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

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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.

Tracey Payne Breathing Space Eastbourne

Thinking about sea air and escape from the metropolis I set off to find Tracey Paynes work in The Labyrinth in Eastbourne. The name of the venue should have been my first clue that, as always with Paynes work, all is not as it seems.
The Labyrinth is a little Victorian shopping arcade which has somehow survived development by secreting itself away and changing as little as possible since the last time a bustle was worn down it. The businesses occupying it have changed, but the commerce goes on, it is very much alive as a space.
Installed in a new truncated art space being explored by Curious Projects is a work which is also alive and breathing. Made from contemporary sail material in vibrant orange and sky blue, Breathing Space rises up at me from behind the glass bay shop front and catches me unawares. I had actually walked past it at first, though the colours didn’t go unnoticed. I turned back to peer in at the deflating form as it slowly slumped back below the windowsill.
Suddenly it sprang into life again, taking a deep motorised breath, filling out and rising above my head. This optimistic expansion, this deep intake of air was contained against the panes of glass. It climbed and climbed to no avail, displaying it’s cheerful colours pressed against the limits of the space. At last, as it occupied as much room as it could, it conceded, turned off, stopped trying.
The title and the location suggest optimism for space, and this is the commodity in most short supply here. This duality is often seen in Paynes work, most recently at Art Lacuna and at the Camberwell Salon at Unthank Artspace. The playful materials and installations have the joy of possibility in them, and manage to remain beautiful and enticing even as they exhale: they never do escape.
This determined attempt to occupy the space, the repeated thwarting of it, but ongoing tries nonetheless makes Breathing Space a work which I spent a good while with, ever hopeful of its success, ever entranced by its withdrawal.

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Tracey Payne, Breathing Space, 2014

Choc full of Martin Creed @haywardgallery

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I’ve never seen the Hayward so full of work. From the moment you walk in you are hit in the eye and ear and almost-but-not-quite the head. It made me smile straight off. Martin Creed’s work always does make me smile. There is a playful irreverence about his work, but he presents it to us all the same. I got the sense of him trying things out. The fact that he takes it seriously enough to stick at ideas gave the work an integrity which I found I didn’t get at all from a similarly irreverent David Shrigley at Hayward last year.

I couldn’t help comparing the shows in my mind as I walked around this one, but where Shrigley seemed determined to undermine his own work, which made me want to do the same after the first few pieces (you want me to take this body of work seriously? It makes me smile a bit, but seriously, how many one-liners can I take in one show?)
What’s the Point of It? is more of a stream of streams of thought, overlapping and repeating, which felt interesting to witness.
The work that almost-but-not-quite literally hits you when you first enter is the monumental revolving neon Mothers. The way it is shoehorned it into the space, sacrificing a walkway and giving you a squashy sofa to wimp out on is quite breathtaking. I prefer standing there and getting the hairs on the top of my head whisked up as it swoops past. When I first heard Creed talking about this work a couple of years ago,  Creed said it had to be large, “because mothers always have to be bigger than you are” and because “it feels like mothers are the most important people in the world.” This stuck me as respectful rather than patronising: I think it’s the ‘s’ which opens it up for all of us. We can all personalise the tribute I suppose. Motherhood being such an lifelong status, with all the paradoxes it presents – illuminating, intimidating, amusing, liable to bonk you on the head if you grow a bit more…. I could spend a lot more time with these ideas.
I did get to spend a lot more time with a lot more of Creed’s ideas, sometimes wondering why I was being asked to spend time with more than one incarnation of some. The stacks of boxes and iron girders, for example. But not chairs or lengths of wood. The everyday verses the sourced? The crafted versus the ordered from stock? Was it even that deliberate? Those inconsistencies I think were interesting, but in the room where light featured wasn’t so successful: the lights turning on and off were great: I think that added to the broccoli prints, and to Mothers, enhancing the features of both; but there was a projection on one wall which came on and off with the lights which felt clumsy. It seemed coy amongst work which was delighting in being straightforward and observational. It seemed to be a decision governed by practicality and I couldn’t get past that. The bronze peony in an unappealing vase sitting next to it also seemed out of place, much more of a material experimentation (the very long lasting flower made immortal although it looked quite dead… Material pun?)
The material puns were continued with the tape on the wall upstairs. A huge wall was meticulously striped in all different tapes. They weren’t holding it together, but they could almost have held it up. Made me want to fix a few walls in my house like that. Such a simple gesture, yet the hours of sourcing and the painstaking perfection of the application gave it substance. This was true of the walls in general, which are all painted in various ways, but with different paints or rollers or brushes which gave it more intention than randomness.
All of this pondering is rounded off by a room behind a wall glazed with different sorts of glass. (Following the Scotsman Steps in Edinburgh made of different shades of marble, the wall of tape, even the rather forlorn wooden screen downstairs crafted from different types of wood, the uniform is made question by these explorations into material variations)
Behind the glass wall, the space is un-neatly divided in two: half the air there is in great big balloons (or possibly, slightly less than half- I think the static on my hair made one or two explode.) The megawatts of static might be an indication that I stayed in there a bit too long, but it was fun.
Fun, and unnerving too. Coming face to face with strangers you didn’t know were there. Laughing hysterically like a child at a birthday party fulfilling old fantasies of enough balloons to fill the lounge. Paying for it with a birds nest painful tangle on the top of my head. It brought to mind the immersion in Cildo Meireles’ Volátil talc room at Tate Modern a few years ago, or Miroslaw Balka’s How It Is in the Turbine Hall, the unsettling possibility that something might happen to you is never far from your mind. This foreboding gesture is echoed by the slamming piano lid earlier in the show, the stranded, animated car on a roof. This is a deliberate act, otherwise why not just fill half the room with one ballon?
The insistence of Creed to draw us into his way of seeing and exploring the world seems generous rather than imposing. The smiles and belly laughs balance the more reserved, quiet, reluctant moments. The bored looking pianist serenading us with every note on the keyboard over and over again seemed privately humiliated, yet he did it anyway ( I hope this performance style was in the job description).
Having enjoyed looking at Creed’s work ever since I was first introduced to it on my art foundation, I was really excited to see some pieces I’d only read about before. (I was so busy on the MA I didn’t make it to see Mothers at Hauser and Worth) I did miss any reference to the Bells from the cultural olympiad though. Hopefully this is due to it being ubiquitous now, what with so many of us taking part? Or maybe its just me who still has the ringtone on my phone?
The work feels like an ongoing process, rather than a fixed presentation, which I find really refreshing. As the 2 years of intensive fertilisation and replanting, which led to the agricultural show which was the end of MA show at Chelsea last year, start to really sink in, it’s heartening to be reminded that making art is a lifelong obsession in the wider world too. What’s the Point of It? Is more than just a title of a song, or a show, it’s a call to arms for making more work, to try and find out.

