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Artist in Focus: Edwina Ashton

12 May

By Louisa Elderton

1.) Human and animal paradigms seem to fuse uncomfortably in your works as the creatures that you create can often be engaged in some form of dysfunctional struggle or awkward social encounter. What is it that interests you about enabling a juncture between these two worlds – the animal and the human?

It’s odd isn’t it how readily humans get divided from animals. I suppose it is due to language, communication, emotion and intentions, but we are animals too and really we don’t know very much about animals.

I am interested in individuals. Animals are almost always seen as examples of their species or read symbolically. Concentrating on individual character immediately makes them seem anthropomorphic but I often wonder about this. Of course, with the animals which I make, the things they do and their costumes are invented but it works two ways. There’s a sliding scale depending on props and action; the difference between say opening an umbrella competently or investigating it as wire and material, and shuffling between these (you see this watching a baby exploring its surroundings).

By using costumed animals in films with a fixed camera you get a whiff of naturalism with a focus on specific behaviour. I’ve always used animals to express human emotion. It is like a shorthand to a brain without getting embroiled in historical time or social status. The creatures just act, do things or behave. As soon as there are voices or voice overs you get different registers of information.

2.) There is a sense of personal isolation which seems implicit in your work. How might this reflect your thoughts about selfhood or identity?

Yes I think it’s there, but it’s such a complex thing. In some ways it’s difficult to get away from the fact of being alone (or ultimately being alone as Anne Course said at the Shudder talk with Esther Leslie Drawing Room 2010, or words to the effect – ‘Personally I’m very pissed off I’m going to die’). There’s a lurking awareness of that sort of solipsism and negation. At the same time, making films or drawings always anticipates an audience. Then there’s the irony of concentrating on humans’ ability to communicate given the massive failures and—at bleak moments—potential impossibilities of communication.

I’m interested in constructing personalities from the flimsiest of means and setting all sorts of positive emotions up against ridiculous scenarios.

I’m quite inerested in things going wrong, especially in public; social embarrassment, being isolated by being focused on, being a lone visible object.

3.) Would you consider there to be a strong element of performativity in your broader practice – which incorporates drawing, painting, sculpture and film – even beyond your performance artworks?

I started off making very short videos – some have voice overs, some just sound. Often they were filmed using a fixed camera, as you might document a performance; with a single or a few takes, a creature would do something. I never thought of them as performances. I liked to think of them as some kind of wierd nature documentary which pretended there wasn’t an audience, rather like an unobserved view into another world…

But you’re right – pretty much all of them and particularly the drawings, with their bits of speech and action, are aiming at a particular person and moment in which the gamut of business surrounding social behaviour falls apart.

4.) In the talk at Jerwood Visual Arts on 28th March 2011, Anouchka Grose and Patricia Ellis discussed the intrinsic absurdity of your work, Peaceful serious creatures (lobster arranging), 2011. Do you also see the work as signifying the absurd, and if so, how might this reflect more broadly your musings on the human condition?

In a way it was most interesting when it went beyond absurdity and the audience got inadvertantly engaged with the scenario – absurdity has a distance to it. I do like things being absurd, at least I find humour a great relief. I suppose it is also an awareness of the absurdity of Absurdity and Solipsism – trying to puncture them a bit.

I became very taken with the idea of ‘churning’ (going through boxes of things without really altering them) and ‘scheming’ (collecting things for future but improbable use). They are very close to home. Mess and chaos is both liberating and appalling. I loved the idea of careful lobsters, making aesthetic decisions but also the foolishness of human arranging. Installing in a clear white space like the Jerwood is always fantastic. By the end I had exhausted myself with the muzz.

5.) Sarah Williams, curator of ‘SHOW’, very much encouraged you to produce a proposal for the exhibition that was not set, that could play out and become fully realised through the course of the exhibition. How have your ideas, thoughts and views of the work changed as the exhibition has progressed?

It was good being able to change things and in effect to go through a series of rehearsals at the same time. It made the relationships within the performance; the time the audience is expected or expects to watch something; the effects the dimensions of a room have on its contents; and the speeds and energy of a solitary figure in relationship to two or more figures, clearer. We moved the space around to make different places for the audience to gravitate towards. We tried different costume registers, and different focal points. I realised early on that we needed to keep some parts hidden whether it was concealing bodies behind blankets, making noises out of view, or via notices.

The best part was seeing the differences between performers. It really was a collaboration (in order of appearance Julia McKinlay, Alex Baker, Laura Phillips, Kit Poulson, Jo David, Ole Hagen, Aaron Williamson, Alice Turner, my parents, Marcia Farquhar and Jordan McKenzie, all took part).

6.) Have visitors to the space tried to interact with the lobsters, or has there been a strict mode (code?) of separation between audience and artwork? Furthermore, how do you feel about the role of the audience in witnessing and participating in your live moments?

It was brilliant with Marcia because a few of her friends who had come joined in. They wandered around, sat down and read excerpts from Harry Houdini’s book on escapology out loud. Overall the audience has been all over the place because so have we; out in the road (with Aaron), wrestling on the pavement and doing gymnastics (with spongehead Jordan), dancing around cars (Aaron), sitting in the cafe and reading (Jo).

