Monday, 15 September 2014

Review of Maryam Najd: Accuracy & Balance – West at Galerie van de Weghe, Antwerp

Maryam Najd: Accuracy & Balance – West
Galerie van de Weghe, Antwerp
5 September – 4 October 2014

Maryam Najd was born in Iran in 1965 and grew up there. She studied art at the University of Tehran but, after the revolution in 1979, life on many levels had become restricted. It was no longer permitted to see naked bodies and so life drawing was never part of her syllabus – at least, the models were always fully clothed. In 1992, she moved to Antwerp having been accepted to study at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Apart from a few years spent in Berlin and New York, she has been there ever since.

“For me, nudity was something that I had never seen before in Iran. I was touched by it from my very first day in Belgium. It has had an impact on me. The first month at the academy, we had to draw and paint all these models and I was shy even to look at them. I was shocked to see how the nude was represented in society.”

Since then, Najd has found herself repeatedly wondering, in this culture where nudity and naked bodies are so prevalent and where the female form is plastered all over magazines, billboards and television, whether this is part of women’s emancipation, or whether it is, on the contrary, a new form of suppression and shackles – a pressure to look and present oneself in a certain way; a pressure to perform myriad roles, as wife, mother, businesswoman, gym bunny, sex bomb; a pressure to both conform to and stand up against being the object of male desire. Maybe freedom is something beyond all of this. Moreover, Najd wonders where the line is drawn between pop stars, models and performers, who wear tight bodices or scanty outfits and flaunt their bodies provocatively (think Madonna, Rihanna and Beyoncé, to name but a few), and porn stars, strip-club workers, or prostitutes. “Someone like Rihanna, she goes almost naked on to the stage, and we call them ‘artists’, not ‘prostitutes’,” Najd says incredulously. “Do you really need to go that far?” Following this line of curious intrigue, she has been working on a series, or project, the first part of which is currently on show at Galerie van de Weghe, called Accuracy & Balance – with this first instalment carrying the subtitle “West”.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Interview with Jules Wright: The Wapping Project Bankside-Mayfair

Jules Wright / The Wapping Project Bankside-Mayfair
August 2014

Feisty, flame-haired Australian Jules Wright came to the UK as a Commonwealth Scholar in 1975. She studied for a PhD in Psychology, simultaneously began directing at the Theatre Royal in Stratford East, and also became the first female director of the Royal Court Theatre. In 1993, she acquired a derelict power station building in Wapping and launched The Wapping Project, turning the site into a restaurant and arts venue, hosting large-scale exhibitions and celebrity-filled opening night parties. In 2009, she additionally launched The Wapping Project Bankside, next to Tate Modern, a commercial gallery, focused on lens-based media. Earlier this year she ended her lease on both and September sees the launch of her new venue, The Wapping Project Bankside-Mayfair, in Ely House, home to Mallett, on Dover Street.

Anna McNay met with Wright to discuss this venture, her work as a whole, and her views on the photographic medium.

Portfolio: Roxana Halls

Portfolio: Roxana Halls

Growing up, Roxana Halls wanted to be an actor – until she realised she was too shy. Luckily, at 16, she discovered painting. Theatre is still a vital part of her art, however, as her studio is the saloon bar of an old theatre, now bingo hall, in Streatham, and much of her work has theatrical themes. Tingle-Tangle, an exhibition at the National Theatre in 2009, was a celebration of all things cabaret, and recent commissions have been for large-scale canvases telling the stories of Alice in Wonderland and the Wizard of Oz.

All of her work has a feminist take and many pieces show teetering towers of precariously stacked objects, a comment on the precarious balancing act women must perform to uphold their facades in every day life. Her recent exhibition, Appetite, at Hay Hill Gallery, was filled with paintings of women eating, set on a sliding scale, with some scarcely daring to indulge and others displaying a voracious appetite. “This has nothing to do with eating disorders and body image,” Hall assures. “The food is a metaphor for life.”

Halls’ ideas come from all over and Carvery was inspired by Jack Monroe. Representing many of the foods with which Halls grew up, in her working class, east end family – savaloy, tinned spam, mushy peas and angel delight – it argues that people can make it good, regardless of their income.

With glowing reviews by Brian Sewell, a studio to beat all others, and commissions from the rich and famous, Halls has definitely proved this to be true. Her one wish? “To paint Kate Bush. Now that would be perfect!”

Roxana Halls: Appetite
Hay Hill Gallery
25 August - 26 September 2014

To see this portfolio in full, please buy the October issue of DIVA magazine

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Video Interviews from Folkestone Triennial 2014: Lookout

Folkestone Triennial: Lookout
30 August – 2 November 2014

For the third edition of this bustling summer exhibition, curator Lewis Biggs has invited a selection of internationally renowned and local artists to produce 21 new art works in response to specific sites across town. Indoors and out, they rejuvenate existing locations and create new community spaces. From Baroque-style lighthouse-beach huts to camping bases jutting out from the highest point of the tallest hotel in town; from the soundtrack of a sobbing woman to a plexiglass and neon hop garden. This is a festival where no stone has been left unturned.