Life after art school and after the Christmas madness

The irony of my lack of blogging since my iPad faded into obsolecense. Most of the info I gather on these pages is concerned with communication and sustainability, buy that didn’t stop the 4 year old iPad suddenly dropping off the map as everyone upgraded to iOS 7. 1st Gen iPads max out at iOS6.blah blah blah so hey.

After all the work generated by and in preparation for Chrimbo is out of the way I am really looking forward to the combo of quiet/thinking/working in studio, and the fertilisation of brain which comes from hearing other people discuss their own work. Which is why the menu of events and openings for the new year is appetising.

Started off by booking for Feb:

RCA Sustain Talks is a public-facing forum for discussion on all issues relating to sustainability and future living. 

Talks & Events – Sustain RCA. What’s the future of the UK’s energy?

Then listings site for handy pics alongside opening/closing dates at http://www.galleriesnow.net

Happy New Year

Beuys, a quick polish, and me

The alchemy and vision of Joseph Beuys is alive and kicking in my show. 18 hours and counting of being lucky enough to talk to all sorts of people about my work, and some themes are emerging. It’s a bit like one giant tutorial, but the confidence I have in the work is a relief actually, after the frenetic energy of the build which sometimes made me feel a bit confused. My choice of what I am showing is confirmed too, as the general thinking around commodity, exchange and communicating comes across. But for some, the foundations Beuys laid for me are insurmountable. Funny how keen they are to tell me this, but all feedback is appreciated- it just goes to help my thinking to clarify about where I have taken my practice to.
As the work is discussed, and in the case of the bronzes handled, it sits quietly, absorbing it all, taking on new marks. It was these marks which concerned one visitor so much he got out his hanky, breathed on one of the bronzes and started to polish it for me. All part of how they are treated, it was certainly a unique response!
I am looking forward to the next four days, thought they will be loooooong. Need to remember to take breaks, or I’ll be no use to anyone who comes by as I garble my words due to lack of food or caffeine or both.
The volume of visitors really is impressive, and I feel really proud to be able to spend so much time with work I am falling more in love with (if I may be so bold about my own creations). I’ll actually be sorry to see some of it go. Which can only be a good thing I know. But the emotions of the experience are intense, bittersweet. It makes me excited to get back to making the next works, and finding the next place to show and the next chance to engage with how it communicates with other people. 20130909-111959.jpg

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creating/curating

Breathe/ no breathe

I don’t think I have ever had this many pieces of my own work in one space before. It is larger than my studio, but crammed with works all clammering for my attention. It feels like a cross between chairing a rowdy meeting, and supervising a birthday party. Everyone is valid and valued and interesting, but some just don’t get on. Some form gangs against each other, and some just cannot resist having the last word.