Initially I thought a formal divide, as in an aquarium wall, would be good but the whole thing felt much better as soon as we removed it. Inside the gallery the action didn’t invite participation – even though different things took place; playing music (Alex, Kit, Jo), arranging colours; balancing egg and silver takeaway boxes (Laura, Julia & me) and twitching (Alice and me). Ole Hagen arrived in a giant blue head and a lobster spent a lot of time feeling it. I wondered if it would have been good to approach the audience in the same way but never had the gumption. It was a very wierd sensation – to touch someone through huge claws.

The greatest problem was how to make unexpected things happen in spite of an advertised time for viewing. Also how to allow little things to happen. Ideally we would have been on show like a lobster at a zoo, for the whole time, but that would have been exhausting and practically difficult.

7.) A strong curatorial concern of ‘SHOW’ was to examine the intrinsic ephemerality of any live moment, and thus to consider further the role that documentation, relics and records might play in capturing the passing of time. What are your views about trying to prolong, contain, or capture the essence of your performance art?

As they started off as films I don’t think it is a problem. With long performances I prefer using photographs and making animated snippets of actions. It seems like a way of developing them – and bringing together time and language.

8.) Are there particular artists, philosophers or writers whose works have influenced or shaped the form of your own artistic practice?

Jane Campion, William Wegman, Beatrix Potter, W.G. Sebald, Jack Smith’s photographs and Meet Me at the Bottom of The Pool and Joseph Cornell. The scripts for films come from a mish mash of sources – bits of half remembered theory or converstions, old text books and recently from reading and listening to 19th century novels, detective stories and books on the sea shore… Things get used years after they happen. I loved the Trisha Brown performances at the barbican and Ian White and Jimmy Roberts’ performance 6 things we couldn’t do but can do now at theTate, and a student at Chelsea in about 2004, who did a brilliant piece with twelve year old schoolboys – but I didn’t know her and can only remember, I think she was called Aisling.

9.) What have you got planned for this coming year? Do you have further exhibitions and works that we can look out for?

A performance tableau in at the Barbican on the 21st July, a show with David Mackingtosh at WORKS|PROJECTS in Bristol, some group shows in Frankfurt and Bologna and two more animations which I am making with David Jacobs.

Questioning Ephemerality: Collecting Performance Art

3 May

By Louisa Elderton

How can the moment that live art occupies be captured? What challenges arise for institutions or private collectors who wish to acquire performance art? How is the documentation of performance art at odds with live art’s intrinsic ephemerality and its unique relationship with time and space?

These questions, along with notions of knowledge, temporality and ownership were the subjects of discussion at Jerwood Visual Arts’ talk between writer and critic Sally O’Reilly, Tate curator of contemporary art and performance Catherine Wood, artist Bedwyr Williams, and artist/founder of Collecting Live Art Laura Eldret. [1]

Since the Enlightenment, there has been a desire within society to secure what we can see, touch and experience within a static image, in an attempt to capture passing moments. But can these moments really ever be faithfully represented? It could be suggested that they can only ever be interpreted through another medium and thus they immediately become one removed from their initial state. Time dictates that we can never go back to understand an event as it actually was; there is no way of regressing to experience time past.

Sally O’Reilly discussed how, for her, ‘Jerwood Encounters: SHOW’ enabled static documentation to ‘pop into 3D again’, [2] as performance relics from Edwina Ashton and Bedwyr Williams’ works continued to occupy space, signifying their past performances.  Considering the exhibition through the lens of empiricism, she pondered how the memory of a moment, knowledge about the past, can result from a more holistic sensory perception that derives from the objects themselves. Further questions that arose from her talk included: how does memory function when thinking about moments past and when attempting to re-live a piece of performance art? How might we understand a performance if we were not there (or alive) at the moment of creation?

Often it is relics, films, photographs, texts or aural accounts that must vouch for the live moment, to stimulate the imagination or memory of the viewer. But how can you remember something you haven’t seen before? In this instance, objects are forced into a position where they become doubles; they represent both something real—that actually happened—and something imagined—that can only be experienced in the mind.

The document, in whatever form that may take, might be at odds with the intended ephemerality or time relativity of a performance artwork. It is ever possible to capture a performance artwork’s intrinsic relationship with time and waiting (the viewer’s waiting, that is)—even through film? Philosopher Henri Bergson explored issues of time, specifically considering the tensions between watching and waiting, arguing that ‘there is no perception which is not full of memories. With the immediate and present data of our senses we mingle a thousand details out of our past experiences.’ [3] He used the example of sugar granules dissolving in a glass of water to consider the anxiety that is induced for the observer in the process of waiting, underlining that anxiety and personal consciousness are imperative in actually making us stand our ground to wait for a resolution: ‘the glass of water, the sugar, and the process of the sugar’s melting in the water are abstractions … in the manner of a consciousness’. [4] So the viewer’s own memories and their will to wait feed into their experience of time and their subjective understanding of any moment. Therefore, when a document of a performance is shown in a gallery or museum you are depriving the viewer of the original experience of the work, where waiting, memory and consciousness become interwoven. Is some experience of a work better than no experience at all? Should these works be left to die, or conserved by the museum or gallery to be (mis)understood within a different context?

Catherine Wood discussed the ways in which objects function in the museum and considered how performance props might trigger memory and imagination. Tate Modern’s old oil tanks are currently being transformed into dedicated performance art spaces, for which Wood will be conducting the programming. The curator mused on how performance within the museum might be defined, conserved, interpreted, and stored in order to build a history of performance.  For example, she questioned how it might be best to collect Cuban artist Tania Bruguera’s works which can be purely ephemeral, existing as a set of instructions and therefore actively questioning the importance of the artist’s presence in event-based art.

