Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Review of Alexis Hunter & Jo Spence at Richard Saltoun

Alexis Hunter & Jo Spence
Richard Saltoun
22 August – 27 September 2013

“We need to use our cameras, tape recorders, diaries, poems, videos – whatever cultural resources we have – to witness our own histories, to learn to protest and share, and to learn to nurture ourselves.”*

When Jo Spence (1934-1992) and Alexis Hunter (born 1948) exhibited together in the 1970s, feminist art was in its heyday and both artists had recently begun to use photography as a means to explore identity, comment upon and criticise society, and bring about change. Spence, herself from a working class background, was particularly interested in exploring cultural and class stereotypes, whilst Hunter immersed herself fully in the women’s movement and produced works questioning gender roles. Inevitably, however, Spence’s work has also been seen, much discussed, and academically pontificated upon from this angle. Both artists use portraiture and self-representation playfully and unsettlingly to tell stories, create narratives, make their viewers cringe, feel shame, feel guilt, and relate – at the level of the id, there is something in each of these artist’s strips of snapshot-style photographs or basic contact sheets where any and every woman can find herself.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Review of 10 at the Conference Centre, St Pancras Hospital

The Conference Centre, St Pancras Hospital
12 July – 12 September 2013

“Imagination is like the sea. You cannot say how many cups of water are in it – it’s endless.” This was my introduction to the group show currently on display in the Conference Centre at St Pancras Hospital – a chance encounter with a member of hospital staff, who, seeing me standing by Simon Croft’s mirror works, Normal, Natural and Real (2013), came over to ask if I was one of the artists, expressing his awe, and saying how he was “mesmerised” by the works on display. With such eloquent expression, really, he ought to be writing this review, but sadly he had another job to get back to! Nonetheless, his enthusiasm for the works on show certainly opened my mind to enjoy them even more than I otherwise might have.

The exhibition is a celebration of ten years of the Arts Project, which, together with the North London NHS Charitable Fund, has curated 125 exhibitions, involving over 200 artists – both professional and amateur – since 2003. And, indeed, the long corridor gallery space is filled with a sense of celebration – bright colours, kitsch, beads, playful papier mâché animals (by Sheona Josiah), an installation of golden Egyptian wonders (Gold of the Pharaohs, by Sue Kreitzman, 2013, a personal homage to the curator Peter Herbert), collage, ceramics, stonework, photographs, paintings and prints. Portraits hang opposite landscapes, and various thematic threads run throughout, inviting the visitor to pick one at will and start unravelling…

Places and memories figure significantly, with Dominic O’Ryan’s black and white photography montage, There are Places I Remember (2013), creating a travellog of beauty, Paul Herbert’s blue and green acrylics, The Homeland: New Zealand Portrait (2013) and The Homeland: New Zealand Landscape (2013), looking, with their black outlines and stark, effective shapes, almost like woodcuts, and, closer to home, Angela Inglis’s photographs of Kings Cross (taken from her book, Kings Cross: A Sense of Place, 2012), Ana Sedano’s photograph Shard London (2012), and Terry Humphries’ small bluish oil painting, St. Paul’s on the Thames.

Landscapes do not just refer to those of location, either, with Paul Dedelve’s stunning photograph, Landscape (2009), portraying the mere suggestion of the contours of a female body. Echoing this, Sue Smith has created a white stoneware sculpture, Woman at Rest (2012), whose smooth curves evoke hilltops and valleys, every bit as much as hips and shoulders.

Matilda Moreton works with literal maps, printing historical maps of the city of London on to ceramic tiles, and china mugs and plates, whilst Catharine Barcham’s dreamlike fused glass face masks opposite are displayed in a case with a statement taken from Lawrence Gowing (1962), saying:

The map of the face made up of timeless, mysterious, elusive human identities, 
is one, which we can only explore through our own understanding of ourselves, 
and how we map our own lives.

