The extraordinary and extravagant colour fields of the works on display by artist Vanessa Mitter are what initially arrest the senses in the otherwise sedate rooms of this South London gallery (a favourite space), the dense concentration of hues coalescing into a vivid aesthetic wallop-a viewer is with great and helpless immediacy immersed in the frame. Female figures resolve themselves from behind the ecstatic squalls of colour, emerging from the gilded weight of (cultural, gender) expectation and assumption-they remain resolute and unswervingly present against forces which may seek to bury or suppress them, a vulnerability suggested but not one which will easily allow for erasure or disposal. The fight is embodied in the very process of Mitter’s style, a thick and crowded, fraught overlay of patterning and collage to convey a degree of suffocation and excess (despite from which a pattern on a dress and gesture of eye, as in Because the Poppies Said So, or directionally balanced sharp daubs of white outlining the central figure in Havisham may with sudden vertical gravity break free of what would attempt to claim it). It’s a unified theme throughout the works, even those that don’t contain a human figure-in the back of each is a force that endeavours to break forth. A great pulsing energy beats at the core of Mitter’s work, and she is generous in giving the viewer ample space to interpret the work subjectively-imagery is not so controlled as to be contrived and absolute. The fact that many of the images remain unresolved only heightens and deepens their allure as exquisite mysteries (a few days later my mind is still reeling and endlessly recalibrating the placement of the woman in Theatre of Life-is she seated at a window or outside of it, is she linked to the spill of colour beneath her, is it in fact a dress-all questions which resist certainty). Doireann Ni Ghrioghair’s playful deflated classical architectural columns (a product of placing latex casts of existing features from Dublin Castle in very flimsy, unsteady moulds) are placed strategically about the gallery floors, so spectacular and glorious in their upheaval of shape and form that they create an entirely new, forthright paradigm that is its own authority. An image representative of strength and power and license and rigour has crumpled into something altogether softer and imperfect, but still wholly itself, with even a stain and blemish of colour forming, as if an essence leaking out from a closely guarded hard exterior. The works are a frisky and exuberant denunciation of boastful ideals of privilege and entitlement, reduced to more truthful dimensions. I AM A BEAUTIFUL MONSTER continues through 30 June Continue reading “I AM A BEAUTIFUL MONSTER:ARTHOUSE1”
Given the brash, unbridled punk nature of this series of paintings featuring iconic characters of pop culture, it’s hard to imagine they are the handiwork of an artist well into her seventh decade. Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Homer Simpson and Batman stare out at an audience, at times with an uncertain, teetering expressive vulnerability, at others with a near-demonic gravity. The canvasses in the first room positively seethe, the enamel paint applied with a viscous anger, upon close inspection a collection of rivulets allowed to trickle aggressively down the frame, a rage of blacks, whites and gold over which the central figure is placed. In one unsettling instance, the large ebon orbs of Mickey’s eyes seem quite ready to swallow the viewer whole. The colour scheme of others is informed by a Soviet mentality, a storm of annihilating bureaucratic grey. The pastel pencil studies in the second room, although softer in appearance, swell with a barbarous energy of their own, the figures trapped helplessly in the swirling lines in various stages of rupture and effacement, at the mercy of forces quite out of their control. The pieces create quite an impressive frission in viewers, between the collective cultural assumptions we have of these characters and the festering agencies to which they are subjected. Pensato elicits alarm and sympathy for her subjects, darkness fighting to claim what has been conceived in light and optimism, a suggestion that even harmless pop touchstones may be appropriated with vile corruption for more sinister intentions by authority. FORGETTABOUT IT continues through 24 June
Rapidly approaching is one of my favourite times of year, the few weekends in early summer when the Greenwich and Docklands Festival arrives to delight and awe audiences with their slate of wildly ambitious and all-encompassing programming (one weekend in various locations in Greenwich, another set throughout Canary Wharf, and for the first time this year, a third weekend exclusive to Woolwich). Unequivocally, one or two of the events each year (a cross-section of theatre, circus and dance performance) are amongst the most cherished and resonant art pieces I experience. The largest-scale works are scheduled for the opening evening, playing out on the broad lawns and courts of the Old Royal Naval College or the Maritime Museum. It is a great and tremendous pleasure to plan an entire day’s activity drifting from one performance to the next, surrounded by the infectious energy and drive of fellow festivalgoers. I’m providing the link to the official website so that (if you should find yourself with some free time) you may begin to craft an itinerary. Most of the events (with the exception of a few of the first night’s extravaganzas) are free!