Tino Sehgal’s works have been collected by Tate through an aural transaction; the museum essentially memorises the artist’s script and then re-enacts the work as a form of aural history. But what if the artist himself is integral to the meaning of the work; how can you capture this or recreated it after their death? For example, how strongly can we really understand the work of Joseph Beuys without his aura actively being here?

Within a museum context, it is often necessary to prevent works from being interacted with so as to preserve them, but this might directly impinge upon the intended performativity of certain objects. Robert Morris’ mirrored cubes are a key example.

In describing his reasons for creating the book Bedwyr, I Think I Missed Your Performance—an intrinsic element of his ‘Jerwood Encounters: SHOW’ piece—Bedwyr Williams stated that ‘if this exhibition is a bomb, the book is the screws to lodge in peoples’ brains, permanently’. [5] Interestingly the artist concluded that ‘it’s not my business’ [6] to document performances; rather that this is the remit of the institution or curator.

But surely it is the business of every artist to engage directly with questions of documentation, as it is only then that curators and institutions can know whether documentation undermines the intentions of the artist in any way, and therefore whether it interferes with the integrity of the artwork. Indeed, artists must give the all-clear for the work to be experienced through another medium, as it will always remove the artwork from its unique relationship with time, space, waiting, the moment and memory.


[1] This talk took place on 4th April 2011, 6.30 pm.

[2] Sally O’Reilly quote recorded at the Jerwood Visual Arts talk between Sally O’Reilly, Catherine Wood, Bedwyr Williams and Laura Eldret on 4th April 2011.

[3] Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory, translated by Nancy Margaret Paul and W. Scott Palmer (New York: Zone, 1970), p.24. Quoted in Elizabeth Buhe, The Art of Waiting: Time Seen and Spent in the Museum, (London: The Courtauld Institute of Art, unpublished Master’s thesis from MA Curating the Art Museum) p. 30.

[4] Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution, Random House, Inc., 1944, pp. 12-13. Quoted in Marianne Mulvey At Least, There Are Still Performances, an essay produced in response to Sarah Williams’ and Laura Eldert’s exhibition The Multiplicity of a Moment, 2010: http://sarahwilliams.co/artwork/

[5] Bedwyr Williams’ quote recorded at the Jerwood Visual Arts talk between Sally O’Reilly, Catherine Wood, Bedwyr Williams and Laura Eldret on 4th April 2011.

[6] Ibid.

Artist in Focus: Jack Strange Interview

19 Apr

Jack Strange, Zip and Zing, 2011

Image courtesy Jerwood Visual Arts

By Louisa Elderton

Q. Elements of humour but also the uncanny or unnerving seem to pervade your works; how fine do you feel the line between the two is, in the context of your practice?

A. At times I think they can be really close, almost one and the same, at other times they can be far away. For me they both kind of do the same thing in different ways.  When you have a sense of something emotional or logical but you’re not quite able to understand it, that can be really scary or really funny. I guess it’s about the ways in which the logic or emotion breaks down that defines how scary or funny the experience is.

Q. In a sense, there is a slippage between sculpture and performance in Zip and Zing; the partial shielding of the body and the lack of subjectivity attached to these legs almost transforms them into something more akin to autonomous moving objects. How have you played with ideas of ‘slippages’ in the work and how do you feel the categories of sculpture or performance may influence separate readings of the work?

A. There’s space for them to slip and be in a place where you’re thinking about things being one and the same.  I’m not sure how much I like this, in terms of a place one might end up thinking about. Like thinking nothing is everything and everything is nothing, it becomes completely reductive; it’s like pulling a lid over something. But it’s also down to the individual and their ideas and feelings about what performance and sculpture are, and what they can be.

Q. Could you expand a little on how Zip and Zing is influenced by the practice of Robert Gober and Erwin Wurm? What is it that interests you about these artists’ works specifically?

A. What I like about Gober’s work is more the uncanny and unnerving stillness and weirdness that they occupy. But the way they do this in a weird sexual way. They remind me a lot of certain feelings one might have after waking up from having a strange sexual dream and then trying to apply the dream to waking-life logic. Wurm’s work doesn’t haunt me as much, but I like the quickness of the humour in his one minute pieces and some of his photo pieces.

Q. Different notions of time exist within Zip and Zing: occupying time, suspending time, marking time, waiting time. How were you thinking about different time constructs when creating the work?

A. To be honest I was not thinking that much about the different types of time until the piece was made. Then once the work was done I really felt that the work, in all the ways it was existing, was giving time all these different characteristics. In a silly way, in terms of relating, time became quite like a creature or a being.

Q. Do you agree that an essence of theatre permeates the work, as the stage is set and the curtain lifts to reveal the protruding legs? How important is the ‘unseen’ to this work – the space behind the scenes?

A. There is definitely a theatrical element. And the unseen has to be there, because if it wasn’t the work wouldn’t be there.

Q. How many people participated in the work through the duration of the exhibition? Have any of these participants communicated to you their experience ‘within’ the work, and if so, how does this further influence your own perception of the piece?

A. I think it’s been near to 60 people. I’ve heard back from people who were performing at the opening; some groping went down, but it think it was affectionate! I think with all works that involve humans performing, there is the viewer’s experience and the performer’s experience. And they are very different. I’ve always felt that there’s a lot of performance where I wish I was the performer, as it seems like what they experience is better than the viewer, some of Abramović’s work does that for me, her sitting and staring one at MoMA for example, but then there’s also works of hers and lots of other folk where I think ‘I’m glad I’m not doing that!’

