In Conversation with Susan Collis
Susan Collis is a British artist whose work focuses on issues of labour, value and craftsmanship; exhibited internationally at institutions such as the V&A and the New Orleans Museum of Art, Collis has successfully combined conceptual art’s minimalist aesthetics with tenuous labour and devotion to create works of art abounding in detail, precision, time and love. Banal objects such as dust sheets, overalls, step ladders, work tables and screws are exhibited; these pieces, made purposely invisible, rely on the viewer to look a little bit closer as to reveal themselves in all their intricate majesty. Collis is currently exhibiting alongside artists Tracey Emin, Martin Creed, Boo Saville, Sue Webster and Amba Sayal-Bennett at the Pippy Houldsworth’s new group exhibition: Old Rope, and I had the opportunity to meet Susan in order to learn a bit more about herself and her work.
-Susan Collis, Installation View @ Ikon Gallery, Birmingham 2010.
Collis’ art career is not spark until she was in her 30s after studying literature at university and pursuing a career in publishing for around 10 years. It was upon meeting her husband – a fellow artist – that inspired Susan to take up a creative life of her own that wasn’t devoted purely to writing; an evening class followed by an art access course, followed by a Foundation at Chelsea College of Arts, found Collis snowballing into a world of art and a Master’s Degree from the Royal College. Collis traces the evolution of her practice to the “schizophrenic education” she received whilst studying at Chelsea College of Arts and the Royal College. Her work is an amalgamation of the conceptual packaging and minimalist aesthetic of Chelsea, and the laborious and monumental ethic of the Royal College and its facilities, namely the foundry. The product is an art-object invested with a tenet of the hand-made but clothed in a veil of the conceptual.
-Susan Collis, ‘100% Cotton’, 2004 (Overalls, embroidery threads)
NU: How did you come to being represented by Seventeen Gallery?
SC: “Well David Hoyland saw my work at the Royal College Degree Show, but I knew David anyway because I was with him at Chelsea. He invited me to his first group show at Seventeen Gallery as he started to get a stable of artists together. The show went well, there was a good response and I think he sold some work. He then asked me if I wanted to continue – So I’ve been there from the beginning and that is getting on to about 10 years now.”
NU: Do you often get assistant to help with your work? And how long would a piece, for example a dust sheet, take to make?
SC: “I work with assistants all the time as there is an awful lot of donkey work. I started off making the dust sheets on my own but I have had help with those now. There are certain things I won’t give out though – the kind of things I don’t give away are things I think have a strong drawing element. Things like the dust sheets and the overalls where I am drawing the marks as I go along, these are things where I am drawing but using thread instead of pencil – it’s very intuitive. I feel as though I have to be the one to do that. But there is a lot of other work they help me with – we are currently working on some big Tapestries which they are helping me with for the upcoming show at the Pippy Houldsworth Gallery.”
NU: Do you think many people really have walked past your art with no idea of its true nature? Or do you think most people realise when they look at your art?
SC: “Yeah I think people definitely have. It’s quite odd now – I don’t know how I feel about it anymore – I’m not sure if I’m over that sort of Trompe l’oeil work because if people are now actively seeking the work it’s something quite different. I think I’ve always just wanted to surprise people and challenge them.”
-Susan Collis, Installation View at Lora Reynolds Gallery – ‘I would like to invite the viewer’ 2014
NU: In your recent exhibition ‘I would like to invite the viewer’, is that the first time you have used things such as headphones and head-mounted displays with your work?
SC: “It is really it’s the first time I have used film.”
NU: Do you want to use more of it in your work?
SC: “Yes possibly, it’s very experimental. I have worked with that gallery quite a lot but I wanted to work particularly with their project space this time because it felt like something I didn’t really know.”
NU: Perhaps that’s why you’re more interested in areas such as film now – because it is less based on a trompe l’oeil experience?
SC: “Perhaps, yes.”
NU: The pieces in this exhibition in particular - I imagined people going in and not noticing the true nature of the work and reverting to the old expression of ‘my five year old could do that’ and it’s when they notice that you can perhaps see some satire in them.
SC: “Yes I think that definitely comes from looking at Popular criticisms of art, it definitely comes from me coming to the scene quite late. But having all that time before where perhaps I have thought that.”
NU: Do you think some of your work provides an easy entry route for people perhaps not so knowledgeable within areas such as conceptual art – because your work makes explicit the often invisible nature of it?
SC: “Yes I do, but I don’t particularly want it to stop there because otherwise it will become somewhat of a gimmick. I want to explore the entire logistics of things such as labour and craft and opposites I suppose – because I have always tried to get that into the work – where there is clean and dirty, quick and slow – two absolutely opposing elements in the same work.”
NU: What made you first start using objects such as dust sheets, overalls and stepladders?
SC: “I think to start off with because I wanted to make these things which were to be invisible but very worked, I was just looking around the college for things that you would walk past and things you wouldn’t give a second glace to. So to see a pair of overalls hanging on the wall – and the way I displayed them at our summer show was just hanging up next to a sink, stood out for me. Lots of people didn’t notice they were even there. I thought it was an interesting idea to recreate marks with stitch but I never thought it would beat people’s eye. I wanted to use items that looked at home in the space – so the next item I did was the white pair of overalls because it references the people who have to come in and tidy and paint the space before a new exhibition. Funnily enough the guy who bought those was a painter and decorator. His name was Carl Marks. So I got this phone call saying Carl Marks wants to buy you art. I thought that was really funny but I don’t think he got the joke.”
NU: You talked about displaying your work at your degree show – would you like your pieces, once bought, to be displayed as you would?
SC: “Yeah definitely, because otherwise people will put a spotlight on them – and that has happened – I was in a show in Ireland and it was up on a raised platform with a spotlight on it. I definitely think I need to be quite clear with people about the fact I want my work displayed quite casually – always with the possibility and courting the idea that people miss it – but also that they don’t. It’s difficult because I rely quite heavily on the materials list with my work – so when people see ‘Susan Collis – platinum, pearl, diamond etc.’ then they have to look for it, but I wouldn’t want a big tag right next to it or anything like that.”
- Susan Collis, ‘As good as it gets’, 2008 (18 carat white gold, white sapphire, turquoise, onyx)
NU: In your pieces there are some which have a strong element of hidden labour and some which have a strong element of monetary value as with the screws for example – do you feel that both elements are as strong? Or do you feel that the labour is stronger than the monetary value?
SC: “I did do a small jewellery course and in attempt to learn how to work with these materials but this is the thing with these types of craft techniques – people have taken a lifetime to master these crafts. In the end I decided I’d be much better off getting someone else to do that. That was a very different feeling for me – because everything prior to that had been intensely made by me.”
Meeting Collis was a heartening experience; she is a humble and modest character whose true devotion and appreciation of art shone through in the unassuming fondness she has for her own work and the work of others around her. Her art is stimulating and addictive, it can leave you feeling pleasantly refreshed and most probably – quite inspired.
Words by Charlie mills
Sam Austen - Such Animals at Paradise Row
Everything is spinning and spitting in the basement of Paradise Row. Such Animals , Sam Austen’s solo presentation, is a body that inhales and exhales, pulling us in and pushing us out. The sub woofer has fed back distortion all over the walls, rolled on D.I.Y static fuzz articulates keyholes and door frames. A giant fan spins around and around…the basement is dark…the music is loud. Sam, Attilia Fattori Franchini (the curator of the programme at Paradise Row) and I sat in the space, talking over the noise.
The exhibition developed from a previous show which Attilia curated called The Instability Of the Image, in which Sam’s film Hell Screen was displayed on a monitor. Having visited his studio, and seen all the props and drawings that go into the films, Attilia decided that Sam needed a solo show. Some of these objects are on display here, oscillating over the walls; little wobbly rings that are eyes, mouths, sounds, pools of water…something to spin, something to shine a light on.
Sam makes 16mm films, a process which he says is “pretty much 100%” chance. Like the texture of a roller or the edge of a blade, the chance element of film is activated to produce dynamic compositions that are sketched and layered over one another. Also, it is important that the images are ‘believable’, that all this has actually happened and these are real objects; that thing was lit in that way; it was spinning that fast… which all sounds terribly nostalgic, part of the long standing trend of the fetishisation of real film, but Austen’s work treads that line elegantly, referencing digital renderings and editing filters in ways that don’t feel tired. Text haunts other works, dirty words and fragments of conversation. The fan spins, the wall is black and all the unrelenting stuff outside is breathing in here.
