Friday, 22 May 2015

Review of Sleepless: The Bed in History and Contemporary Art at 21er Haus, Vienna

Sleepless: The Bed in History and Contemporary Art
21er Haus, Vienna
30 January – 7 June 2015

Seeing that the 21er Haus, Vienna, was putting on an exhibition about the bed in history and contemporary art, thoughts immediately arose of Tracey Emin’s notorious My Bed (1998), but since that is currently on display as part of a BP Spotlight at Tate Britain, London, I was curious as to who else might have used this familiar and everyday motif in their work. Pretty much everyone, it seems. This tightly curated and fascinating exhibition brings together nearly 200 pieces, from an erotic fresco from Pompeii in the first century AD, displayed in front of a brothel, to, indeed, another of Tracey Emin’s beds (To Meet My Past, 2002), quite different from her previously Saatchi-owned exemplar, a beautifully appliqued and embroidered four-poster bed, remembering herself as a little girl, afraid of the dark.

The exhibition is broken down thematically, beginning with birth and moving through love, loneliness, illness, death, violence, politics, myth and the anthropomorphic. Each section is introduced by an informative and contextualising information board, and then the works are left to speak for themselves, opening up cross-cultural, cross-temporal and cross-spatial conversations.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Interview with Shannon Yee about Reassembled, Slightly Askew

Interview: Shannon Yee

Shannon Yee: Reassembled, Slightly Askew
Metropolitan Arts Centre, Belfast
30 April – 5 May 2015

In the run up to Christmas 2008, Shannon Yee (born 1978) and her partner Gráinne Close both had colds. When Yee began to see strange auras and slur her speech, however, Close rushed her to hospital, where they discovered that Yee was suffering from a sinus infection that had progressed into a life-threatening subdural empyema, a rare brain infection which, if left unnoticed for another hour, might have claimed her life. As it was, Yee spent three months in hospital, where, after a craniotomy to remove the pus and alleviate the pressure, a section of her skull was placed in her abdomen to keep it safe until she was well enough to have it replaced. During her time in hospital, which involved IV antibiotic treatment and a second (and later third) craniotomy when the infection returned, Yee was left paralysed down her left side for approximately three weeks. As a result of the infection, she now lives with an acquired brain injury, which affects her cognitive, emotional, behavioural and physical abilities – albeit not noticeably so from her outward appearance.

From early on, Yee, a playwright, knew that she was going to use her experiences to produce a new work. About a year into recovery, she began the creative collaboration that would lead to her immersive sonic artwork, Reassembled, Slightly Askew, which takes the audience on a whirlwind ride through her experiences of being, as the title suggests, “disassembled, and reassembled, slightly askew”. When I went to Belfast for the preview of this new work, despite having already met and spoken at length with Yee, I didn’t know what to expect. Arriving at the designated side room in the MAC at my appointment time, I was met by a nurse, who had me fill out a form and who then tagged me with a medical bracelet. I was then led into a darkened room – scented with hibiscrub – and shown to my bed, where I was to spend the next 48 minutes, with headphones and an eye mask, being transported to the intensive care unit where Yee woke up, hearing the voices of Close, Yee herself, her neurosurgeon and nurse, and, after her release, some of the sounds that surround us every day, but which we don’t notice, unless, like Yee, we have suffered something that makes us hypersensitive to noise. Experiencing this work really is something beyond words. Even Yee’s consultant neurosurgeon confessed: “I thought this was going to be something ‘arty-farty’. I had no idea it would affect me so profoundly and viscerally.” The work has potential on many different levels: as an art installation, as a theatrical piece and as a teaching tool.

Northern Ireland Tour Dates:

Metropolitan Arts Centre, Belfast
30 April – 5 May 2015

Down Arts Centre, Downpatrick
6-10 May 2015

The Playhouse, Derry
11-15 May 2015

Flowerfield Arts Centre, Portstewart
18-22 May 2015

Burnavon Arts Cenre, Cookstown
25-29 May 2015

Island Arts Centre, Lisburn
1-6 June 2015

Arts & Disability Forum’s BOUNCE! Festival 
3-6 September 2015

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Interview with Roxana Halls

Interview: Roxana Halls

Roxana Halls: Unknown Women
Hay Hill Gallery
5-30 May 2015 

Fifteen years ago, painter Roxana Halls (born 1974) walked into a disused theatre – now a bingo hall – in Streatham, south west London, and asked if they had a space in which she could make her studio. She was in luck and moved in to the old Bavarian Buffet at the top of the building. A little later, she upgraded to the Saloon Bar, where she still works today, surrounded by her collections of costumes and acquired theatrical paraphernalia. There is a strong element of performance in her work – and not just in the more explicit Cabaret series, or Roxana Hall’s Tingle-Tangle, which she produced for the National Theatre. Her paintings depict women, usually in some borderland, some liminal zone – balancing, juggling, or, in her latest series, Unknown Women, about to be shown at Hay Hill Gallery, London, with their faces concealed.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Review of Modigliani: A Unique Artistic Voice at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art

