Tuesday, October 14, 2008

FRIEZE WEEK 2008

FRIEZE 2008: THE GALLERY RECAP
written by
Ashley Eldridge-Ford in London

Josiah McElheny, Island Universe
White Cube, London


The run up to Frieze Art Fair began last night with openings at White Cube Hoxton Square and the Victoria Miro Gallery. The venues were busy, both inside and out and gave an energetic but laid-back foretaste of the upcoming the week.
Josiah McElheny's Island Universe (until 15 November) at White Cube was his second with the gallery. The ground floor was host to a series of five sculptural installations that are exploding scientifically accurate models of the Big Bang theory. Each piece is made from highly reflective chrome-plated aluminum, with rods of varying length that radiate from a central sphere. Each rod is completed by a cluster of objects such as smaller rods topped by hand-made glass discs and globes or a single light.

His influence seems to have come from the chandelier designs of JL Lobmeyr, specifically those in the Metropolitan Opera House. The design of these chandeliers and the discovery of the first data supporting the Big Bang theory both occurred in 1965 and McElheny considers that the conjunction 'of these two events in the same year is representative of a time when our understanding of modernity started to fall apart, to be replaced by a new set of narratives.' Just quite what these new narratives are is not expounded in this exhibition.

These sculptural chandeliers were created with the collaboration of cosmologist, David Weinberg: the varying lengths of the rods are based on measurements of time, the clusters of glass discs and spheres accurately represent the clustering galleries in the universe and the light bulbs mimic the brightest objects that exist: quasars (powerful and distant active galactic nuclei that are beautiful colourful explosions of shapes and light). These five sculptural installations are what cosmologists call 'The Multiverse', which are a set of variations and materialisations of other potential universes.
The upstairs gallery displays a film that is divided in five parts, each named after of the varied types of Multiverses displayed below and the theoretical structure of each element, such as Small Scale Violence, Frozen Structure and Late Emergence. The film pans around the Lobmeyr chandeliers and gives intimate close ups that reveal clustered dust motes that shiver with a breeze or a breath of air.

The soundtrack was commissioned from Paul Sch├╝tze, the Australian ambient and electro-acoustic musician. It is an ambivalent soundtrack with piercing sporadic notes and repetitive rhythm that might be better suited in the build-up to a particularly gory scene in a horror film. The filmed scenes are not flowing or linked, they are rather pieced together focuses on one or another of the chandeliers or the choreographed movement of them as they are lowered and raised. The short sharp switches are in harmony with the musical score only in this malcoordinated respect. The choreographed movement of the chandeliers were quite beautiful, as were the scenes when the lights have just been switched on or off and the bulbs glow within their mass of glass from the centre of darkness. These effects highlight the possibility of the beauty of the pieces in the room below.
I thought that the sculptural installations would have been more beautiful in a dimmed light within the gallery so that the sculptures could better be seen for their inherent beauty as representations of possible universes. This is what comes across more from the exhibition, after all. These pieces have been created as works of art that merge with metaphysics but also works of art that merge with design.

Are they stronger as pieces of design for their metaphysical representation? The works on their own without any additional information are merely intricately constructed lights that make one question whether there is any existing line between art and design these days. Is White Cube showing works of design written up as art? What makes these pieces and this exhibition art? Yet again we are left with the answer that these pieces are Art because of the concept behind them. I am unconvinced by the film being classified as art, it has none of the marriage with the music that one would like - so that at least it would feel as though the edited shots and the music had been coordinated within the same piece, even if discordent. There is the distinct feeling that the filmic shots are doing one thing whilst the music quite another. The Island Universe pieces downstairs are conceptually interesting but as lights, not as beautiful to look at as the Lobmeyr chandeliers subject of the film upstairs.
Emgreen & Dragset, Too Late
Victoria Miro, London


Victoria Miro opened Emgreen & Dragset's latest exhibition Too Late last night also (until 15 November). With the announcement of the winner last Saturday night of the architecturally renown Sterling Prize, my consideration of the importance of buildings for their influence on society and social behaviour is heightened.

Paraphrasing presenter Kevin McCloud, what if a building could change the society surrounding it, those who use the spaces every day, for the better? Wouldn't that be indicative of the power that a building can have and justify its creation more so than to merely look good? This has made me ponder the role that art can play within society. Wouldn't it be incredible if art could do something similar on such a large scale?

Not only do the buildings that were nominated for the Sterling Prize, and so many other buildings, put architects in raptures but they also have a direct effect on the general public. Frieze Week with all of its various activities and exhibitions taking place throughout London is important for all of those actively involved with it. Does it touch in any way those not in the art world and those not interested in the art world? People do not walk around with their eyes shut, hence they are bound at some point to see the buildings around them.

Likewise, I would like to argue with art. However, perhaps both can be missed if the person looking is not sufficiently aware of their surrounding? Is the appreciation of the Arts therefore dependent on awareness?

Elmgreen & Dragset use 'design and space to influence and reflect social conventions and behavioural patterns'. The architectural interior of the Victoria Miro Gallery has been transformed by their several interconnecting large-scale installations. Throughout mid-November the gallery is to appear as 'The Mirror' representative of a party that has ended long before with lights still blinking and a solitary disco ball spinning above an empty dance floor.

Too Late
reflects on the loss of common social ground through greater government controls and restrictions - from licensing and smoking laws, stringent surveillance to economic exclusion - and personal interaction minimised and stunted by - paradoxically - increasingly alienating online platforms such as Myspace, Facebook and Gaydar.

The artists intention with this installation is the 'reversal of the gentrification process and a disruption of socially sanctioned ways of behaviour'. Unlike the nominated buildings for the Sterling Prize, this exhibition is more of a strongly worded critique of contemporary social culture rather than an opportunity to rectify and influence it for the positive.

Although, perhaps one could leave and feel additionally buoyed up as one gets carried away with the hubub of Frieze Week that does somewhat put into question the truth suggested in this exhibition. If anything, the exhibition enables us to find a common social ground - are we not all there for the same reason: to look at art? We are part of the art world and as such art influences us through every interaction we have with it. Will it influence society? Doubtful.

However, our feelers are up and as we trawl London from East to West, we will be on the lookout to see whether it might. Certainly the popularity of Frieze and its satellite fairs, as well as the exhibitions and installations that take place during this period are indicative of the social change that took place in London - our city's very own Big Bang commenced with the launch of Frieze.

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