The Principle of Sufficient Irritation

The London Group President’s Prize show 2016 at the Cello Factory with Martin Heron and Darren Nisbett

Last year November my work was selected for exhibition in The London Group Open, which is a biannual event showcasing the work of current members alongside the same amount of works by selected contemporary artists. The membership is thriving, with around 90 members, so the show was spilt into two parts and hung in a salon style.

The current main gallery used by the group is the Cello Factory on the Southbank. As the name suggests, it is a converted space with high beamed ceilings and skylights. The award of this space and the time to work in it meant that I was able to conceive a piece which is much larger than previous works. 

‘Cloud’ is approx 4m x 4m x 3m and is suspended in the space, stopping before it reaches the floor. The salvaged wires are a mix of power, telephone and data cables, and have all been connected into one circuit here, with two tiny LED bulbs proving agency. This is an opportunity to experience a physical relationship to the copper cabling we are surrounded by and depend on for our life services, including communication, conversation, and data exchange. The material is unified by a small current, so the imagined past uses of the wires might bleed into one another, and have their current forms extended a little. They have been spared the scrap-mans’ smelter for now. 

I am also exhibiting 2D drawings for the first time, and I see those in terms of physical exploration too: Following my residency in Beijing I have been processing my experiences there in many different ways. One of the ways I have been trying to discover what this orange object is for is to draw it and draw it. No matter how closely I look I still cannot work out how it might be connected. They just stood on top of telegraph poles there as rare beacons of colour in the thick, flat air.

Martin Heron takes his background in large scale public art installations as a starting point which he is able to position his work against at 180 degrees. In contrast to large heavy works designed to live an age, here he salvaged scrap metals and allowed them to have some say in how they are treated. Martin manipulates his materials until they seem to have said ” stop!” They crease and fold according to previous marks, and colours in the form of paints and tapes respond to altered angles and lighting too. 
They protrude from the wall at intervals, giving an airy colourful illusion to their sharp edges. They are displayed at head height, which I feel places some of the responsibility for taking care back onto me, activating a personal interaction.

Darren Nisbett is showing a photographic series chronicling his exploration of abandoned and derelict industrial machinery. They are printed on guilted and textured metal, which transforms them into becoming relics themselves. They might be as decayed as their subjects. 

They are dark and imposing, mixing the mechanical with the possibility of the anatomical, and the scale of the original objects I hard to ascertain. Small clues suggest their enormity, and the dark row of frames moving along the wall of the gallery seems to have a mechanical rhythm of its own.
The three of us had not met before we won the award last year, but were instantly drawn to the shared interests of our work. We met regularly throughout the year to discuss the theory and practicality of staging a coherent group exhibition, and I think that these conversations paid off through what we have produced. The installation was well planned over three days, and went very smoothly. This luxury of time opened up our plans from an early stage:

As a photographer Darren knew he would show on the wall, and as a space based sculptor I was keen to exploit the height of the space. Martin makes sculptures which are often displayed on the wall, so the balance was struck. 

I calculated logistics and materials before I arrived, but was not sure of the final form the work would take. This was dictated in part by how the cables I chose behaved on the day, and in part by how the space was transformed when the wall works were installed. 

As the rich dark photography and the colourful textured sculpture went up, it became clear to me that my cables should only be black, and the coloured and white wires of my collection were packed away. I began with the heavy, smoother cables, a mixture of data and telephone wires, which draped more elegantly in the heights between the beams. As I moved lower to the ground the work narrows, but still appeared to be floating upwards, and so the lower section is made from solid core power cable which is more capricious.

I worked with the title in mind, as it was the only part of the making I could be sure of before I began. This is part of my explorations of the communication network and our interaction with it, and the hanging form gives a monumental presence to materials we customarily ignore or are insulated from.
I also produced a publication to accompany the exhibition, with writing by Susan Haire, the president of The London Group. 