Even if a visit to St. Louis in the U.S. State of Missouri has never risen in your consciousness, this singular, mad and visionary creative mecca (like a rather curious and unsettling coupling between Gaudi and a Disney theme park) should automatically thrust the city into the forefront of destination travel-I can honestly say I have never seen the likes of it (there indeed may be as daring and imaginative a sibling somewhere in the wide world, but I have no knowledge of it). The fever dream of artist Bob Casilly, who bought (in 1997) the 600,00 sq foot, 10-storey building that once housed a shoe factory, work began in earnest to convert the space into a hybrid of playground, museum and, curiously enough, repository of architectural and cultural history (Art Deco and Beaux Art mouldings, doorways, and other various features from lost historic buildings now reside throughout the rooms) . The centrepiece of an already monumentally stupefying environment is the exterior MonstroCity, a dizzying network of slides, metal climbing shafts, bridges and objects (including the fuselage of a Sabreliner 40 aircraft and a castle turret, all materials repurposed), some perilously suspended high overground, through which overjoyed children (and more than a few adults) scuttle and creep. You can only stand and wonder at the enormity of the health and safety sanctions in place. Inside, in addition to a series of restaurants and rest areas for parents, as well as activity rooms for kids, is found the Shoe Shafts, a series of spiral conveyances once used to shift product from floor to floor, now recast as slightly intimidating, elongated slides, from which a visitor may choose between a 10-storey or 5-storey plunge, periodically soundtracked to the fateful intonations of a Wurlitzer pipe organ. Beneath this space lies the dimly-lit, fascinating Enchanted Caves, a disorientingly narrow system of constructed pathways and portals and corridors, some of which only uncomfortably loop back on themselves. The ground floor offers the single largest continuous piece of tiling in the U.S., extending from the floor up along the supporting columns and along the stairway, beautifully patterned and coloured. The eye is repeatedly engaged, as there is a constant surrounding flux of activity, bodies climbing, crawling, ceaseless motion. A rooftop area, which includes a pond, a working Ferris wheel, and a school bus precariously perched over the side of the building, is open only on weekends, so I wasn’t able to access it. A truly astonishing day may end with a walk and visit to the nearby iconic Arch (which I would not recommend to those who suffer the least bit of claustrophobia, as the dimension of the car that transports the curious to the top is no bigger than the interior of a washing machine, is absent of windows, and crowds five people at a time!). From there, it’s easy to retire to the City Garden, a verdant stretch of urban land and space devoted to sculpture, hosting 30 pieces by an international set of artists. On indecently hot days, the newly opened Kaldi’s cafe offers respite and sanctuary in the form of cold drinks-from a perch on the terrace, you may take in more than a few of the garden’s features. In a city still visually struggling to emerge from the recent economic collapse, these are perfect examples of positive and ambitious development and investment projects (City Museum continues to add new layers, and the immediate area around the arch is currently undergoing a large-scale cosmetic upgrade).
An hour’s journey from London’s Waterloo station (33-some miles from the City) is this resplendently scenic Surrey town, the central feature of which is the stunning 2,200 hectare Crown Estate-run park through which Virginia Lake dazzlingly and tranquilly twists and winds. A visitor may choose from several paths throughout the spacious environment, visit various specialty gardens, even pass by a 100-foot tall totem pole (presented to the Queen in 1958 by the Canadian people to mark the centenary of British Columbia), a waterfall and, bizarrely enough, encounter a Roman ruin folly (actually remnants from myriad buildings from the Mediterranean city of Leptis shipped to Windsor in 1817, but not assembled onsite until 1826 after a decade’s rest at the British Museum, a “gift” from the Consul General in Tripoli to the future George IV). The main pathway is a gently rambling and profoundly serene 4-and-a-half mile course around the lake, a true riot of arboreal and floral porn, especially at this time of year, the landscape a relentless fertile rush. The occasional dog scampers nearby, frolicking in the water, other people calmly amble past. You feel a pleasantly helpless surrender to the healing thrust of nature. Surrounding the park is the Wentworth Estate, an enclave of stylish mansions and extensive grounds, mostly tantalisingly revealed in brief glimpses from between tightly planted perimeter hedges or through gates (you are meant to wander its streets only after being granted permission from the estate council, a principle which I outright flouted). This area has the distinction of being second only to London in house prices, the average property set at £1.3 million and beyond. Immersed in the wonder of the lake and woods and gardens, impossibly lush residences and clean, prodigious air, it’s quite easy to feel a world away from urban terrorist attacks and tower block tragedies, a soulful and salvaging balm.
