June 29, 2009

P.Inman & Tina Darragh

Peter Inman and Tina Darragh arrived from the USA today for his reading in the Text Festival tomorrow, and their readings at the Other Room on Wednesday. (Pictured being initiated into the local beers)

June 27, 2009

Poor. Old. Tired. Horse.

It was interesting hearing people mention “Poor.Old.Tired. Horse.” at the ICA, London, before I actually went. http://www.ica.org.uk/Poor%20Old%20Tired%20Horse+19863.twl There was a frisson suggesting something important might be happening. For the capital, maybe, the Text Festival is peripheral, something, somewhere up north but this is an exhibition in a London institution. An altogether different status again and a status that could contribute to artistic/poetic progress: Poor.Old.Tired. Horse. is not that show.

There are three major problems with it (“No-one expects the Spanish Inquisition,” so maybe more than three problems will emerge as I think about it): a form of curatorial attention deficit disorder; a fragmentary curatorial logic; and curatorial dilettantism in relating the included work to the stated aim challenging that “stupidity [which] reduces language to words” (quote from Ian Hamilton Finlay).

I didn’t realise until after I had visited and started reading the catalogue how big the curatorial problem is. Part of this was due to my bad legs and it being literally a dozen years or more since I was last at the ICA and so I had forgotten how the exhibition spaces work; so I decided to start at the upper galleries and work my way down. This meant I didn’t perceive the failure in curatorial logic until I had got to the end – ie the beginning. Herein is the first sign of the curatorial confusion: the show has a narrative logic but doesn’t allow for the possibility of the visitor approaching the narrative counter-intuitively. To locate the intended flow then: Room one concentrates on Ian Hamilton Finley; Room two features a handful of the well-known Concrete Poets (Chopin, DSH, Kriwet) plus ‘other artists who …created interesting parallels to that of the concrete poets’ (Acconci, Andre, etc); Room three is an exploration of “artistic practices from the 60s and 70s, and the ways in which they were allied with poetry”; The last room, room 4 (or the first room for me) concludes the missed/promised survey with six ‘younger artists’. “Several are represented by text-based pieces, and others use combinations of text and image…”.

The bizarre curatorial ‘hole’ is in Room 3: which makes no sense at all in relation to the concept of the show. The Philippe Guston work stands up and is one of the highlights of the show for me, but what are the David Hockney drawings doing there? The pretext that they are responses to CP Cavafy poems is gossamer thin. They are great drawings but how do illustrations of poems ‘challenge stupidity that reduces language to words’? In same vein, Alasdair Gray illustrates a text, but the work doesn’t even have the justification of quality, the illustrations are execrably talentless, embarrassing Eric Gill simulations. And Robert Smithson’s ‘Encyclo’ is a terrible doodle, basically. This room is the evidence of curatorial attention deficit. Although there are problems with the survey in the first two rooms, this room seems to have nothing to do with the exhibition’s concept; either it represents the paper-thin knowledge of the field in the curators or some desperate shortage of work for which it became expedient to fill a space. And so ignoring the room 3 abrogation, the core of the show is room one and two. I found it surprising that Ian Hamilton Finley’s work could be shown in such a way as to diminish its impact. The installation manages to neuter Finley. In room two there are some great pieces (though it is actually dominated by the terrible spinning Sky Never Stops by Lilian Lijn); but in combination with the preceding Finley room, it only magnifies the question of why Bob Cobbing is not represented. If this exhibition were treated as representing concrete poetry, it would be as big a travesty as the one we have to put up with from the mainstream Hegemony of the Banal.

So the final room is the six younger artists. The first criticism is that six is too many for such a small space. Second, the temporal leap from 60’s concrete and conceptual artists to 2009 suggests that the textual practice of that era is a discontinuous tradition that is only now being rediscovered. Which is rubbish. Of the 6, Anna Barham , Matthew Brannon, Karl Holmqvist, Janice Kerbel, Frances Stark and Sue Tompkins, I found no-one particularly interesting. In the context of the rest of the show, I had the impression these were young artists who have some text in the work, and the curators have such a limited grasp of what is currently going on that the inclusions are there by curatorial accident. When you look at the jumble of the catalogue the evidence seems to support this. The first half details the show and the second half is a ‘collage or texts and illustrations…”. Not in itself a source of issue, except when you go from Haroldo De Campos and Eugen Gomringer (neither in the show) to an essay about William Carlos Williams followed by Matthew Brannon’s “Words on a Page” (which is in the show), you have to think that the whole event is either aleatory or ignorant.

