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Posts Tagged ‘Art’

Exhibitions at the Saatchi Gallery are usually very uneven. It’s worth seeing the current PAPER exhibition for one artist alone.

Yuken Teruya takes paper shopping bags, cuts out the silhouette of a tree from one side, and folds this tree into the interior of the bag – creating a magical space, an enchanted forest, an unexpected sanctuary. It’s not unusual for a contemporary artist to re-use discarded materials, but there is something extraordinary about these exquisite creations. It’s impossible to capture the depth and light on camera.

They remind me of the creations we would make as children – imaginary world’s in boxes – and of the window displays you see in some of the fancy department stores.

tree1 by SW

tree2 by SW

tree3 by SW

tree4

The second photo shows you the McDonald’s bag from above – how two sides of the tree are cut out and folded down separately (back and front) and then merged into a three-dimensional form, still attached to the side of the bag, so that it really is a single bag still. All of this with just scissors and glue.

Do take a look at his website. And do visit the Saatchi if you are around central London (it’s free and 2 minutes from Sloane Square).

Here is the blurb from the Saatchi Gallery site:

The detritus of urban life has long provided material solutions for artists; in Yuken Teruya’s work, the discarded becomes the site of poetic transformation. Shopping bags – in some ways the emblematic item of rampant consumerism, one-use receptacles quickly ditched – are placed within the gallery at a ninety-degree angle, their ends to the wall, becoming peepholes for one viewer at a time. Their dark interiors are speckled with light from holes cut into the bag’s paper surface; the shape of the hole is that of a full-grown tree, so the bag becomes both stage (with its own lighting) and source of imagery.

Stooping to encounter each work, the viewer is obliged to reimagine the nature of the receptacle: it’s changed from a passive to an active space. Each tree is painstakingly cut, its leaves and branches described with exceptional care, and each bag derives from a slightly different source (sometimes highend fashion boutiques, others McDonald’s), which stages the tree’s connection to the natural world in divergent ways. At times, as inGolden Arch Parkway McDonald’s (Brown), the bag’s mellow ochre tones evoke autumnal shades; at others, such as LVMH Mark Jacobs, the black bag lends the tree a doomy and gothic aspect. Reversing the flow of industry from tree to paper, Teruya’s work has an environmental sensitivity that’s hard to miss. It’s also a poignant assertion of the role of the creative artist: as someone who finds meaning amid the morass of stuff we leave behind.

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Just to update you on the exterior of the chapel at Allen Hall: The scaffolding has now been taken down and the ‘new’ crucifix has been ‘unveiled’.

‘New’ is in inverted commas because it has simply been put back in the very spot where it was originally hung in the 1950s (see my previous post here); and ‘unveiled’ because this happened without much ceremony: I’ve been away for a few days and when I came back the builders had just taken everything down. Maybe we will have a proper unveiling ceremony when the new academic year begins in September.

Take a look at the photos here. You get the best view from the top of the bus.

Allen Hall Chapel 2

A close up of the new crucifix: it’s been hanging inside against the back wall of the sanctuary for the last few years

Allen Hall Chapel

The view from across the street

 

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I managed to get a ticket for the very last day of the Ice Age Art exhibition at the British Museum on Sunday.

At one level, the works are extraordinary. To stand in front of a 40,000 year old Lion Man carved in ivory; to see a flute from the same period made from the bone of a griffon vulture, with six carefully spaced holes waiting to be fingered; to pass from one exhibition case to the next, a succession of statues, figurines, etchings, carvings, tools, weapons, most of them with some form of figurative imagery, thousands and thousands of years old. And to think that for some reason it was in this period in Europe that figurative art first developed.

At another level, it’s extraordinarily ordinary. These are images and carvings that could have been created yesterday, in the local art college, or even the local school. They clearly have a huge and unknown symbolic value, but as examples of figurative art they are simply very graceful and well-kept examples of the human urge to represent what is real.

This is what the human mind does. It produces images of what is out there in the real world (an etching of a lion jumping). It forms imaginary creations by playing with these images mentally and combining and recreating them (the head of a lion on the body of a man). It makes tools (a carefully carved stone core), weapons (a small pouch to launch an arrow), and musical instruments (the vulture bone flute). The mind or imagination works symbolically, and this is what allows us to transform the world, because the symbols don’t just stay in the mind – they change how we relate to the world and what we do in and with it.

It’s the lack of distance between then and now that is so extraordinary. If we could meet these ancestors of ours, and have just a few weeks of contact, perhaps just a few days, we would have learnt their language, and they ours, and we would be communicating as neighbours, as brothers and sisters. And yes, we would be working out whether they were friends or enemies, and the whole of human history would unfold once more…

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I’ve just seen the Lichtenstein exhibition at Tate Modern; it’s on until 27 May if you want to catch it. It’s interesting as a lesson in art history, but disappointing as an artistic experience. Not many of the paintings have any real power or beauty; the tones and colours (from all the different periods) are so limited; and even in terms of line and draftsmanship the images seem either simplistic and without much grace or overcomplicated and unbalanced.

