n. pl. cor·po·ra (-pr-)
1. A large collection of writings of a specific kind or on a specific subject.
2. A collection of writings or recorded remarks used for linguistic analysis.
3. The main part of a bodily structure or organ.
//Reviews of art. Art and language. Art and the body.
An Artist’s Artist: Mark Dunhill
talks about Carl Plackman
Carl Plackman: Obscure Territories Pangolin, London 9 September – 17 October 2015
Often described as an “artist’s
artist”, Carl Plackman (1943-2004) was ambitious and full of ideas. When asked at
the end of an interview in 1986 what he would like as his epitaph, he replied:
“I just want to make a good piece of sculpture. I still think I haven’t done
it. The trouble is trying to say what that could be – it’s very difficult…”
Plackman rarely talked about his work and kept his ideas private. He has been
hailed as the “godfather of British conceptual art” and Alison Wilding speaks
of Plackman’s work as being her first encounter with “installation”.
This solo exhibition at Pangolin
includes a range of Plackman’s drawings alongside a number of key sculptures,
in particular Bachelor of Arts (1977), which has never been shown before.
As a generous teacher, many of Plackman’s
students have gone on to become major names in British contemporary art,
including Tony Cragg, Damien Hirst, Liam Gillick and Alison Wilding. Studio
International spoke to Mark Dunhill, Dean at Central Saint Martins, University
of the Arts, London, and an artist in his own right, who was taught by Plackman
at the Royal College of Art in the 70s.
‘If someone asks you
if you know what the time is, do you answer simply “yes”?’
‘Is it important and
easy for you to remember the registration numbers of all the taxis you’ve
caught in the past year?’
‘Can you imagine your
life being like this?’
These questions are just some of those raised in Rosie
Barnes’ book, Understanding Stanley –
Looking through Autism, a heart-warming – and, at times, -wrenching –
insight into life with – and as – her son, Stanley, who was diagnosed with
autism aged three and a half. As a photographer, Barnes realised that, to
understand things that are not immediately within your grasp, sometimes words
are not where you need to begin. Her motivation for producing this book was to
‘create a new kind of visual language that can really get under the skin of
what it might feel like to be autistic with not much effort needed on behalf of
the reader’. She is clear that ‘this is not a “what to do” book. It’s a “what
it might feel like” book’. How is it possible to make people aware – and
accepting – of something so complex and difficult to explain, let alone see?
With 21 paintings produced over a
three-year period, Anj Smith’s latest exhibition as Hauser & Wirth London
is her largest yet. It is also her most psychologically motivated and probing.
An artist who seeks to celebrate the medium of painting, Smith sees the figure
as a device on which to hang her concerns and her explorations of social mores.
Her paintings – deeply layered to create an intense colour and incredible
luminosity – deal with issues of liminality, androgyny, language, art history
and zoology, amongst many others. Monkeys frolic with shattered Ming vases; a
cigarette butt is revered as equal to a Van Cleef jewel; deep, dark eyes stare
out from hollow sockets.
Smith’s works collapse the genres
of still life, landscape and portraiture, freely referencing those who have
gone before her: from 17th-century Dutch vanitas painters to so-called outsider
artists, Richard Dadd and Adolf Wölfli. While acknowledging the importance of
recognising where she is coming from and taking responsibility for her
references, Smith is also at pains to make work that is of our time. The
intricate detail, painted with single-hair brushes – stubble on a figure’s cheek,
a moth hidden in the stonework, translucent veins beneath the skin – is like a
reward system, whereby the viewer benefits from each further minute spent
studying the work and experiences a different painting, depending on the
perspective from which it is approached. Smith’s work can only be fully
appreciated in the flesh and this is a valiant display well worth spending some
Roger Fenton (1819-1869) is a key figure in the history of
photography at large, but, in particular, of photography as a form of artistic
expression, rather than a means of pure documentation. Founder and first
secretary of the Photographic Society (established in 1853 and later to become
the Royal Photographic Society), he had initially trained as a painter and thus
composed his photographic images with the eye of an artist. In 1854, Fenton spent
three and a half months in Balaklava, photographing the Crimean War, producing
more than 350 large format negatives, some of which were turned into woodblocks
and published in the Illustrated London News.
It is these images, to which Marco Cali finds himself drawn
and which he has used as the starting point for his series Satyrs, as well as
for some smaller paintings – all oil on paper, with no underdrawing – of
isolated standing figures, themselves further inspired by altarpiece fragments.
work expresses his underlying interest in outline, form and the suggestion of depth
and Fenton’s images therefore appeal on numerous levels.
Firstly, there is the enigma of conflicting shadows:
those cast naturally by the sun versus those imposed by Fenton’s flash. Then
there is the way in which the photographer would often burn the tops of his
images to obliterate unwanted elements, emphasise certain figures or create areas
of brightness. Both of these aspects add a level of abstraction to the images, something
which Cali extrapolates in his experimentation with light and shadow. His
breaking down of areas of the composition into geometric patterns and shapes,
and his addition of strong outlines in white or black, works to foreground
certain facets, manipulating the depth and, in a sense, reversing the
flattening of the scene inflicted by the camera. He deliberately opts to retain
Fenton’s contradictory shadows, enjoying the ensuing intrigue and implicit artistic
and interpretative licence.