Nine Catalytic Stations - Paul Neagu

I wasn't familiar with Paul Neagu's work until this week, when I accompanied Marianne Eigenheer to the Flowers Gallery where part of the Neagu archive resides. A teacher of Anish Kapoor, Neagu died about 5 years ago and is regarded as Romania's most important 20th Century Sculptor. Marianne is curating a small show of his work on behalf of the Neagu Estate (Yolanda pictured with Marianne and friend & curator, David Thorp) in September at the Romanian Cultural Institute in London. Yolanda gave me a disc of images, here's one to whet your appetite before the show:

London - Others Seen

June 26, 2009

Holly Pester

The USS Enterprise-D has met the USS Fearless in order to take on a Starfleet propulsion specialist who will perform an upgrade on the warp drive. When specialist is ready, Capt. Picard orders the Enterprise to warp 1.5. As the ship accelerates, The Enterprise puts in a massive burst of speed. The specialist grabs his console and starts to "phase" in and out of view, noticed only by Wesley.

On the bridge, La Forge tells the captain they are passing warp 10, and Data later says that their velocity is off the scale. Picard orders a full stop, and the Enterprise drops out of warp. When he asks for the ship's position, La Forge replies incredulously that they have traveled 1 billion light years. Outside the ship, clouds of cosmic dust and energy beings swim in a never-ending blue abyss. Data concludes that they must be at the edge of the known universe and it will take them 300 years to get home.

Down in engineering, Wesley is talking to the specialist. He tells him he means no harm to the ship or the crew – he made a mistake. He is exhausted now, and Wes offers to get his mother, but the specialist declines. Wes then says that from looking at the warp equations he thinks time and space and thought are all one thing. This surprises the specialist, who tells him never to say such a thing again "in a world that's not ready for it."
Picard orders general quarters and tells the crew that they are in a region of space where thoughts become reality, and that they must try to subdue their thoughts.

The specialist is brought to sickbay where Picard tells Dr. Crusher to wake him. They must leave this place before their own thoughts cause the ship to be destroyed. The specialist wakes and tells Picard that he is actually a Traveler from another plane of existence. He is traveling through their galaxy, observing them, using his knowledge of propulsion to get passage on Starfleet ships. He meant no harm to the Enterprise. He tells them Humans shouldn't be here for a long time, until they have learned to control their thoughts. Picard asks him if he can get them home. He tells him he will try. He then asks for a private word with Picard. Scene 4:

Picard has watched Wesley leave:
PICARD: Strange how he seems to care for you.
The Traveler nods -- touched.
TRAVELER: He will forget me in time. Which is as it should be.
(eyes Picard; then)
It is Wesley I wanted to speak to you about.
PICARD: The boy?
TRAVELER: (nods) It's best you do not repeat this to the others... especially not to the mother. Whatever may happen, it is best it proceeds naturally.
PICARD(hurriedly): I must get my ship back; do we have time for this?
TRAVELER: Yes. He and a few like him are why I travel.
(sitting upright; intent now)
You have it in your power to encourage him without interfering...
PICARD: Encourage him in what?
TRAVELER: How shall I explain? Are you acquainted with the intricacies of what is called here... music?
PICARD: Somewhat.
TRAVELER: And musical genius such as I saw in one of your ship's libraries. One called Mozart, for example?
(at Picard's nod)
Who as a small child wrote astonishing symphonies as you call them... whose genius made music a tangible reality to be not only heard, but also seen and felt beyond the ability, the understanding, of others?
Traveler begins coming to his feet, Picard supporting him.
TRAVELER: (continuing) Your Wesley is such a person. Not with music but with the equally lovely intricacies of time, energy, propulsion...(gestures) ... and the instruments of this vessel which allow all that to be played.
The Traveler begins moving weakly toward the hatch leading to the corridor.
TRAVELER(continuing):You are right, I must hurry now...
(pausing at the door)
You are right in something else. He is also just a boy for now. He should be encouraged... but told none of this.