The text written by Francesca Zedtwitz-Arnim acts as a kind of prelude, even a pre-requisite; it dips in and out of reality, of dreams… wetness and dryness… sensuous, bodily, sexy. The title of the show mounted on the wall mimicks the presentational devices of cinema, an introduction, a billboard for a film we are already in. Jackson Blumenthal and Kugan Vijayatharan have created a soundtrack that draws on disco, house and funk; a forceful, varied and melodic piece, littered with smoky exhalations as glimpses of the studio wall emerge. These devices render illusions artificial, as our fantasies take the form of sneaky ghosts and we become component parts of the production.
Having seen a trajectory of Sam’s work, this installation feels like a broad and poetic articulation of his concerns. The film is powerful and energetic, pulsing and burning. The immersive body and its detritus elaborate on its ruminations. That feeling of breathing, of transience, of rolling another and keeping going…of the city outside, its noises, its pace and its illusions.
Words my Mark Lewis
Such Animals runs until the 10th May.
If you like art and free wine that might make you go blind then you should hang out in South London these next two weeks…
It seems I spend half my evenings going to little squats and dingy rooms above pubs that young artists and art students have turned into fully functioning art galleries where you are handed a plastic cup of white wine that burns your throat and exposed to some of the most interesting art being made in London today. Although Many of these exhibitions are not too far from house parties - with people awkwardly chatting or ‘networking’ before the show fills up too much and people start getting rowdy on the free booze until either the show gets shut down or becomes some sort of old school disco. The parties that follow go one of two ways, either they are DJ’d by the drunk host, so expect camp-classics and cringey ‘90s ‘bangers’, or someone with an iPhone takes over who doesn’t even know or like The Kinks and has an unreal love for ‘deep-house’. You may ask, ‘Why bother?’. You could just go out to a pub or bar, but that would be missing the point: There really is a scene of artists making exciting work south of the river. Maybe it’s because East London has become so expensive, gentrified and just generally shit, clogged up with ‘Pret A Manger’s’ and bars where beer costs more than the budget for the Trident missile program. So, we’ve compiled a list of exhibitions, private views and art events coming up over the next two weeks that are worth checking out. If you think you’d like to hang out with a bunch of pretentious artists and students, don your Dr Marten’s, paint ridden jeans and long black coats and get down to Peckham.
Thursday, May 1, 2014
GOLDFINGER - 6pm - 8pm - LINK
Carly Baker Bethany Lloyd, Abigail Stokes, Daisy Bradley, Bethany Heaton and Niamh Tulley
Address: The Bible Factory, Flat 3, 47 Southampton Way, Camberwell, Se57Sw
Friday, May 2, 2014
GOLD – 6pm – 9pm – LINK
Susannah Bolton, Queenie Clarke, Matthew Clifton, Rachael Davies, Ollie Dook, Harriet Howarth, George Rouy and Aimée-Beth Warburton
Address: 29-31 Oxford Street, London W1D 2DR
Saturday, May 3, 2014
HOUSE PARTY – 10pm – Late – LINK
Celebrating six successful months of ‘DIG’.
Address: DIG, 87 OLD ROAD, SE13 5SU
Sunday, May 4, 2014
MENAGERIE – 6pm – 8pm – LINK
George Simms, Rosie Watts, Rhoda Boateng, Louise Lunzer, Aneta Mackonyte, Aoife McCann, Izzy Nakhla and Katie Sims
Address: Arches 3-4 , Resolution Way, Deptford, SE8 4NT
Wednesday, May 7, 2014
PLAYGROUND – 6pm – 9pm – LINK
Alex Wakefield, Dani Dayoung Kim, Edwin Fry, Liam Frater, Valentine Bossert and Yuen Ling Wong
Address: HOTEL ELEPHANT,18 Newington Causeway, London, SE16DR
Thursday, May 8, 2014
CIRCULAR – 2pm – 9pm – LINK
Rachel Walker, Joseph Black, Jemma Greenwood, Olga Lomaka, Fiona McAuliffe and Felix Treadwell
Address: 45-47 Hanbury Street, Brick Lane, London, E1 6RL
Friday, May 9, 2014
ARCADE - 5pm - 8pm – LINK
Ben Reader, Max Jackson, Jacob Yarwood, Lewis J. Henderson, Phoebe Mulrooney, Elizabeth Lowe, Anne Gritli Faulhaber and Pricila Fiszman
135a, K&S Indoor Market, Rye Lane, Peckham, London, SE15 4ST
FLESH – 6pm – 9pm – LINK
Naomi Fuller, Louise Adjei, Ed Hadfield, Albeiro Rojas Tomedes, Alex Norwood, Jack Richardson and Pablo Garcia Martinez
Address: 6-16 Melior Street, London SE1 3QP
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
QUIET! Magazine launch party – 6pm – Late – LINK
The event will host video projections, talks, and acoustic live music to celebrate the magazine launch.
92 Peckham Road, SE15 5PY London, United Kingdom
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
New State, 6pm – 11pm – LINK
Paulina Korobkiewicz, Bakhtiyar Berkin, Jeremy Knowles, Scott Pattinson, Max Stanley, Dasha Shipa and Mark McGowan
24 Elm Grove, SE15 5DB London, United Kingdom
Work depicted in photograph by Rachael Davies who will be showing in 'GOLD' on Friday 2nd May.
Words and photograph by Lewis J. Henderson
Bill Drummond is an artist who does not confine his art to the walls of a gallery. His art is human, interactive and constant. He is currently based in Birmingham, at Eastside Projects, a contemporary art gallery just outside the city centre. Birmingham is the first of twelve cities he intends to visit as part of his world tour. He will live and work in a particular city and carry out various ‘strands of his practice’. Some include constructing Cake Circles, giving performance lectures and building rafts, while some are more intrinsic to his life, such as working hard and growing old.
Drummond has had a highly successful musical career, he was a member and co-founder of the KLF, the influential acid-house duo, with Jimmy Cauty. He also had a solo career in the 80s. After the KLF’s ‘retirement’ from the music industry in 1992, the two formed the rather controversial art organisation known as the K Foundation. They had their own K Foundation art award and granted Rachel Whiteread, the 1993 Turner Prize winner, £40,000. The award was ironically for the ‘worst artist of the year’ and Whiteread finally accepted it as the the pair threatened to burn the money. This was an act against the Turner Prize and aimed to display the ludicrousy of this title. Subsequently, in 1994, they burnt one million pounds. The process was filmed and displayed, causing inevitable outrage. Cauty compared it to a painting, saying ‘you get something out of it’.
The spontaneity and controversial nature of Drummond has not escaped him and you most certainly come out of his exhibition asking questions. It seemed strange going into Eastside Projects; there were maps, canvases and frames on the wall, stating Drummond’s plans of what he would be doing and where he would be travelling to within Birmingham. The declaration of these actions paired with the capitalised text of The 25 Paintings, which can be viewed in his exhibition, seemed rather blatant and forceful. But what I was seeing was like a sketch; the essence of Bill Drummond’s art was not embedded in the exhibition. He says ‘the art is not what is exhibited in the gallery but what happens throughout the city over the three month period and beyond’.
I also realised the lack of permanency; the bunches of flowers are given away, the cakes are eaten, shined shoes will just become dirty again. Alike The17, Drummond’s choir where nothing is documented or recorded, it is the performance of the action and the temporary nature of it that is integral to the artistic experience, not the preservation of something that can be visually admired days on end. I coincidentally managed to find one of the lilies he was giving away outside the Council House on the floor. It seems as though you will only engage with Bill Drummond’s art if you are somehow in the same vicinity as him or actively make an effort to attend one of his lectures or to meet him.
Bill Drummond is refreshing, he appears to be continuously working himself. The words on the wall only scratch the surface of what he does, and will do, in reality. The fleeting nature of his art makes it a rarity to approach and it does raise interesting questions about what can be deemed as art. His world tour will be somewhat of an anthropological study; the implementation of Drummond’s varied ‘strands of practice’ will vary from person to person and city to city. While his actions remain constant, the art will be ever-changing. For me, in a world where there seems to be an insatiable desire for documentation, I find Drummond’s practice intriguing, exhilerating and genuine.
15 March – 14 June 2014, Bill Drummond’s show at Eastside Projects - LINK
Words by Harr-Joht Takhar
Photographs courtesy of Tracey Moberly
Watch our new interview with filmmaker William Raban.
On Friday 7th February, 2014, NU Magazine met with William Raban – artist, filmmaker and professor at London College of Communication – to talk about his role in the movement of expanded cinema, some of his favourite works, and what he thinks should happen in the British film industry.
One definition of “expanded cinema” is a film that is not defined by the boundaries of the screen, for example, a film which is actually being made as it is projected. In Rayban’s case, it is a film where he duplicates the film onto a screen multiple times, over the period of about 5 days. Each day, he steps onto stage, states the time and date, and steps off. The next day, he repeats this, but the film is then inside the previous day’s film – creating a duplicate effect which can continue an infinite amount of times.
