Category Archives: Art

Alternative Realities: Olya Tsoraeva

I’m fascinated by animators. The best thing I could form out of play dough as a child was “rock cakes” or if i was feeling especially creative, a very ill-proportioned stick man. I suffered and still do suffer from the fatal combination of impatience and stumpy, clumsy fingers. “No,” my friend kindly told me, “you could never be a hand model. Unless it was for modelling bricks on a construction site.”

I’ve never seen Olya Tsoraeva’s hands but i imagine them to be long and elegant, quick and nimble. Surely they must be to create such mini masterpieces out of plasticine? And I know she’s got patience. For her stop motion film, in which she remoulded Thom Yorke’s face in an alternative video for Radiohead’s “Creep”, she spent a year in darkness: four months fiddling around with his features and nine handcrafting the animation. That’s perseverance verging on obsession.

“Don’t you lose inspiration after the first six months?” I asked an artist once.

“Yeh sure you do,” she replied “but you just keep doing what you’re doing.”

“Like a job?”

“No, not like a job. Like everyday life.”

That stuck with me. It’s a relief to know that you don’t have to be wildly creative every single day to make something wonderful. Inspiration can be a little exhausting. As I took it, don’t give up if you’re struggling to see why you started.

Here’s ‘Skinless’ written and directed by Olya Tsoraeva. It’s my favourite of her small but impressive portfolio.

Keep an eye on what she’s up to here.

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Photographing the Photographic Image: Anne Collier

Anne Collier is an unusual type of photographer in the sense that she takes photographs of existing photographs. Largely, of famous women role models, Marilyn Monroe, of course, amongst a few lesser known feminine starlets of the past. Yet it’s not as straight forward or as unimaginative as it sounds. Collier holds her images quite literally at arms length, working with not just the image itself but with the background on which it appears: a frame, magazine, book, poster, a blank wall or textured surface. It has a distancing effect and totally readjusts our perspectives of well known work (reminiscent of Fiona Banner’s curated exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery here in London). A lot of her work, unsurprisingly, focuses on the “gaze”, forcing the viewer to reassess the way we view not just images but advertisements and people themselves. This naturally plays into the interesting and ever going debates surrounding female objectification and sexualisation. Taken out of their commercial context, what do these images mean and how should we view them?

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Enfant Terrible: Ed van der Elsken

Ed van der Elsken isn’t a name you come across often in the mainstream world of photography. Partly because he steered clear of commercial work and partly because of his reputation as the ‘enfant terrible’ (loosely translated as the troublesome child). Like a lot of great artists, he refused to play by the rules, photograph nice people and pretty landscapes, instead he aimed to photograph all aspects of reality – the best and the worst of human nature.

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“I report on young, rebellious scum with pleasure … I rejoice in everything. Love. Courage. Beauty. Also blood, sweat and tears.”

Born in Amsterdam, der Elsken started off his career with the intention of becoming a sculptor before moving to Paris and discovering ‘la bohemes’ of Saint-Germain-de-Prés who would become the focus of his photography. Though much of his work purports to be documentary, it remains closely intertwined with the theatrical and surreal reflecting on the drug hazed bohemian society in which he lived. That said, the pictures are clearly rooted in the everyday rather than the transcendent, recording ‘characters’ in their intimate daily routines of drinking coffee, dozing and daydreaming. These are people who really existed despite polite society’s attempts to believe otherwise…

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der Elken also made a pretty hypnagogic film, Death in the Port Jackson Hotel, which features the star of the artist’s most famous photography series, Love on the Left Bank, Vali Myers, and is worth a watch if you can handle drawn out interviews with doe eyed hippies and bizarre sequences of toads mating.

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Fiona Banner: Stamp Out Photographie

Millie Walton speaks to British artist Fiona Banner about her Stamp Out Photographie exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery, which shines a new light on lesser-known classics

How did you go about selecting the artwork you wanted to include?