Modigliani: A Unique Artistic Voice
Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, London
15 April – 28 June 2015

Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920) is perhaps best known for his paintings of nudes with elongated faces and figures, although some say he would have become a sculptor, but for continual ill health (he suffered from pleurisy, typhoid fever and tuberculosis as a child and died at 35 from tubercular meningitis, after falling into a life of drink and drugs in bohemian circles). This two-room exhibition at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art focuses, however, on his works on paper, including 28 drawings in ink, crayon, pencil and watercolour. The majority are sourced from the collection of Paul Alexandre, Modigliani’s friend and first patron, and date from 1906-11, just after the artist arrived in Paris from his native Italy. During this time, he was constantly sketching, making as many as 100 drawings a day. Sadly, he destroyed many of these, deeming them inferior, or they got left behind when he – frequently – moved house.

Engulfed by the Parisian avant-garde art scene, Modigliani began to develop his own unique and recognisable style. As well as being influenced by the likes of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) and the contemporary cubism, he also drew strongly on Cycladic, Etruscan, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, African, Asian, Buddhist and early Italian Renaissance art. Already his faces are seen to be attenuated and there is a simplicity to the figures, with their meagre outlines, a sparseness of markings, and yet a certainty to the lines, as if traced steadily from something underneath. There is a lack of shading and cross-hatching and no real attempt to bring about tone or shape to the curves of the figure, and yet somehow they are there and they emerge surreptitiously, like the trail of a silkworm or web of a spider, rising from the page. Modigliani’s gestures are free-flowing and graceful, and the works on display track the development of the artist as he studied the same model repeatedly, often making numerous drawings in quick succession.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Interview with Louise Cattrell

Interview: Louise Cattrell

Louise Cattrell: Another Place
71 Blandford Street, London, W1
Presented by Payne Shurvell
15 April – 16 May 2015 

Originally from Glasgow, Louise Cattrell likes to travel. She has had artist residencies all over the world, in places as diverse as Switzerland, Bulgaria, America, Sri Lanka and the Australian desert. The landscapes that she paints – in oil, but weakened with turpentine to the point of looking almost like watercolour – are from memory and often end up as an amalgamation of different places. Some of her canvases are large, but she also challenges herself to work on a smaller scale, capturing and containing the vast expanses of the sea, the sky and the mountains within the frame.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Interview with Bryan Kneale

Interview: Bryan Kneale

Bryan Kneale: Five Decades
Pangolin London
25 March – 2 May 2015

Bryan Kneale RA (b1930) was born and grew up on the Isle of Man, where, in the postwar years, art books were not easy to get hold of, but the library had volumes of the then Studio magazine, which he used to pore over and draw inspiration from. His ideas come from everywhere, though: in particular, Kneale recalls a lump of shrapnel from a German bomb that his father brought home for him when he was bedridden with whooping cough. This story, which Kneale told us at Pangolin London, where he is currently showing five decades of his work in a mini-retrospective, is expanded on in the catalogue that accompanies the exhibition.

Full of tales, Kneale also talks about his unconventional ways of working with metal and forming new shapes. Elected a Royal Academician in 1974 (after being made an Associate in 1970), Kneale famously accepted the honour only on condition that he could mount an exhibition – the Academy’s first – of abstract sculpture. Including the work of 24 sculptors active in the UK at the time, it has since been described as “the most groundbreaking exhibition of contemporary sculpture held in Britain”.

Kneale originally trained as a painter, studying first at Douglas School of Art and then at the Royal Academy Schools from 1948 to 1952. Today, alongside sculpting, he also draws, and some of his works on paper are included in this exhibition. Despite suffering a serious stroke two years ago, Kneale continues to make work – albeit with a little help where necessary – and his ideas haven’t dwindled at all. Nor has his wry sense of humour. He began by telling Studio International about the risk of death by sculpture …