Studio International went on a coastal tour and managed to speak to a number of those involved, both artists and organisers.

Alastair Upton is Chief Executive of The Creative Foundation, an independent visionary arts charity, seeking to rejuvenate Folkestone through creative activity. As well as restoring more than 90 buildings in the Creative Quarter and building the Quarterhouse arts venue, they are also the people behind the Triennial and its lasting legacy of permanent art works around town. Upton speaks to us about the changes he has seen in Folkestone, thanks to the Foundation, and about how community projects and art works, such as the creation of Payers Park, leave their mark.

Lewis Biggs is this year’s Curator, invited to join the Triennial after 11 years as Chief Executive and Artistic Director of the Liverpool Biennial. He was also Director of Tate Liverpool from 1990-2000. Biggs speaks to us about the challenges of working with “real life” and how he sees his role as curator.

Fresh from his incredible journey with Nowhereisland, Alex Hartley speaks to us from his lookout atop the Grand Burstin Hotel. With a vigil being held for the duration of the Triennial, we were lucky enough to experience the view on a wonderfully sunny day. 

Jyll Bradley, a native of Folkestone, has returned to the town to create a wonderful homage to the Kentish hop gardens with which she grew up. Her work invites viewers to walk among the strings and green plexiglass and neon poles and to enjoy three very different views across town. Constructed on the site of the old gasworks, the circular form also makes reference to the gasometer that once stood in this place.

Pablo Bronstein, whose Sketches for Regency Living graced the walls of the ICA this summer, has brought to life a sculpture based on the ideas of 18th century architect Nicholas Hawksmoor. A grey beach hut, next to an empty container, with a non-functioning lighthouse extending above – Bronstein explains to us why he hates beach huts and all things about them.

Emma Hart’s work is full of anxiety. Located in an empty domestic space on Tontine Street, it fills the rooms with outlines of glasses, remnants of a party, and video screens which scream out, both in desolation and invitation. Hart feels under pressure but takes the time to talk to us about how this manifests.

rootoftwo’s work also responds to anxiety, but by measuring social media and people’s response to and production of fear on the Internet. Five whithervanes, at locations across town, spin and light up in different colours according to the messages they are picking up. The artists explain to us how the system works and how visitors – and even those across the globe – can interact and have an impact on the whithervanes’ activity.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Past, Present, Future: Photography in Berlin

As published in issue 15 of State/F22 (Sept/Oct 2014)

Finding Vivian Maier. A Film by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel

As published in issue 15 of State/F22 magazine (Sept/Oct 2014)

Preview: In the City at Lion and Lamb

As published in issue 15 of State magazine (Sept/Oct 2014)

Profile: Lubomirov Easton and Deptford Enclave

As published in State issue 15 (Sept/Oct 2014)

Artist Profile: Aileen Kelly

Artist Profile: Aileen Kelly

Aileen Kelly’s works are processual. Everything is in a state of becoming – or maybe unbecoming. Her found objects – appropriated and adapted, displaced and dismantled, stratified and suspended. One mattress with its covering peeled off, coated in a shabby, careworn felt; another exploded with its springs on show, a jack-in-the-box, a ribcage, somehow exposed, raw and vulnerable, yet strong and offering support – stripped down to discover what is inside: the essence and the essential.

Her Sculpture Drawings are like blueprints: tentative structures made out of fabric-wrapped posts in fragile, midway states. Neither one thing nor the other, they quiver and quaver, resting like a lean-to, reaching like a sapling. Frames or portals, leading from the past to the future, circumventing the present. They carry a sense of the familiar, yet are uncannily dissociated. Memorials to something lost, but to what? Feminine somehow, both in their fabrication and tentative presence, their silence and unimposing stance. They offer mere suggestions, nothing is concrete, but every gesture is made with intent.

Kelly’s Stitch Drawings speak in the same tone. Reincarnating images of trauma, stitched on to cloth or paper, showing tangled threads, fractured lines and obliterated identities. Some are projected up large on to white walls, shadowing down upon us, heavy yet weightless. Incomplete outlines, their souls might seem to drain away into the void. Worked up from specific media images, they could, nonetheless, be any child, any parent, any loved one. ‘Do I have the right?’ Kelly muses, visibly concerned at her trespassing into someone else’s private realm, private grief. But, as a mother, she grieves for the loss of others, memorialising one, memorialising many.

Saving every remnant, Kelly has recently turned to collage and printmaking, recycling scraps and cut offs, once again breathing new life into other people’s waste materials. For her, nothing is without worth. Everything offers a haunting reminder of the transience of existence, a subtle metaphor for the fragility of structures upon which we rely. Everything will have its turn once again in the greater process known as life.

Artist's website: 


All © the artist

Let Down  
180cm x 105cm  
Upholstered wood in pinstripe fabric, fabric lengths

150cm x 200cm
Fabric wall drawing with black pinstripe cloth

40cm x 30cm  
Linen, pinstripe fabric, cotton stitch