This was made by Risograph, which is a relatively analogue technique in the field of printing; kind of a mechanical screen printing process which uses vegetable inks, banana paper and large drums to reproduce the images. This gives a warm tactile print quality which is often slightly off-calibrated reminiscent of hand production. It seemed relevant to the materials and interests included in the publication is presented in a limited edition package which also contains three samples of metals, one produced by each artist in the show. These are available from the artists.
To conclude the exhibition on Thursday the 10th of November we are hosting an evening of artist talks where all three exhibiters will be presenting their practice. Refreshments will be served. All welcome at 6.30 pm


Intersection/In Context/ Hoxton Arches

The excelent folk at Made in Arts London continue to support students and graduates of the University of the Arts London which includes Camberwell, Chelsea, CSM, Wimbledon, LCC, LCF and more I’m probably missing out.

Their most recent independant fine art show was Intersection at Hoxton Arches and I was delighted to be one of their commissioned artists this time.

I have been looking for ways to get more personal with my work, in more explicit ways, as the deeply personal connections I have to my materials and processes which seem obvious to me soemtimes get lost to others. That’s not to say I want my work to become revealing or obvious, obviously.

For this commission, which was part of a group show, I was offered the opportunity to collaborate with my fellow exhibitors in a fairly closed environment. This gave me the chance to bring the personal to the fore, and gave others the chance to contribute and feel a personal investment in the work in a space we shared. I called the work In Context

I created a google doc questionnaire which was easy to share, and it was filled in annonymously by the other artists. The questions asked for information about age, length of practice and ranges of emotions felt about their artistic practice recently and during a period of time past. Most revealingly, I asked about notable highs and lows they had faced. This was a very provocative and private act, which was certainly helped by the anonymity of the forms. I was trusted with some sincere revelations, and was able to form a picture of the range of experiences shared by artists practising in London today.

This data was collated into a chart which visualised these experiences, and I realised it using cables and wires which I salvaged in London the week before. I find the possibility that some of our communications about this work might have passed through them really relevant and exciting. They could have been torn out of a building next door to any of us, and I can almost feel the physical traces of messages and electricity which have passed through them. This is the personal interpretation I was talking about before. I think adding the opportunity for personal engagement with the other artists brings it out into a more accessible space.

I see all the salvaged materials I use as intersections, points of change and possibility. I  imagine where they will go next and the uses to which they may get repurposed. For this installation I stripped the ends of the wires, ready for them to be reconnected if desired, as a nod to the ongoing, unknown practice to come.

Working with Made in Arts London is always a really good experience. They are really well organised and really professional. One of the prep sessions we had was with Ceri Hand who spoke about commissioning artists, and her experiences were reassuring and inspiring.

Making the work in the space has allowed me to see  it in a new perspective, and I’m sure it’s going to feed into the work I am developing for the three-person London Group Members prize show in November with Martin Heron and Darren Nisbett

*Thanks to Adriana Jaroslavsky, Alexander Devereux, Alice Aires, Altea Grau Vidal, Anastasija Pudane, Ben Edmunds, Camille Leherpeur, Claudia Cauville, Fly Chen, Franceska McCullough, Fredrik Andersson, Guilia Cacciuttolo, Hansika Jethnani, Helen LieuJuan Mateus, Juliana Dorso, Marta Barina, Monica Alcazar-Duarte, Olga Krasanova, Pamm Hong, Summer Oxley, Tahmina Negmat, Trystan Williams, Xiaoxi Kang and Zuzanna Odolczyk for donating their data to inform this piece In Context

@2_by_3 with Alia Pathan and Bex Massey

We decided to organise ourself as 2 by 3 as a structure within which we could explore similar interests in sculpture, objects and presentation. This resulted in our first show Death of Intention which explores the roles of objects and space in how we experience and interpret the world written about by Walter Benjamin.

The fluid process of producing this show resulted in a open and new installation which feels autonomous and optimistic. The time to curate and install together has given it the feel of a residency- an event which is often characterised by noticing the luxury of being able to prioritise and focus on your practice, slightly removed from the demands and distractions of daily life. Over the course of four days we had two days to initially install our proposed work, and the remaining time allows for experimentation and exploration along the themes proposed by Benjamin, around the themes of barriers, obstacles, agency and negotiating space.