June 24, 2009

How relevant is the Text Festival to Bury?

The other day, someone higher up the bureaucratic food-chain asked: “How relevant is the Text Festival to Bury? Is it something that the ‘ordinary people’ of Bury can appreciate? Or is it something just for specialists?” The word ‘specialists’ was said with that wary intonation suggesting something dirty. The conversation was short (with the question of how will we answer the charge of elitism formed with the single word – “elitism?”). This is of course a dangerously phrased question: not in whether it can be answered but that it can be asked. The root of this is the cancer of State-control and audit validation of art. Public money is spent so art must be accountable (primarily in the financial meaning of the word); as the bureaucracy can’t actually compute ‘art’, it has to count the audience. As often mentioned here, the Government Performance Indicators for the arts are all audience counters. In this context, poetry is a form that is doomed. Poetry has either a solitary audience (the reader) or tiny audiences (the reading). Almost by definition then, Poetry is irrelevant (although the Text isn’t just poetry). The logic of relevance is that poetry shouldn’t be programmed. The problem for the fools who count art is that like many public galleries, Bury has an audience figure that floats and doesn’t really vary from around 45-50,000 visitors per year (except the year when someone proposed to close it to save money and the figure went up to 68,000 – an indication that even people who don’t visit think that there should be public galleries). Although I haven’t had the visitor figures for the Festival yet – because it hasn’t finished – anecdotally the audience figure is on the high side of normal and the response has been positive - almost like the visitors appreciate it. It does ‘feel’ like there are people coming specially to see the exhibition – the scary ‘specialist audience’ - but observing the majority of people in the gallerys they are ‘ordinary’ people who have just come in to see what is on, school groups, families with their kids, etc.

This picture raises the counter questions: ‘ordinary people’ looking at a Ming Wong video – as mentioned on 17 June, Wong achieved special mention by the Venice Biennale judges; in the eyes of the art accountants could Wong be dangerously close to being an elite practitioner? Not only that, he is from Singapore but lives in Berlin: Blimey! He must be elite and irrelevant to the experience of ‘ordinary folk’ in Bury. Except Wong’s videos are universally enjoyed, they are funny and challenging and full of filmic references that are part of the global culture that informs the local.

Fundamentally the question is the Corporate failure of aspiration. In the boring bits of my job I frequently see government policy directives that insist that services should assess community aspirations and then design services to meet those. Only today I read a funding bid project description that said that the project must “ensure [that] residents understand and support the project aims and objectives by development of a Community Learning Agreement plus individual agreements mapping out people’s own targets.” This is supposed to be aimed at disenfranchised communities. How about having an objective to empower residents to tell someone ‘ensuring that they sign up to a Community Learning Agreement' to fuck off? This is the problem: the ‘ordinary people’ are allowed/expected/ensured to aspire to ordinariness. Why not aspire to have one of America’s most important living poets do his first UK reading in Bury? Isn’t it aspirational and even, (dare I claim it) inspirational to see contemporary art from all over the world in a small northern town? Maybe if we could get the audience to sign Learning Agreements when they enter the gallery or the theatre there wouldn't be a problem.