Leo Taylor discusses Rayban’s previous films, along with how he would classify his films – as pieces of art, a film, or perhaps somewhere in between?
He also speaks about the current British film industry, and what he’s working on at the moment.
Words by Poppy Harris
Where does the line between art and music lie? Or is there even one?
The line between art and music has always been blurred, to be honest there probably isn’t one, but now that being in a band seems a little bit ‘uncool’, everyone seems to be jumping on the art bandwagon. It’ll probably be for the best, I’d stand in a room of white noise and feedback or see a band with an interesting lightshow any day over scratching my non-existent beard and drinking a pint of lager in a plastic cup at yet another indie-rock/pop gig in Camden or Shoreditch.
After spending so much time with the industrial-rock band/performance group ‘BADFOOD’ shooting the new NU SOUNDS documentary that will air this spring, I could see a certain unwillingness to commit to defining themselves as a band, performance group or even an installation, they are simply ‘BADFOOD’. This – and several other factors - provoked me to wonder, ‘where does the line between art and music lie?’.
Not wanting to label an “audio project” a band is understandable as being in a band has, seemingly, become quite uncool of late, even the other day I was talking to a girl at a party and she said; “you’re in a band? I can’t think of anything less attractive than being in a band.” She honestly said this. So, when did being in a band become so uncool? I remember being at school and learning the guitar so I could get in a band. Back then, all the ‘cool kids’ were in bands and they got all the girls but now it seems the tables have turned, it’s the moody artists and mysterious philosophers that are trendy, leaving the bands to make themselves as odd as they possibly can to be deemed a moving sculpture or a deconstructed painting. Maybe this shift in opinion is down to living in London or the fact that everyone thinks they are Bob Dylan now they have a recording app on their iPhone, but it does pose the question - where is the line between music and art? Is there even a line? Probably not, but, if there is, then here are some of my favourite examples of bands of artists, or artists in bands, or something like that. They draw some kind of line between art and music, but just where the line is varies hugely.
From the studio archives, 1998
The Flaming Lips “Boombox Experiments” - LINK FOR VIDEO
Between 1996 and1998, the American psyche-rock band, The Flaming Lips - Wayne Coyne, Michael Ivins and Steven Drozd, staged a series of events somewhere between an art show and a ‘gig’ after the departure of their guitarist Ronald Jones, these events such as the “Boombox Experiment” and “Parking Lot Experiment” explored the way a band could perform and introduced the idea of audience participation to a music performance.
The project started with the “Parking Lot Experiments” where up to 40 volunteers were given cassette tapes created by the band to be played simultaneously at a parking lot from their car’s tape deck, creating a field of sound with harmonies created between the cars so wherever you walked in the parking lot you had a different musical experience. These happenings came together in 1997 to form the band’s eighth studio album ‘Zaireeka’ – an album of four CD’s that is intended to be heard by playing all four CD’s on four different CD-players simultaneously, a stripped down version of the “Parking Lot Experiments”. The music on ‘Zaireeka’ comprises of both traditional instrumentation and ‘musique concrète’- an experimental technique of musical composition using recorded sounds as raw material, invented by the French composer Pierre Schaeffer in 1948, the assemblage of various recorded natural sounds to produce a montage of sound, heavily manipulated by recording studio electronics and effects.
After ‘Zaireeka’ The Flaming Lips went on to do the “Boombox Experiments” as an alternative concept to touring to promote an album. Like the “Parking Lot Experiments”, in the “Boombox Experiments” participants were given a unique tape but instead of using a car stereo they were given a modified boombox to create an orchestra, the band then conducted the performance instructing the audience to change settings, tone and volume of their boomboxes. The shows developed over the year of touring, with no two shows being the same, the band devised a technique of syncretizing the tapes by having two tests on each tape so that the audience could synchronize before the main performance as each separate composition needed to be started simultaneously. The actual compositions were meticulously planned in unison, so that particular tapes went in particular machines with certain characteristics. The machines and compositions were positioned to create the best possible sound and effect for the performance.
The result of this was a set of shows more like a Rirkrit Tiravanija exhibition than a rock-show, deconstructing the idea of what an audience and a band have to be, yet still playing on the ideas of a classical orchestra. By making the audience a part of the piece with every member working together in someway, the experience seems as interesting as the music they are creating as a whole and I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if in ten years the ICA (UK) or a similar size gallery reconstructed the “Boombox Experiments” as an art installation.
A journalist taking a recording from one speaker from “Courtyard Ornamentation With Sounding Dots And A Prison”, 2014
Cevdet Erek “Courtyard Ornamentation With Sounding Dots And A Prison”
On the 26th February 2014 at Palais Badii, Marrakech, an installation by the artist Cevdet Erek was opened to the public as part of the fifth edition of the Marrakech Biennale. The installation, titled “Courtyard Ornamentation With Sounding Dots And A Prison”, was a site-specific work comprising of loudspeakers placed on walls surrounding a courtyard and within a series of tunnels in an old abandoned prison next to the courtyard. From each individual loudspeaker a different pre-recorded percussive sound by the artist (which was then programmed using a drum machine to create minimal rhythmic loops) could be heard. The affect of these different rhythms coming from all around you meant that wherever you moved, you were able to hear different rhythms combining and working together, creating different ‘sweet spots’ within the piece, creating a unique and interesting experience for each viewer/participant. This piece is a continuation of the series “Courtyard Ornamentation With 4 Sounding Dots And A Shade” which was shown as part of the Sharjah Biennial in 2013.
I was lucky enough to be at the press opening of “Courtyard Ornamentation With Sounding Dots And A Prison” in Marrakech and to be within the work was something incredible. You are able to understand Cevdet Erek’s interest in time and space and, in a way, the work reflects who the artist is, a real insight into a man of few words who lets his work speak for itself.
In terms of the relation between art and music, this piece has everything music should have and you can hear the influence of dance music and minimal-techno in there. Erek enlarged on the link when he gave a talk about his work as part of the Biennale although he was keen to confirm that he didn’t want his work to be seen as a musical performance but as a piece of art. With this piece, he has made it something bigger and more interesting than a piece of music and, if there is a line between art and music, he has transcended it with this work.
Poster for ICA show, 2014
Greg Fox “Personified”
On the 19th February, 2014, Greg Fox – former drummer of Dan Deacon and Liturgy, exhibited an installation at Philadelphia’s Institute Of Contemporary Art, a piece that enabled the participants to make music using their own beating organs. Fox has created a new piece of technology that generates music based rhythms of the human heart and movement of organs, he used this new technology to create the basis for his new album ‘Mitral Transmissions’ as well as using it to create the installation at the Philadelphia Institute Of Contemporary Art. With Fox’s installation, album and invented technology he is not just blurring the boundaries between the art and music but with science as well. I’m not sure how much he’s added to or manipulated the heart rhythm track in the making of the album, but the idea itself seems interesting enough for him not to have made the album at all and to just have used the heart rhythms as some sort of sound installation or interactive device. Maybe it would have been better to have it as a stripped down concept, but I guess this is a musician who is making art or looking for a new use for this technology that can make anyone a real life ‘human beatbox’.
BNNT ‘sound bombing’, 2012
The Polish performance duo BNNT, formally named ‘Brown Note’, comprising of Konrad Smoleński and Daniel Szwed, have been active since 2008, the group have, like BADFOOD, created a band-like performance group known for both art performances and live shows that have taken place in both the ICA (London, UK) and JEMP Festival (Poland) as well as ‘sound bombing’ – a performance which involved Smoleński and Szwed driving a modified van equipped with a large sound system that launched unexpected sonic attacks on random members of the public.
BNNT describe themselves as “somewhere between being an installation, a sound performance and physical theatre” but seem to have the format of a ‘band’ and have released albums on established record labels Qulturap and Pink Punk. Smoleński plays an invented instrument that he’s named a ‘baritone missile’ - a bit like a baritone guitar encased in what looks like a missile or a flotation device - he is accompanied by Szwed who plays a standard rock drum kit, although BNNT are probably the most ‘band-like’ out of the examples, I still think that they are doing something different, challenging what we expect from a gallery and what we view a band or performance to be.
Still from ‘ODDSAC’, 2010
Danny Perez and Animal Collective “ODDSAC”
On the 26th January, 2010, the film/visual album “ODDSAC” was first screened at Sundance Film Festival. The film comprises of 53 minutes of psychedelic visuals directed and edited by film-maker and visual artist Danny Perez, accompanied by the music of Animal Collective. Every member of Animal Collective worked on making “ODDSAC” with Perez, both acting in the film and composing the music. The music from the film was never released separately as the music and film are meant to be seen together as they compliment each other. The film took four years to make with Perez’s visuals made to reflect the music and the Animal Collective’s music reflecting the visuals. A unique, two-way relationship.