Q. What have you got planned for this coming year? Do you have further exhibitions and works that we can look out for?

A. The next solo thing I have line up is at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery (New York) later in the year. 

Q. A strong curatorial concern of ‘SHOW’ is to examine the intrinsic ephemerality of any live moment, and thus to consider further the role that documentation, relics and records might play in capturing the passing of time. What are your views about trying to prolong, contain, or capture the essence of your performance art?

A. It depends on the work. With some works it feels right that you have to document, and others not. With this work for this show a film was made by somebody else. Having seen the film I feel that the work shouldn’t exist documented as a film—an image and written descriptions yes, a film no. Mainly for me, I think the film is too much something else. I feel documenting is also quite an open process. A live moment can be documented in many ways, and being live you only have present time and often you can’t know in the present time how something will look or be experienced in documented time.  Documenting is then something you do and then it becomes a material you can then use to expand on the recorded existence of a live time experience.

Jack Strange, Zip and Zing, 2011

Image courtesy Jerwood Visual Arts

‘Jerwood Encounters: SHOW’ — A Review

13 Apr

Follow the link to read JVA ‘Writer in Residence’ Louisa Elderton’s piece on ‘Jerwood Encounters: SHOW,’ written for publication ‘this is tomorrow':

http://www.thisistomorrow.info/viewArticle.aspx?artId=765&Title=SHOW

Edwina Ashton: Confronting the Absurd

6 Apr

By Louisa Elderton

Edwina Ashton, Peaceful serious creatrues (lobster arranging)

A lobster scuttles slowly across the floor of its cave, dragging its aquamarine tentacles as it goes, keeping its head low. It is chasing something. Not perceptible amongst the cluttered objects that adorn the cave, the object of chase is indicated by a tap tap tapping as it bounces on the floor and rolls away from the lobster. The creature bends, creaks downwards in search of the object it has just dropped. It grips a tiny plastic ball with its claw, so tentatively balanced between two fine points that it wobbles as the lobster rises. Turning on its axis, our lobster retraces the path that it has just walked, reengaging the task at hand, however unclear this may be to me. Just as it seems a moment of realisation is about to occur, the ball slips from the creature’s grip, and the irritating tap tap tap repeats, as the ball again rolls, but this time into a different position. Again, the object is searched out, only to be gathered and dropped again, once more. I leave the room with a knot in my stomach, unable to gain any release from this relentless action.

                                                            *   *   * 

Jerwood Visual Arts hosted a focused discussion on Monday 28th March between artist Edwina Ashton, psychoanalyst Anouchka Grose, and writer and curator Patricia Ellis, which was mediated by Jerwood Encounters: SHOW curator Sarah Williams. Her curatorial thesis for SHOW focuses on performance as a medium for further consideration in contemporary visual arts practice, specifically exploring the durational context within which these works exist. Williams is interested in the ephemeral nature of performance art and is actively interrogating the ways in which these intangible works are often recorded through the adoption of alternative media—film, photography, written texts—with the aim of prolonging, or rather capturing, their existence. 

The discussion itself opened up a plethora of interpretative readings of Edwina Ashton’s performance work, Peaceful serious creatures (lobster arranging), 2011—which was commissioned especially for this JVA exhibition—and indeed her oeuvre more generally was touched upon. Themes of absurdity, anthropomorphism and ‘Britishness’ were explored by Grose and Ellis, with a focus on the dark humour that resultantly permeates the artist’s practice. 

Ashton described the performance of a live moment as ‘totally terrifying,’ [1] specifying that this was one of the reasons why costume became a strong element that pervaded her works. Repeated actions, unexpected outcomes, and unpredictability characterise her performances, forcing a context of uncertainty. Unwittingly, the artist ‘started off not realising that I was performing at all,’ [2]creating videos and drawings that seemed to instil strange animal creatures with a sense of futility and disjointed isolation. Might these performances have escaped the artist’s subconscious, becoming manifest before her rational self had time to cognate these activities?  

An innate performativity saturates her video works in particular, as the anthropomorphic actions of creatures are given time to play out; the artist articulated how she would repeat specific movements over and over again until she felt they were right. With performance, of course, this ability to retract, replay or recreate your movements beyond the radar of the viewer is absent, leaving a realm in which anything must go; faced with this mode of perception, the artist is ‘feeling my way through it,’ [3] embracing the unpredictability of the live moment. [4]

Peaceful serious creatures (lobster arranging) is not a constant durational work, but is enacted every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon within the JVA exhibition space. Although the artist sites the strong narrative structure that frames the work it nonetheless leaves room for the audience’s own interpretation. Relics or props (or even sculptures in their own right?) from the performance continue to occupy the cave, even when the lobster is hibernating out of sight, fusing sculpture with live performance; space is left for the viewer’s imagination to engage in its own performance, completing the scene and building a story that might consolidate the static environment. The in-between moments are as potent and important as the active moments.