I’ve actually had the title of the exhibition in mind for ages; it’s something I stole from the Archive of Modern Conflict, a photo-based archive in West London that I’ve been working with. The first time I went there, I saw this poster with the words ‘Stamp Out Photographie’ and I took a photo of it and put it up on my studio wall. I enjoy that polemic, it relates to my own work as an artist. I play around with film and the photographic image through language and the verbal, always moving around the image, but not using it directly. Although I work with text, I haven’t rejected the image – I’m exploring my ongoing dysfunctional relationship with the photographic and filmic image.

So, in choosing pieces to include in this display, I was exploring that relationship and thinking about different ways of seeing reality, and how we confuse reality with the filmic and photographic. I hadn’t seen any of the work in flesh until very recently, I selected all the works for this show from small, photographic Stamp Out Photographie printouts. That was how the engagement started, and the final staging of the works references that. It’s a show about the printed image – or the image as reference versus the actual image and the slippage between the two – in our understanding, and in our perception.

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Bridget Riley, Stretch, 1964 © Bridget Riley 2014 Courtesy Karsten Schubert, London Image courtesy V-A-C collection

How did you go about that?

For this exhibition, I’ve transformed the gallery into a theatrical space. I suppose every gallery space is a kind of theatre for art, but here that is exaggerated through the lighting. Instead of the works being evenly lit, the lighting constantly changes from cyan, magenta and yellow to black, so your perception of the works is constantly manipulated. The light in the room refers to the colour system associated with printing: CMYK. Also within that the works go from visible to hardly visible at all. It sets up a perceptual game.

On paper the works sound very disparate, coming from different times, movements and locations. How did you find a way of logically connecting them?

There’s a dialogue between the works themselves and the characters featured. For example, there’s this huge portrait of Picasso by Rudolf Stingel, which is in conversation with Andy Warhol’s portrait of Jackie Kennedy within the display. The characters kind of create this alternative dialogue, which isn’t at all curatorial in the formal sense. Like I said, it’s a performance space so perceptions are constantly changing and that’s concentrated by the ever-shifting lighting and by this great soundtrack by Russian artist, Olga Chernysheva. It’s very theatrical and filmic.

So the works are all connected?

Yes, in a way. In this environment they all speak of the theme, which is universal and eternal. The oldest image is the Monet, the daddy of impressionism, which seemed to be the very beginnings of fracturing images and binding them in new a new language – the language of perception. Then there’s the Gerhard Richter piece, which is much more recent, but again there’s this ongoing interplay or conversation about the image, about gender and about photography. All the displayed art asks similar questions. How do works or images exist in our perception and memory? How do our minds alter reality? How do our eyes alter reality? Those questions, and the relationship to photography, is so strong that it almost overpowers the actual work.

We’re very familiar with many of the images on display because they’ve been reproduced in the media, or they’ve entered into popular culture. The Richter piece, Kerze, was used as an album cover for Daydream Nation by Sonic Youth. How does that affect the way we view those particular artworks? There’s a struggle for an authentic moment, an original moment with viewing artworks, but really we do not know what that is.

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Fiona Banner. Photograph by Mischa Haller

What are some of your favourite pieces from the display?

Well, I’ve never really understood Christopher Williams’ work. I’ve always been drawn to it for that reason, so it’s good to spend time with it in person and not through a computer screen. The big portrait of Picasso is just so interesting because it’s such a large image of a famously small man. It’s also surrounded by the myth of the artist and the history of the photographic portrait.

It’s hard to choose my favourite because, as the space is constantly changing, the images are never in a clear light. Nowadays, photographs are like words or air – there’s no materiality or stability and I think that is reflected in how I’ve dealt with the environment. It’s like the whole exhibition is a moving picture.