For me, personally, I think this film really changed how I thought about music, I remember the first time I saw it, sitting in the cinema tent at Green Man festival 2010. Before I had seen the film I had read an article about “ODDSAC” and was thoroughly confused why Animal Collective wouldn’t release this whole album of music, it was just after their album ‘Merriweather Post Pavilion’, the album that had brought the band out of the underground and into the public’s attention. But, after seeing the film in an audience of soggy festival-goers I realised that they hadn’t made an album, they had made something bigger than that. I was happy that you wouldn’t be able to buy just the music because the music was just half of the story, for me this film is a good example of a band pushing themselves, working with a director, collaborating to make something beyond the realms of what is expected when you are making music, something that was pushing it into the world of art.
Without doubt, art and music have always been intertwined; Brian Eno and Bryan Ferry from ‘Roxy Music’ met at art college, David Bowie studied art at Bromley Tech, Captain Beefheart was a painter, Patrick Brill (aka Bob And Roberta Smith) is in The Ken Ardley Playboys and Martin Creed is signed to Moshi Moshi Records and will take any opportunity to get his guitar out as I found out recently at a talk about his current show at the Hayward Gallery. If there is a line between art and music it will be sitting between the people making new and exciting music and having shows that push themselves and our understanding of sound. These are not individuals who are making comfortable music that doesn’t do anything but fill people’s ears. I’d be excited to see a shift towards a new form of ‘art-rock’ revolution but it’s almost definitely not going to happen, I guess we are going to have to sit though another 10 years of monotonously boring house tracks, or whatever genre that next will be filling our ears and seek out the interesting stuff ourselves deep in underground scenes and dilapidated warehouses.
Words by Lewis J. Henderson
An interview with the British-born artist Oliver Michaels about ‘Composite Architectural Sculpture’, the influence of the Bechers and his move to the States.
After seeing Oliver Michaels’ ‘Composite Architectural Sculpture’ on a blog about a year ago, I have been following his career but have always wanted to speak with him to find out more about the American-based artist. If you haven’t heard about Oliver Michaels, briefly; he was born in London in 1972, received a bachelors in Fine Art at Central Saint Martin’s but now lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. He has his work in collections such as the Museum of Modern Art (New York, USA) and Krefelder Kunstmuseen (Germany), he has had solo shows in London (UK), Herzliya (Israel) and Santa Monica (California, USA).
Michaels’ works such as ‘Composite Architectural Sculpture’ and ‘Train’ involves the use of computers and digital editing software to create narratives between spaces while challenging what constitutes a truthful representation of reality. It seems to me that Michaels is one of a new generation of artists such as Philipp Schaerer or Doug Rickard who have been brought up in this ‘age of computers’ and were able to use and understand them from an early age. They see computers and software as a medium not just a tool for design, but don’t get me wrong, artists have been working with computers for quite some time, even Hockney’s been jumping on the ‘bandwagon’ with iPad paintings. All of a sudden now the art world seems to be taking an interest in computer art. I guess it’s a little bit like the invention of Acid House in the mid-80’s, if you let some kids loose with a new technology (such as the like the Roland TB-303) they’ll play around and find interesting uses for it in a way that it was never intended, creating something utterly unique and new. In the modern world and since the mid 90’s the new technology has been the computer and it seems the kids are now coming of age.
Exhibition at the COLE Gallery, London, 11 October - 9th November 2013
I had the chance to speak with Oliver Michaels recently, here’s what he had to say:
NU: Can you tell us a little bit about you work ‘Composite Architectural Sculpture’?
OM: “These works are created by digitally compositing images from many different buildings to create a photograph of a large structure within a landscape. The form of the substrate has a basic shape, such as a cube, and the difference between the buildings is mostly created by architectural details and ornamentation. I wanted to stay away from creating an imaginary building or fantasy landscape; so I put no signs of function in the structures; doors, windows, stairs etc. I see them as a possible result of a collaboration between Gordon Matta-Clark, Donald Judd and Fiona Cairns.”
NU: So it was made entirely using a computer to collage elements of different photographs together?
OM: “Yes, I start by taking a series of walks around an area, or a road trip where I gather images of the surrounding architectural details. I then work with the stock images in Photoshop to create a sculptural remake of the trip so that the structures reflect the feeling of the places I’d been to; it’s my version of themed restaurants.”
'Grain Elevators', 'Bins', Bernd & Hilla Becher, eight black and white photographs, 1978-2000
NU: Were Bernd and Hilla Becher an influence on you when you were creating ‘Composite Architectural Sculpture’?
OM: “Yes, very much so in regards to some aspects of the work. It is a strange position to overtly negate visual style by wholeheartedly embracing one. I really like this act and I think it is relevant today.”
“My work is both similar and very different from theirs and I felt that this contradictory relationship to them is in some way reflective generally of some of the concerns of contemporary photography. I’m by no means an expert on the Becher’s but as I understand it their work presents ‘detached’ depictions of utilitarian structures from rural environments and the act of cataloguing them creates a closed metaphorical system that frees the images and allows the viewer to renegotiate the forms and textures; an experience that revolves around sculpture. As part of this work there is an inherent underlying agreement between the audience and artists that photography is a depiction of something real. In the haze of the digitalization of the photographic process this agreement is now more overtly in crisis and more generally understood.”
“My work in many ways is comparable, firstly it chooses a similar style; it is black and white and it gets the viewer involved in looking in a similar way at similar things, but at the same time binds the viewer in the opposite agreement that the images are constructs; the buildings are fabrications and the style is chosen. But then the position changes as they very much rely on being, in some way, depictions or documents of reality; I’m interested in the cross-boundaries of these positions, specifically the photographic inquiry into what constitutes a truthful representation of reality, and the struggle for hierarchy between documentation and fiction/post-production as bearers of truth.”
NU: Is your choice to work in black and white with works like ‘Still Life’ and ‘Composite Architectural Sculpture’ wholly aesthetic?
OM: “Grade is a complicated area today where one-click content creation allows us to choose if a snap should look ‘lo-fi’, ‘antique’ or ‘Madison Ave’. I first started making these works in colour. I thought that being able play with the colours of the bits of buildings would prove to be an area of limitless resource in the constructions of the forms as sculptures. But as I started to make the work I found that the colour either quickly made the work wacky or that the style was focusing the work towards fictional landscapes; something I was eager to avoid.”
“From a technical point of view I shoot in overcast conditions in order to avoid shadows and I kept the contrast and colours at a medium grade, as ‘realistic’ as possible. But the pieces still felt very stylized - like I’d chosen the ‘Contemporary German Photography’ filter. And, again, this ‘German-ness’ created a context or mood that had a more dioramic quality which pushed a focus towards fantasy landscape or fictional architecture, and away from a more formal realm that I was interested in working in. So I used a style that announced itself, and a black and white one so that I could reduce the system, in order to concentrate on form and surface. But that is not to say that I don’t think that colour can work, I am currently working on some colour pieces, so, we’ll see.”
'Untitled' (From the ‘Square Within A Square Series’), 2013
Archival inkjet print, 50 x 50 cm
NU: What is the difference between ‘Square Within A Square Series’ and ‘Composite Architectural Sculptures’ or are they the same thing and if so which should I use in the caption?
OM: “’Composite architectural sculptures’ is a general term I use for this type of work, where as ‘Square Within A Square’ specifically refers to the series of a square building within a square frame.”
NU: What inspired you to do this project and how did it come about?
OM: “I have made a number of videos that explore similar ideas. They use editing tricks in a similar way to the way the photos use compositing such as ‘Train’, ‘Door’ and ‘JBTFP’.”
“They create a narrative between interior spaces that is experienced as a journey through a sprawling building made up of a conglomeration of disparate interiors. I often thought about what the exteriors of the buildings may look like, which eventually led to here.”
Still from the work 'Train', 2003, 11mins - LINK TO CLIP
NU: With your work ‘Train’, why did you choose England as the location and how long did it take you to make and edit?
OM: “I was living in London when I made ‘Train’ so I made it there as the production was all guided by accessibility. Though it made sense also with regard to the hobby of model train sets being part of UK culture. The edit took me a long time; it was more vulnerable to narrative than I realized… When I got it right the film was compelling, and when I got it wrong any friend I showed it to would just yawn and complain about getting dizzy. Also, I edited it in tandem with a drawing I made that mapped the hypothetical/film-space that the video created. So the editing influenced the drawing and vice versa.”
NU: What made you move to Brooklyn? Has it had an effect of your work?
