the rendering in the accompanying exhibition guide that one is best able to see a layering of block-like shapes, like the ancient computer game, Tetras, that look similar to the grid-streets and apartments and offices in Manhattan. I suppose one could argue that as buildings are constructed for man that man would therefore be at the heart of all buildings and subsequently at the heart of this artwork. In all honesty, I paid this piece very little attention upon entry into the exhibition; I turned my attention rather, firstly, to the work to my right, Allotment II (1996).

Three hundred life-size reinforced concrete units are placed within one room. Each concrete block represents the individual measurements and vital statistics of the inhabitants, aged between eighteen months and eighty years, of Malmö, Sweden. I was struck by several parallels when walking between these ‘figures’. One of the thoughts was that it was like being at an art opening with all these figures filling a space but frozen in time; the other is that these ‘works of art’ are records of the individuals who took part in the project and inadvertently are pre-tombstones. Despite the stillness, the piece is filled with life. It’s partly that they represent life but also that those who were within the room found the pieces really playful. It made me realise why Gormley’s works are so loved by the public. One begins to play games: try to match your height to a concrete representation; find the smallest (the eighteen-month old); the tallest – it encourages immediate involvement. I found myself rather enjoying the process of finding a quiet corner. Would these pieces be as playful and perhaps poignant if we were not aware that they were the record of individual people? No, I don’t think so. As works of art on their own merit they are below interesting but once one knows their raison d’etre, subtle interactions between the pieces emerge and one looks to find different means by which to engage with them.

Antony Gormley, Blind Light 2007
Photograph by Stephen White

One rather dull element of this exhibition is the fact that queues play a large part of it. The queue to enter Blind Light stretched three quarters of the way around the 10 x 10 metre square enclosure. Pumped full of moist air through ultrasonic humidifiers, one cannot see more than two feet before oneself. From outside waiting to go in, it is strange to realise that the figures who emerge through the fog cannot see at all that they are as close to the glass as we can see they are. It also becomes apparent at figures walk towards and almost collide with one another, that they cannot see one another either. We are in a strange position of being able to see those who in turn cannot see. A number of people knocked on the glass or placed their hand against the glass upon realising that there were people outside looking in at them. It looked like a need for acknowledgement on their part – that there is a world outside or that they are not alone. We entered into the fog when our turn came about and we almost instantaneously lost all sense of exterior space – i.e. where the parameters were, where the exit was, where other people might be. Figures emerged from out of the fog, their arms and fingers outstretched as much as my own but we would realise our proximity to one another at the very last minute and skirt past one another. Despite being so very unaware of space, it also made us very much more aware of other people’s personal space – or the need not to enter into either theirs or them into ours. There is a fragment of a second when the chances we would intrude are likely but as the figures materialise at just the right moment; this chance collision is always just kept at bay. Even when coming into contact with the glass walls, it is really difficult to ascertain whether one is at a corner or facing a wall of glass. My friend didn’t enjoy the sensation of being lost and found that interacting with people upon happening upon them was a reassurance – that he would be able to find his way out, that he wasn’t going to succumb to the sensation of being lost forever. I rather enjoyed the moments when I disappeared and was isolated. I quite liked to stand still and let everyone else move and grope their way through the fog around me. What was curious was that outside of the glass box people had not spoken to one another in the queue but when we were all within the fogged space, we had no qualms talking with one another – excusing ourselves predominantly - girls shrieked, people laughed and called to each other. All this noise and movement within such a small space with such quiet and decorum without was fascinating. I think that people’s different reactions to being within the space make for interesting viewing and contemplation – some within held on to one another, not wanting to lose the person with whom they entered, others entered as though on military operation (thus causing my friend to tag on to their knowledgeable-sounding crew so as to guarantee swift location of the exit), others still who were quite content to walk until either a person or a glass wall stopped them. I think if one thinks about some of the issues the artworks aims to raise that it is important to recognise that the artwork does indeed comment on human beings and raises the opportunity for us to examine how we interact both within and without the space. To look at this perhaps more broadly, how, within a city, we interact within and without the spaces – buildings or openair - that we enter, pass through and exit every day. Who and what we are or become as we commute through these passages.