Stamp Out Photographie runs at Whitechapel Gallery until March 2015

This article was originally written for and published in Port Magazine: http://bit.ly/1Co4Fk5

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One to watch: Olivia Bee

Brooklyn based photographer, Olivia Bee is, depressingly, only 20 years old. She’s achieved more in her few years than most of us will in a lifetime. She’s shot for The New York Times, Vice and countless designers whilst her personal series are achingly gritty, exposing a lifestyle that would make the coolest kid envious. ‘Lovers’ is well worth flicking through if you’re in a romantic, dreamy mood, but ‘Everyday’ is slightly more relatable for me at the moment – at least it’s images of all the kind of things I like to think I’m doing like sneaking out of windows, spray painting and participating in half-naked group hugs in the sea. That’s the life.

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Keep track of Olivia’s photographic antics here: http://www.oliviabee.com/

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Behind the lens: Nadav Kander

It may be embarrassing to admit this, but I hadn’t even heard of Nadav Kander until last week when I was at the Constructing Worlds exhibition at the Barbican and I found myself standing mesmerised in front of his photographs taken along the Yangtze River.

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In keeping with the exhibition’s theme, the photographs focus on architecture or rather on the impact of industrialisation on the natural landscapes. One of the most intriguing aspects of the images is the prevailing mist, making the scenes look almost magical or otherworldly. I commented on this to Alona Pardo, one of the show’s co-curators, during an interview for PORT magazine and she told me that the mist is, in fact, pollution. So not quite so magical then. It’s an idea which really interests me though: the illusion of beauty. It stresses the importance, in this case, of understanding a landscape’s history and development as tourists and emphasises our ignorance, but it also demonstrates the peculiar type of beauty to be found in contamination, the industrial and the ugly, which isn’t really an illusion at all. In China, the beauty is born out of transience. The landscapes are changing daily due to the rapid pace of development, meaning that Kander’s photographs can never be taken again, those places no longer exist. So that’s where the ghostly feeling of another world comes from.

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nadav-kander-chongqing-VII really recommend heading to the Barbican to see some of the images in person, you can also view Kander’s whole portfolio including some great portraits on his website: http://www.nadavkander.com/

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Visual experimentations with sound

The music video to ‘We Need Nothing to Collide’ by London based producer and DJ Russ Chimes is completely mesmerising. Brightly coloured strips of light stream across a background of mundane landscapes in a way that is both hypnotic and strangely unsettling. In one scene the light snakes out of a dark open doorway, like an ominous yet seductive threshold to an alternative world. It’s fitting with the track, which possesses the infectious beat of house music and the increasingly unnerving build of repetitive sounds and lyrics. It sets you in a trance. Speaking of which, I think I’m going to watch it again.

Watch it for yourselves here:

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Photographing Constructed Worlds: The Barbican

As the Barbican Art Gallery’s newest exhibition opens we speak to co-curator, Alona Pardo about the works on display and the relationship between photography and architecture

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Julius Shulman, Case Study House #22, 1960 (Architect: Pierre Koenig), Courtesy of J. Paul Getty Trust

Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age forms part of the Barbican’s Constructing Worlds season, featuring over 250 works from 18 prominent photographers across the globe and offering audiences the opportunity to contemplate on the progression or demise of our urban landscapes.

How do photography and architecture interconnect?

Architecture and photography have a really long and shared history. The earliest known surviving photograph was taken by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. He took it from an upstairs window of his estate in Les Gras, France, across the rooftops, and the primary reason for him doing that is that buildings are static. As cameras have developed exposure times have shortened, but back in the day, the exposure time was very long – several hours in fact – so you needed something that didn’t move. A building then, was of course perfect, because it didn’t move or respond to the natural elements. Although it’s a genre that’s not been widely researched or given a lot of prominence, there’s a complicity between these two mediums. The exhibition itself starts in the 1930s when both photography and architecture changed very dramatically and photography suddenly became a tool for architects to use to disseminate their vision of the world.

So photography became a way for architects to seek wider recognition?