OM: “I came originally as my partner at that time was offered a job here. It has undoubtedly influenced my work but I have no idea where to start relating it. I was able to see my British-ness more clearly, like taking a fish out of water where the fish looks back and says, “Oh look, water”. Also I had a good reaction to the day-to-day stuff I found in stores, which seemed similar to the stuff I was used to and alien from. It brought out a type of fetishisation of junk in me because it felt like they were the objects from the movies I’d grown up watching.”
'No Bride' , Digital collage -LINK
NU: Can you run us through the idea behind the piece ‘No Bride’?
OM: “I was playing with simple ways to remove the defining part of a genre in photography. I liked the way it left a gap that could be filled with, to borrow a Carl Sagan word, the ‘stuff’ of photography, or whatever was at hand. In these pieces, I like that there is a part of the dress left behind which becomes a blotch that is specific to each couple. Like they’ve done a little marriage poop. By this, I mean that in taking the bride out, the parents are pushed together and their expressions in some way contain, alongside their photo-faces, their feelings about their daughter’s marriage. But in light of the absence these feelings are reflected back upon their own marriage; for better or worse. Though this is obviously a projection, it leaves space for the viewer to create a dialogue between the bits of wedding dresses left behind, or give them characteristics.”
NU: What are you working on at the moment? Any shows coming up?
OM: “I have a bunch of group shows here and there, at The Baltic in the UK. I’m currently talking to some NY galleries about pinning down my next solo show, we will see.”
For me it works, Oliver Michaels’ computer-generated compositions in ‘Composite Architectural Sculpture’ and ‘Train’, the piecing together of film and images made to look so effortlessly whole, a perfect example of a new form of collage aided by computers. The fact that Oliver Michaels is able to use a computer and make ‘high art’ that’s being collected by MoMA and shown in commercial galleries marks a shift in opinion in the art world about computer-made work, introducing an interesting new medium to the art world that will sit side-by-side with the camera and the paintbrush.
Oliver Michaels is one of a new generation of artists coming onto the scene in this age of international art. He is one to watch, I’m sure you’ll be seeing a lot more of his work in major shows and galleries worldwide.
Words by Lewis J. Henderson
On Monday 17th February, NU Magazine campaigned with German-born Dietrich Wagner to protest against the proposal to authorise the use of water cannons to deal with “anticipated street protests as a result of on-going austerity measures”.
Chief police officers are to ask the home secretary, Theresa May, to give the final verdict on the use of water cannons – Boris Johnson has already backed up the proposal to spend £200,000 on the cannons, despite government cuts.
NU Magazine joined Dietrich - who was blinded by water cannons at a previous peaceful protest - at City Hall, London, to urge officers to rethink their decision on water cannons.
He warns that they are “lethal weapons” and that they should not be introduced to the streets of London. Dietrich was told by doctors that he was only “one second from being killed” by the cannons. “The use of water cannons is akin to the breakdown of the democratic process. I strongly urge the Mayor of London, Theresa May and London’s police not to introduce this weapon.
“Ever since I was hit my life has drastically changed. I can’t drive, go shopping, read or do any of the things I used to do. My message is police need to be aware that they are not just a big shower, they are lethal weapons and do serious bodily harm.”
NU Magazine caught up with some of the demonstrators to hear their views on the controversial subject, including a speech from Dietrich before the discussion.
Words by Poppy Harris
NU talks with Bob and Roberta Smith
Earlier this month I had the distinct pleasure of chatting with the English artist Patrick Brill about his pseudonym Bob and Roberta Smith, the MP Michal Gove and his shed paintings.
It seems for as long as I’ve loved art I have loved Bob and Roberta Smith, but for people who haven’t heard of Patrick Brill or his alter ego’s here is a little insight into his world. Patrick Brill was born in Reading in 1963, where he schooled at the University Of Reading, he was awarded a scholarship to the British School in Rome and on his return he studied at Goldsmiths where he devised the alias ‘Bob and Roberta Smith’. Brill became well known working under his alias, painting brightly coloured slogans onto banners and boards, these slogans often revolving around themes to do with art, politics and popular culture often in a humorous and playful manor, such as “Peas Are The New Beans” painted in 1999. Along with his slogan paintings he paints abstract paintings that he refers to as “outside shed paintings” and plays in the band The Ken Ardley Playboys.
Recently Brill has made quite a forward thinking political piece called ‘Letter To Michal Gove’ (see above), where he questions what the education secretary is doing by trying to cut funding for the arts in schools and explaining the possible repercussions of this decision. In the wake of this, Brill hosted an art party conference in Scarborough celebrating art and culture and challenging Michal Gove’s reformation of the educational system.
I was lucky enough to talk to the man himself just before the art party conference about his work, Gove and his shed paintings.
NU: I was just wondering, did you ever get a reply from Michal Gove?
B&RS: “I got a very boring reply from his office saying things like, ‘we are very disappointed to hear that you don’t understand all the great things that we are doing’, that kind of reply, but not actually from him. I do hope he comes to the art party conference.”
“I live in hope. Maybe he’ll come and tell us why it’s a good thing to belittle the arts.”
The Labour Party, 2013, Signwriters Paint With Collage, 122 cm x 122 cm
NU: When you do pieces like ‘Tony Blair Is A Zombie Of Death’ or ‘Gordon Brown Looks Like A Pig’ do you ever get attacked by the media?
B&RS: “Those two pieces… Well, quite a lot of what I do concerns the context of the politics of the times, so I think that was in 2007 or 2006 and it was when the Labour Party Conference was going to be in Gateshead at the Savacentre, and I had a show at the Baltic in Newcastle. I made those pieces and there were lots of other ones saying, Jack Straw was short sighted and the Labour Party have dipped the British people’s hands in blood, and some of them were quite tough. They were shown at the Baltic and what was really great about that was that they had a dinner, the Labour Party, in the top of the Baltic and, of course, they were all walking around thinking they were all fantastic supporters of the arts, and they were shown around my show, which was attacking them over the Iraq War, so that was really great and it was quite funny. Actually, I got nothing but praise for that show, really, because everybody, especially the liberal minded people who voted Labour into power in ‘97 felt a bit betrayed by the Iraq War. I think a lot of people really liked that show and I got a really good review in The Independent and the Telegraph. Yeah, so I didn’t get bad press for that at all, it worked out very well.”
“I think it was good because it was kind of an odd moment when you could attack the government and all these mainstream left wing politicians and it was kind of almost like a safety valve because in that period there was not a lot of opposition to what they were doing, a lot of people on the left actually voted Labour and voted for this government that was doing all these terrible things and so, strangely, that silenced a lot of people on the right. Certainly in Newcastle, where there’s a lot of dissenting Left wing and Liberal opinion, the show really worked, it was fantastic, and what I was trying to do was to say that it’s OK on some level to talk about things that seem to be closed down, although it seems a bit high-minded of me to say something like that.”
NU: When you have a show like that what do you want people to go away with? Do you want them to have the slogans in their heads? Is that part of it?
B&RS: “No, I don’t really. I just want them to go away, well, it’s hard to say what any artist wants people to go away with in their heads. I guess, you’re offering them a sort of experience and it’s not like, although it might appear that I’m protesting about these issues, I’m, in a way, trying to think about the language of what the protest really means, trying to get people to just think their own thoughts and to have their opinions in a more open and critical way and maybe even see things in a more reflective light.”
Eppy Daddy Battle Bot, 2010, Mixed Media
“I’m just trying to create a bit of a space where people can not think about things in the way society wants you to think about them all the time. In the ‘60s, I think they called that consciousness raising, and that kind of space where you can come to understand something is important. I know that when I was at University in the ‘80s you kind of have this moment of political awakening, don’t you? Like, you understand things like this. When I was growing up in the late ‘60s, my sister was a real old hippy, she was a young hippy though, she used to drag us around to all these funny events in London and later on, I didn’t have the sensibility to think of it at the time, but later on I thought that was kind of an image of freedom, all these people doing their thing. I suppose all I’m tying to get people to think is, well, certainly not to go away with one of my slogans in their head, really. Not to repeat it like a mantra but simply to think well if he can do that I can do that.”
NU: Do you ever see your work as concrete poetry?
B&RS: “I have thought about it a bit like that sometimes, I’ve done a lot of works with miss-spelt words, well a whole series of miss-spelt words which I did see slightly in that vein, also with the insults, and calling artists things. I like the way when, sometimes, language becomes a bit sculptural, when it has a kind of sculptural quality, but I don’t know quite how to describe that. I suppose that it’s a bit James Joyce, or something. Or Becket or Mark E Smith, or indeed John Cooper Clarke, they all have a fantastic use of a kind of invective where they can then kind of misplace the reader in a sentence. Somehow that seems to be quite something, like stage direction, or something quite physical. I’ve always liked that quality in words and I do think about that, and think that someone might read a particular text of mine and think it’s a bit misleading or they might think, ‘Oh that’s ridiculous’, and they might think ‘why has he done that?’ So I do think about it in those terms, yeah, not all the time, but I have done.”