Taking place on the evening of 27 April, I had every intention of writing a post regarding this performance piece before I left for my annual trip back to America, but at the last I found my time compromised by final errands and packing. As both the extraordinary venue which hosted the event and the collective of artists who performed with such sweeping brio and energy continue with regular programming, I would be remiss not to mention the experience, the place and the people. Cementing Canada Water’s reputation as a rapidly developing cultural quarter (along with the trendy street food market Hawker House), the former mammoth site of the press halls that at one time delivered both the Metro and Evening Standard newspapers has now been repurposed as London’s newest (and possibly biggest) nightclub, called, rather appropriately, Printworks. The staggering stats are such: 15 acres of land, 119,200 square feet of interior space (comprising 6 event areas) with capacity for 6,000 guests, and 40,000 square feet of exterior space. Much of the original machinery and industrial features have been retained, and your first steps into the vast, long halls, ramparts overhead, sound and light extravaganzas in full immersive flourish, really knock your senses sideways. Some Voices, a 500-strong choral group with a wildly ambitious bent (welcoming voices from across the range of styles and abilities) decided to recreate the disco deliciousness and wild hedonism of the legendary Studio 54 for one-night-only in the massive halls. Upon entrance, many clubgoers in their era-finest vestments, you walk a gauntlet of paparazzi calling out names of the infamously celebrated (Jeri! Liza! Andy!, the usual suspects), to then encounter half-clad boys and girls on stilts offering trays of glitter and adornments. Of course, exceedingly harder substances would have been proffered in the corridors and shadows of the real Studio 54, but it’s left to the creative reflexes of individual imagination to fill in the blanks (this is polite hedonism, after all). Others on roller skates, sporting light bracelets and necklaces, run a circuitous route along the balconies above the crowds. Soon the chorus gathers along the upper walkways, voluminously (and impressively) spilling out across all available space, and the show proper commences, a set list of disco classics as you’ve never heard them delivered before. Occasionally they cede to individual performers who assume the identity of a classic artist (David Bowie, Stevie Wonder), some quite questionably or bafflingly (Diana Ross, represented, or misrepresented, by a white woman, in addition so vocally distant from her, quite a misfire-a sight only less startling than the clutch of Centennials in the room who clamoured on their phones to Google search Diana Ross!), and a mid-show catwalk session (hosted by a full-throttle, pitch-perfect, endlessly amusing master of ceremonies, the audience choosing the member of the public who flaunts themselves most fashionably and fiercely) possibly just overstays its welcome. Bits of the show are subject to drag and longeuer, an issue of structure-I believe the focus should have remained on the chorus, but too many times the evening left them stranded and in darkness. The show snapped back into place in the final stage, when the choral group was again allowed the floor, their spirit and joy expansive and eruptive, a true crescendo of liberating energy, which is, after all, the soul of dance music. You felt the true transportive meaning of this in the swell and rise of those closing moments. Printworks regularly hosts sets from internationally acclaimed djs, and you can imagine the force and power this environment provides.
Initially launched as part of Somerset House’s annual Photo London show, then continuing autonomously for a few weeks following the conclusion of the main exhibition, this intriguing piece by artist Collishaw uses the latest advances in virtual reality technology to recreate the environment of one of the first major photography exhibitions in the UK, William Henry Fox Talbot’s 1839 show staged in a room at King Edward’s School in Birmingham. Upon arrival, the only view-through a small window panel-of a forensically white room with a series of cutout blocks to suggest the rudiments of furnishings and surfaces certainly invites curiosity and anticipation of just what transformative charge the experience will bring. An attendant calls each session member one at a time for a quick tutorial, helping to affix both a rucksack (embedded with a complex of IT equipment) and the headset which effectively renders you blind, at which point you are led into the space, the programme activated, all at once plunged into the school hall which hosted the original exhibition. Through a level of interactivity, you are able to move around the aisles of vitrines, with a wave and flip of your hand even retrieve a photo from the case and hold it in your hands for closer inspection. Fellow guests appear as ghostly patterns of grey to facilitate unimpeded movement throughout the dimensions of the room. You are able to pass by (and sense) the heat from a coal fire which warmed the room, and gaze at a Chartist protest taking place on the streets just outside the window. A series of mice scuttle underneath your feet, spiders crawl along the surface of paintings-it’s all an optic feast. My only grievance (and it’s a very minor one) is that the rendering of the room, although an accomplished visual feat, is never convincing as anything other than an obvious digital effect, and the six-minute allowance of exploration time in the (meta)physical space seems a bit limiting. Collishaw, fundamentally, marshals a revolutionary new technology to honour a progenitor of sorts, when photography itself (in its provocative nascent stage) heralded revolution and advance in culture, art and, indeed, the ways in which we see and record ourselves. The next stage is perhaps out of body-and the six minutes inside this transportive experiment whispers evocatively of what’s to come. Whether it may be considered art, I leave to individual opinion. Unfortunately, my awareness of this event came quite late in its run, and it has now closed, but if you’re in Birmingham sometime between 24 June-6 Aug, the Waterhall Gallery will be host to the exhibition.