Saturday, September 30, 2006

Lunch at the Drive Thru

Now here's something I don't do very often. Hardly at all, in fact.
I go and see a show.
And I mean, I go and see it during one of the days that it's open - when it's quiet and there's no drink and there's no crowds and it's just a bunch of things in a room that look like art in an exhibition.
Weird, huh?
It's Three Colts and a show called Drive Thru that I couldn't make the opening of because of a prior engagement with Robbie Williams, but since I pretty much know everyone in the show, to lesser or greater degrees, I figure this is a show I can't possibly miss.
John Tiney is there when I arrive, invigilating for the day. I haven't seen him for a while and it's good to catch up.
We have a chat about stuff and then I get him to walk me thru the show.
There's piece called 'Bless You Fuck You' (above) by David Wilkinson which, slowly, I work out. A turbanned all-white figure seems to be floating slightly above the floor, with his hands by his sides. But look at this: the hands have strings attached to them that go up to the ceiling, then along and come down a few feet away. You can pull them and the figures hands rise. One hand has a symbol of peace (Bless You) and the other the finger (Fuck You). I play with this a bit. It makes me smile.
Then we are looking at John Summer's piece. It's a ...well, wait a second, what is it? Well, it's certainly a John Summers piece alright. OK, it's a sort of wooden frame that looks like a georgian window but which has been bent and curved out of shape and then covered with some gooey, sticky-looking half transparent stretchy material, through which you can see a thick jumble of kids toys - figures and cars, all mashed up. Eurghh. What a mess. It stands up off the floor, balanced at one end on just a bent piece of metal pipe.
Typically John, though. Tiney says that Summer's work has a 'complicated humour' which I think is an excellent description.
It also looks very wonky.
I say that there should be a group show called Winky Wonky.
'Minky Manky', says John straight back, which I kinda like because he gets the reference. I also then think in my head 'Winky Wanky' after what Tony Kaye did.
And if this isn't making sense, please don't adjust your set: for those of your watching in black and white: the brown is still behind the blue....
John then offers me some of his lunch - ham and cheese roll, very nice thanks, and we look around a bit more.
Lisa Penny has some work in a corner of the room. She sends me various bits and pieces as images attached to emails (as do a few people) and I like this a lot. It means you get to see a piece of work without any context or before and after - it's just some image out of nowhere. Anyway, here are three works of hers. A couple of images and a little coconut man buddha thing. I have absolutely no idea what it's all about. There's a large poster of what looks like a holidaying family, but the dad's face has been replaced by some weird maniacal horror face thing. Then there's a picture of a woman, with some of the photo shaded in with black felt tip.
Anything yet?
And then there's the little coconut man. He looks happy. Sort of.
Nope, haven't a clue. I must remember not to ask her about it when I next see her...
Moving on. 'This is by Tom Cox-Bisham,' says Tiney, pointing across - hang on, hang on, I say, we seem to have missed looking at this one...
It's Tiney's work. 'Ah yes,' he sighs. No one likes talking about their work and I sense he likes it less than most. (So I make sure I ask lots of questions.)
There's a quote from some press release ages ago about Tiney's work that has always stuck in my mind. It says something along the lines of 'John Tiney makes work in the spaces between culture(s)' (sic). I don't really know what this means, but whenever I see some of his work it seems to chime. Today is a case in point. There's a large 2D eagle in black and white, but with a few wings coloured in a rainbow palette, pulling a net with its claws in which are three cartoon birds in a big sock that look like they are off a cheesy Christmas card. Well, that's art in the space between cultures I think. The eagle looks like it's off the Eagle comic (the boy's own adventure comic from the 50's), but the wings have these colours on that could be from the peace flag, or from the gay pride flag, or even just from a rainbow. Who knows? Is there a definitive reading to all this? I suspect not. It's a good work. Though it looks cramped in the space here. The eagle looks so powerful it needs room to really fly.
OK, so now Tom's work. It's a big silver thing that looks to me like a pair of owl's eyes but turns out to be the symbol for a car. I don't get this piece at all.
So I look at it and poke my nose up close but it refuses to take me anywhere.
That's the way of it sometimes.
Then, finally, three works by Giorgio Sadotti. Now these are interesting. He mentioned to me before about these, saying he was putting some watercolours into the show. I struggled to picture Giorgio sitting out on a hill with a set of watercolour paints daubing away at a slice of paper on an easel, blue for the sky, green for the fields....
It's always hard to get away from that watercolour image.
But suffice to say Giorgio's watercolours are nothing like this. There are three and they are all called Face and then a number. Each one is a large piece of paper with three symbols painted on them, placed to suggest a face; two symbols for the eyes, one for the mouth. They are curious. Nothing like any of Giorgio's other work that I know. The symbols mostly seem to be logos or recognisable signs. They are placed high up in the paper and then the paper hung so that they seem head height, suggestive of an invisible body beneath them. They seem like lost souls though. As though the features have been reduced to logos and signs, as though that is all there is left...they feel quite sad to me. They seem quite lonely. Is this what is left of identity, living in an age where identity is a corporate construct? Or is it more hopeful than this? That an identity, with two eyes and a face, still looks out from behind all these surface constructs?
It's difficult to know. But I also think that's because this show presents a clutch of works that are themselves undecided about good and bad, hope and hopelessness, heaven and hell, bless you and fuck you. The answers to stuff are never black and white - or rainbow coloured, even. Picnics with the family are lovely - or hellish or both, at the same time, all the time. Nothing is ever simply one thing or another...
I finish my cheese and ham sandwich.
Well, there you go.
I drove thru.

drive thru pics

Friday, September 29, 2006

Wonky in Hoxton

What do you call a donkey with three legs?
We are at an ICA meeting waiting for some more people to turn up and someone tells this joke.
The answer is: a wonkey.
Ha ha. I like this. And it will also underpin, in a very slight way, and with a change in spelling, the evening that will unfold for me later and also even then still inform a small interaction I have the following afternoon.
But let's take it one step at a time.
We, Lena and me, arrive in Hoxton by cab which is unusual, but we are with ICA curator Rob Bowman which is also unusual but also very welcome. New gallery manager Trevor is also along for the ride and is going to kick around with us in Store for a few minutes and then head off to 1,000,000 mph - which, finally, I seem to have got on the mailing list for - an email dropped into my box the other day and I could hardly believe it. I say to Trevor that I'll see him there later. We are heading for Store, or rather Associates as it's now called, which used to be Store, at number 92 Hoxton Street, but is now a twelve month project, with twelve artists, put together by Ryan Gander. This first show is by Matthew Smith.
Dave Hoyland is there with a girl called Kate. Dave is on good form, telling stories about things I can't repeat here (suffice to say that all the stories seemed to involve rudeness and a certain part of an artists anatomy which - no, yes, let's leave it at that). Anyway, I am looking at the work here tonight, including a nectarine on the floor towards the back of the gallery (which Trevor kicks across the floor by mistake - as do many other people throughout the night), an album cover and a shelf that is fixed to the wall at a ridiculous slant and I'm saying to Dave that the word that keeps coming to mind when I'm looking at stuff in galleries at the moment is 'wonky'. It started when I was thinking about Graham Hudson's work, but now seems to be cropping up all sorts of places...
Rob is talking to Rosalind Nashashibi (Beck's winner 2003, factlovers) and Lena and I say a little hello to Ryan and his 'associate', Rebecca May Marston.
We work out the right direction for the new Store gallery and head down there. The artist showing tonight is Roman Wolgin and we are expecting quite a heavy, grey Russian sort of show. Instead we get quite a colourful one which seems to be a pastiche of a whole bunch of other artists...Richter, Kippenberger, Rauch...and slap bang in your eye as you walk in is a 'Gerhard Richter' painting of a naked woman. Rob and Lena start talking about the unusually large nipples that the woman seems to have and this conversation buzzes around us all evening like flies round rotting meat. At one point I pass Sara Scarsbrook and say hi, and 'sorry, we're talking about nipples', shrugging and meaning to be quirky and off beat. But to which she immediately says: 'I know. Aren't they big?'
Seems like this woman's nipples are a major talking point of the evening...
I chat to Rob for a bit and then we decide to maybe head on, there's after drinks at the Rivington and there's still 1,000,000mph, but it's already after 9.00 suddenly and I'm thinking I can't believe it but I'm not going to make it there...
Bedwyr Williams is outside. He starts on a story about getting caught up in some large e-mailout from an artist that went wrong recently. Some guy emailed out his entire list and everyone who replied seemed to be locked into replying to everyone on his list (or something). It was a long story. Then he disappears off with Ryan to the Rivington and, what the heck, we follow.
After getting nearly crushed to death we make it to a little pocket of breathing space, miraculously just next to the free wine table. How nice is that? Sara Preibsch joins us around now, Rob introduces us to Tom Morton, there's other people we see and wave to and there's the free wine to drink. Rob leaves after a little while and I'm beginning to feel that if my life were made of wood, I swear I can hear a carpenter calmly planing all the sharp edges off everything....
Sara borrows my camera, runs off getting all Daffyd Jones on everyone and makes me a breakfast of complete bafflement the next morning when I look thru the photos thinking, 'I don't remember taking these..'
I don't remember - hey, has Rob gone? How come we are sitting here? I thought, oh yes, thanks, I will have another...
Details after this point are removed from my evening as a chimp might pick fleas from its partner.
We now seem to have our own bottles of wine. How did we...oh never mind. Where's Rob gone? Really, when was that? Anyone for tennis, dear??
The evening slips away like a ship being launched in the sea...the Titanic, I think, in this case...and after a few more glasses of wine it all...gets...very...very...wonky...indeed...