Ron with ‘ordinary Bury person’ Florence

June 17, 2009

Ming Wong Special Mention

Coincident with two works featured in the Text Festival, Ming Wong has achieved special mention at the Venice Biennale:

Life of Imitation
7 June - 22 November 2009

"The Jury of the 53rd International Art Exhibition has assigned one of the four Special Mentions to Ming Wong for his works in the Pavilion of Singapore.
The Singapore Pavilion, entitled Life of Imitation, stages the co-existence of multiple worlds where language, gender, appearance and traditions constantly negotiate with one another. In playful and imperfect acts of mimesis and melodrama, this exhibition attempts to hold the mirror up to the Singaporean condition related to roots, hybridity and change.
Wong explores the performative veneers of language and identity through his own "world cinema" - a series of video installations based on well-known works and artistes in Asian cinema. The mood is further enhanced by billboards painted by Wong and Singapore's last surviving billboard painter Neo Chon Teck, and movie memorabilia such as photographs of old cinemas in Singapore, paintings, drawings and transcripts, depicting the creation process of Wong's video installations and the entire exhibition itself. "

Surely every artist's aspiration - simultaneously showing in Bury and Venice.
Thanks to Marianne Eigenheer for pointing out the announcement.

June 13, 2009

From Basel to Bury

Blimey! that was a day of art: straight from VOLTA5 to the Text readings. Opened with Judy Kendall, great performances by Nick Thurston and Jesse Glass (travelling further than I to do the gig) and a film from Sarah Tremlett.

Recordings of these and all the other readings will be available soon.

Thanks to Phil for looking after Jesse and his family while I was on the plane.

June 12, 2009

June 11, 2009

and tomorrow

The last Basel thing I can fit in is Volta 5 http://www.voltashow.com/

then it's onto a plane for the next installment of the


Friday 12 June - 07:30
Bury Art Gallery, Moss St., Bury
Free admission

An evening of experimental poetry and sound in the company of Japan-based Jesse Glass, Nick Thurston, Sarah Tremlett and Judy Kendall.

(For anyone following the progress of "Space the Soldier who died for Perspective", the next book, I finished it yesterday. The publishers, Veer, will get it next week).

Holbein to Tillmans

As mentioned the Schaulager is a great space and experience to visit. From Wikipedia: “Designed by the renowned architectural office of Herzog & de Meuron under commission from the Laurenz Foundation, the Schaulager was opened in 2003 in Münchenstein outside Basel and was conceived as an open warehouse that provides the optimal spatial and climatic conditions for the preservation of works of art. The collection of the Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation forms the main core of the Schaulager. The institution functions as a mix between public museum, art storage facility and art research institute. It is primarily directed at a specialist audience but is also open to the general public for special events and the annual exhibitions.”

Coincident with last year’s Basel was a brilliant double show of Andrea Zittel and Monica Sosnowka, both beautifully displayed in the pure white spaces. To allow the Kunstmuseum to receive the Van Gogh landscapes show, the former’s collection moved to the Schaulager this year. Last year’s experience had been so good, I wondered whether what appeared to be a convenience driven survey could be particularly interesting. Curatorially it is a tour de force. The concept of the show consciously views the works, both contemporary and historical, with today’s eyes. The brochure talks of the astonishing connections between the works – this hyperbole is slightly misplaced though I think. Many of the connections are very striking such as a great accumulating presence of On Kawara date paintings (http://www.davidzwirner.com/artists/13/work_1309.htm) circulating Fischli and Weiss Table installation – the latter probably would have left me cold but in this juxtaposition Fischli & Weiss became as potent an existential presence as Kawara. Another great one is Joseph Beuys’ 1965 “Snowfall” made of 32 felt blankets weighing down fir tree trunks on the floor, beside a Mountain landscape with smashed trees from the 1620s. It read as a criticism to say the brochure is hyperbolic; I’d also say it is falsely modest: The monumental outer wall on the lower storey is hung “like a mine of still unformed raw material. Countless paintings are spread out, only roughly sorted, above, beside, and beneath one another across the entire length of the wall. Each painting can stand for itself, but at the same time it invites to look within the spacious presentation for its partner or groups to which it could belong.” This could even be called disingenuous: as, far from it having a sense of categorising still to come, it actually stands as one of the most subtly balanced and controlled installation I have ever seen. The curator who organised that wall has one of the finest eyes I have ever come across.