NU: Can you tell us about your shed paintings? The ones you keep outside?
B&RS: “Yeah, I’ve had to take them into the shed because they have completely disintegrated. One is just a collection of stretcher bars with a few snails crawling over it under a bit of plastic and then there’s another one where the snails have really got in there and kind of drawn around the side of the canvas and taken the canvas off its frame, so, I was thinking if I leave these out there they’ll just be mud. But, maybe that’s a good thing. I broke my rule and brought them into the shed or they’d be nothing left of them. I think I did those around the time of that Tony Blair thing actually, that was probably seven or eight years ago and they really have disintegrated and they are still rotting slightly in the shed. It’s cold out there and it’s damp, so they are still gently rotting but, I suppose what I need to do is have a cycle of them and make some abstract paintings, because they are quite serious paintings. I should just make another series every year and just put them out and just gently chart the entropic return to ground.”
Patrick with one of his abstract paintings at the BALTIC, from ‘Bob and Roberta Smith: Help Build the Ruins of Democracy’ - LINK
NU: Do you not want to show these abstract paintings because you’re so well known for your slogan paintings?
B&RS: “Actually, I’ve just done a whole load of not abstract but symbol paintings with a star and spiral and I’ve just shown them in Ireland with a lot of other stuff and, yeah, they only come inside when there is a show and I think that’s to do with the idea of a cheesy metaphor, just a thing about being an artist or performer, so you think, like with a comedian, when they are not on stage they don’t exist or something. If these paintings are not in the show then where are they? They are just dumped in the garden gently rotting. I think, sometimes, that’s my art career. Although I am doing very well, I’m always conscious of the thought of rotting in the garden, completely forgotten about, being eaten by an old snail. So, that’s what I think that’s about really, rather than the form of the paintings but the paintings themselves are really quite beautiful, although they are a bit knackered now.”
NU: Well the ones I have seen are quite beautiful and I’m just surprised you don’t show them more.
B&RS: “Well, I would do. I think it’s funny if you do a lot of different things, which I do, I think inevitably some of those things people are more interested in showing than others. I just think those paintings, well, I think it’s a great idea that they don’t get shown much.”
After speaking to Patrick, or maybe Bob and Roberta, well I guess all three of them, I came to realise some things. Firstly, that Brill has a great vantage point to make statements about politics and popular culture. He is an artist, separated from the mainstream society by the confines of a gallery. Secondly, he uses this separation from the outside world to promote free thinking, creating spaces where people can think differently and challenge what we are being told within society, all done in a very DIY punk way. And thirdly and finally, he is not scared and says what needs to be said, he’s like David catapulting rocks at the Goliath of our modern society, for those reasons - and many others - he has to be one of the most interesting and relevant living artists of our lifetime.
Words by Lewis J. Henderson
Top 5 Films about Artificial Intelligence.
Artificial intelligence has been a recurring theme in film since the early days of Sci-fi. Whether it’s a dystopia of bloodthirsty human haters, or a charming companion on a quest, super intelligent machinery is a theme that is here to stay. I think the reason that it is so successful is that it brings forward the question of where our conscience was born. If we - mere humans - could create a being that exceeds our intellect, maybe we could find the answers to our own origins? I say we - what I mean is, a very small percentage of the human population that have the knowledge, equipment and understanding of the brains cognitive functions and an extreme urge to pursue the limits of computer technology. All things that I wish I had. So I had to settle for watching films about it. These films are my favourite examples of films about Artificial Intelligence.
1) Blade Runner (1982) 4/5
Harrison Fucking Ford! Plays Deckard the blade runner in a 1980’s themed dystopian future world. The styling and visual elements of this film I think is one of the reasons it ends up on so many classic movie lists. It is just the idea of humans getting to a stage where they can create a human replicant artificially, and what kind of relationship they would have with the humans that makes it so captivating. I cannot do this film justice in a shot caption. It’s a must watch. I mean it’s basically Han Solo pre Star Wars. Directed By Ridley Scott (let’s not mention Prometheus).
2) A.I. ArtificialIntelligence (2001) 2/5
Spielberg’s A.I. seems like somewhat of an obvious choice. Well it is. This film has stuck with me since I saw it as a kid. Maybe because its about an AI child being left to fend for himself in the wilderness only to be found by another AI bot that happens to be a male prostitute for the human kind. Gigolo Joe (Jude Law) then takes David (Haley Joel Osment) to a weird, soft focus neon future world with no real hard hitting futurological elements. It rather simplistically asks “can we love a robot?” Well according to the end, - yes. Robot boy gets a home. It’s just too surreal and all too creepy to not be included.
3) Moon (2009) 4/5
Directed by Duncan Jones (son of David Bowie), it follows the life of a solitary spaceman, Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) living in a station on the moon with the companionship of his AI robot GERTY (Kevin Spacey). The style of this film is great. Little dialogue and a fully sized beautiful looking space station built in a studio makes for a very intimate film. Of course GERTY is not all that it seems when Sam starts to uncover the truth about his place on the Moon.
4) Singularity Or bust (2012) 5/5
This is a film with far more questions than answers. It follows the work of two AI programmers and asks what is in the near future of technology. Can we create an AI far more intelligent that any human mind? Is our conscienceness simply a pattern regeneration mechanism with which we uncover the secrets of the fabric of reality as we know it? I know, all really big questions - ones that are hard to grasp. But, put forward by Dr Ben Goertzel, he explains that a huge change in what we conceive as reality is in the near future. But will it be one of positivity and prosperity, or one of death and suffering on a scale that the world has never seen, in a Terminator-esque robot war with the humans? Only time will tell. If you want your ideas of technological advancement vastly expanded watch this 45 minute doc.
5) Her (2013) 3/5
A comment on love in the modern world. This beautifully shot Sci-fi romantic looks at how a computer intelligence could - and probably will - interact with humans. The story follows Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) as he spirals into love with his new operating system. The film explores the new frontiers of human machine relation, even if the narrative did leave you with the feeling of unfulfilled potential.
AI is a theme that’s always going to show up in popular cinema, just how long before its not just a fictitious idea? Soon, as Singularity Or Bust will have you believe.
Words by Leo Taylor
NU caught up with the London based painter Phillip Allen to find out what he has to say about the changing art scene and to hear a bit about his own work too.
Born in 1967, Phillip Allen is a London based abstract painter who was schooled at Kingston University and the Royal College Of Art. He’s had solo shows in The Approach Gallery, London, Xavier Hufkens, Brussels, and the Kerlin Gallery, Dublin. Along with these solo shows, he has also taken part in group shows at Tate Britain, London, PS1, New York and The BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Newcastle.
After seeing a talk by Phillip Allen hosted by the French painter Claude Temin-Vergez in Camberwell earlier this year I approached the artist in an effort to talk to him about some interesting points he’d made about the changes that he was experiencing in the art scene and to also find out some more about his own work.
Beezerspline (Counter Attack Version), 2003, Oil on board, 182 x 244cm (figure 1)
When I look at Phillip Allen’s paintings I can’t help but see three main periods in his work - something that is quite radical for such a young painter, to change style when he’s doing well in the art world. I say “well”, by which I mean he’s exhibited and had work bought by The Tate and he’s only in his 40’s, so that’s pretty bloody good.
The three periods of work I am talking about are, firstly, his breakthrough style of oil painting on board (figure 1), with strips of thick clumps of paint at the top and bottom of each piece framing an abstract painting seemingly influenced by geometric shapes and patterns. Secondly, between 2009-2011 he moved into a phase of working with abstract forms using more vibrant colours and working on canvas (see above) - he mentioned in his talk that he was unsure what he wanted to do at the time and wanted to experiment with new ideas not just to make paintings because they would sell. Finally, the third period of work can clearly be seen in his more recent paintings where he works on canvas on a much larger scale using less vibrant colours and more hazy compositions (figure 2). You could even say he has two main periods of work and the previously mentioned second phase was just the transition between the two.
(I am only breaking his work down into periods or categories to try to explain how he has grown and changed as an artist, and so I can refer to different groups of paintings more easily within this article.)
Capital P, 2013, Oil on canvas, 182 x 152cm (figure 2)
Throughout his career, Phillip Allen has kept some things constant through his ever-evolving style, such as his love of framing things within the painting and his exciting compositions that seem to be influenced by patterns and design that almost flow in a playful way within each painting. I was interested to ask the painter about the framing and composition of his work before delving into the subject of art fairs and the changing art scene, here’s what he had to say:
NU: When looking at your paintings I can’t help but notice the borders that you include within the composition of your work, do these have any significance other than just aesthetically?