drunk pics

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Private: Staff Only

I think this sums it up:
I am standing outside Clare Evan's house, some time around midnight, in the pouring rain, shaking my camera about in the wet night air to try and cool it down as it's so overheated it's completely locked up every function and I can't get it to do a thing. I can't even turn the damn thing off and it feels as hot as hell, like it might just explode. I've been shooting stuff inside her house: a hallway plastered with the names of everyone who works at the ICA written on seperate pieces of cardboard, a kitchen table immaculately spread with food, all and every bit of it white, and all under an ultra violet light; 20 editions of my name on A4 sheets of paper stuck around the house; Joe Schneider playing his accordian; Ekow Eshun knocking back a shot of rum before being blindfolded and having a go at 'Pin the Smile on the Mona Lisa'; a girl with masking tape across her mouth filming everything; a french girl shouting at me from the bar when I'm trying to get a drink; the neighbours dropping in to say 'hi'; djs playing, people dancing, drinking 'Private Staff Only' beer, numbers one to many. And all this for: the private view for a show that is happening a few miles away, which opened nearly a month ago and which you can't see because it isn't being shown.
I thought so.
What is all this about?
OK. First, we need to go back a few months.
Joe Schneider is an usher at the ICA and an artist and that's not unusual to be an artist and work in an arts institution. And Joe is putting up signs as a call for submissions for some sort of ICA staff show. He wants to get something going with people here - something like a show or whatever, the details aren't that clear, but he wants to make something happen.
I'm intrigued, but a little unsure of how this can work.
OK, wait, hang on, we need to skip back even further.
Let's take it right back to 1996. I'm working at Waterstone's Booksellers in their Charing Cross Road branch (it closed a few years ago and became a luggage store, then a Soho Original Book Shop, an erotic art gallery and then also home to Claire de Rouen books, but whatever) - I'm working there and for most of the time there I do the window displays. As part of this role I have a sort of studio, off the shopfloor, a couple of flights up, off a back corridor in the building. It functions as my studio for the display works and also, sort of, as some kind of studio for me. I make a work called, 'It is November 1996. I am working at Waterstone's, Charing Cross Road. These people work here too.' It is 50 individual photographs, one of each member of the staff that works there. I put it up on the wall round the corner from the studio.
I send out invitations to the shop staff. They come and look at it. I keep it up there for a month and then take it down.
Now, skip forward maybe six or seven years and I'm at the ICA and we have a new Director of Exhibitions coming and he is called Jens Hoffmann and there's an article in frieze about him and we read it because we want to know who he is and what maybe he is going to do here. In the piece Jens makes reference to a show he curated while he was at the Guggenheim. On his desk. Without telling anyone. I like this a lot.
So, back now again to a few months ago and I say to Joe that if we are going to have a staff show maybe we could have it in the ICA, but only in non public areas, so it can't be seen.
Joe's at first a little confused as to why we should do a show you can't see. I tell him about the Jens show at the Guggenheim and I'm thinking about the piece I did at Waterstone's and I talk a little bit about the show having a layer or two about it.
And eventually, he agrees. We have thoughts originally about public tours round the back of the ICA and people making appointments but this doesn't work out - it's too tricky with insurance and yada yada yada...
So we do it. Joe and I put together a show by staff at the ICA and we place it in the back areas of the ICA. Some people have clear ideas where they want the work to go, many leave it to myself and Joe.
Joe opts to be the unofficial artist-in-residence for the duration of the show and I put a very large wall piece of my name in Ekow Eshun's office (above). Regular readers of this blog (thanks, love and gratitude to the pair of you) will know that I am doing a series of works just using my name (click here and here). Anyway, people submit works, a complete range of stuff -styles, media, qualities, whatever...well, we take them all. I figure that this is a show about art institutions and the people that work in them, it's not just about the works. I give the exhibition a subtitle of 'a show that is not being shown.'
We set up a blog to record all the works. Jens writes a piece about the show and so does Joe. And now I am writing this. The blog has photos of the works in situ and and text by each of the participants. The word artist seems also to be at question here too - there are people who put things in who are resolutely not artists and I like the way that his seems to scratch away at another level. The works come in throughout September and October. There's a start date but I'm happy for the whole thing just to build up as and when people can contribute, as and when we can find the time to access monitors, dvd players, hammers, nails, extension cables...
You can look at it here.
Eventually my camera cools down, turns itself off and shuts down.
I go back inside and pick up another bottle of beer. Clare's piece for the show is a party. Clare did a project before about bands that never made it. Now she's doing this private view for a show that is not being shown.
I look around at some of the ICA staff who are here.
It is September 2006, I think, and I am working at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. Some of these people here tonight work there too.

party pics

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Raul Ortega Ayala at Economist Plaza

Doctor Who used to travel around time and space in a machine called the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space, factlovers!) and he would explain the peculiar attribute of this time travelling box - that is, it having an inside way bigger than its outside - by saying that it was 'dimensionally transcendental' (sad but true again, factlovers...).
I am reminded of all this complete guff tonight when I drop into the Economist Plaza to catch a work by Raul Ortega Ayala. It's a passenger lift, with mirrored internal walls and Raul's familiar arrangement of post-it notes inside.
I'm wondering how he got hold of a passenger lift, because those things don't come cheap. I run into Dave Hoyland and we go and look at it. There are two windows in the closed outer doors, just like a normal lift, and you can peer in through these. The first thing you see, which is quite surprising, is your own face looking back at you from the mirrored wall opposite. Then you notice the face of the person beside you in the other window, and then you notice a field of post-it notes stretching away, like cornfields. It's bigger on the inside than on the outside! It even looks a bit like a TARDIS from the outside too, the way it just sits there, a solid block with two lit windows, incongruous yet strangely resonant of the surrounding office blocks and their own passenger lifts...Like this little TARDIS got the right form to blend in but the location dial was slightly awry and instead of landing neatly in a lift shaft, it's ended up out here, with people coming up and peering in.
OK, that's enough of the Doctor Who thing now...
Anyway, Dave and I are looking in the windows and looking at each other and Beth Greenacre comes up. I have to ask - how did Raul get hold of a passenger lift? 'He didn't,' says Beth, 'he made this.' Apparently he delivered it pretty much flatpacked.
Dave then says that he has noticed some lifts that are made by a company called Shindler. As in Shindler's Lifts. Though I'm not actually sure I believe him on this...
I bump into Pearse from the Rokeby bar. What do you think of this? I ask him.
'I helped build the bloody thing,' he says. So, obviously he really likes it. I haven't seen him for a while - he's been busy working on film productions. He seems to be VERY SUCCESSFUL at the moment. (There you go, that's a fiver, thanks, Pearse).
Pearse also has an idea for the blog next year. Instead of writing everything up, just post a spreadsheet - you know, amount of beers consumed, people in attendance, quality of work (on a simple 1 to 10 scale). We both get quite taken with this but call a halt to it when we have talked ourselves to the bit where we are plotting scores of galleries over a twelve month period across a map of London with different colours signifying...
Well, like I say, we called a halt.
I stroll around a bit looking at the lift from all sides, thinking about the rolling landscape within. It's a really nice piece, turning an object like a lift, which pretty much embodies the very notion of claustrophobia, into a boundless, infinite summer landscape. A place of awkward discomfort and anxiety has become a comforting vision of nature. And a passenger lift, here, in the square is good. So close in look and feel to its surroundings, that it's enough to give a hint that there could be something special in all the grey stone offices and corridors if you looked at them in the just right way. I know Raul is a great believer in the power of creativity being generated by the more unlikely places, like offices and the corporate working environment.
I go and catch Raul and shake his hand. He seems very happy, roaring with laughter after everything he says (maybe he's just pissed, I think). I say it's great when you look in and you can see another person in the other window.
'Ah yes,' he says 'you can maybe flirt with them a little.'
I explain calmly that when I was looking in the window it was Dave Hoyland in the other one.
Raul lets out another big laugh.