As a footnote, it is interesting to compare this show with the Giacometti show and the Visual Encounters – Africa, Oceania and Modern Art which are both on at the Fondation Beyeler which I saw earlier in the week http://www.beyeler.com/. Another great architect's building (Renzo Piano). The Schaulager also features a couple of Giacometti’s which are much better served by being given lots of space to breathe and therefore carry the existential potent that you expect from his work; the Beyeler installation packs in too much work and in the crowding (added to by the huge visitor numbers) the sculptures are distracted and lessened. The paintings come across as much stronger because standing front of them framed alone on white walls they remain powerfully intense. The Visual Encounters installation has some very fine set piece juxtapositions: the connecting space between the two shows features 9 Giacometti figures connected by a long Monet water lilly painting to some wood carved figures from Cameroon in front of a Cezanne; A gallery of Rothko paintings with vitrines of African masks, Leger paintings with Oceanic sculptures, more Cezanne Bathers with work from Mali, etc. (Mondrian doesn’t work in this context I think); but there is something strangely unsurprising about the Encounters, in a sense it is too balanced spatially. The Schaulager manages to be perfectly tuned while offering the tingle of risk, and the pleasure of seeing the risk pulled off.

June 10, 2009

Brunch at the Schaulager

What a great place is the Schaulager

June 09, 2009

Art Basel 09

“nearly 300 leading galleries from North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and Africa. More than 2,500 artists, ranging from the great masters of Modern art to the latest generation of emerging stars, are represented in the show's multiple sections.”

Too much to take in obviously. Prepared by the visual overload of last year, kept more of my attention in reserve so as not to burn out too quick (though resistance can’t last for long), and tried to give myself a specific focus – looking for interesting text works/artists for the next Text Festival. There were some but not many – I will return to my findings on Texts in a summation blog bringing together thoughts on this from all the shows.

Gallerists, dealers selling – prices lower now (offered a very nice Edmund de Waal for reasonable 5 figure sum.) “They won’t sell for less than 1.1 million”. “You must give me a call when you are next in New York”; So many spaces you get lost. The people as interesting as the art - much more surgical enhancement than I am used to seeing. Made arrangements to meet an artist in Madrid. Scribbling down names I want. Can I remember now? A great small space with drawings of Klimt, Schiele, Beckman, Dix; LAWRENCE BEING LAWRENCE Cathy Pilkington “Elsie” (4obvious reasons: a super-real cute dog asleep) sore feet KosuthADJECTIVEADJECTIVEADJECTIVElalla Essaydi Jaume Plensa Song of Songs Tatsuo Miyajima Counter line Marijike van Warmerdam various trees (for the nature show in Bury next year) AYSE ERKMEN, Gabrielle Basilico photographs, nearly knocking 27.AG.1995 (Kawara) off a wall, Glen Ligon tedium; everything else...

June 08, 2009

Meanwhile, back in Salford

Art Unlimited & Liste 09

Actually except for the free Champagne, it was pretty limited, and Liste 09 - supposedly the feast of new and emerging artists & galleries, was decidedly lacking in anything worthy of emergence. Hopefully, the Art Fair proper tomorrow will be more interesting.

June 06, 2009

A Boat as a Vessel

In the same building as the Architekturmuseum, Kunsthalle Basel has a solo show by UK artist, Lucy Skaer called: A Boat Used as a Vessel. This was an interesting installation too, playing with the mathematics of pattern, planar shifting and method transparency. Greatest pleasure came from her use of old furniture, antique tables, used as printing blocks, the tops carved into, inked and printed off. In the first room, a multi-leaf table centred in the space was mirrored on the walls by these prints, each different – depending how many leaves had been pulled out – and augmented with a simple graphic symbol or a colour, gave a sense of monumentality.

In another space, she had suspended a whale skeleton behind panels so that it could be glimpsed through the gaps and mirrored this with large drawings on paper on two facing walls. These drawings are schematic and decoratively buried in layers of pattern echoing the stuttering presence of the whale skeleton.