The exception is the famous comic book art from the early 1960s, and I’d almost call these masterpieces: “M-maybe he became ill and couldn’t leave the studio”, “Whaam”, “Oh Jeff I love you too but…”

whaam - roy litchenstein 1963 by oddstock

The history is important. When the Western art establishment was locked into abstract expressionism (which I love), along came Lichtenstein and WHAAM: he put some energy, drama, line and subject matter back into painting. You can argue as much as you like whether it was celebratory or ironic or just commercially clever. The fact is that in almost a single gesture it brought Western art back to where it had been for three thousand years: using images to tell stories. Lichtenstein’s pop art is about recovery and restoration. In the late 1950s, comic books were more in the mainstream of the Western canon than the studios of Manhattan and Chicago, and it took Lichtenstein to remind everyone of that.

IMG_0395 by clare and ben

It is the aesthetic of the ‘pregnant moment’. If you already know, more or less, the story, then you don’t need to read the whole comic. You just need to choose a single frame, a pregnant moment, which captures the drama and allows us to insert ourselves into the story. This is as true for WHAAM and M-maybe as it is for a painting of the Nativity or the Birth of Venus. The narrative fans out, forwards and backwards, from that key moment, just as the future and the past are continually fanning out from the present in ordinary human experience. We are only ever within a single moment, but we can’t experience or interpret that moment without being conscious of some kind of story.

Laura Cumming has a gushing review here. But Alastair Smart is more critical. Info and tickets are here.

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It’s good to be ambitious in a film. It takes a lot of courage to deal with sickness, mortality, bereavement, love, friendship, marriage, parenting, creativity, culture, fame, failure – oh, and Beethoven – in under two hours.

An acclaimed New York string quartet have been playing together for twenty-five years. The cellist is diagnosed with Parkinson’s. And with this unexpected crisis everything else starts to unravel – the music, the relationships, even the past.

Most of this works. There are some powerful scenes. But somehow it didn’t quite fit together for me; I didn’t quite believe in the characters. It felt contrived.

Now surely this is an unfair criticism. The whole point of a chamber piece like this is that it is contrived: five characters (there is a daughter too), on stage before us for two hours, everything as carefully constructed as Beethoven’s quartet itself (op. 131).

It made me wonder about what was missing. Why is it that in a classic Woody Allen film (Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and her Sisters, etc), however extraordinary the characters, and however overwrought the plot, you still believe that they have an existence beyond the film, that you are stepping into their life rather than seeing a life momentarily created for your entertainment?

Why does the willing suspension of disbelief sometimes work and sometimes not? I think this was too actorly, in a self-conscious way; verging on the melodramatic; and simply not as funny as Allen. And without the ragged edges that allow the film in front of you to fade into an imagined reality behind the screen. All of this, somehow, takes away from the authenticity that is the mark of a great film.

So it’s a good film! Go and see it. But with something missing…

Here is the Beethoven:

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What did we do before the iPad? (By ‘we’ I mean ‘you’, because I’m the dinosaur stuck with the lap-top). The answer: We played all day on the Etch A Sketch.

"Say Anything" on an Etch-A-Sketch by methodshop.com

Hours and hours of my young life wasted/gained/lost/liberated: on the sofa, in bed, in the back of the car.

It has everything the iPad has: text (writing ‘STEPHEN’ in large, uneven letters across the screen); images (all those pictures of stick-men, houses, battle-fields, random animals and geometric patterns); video (the pictures morphed and developed in the making); audio (the faint screech of the wires, the white noise of shaking the filings back into place, using the screen as an improvised drum). It even had wifi: the fact that if your little brother was just finishing his Etch A Sketch masterpiece on the other side of the living room you could use a carefully thrown basketball to edit or delete the image at will; no troublesome wires, no worry about incompatible sockets.

And perhaps all of my present obsessive-compulsive tendencies stem from my discovery that if you systematically rubbed out every millimetre of the screen by bringing the horizontal line back and forward and edging it down incrementally, you uncovered the inner reality of the mechanism: the wires, the pulleys, the metal filings piled up below. This took about half an hour, and I couldn’t stop until not a single filing remained on the underside of the screen. A first taste of mystery, of engineering, of taking things just a little bit too far…

Why this reverie? I just discovered that André Cassagnes, the Etch A Sketch inventor, died last month at the age of 86. This is from Margalit Fox:

A chance inspiration involving metal particles and the tip of a pencil led Mr. Cassagnes to develop Etch A Sketch in the late 1950s. First marketed in 1960, the toy — with its rectangular gray screen, red frame and two white knobs — quickly became one of the brightest stars in the constellation of midcentury childhood amusements that included Lincoln Logs and the Slinky.

