Saturday, 23 April 2011

Miro at Tate Modern

The Farm, 1921-22

I wrote a long piece about the Miro exhibition only to have it disappear when Blogger closed down for routine maintenance... but never mind. I will write the gist of it again. I'm not a huge fan of surrealism in general but I did enjoy this exhibition. I do love Miro's colour schemes and the symbols he used in his work. I was surprised by how quickly his surrealist style developed, the first image I saw in the exhibition was quite literal and not abstracted much at all. In the space of a couple years Miro's painting radically altered. Miro lived through turbulent times and kept returning to themes of his Catalan identity, using imagery such as his family farm and Catalan peasants in his work. He considered his painting The Farm to be a breakthrough in his work, calling it 'a resume of my entire life in the country.'

The Head of a Catalan Peasant, 1924

The exhibition guide informed me that this piece can be seen as a displaced self-portrait, and an act of defiance against Miguel Primo de Rivera who staged a military coup in Spain and proceeded to suppress Catalan identity, even forcing limitations on the use of the Catalan language.

The Conductor, 1976, Intaglio print on paper

My favourite parts of the exhibition were (not too surprisingly) the prints. In them Miro's work becomes very pictoral, with large fields of colour and simplified forms.

The Barcelona Series, 1944

The most impressive part of the exhibition in my mind was the Barcelona Series, a collection of over 50 lithographs spanning the adjoining wall of two gallery spaces. Although only printed in 1944 they were initially created in 1939 against the backdrop of Hitler's invasion of Poland and the escalating conflict in Europe. Miro was living in France at this time. These lithographs show an array of ogres and dictators as well as the victims of conflict.

The Barcelona Series, 1944

Individually these lithographs are not particularly large but the collective effect of 50 of them shown together is overwhelming. The individual images are full of turmoil and confusion but the pieces are hung in an ordered grid shape.

Blue triptych, 1961-62

A lot of this exhibition was devoted to Miro's ceramics and sculptural pieces which I will not write about here. This triptych had an entire room to itself and was quite an experience! It was like swimming in colour. I found it very relaxing to sit there surrounded by blue. There was another triptych that was white, that I was less interested in because it seemed to fade into the walls which were also white.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

In what ways are artists working with both the concept and the reality of the crowd, and what does this mean for the plight of the individual?

Antony Gormley, Domain Field, 2003

Productivity in the print rooms ground to a halt in March as we were writing our main essays for the course. I have been looking at identity and the crowd but feeling a bit all over the place, its hard to know what research is relevant until you have the benefit of hindsight. This essay was a chance to collect and review ideas in depth as well as maybe gain some kind of order in my work, which I feel has been a little chaotic. I have been reading books such as After Identity by Jonathan Rutherford, and I am finding it very difficult to link the academic and the visual aspects of my research. I suppose this is the most basic problem faced by every visual communicator responding to a brief (even if they set the brief themselves, as is the case here).

Antony Gormley, American Field, 1991

For my essay I looked at 3 case contemporary artists, Antony Gormley, Ai Weiwei and Spencer Tunick. They each explore the themes of identity and crowds in their work, although their starting points and ambitions are very different. One of my tutors also pointed out that each of these artists rely on other people to produce their artwork, so the identity of the makers is sacrificed in a way the identity of the artist never is. For example, American Field by Antony Gormley was created by an extended family of bricklayers in Mexico. There are around 40,000 clay figures, each one unique. In earlier versions of Field Antony Gormley 'finished' the figures by poking the eyes himself. American Field relied on collective making by individuals responding to a set of basic instructions provided by the artist.

Ai Weiwei, Sunflower Seeds, Tate Modern Turbine Hall, 2010-2011

Ai Weiwei's work has many layers. I'm not going to rehash my entire essay but one thing I did find interesting was in an interview for the exhibition catalog Ai talks about the idea that in China objects are mass produced for the west without an understanding of the context for what these objects are intended.

Spencer Tunick at Newcastle Gateshead 2005

Spencer Tunick creates large installations of naked figures. His work explores our relationship with our surroundings. His installations take place in cities such as in the image above, which was for his 2005 exhibition. Tunick states that the intended audience for his work is the participant. All films and photos documenting the installations and shown in galleries after the event are a by product of the actual artwork. He aims to create ties in communities. Personally I find this image and the others on his website ( both amazing and disturbing. There is something vulnerable about mass nudity, and especially when the individuals are lying down or are piled up on each other. In the documentary for this event you see the odd clothed individual with a megaphone herding the participants. There is a certain tension there which is a little uncomfortable.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Mezzotint Cloth Studies

Cloth 1, March 2011
Cloth 2, March 2011
Cloth 3, March 2011

I have been making these mezzotints throughout march, they are very, very small and its difficult to see what you're doing. I love the moment after I've inked the plate, when I gently wipe away the excess ink and the image is revealed to me for the first time.