I used to feel flustered and underprepared in both of the above scenarios when they went badly, but that moment where you make a great business proposal, or suggest a really great game, the crowd is on your side.

This is called curating.

When there are too many things it is confusing. They all talk at once, no one gets heard. Too few, and they risk becoming a bit lonely. Everyone likes someone to chat to, but who is secretly in who’s gang. The only way to find out is to clear them all out, and introduce them one by one. Sometimes one sits somewhere that really suits it, so they stay there, and others have to fit around them. Sometimes it goes really well until a row breaks out and you have to clear the space again.

It is a surprisingly physical experience- it makes you feel bad, squashed, confused and choked when it’s wrong. When it’s right it’s like you can breathe again, it’s exciting, and you feel great. Who knew curating was so visceral?

I have always proposed that the curator is a maker too- they can make shows out of the artwork the artists make. It is a skill.

A couple of minor observations:

Cadi Froehlich

Gasp. I’m choking..

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Ahh.. that’s better.

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The photo’s say Oi! Look over here!! The rest says meh.

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OK

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It’s a riot!! clear the area…

etc..

 

2yrs’ worth of shows

I think it’s worth collating the shows I have participated in over the last 2 yrs of this MA. Many were accompanied by excellent publications produced by James Edgar and the excellent work-form team.

Here goes, in chronological order, with install shots:

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40 Litres
40 Litres

IMG_0001 untangled laid out wires

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558851_358864197552032_2027297146_n Portrait

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Screen Shot 2013-06-17 at 17.19.12 Cadi Froehlich

show space

lots of conversations w tutors about how to present work in the show space. I am now at the moving things about/ taking them out and putting them back in stage.

I am thinking about what I want this work to say. There seem to be a few groups of thinking within the work- some more figurative, some more formal, and I am thinking about which way to present at this stage. I have a couple of pieces which I really like now, and want to include. They are shown below.

The ‘See’ of white wires makes me smile, I want it to stay.

The hanging echo of the cables is fun too, and I hope that stays too. It makes me think of the ‘fuck you’ attitude we are encouraged to bring to the show- the sense that we are making the show for our work and ourselves, not tryint to present something which other people will like per se.

The wall piece seems to have tied the vertical spaces together, and the insersion of the A4 copper piece helps me to remember where I am coming from on this. I am looking forward to getting the phone blanks on the wall to see how the shiny surfaces talk to each other.

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This fatter roll was made impromptu, and does not feel resolved enough to be included. It is a similar diameter to the recycled felt on the floor, the the relationship seems to explicit.

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I call the white wires See, as a grammatical pun really. They flow, and seem a bit sneaky, yet are laid bare, which I like.

 

 

 

 

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This work containing the white wires never fails to get a reaction, so am working with it. Addition of coloured tape was an error. Ongoing.

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These in themselves are working together, but the presence of the hanging piece changes how they sit on the floor, making it seem too crowded.

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The green/purple/felt tank piece from the Morgue show just doesnt seem right here.

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I have made A1 prints of these macro shots and mounted them on aluminium. They are just not fitting with the space at the moment.

Body pressure at the Hamburger Bahnhöf Berlin

Presented in the stunning central atrium of this former railway station, this sculpture retrospective covered work from the 1960s to the present day.
With a superstar cast, selected works were looking at the body and our place in the world. This came across conceptually rather than chronologically, and for me started with Fischli/Weiss’s piece showing a simplistic representation of the male and female forms.
Paul MacCarthys parody of Koon’s parody of Michael Jackson and Bubbles dominated the first half of the space with its commentary on celebrity culture, celebrity artists, production and the grotesque distortion of reality.
Gradually we were implicated into the work itself, with John McCracken pointing out our place within the artworks, and Franz Erhard Walther inviting us into being the artwork. Further dematerialisations came via Nam June Paik giving us reflection on our ego’s place in things, aided and abetted by technology, and Nauman providing us with a printed set of instructions on how to make the work ourselves, using only our bodies, and leaving no trace but in our minds. The instructions remain however.
Taking us to our natural conclusion and inevitable place in the natural order was Tino Segal. The artist who not only works without trace but seems to live without trace, he is not listed in the catalogue. His contracts are only ever verbally agreed, and the work is presented by others. The sung piece This Is Propaganda rung out in the space at regular intervals, sung beautifully by an artist dressed in regular museum uniform. She blended perfectly with the other staff until she began to sing a simple beautiful melody, before announcing the title and artist. The echoes of the tune remained briefly until she blended back into the regular environment. The recent murder of a soldier by religious extremists in yeah UK make the lyrics “This is propaganda. Heroes. Heroes.” more prescient than ever. This makes me value the other staff more too, and suggests democracy, equality, and the irony that in the end we are all to return to dust.
Even writing this about the work seems to be changing it already.

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