lift pics

Friday, September 22, 2006

Mia at MOT

Aaahh, it's Friday. And the end of another fairly hectic week. So it's nice to find myself at a comfortable and sedate opening for a show by Matthew Thompson at MOT. We are five floors up, there's a nice cool breeze in the air and I'm looking out across the fading night sky at the twinkling lights of Canary Wharf and beyond.
Along the way I see Brian Reed and Monica; and there's Lisa Penny and Sally Underwood; and here's Ben Woodeson and Mia.
Mia's lovely. I give her a few kisses and stroke her face. She's likes this a lot.
She's very loving back to me too. We spend some time together.
Everyone at the view notices her. She's so gorgeous and friendly. She's stunning, in fact.
Ben smiles and takes a small lump of food from his pocket and holds it to her mouth. She scoffs it down. Then he puts her on the floor and stands holding her lead so she can't run off.
Mia is Woodeson's 12 week old puppy.
We have a quick look round the show. As usual with MOT it's precision stuff, but somewhat baffling. Reading the press release doesn't really explain anything more. What is that package (above) in the middle of the room? Has it been sent here? According to the release there's supposed to be a single work as a solo exhibition, a publication and the start of a library (I'm not even sure what that last bit means. Is that what the package contains?). There's a drawing(?) in a frame of a banner across a road, on which is written, backwards, the name Caspar David Friedrich. The same picture appears again in a small book in the gallery - drawings of the same image getting fainter and fainter on each successive page. And then there's also a table by Tom Ellis - what's all that about?
MOT often feels like a series of clues to a mystery which I can never unravel. I always quite like that and it certainly marks out a trip here from many other galleries. I just wish I was a bit more clever.
Chris Hammond who runs it has been putting on tough shows like this for years it seems and I have a lot of respect for him. This kind of thing takes a lot of work.
Anyway, I'm trying to get to the beer but get talking to Lisa Penny. I need to write something down for her so take out one of my business cards (an edition of only 1000, mind), but find I don't have a pen. A guy she is with lends me his. A very nice fountain pen; smooth and expensive looking. Which of course I drop. I'm mortifed. I don't think I've broken it but by the way he is holding it up to the light and squinting at the tip it suggests he's not too happy. I apologise profusely.
As I'm walkng away he comes after me, taps me on the shoulder and suddenly rams the pen in my neck, repeatedly, the blood shootin -
actually, no, he doesn't do that, thank goodness, he says he'll come and see me about a book in a couple of weeks. (I guess Lisa tells him that I run the ICA bookshop - either that or he really is pissed about that pen and I need to watch my step when he comes stalking in.)

Me and Woodeson and Mia chat for a bit.
Mia falls asleep.
It seems like a very good idea.

Mia pics

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Silent but Violent

Silent but Violent is schoolboy slang for farting (along with Silent but Deadly, my own personal preference). It's also the title of a new show and it makes me laugh when it comes thru on email. It's one of the reasons that I go along.
The other reason is because the email is sent from the curator of the show, Lee Edwards. I don't actually know very much about him, other than I've run into him at various pvs over the last year. He seemed to have a knack of appearing in the background to many of the photos I took.
So I figure I really have to go along - even though a glance down the list of the participating artists produces at least two names of previously unsuccessful interviewees for jobs with me at the ICA. I figure it could be a difficult night...
I get there and see Nooza and we talk a bit. We are both fans of each others writing and we generally seem to be covering the same ground, although with quite different experiences. Nooza's take on tonight is here.
I look around for Lee, who, frankly, isn't hard to spot, dressed, as he is, in full dinner jacket and black tie (above). I shake his hand. It's still early but the place is really packing out nicely. He's looking around, excitedly checking out arrivals - 'people I've invited have actually turned up', he says, both thrilled and surprised. We look across the room at Andrew Mummery scurrying along the gallery walls, sniffing at various pieces.
Lee's had this show in place since March and has been thinking and re-thinking and then re-re-thinking it through...and it looks to me like he's done ok. There are still more people arriving...
Thankfully, given such a big space - The Empire in Wadeson Street, which is a completely new one on me - he has mercifully resisted the urge to fill it with thousands of pieces and has exercised restraint by strategically placing a few works around the space.
I take a look around. I say hello to Barry Thompson, Kate Street, wave to Laura Oldfield Ford, see but fail to speak to Oliver Bancroft and tell him how much I liked his film piece at Studio 1.1, and bump into Mike Cooter and have a chat with him. Mike has been having a steady run of shows for which I pick up invites on email but never go to. Not because I don't fancy his work, just that the shows tend to be in Holland, or Germany or the US. And my budget just doesn't stretch that far. Anyway, Mike has a website which is well worth checking out here. We talk about the Cerith show at the ICA. While many are struggling to cope with the seeming emptiness of the galleries, Mike is the first to say to me that he feels that Cerith overloaded it.
He refers specifically to the magpie and a black neon that sits high up on the wall between the two upper galleries. It's actually a good point. In the piece I wrote about the show I didn't even mention the neon. I just dismissed it. Mike's right, he overloaded it. The neon and the magpie, even, seemed like afterthoughts. I wonder if they were?
Anyway, I'm doing my impression of an ice cream left out in the sun, so I figure I ought to take a look around before I end up as a slippery pool on the floor with a yellow sign placed on top of me saying 'Caution Slip Hazard'.
I drift round the works, without reference to the information sheet I've picked up, as I only usually look at all that when I get home. It seems to work for me.
I see two works which I'm pretty sure are by Neill Kidgell - I met him once and he told me about some works he was doing in red biro. And here on the wall are two delicately drawn works in red biro. That'll be his work, then. They are of leaves. One is a square made of many leaves put together and the other is the word 'Never' twice, crossing each other at right angles through the shared 'V' of the word. They are very nice indeed.
It strikes me that sometimes the quieter works in these big shows sit at an unexpected advantage. It's often the smaller, more subtle stuff that gets looked at the longest. Two artists who seem to therefore benefit tonight are Barry Thompson and Charlotte Bracegirdle. Barry is showing his familiar extraordinarily small canvases, painted with eye bleeding detail. Both of the ones here tonight hinting at strange goings on in country lanes and fields. A huddled figure in one is hunched in a field against a breaking dawn, while in the other the legs of a young person rise upwards into a alien light. Barry's work often revolves around themes of youth, music, the countryside and some sense of the spiritual or psychological made fact. They are striking pieces.
The other standout tonight is Charlotte Bracegirdle (not least for that fantastic name) with some framed old fashioned illustrations from children's stories which she amends, distorts and refashions to put a slightly (more) disturbing slant on the original intention of the image. I read later that sometimes she doesn't do anything at all but just exhibits the original found image as is. I like that even more.
There are other works there too: big colourful things, big wooden things, sculptures which sit grumpily on the floor (surely they would have benefited from some sort of plinth?), drawings in nice frames, a pricelist that seems a little hopeful...well, it looks like an art show and that's no bad thing.
As I leave, nearly tripping over a huge fried egg person on the stairs (or the victim of a giant fried egg falling from the sky) I think about the show's title. A great title, but not really what the show was about.
It should have been called: 'It's always the quiet ones...'
Because it always is.

violent pics

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Cerith Wyn Evans in Black and White