The Absurd

It made me question my will to live. [5]

Anouchka Grose sited the absurdity and silliness of Edwina Ashton’s performance, but underlined its realness. How can these factors coexist? Using the philosophy presented by Camus’ text The Myth of Sisyphus, an essay originally published in French in 1942, Grose discussed how the situation of Sisyphus, condemned to forever repeat the meaningless task of pushing a boulder up a mountain only to then see it repetitively rolling down again, was relevant to Peaceful serious creatures (lobster arranging). Although originally inspired by the artist’s mother and her instinct for arranging and rearranging, [6]there is no clear purpose or taxonomy to the lobster’s organising and thus there is a frustrating sense of watching pointlessness, and certainly of observing ineptitude. Camus’ philosophy of the absurd is resultantly conjured and man’s futile search for meaning, eternal truths, and value structures seems to resonate within the cave, to engage the viewer in existential thoughts of why we are here and what the purpose of existence really is—or put more simply, activating ideas of existence and meaning to consider where the viewer might fit with this. 

This confrontation of the absurd, the acceptance of observing ineptitude, the frustrating presence of endless and pointless repetition ultimately precipitates an atmosphere of hilarity…for what else can we do but laugh?

Embedded ‘Britishness’

The animal is always the underdog … I found myself laughing hysterically all the time. [7]

 

Patricia Ellis focused on the anthropomorphic qualities of Edwina Ashton’s creatures, underlining her profound sense of personal affinity with the lobster despite nothing of finite consequence actually happening within the space. An embedded ‘Britishness’ pervades the artist’s work for Ellis, as she sees a determination in the actions and tasks of these animals; a politeness and etiquette seemingly permeates the creature’s activities–characteristics that she intrinsically links with the notion of being British. More specifically, she feels this creature ‘just keeps going until it gets it right.’ [8] Forcing a confrontation of the absurd in the acceptance of this politeness and etiquette fused with the futile actions of the lobster is what beckons the hilarity of this work. However, this is ultimately tinged with sadness, as we feel the lobster will never really be understood. Perhaps we won’t either.

Edwina Ashton

Sarah Williams, Anouchka Grose, Patricia Ellis, Edwina Ashton

Images courtesy Jerwood Visual Arts                                                             


[1] Edwina Aston, quotation recorded by author at Jerwood Visual Arts’ discussion between Edwina Ashton, Anouchka Grose, Patricia Ellis and Sarah Williams, 28th March 2011, 6.15 pm.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] No finite plan was implemented for the realisation of Peaceful serious creatures (lobster arranging), and therefore it is very much playing out in real time, its innate unpredictability intrinsic to the meaning of the work.

[5] Anouchka Grose, quotation recorded by author at Jerwood Visual Arts’ discussion between Edwina Ashton, Anouchka Grose, Patricia Ellis and Sarah Williams, 28th March 2011, 6.15 pm.

[6] Edwinda Ashton described her mother’s tendency to arrange objects with the aim of ‘homemaking,’ and subsequently Edwina has invited her mother to assume the role of the lobster for one afternoon to arrange the cave in whatever way seems fit. 

[7] Patricia Ellis, quotation recorded by author at Jerwood Visual Arts’ discussion between Edwina Ashton, Anouchka Grose, Patricia Ellis and Sarah Williams, 28th March 2011, 6.15 pm.

[8] Ibid.

‘Jerwood Encounters: SHOW’: A Written Document

19 Mar

By Louisa Elderton

 

How should the works be documented and how will this affect the reading of the works in the future? Should documentation be seen in relation to the works while they are in the gallery or should the remnants (stage set, objects, materials) left on display paint a good enough picture? [1]

In her essay on the current JVA exhibition, Jerwood Encounters: SHOW, curator Sarah Williams discusses the ephemeral nature of performance art, focusing on the subsequent practical and philosophical issues that can arise when attempting to capture and harness this ephemerality. The documentation of a live moment is a curious thing in that it seeks to prolong what is short lived, immortalising it as a way of directly fighting against the ephemerality of passing time. It is a form through which to represent the past, and written documentation actively enables the live moment to linger on, manifesting in the imagination of the reader. But how accurately might the written document reflect the actuality of the live moment; what if the work is durational, with the writer only experiencing a tiny fragment of the whole piece; what if the writer misinterprets the intentions of the artist, subsequently misrepresenting the piece; and indeed, how does one represent the dynamics of communication between artist, artwork and viewer, so implicit within a live situation?

Ekphrasisis the term used to describe the written and often dramatic description of a visual work of art. It derives from the Greek ek and phrases, meaning ‘out’ and ‘speak’, and is a form of discursive practice often employed by the art critic. As a form of art writing, art criticism explicitly concerns itself with establishing, by means of written texts, the value of individual artworks or art movements. Indeed, the character, or elegance, of the prose itself is considered to contribute to its sanctioning process. As a genre of writing, art criticism emerged in the context of the Eighteenth Century Salon exhibitions – a new public mode of display – and has prevailed through to the present. Today, it is perhaps less the practice of the connoisseur and more of a democratic occupation, given the wide-spread publishing opportunities that the internet provides.

My intention in employing Ekphrasis as part of this response to the performance artworks in SHOW,is not to ascribe a critical or value judgement to the works, or even to consider these works within the broader oeuvre of the artists’ practice, but instead, to use the written word as a means of articulating and thus documenting these specific live performances by Edwina Ashton, Jack Strange and Bedwyr Williams. In turn, I hope to play with the notion of where a performance artwork or a live moment can exist, also considering how this might influence the different experiences of time that these works deliver: time present, time past, time imagined, between times. What might be established subsequently is how these descriptions will affect the future understanding of these works, these live moments; will it prolong them, capture them, and represent them, or alter them, disjoint them, corrupt them?