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Alia Pathan works predominantly in time-based media, presenting thoughtful digital film and media installations which explore the deapths of human experience and connection. For Death of Intention she has thought about the deliberate construction of an apparatus we can use to experience her media work. Materials and construction are common themes in all the work presented in the space, and this work Peter, Pixel & I, uses carefully manufactured structures and objects to invite us to move around the work, explore as much as we dare. I can avoid looking at a film of a medical procedure if I stand to one side, choosing to be selective in how I look at it, mimicking the official policy towards the market in such procedures during the soviet era which informed this work. In thinking about the official ‘blind eye’ which was turned to the doctors and ship which worked in international waters, the artist has also produced a silk flag which simultaneously interrupts the space and provides a backdrop to the films. The luxurious surface invites me in as much as the printed design of eye operations repels me.

In the next space the heavy contrast of cast iron sits on the back wall, spelling out the image of a cat in raised characters which could be read blind. The Cyrillic ‘shhhh’ form in the Center, once I’d had it translated for me, suggests the silent complicity of the operation of duel systems.

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Bex Massey is skilled painter of photorealistic images, who has always considered modes of display beyond the sole canvas. In the past she has used leaking daylight, objects as props, and juxtapositions with mass produced materials to support her paintings. For Death of Intention she has not dispensed with paint altogether, but here it has taken  a supporting role, used to highlight physical elements which allow for the themes to prevail. The combination of crafted objects with organic elements gives the work the same slightly precarious sense seen in earlier  works.

The main space holds two pieces, ‘Seasonal sculptures’ number one still employs abstract canvases, balanced one on the other here,  as a backdrop to a cast object. The painted reproduction of a pineapple is topped with a regular a top sliced from the fruit. The pineapple is colour and pattern- matched to the canvas, whilst the colour of the pineapple top is reflected in the section of artificial turf which supports all parts. This limited palette ties the selected objects together, somehow making sense of the variety. The slender vertical presentation gives a poetic sweep to the assembly.

Seasonal sculpture number 2 consists of a junior school chair supporting a slice of watermelon. The chair has been restored and repainted in white on one side, fluoro pink on the other. The pink is reflected in the flesh of the watermelon which has been remade whilst still presented in a piece of cut peel. The organic elements in these Seasonal Sculpture series lend a sense of tension and termporality, making me want to cherish the looking while I can, before they topple or rot away. The simple bright colour on the child’s chair lends an element of playfulness to the work, which is tempered for me by the faux offering of the fruit.

The sense of dashed hope of nourishment continues in the next room, where chips are referred to by potted yellow flowers. They are potted in McDonald’s fries pots, supported on a crafted shelf against a slash of red and yellow on the wall. The movement of the first piece is here, and the simple palette too.  These sculptures are a departure for the artist, yet the unmistakable lineage is plain to see, which I find really interesting. How this happens and what we do with it is one of the questions we asked of ourselves in creating this show.

Drawing work and ideas out of the usual métier into something more 3D, sculptural, interactive, invites a different experience from the viewer, just as it is a new way of thinking and working for the artist.

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Personally, the work I presented seems to be stretching my practice from both ends: the multiples which make up AQI (air quality index) are bookended by a working circuit of power cable with exposed bulbs and contacts in one direction, and by gestural canvases in the other. The circuit is one of the most quiet, distilled works I have shown. It’s fascinating watching how it is interpreted, as I try and gauge if it is pared back enough, or too much… The concept seems to be communicating itself, with the audience spontaneously approaching and activating the work. The cooperation and interaction required to complete the circuit is a new explicit element, whilst the execution of the basic materials themselves keeps the focus on the object/materials themselves.

The oil and wax paintings are physical interpretations of some of the imagery I collected during my residency in Beijing last September with Red Mansion. The abundant stimulation and input of all senses which I experienced will continue to feed my work, but in flattening it into two dimensions, I am distancing myself from what was an intense physical and emotional period, and this allows me to better process it objectively.


Death of Intention @2_by_3

After the scale and formality of the launch of the Red Mansion prize exhibition in March, my emotional involvement with art school and my investigations there paused. The quiet space this left slowly expanded, as I relaxed my vice-like grip on planning for the future. But physics declares that nature abhors a void, so in this space other plans were able to take hold.

The hard work continues, conversations start, and common threads emerge. This re-examination of our practice and dominant interests are keys in to new plans and work. One such conversation has resulted in 2 by 3, a collaboration with Bex Massey and Alia Pathan, in which we think about the sculpture in our practice today, the evolution of our making as it follows these interests. Representation, display, communication, physicality, are all explored in our inaugural exhibition, which has been our first opportunity to get our work in one place.