In 1975, at the age of 17, Cerith Wyn Evans (above right, with Donald Urquhart, at the private view) came to see a show at the ICA by Marcel Broodthaers, called The Battle of Waterloo. This exhibition, Cerith's attendance, his subsequent visits to the ICA and his involvement with the institution over a number of years provide the basis for his own show at the ICA now, 31 years later, entitled 'Take My Eyes and Through Them See You'.
So this is a show about Cerith Wyn Evans, about his relationship to the ICA, about the ongoing history of the ICA itself and about history and, what we might also call, History.
It's big show, then, but with seemingly very little in it.
In the lower gallery he has removed, entirely, the right hand wall, exposing the original brickwork and windows and thus offering a view onto the Mall from the gallery itself. It's absolutely beautiful. This piece is called Decor (after the Broodthaers show). In the morning before the private view Cerith is standing in the gallery with all us staff, taking us on a small tour of the show. (click here to read Danny Birchall's excellent alternative piece on this morning talk). We walk in and the sun is streaming in the windows, casting the window frames across the floor. Cerith turns his back to the sunlight and, raising his arms, mocks a crucifixion of himself against the shadowed window frame on the floor.
Then he lets his arms drop, and turns, looks out the windows.
'I just wanted to open it up,' he says. He motions to the sunlight. 'Just look at that,' he says, 'Just look at it.'
We look.
'That's all,' he says, 'I just wanted to open it up.'
It is a disarmingly naive statement from a man whose work is usually loaded with vast intellectual learning and academic back story. Could it really be this simple?
Later that night, at the view, I am talking to Simon Tyszko about his Phlight project. This is the thing where he is building the wing of a Dakota airplane into his flat. He is talking to me about his father and him being in the Polish air force during the Second World War.
It seems somehow appropriate a conversation. I was thinking earlier that Cerith could've just walked out of the Second World War himself. He dresses in a sharp thin suit and sports a small moustache, speaking in a curious clipped,
not-quite-any-longer, Welsh accent. He looks like he just arrived back from the Front, having seen things that men should not have seen. He's like a ghost of a war he never experienced. There is a wearyness to him, that he carries in his eyes and face, as if all this around him has lost meaning when set against the atrocities he has seen on the battlefield...but maybe that's just what life can do to you.
Upstairs in the galleries, he is using Morse code. He's used Morse code before in his work (most notably with chandeliers) and it seems a favourite method of communication for him: archaic, increasingly less understandable, and with a solid history of employment in Second World War too. He did a piece at the Venice Biennial using, you guessed it, a Second World War searchlight to beam a text in Morse code up into the night sky. In the galleries here he is using specially constructed blinds to open and close, transmitting a morse code text that plays, slowly, across a monitor screen, into which they are programmed. The text makes reference to a piece written on astro photography and of photographs of the southern hemisphere where imperfections, dust or even dandruff, in the photographic emulsion resulted in false atribution of stars and star systems. 'It shows how the micro can be mistaken for the macro,' says Cerith as he walks us round.
The blinds open and close, sending a message out across the Mall and beyond. But it's unlikely that anyone will really notice this outside and even if they do, put the work in to trying to decipher what it might be saying. So what is he trying to communicate? Inside the gallery, with blinds opening and closing you are aware, really, that there is a lannguage being spoken, but not what it is saying. You are also aware that the blinds change, dramatically, the room in which you are standing. Light and then dark, light and then dark (it makes me think of Martin Creed's Work No.227: The lights going on and off). Open and closed, one and zero, yes and no, black and white.
In the other upper gallery is an enormous film projector (I don't know, but it wouldn't surprise me if this was from the 1940's too...). It is playing a blank reel of film, so that the screen shows it completely black. Black, other than the scratches and dust and other marks which are already begining to corrupt the celluloid. Even on this first day there are scratches appearing, like sudden flashes of lightning. There is also talk of another reel which may be played at some point, which is all white, where the scratches and dust would appear as black marks. The projector whirs away. As it plays, we are watching the film become more and more scratched and dusty. As it plays, so it will never be the same again, from moment to moment.
It is a film about film, and it is also a film, not about, but of death. The celluloid is decaying, dying, as it moves round the projector, picking up dust and wear and tear. Didn't I read somewhere that, like, 60% of dust is human skin, falling off us and falling into the air? I can't help thinking of the exposed brickwork downstairs in the lower gallery and of all the histories of dust and skin that must have been lodged into those bricks and panes of glass in the windows. This film is death, death now and death from a long time ago. Maybe even, in taking down that gallery wall, in pulling away some of the wooden plinths and cracking the bricks underneath, there is some infintely small particles of Cerith himself that date back to that visit in 1975. Dust, particles of almost nothing, the micro becoming the macro.
While we are standing watching the film, Cerith is talking. At one point he motions to the pot plants he has positioned around the gallery, or maybe to the flickering screen - or maybe to everything - and says, 'It's a love letter to Marcel.'
I think this is true. But I also think it is, in some ways a letter to himself, the 17 year old Cerith who came and visted this gallery over 30 years ago. It is a letter to that boy. It is an acknowledgement of the impact that the show had on him and to an acceptence that one can never not have ones own history, that what has happened to you has happened and can never not happen.
'You can never get away from who you are,' I say to Simon Tyszko later, after he has spoken of his dad in the air force and the wing he is now building in his flat. We are in the bar. And thanks to Cerith, walking to the bar down the conourse now means walking beneath a (stuffed) magpie, balancing on a branch. 'It's always one for sorrow when you are walking to the bar,' say Cerith. The magpie is black and white. The branch it sits upon is a real one taken from one of the trees outside the gallery, on The Mall - from the trees which we can now see through the windows of the lower gallery.
This magie piece is small flourish of melancholy. The show is deep with melancholy and sadness and of the passing of time. Of how personal history is also the history of an institution or a city or a place.
So maybe, in some ways this show is also a love letter to the ICA.
The whole show is black and white. I've always thought of the ICA as black and white. In physical as well as metaphorical terms. Those three big heavy black letters: I. C. A. They sum up years of intensity and extremism and relentless experimentation. They seem very seventies to me. Like the way history always seems to be in black and white.
So this show, in it's extremism and two shade palette is timely. The ICA is changing. From now it will be known as The Institute of Contemporary Arts. And it's logo will be in colour - actually, a whole range of colours depending on the activity it describes. The new website changes colour everyday. In this month's Art Forum, Jens Hoffmann is talking of his departure from the ICA and I lift this quote: ‘The overall ICA is planning to change, aiming to become more popular and maybe more mainstream. There will be a very different program once I have finished my exhibitions there.’
This show is a love letter to the ICA as it has been.
It is melancholic and filled with beauty and sadness.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Black and white pics

Friday, September 15, 2006

Robbie Williams Milton Keynes Bowl

The photo above is available in an edition of about 70,000.
We are here, at Milton Keynes Bowl to see Robbie Williams. And we can, actually, see him - way, way, way over there like a little model railway figure, jumping about, miles away. Me and 69,999 other people. All armed with cameras, mobile phones and whatever else you can take a photo with these days, all getting much the same photo as the one above.
(OK - I wouldn't usually write about this: it's not London, and it's not art. BUT, given the reactions that my coming here has sparked in people: disbelief, outrage, disappointment, shame, surprise...I felt I had to. I mean, what's going on with you guys?)
Anyway, one of the best bit of these big Robbie concerts is this. He gets everyone in the crowd to prime their cameras and phones and whatever, turns down the lights, and on the count of three, gets everyone to take a photo. Thousands and thousands of flashes go off in the space of a few seconds, like a galaxy has just fallen on earth. It's quite the most beautiful thing. And I love it every time he does it.
Anyway, isn't Robbie just the Damien Hirst of the pop world?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Blowdelabarra Standpoint Whitecube Seventeen Studio 1.1