Here is my response to the three works, as encountered at the private view of SHOW: [2]

 

Edwina Ashton

Peaceful serious creatures (lobster arranging), 2011

Performance

Duration: three hours, intermittently

Performance times: Tuesdays and Thursdays 2-5pm

A gallery set comprised of uniquely crafted and disparate objects faces the viewer as they enter the cave of Edwina Ashton’s Peaceful serious creatures (lobster arranging). Brightly lit, these objects cast their shadows onto the surrounding walls, marking an ethereal extension of their physical presence. Crafted from everyday materials that have been discarded in the Jerwood Space basement, here, one man’s rubbish morphs into another man’s treasure.

Dry reconstituted-paper egg cartons are stacked, creating a beautifully textured and monotone strata pattern; a mini keyboard rests upon a cardboard box, on top of which aluminium take-away cartons are stacked – they have been squashed or crushed, and glint under the spotlights; wooden cubes have been screwed into the walls, and what seem to be empty loo rolls are tentatively balancing upon them; planks, broomsticks and brushes are crafted into bold sculptures, as the original form and function of these materials is rendered obsolete; an angular arched stage sits on wheels, ready to be pushed, pulled, or perhaps even performed upon.

These objects are not alone, and they are not lying stagnant, collecting dust. Instead, they are being investigated, touched, moved, prodded, pushed, and placed. A creature is present within this cave, engrossed in a process of organisation and reorganisation. This creature is a giant blue lobster. Its black body loosely flops as its sculpted claws cling to the chosen objects. Tentacles hang limply from the crustacean’s head, as a fluorescent mesh coats it outer shell.

This is a cave full of possibilities, with any number of object configurations waiting to be teased out and realised. The scene is not contrived, but rather reconfigures what has always been present within the Jerwood Space, enabling people to see these materials in a fresh light – to notice them for the first time. There is a sense of material pre-existence that pervades the space, and an atmosphere of purpose in how this creature considers each object.

Is it a space for play or a place of work? It seems that there is no reason or rhyme to the organisation of objects that the lobster is undertaking, but what is clear is that the environment is changeable, shiftable, malleable. It is almost a live editing process that plays out before the viewer’s eyes, as the environment is continually reordered and replaced. 

Ultimately, it seems that the work is unfinished and incomplete, and that it will reveal itself slowly over time. As if staring into an aquarium, there is no point for entry and no language with which to engage the lobster, and thus the audience assumes the role of passive observer. Perhaps we appear to the lobster as just another object thrown into the mix, adding to the potentiality of this playhouse. Not being invited to touch or engage with the objects yourself, you are left with a fighting feeling of wanting to scuttle back to your own cave, where you can make your own mess, experience matter within an environment of your own making, or rather build something new out of something old.

…………………….

Jack Strange,

Zip and Zing, 2011

Performance

Duration: five minutes, intermittently

2011

Performance times: Monday-Friday 10-5, Saturday-Sunday 10-3

It is a stark and minimalist scene that initially confronts the viewer encountering Jack Strange’s Zip and Zing. A vast white wall protrudes from the architectural structure of the Jerwood Space and stretches across the breadth of the gallery. It is seemingly functionless, with two perfect circles cut out of its surface, approximately forty centimetres in diameter and sitting meters apart, and a door at one end that surely leads to nowhere. As the eye wanders over these minimal shapes and forms, trying to make sense of this bare composition, there is a twitching, a happening; the circles are moving, or rather, what is behind these shapes has been activated. As if signifying the beginning of a theatre performance, two white felt curtains are lifted from behind the circles to reveal them not as whole forms, but instead as absences, spaces of nothingness, holes.

Should I approach these holes? Stare through them to see what lies behind this barrier? As I ask myself these questions, they are inadvertently answered…

Two limbs slowly protrude and then extend through the openings. Two legs. These seem not to belong to the same creature; they are mismatched. One leg is coated in delicate white lacy tights, the other in navy-blue trousers; one seems to be male, and the other female; both are human. As they come to their full extension, the knee joints bend, lowering the foot to the ground. Momentary rest…

The absurdity of this scene, with these two legs isolated from any corporeal context, is strengthened by the convoluted construct implicit in the composition of the work; what is on the left should be on the right, and what is on the right should be on the left – legs akimbo. What lies on the other side of the wall; what is the nature of this beast? These disjointed limbs have started to jig. It is an incredibly subtle movement, almost latent, but it is there. They unnervingly vibrate up and down, creating an atmosphere of tension that slowly builds as the movement is repeated. Does it signify nervousness or excitement, irritation or anticipation? Is this twitching an expression of an emotion at all?

The work presents a space where dualities collide, or where a slippage occurs. This is both a performance artwork but also a moving sculpture; it is comical but also uncanny and unsettling; it seems to exist in two spaces, both beyond but also behind the wall; it is experienced by those viewing the work, but also by those who are the work – the volunteer participants.

The most absurd aspect of the performance is the normality that ensures after five minutes of observing the scene. The strangeness of the initial protruding limbs is neutralised and your eagerness to peek through the holes to discover what lies behind the wall, is alleviated. You stop comparing the legs and begin to see them as part of a whole – a giant stretched creature perhaps. And then suddenly, a change occurs. The legs begin to retreat, retracting back into their lair, back into the hiding place. The curtain comes down and the stage, once more, is still.

…………………….

Bedwyr Williams

Urbane Hick, 2011

Performance, installation and limited edition book

Duration: 30 minutes

2011

Performance times: The live performance occurred at the exhibition opening (15th March 2011). The resulting installation runs throughout the exhibition.