Actually my only problem with the show comes (as is often the case) with the verbiage accompanying it: “The play on words in the title rests on the formal and fucntional correspondence of the two nouns. The title reveals the multilayered process of naming and attributing meaning: while a boat can both literally be a vessel, it also becomes the vessel to hold the meaning of the title…” Save us from artists using language. If the title is so important why are “as” and “a” uncapitalised? If the two nouns are commutative and equivalent why isn’t it “A Vessel”? If it would have been “a Boat” but for the first “a” being at the beginning of the sentence, we have the issue of an artist interrogating language but not really. There’s a lot of it about.

Better little Gestures - “The Madness of Madelon Vriesendorp”

Having viewed the disappointing Little Theatre of Gestures at the Kunstmuseum yesterday, it was a revelation to see significantly better little gestures in “The World of Madelon Vriesendorp” at Basel Architekturmuseum. www.sam-basel.org I don’t think I know any of her architectural works, but this show of paintings, postcards, objects and games from 1967 to now is brilliantly exciting. It features watercolours, prints and films of New York iconic buildings in surreal landscapes engaged in sex, climbing through holes, crumbling, with the Statue of Liberty sometimes naked, sometimes sleeping, sometimes also crumbled and over topped. Setting out to collect bad paintings, endless collections of postcards of New York, kitsch objects of mind-numbing oddness the Vriesendorp wunderkammer is a Sir John Soanes museum http://www.soane.org/ for the 21st Century – apparently her house is full of this stuff; it’s as if an artist with talent made Gormley’s "Field for the British Isles", but more than that, this doll-world doesn’t care that you are there looking at it, it lives without the observer. The exhibition has that excitement you feel as a child in a model village or how museums used to be before the edicts of 'education' and worthiness.

Against this you have totally bizarre objects, a city of tiny failed objects – a smiling sketelon dog wearing a hat and smoking a pipe, a laughing nun on drugs, a shark eating a baby, King Kong atop the Empire State Building holding a naked mermaid – which nevertheless have the hysterical delight of jaw-drop wonderment that says “who the hell thought of manufacturing that?”.

June 05, 2009

Little Theatre of Gestures

The current show at Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Basel,
http://www.kunstmuseumbasel.ch/en/exhibitions/current/little-theatre-of-gestures/ was an unexpectedly depressing affair in an otherwise very pleasant day (Basel continues to be delightful - pictured waiting for the river-powered boat). As the exhibition copy ducks out of claiming anything too portentous for the show "not aiming to give an overview on the formal and informal codes that constitute our communiciation
in daily life, but instead to gather artistic positions for a mutual play on smaller or larger deeds." The dismay lay not so much in the artworks themselves, though some warranted little attention, but rather in the curation of that 'mutual play'. The spaces of the Gegenwartskunst Museum are quite dynamic and possibly challenging to work with as not many rooms seem to have much in the way of a right-angle, but the juxtaposition of the works often seemed arbitrary or too obviously clumsy. The only set piece that worked was Sol le Witt's pencil wall drawing of circles and grids opposite Bruce Nauman's "The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths"; but what was a white painted geometrical frame by le Witt doing in dialogue with a Roualt painting of clowns. There were a number of occasions where artists reappeared on different floors of the gallery, implying a spatial dialogue that transcended a reading of the mixing as incoherent, but this was then countermanded by the top floor being given over exclusively to Joseph Beuys. They may have been positing him as the apotheosis of artist qua gesture but this cut across any non-linear, non-hierarchical, ahistorical reading that may have been proffered in the rest of the layout.

June 04, 2009

City Trees

Basel is delightful in June, and quiet this week, with all the art crowd at the Venice Bienniale until next week. What you can't get from a blog/twitter is the miraculous smell in the streets. We are pretty sure that it is the trees which are in flower. Being a city boy, I don't know or particularly care what type they are, just remember that Andy Warhol once complimented City Trees over their country cousins because "they work harder" - this week in Basel they are putting extra effort in.

June 03, 2009

The Olympics of the Art World

Off today to Basel. A few days writing and sight-seeing then it is the Art Fair. All being well I will be blogging from there. www.artbasel.com
Back on 12 June just in time for the next Text Festival event featuring Jesse Glass, Nick Thurston, Sarah Tremlett and Judy Kendall. www.textfestival.com/when/view-12