We are at Blow de la Barra (or The Blow as I like to call it) on Heddon Street. I stand around, looking at Jo Robertson's new, big, messy paintings of women who may be either the vulnerable victims of some threatening, unseen force or raging harridans who would tear the flesh from your face for looking at them the wrong way. It's hard to tell. I stand around, waiting for someone to take my photo and post me up on the gallery's Society page.
Surprisingly, no one points a camera in my direction.
We leave the women grimacing at each other and head east...
We arrive at Old Street. As we come out the tube station I catch sight of the small gold plaque that has been erected near the pavement. It says, Russell Herron Passed This Way a Million Times on His Way to East End Gallery Openings in 2006...
We go to Standpoint. We are checking out Kevin Osmond's work for the Mark Tanner Award. Someone hits me hard in the shoulder with their fist. I turn round, ready to sock someone in the mouth, but it's John Summers, grinning. 'Hey, dude, how you doin'?'
He's here for the presentation of this year's award - because he, no less, is the winner.
Nervous? 'Hey, dude, no, it's cool, man. Well, like, I wasn't nervous this morning, man, but now it's like, everyone keeps asking me if I'm nervous...'
The Standpoint guy calls everyone to order and makes a speech about Kevin's work and then says a few words about John.
He comes over and shakes John's hand.
'I'm sure John will fill the gallery with great work,' says the guy.
John grins and nods.
He gives John an envelope containing the prize cheque.
John grins and nods.
The guy grins back. And nods.
People start to talk, the gallery moves on.
Hey, dude, nice speech, we say.
John looks shiny but happy.
I think he'll do a cool show, man.
He also has work in Drive-Thru, opening at Three Colts tomorrow night - a show I really should be at but can't make as I'll be in Milton Keynes watching Robbie Williams.
'Dude, you're kidding! You're going to see ROBBIE WILLIAMS, man???'
Yes. I certainly am.
I am out tonight with Lena Nix and we pick up Karen D'Amico here and tell her to come on to White Cube and more. She's up for this and rides shotgun with us for the rest of the evening.
As we turn the corner of Coronet Street there's a car outside The Cube with a bunch of geezers on it playing a bass guitar and drum and singing. 'What is that? Is that Truck Art?' asks Lena. 'No,' I say, unsure, 'I thought that was last night....'
Actually it turns out to be some sort of cheap publicity stunt for the web address they have written across their car (and just to show that cheap publicity stunts can work: the address is Although it's still early the beers have gone quick tonight. We have a scoot round the gallery at Katharina Fritsch's work. Coming out of the darkness the white of the gallery is almost blinding. I can see some colours on the wall and a large vase. Then into the gallery above and Neil Tait's work. Then out. What was all that about, we wonder?
Lee Edwards is there sporting a large beard. He has curated a show that opens on Thursday. The show is called Silent but Violent. I take a photo of his beard.
Someone comes up and says 'Are you Russell Herron?' It's Laura Norder of Savage Messiah fame. Curiously, instead of then having a chat she stands in front of me and has a text conversation on her phone with someone. 'You going to Seventeen, then?' she asks 'We'll catch you there.'
We are off to Seventeen.
It's hello to Dave 'I-think-I've-got-one-more-bottle-of-beer-out-the-back' Hoyland and also tonight hello to a guy called Nick, who is Dave's business partner at Seventeen - and who also runs cult bar DreamBagsJaguarShoes (or 'JagBags', as you young hoxton boys and girls like to call it).
So, how did all this come about then, we ask?
It's long story he says - ooo, good we say.
It is a story of blood, sweat and tears, steep learning curves, friends, helpings out, pullings together, community, people having an active part in their own environments, rent rises, landlords and their vicious ways and means, startings from scratch...And toilets. Let's not forget the toilets at Seventeen.
He hasn't stopped for four years. He says he's going to take it a bit easier over the next...yeah right. It never stops. It never stops.
Anyway, let's take a moment to look at the work. It's David Ersser's stuff. I've seen some of his work before in Larry's Cocktails at Gagosian last year. In the gallery tonight are carved sculptures of work-a-day stuff from an artists studio. There's a bench with tools and bits and pieces on it - crushed beer cans, an electric drill, scissors, an ipod, speakers, an ashtray, lighter, ruler, saw...
There's also a camera on a tripod, a heavy duty circular saw; and a neon sign attached to the wall up by the bar. There's a set of keys hanging from a nail in the wall.
And all of it, all of it, made from balsa wood. Carved out of the stuff. That strange fleshy pink-white coloured soft light-as-nothing wood. Everything made from this.
It's quite an achievement. It must have taken months of slicing and dicing to create tonight's show. I congratulate David (above), who is busy bending over and repairing various balsa wood 'electric cables' and bits and pieces. We are talking about the work and he bends down and picks up a balsa crushed beer can. 'Shouldn't really do this,' he says, handing it to me, 'but feel it.' I hold it in my hand. It's a beercan - but so impossibly light it makes my brain go a little odd from the disparity of vision and touch. It's a weird thing. I touch the chair that sits by the table. It almost starts to float in the air. It's very, very odd. But brilliantly done. Although not so brilliantly that the workmanship disappears - it is done with a certain amount of the nerdy scratching and whittling away visible. These are representations of things, not things themselves. They are a little reflection of reality, not a substitute.
'You really have to understand things to do this,' David is saying, 'you have to really take stuff apart and look at it. It's like drawing,' he says. And I think he has really looked very closely at things - for a very long time.
We decide to try and make it to Oliver Bancroft's show at Studio 1.1 - or at least for a drink at the Owl and Pussycat in Redchurch Street. We head off and somewhere around this time Karen D'Amico disappears. We get there in time to have a couple of minutes in the gallery. I get very taken with four projectors, lined up, purring away like congested cats, showing four separate parts of one view of four lines of trees. This is a very nice piece. Kate Street is there. She showed us her new website the other day. Emma Holden is there too. The last time I saw her, her arm was a beer drinking green snake.
(Ah, what great drugs they were...)
We got to the Owl for a beer. I hold it in my hand. It is exactly the right weight a glass of beer should be.
balsa pics

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Martin Creed Wants to be Here

'I'm here, because, because, because, I like, I like to, I want to be, to be here. I like, I like doing this.'
Martin Creed is pacing around the stage of the Purcell Room at the South Bank.
So, yes, I guess he wants to be here. He says so.
He also said much the same as this when he did the Roland Penrose Memorial lecture, 'Everything is Something', last year. I was there. He said much the same. He tried to explain why he was there, and he tried to be there, on stage, in front of people, then and there. He talked about doing work in front of people and not just sitting in a little room, in that 'soup' that you get in when you sit in a little room on your own and think.
It's not good.
I used to sit and think. Got me nowhere.
Tonight he is here and now. Tonight he's saying this, trying to explain to us and to himself why he is here, standing up on a stage, with us lot (I count maybe a hundred of us) looking at him and waiting to see what he does. Will he do anything? There's a drumkit, bass and guitar to one side of the stage, but that means nothing...
Also, while he is striding across the stage, stopping, thinking, speaking, hesitating, frowning, sighing, his movements are being replicated by a girl behind him. When he lifts the mic to speak, she lifts an invisible mic to her mouth; when he walks across the stage, she too walks across the stage, miming, copying, trailing him.
He picks up his guitar. The girl disappears off the side of the stage.
He plays a song, with his two band members now on bass and drums (they are both excellent - the girl on the drums especially so). I think it's 'Feeling Alright.' He finishes, plays another song maybe, I can't remember.
Then he walks off the stage, up to the the back of the auditorium and whispers into the microphone, so we can all hear, 'Play the video now.'
The screen at the back of the stage lights up. It is white. A girl comes into view and abruptly throws up on the floor. Repeatedly.
I've heard about this - his film of people being sick. Having seen Millie throw up in mutlicolours earlier in the year, this seems quite tame. I also read about the film he was doing of people having a shit, in a film called SHIT, but I don't know anymore about this. I emailed Hauser and Wirth about it a few weeks ago, but they never answered...
Anyway, he's back on stage and he's back to playing guitar. More of his spiky, post punk, edgy classics.
As he's playing 'I Like Things', I'm suddenly reminded of David Byrne circa Fear of Music and Talking Heads '77.
He plays some more.
He plays 1-100, the words of which are, yep, you guessed it, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7...etc
It's one of my favourites.
And of course he ends with 'Fuck Off'.
It's his usual ending. Provocative and endearing.
Nice, I think.
I was here because I wanted, really wanted to, to be, to be here.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Posh west, then free for all on Vyner