An audience has gathered to view Bedwyr Williams’ Urbane Hick, forming a semi circle around a central altar-like plinth. Upon this stage sit two men facing one another, head on. The artist himself sits alert and upright in a posture chair, his hands resting on uniform stacks of books that have been piled high. Two of these books lie open with the artist’s fingers gently brushing the newly printed pages. Opposite him, a mysterious and silent man merely observes the artist’s behaviour, never uttering a word. He is dressed in a suit and hat, and an air of authority hangs around him, with dark glasses shielding his eyes.

The artist speaks directly into a microphone, openly sharing what seems to be a stream of conscious musing on the artist’s relationship with the art world, or more specifically, his financial relationship with the art collector. But he is reading from a sheet; this speech has been pre-planned – carefully thought through. His words are satirical but also poignant and serious. He mimics the dialect in which the ‘posh’ person pronounces his name, “Bedwyr, Hi … Hi, Bedw-uh”, also pondering the implications of selling his live moments, considering the staleness that sets in at their re-performance, and the banal specially-invited audience who covet the presence and the physical mark of the artist. They can buy his time. Multiple layers combine to form the structure of these musings; the description of a performance is embedded within the performance itself.

A portrait of the artist slowly builds, not just through his physical presence on the plinth – his elevated body becoming the work itself – the touch of his hands on these books, or the words that he speaks, but through the relationship that is established with the two projections that sit behind him on either side. A tyre of fire turns and burns brightly. A farmer stands deadly still and stares across his freshly ploughed field towards cut-throat razor blades that anthropomorphise into legs, repeatedly striding towards something. Perhaps they are walking towards the city, towards the ‘art scene’, representing the dark aura that hovers around the Urbane Hick as he nears the concrete jungle. Through the presence of these projections, a dialectical relationship exists between the activated and the still moment, between the remote rural and urban environment, and between the experience of time in the present and the future.

 The notion of documentation pervades the performance. The piles of books that the artist so gently touches are titled ‘Bedwyr, I Think I Missed Your Performance’, and document almost all of Williams’ performances to date, collating photographs, scripts and writings that represent the live moment. The work of over ten years rests between the leaves of these books, to be discovered by whoever opens the pages. Similarly, the performance itself is being filmed: we too are being watched. Although the artwork itself is ephemeral, losing itself to the past with every second, it is being recorded, attempting to capture its essence in a digital file for the future.

The digital exhibition catalogue for ‘Jerwood Encounters: SHOW’ can be accessed online at the following website: http://www.jvashow.co.uk/


[1] Sarah Williams, ‘An Essay on SHOW’, http://www.jvashow.co.uk/essays/, accessed 16 March 2011, p. 3.

[2] The Jerwood Encounters: SHOW private view was held on 14th March, 2011, 6.30 – 8.30 pm.

Artist in Focus: Michael Fullerton

11 Mar

By Louisa Elderton

Michael Fullerton’s printmaking is perhaps a lesser well-known facet of his practice, and yet is an integral part of his image making. In this interview with Jerwood Visual Arts’ Writer in Residence, Louisa Elderton, Michael discusses his interest in the symbolic value of the aesthetic, and how this manifests in the works exhibited in ‘Jerwood Encounters: Surface Noise’:

Q. What role does printmaking play in your broader practice as a visual artist? What can you achieve by utilising printmaking processes that is distinct from painting, or indeed, are the two intrinsically connected for you?

A. PRINTMAKING WAS NECESSARY TO EXPLORE CONCEPTS OF THE ‘PUBLIC DOMAIN’. THE PRINTS ARE MODELLED ON POLITICAL PROTEST STYLE POTERS; FLY – POSTED WITH THE CHEAPEST PAPER ETC. THIS WAS NECESSARY TO ARTICULATE MY EXPLORATION OF THE PAINTED, SYMBOLIC SURFACE AS A PUBLIC SPACE – AS WELL AS A PRIVATE EXPERIENCE. SO THE PRINTS, FOR ME, ARE ON SOME LEVEL ABOUT PAINTING.

  
 

Peel Session, Maida Vale Studios, February 4, 2004

Image Courtesy Jerwood Visual Arts

 

Q. The imagery in the screen print, Peel Session, Maida Vale Studios, February 4, 2004, becomes progressively obscured and abstracted; the newsprint beginning to wrinkle and peel from the wall. How important are ideas of deterioration and the ephemeral to you, in the context of your printmaking practice?

A. THE EPHEMERAL IS NOT A MAJOR ISSUE. THE PRINTS ARE PRINTED WITH A FINITE AMOUNT OF INK UNTIL IT RUNS OUT. THE OBSCURITY AND ABSTRACTION OF THE IMAGE WAS AN ATTEMPT TO EXAMINE THE SYMBOLIC VALUE OF THE ‘AESTHETIC’ BY BRINGING IN CONTINGENT OR ANOMALOUS ELEMENTS, SO THAT ANY AESTHETIC IDEALS OF SAY, ‘BEAUTY’, OR EVEN ‘AUSTERITY’, ARE RANDOMIZED.

 Q. What was it that interested you about John Peel as a subject?

A. I WAS TRYING TO DEFINE OIL PAINT AS A RECORDING AND BROADCASTING TECHNOLOGY AND TO DEFINE ART AS AN ACTIVITY WHICH OCCURS IN PUBLIC.