PA: “The borders you talk about appear in a lot of the work. These operate as a skin or marker between the outside and inside spaces of the paintings. They are depicted through aesthetics, for me they have a stringent function.”
NU: How do you come up with the compositions for your paintings, do you take them from life or are they wholly expressive?
PA: “Expressive is a funny word. I make them up.”
NU: There were some interesting points you made when you gave your talk about art fairs taking over as the main money maker for galleries, would you be able to elaborate on that?
PA: “Art Fairs, over the past five years, have become far more curated and the galleries seem to be investing a lot of time and energy in planning their yearly schedules around these events. Art Fairs are a way to cut out all the fuss out of International gallery visiting.”
“In a sense the Art Fair is the art world under a travelling roof and a lot of the younger galleries are happy to make a loss at these events just to be seen on the strip. Ten years ago Art Fairs were less important to the artist and the art world, I saw them literally as trade fairs where the galleries would showcase most of their artists.”
“Now, however the Art Fair has gained an importance and significance beyond most galleries’ own bricks and mortar as it manages to condense the whole gallery, artists and buyers. Not quite a gallery space, not quite a museum space, the Art Fair’s rented booth can both house mini retrospectives, promote new talent or give the gallery an opportunity to curate a mini show of their hottest talent. This is the acid test for the artist too; do well at an Art Fair and your gallery will be pleased, fail to sell and you’ll be at the back of the gallery pecking order for the next event.”
“It is interesting how Frieze Masters has outshone the contemporary wing of Frieze Art Fair and I imagine that eventually Frieze contemporary Art Fair will make way to just Frieze Masters.”
NU: Do you think this shift in the art market will make it harder for new or unknown artists to get into the art scene?
PA: “My studio colleague put this very succinctly… Menudo.”
NU: Do you ever feel that the galleries representing artists are trying to push them to continue to make similar art and not to be too ‘out there’?
PA: “Firstly, ‘out there’ doesn’t really exist. Galleries are happy for you to do what you want, as long as it produces some kind of capital. They do have a business to run and they have overheads. And so, of course, galleries are required to make money. If they didn’t they would soon fold and we would have nowhere to show and sell our stuff.”
NU: Have you ever had any bad experiences with galleries you’ve been associated with because of Art Fairs?
PA: “I’ve been dumped by one gallery for not selling enough work, but I hope I have a good relationship with the other two.”
NU: What’s next for you, any shows you’d like us to plug?
PA: “I’m working towards a show at The Approach Gallery for next year. Myself and my studio colleague have plans to open a space to show a range of very good painting and stuff.”
Talking to Phillip Allen has given me a new perspective on Art Fairs and the way the art scene is changing, it almost seems the game you have to play, if you want to make money as an artist, is changing with these supermarket-like Art Fairs. It begs the question, is this really how art should be sold? Well, it’s a tricky one and I don’t often make statements like this, but to me it seems that an Art Fair is just a temple of capitalism, where people are buying art to improve their status or as an investment not because they are really taken by the work. Come on, surely every upper class person would like a Chagall print in their house? But is that really what Chagall really wanted?
Personally, I am not a fan of art fairs and I vowed to never attend another after attending such an event last year, I found it a very unappealing and unsettling experience that shows art in a way that is all about wealth. After sucking up all the free whisky and eyeing up some very nice Roger Hilton’s I swiftly made my way to the exit unable to stand the pushy gallery booths trying to either sell you something or to move you on.
Before I left I chatted with some people about the event and one such man, in his mid-twenties wearing a suit which he pointed out all too eagerly cost over £2.5k with a watch half the size of my head, spent a long time asking me if he should buy either a Banksy or an Obey painting, insisting that they’d be “worth loads more in the future” and that they were the “next Picasso’s of the art world”. It was a perfect display of the fickleness of Art Fairs but I guess artists need to make money to buy paint and to live. You’ve got to weigh up the question, are you in the game to make money or to make inspiring interesting creative art? I suppose, unless something radically changes within the next few years Art Fairs are going to be the only way to sell or make a name for yourself in the art world. I am just dreading the next, almost inevitable step, where artists and galleries will just sell work over the internet.
Words by Lewis J. Henderson
NU meets: Graham Gussin
I met the British artist Graham Gussin in Camberwell, London last week and he agreed to do an interview with us here at NU.
If you don’t know of Graham Gussin, he’s an artist who’s known for working with a variety of mediums including photography, installation, moving image and conceptual art. He was schooled at Middlesex Polytechnic and Chelsea School Of Art and now lectures at the Slade School Of Fine Art. In Gussin’s work there are often themes linking to science fiction and film, for example his instillation ‘As If’ - a piece made up of a number of separate works which are grouped together - is directly inspired by Wim Wenders’ sci-fi classic ‘The State Of Things’. Part of ‘As If’ is a series of six black and white photographs titled ‘Silver Form’, which were shot in the very same location as the film they were referencing on the Atlantic coast of Portugal.
-‘Silver Form’ Graham Gussin
Personally, I find Gussin’s ‘Silver Form’ very captivating, the series of six photographs of a silver survival blanket being suspended by the wind beside a deserted hotel in Portugal are both beautiful intriguing. The survival sheet becomes an unrecognizable futuristic form that’s being suspended in time and space. To me, it’s reminiscent of Robert Smithson’s ‘Rocks And Mirror Square II’ - a piece that is a simple arrangement of eight back to back mirrors in a square with rocks. That piece gives the impression that the installation is “hugging the ground and levitating at the same time” creating space in the piece, something that I see in ‘Silver Form’ too. Gussin and Smithson both seem to like to juxtapose the manmade - the mirrors or survival blanket - and the natural - the sea and wind and the rocks, this makes for very interactive pieces, as the ‘editing’ becomes part of the art form - Gussin’s choice of photographs and intern choosing the most interesting shapes that the wind has sculpted while the placement and choice of the rocks is key in Smithson’s piece.
-‘Rocks And Mirror Square II’ Robert Smithson
Along with this fascination with the future, Gussin’s work has explored human perception of space, time and size, and another recurring topic in his work is the relationship between the viewer and the exhibition space, this can be seen in such pieces as his installation ‘One Hundred And Ninety-Nine Black Glass Marbles Scattered Across The Floor And Allowed To Move Around The Space And Settle Wherever And For However Long, One For Each Character And Space Of The Title’, or ‘Shift’ where, in 2004, he poured 90 tonnes of sand into a museum and covered the windows with coloured filters as part of the Bienal de Arte de Pontevedra, creating a landscape which belongs to an unidentified future, and turning the museum into “a site which implies a radical shift in time and place.”
-‘Shift’ Graham Gussin
Over Gussin’s career he has been invited to exhibit across the globe, from Pedro Cera Gallery in Lisbon all the way to the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, also taking part in group exhibitions in Tokyo, Paris, Liverpool and London.
I met Graham Gussin after a lecture he’d given in Camberwell this year and he agreed to answer some questions for us, here’s what he had to say:
NU: In your works such as ‘Shift’ and ‘Silver Form’ there are strong sci-fi or futuristic themes, is this a topic that you are trying to address with your work?
GG: “I’m interested in science fiction and it’s ‘territories’. I suppose by this I mean its concern with potentials, ideologies, geographies. It’s a way of shifting our perspective on the present. The concern with utopian/dystopian states is foregrounded in the genre - or at least in the interesting aspects of the genre.”
NU: With ‘Silver Form’ and ‘As If’ being inspired by the film ‘The State Of Things’, are films the main influence for your work or is it just reflective of your life and what you are seeing when you come up with the ideas/concepts?
GG: “They are not the main source or influence, I’m influenced by many things. I’ve always been interested in the relationship between film and reality, the physical aspects of this as well as the conceptual, the way things spill out from one to the other.”
NU: After seeing your piece ‘Silver Form’ I was very taken with the black and white photography, was its use down to the film that inspired the piece or was it just an aesthetic choice?
GG: “Both, I think, yes, definitely both. It made the image simpler while being an echo of the origins, though it’s link to the film is very elliptical, you don’t need to know of it when viewing the work necessarily.”
NU: Were the photographs taken on a film camera or analogue?
GG: “These were taken on digital, I could shoot the subject rapidly and this was necessary, I was on my own, using the wind…”
-‘Illumination Rig’ Graham Gussin
NU: Would you be able to run us through your piece ‘Illumination Rig’ and the different places the piece has travelled to and ideas behind the piece?
GG: “It’s been mounted in five different places, Reculver, Newcastle, Sharjah, Margate and London. Originally the work was based around a simple transformation of money into light. I like the idea of a single thing spilling out into its surroundings. The lights are very sculptural, very physical. Each time the work is made it brings about different experiences and thinking around it, depending on the place, it’s very much about place. Another very important aspect of the work is the way the viewer becomes the subject, as much as the place it’s in.”