I am in Savile Row. Which is unusual for me to be so far west, but I'm at the Matthew Bown Gallery to see a small, intelligent and elegant group show called Incidents. I'm here in particular to catch a look at some work by Brian Reed who was at the Graham Hudson auction the other night. I've scant knowledge of his work but there's a couple of images I've seen that have made me think I need to see more. I arrive and nose round the show. It's a real mix of names - big and not so big - but beautifully put together. There's a bit of a mash up in the doorway with some sound pieces and headphones that could've been thought thru a little better maybe, but after that the show is very nice indeed. There's a piece by Ana Genoves whose work I haven't seen for years. It's called Cement Shrine and is a sort of cement chair. Or that's what I thought it was, until one of the party tonight trips over it and breaks the corners off. Then it's polystyrene with a paint job. I like it all the more for this, though. Well done, young japanese girl not looking where you were going...
Then I get completely caught up by a video piece (almost unheard of for me) by Terry Smith called Erotica. To a sleazy, easy jazz background sentences appear from a black screen, tracing an erotic adventure. Or at least that's what I think at first. I watch it for ages until I realise that there are a number of different people's fantasies and experiences contributing to this. Different sexes and creeds and colours. It is a captivating piece and manages to be original with a terribly old and flogged dead subject. Brian arrives and we look at his work. Two pieces: an upside-down placard saying UNDERAGE SALE and a small scratched wood sort of work with the word BEG dug out of it. I love them. I ask him to talk about them and he says some interesting things about how they came together and gives some context to them. But, ultimately, he has made some works which speak to me on that level that goes beyond words, ironically enough, and straight into that instinctive bit of your head/gut/arse(?) that knows that what you are really seeing is a connection between what someone has done and what you have only barely begun to understand yourself. They have given you a missing piece. The next piece. So now you can make that journey a little further.
Obviously I say none of this to Brian (he'd think I'd lost it), but nod and say I think they are great. I could stay and have a longer chat - it's feeling distinctly nice and cosy in here suddenly but I have other things to see. I say my goodbyes. 'Lisa Penny and Ann Marie are heading down here too,' says Brian. 'Say Hi from me,' I say. I shoot off.
So I get to Cambridge Heath Road and I'm on my way up to Vyner Street and - hang on, hang on, aren't I always on bloody Cambridge Heath Road? They should put up a bloody plaque for me here... - and bump into Bob and Roberta Smith. We walk and talk for a bit on the way there - he's just come from Gasworks and is raving joyfully about what he has seen there. Katherine Araniello and Aaron Williamson. He's laughing out loud at this still. We talk about his show at Peer - his Shop Local project. Part of this is the brilliant tube campaign for 'Ron's Eels and Shell Fish.' Bob says Ron has had six extra customers since the campaign started. If Ron had a website you can bet that I'd be putting the link here right now.
We get to Vyner. On the way down we see Sarah Kent walking away. The following week she puts the boot into most of Vyner Street galleries in Time Out. Bless her, eh?
Bob and I separate into the crowds. There's Vilma Gold, Vine, Fred, David Risley and One in the Other all opening tonight. It's the usual free for all on Vyner Street.
In Vine I see some works by Lesley Halliwell. I've seen some stuff she did before in a magazine but can't now remember what magazine it was. Anyway, she does things using a spirograph - that little thing you had when you were growing up, a circle of plastic with teeth round the edge that slotted into the teeth on the inside curve of a larger plastic circle and that then allowed you to draw intricate and repetitive patterns of circles. Remember that? About the time you were playing with your Etch-a-sketch. Well, Lesley hasn't given up on the old spirograph like you and I did, and she now makes very large circles of lots of little circles. And she uses a biro to do this with, going on and on until the biro completely runs out and then moving on to the next colour. Nice, really nice stuff.
I bump into Andrew (or is it Simon?) from Miser and Now and Keith Talent. Well, I don't really bump into him, I actually try and wrestle him to the ground. He's a little caught off guard by this but maintains his stance. I've emailed Andrew and Simon time and again to get on their mailing list but it never happens. I tell him this. I also tell him that he hasn't got back to me about writing a piece for the magazine. 'Ah, no,' he says, 'yeah, that would be great. I did have a conversation with you but it was only in my head and I said yes and you said you'd write something and it's all great. It's sort of like writing a letter but not actually posting it.' 'OK,' I say. 'Is this like those people who come to the ICA Bookshop and say, 'have you got Miser and Now? I'm a subscriber, but they never send me a copy...'?' 'Ah, no,' he says, don't do this...'
Then I say, as a killer blow, the single word: 'HADDOCK.'
'Oh, no, that's really cruel,' he says,'stop it, now.'
Ok, they have been busy. They are organising some kind of Frieze Fair thing in Tavistock Square with about 30 galleries from America and Europe. Would we like to be involved in some way as the ICA Bookshop? 'Tell you what,' I say, 'why don't you email me about it...?'
I go outside and see Ben Woodeson. We go gallery hopping. In David Risley I see Lisa P and wonder how she managed to get here so quickly from Brian's show. 'Oh shit,' she says, 'I couldn't make it.' 'Well,' I say, 'he told me you and Ann Marie were coming.' 'Oh shit, oh shit, oh no, please say he didn't say that. He didn't say that, did he? Cause Ann Marie can't make it either. I've got to send a message. Oh shit!' She rushes out.
Sally Underwood is there. 'Look,' she says, 'I wore my best shoes.' I look down. They look good.
And weirdly enough, a few minutes later and I'm standing in a different part of the gallery and I overhear a woman behind me say: 'I just had to speak to you because of your shoes.'
I look round. Sally is nowhere. There are, however, two women smiling at each other in a very friendly way...
I guess Sally's shoes just weren't as good as we all thought.
I talk to Woodeson about mailing lists. He too can't get on the Keith Talent list - and he only lives round the corner. And Dallas's list, I ask? No. He seems to have dropped off this list, though he was actually on it for a while. Dallas (1000000 mph) has the hardest list to get onto and stay on. What's all that about?
Woodeson introduces me to Paul Hosking (Beck's Futures 2002, factlovers). We all have a chat. Woodeson keeps saying stuff and then saying 'and you can't blog that.' So I don't. Later we are coming out of Fred and Woodeson goes and shakes hands with the man himself. Fred Mann is big guy and has a big handshake. It breaks a blister on Woodeson's hand. 'That big monkey really hurt my hand,' he says - 'and you can put that up on your blog.'
So I do.
Vyner pics