Certainly the question of identity – common to Herbert’s curatorial efforts – is another thread of this exhibition, and a number of artists raise questions as to how we see ourselves. These include Margaret Pepper, whose Journey of Discovery (2007) considers the uncertain territory traversed by the LGBT community; Phil Wildman, whose collaged acrylics bring together features from a variety of sources, compiling the emergent self; Ella Guru, whose painting depicts a woman looking in the mirror and seeing a rabbit’s face (Rabbitt’s Mirror, 2012); and Simon Croft, whom I mentioned at the start, whose three mirrors overlaid with PVA words look at the ways in which language use brings about judgments and affects the way that people, in particular transmen and women, look at their bodies.

Overall, this exhibition is an eclectic and joyous collection, appropriate for its celebratory purpose, and well worth a visit.


Sheona Josiah
© the artist

Dominic O’Ryan
There are Places I Remember 
© the artist

Paul Herbert
The Homeland: New Zealand Portrait 
© the artist

Paul Dedelve
© the artist

Catharine Barcham
© the artist

Friday, 9 August 2013

Review of Conrad Shawcross: Timepiece at the Roundhouse

Conrad Shawcross: Timepiece
1 - 25 August 2013

Enter the Roundhouse this month, and you will find it pitch black, apart from three starry lights, moving about in the hemispherical dome, casting eerie shadows through the rafters and down across the floor. These lights are actually bulbs, attached to the furthest extended points of three long metallic limbs – arms, each with two joints, moving slowly and steadily, unfurling as they rotate about a central axis, further punctuated by the pinnacle of a tall spike, rising from the floor, part and parcel of this astronomical construct, conceived specifically for the architecture of the venue, by artist Conrad Shawcross (born 1977).

Interested in the crossovers between geometry and philosophy, physics and metaphysics, Shawcross, upon being commissioned to create a site-specific piece for the Chalk Farm location, was struck by the building’s iconic roundness, as well as by the 24 columns circumscribing the round. Relating these to how humankind has come to index the day, breaking it down into 24 hours, Shawcross began his research into the history of clocks – timepieces –  and beyond, into the history of time. The three arms – or, more accurately, hands – are precisely constructed so as to accurately mark the passing hours, minutes, and seconds, and the four-metre spike is intended to act as a gnomon, the shadow-casting element of the old-fashioned timepiece, a sundial.

Standing or sitting down below, gazing upwards, listening to the gentle click-clicking of the mechanism, it is like watching a strange and oversized insect perform a curious and metallic yoga sequence. You cannot help but be simultaneously struck both by humanity’s enormity in its scientific progress and prowess, and by its humbling insignificance in the grander scheme of things. Looking upwards is like gazing out into the night sky, watching the celestial orbits of the stars. Time, although perfectly matched, nevertheless seems to slow down. You are invited to reflect and to be calm, listening to and watching, if not fully comprehending, this reliable constancy of the universe.

Shawcross, who says he wanted, with this work, to make the familiar [the clock] peculiar again, also confesses to finding it more interesting to create problems for the viewer than to answer questions. This is not surprising coming from an artist whose work borders on that of a scientist and philosopher – studying the universe is bound to open those larger questions upon which we, in our mere mortality, can only ponder, filled with deserving awe.


Conrad Shawcross

© Stephen White

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Video Interview with Bedwyr Williams

Bedwyr Williams: The Starry Messenger
Ludoteca Santa Maria Ausiliatrice, Venice
1 June – 24 November 2013


Implausible Imposters
Ceri Hand Gallery, 6 Copperfield Street
12 July – 10 August 2013

Living in a small village in north Wales, Bedwyr Williams is the first to confess that most people there, including his partner, think he is a little strange. And indeed, there is no straight talking with this polymath-artist-come-standup comedian whose work spans photography, sculpture, drawing, film and performance.
Williams is currently representing Wales at the Venice Biennale with The Starry Messenger. He is also one of seven artists at Ceri Hand Gallery summer exhibition, Implausible Imposters, where we spoke to him about his work.