 Q. You seem to explore the link between communication and aesthetic value in both AGITPROP (PMS871) and Peel Session, Maida Vale Studios, February 4, 2004; how important is this dialectic for you and how does it relate to your interest in recording and transmitting information?

A. COMMUNICATION AND AESTHETIC VALUE ARE TO ME, INTIMATELY RELATED TO EACH OTHER.  IT GOES BACK TO ROMANTIC POETRY; THEY BELIEVED THAT A POEM, NO MATTER HOW PROFOUND IN its MESSAGE, WILL BE AFFECTED BY THE PHYSICAL EXPERIENCE OF THE WORDS THEMSELVES. THEREFORE THEY BELIEVED THAT THE SPOKEN WORD WAS ON SOME LEVEL SUPERIOR, OR PROBABLY TO BE MORE ACCURTE, ANTERIOR TO THE WRITTEN WORD. THE PHYSICAL EXPERIENCE WAS IN ITSELF, SYMBOLIC. THIS IS THE EPITOME OF THE ROMANTIC EXPERIENCE OF PAINTING, WHERE COLOUR, LINE ETC., IS SYMBOLICALLY VALUABLE IN ITSELF.

  

AGITPROP (PMS871)

Image Courtesy Jerwood Visual Arts

 

 Q. How do you explore the political aspects of Gainsborough’s work in AGITPROP (PMS871)?

A. I USED GOLD INK AS A SIGNIFIER OF AESTHETIC VALUE. THOMAS GAINSBOROUGH’S FIRST LOVE WAS LANDSCAPE. HE LOVED PAINTING NATURE FOR ITS OWN SAKE AND DEVELOPED A SYSTEM OF TECHNIQUES IN RESPONSE TO HIS EXPERIENCE OF ‘BEAUTY’. THE POLITICAL CLASS AT THE TIME HIJACKED GAINSBOROUGH’S AESTHETIC SENSIBILITY TO REPRESENT THEMSELVES MORE EFFECTIVELY. AS JOHN CALCUTT, A TUTOR OF MINE SAID:

‘A POWERFUL IMAGE IS MORE EFFECTIVE THAN AN IMAGE OF POWER’.

THOMAS GAINSBOROUGH’S PROWESS AS A PAINTER MADE HIM IN DEMAND AS A PORTRAITIST.

Q. Your work is currently included in ‘British Art Show 7’ (Hayward Gallery, 16 Feb – 17 Apr 2011). Could you please talk a little bit about this work, and describe any relationship that it may have to the artworks that were exhibited in ‘Jerwood Encounters: Surface Noise’?

A. IN THE ‘BRITISH ART SHOW 7’ THERE IS A PORTRAIT OF VIDAL SASSOON. VIDAL REMINDS ME OF GAINSBOROUGH IN REVERSE IN THAT HE’S A VERY POLITICAL CHARCTER WHO HAS BRANDED HIMSELF AS THE EPITOME OF STYLE AND MODERNITY — WHICH IS THE IDEAL OF MANY ARTISTS AND GALLERIES.

Siobhan Davies and Matthias Sperling respond to ‘Shadow Spans’ at The Whitechapel Gallery

5 Mar

Image courtesy The Whitechapel Gallery

From 2-20 March 2011, the dance artist Matthias Sperling and choreographer Siobhan Davies will present a new performance in response to Claire Barclay’s installation Shadow Spans. The dance piece is performed within the work over fours hours a day for a period of three weeks. Davies and Sperling concentrated on finding simple movements that need a complex collection of decisions to make each movement work and be noticed.

There is also a talk on 10th March, 8 pm, where Siobhan and Matthias will discuss the genesis and development of this response to The Bloomberg Commission: Claire Barclay: Shadow Spans — http://www.whitechapelgallery.org/shop/product/category_id/22/product_id/831

Artist in Focus: Claire Bayliss

24 Feb

By Louisa Elderton

 

Time had moved over and accumulated upon the

surfaces of this place

in such a way as to render it enchanted.

Objects could be reinvented in guises that spoke of

their origin

and destruction; rock into sand, sand into glass,

glass returned to rock.

A place in which some strange poetry has settled; a

garden as night is falling[1]

I interviewed Claire Bayliss this week to discuss the form that her practice takes and her thoughts about being included in Jerwood Encounters: Surface Noise. She described how ‘my practice is rooted in an experience of landscape, and relies on the invention of an imaginative location of time … the landscape that I associate with the work is not the monumental, majestic nature that is intrinsically linked with the notions of the sublime and transcendence, but is conditioned by a quieter non-specific ‘English’ landscape.’ [2] The notion of the archaic landscape permeates her work, as she explores how rock is a repository of time, a marker, and a record of time past. Watch this video of the interview to gain further insight into Claire Bayliss’ printmaking practice.

Artist in Focus: Claire Bayliss from Jerwood Charitable Foundation on Vimeo.


[1] Claire Bayliss, poem written in response to Neolithic/extant, 2010.

[2] Claire Bayliss, artist statement, 22nd February 2011.

Tracey Emin discusses Michael Fullerton

23 Feb

There is an article in this month’s Dazed & Confused Magazine where Tracey Emin selects Surface Noise artist Michael Fullerton, discussing his work and considering his ‘quietly subversive portraits that can take years to complete … he is definitely an artist’s artist.’ [1] Get reading!

Dazed and Confused Magazine, February 2011


[1] Tracey Emin, ‘Michael Fullerton’, in Dazed and Confused Magazine, p. 30.