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Modern Maureen Crave Madder

So last night I was at Chisenhale.
And I know, I know, gentle reader of this blog, that you have become accustomed to a little bit more than one gallery in a evening when there is so much suddenly going apologies. And tonight, just for you, I have spread myself a little thinner. Modern Art, Maureen Paley, Rawspace and Madder Rose.
Enough for you?
Good. Because that is certainly enough for me. More than enough, thanks...
Arriving at Modern Art I bump into Lisa Penny, freshly back from the Berlin residency and I get to hear potted bits and pieces about her time. Seems there was a lot of drinking involved, but I could be wrong. Anyway, while she is talking we are wandering round the Collier Schorr works and I'm trying to work out why I'm not really liking it. I stand in front of each piece listening to Berlin, but it's not happening. All the component parts are there for me to like: magazines, cut up photos, just the sort of aesthetic I like, but it's just not happening. Unlike Berlin - which was really happening.
We go across the road to see the other space and an installation by Florian Slotawa. This I can get a grip on. Three sculptures, all made using a bath, a stepladder, a window frame, a metal shelving system and a bright orange belt, but all in different combinations. It makes me think of a clean, methodical version of Graham Hudson's work. But then again, most things make me think of Hudson's work at the moment. I can't walk down any street in London without seeing a skip full of building junk, scattered bits of wood on a pavement, delapidated housing, construction works....
Lisa P is on her way to the big opening at The Hayward. I have decided to do my east end thing. I say I am heading to Maureen Paley's and she says she can stop off there on her way to the Hayward. She is on her bike. We'll meet up there.
As I'm walking down Cambridge Heath Road she trickles past me. That's the last I see of her all night...
Anyway, there's a trendy and lively crowd at Maureen's place as befits Seb Patane and his arty dj credentials. I look around. I say hello to Maria Benjamin from Guestroom and I also see Andrew Grassie who I used to know from when he worked at the ICA. He has a show coming up here, at Maureen's, in a couple of months. He paints incredibly small paintings that command a huge space and presence. He is enormously talented at this.
I also see Maureen stalking around. She is wearing big dark glasses and has her hair up in some kind of sixties way. She looks more and more like Audrey Hepburn's wicked elder sister each time I see her.
We've never properly met but I decide tonight is the night. She frightens the shit out of me to be honest, but I sink a bottle of beer in one and go up to her.
'Hi,' I say, and then quickly say some positive things about the show.
I ask if I can take her photo. She says yes, but insists on wearing dark glasses on account of a bloodshot eye (a fight, I reckon) and asks who I am.
I tell her I write a sort of online diary of art events and give her a card.
She takes it, much as one would handle a dead bird presented to them by their cat, turns it over, decides it has no importance whatsoever in her scheme of things and (and I have to say I love her for this next move) calmly hands it back to me, as if to say, 'here, this is of no use to me. Maybe you, little man, could use it for something.'
Anyway, she is as good as her word, stalks off into the gallery, adjusts her glasses and stands for me to take a photo. It's a tense moment. I know two things: 1. I will only get this one chance to take the photo and 2. I will have to immediately show it to her once it's taken for her approval. I take the photo. It's a bad photo, like all the photos I take (which is the point) and then I quickly flip the switch to get the image back on screen, even as she is already moving towards me to check it.
She looks at it and nods. There she is, above.
We have a few more words and I tell her that I work at the ICA bookshop. She softens, slightly, in much the same way that a glacier could be said to be melting on the basis of a single drop of water the size of a baby's tear zigzagging it's way down the icy cliffedge.
Well, as long as you like the show, she says. I nod. I want to keep my kneecaps.
Anyway, it really is an interesting show. I first saw Seb's work in Beck's Futures last May. It stuck in my mind like an awkward, sharp edged shape. His work isn't easy. There are thematic arrangements that refuse to yield any simple deconstruction. He seems to put disparate, subtly augmented objects together - old theatrical photos, their faces inked out by swirling, writhing pen marks; old magazine and newspaper images adorned by pressed flowers, covers of old vinyl records, print images with the eyes obscured by a black censorship rectangle. And noise/sound/music. Always there is some interventionist sound which hovers between noise and music. And usually there's an image acting as some sort of mysterious focal point. In the upstairs part of the gallery, where the sound piece is, there's a small picture of a man carrying what looks like an axe handle. And there's also what looks like exactly this axe handle resting on some of the boxes which sit in the noise piece. His work is deeply set, I think, in a personal series of signs and symbols. I think sometimes that these things serve as a form of communication for Seb, but I don't think they commuicate in a way that he intends. But they do communicate in a very individual way. I always leave his works feeling a sense of irresolution, but am fascinated by what I've just experienced. Not easy, but certainly not forgettable.
With all this going on in my head I arrive at Crave, a group show under the auspices of RawSpace, in a disused office or retail outlet just off Spital Square down near Liverpool Street. And although it's a group show I'm really here to see one of Gordon Cheung's works. I've seen his stuff in reproduction loads of times but I've never actually seen one in the flesh - or in the FT, I should say. Gordon's easy hook is that all his works are painted onto cut up collages of the Financial Times stock market figures. And here it is. A huge painting on a collage of the Financial Times. His work always looks like the end of the world, but strangely always both optimistic and sad. Great. I look around at the other stuff. Michael Ashcroft has presented a piece which seems to be photographs of mountains ripped from magazines. I like this a lot.
I don't stay long. I still have to try and get the last drink in at Madder Rose in Whitecross Street, the new gallery run by Flora Fairbain (ex of Studio 1.1)
I get there and nearly bump into a couple of very well known television actors, squeeze past a shoal of giggling blonde girls, and catch a couple of guys, who wouldn't look out of place wearing rugby shirts, lining up empty wine glasses on the window sill outside as a bit of a hoot, building some sort of glass pyramid. Everyone has come along dressed up and out for the night. I arrive knackered, crumpled and bedraggled, the veteran of three other private views already tonight, with my customary black shoulderbag accessorized by an old black rucksack (for reasons I'm not going into, suffice that I had no option) and try and blend in. Which I do, about as well as a drunk uncle at a childrens tea party......(read more about feeling in the wrong place at the wrong time on Nooza's blog - he was there too, although we never met)
I am taking a few photos. One guy there is dressed in a sharp black suit, big black hat and dark glasses (at night, sir?? Are you sure??). He sees my camera turn in his direction and dodges down, puts up his hand up and makes an extraordinarily ostentatious display of not wanting to have his photo taken. Which is fine by me, but then if you don't want to be photographed, DON'T DRESS LIKE THAT, DUDE....
Anyway, this is the second show at Madder Rose and I remember reading about it in a Sunday supplement before it had opened so we all knew it was going to be very chichi foofoo. And it certainly is. I part some womens blonde hair and have a look at some of the works by Jason Shulman. The first piece I see I really like, two solpadeine tablets dissolving in a glass, both tablets on the undulating pirouette that they make, just dropped in the water, sinking to the bottom, bursting with thousands of tiny bubbles. But the whole thing is static. It's a sculpture. I like this a lot. Then, pushing past some expensive suits, jewellery and some more blonde hair, I see more solpadeine tablets in various different arrangements and situations. It begins to feel a little tiresome. Each piece has an art historical reference to bounce off, but it becomes a little too: 'and now I've done this with a solpadeine tablet. And now this! Look!' It fails to convince. It gets very tideous very quickly and by the time I get back to the first one I saw all I can now see is one of those tacky souvenir shops (are there good souvenir shops, I wonder?) that sell fake glasses with plastic flowers stuck in transparent resin...
There are more works downstairs, but I don't make it down there. There's a sculpture of his dad, oh, no wait - the sculpture is his dad - his dead dad's ashes sifted and arranged. Part of me is glad that I don't see this tonight. But it also clicks as well with the whole crowd here tonight - I think dad was Milton Shulman, the famous theatre critic. I wonder what some of those actors are thinking, looking at his ashes?
A few glasses suddenly smash outside on the pavement. The glass pyramid is falling down.
I am tired and crushed and not a famous actor or a blonde haired girl.
I figure it's either I get my hair done - or it's time to leave...
mad pics

Monday, September 04, 2006

Summer's End

Summer is over. It's official. And I know it's over because this week, despite the temperatures in the high 20's (what's that about?) - this week alone - there are openings at Rokeby, Rachmaninoff's, Aquarium, Camden Arts Centre, Rosy Wilde, Chisenhale, Modern Art, Madder Rose, One in the Other, i-cabin, Barlett's, Maureen Paley, Vilma Gold, Alison Jacques, David Risley, Bearspace, Matthew Bown, Lisson, Gimpel fils, Foster Art, Unit 2, Lounge...
And those are just some of the ones I know of. Everyone's back, everyone's showing and everyone's already started, strapped in, clunk click, on the downhill, hurtling, towards the almighty, rub your hands together and count the cash, unmissable meat market that is, after all, the mighty Frieze Art Fair in mid October.
What's a boy to do?
Well, here's what: I go to Chisenhale to the opening of Clare Woods show.
Yep, caught me a bit by surprise too. Not where I thought I was going to be at first. It is, after all, a two tube trip with a bus ride to follow (and, as it transpires, a little bit more walking than I had planned, jumping, as I did, on the wrong bus...) and I know Clare's work and it's good, but I'm not really a big fan and well...and well, I almost didn't go: Cathy and Alex from Transition came in to the ICA and were going to Rosy Wilde and then I think - well, maybe I should just nip in there, then I could comfortably get up to Rokeby (and you all know how much I like Rokeby) and then maybe home...
But no. I have to go to Chisenhale.
I have to go because for everything that I think about Clare's work (yes, fine, interesting, a little reserved) I can't get the image of a photo of one of her new paintings that comes through on email from Modern Art out of my head. And it's a photo of one of the paintings in the show (one of them, mind) and it's huge. It must be like 30 or 40 feet long. It's amazing. And I just have to go and see it and see where she's taking herself off to on this one. What a great leap.
And so I go. And after the tubes and the bus and the short walk made longer by the wrong bus, I'm going down the slope inside Chisenhale and pulling open the big gallery door and I feel ilke I'm walking into a washing machine, such is the noise of the chattering and talking and hello-good-to-see-you bouncing off the gallery walls and hard floor and having nowhere else to go but back into the middle of the room and then out again and back in and out and in and out like a rough, loud sea.
And boy, yes the paintings are big. Three huge paintings.
They are all done in parts, and where the joins are sometimes the paint runs across it and it joins up, and sometimes it doesn't, as though she has done the paintings all in one go and had these sheets of aluminium lined up with the spaces between them and what the heck if the paints falls through the spaces and the line is broken. That's just the way it is and the way it is.
They are great pieces.
The biggest one - which is nearly 40 feet long - is like some sort of jungle or underwater scene, or some place where nature has just been allowed to keep growing and tangling up, unchecked. It's exuberant and full of life...
And the one on the right is like a coastline. There's a definite suggestion of sea and sand, coastline, grasses, paths, waterpipes, rusted trawler chains.
I've just been for a few days in St Ives and it reminds of the glorious coastline I've just left behind. I hung out there on the beach making sculptures out of seaweed and circles out of seagull feathers.
I see Simon Wallis there who runs the exhibitons and who used to be Exhibitions Director at ICA. We have a little chat about Jens Hoffmann going to the Wattis and this and that and we talk about Clare's work and I say I really like it and I'll write about it and am thinking to say that I write a blog of London art stuff, but before I can he says, 'oh that's right - you really liked the Dryden Goodwin show we had here. I remember reading your piece on that.'
So I guess I don't need to give him a card...
'Anyway, look,' he says, 'I'm sorry, excuse me, I've got to work,' he says, raising his eyebrows, 'Work!?!' he laughs. 'You know what I mean,' and, as a woman walks through the big door to the gallery, he kisses her delightedly on both cheeks.
I'm off.
Summer is most defintely over.

Friday, September 01, 2006

What Will It Look Like When It's Finished?