-‘Dark Corner’ Graham Gussin
NU: What gave you the idea for ‘Dark Corner’, or did it just come to you?
GG: “I curated a show called ‘Nothing’ in 2000, a number of works I made after that were direct results of thinking about Nothing for over a year, this is one of those. It declares itself directly as what it is but there is some small percentage that remains mysterious. I find that intriguing and funny.”
NU: What does the future hold for Graham Gussin, any shows or projects that will be happening soon?
GG: “I have a show coming up in London in February and I’ve been working on a group of paintings for some time now.”
-‘One Hundred And Ninety-Nine Black Glass Marbles Scattered Across The Floor And Allowed To Move Around The Space And Settle Wherever And For However Long, One For Each Character And Space Of The Title’ Graham Gussin
Graham Gussin has got to be one of the most interesting artists working today making art that works both aesthetically and conceptually. Works like ‘Dark Corner’ and ‘One Hundred And Ninety-Nine Black Glass Marbles Scattered Across The Floor And Allowed To Move Around The Space And Settle Wherever And For However Long, One For Each Character And Space Of The Title’ show that he has a sense of humour with his work and pieces like ‘Illumination Rig’ show the more conceptual side to his work. If you ever get the chance to go to a Graham Gussin exhibition or artist talk you should he’s very interesting and to me quite inspiring.
Words by Lewis J. Henderson
More on Graham Gussin: http://www.grahamgussin.co.uk/
NU meets John Cooper Clarke
NU went to Bestival 2013 to interview punk-poet John Cooper Clarke
Entering the backstage of the REPLAY stage with the heavens well and truly opening above our heads, we saw a sight quite new to NU. Corporate marketing gone mad! In among the sodden bands, stage employees and photographers, there were piles of free jeans that were being pushed into the hands of the most famous of those gathered in the backstage area. Make of this what you will, but I guess it’s not all that bad if they are bankrolling a stage that’ll put John Cooper Clarke top of the bill on Saturday night – but it’s doubtful they had size zero to fit the man himself.
We spied John Cooper Clarke towering above the onlookers who all seemed more interested in Ghostpoet posing in his new jeans rather than the sharp suited word juggler. Before we could work our way over to him he’d taken the stage warmly greeting the audience before delivering new poems and olds classics. I have seen him twice before and he’d been great but this was something else, coming up with quick offhand jokes along with elaborate stories that really made the crowd hum with laughter. Of course, his poems were delivered in his famous machine gun style that was met with roars of appreciation for new material, classics, like ‘TWAT’, and the closing, and my personal favorite, the infamous ‘Chicken Town’. After his set we were ushered into a small cabin to conduct our interview, here’s what he had to say:
NU: What inspires your poems? Is it wholly about England or do you see it as a worldwide thing?
JCC: “Well I just kind of write on the move its kind of where I am now, it’s a kind of early beatnik fashion.”
“My life’s not always been like that. If things go according to plan I lead a very sedentary life, but lately there’s been a lot of activity going on and I think it helps. I’ve been writing a hell of a lot.”
NU: How long does it take you to compose or write a poem?
JCC: “Oh, you know, they’re never finished they’re just abandoned. Recently I had to get a load of old stuff, well, comparatively old stuff together for a new book but every time I write it out so that it’s legible enough for somebody else to type, because I write longhand you know, every time I write it out I always have to start improving them, it’s terrible, you know, but hopefully this year I’ll be able to get the book out.”
NU: How do you choose the set list for a live show?
JCC: “Yeah, I’ve just been talking about that with Johnny Green -tour manager and driver, I’ve never had a set list in my life. It didn’t really matter a long time ago because I didn’t really have that many poems that I’d do on stage but now I write all kinds of things but some of them ain’t really suitable for a showbiz situation, so, I guess, a bit of thought goes into that but I never had a set list, saying that I always used to finish with ‘Chicken Town’, because there’s not really anywhere you can go after that.”
NU: Do you view your poems as an art form? Because we definitely do…
JCC: “Well, yeah, I did, sure. It’s like poetry is a real statement of intent isn’t it? It ain’t anything else, it’s a kind of cool medium writing a poem, you know. You write it in a sort of reflective position. You compose it in a cool way but then how do you deliver it so that it’s hot? How do you make it so it’s a must-have commodity? You know there was no kind of scene for poetry when I started writing and I used to think the way to poetic success was to get published in things so I sent it off and it wasn’t really what was required, for whatever reason, probably because it was shit. But you get better, obviously you get better… I like to think there’s such a thing as human progress. But then I figured the best thing I can do is to read it. I’ve never really been shy about the stuff I write because it’s about everyday things.”
“The first guy that gave me money for doing what I do was the late Bernard Manning (northern comedian and night club owner). He was the only one who would stick his neck out. I can’t stress enough how big an influence he was in my career. I figured I’d have incongruity. I always figured with poetry incongruity is your friend because it never really fits into anything. Poetry is something that’s created in isolation but craves mass adulation, otherwise there’s no point in writing it. You just hope that it will (laughs) benefit mankind. So I thought read it but read it in places like cabaret clubs in Manchester where I lived, because there weren’t any poetry places. I took it to Jerry Harris’s Piccadilly Club but they weren’t interested, I took it to The Luxor Club but they weren’t interested, I took it to the College Theatre but they weren’t interested. I took it to Sinatra’s but they weren’t interested. The only guy that was interested was Bernard Manning at the Embassy Club and that was the first commercial gig I ever had. People say, ‘weren’t you afraid of the punk rock crowds?’ but that was nothing compared to the Embassy Club.”
NU: I know the way you deliver your poems is inspired by The Ramones and many other punk bands…
JCC: “I love The Ramones.”
NU: But do you ever change the way you deliver a poem?
JCC: “Well, I’m slower now than I ever was, but that’s because of the poems I’m writing they don’t call for that rat-a-tat machine gun delivery, or, as it’s been called on many occasions, the machine gun delivery invented by John Cooper Clarke. I still do it, I still employ it when the need arises but the stuff I’m writing now is a bit more languid you know. I didn’t do much of that tonight, admittedly, mainly because this evening they were filming me. I was on automatic but I always like to think there’s a level that, below which, my act never sinks and I can do it automatically. I had to do that tonight because of the music that was going on that the punters could hear, it was putting me off a bit, but people say the crowd went away happy.”
NU: How do the modern pieces you’re writing compare to your older material?
JCC: “I think the more modern times have made me more consciously antique. I’ll give you an example of that, when I was featured on (Plan B’s) ‘Ill Manors’, he hired me to do what I do, but it was on his manor and it was street level and I thought I’m never going to fit into that, I can’t speak like that. So I thought, rather than look three years out of date, I’d rather look 100 years out of date. So I went for that and I wrote the piece ‘Pity The Plight’ which I’m really proud of. It’s something that I wouldn’t have written if I hadn’t had the commission to do it. And, the decision to make it Dickensian was one of the best aesthetic decisions I could ever have made. It’s a great number and it’s not used in its entirety in the film but it’s very poignant. And, every mention of ‘Ill Manors’ has mentioned my tiny part in it. It was definitely a good day’s work.”
NU: Coming to this festival there’s not a lot of spoken word or different approaches happening.
JCC: “It’s a mainstream pop festival, it’s not a leftfield audience at all. But that don’t bother me. I don’t aim and never did aim at a left field crowd. I started at the Embassy Club, I’ve never courted the art crowd. They’re in my pocket anyway. I’ve taken poetry to places it’s never been before, that’s why I got a doctorate from the University Of Salford, it’s a legitimate claim. You know the people who like me aren’t necessarily interested in poetry. Some of the people who come to see me, I’m the only poet they like.”
NU: Maybe you’re a gateway into poetry for people.
JCC: “I’d like to think so, but I don’t mind if I’m the only poet they like. I kinda quite like that. Who wouldn’t?”
We wrapped the interview up so he could get to a photo shoot. As he left he asked what the NU was about, we told him it was a art magazine to which he replied: “I like art, I’m all about merging the boundaries between good art and shit art,” something that stuck in my head and which I’d recite to anyone who’d listen for nearly two weeks. To me John Cooper Clarke is the greatest living poet and he’s making his art for everyone not just the well educated. He’s redefining poetry for the public, in fact he’s been doing it for years. Also he’s just the nicest man you’ll probably ever meet.
Words and Photography by Lewis J. Henderson
Photographs of Bestival 2013, from a giant fish finger to a bearded bride
Check out the Bestival 2013 review: http://nuartzine.tumblr.com/post/61702827075/nu-at-bestival-2013-its-their-10-year
Photographs by Lewis J. Henderson