Absolutely. Architects understood and harnessed the power of photography from a very early point. Most people wouldn’t travel to see a building, so the only way to promote their vision was to photograph it and have that image disseminated. Editors preferred to have photographs in their magazines because they were far more evocative and less dull than blue prints or plans. I should clarify though that in the show, photography’s not there to accurately describe a building, it’s tracing the social history of the 20th and 21st century as expressed through architecture. Architecture became incredibly symbolic in those periods.

How is the exhibition organised?

Chronologically. It starts in 1930s with a really fantastic female photographer called Berenice Abbott – a woman of formidable resolve who returned to New York after living in Paris for several years, where she attempted to get the archive of Eugène Atget published. Whilst she was there, she was struck by the rapid pace of change and transformation that was taking place in the city. It’d grown from 19th century city into a modern metropolis within a period of a decade and she was absolutely overwhelmed. But she was also quite critical of what was going on: the race to modernise. So the exhibition charts a chronological pathway, but themes and interests interconnect across different generations of photographers as well as different geographies.

Why did you decide to take a global approach?

We wanted to tell different stories. Architecture is everywhere, and it impacts all of our lives. There are sections within the chronological order that deal with different themes or stories. The first looks at photographers such as Berenice Abbott and Walker Evans, who were working in the Deep South, looking at early typologies of road side architecture and timber churches. Then there’s Julius Shulman, who’s kind of the archetypal architecture photographer, taking glossy, sexy, poppy images of LA. Then alongside that, there’s a section which looks at the vernacular: Ed Ruscha looking at parking lots; Stephen Shore looking at elevating the quotidian against vast expanses of American landscape. Shore’s interested in what interrupts the view. The street furniture, for example – all those things that we take for granted as part of our urban and suburban landscapes.

There’s Hiroshi Sugimoto’s blurry, soft edged photographs of iconic buildings such as the World Trade Centre, which has an added poignancy in that it’s no longer here. These buildings are so famous, so impressed on our minds that we don’t even need to see an accurate reproduction of the building to know what we’re looking at. They’ve transcended their function to become part of our cultural language.

The exhibition claims that the photography uncovers ‘hidden truths’ – what’s meant by that?

It’s the idea of unveiling, de-mystifying and reflecting on the world around us rather than shrouding it in beauty. It’s about Architecture becoming a metaphor.

Would you agree that the public’s attitude towards architecture has changed in recent years?

I think so. There’s a move towards places of architectural brutalism – an attempt to understand why they were built and why they were designed as they were. We’re beginning to reflect more on how our cities, public and private spaces are formed. In a city like London, we are forever talking in an indirect way about architecture, whether it’s through the topic of housing or cooperate buildings, so there’s a constant discussion about how the world around us is being defined.

Constructing Worlds: Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age runs from 25 September – 11 January

This article was originally written for and published by PORT: http://bit.ly/1unzi5j

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Alice Rainis: Ongoing Projects

London/Paris based photographer Alice Rainis has a way of finding beauty in the everyday – it’s an enviable talent and often makes her pieces very poignant. She’s got a number of long term projects which she adds to every now and then, such as the series of Polaroid Portraits, Music Artists Off Stage or Late Nights Early Mornings (well worth flicking through), but the most recent of these and the most interesting is XXI Century which features portraits of the creative or inspiring people who have crossed her path. She adds a new image every two weeks with a one line blurb beneath telling you who’s who and what’s what. 

 Check out her full portfolio on her website: http://www.alicerainis.com/. She’s a cool kid.

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Georges Braque at Guggenheim Bilbao

Georges Braque at Guggenheim Bilbao

Standing in front of the sharp-edged, shining sliver shapes that comprise Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim in Bilbao, it’s difficult to think of a more appropriate building to house a retrospective of one of the founders of cubism. After all, if you’re familiar with Georges Braque, it’s no doubt for his complex paintings that aim to capture objects from multiple perspectives.