So this is it.
Sort of.
It's the closing ceremony/party/auction/gameshow for Graham Hudson's residency at Chelsea Parade Ground.
Hudson, the leader of the revolution, is moving on (to LA and then Nairobi) but there's still time for all this: an auction of 30 pieces of his work and another outing for cult art gameshow Sculpture Wars...!
I arrive and register to bid. There's one piece that's totally worth buying. It's Lot 23, 'When It's Windy This Sculpture Falls Over'. For me, it is what this residency has been about and what Graham's work is about. I remember a version of it, in cardboard, on a very early visit here (why the heck didn't I just pick it up then, goddammit???). It's easily the key piece. So I shouldn't be surprised when both Dave Hoyland and Beth Greenacre say they have got their eye on it too. This is not good news. I have no idea what kind of prices are going to be coming in tonight -and I'm not sure anyone else has either. Are we talking a few pounds? Tens of pounds? Hundreds? Thousands??? Who knows?
The auction doesn't start for a bit so I hang out. Noah Sherwood is there, filming his sculpture which is tonight's bar. It looks fantastic. It's a reworking of the sculpture he had in Spitalfields. He's pleased how its turned out. 'Look,' he says, 'people are being served drinks by my sculpture. This is great. I've gone all relational aesthetics on my own work...'. He's having a laugh with this but it's a lovely observation. He continues filming.
Francesca Gavin is there too, though I hardly recognise her with her clothes on...(fnar, fnar). James Capper comes and has a chat. He's the student here at Chelsea who first came out and started building another house next to Graham's. He's always around. I talk to him for a bit, ask him what it's been like living out here, and what people have said about the place. He presents me with a key phrase. Commuters, walking thru this ground, day after day, over the months, have seen it transform and change and stand up and fall down. They ask: 'What will it look like when it's finished?' We both have a wry laugh at this.
What indeed would this all look like when it's finished? What would it look like before it's finished? Where is the end and the beginning with Hudson's work? When it's windy, it might all fall over.
And it does fall over from time to time. Hudson has been out here working for months. Part performance piece, part open studio. If he makes a mistake it's all out in the open for anyone to see. There's no working on a piece and then presenting it to the private view crowd. There is no private view, or, well, the private view is continual....
Everything teeters on the edge of being something else in Hudson's world. Everything is in a state of becoming. What is made is never really finished, and what is not made is never quite abandoned. Only death and money will finish anything he does. And tonight there are people here with money.
Me included. But it still feels odd to be thinking of buying one of Hudson's works. For someone who has spent the last months challenging all that stuff, it's ironic, slightly surprising, and unexpectedly exciting to be able to get hold of something more palpable than a memory. Hudson is a very shrewd guy. He rips up the rules on art, then calmly plays along with them like there's no contradiction. If he had made a cake he could have sold it as well as eating it at the same time.
So, I'm in the market for art and I'm fixed on this work I mentioned. I look thru the little catalogue that's been produced. Various works I recognise from previous visits here. And I'm flicking thru and then suddenly I see Lot 30 - which is the house. Hudson said before that he wasn't going to put this in. But there it is. Lot 30. The iconic house. Who knows what's going to happen here?
The house - that beautiful, lopsided sculpture with it's mad bay windows and secret sleeping compartment (the 'research hub' as he once referred to it as...) - is the major work of all this. The really central piece to the whole place. Bits of it have fallen off over the months and been replaced. Things have been added. The whole parade ground has shifted and changed and been rebuilt and been allowed to fall over.
But don't let's get too carried away with the falling apart bit. Hudson isn't slapdash or chaotic or disorganised. This is a carefully considered - if sometimes not articulated - rage against the machine. It's the revolution that wasn't televised. The only thing really missing from this whole venture was a red flag, with Hudson's face reversed out in black, fluttering over the roof. Students would have bought posters of it to put up in their rooms...
Whatever, it's been a hell of a first residence for the parade ground.
(Let's, for a moment, just consider some words written by Bedwyr Williams in his excellent book, Basta, of his residency in Venice:
'Artists in residence smell, they fill their spaces with special teas, comfy mules, Olbas Oil and other kick-knacks. They get ill, they misunderstand the heating system in their lodgings. They haven't really got enough clothes with them. They don't have a car and are usually damp. Also you must go out for a drink with them sometime. THEY NEVER REALLY DO WHAT THEY SAID THEY WOULD.')
The bidding starts.
There's a scaffolding tower on top of which are perched Hugh Edmeades of Christies and Beth Greenacre. They are wheeled around the parade ground on this contraption as the pieces are sold. Hugh, perfectly turned out in an expensive suit and tie is, I have to say, the consummate professional. He is on top a scaffolding tower, with a hammer wrapped in hazard tape, getting people to bid on bits of scrap metal, wood and plastic. He is fantastic.
So, first up: Lot number 1 - Untitled (Bollards and Table). Bidding starts around £20.00. Then suddenly it's up to sixty, seventy, eighty, ninety, a goes for £130.00. Dave Hoyland gets it. This is the first piece. A good one, but blimey, I need to check my wallet on this. This means the piece I want is really going to go. On lot 8, Untitled (Arch and Trolley) we reach about £1300.00. Things are not looking good here for my piece. Also, I don't want to blow money before Lot 23 in case I need everything I've got. So I hold off bidding on a couple of really, really nice pieces. Brian Reed is there and strikes a fantastic deal of £30.00 on Lot 19. I'm kicking myself. Then suddenly, abruptly, we are on Lot 23. There's me, Dave and someone else. Dave pulls out but I keep going. Another hundred, another hundred, and another hundred. I see that I'm up against Ed Greenacre. Shit, I think, I might as well be up against the Bank of England. He's got more money that I can muster on this. It's his. He knows. I know. And so I stop bidding. I pull out. The piece goes to Ed for over a grand.
So I'm gutted - but also now frantic about making sure I get a good piece. Other than the house, which is going to go big time (as well as having to be transported and stored) there's two pieces I think that are still worth it:
Lot 25 and Lot 27.
And I get Lot 25. Good Old British Sex Comedy After Sarah Lucas.
Two hundred quid plus VAT.
I get it. I'm really, really happy to have this piece. It's an old wonky metal trolley with an office chair and a paint covered easel having sex on top of it.
It's mine. It's absolutely wonderful.
And it also makes me part of some secret club. As soon as I buy it a guy sidles up to me, out of the darkness. 'Nice piece,' he says, 'Very shrewd. That'll be worth a thousand in 18 months.' 'Less,' I say. He disappears. A woman comes up. 'You got yourself a bargain there,' she coos gently in my ear.
I'm expecting someome to come up and give me a funny handshake and a wink at this point, but it doesn't happen.
What does happen though is that the house, lot 30, goes for something like £6000. I speak to Ed later and he says he bought it. 'I had to - I had to keep it from being destroyed. It is the residency.'
Later I speak to Graham who tells me that two other people have bought it. I also speak to Dave Hoyland who says he bought it....
Somehow, loads of people bought the house. And, really, I don't actually care who bought it, I'm just glad someone did. It is beautiful and iconic. It's when Duchamp met John Bock (as a TV channel in a parallel art world might fashion a cheesy programme about it).
Then it's gameshow time: Sculpture Wars. Graham and Dave Hoyland are presenting, wearing identical light brown suits, and bawling the rules into mics - which I don't quite follow. There are three contestants a round, each charged with building the tallest, free standing sculpture, from a whole pile of offcuts and tools, which will ultimately be judged on a combination of height and weight. It's like some bizarre Generation Game for the artworld. And each round is accompanied by big war movie themes.
Dave and Graham run round like seasoned gameshow hosts, encouraging the contestants, proffering some commentary here and there, keeping the whole thing going.
I stand a little back from all this, stand near my new purchase, which suddenly seems very vulnerable to all sorts of nasty things now that I have just agreed to pay 200 quid for it. Will it be safe here till I can get it on Sunday? What if it rains? What if someone nicks it?
All thoughts I never had before I agreed to buy it.
How fickle I really am....
'I was in an early version of Sculpture Wars. In Leipzig.' says Brian Reed. 'I got in to the final,' he continues, wistfully.
He introduces me to Cecilia Wee. We both look at each other, registering some faint recognition but from some unknown time. Then I recall: she came into the ICA shop once, looking for a certain subject area and I ran round the shelves trying to find stuff for her. She has written about Grahams's work here. She is very clever and writes really well and you can find out more about her here.
Sculpture Wars finishes. I don't remember who won. But then we are being ushered out of the ground - on account of the neighbours. It's gone ten, after all.
I make my way home thinking about my Good Old British Sex Comedy...

A couple of days later I go down to the parade ground and pick up the work, transporting the whole piece back in a black cab - which seems only fitting.
I get it home and rebuild it in my garden.
I stand back.
I think back to James Capper and that line he said: What will it look like when it's finished?
Well, now I can tell you:
It looks like two things. It looks like an old wonky metal trolley with an office chair and a paint covered easel having sex on top of it.
And it also looks, incontrovertibly, finally, and without any doubt, like a genuine Graham Hudson.
war pics