Alternative Guide to the Universe at The Hayward Gallery

2013-06-17 13.28.08The Alternative Guide to the Universe, currently on at The Hayward Gallery will, I suspect, evoke different reactions in those who have an education in art from those who don’t.  I’m only guessing how the cognoscenti approach it from reading various reviews in the the press, whereas, as I fall squarely within the second category, I can tell you exactly how this naive viewer looked at it.

It appeared to me to be indistinguishable from any other art exhibition I’ve ever seen: some things engaged me, I wanted to look more closely at them, to see the detail, the marks and the colours, and I wanted to know more about the story of the person who had created them; other pieces didn’t engage me at all and I walked on by without needing to know anything more.

So much for the concept of ‘Outsider Art’ then.  It’s a concept that’s important for the people who know about ‘art’ and talk about ‘intention’ and ‘context’, and who therefore refer to the people whose work is represented in this eclectic exhibition as ‘untrained’.  If the person who made the piece had no artistic training or intent, can it be ‘art’?

I don’t have the answer to that question, other than to observe that many of the pieces in this show made me stop and look and think, they were fascinating and without any practical purpose other than to express what was in the mind’s eye of the person who made it…….which sounds a bit like art to me.

Many of the people whose work is on show existed in the hinterland of society, some in menial jobs, or in living in institutions, but what seems to have characterised them all was an obsessive desire to create something to communicate their ideas.  There is one who saw patterns in numbers, so made patterns out of numbers  so complicated that they will only be deciphered when a computer sufficiently large is developed in the future, another drew intricate diagrams and made mathematical models proving his theory that there is no such thing as gravity.  One man made anatomically accurate models of pubescent children, dressed them, gave them emotional facial expressions and then photographed them looking alarmingly real.  He had apparently learned to sew specifically for the purpose of making their clothes.

If it all sounds a little mad, is it any more so than systematically destroying all your belongings in a shop front, or embroidering the names of everyone you’ve ever slept with  into a tent, or dressing up and photographing yourself in automatic photo booths?  Can we always tell the difference between the ‘outsider’ and a member of the Royal Academy?  I certainly can’t.

My particular favourites were the models made by Bodys Isek Kingelez, intricate designs for impossible buildings; shaped like butterflies and Chinese temples, shapes which might fit well along side the creations on the Las Vegas Strip, all constructed from offcut cardboard and discarded bits and pieces; and the ink drawings of Marcel Storr, imaginings and diagrams for the rebuilding of Paris after the nuclear was the artist believed was coming.  They marks on the paper are so dense and detailed, and covered in luminous ink, each work glows with a golden light, part temple part dystopian cityscape.  They were beautiful as well as fascinating.

It’s well worth a visit.  There’s a robot and the alphabet reshaped as skateboards too.

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Gardens at the Southbank

2013-06-17 11.16.39If your project is to promote the tending of gardens in an urban environment, then you couldn’t pick a better place than the grey windswept brutalist architecture of the Southbank Centre in London.

The gardening woman in her curlers is on top of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, and the wheelbarrows are dancing in the dead space between the concert hall and the Hayward Gallery.  Everything is well tethered against the prevailing winds.  There are fruit trees in bins on wheels on the far side of the Festival Hall, and along the river there are arrangements suggesting greenhouses.

It’s nice to see a bit of green in amongst all the grey, even if it is all still swamped by the concrete blocks.

They’ve Called it The Shed

2013-04-09 17.34.59There’s no missing the new structure that’s been built beside the National Theatre on the Southbank.  In the land of grey weathered concrete, The Shed shouts out its difference.  It’s wood, and it’s red, bright red;  it looks sort of upside down with four feet sticking into the air, and at the moment it is still smelling woody.  It’s just got to be visited.

It’s been built to house new productions suitable for a small house, while the Cottesloe Theatre is being remodelled.  I’ve not been inside yet, but rest assured I will get around to booking to see something, if only to satisfy my curiosity, and to be able to say that I’ve been inside.

Meanwhile, I’m enjoying the serendipity that caught a plane in my snap.

‘Light Show’ at Hayward Gallery

Leo Villareal, Cylinder, 2011

Leo Villareal, Cylinder, 2011

Artists have explored the effects of light probably as long as there have been artists, but it was the advent of electric  light that made it possible for them to make work entirely out of the medium of light itself.

The exhibition currently on at the Hayward Gallery brings together a collection of works made in the last 50 years, starting with works made in the 1960s when it was radical enough for Dan Flavin to simply use off the shelf neon strips stood on their ends and grouped together like columns.  I’m afraid though that these didn’t detain me very long.

You and I, Horizontal (2005) by Anthony McCall on the other hand kept us fascinated for ages.  In a dark room, a light is projected onto the back wall; the light is a slowly moving line describing an ellipse which breaks into lines and curves.  Artificial mist gives the light rays a three dimensional sculptural quality.  You can walk through the light, change your perspective and see cones and angles and wonder at the feeling of being on the outside one moment and then on the inside at another.  You go from trying to work out how the effect is achieved to simply experiencing it.

There are a number of works which remind us that sight can be the most unreliable of our senses, when our brain makes us see something which may not actually be there in its efforts to interpret the observable clues.  One way and two way mirrors either eliminate reflections or repeat them infinitely.

The one overtly political work, Reality Show (Silver) by Ivan Navarro, is a shiny Tardis like structure which visitors can stand inside, on top of what appears to be infinitely repeating reflections, but where their own reflection disappears.  As everyone waiting outside for their turn can see the person inside, there is a voyeur/subject relationship which speaks to the political situation  in Chile when the artist was growing up.

Many of the works were intriguing, where the visual impression depended on the combination of where the image was in an ever changing cycle as well as the position of the viewer, sometimes requiring us to move around and wait patiently to see the overall effect.

There were a fair number of flashing aggressively bright lights and some strobe effects which I cannot properly evaluate as I found them too difficult to look at, but overall I found the whole exploration fascinating.  If you do go, go early, as there is a limit to the number of viewers allowed into some of the rooms at one time, and queues were already forming by late morning on a Wednesday.

And then there’s the plastic overshoes you have to put on to enter a couple of the installations, where the floor covering was apparently part of the overall immersion experience; regrettably neither of these works did much for me, although Chromosaturation by Carlos Cruz-Diez was so penetratingly bright that it did induce a near immediate headache.

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