Creating these opportunities to install work differently, and try out new things, feel key to our process. They’re key to a lot of processes. The time spent curating and installing, the play that allows new things to happen, and an informal atmosphere which feels supportive, all allow for conversations, critique, experimentation. The autonomy of the exerience is refreshing. It’s an antidote to the niggling hangover of the fantasy studio syndrome, the one I’m quick to warn others against, but which applies just as much to myself: that fantasy which makes it tempting to say that the perfect space/funding/time (delete as appropriate) would free me to make x y or z.

The reality is always that the work is now. It’s what happens wherever it is you find yourself. Artists I have met in the past have talked about filling sketchbooks during a monotonous commute, or of presenting an MA show made entirely on the college photocopier after the money was gone and a supportive tutor gave you his credit. Louise Bourgeois began exploring her vertical sculptures on the roof of her New York appartment using wood scavenged from the streets as she walked her baby in the pram.So we continue to make work with the tools to hand, and to install it in places we are able to access. To carry on showing, talking and thinking, trying to share our investigations into where we find ourselves and what we are thinking about today. Getting feedback and new angles from new people, and each other, moving things further.

End User @haywardgallery

This free show at the Hayward in their upstairs project space is succinct and to the point. 8 artists present work which confronts our assumptions and assimilations into the Internet which are commonplace today. Sir Tim Berners Lee leads the discussion on how we should consider its reach, and this is highlighted by the work in End User.

In Kay’s Room, Liz Sterry confronts us with her re-creation of the bedroom of Canadian blogger ‘Kay’. The information and images Kay posts online allow Sterry to assemble a replica of the bedroom, relationships and opinions of a woman she has never met or had any direct contact with. My mind immediately began racing through places like this blog, wondering just how much I disclose, how much I show. I consider myself a savvy web user, I enjoy the different outlets I employ to process what I’m experiencing and absorbing, I know what I write, what I photograph, what I ‘like’. But this confidence made me question even deeper how readily I turn a blind eye to the possibility of manipulation and intrusion, human or electronic, despite my best efforts to limit exposure. And why do I feel the need to publish what I write, why isn’t it enough to keep a private journal?

Erica Scourti tackles this in her work Life In Ad Words. This film shows a visual journal through the algorithms of Google. When she emailed her daily journal to herself , gmail read them and offered relevant ads. So we see Scourti listing key words daily from these ads, offering a distorted, intimate view of her life. Recorded on her webcam to complete the circle of data, this record makes me assume I have an insight into her thoughts, her online searches and daily movements and emotions. Assumptions manipulated by code and business models of one company.

Red Mansion 2015 Beijing residency: 5

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Cables featured heavily in my experience in Beijing. Disconnected, surplus, ignored, given a place but not a use, there’s no doubt I was anthropomorphising rather. There is also little doubt they will feature in my work in the coming months. Already new connections have been created in my studio, new ways of presenting.

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The wind monitors I could see on the tangled electric pole outside my hotel window were a (dusty) splash of colour against the foliage, and their shape echoed the insulation domes holding the wires. Finding them at the immense building supply market was a real treat, a part of the mechanics of the place that I can own. Alongside this is the large, smelly collection of cables I have been collecting on my wanderings. These, along with the smaller fragments which feature in my journal, are precious: despite the dust and grime of the huge city, Beijing is pretty spotless; everything has a scrap value, if you collect enough of it. The well-documented sight of a diminutive figure struggling under the weight of a gargantuan bag of paper or plastic is familiar even in central Beijing. The recycling and scrap yard of Fenjaicun on the outskirts of (but still technically central) Beijing.
Copper wires we’re obviously rarely overlooked, and often all I found were the plastic casings, the metal already on its way to it’s next incarnation. But everyday I did find something, not always copper, but metallic. And some days I struck lucky, and the smelly bag of filthy cables took it’s rightful place next to the wind monitors and junction box in my suitcase home.
The process involved in checking the case in is worthy of another blog all of its own….

Red Mansion 2015 Beijing Residency : 4

Disconnection: Instagram, Cables, Assumptions.
Unlikely this will be published while I am still in Beijing, as the crack down on communications with the outside world intensifies.
Seems fitting for my last week here. About time I got used to just how far away I am from home, and just how unfamiliar life is here. No more Skype for talking- the internet is now too slow, even if it is still available. No more Instagram and the subsequent news feeds it offers. Lockdown.
The loose cables which have fascinated me since I arrived now seem a bit sinister.