Etch A Sketch was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester in 1998; in 2003, the Toy Industry Association named it one of the hundred best toys of the 20th century. To date, more than 100 million have been sold.

The toy received renewed attention in March, amid the 2012 presidential campaign, after Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior adviser to Mitt Romney, described his boss’s campaign strategy heading from the primaries into the general election thus:

“Everything changes,” Mr. Fehrnstrom said. “It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.”

The quotation, pilloried by Democrats and Republicans alike, was widely interpreted as an acknowledgment by the Romney campaign that its candidate had no fixed political ideology.

The complete eradicability of an Etch A Sketch drawing is born of the toy’s simple, abiding technology.

The underside of the screen is coated with a fine aluminum powder. The knobs control a stylus hidden beneath the screen; turning them draws the stylus through the powder, scraping it off in vertical or horizontal lines that appear on the screen as if by magic. (An early French name for the toy was L’Écran Magique, “Magic Screen.”)

To erase the image, the user shakes the toy, recoating the screen with aluminum; tiny plastic beads mixed with the powder keep it from clumping.

That is essentially all there is to an Etch A Sketch, and though the toy now comes in various sizes, shapes and colors, its inner workings have changed little since Mr. Cassagnes first touched a pencil to a powder-coated sheet on an otherwise ordinary day more than five decades ago.

And the discovery itself?

One day in the late ’50s, as was widely reported afterward, Mr. Cassagnes was installing a light-switch plate at the factory. He peeled the translucent protective decal off the new plate, and happened to make some marks on it in pencil. He noticed that the marks became visible on the reverse side of the decal.

In making its faux finishes, the Lincrusta factory also used metallic powders; Mr. Cassagnes’s pencil had raked visible lines through particles of powder, which clung naturally to the decal by means of an electrostatic charge.

Mr. Cassagnes spent the next few years perfecting his invention, which was introduced in 1959 at the Nuremberg Toy Fair. (Because the toy was patented by Arthur Granjean, an accountant working for one of Mr. Cassagnes’s early investors, Mr. Granjean is sometimes erroneously credited as the inventor of Etch A Sketch.)

After Ohio Art acquired the rights to the toy for $25,000, Mr. Cassagnes worked with the company’s chief engineer, Jerry Burger, to refine its design. Where Mr. Cassagnes’s original had been operated with a joystick, the final version mimicked the look of the reigning household god of the day — the television set. It soon became the company’s flagship product.

In later years, Mr. Cassagnes designed kites; by the 1980s, he was considered France’s foremost maker of competition kites, which can perform elaborate aerial stunts.

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There’s a polar bear in Sloane Square. No-one told me about it! I just stepped off the bus, and there it was, in the snow, opposite Peter Jones. It’s magnificent.

2013-01-18 15.04.27

2013-01-18 15.04.00

I was enjoying the ‘thisness’ of the bear, the pure ‘being-there’ and ‘being-a-bear-there’ of the sculpture, the art that shows without the need to tell; but then I found it also has a purpose. Camilla Horrox explains:

A SPECTACULAR 12ft polar bear sculpture called Boris has been unveiled in London’s Sloane Square to symbolise the plight of the critically endangered animal.

Boris Johnson’s father Stanley unveiled the statue on Monday in one of the capital’s most iconic locations, Sloane Square where the ‘new’ Boris in town will reign until February 10.

Throughout the 28-day period the public, celebrities, organisations and corporations will be encouraged to register their support for the campaign online and visit Boris in person if they are able to.

Adam Binder said: “If people stop for just a moment to contemplate Boris and the plight of the polar bear, it will have served a purpose. Art should make you think. Wildlife art, particularly a piece on this scale, will hopefully be poignant and remind us that we’re all part of nature and have a responsibility to every creature on our planet. The endangered polar bear symbolises this better than anything else and Boris carries an important message for us all.”

Adam Binder, Jim McNeill (founder of the Ice Warrior Project) and environmentalist Stanley Johnson (father of the other Boris) unveiled the sculpture on Monday.

Throughout the 28-day period the public, celebrities, organisations and corporations will be encouraged to register their support for the campaign online and visit Boris in person if they are able to.

Boris, who is cast entirely of bronze and weighs 700 kgs is the brainchild of the award-winning artist Adam Binder, whose work in ceramics and sculpture has won him critical acclaim throughout a career spanning 20 years. Adam won the David Shepherd Wildlife Artist of the Year in 2010, and was elected a Member of the Society of Wildlife Artists in 2011.

Conservationist, David Shepherd CBE FRSA said: “It is fitting that Adam Binder’s first monumental sculpture should be this beautiful polar bear, a species that is, quite literally, on thin ice. If Boris’ lonely vigil in a London square makes people stop and think, even for a minute, Adam will have achieved his aim.”

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