Antony Gormley, Allotment II, 1996
Photograph by Stephen White

Another work worth noting on the ground floor is Sense (1991), a concrete geometrical block in which concrete has been formed around a life-size wax mould of the artists body using the ‘lost wax’ casting technique. Once the wax had melted and poured out, a body-shaped void was left within the block. Looking down into the block allows us to only see what would be the crown of the head, the space the head would occupy and then the darkness in which the body shaped cavity had been recorded. The only visible imprint is left by the hands pushing up against the side of the block against which the artist had been hunkering down and pressing his face against, so to speak.

Antony Gormley, Space Station, 2007
Photograph by Stephen White

The second floor galleries have some interesting works on show. There are a number that are not what I would choose to remember or discuss but Matrices and Expansions (2006 – 07) are works that I would. Created from stainless steel, Gormley has taken the human figure as the nucleus and axis out from which extend what look like geometric grids and lines that create striking polyheydron patterns in space – suspended geometric drawings. They are really hard to describe and Gormley in fact explains them rather well, ‘Neither architecture not anatomy’, they are ‘more like the random matrices found in fractal geometry.’ He calls them the “bubble matrix” series and has stated that this ‘is the closest I get to Brancusi’s notion that you can turn an object into light. He did it by polishing sculptures, whereas I have tried to do it by abandoning weight and mass and dissolving surface.’ The pieces are excellently crafted and thought through. The central figures can take a little time to emerge and are beautifully surprising when they do. Perhaps these pieces comment more on the space surrounding them, the space taken up by a dynamism suggested by the lines emanating from them of which they are the source. It is, of course, however, the lack of a solid body at the centre but merely its suggestion that begs the question of whether these transmissions relate to the energy we transmit and our imprint on the space around us. The photographs, Quads (1979 – 2007) were of interest because it was possible on occasion to see where Gormley may have gleaned some of the ideas for pieces in the exhibition. Drawn (2000/7) was a playful piece with eight identical figures legs spread-eagle and arms raised directly above the head. The figures appear to be holding the ceiling and floor in place, pushing against both and placed with each of the four corners of the room. I would very much have liked to have seen Hatch (2007) but again, the queue wound three quarters around the room and I couldn’t face another queue. Perhaps because I didn’t experience it from the inside this piece has left me cold; it has been created so called ‘porous’ in that endoscopic tubes act like maze walls around which a visitor inside must navigate whilst being spied on through these tubes by those standing (and waiting) outside. Without having been within, I found this piece quite disinteresting.

Antony Gormley, Hatch 2007
Photograph by Stephen White

Finally, outside of the Hayward Gallery there was an extremely interesting commissioned installations involving the city of London: life-size figure casts of Gormley’s body are placed on rooftops and walkways both north and south of the Thames over a 1.5 sq kilometre area. All the figures face toward the gallery’s sculpture terraces, which act as viewing platforms. Whereas one might take a look at the city of London from these terraces on a visit to the Hayward, this installation encourages and inspires one to interact with the city and one’s surrounds. These solitary and still figures in a bustling and crowded city create an occasion for meditation. Looking out over the vista, I found my eye was instantly on the hunt to locate as many silhouettes as I could. Of course, the more I looked, the more I saw. Where before I had looked at buildings in their own right, on this occasion the buildings served no other purpose but to be the instrument from which to show these figures - like plinths. It leads one to consider the function of architecture – the importance of the human figure in their configuration, design and construction. These buildings that were constructed to house the human form are here supporting a representation of them. I began to think about our influence on the design and construction of buildings – the importance of our dimensions in their construction in either grand buildings or small ones – from the attention to detail – a door handle, or the lip of a step, the manner in which two walls meet. These details may have been designed for the architect’s pleasure but they are still designed to please the human eye. All that is exterior that we experience has relevance and can be referenced to us because we are experiencing it. We are as much at the centre of all we see and do as we choose to be and perhaps more so.

View of Event Horizon, part of Antony Gormley: Blind Light with The Hayward.
Photo Credit: Gautier Deblonde

I had not anticipated that I would find so much to provoke my thoughts and the exhibition is good in two ways: a means to entertain the family and the kids on a Saturday afternoon but also as an occasion in which to stop and think – without sounding too trite - about our daily existence within architectural structures, our existence within a city, within our bodies. These are each ‘houses’ through which we pass and we left the exhibition with much to discuss, taking the conversation and discussion home to my architect boyfriend.

Anthony Gormley

Blind Light

The Hayward

17 May – 19 August 2007