Without communication, how can we be heard, anywhere in the world. When desperate protests are taking place in one of the most connected cities in the world, how can we monitor what is happening and how can we support them.
It’s alright for me- I have tickets to take me home soon. But what if home is the unsafe place?
Writing that last part, I spotted another assumption- that my plane will still leave. And so with each day I have been learning to take the assumptions that I understand how anything works here down another notch. Take it as it comes. Don’t expect to get anything done, then something always does happen.
If that’s not some sort of zen lesson then I don’t know what is. Perfect place to practice it in I suppose.
Just spare a thought for the people in Hong Kong and Taipei who are standing up for their rights to democracy and free communication.

Beijing Design Week: Caochangdi: Liu Xinyi at White Space Beijing

The works of Liu Xinyi presented as ‘Goulash’ by White Space Beijing contained prints and 3D installations on a scale fitting to the cavernous gallery. The name of the show, along with some titles of the work seems heavy-handed, seemingly ending my thought process before it had a chance to begin, but in the case of Surplus Value it seemed to inadvertently add to the work.
Huge foam cutouts in the form of defunct symbols once used by socialist states are stacked in one corner. They reference old logos and flags, in the shapes of natural crops, yet are rendered in laser cut plastic foam. They weigh less now than in the original subjects, and the artifice makes the plant forms all the more unnatural.
I enjoy a juxtaposition of materials and motives, I see the tragedy of what each isn’t as much as what it is.
The optimism and ideology of fallen regimes are often proved flawed and unsustainable, yet here are emblems rendered perfectly in a material which will never degrade. They are pristine, they could be pressed into service again at any moment, should history ever change as quickly again as it has done in the last 100 years.
That this is being observed in a socialist state which so far continues to function is surely no mistake. Are these emblems being stored out of respect, or rendered powerless through their decorative states?

Beijing Design Week: Caochangdi : ARTMIA

IMG_2046.JPGZhou Dong, Love is like lighting a match (detail)

IMG_2047.JPGZhou Dong, Hometown (detail)

In the group show Landscape of Mind presented by ARTMIA I was as usual drawn to work which escaped the single plane. (3D being my normal mode of thinking)
The very large format oil paintings by Zhou Dong featured protruding materials and heavily layered paint, resulting in work which was more visceral for me than some of it’s neighbours.
The ongoing investigation into the urban condition is very relevant when seen in this part of the world where demolition and construction are everywhere. Nowhere is immune, be it downtown or the suburbs or the very edges and villages. The noise and the dust settles into the background of daily life. The inescapable scale, and the visible gestures of Zhong’s works brought them back to my attention, reminding me that these things are important to notice.
The rate that areas are being consumed by the concrete, and the rate at which lives are being churned up in the name of progress affects us all financially (as production of our consumer goods is legislated for the good of the workers, to the detriment of our insatiable appetitive for cheap consumer goods) and environmentally (dust and noise go hand in hand with destruction of habitat and depletion of our limited resources which include air as much as commodities and wildlife).
Zhong’s controlled use of a muted earthy palette is contradicted by the insistence of the scale, and the small optimistic points of colour steered the work towards pragmatism rather than pessimism.

Beijing Design Week: Caochangdi: Wang Youshen


Wang Youshen, Per Square Meter at ShanghART
Engaging with the whole-scale demolition which surround us in Beijing, Wang presents installations and wall based works which allow you to walk amongst the rubble rather than pass by as an observer. Having installed a partition wall, he then demolished most of it and left us to pick through the rubble. The dust and sharp edges reminded me of the working conditions of the labourers, along with the implications of all the dust rising into the atmosphere we all share. In clearing the spaces, the space for us to live longer together on earth risks being compromised.
Mounted on the walls are large scale photographs of an area of demolished buildings, presented up against panels of concrete which has been reconstructed and mounted. The cracks and texture of the surface shows the force required to break the material, but the effort taken to locate the pieces and reassemble them seems quite tender. Cherishing the space, the material, the workers or the former lives lived in the structure which is reduced to rubble? All come to mind.