Though revolutionary at the time and arguably, still now, Cubism’s not the most friendly of artistic movements – it requires a somewhat mathematical eye. Fortunately, the Guggenheim’s exhibition introduces audiences to an artist connected to, but by no means defined by Cubism or his work with Pablo Picasso.

The foremost space is a room of juxtaposition. One wall is lined with a selection of the young artist’s glaringly bright paintings influenced by Fauvists such as Henri Matisse whilst the other documents Braque’s journey to Cubism. The former have a hallucinogenic quality that makes them seem quite otherworldly. ‘L’Estaque’ (1906), for example, depicts two small shadowy figures walking along a pathway edged by thin, sloping trees. It reminds me of a scene from a Dr. Seuss book, although the colours are warmer and the shapes less stark.

 

Landscape in L'Estaque (Paysage de l’Estaque), 1906–1907 Oil on canvas 50 x 61 cm Centre Pompidou, Musée national d'art moderne, Paris. Gift, 1986 Georges Braque © VEGAP, Bilbao, 2014 Photo © Philippe Migeat - Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI/Dist. RMN-GP

I found myself most captivated, however, by the seemingly simplest of creations: one of Braque’s papier colles (that’s paper collages to you and I), ‘Guitarra’ (1912). Stripped bare of colour, but for a strip of wallpaper mimicking the appearance of wood, it’s much lighter and peaceful to view. It comes as a well-placed break from the intensity of the former movements and stylistically functions as the perfect lead into Braque’s illustrations for Hesiod’s ‘Theogony’. These drawings maintain the bareness but here the pencil lines are entangled in webs forming bizarre mythological creatures and figures in an imaginative reimagining of Roman art work – a surprising pursuit for the master of Cubism.

The classical theme is loosely continued with a striking pair of female figures, ‘Canephores’ (1922), standing side by side on two large canvases. These generously proportioned women demonstrate strength rather than vulnerability with dark skin and exposed muscular stomachs. The rippling lines capture the movement of their bodies as they carry their baskets balanced on one shoulder.

“Staring at the flowing colours and swooping shapes it’s easy to imagine Braque’s paintbrush moving frantically across the canvas”

 

 

Large Nude (Grand Nu), winter 1907–june 1908 Oil on canvas 140 x 100 cm Centre Pompidou, Musée national d'art moderne, Paris. Gift Alex Maguy Glass, 2002 Georges Braque © VEGAP, Bilbao, 2014 Photo © Georges Meguerditchian - Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI/Dist. RMN-GP

The third room exposes a more vulnerable side to Braque. Influenced by war, loss and his own personal isolation, morbid symbols of skulls are forefront, along with dark, solitary figures, their backs always turned from the viewer – this is the work of a man who once described art as “a wound turned into the light”. Though interesting from a contextual point of view these pieces lack the sophistication of previous works betraying an occupied mind and wandering inspiration.

Braque’s birds are the highlight of the next space, symbolising spirituality and liberty. ‘The Black Bird’ and ‘The White Bird’ is the most obviously eye catching because of its light colours and sheer scale, but it was ‘The Birds in Flight’ that I found myself returning to. Staring at the flowing colours and swooping shapes it’s easy to imagine Braque’s paintbrush moving frantically across the canvas, desperately trying to capture the movement of the wings, the air.

Braque’s series of late landscapes, however, leave the most lasting impression. Displayed in a wide, open circular room, the paintings and the viewer are dwarfed by the vastness of the space. I was fortunate enough to experience the space alone, intensifying the powerful sense of solitude – it’s a room that demands quietness and contemplation.

The exhibition concludes with a display of Braque’s ballet costumes and set designs. Though less immersive than the rest of his work, it functions as a tribute to the artist’s diverse talent and varied body of work. In the words of Juan Ignacio Vidarte, the Director of the Guggenheim Bilbao, “What makes exhibitions like these so interesting are the surprises.”

This article was originally written for and published in PORT Magazine : http://www.port-magazine.com/art-photography/art-review-georges-braques-at-guggenheim-bilbao/

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