I have been working with themes of identity and the crowd, and after my mid term review I decided I needed to take a bit of a break from working on images of people, and do something a little bit more intimate. I showed these in a crit recently, and it was commented that they seem to have little relationship to the ideas and research I've been working on up to now - quite true! I think sometimes its healthy to take a bit of a break. I probably will not return to mezzotint this year, although I find it a very calming and beautiful medium, I just can't see it fitting in with what I'm doing at this stage.

Tate Modern: Ai Weiwei's Sunflower Seeds

Ai Weiwei exhibited Sunflower Seeds as part of the Unilever Series in the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern. Ai deals with the theme of individualism in society, particularly in the context of modern China. I found this work interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, because it was created by several families in a village in China renowned for its porcelain making. It made me think about skills that have been useful in the past but maybe now are less in demand, or have perhaps been replaced by machinery. Secondly this work was intended to be viewed in two ways, up close or from the Turbine Hall bridge. By the time I saw the exhibition people were no longer allowed to walk on top of the installation due to health concerns about the porcelain dust. I thought that was pretty interesting... the intention to have the public interact with the artwork, but to be censored in the end by safety regulations.

Camberwell 12/12 show and Mid Term Review

We recently had an interim show at the House gallery in Camberwell, which doubled as our mid term review.

This etching is the piece I submitted for review, which takes the form of 10 minutes of discussion of your work among your peers, during which you are not allowed to speak, followed by someone reading a statement prepared by you, outlining what you hoped your work would convey.

This piece was not well received. I was surprised by the strength of negative opinion towards it, however I will say that the criticism was constructive. Among the things pointed out were:

If it is a crowd scene, why are there so few people?
There is no real subject matter or focal point, and your eye simply skirts across the image and off the end.
The background makes the whole image look flat.
It looks like a test piece.
The issue of size, this image is slightly larger than an A4 piece of paper, people felt I should work much larger.

Certainly gave me a lot to think about!

Victoria and Albert Museum: Shadow Catchers, Camera-less photography

Susan Derges, Vessel No. 3(1), 1995

The Shadow Catchers exhibition at the V&A showed work from five artists who share similar mediums. In terms of variety of technique, this is similar to me saying "they are all painters" or "they make sculpture", each of the artists approached the medium in very different ways. Processes included in this exhibition were: Photogram, Chemigram, Digital C-Print, Dye Construction print, Gelatin Silver Print, and Luminogram. My interest was mainly in the photograms, which are made by placing an object next to light sensitive paper in the dark, and then briefly exposing both the paper and the object to the light. Where the object and the paper touch, either a full or partial shadow is recorded. I found the photograms especially interesting because they involved physical contact with the object; the shadow left behind is like a memory of what was there.

Susan Derges, River Taw

Susan Derges captures nature. Images featured in this exhibition were of frog spawn and frozen rivers, waves, and more imaginative images pieced together from various other pictures. I liked the works taken from life. The images of the River Taw were created by holding a piece of light sensitive paper underneath the water, and quickly exposing it to the light of a torch. These frozen moments combine an imaginative world with the physical world. They are both dynamic and still.

Floris Neususs, Untitled, Berlin, 1962

There were a couple of these floating nudes in the exhibition. I enjoyed their dreamlike quality, and the variation in shadow that suggests the gentle curves of the subject. The identity of the person is removed and the figure becomes a simplified mass, which I found made it more enjoyable to notice the delicate detail of the hair and the toes. Although the images were made with the subject lying on the floor, the resulting image could be one of floating or falling.

Floris Neususs, Be Right Back, Installation, 1984

Actually took me a little while to notice this, and when I did it gave me a jump! This piece acknowledges that the making of a photogram is a sort of performance. The title of this piece becomes more pertinent the longer time passes. I found it quite amusing at first, but it also made me think about absence. This is a great example of the photogram's capability to capture a memory of an object!

Pierre Cordier, Chemigram 8/2/61, 1961

I thought this piece was interesting because Cordier's work did not fit visually with the rest of the exhibition (in my opinion!). These pieces were very abstract and painterly, evoking desert imagery or strange alien landscapes. This chemigram was made by pouring photographic developer and fixer onto gelatin-silver photographic paper that had been oiled. In terms of the imagery, there was very little said about it, and commentary focused mostly on technique. I gathered that these images were considered exciting because of their novelty and pleasing aesthetic; sometimes experimenting with technique is reason enough to produce artwork, without some conceptual meaning or research attached.

Garry Fabian Miller, 'Breathing in the Beech Wood, Homeland, Dartmoor, Twenty-four Days of Sunlight, May 2004', 2004

These are dye-deconstruction prints. Each vertical line was printed on one day. I do not fully understand the process but here is how it is explained on the V&A website:

Dye destruction print

A print made using direct positive colour paper. This paper was originally introduced in 1963 for printing colour transparencies or negatives. It is coated with at least three layers of emulsion, each of which is sensitised to one of the three primary colours. Each layer also contains a dye related to that colour. During development of the image, any unexposed dyes are bleached out (hence 'dye destruction'). The remaining dyes form a full-colour image.

I liked this work because it is cyclic, and because of the way the artist has managed to physically capture the passing of time. This is a simple image and yet very effective, as a printmaker I was also interested in his use of multiples.