Saturday 22 Oct saw me getting the train to Southampton gallery to attend a tutor led OCA trip to view the British art show 8. This is a travelling show held every 5 years, this one going to Leeds, Edinburgh, Norwich and Southampton.
The show is curated to bring the most Contemporary of art at the time around the country, this years themes being materiality ‘whether they work with their hands, archives, people or the internet – and how they relate to objects and physicality, particularly at a time of increasing convergence between the real and virtual worlds.’
Emma Drye was our tutor for this trip, I and 5 other students at various points in study managed to spend most of the day around a venue that aside from the Perseus pictures had been emptied of the permanent Southampton collection that is constantly on rotation.
The difficulty in showing a selection of artworks in different settings was brought home when Emma advised she had seen the exhibition at one of the other venues and its impact had been different, the Southampton gallery is an art deco space, the high ceiling is a decorative space that needs a rich focus beneath it not to be out-done, and I can see that some of the artwork would lose out in this setting.
Understanding why the curator has put the works together is a revelation to me, its a whole new level if you can go around a gallery and even the pieces you don’t like have a meaning to their time in this spot and you understand it. As an example, Anthea Hamiltons 2 pieces as prints attached to the back of perspex which is in itself elaborately patterned and has at some point had an ant farm filling the patterns with dirt. However, the ants have died and I’m not sure on the visual imagery of the naked woman using her legs as the clappers on the top of a clapper board (but then I am going through John Bergers ways of seeing again) So I’m fairly sure I’m missing the point.
Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s piece A convention of tiny movements (2015), as an explanation of which items in a supermarket (a large wall filled picture of mixed black and white items and coloured items in photograph. We are informed through test that the black and white currently cannot be used to listen and the coloured can, while on a table a box of tissues has a speaker and a voice talking from it to the chair at the table) can be used to collect sound acting as a microphone, speaks to me about a paranoia in the current age, of being watched. The revelation in that a crisp packet has the closest ability found so far to mimic the acoustics we as humans recognise, I was left wondering if the point was real or another example of the paranoia and made up to add another layer.
Ryan Gander’s The Way things collide (2014), provided 3 beautiful sculptures carved in wood, his point being that he was bringing 2 things you wouldn’t normally see together in the woodwork. He’s right, the Prious seat and the tampon led to so many questions as to why those 2 would be together and none of them where comfortable happy options, the pigs snout and the (what looked to me to be ) ammo/army storage box made more sense as did the 4L ice cream tub and the leather tool rest. The workmanship in the use of the material was beautiful, smooth recognisable items over the unfinished chiselled wooden bases.
Lynette Yiadom-Boakye oils (2015) were the only paintings in the show (although the whole exhibition is stretched over a couple of sites in this incantation, we only visited the one yesterday) and they represented fictional people worked from sketches the artist had done of actual people, the group of paintings seemed to be linked, the pallette use to create them was the same earthy discordant group of colours available in 1950’s adverts, but as each individual had their own canvas, what the link was could only be guessed at.
Alexandre Da Cunha’s work re-purposing, was well named and provided tactile items I really wanted to touch, Fatigue (2014) as a metal grid where the crosses in the lines where weighted down with a concrete donut created with the tyre from a wheelbarrow as a mold, had a sense of force pushing it down that worked well with its name, I could feel the draining weight. Also his use of mop heads in Kentucky (2010) created an effective quilt I would have liked to tucked my feet under. I wonder at its effect though if it had been made from used mops, the repurposing would have had more history to it, another story perhaps?
James Richard’s Raking light (2014), created an unsettling video with a, equally unsettling soundscape to go with it. His use of video clips he had either made himself or collected from cult films, had been turned to the negative or solarised making for a post apocalyptic feel to the whole thing with almost poisoned colours, the sounds were eery and discordant to the timing and delay in the changes on screen, as a piece to create a sense of unease, it worked well.
Caroline Achaintre’s Mother George (2015), was a hand tufted rug created with a thought to tribal masks, the colours leap out of the unkept face, which is neither pretty nor friendly, but recognisable and I didn’t find it threatening. It was again a tactile piece, organic in form. I liked it for its use of the material.
Cally Spooner’s Damning Evidence illicit behaviour insurmountable great sadness terminated in any manner (2014) is an led message display programmed to show the comments from after a lance Armstrong interview on Oprah admitting his banned techniques for upping his game in world cycling and comments from you tube clips about singing stars ‘outsourcing their live performances to technology’. This all creates a rolling text of mixed messages both damning and supportive for the stars. This contradiction is the nature of social media though, you can find your safe haven and like minded souls as much as the next comment can be inflammatory for you and a complete about face from your views.
Benedict Drew, Sequencer (2015) which seemed to be in two parts was a room with two large pictures of mountains with a tv screen in front showing and playing interference that seemed to replicate the texture of the hills, on another screen showed a mountaineering expedition metal frame back pack (empty) in pink. In front where 3 screens showing different coloured masses of gloop with air passing through as a small scale geyser while in the middle a playdough’d support with a gorilla pod on top held up a device with 2 ears on it. At this point the visuals are stronger than the sounds though, so whether this central device is to draw your attention to the sounds is anyones guess. This is all played out in a darkened room and the extra light in this first half is a quite warm yellow, so The feeling isn’t deeply uncomfortable, more confused.
Then you move to the second part where 3 large screens with a conch shell attached stand in front of the walls. The shell is a puzzle, I’m not sure if its referring to the creature inside? or the childhood message of putting your ear to the shell to hear the sea? or the link to Lord of the Flies and only being able to talk when you are holding the conch? Or because it looks like an ear? The screens all show a mix of videos of mud geysers or a rocky hill and valley or an oily geyser, with an electric backing noise accompanying the gloopy bubbling of the pools. Theres a hint of mad chemistry lab to the whole thing, right down to the tinfoil leads in the previous section going from the picture of the mountain to the tvs with the coloured geysers. Its an experience, but I don’t get ‘an environment dripping with false promise of desire and seduction conjured by the mediated image of the lens, the screen and the loudspeaker’ (artists words from the catalogue that accompanied the exhibition (p44)).
The exhibition contained such a vast array of mediums and assorted items that it gives me hope there is a place for whatever my mind could possibly create as an answer to anything. the messages were just as diverse and swung from hope to despair but kept us engrossed for over 3 hours and I have to thank Emma for helping open my eyes to slowing down and thinking each piece through.
All quotes are from the catalogue [Anon] (2015) British Art Show 8. First edition. London. Hayward publishing