Compositionally, Fenton’s works engage Cali for their
very deliberate central placing of figures on horse – or, indeed, camel – back.
Men are seen seated alone – isolated, displaying power, sexual prowess and
legitimacy – and, for Cali, resembling satyrs. Women, however, are always
accompanied by a man. The subject matter has further political – and within
this also personal – resonances for Cali, who himself hails from Genoa, a city
with its own colonial history and once part of Piedmont-Sardinia. During the
Crimean War, this kingdom joined with France and Britain to send half its army
to fight the Russians. In turn, it was permitted to send representatives to the
peace conference at the end of the war, where it was able to campaign for Italian
unification (Risorgimento). In a
sense then, Cali sees exploring the subject matter of the Crimean War as a way
of exploring his roots – and ethnic identity in general. References to this are
scattered liberally throughout his work, with images of contemporary coins from
all countries concerned; elements of Islamic abstraction; and the addition of gilding
– crescents, slivers of light and shadows – relating to medieval Byzantine or
Russian icons and book illumination.
The mid 19th century was a period of
innovation and change, where the nascent art of photography and the established
technique of painting were reciprocally influential. The early 21st
century is an equally pivotal moment, with digital photography and the ability
to Photoshop images increasingly usurping traditional methods. Cali describes
painting as ‘an alchemical process, a kind of magical realism that creates the
image in our eyes’. This process necessarily runs in parallel to both the
chemical and digital image-making magic of photography and Cali’s work draws on
aspects from all three disciplines, merging elements and questioning where
abstraction begins. His complex yet playfully experimental paintings work with layers
of meaning to create a unique exploration of depth, form and truth; a serious
reflection (both literal and metaphorical) with historical resonance.
Please visit Cali's website to see more of his works
Collateral Event of the 56th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia
Palazzo Barbaro, San Marco, 2840 Venice
9 May – 22 November 2015
The Union of Fire and
Water presents a historical and cultural superimposition of Baku and Venice as
seen through the eyes of two artists, Rashad Alakbarov and Almagul Menlibayeva.
Studio International speaks to the artists, alongside the curator Suad
Garayeva, to hear more about the intertwined histories of the two cities.
In the 1400s, the Venetian
ambassador Giosafat Barbaro travelled to and wrote extensively on Azerbaijani cities
and the court of Shah Uzun Hassan. By complete coincidence, the Azerbaijani
not-for-profit arts organisation YARAT – which means ‘create’ in Azeri – chose
to locate their collateral event for the 56th Venice Biennale in Palazzo
Barbaro, the ambassador’s former residence. The connections were only uncovered
later, with the help of one of the two exhibiting artists, Rashad Alakbarov,
and the curator, Suad Garayeva.
The exhibition, which comprises
site-specific installations, is set to take visitors on a journey through time
and space, bringing to the fore centuries of exchange and conflict between East
and West and Baku and Venice. Alakbarov is showing some of his typical architectural
and sculptural interventions, where meticulously placed metal structures stand
before light sources and cast hidden messages on to the walls and floors
nearby. He has also filled one room with a series of bridge-like staircases,
which visitors must traverse to reach the remainder of the exhibition.
Kazakhstani-born artist Almagul Menlibayeva’s
multi-screen film installations tell the story of Mukhtarov’s Palace, a
beautiful Venetian Gothic building in Baku, which was erected by the oil
magnate Murtuza Mukhtarov for his beloved wife, Lisa, in 1912. Following the
Soviet invasion eight years later, Mukhtarov took his life.
Ironically, the building now houses
the main marriage registry office in the city and is informally known as the
Palace of Happiness.
As Garayeva explains, the
exhibition seeks to present a historical and cultural superimposition of Baku
and Venice, with Palazzo Barbaro as the third artist.
As part of the Totally Thames
festival, taking place over the month of September and bringing a series of
arts and cultural events to London’s riverbanks, the New York artist, Anita
Glesta, has brought a mesmerising projection of brightly coloured, circling
fish to the National Theatre’s Lyttleton Flytower, visible from across the
water, as well as from the popular South Bank and the theatre’s river terrace
below. The work has been in development since 2009, when Glesta was asked to
make a piece in collaboration with Art_Port and the UN for the COP15 summit on
climate change in Copenhagen. In 2013, a previous version of Watershed was
projected on the wall of St Patrick’s Basilica in Lower Manhattan during the
New Museums Ideas City Festival. This version used carp as its dancers. For the
London version, Glesta travelled to Colombia to film the Amazonian pirarucu
fish, which is almost on the verge of extinction. She is interested, she says,
in using fish for their multipurpose characteristics.
The circling motion is something
that appears in a lot of Glesta’s works, often representing women and planets.
These metaphorical readings could be carried over to Watershed as well, but the
work also functions on a much more literal and didactic level. As Glesta
explains: “I would like for this work to be a vehicle of communication,
literally like a moving image billboard.” She has carried out a lot of research
into climate change and water levels, thinking specifically about the island of
Manhattan, floating in the mouth of the ocean. After London, Glesta – a painter
by trade, but one who loves this digital medium for its bringing together of
painting, sculpture and architecture – is taking the work back to New York,
where it will become part of a much larger project. She also hopes to tour it internationally.