The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'exhibition'
This past weekend, I finally managed to make my way down to Blenheim Palace to see the Ai Weiwei exhibition; it was well worth going.
Ai Weiwei is best known these days as a thorn in the side of the Chinese government; having used his artistic practice to critique everything from China's territorial claims to corrupt officials' complicity in shoddy building practices (which claimed the lives of dozens of pupils when a school collapsed in an earthquake), and other provocations (such as the destruction of Ming vases in the name of questioning the nature of authenticity) have not won him any sympathy among China's more conservative politicians. For this reason, he remains under house arrest. Nonetheless, although he has not been allowed to travel abroad, he has managed to be intimately involved in the planning of his exhibitions outside China, working with the curators over the internet.
Ai's artistic practice as we know it took form in New York, where he lived for a decade from 1983. His earlier works were in the readymade tradition pioneered by Marcel Duchamp; found or mass-manufactured objects repurposed into statements (such as two raincoats buttoned together on a coat rack, a statement on the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s). His move back to China in 1993, and engagement with the rapidly changing society in the age of Deng Xiaoping's market reforms, provided a cornucopia of new subjects for his work.
Ai's conceptual tactics have often been subtly mischievous; he might take an object and transform it (such as glazing a Ming vase in automotive lacquer, destroying its value as an antiquity but transforming it into a statement about modernisation), or replicate it from an incongruous material (replicas of surveillance cameras and gas masks, carved out of expensive marble), or, occasionally, relying on the sorts of subversive wordplay the Chinese government's not too fond of these days (He Xie, a collection of hundreds of porcelain crabs, alludes to the Chinese term for “river crab” being homophonous with “harmony”, the standard government euphemism for censorship and suppression of dissent).
In the Blenheim Palace show, the subtlety is taken to a new level. Whereas in an ordinary exhibition, one might expect the exhibits to be arrayed in a well-defined space, its boundaries defining what is and isn't in the exhibition, this exhibition does us no such favours; instead, Ai's works are placed in various locations in the palace, juxtaposed with the rich assortment of its existing contents. In the bedchamber where Winston Churchill was born, a pair of handcuffs carved out of wood lies, perhaps suggestively, on the quilt; on the ornately papered wall behind the bed, a simple wooden frame containing a human profile made from a bent coathanger takes its place next to landscapes painted in oils. Two Ming vases emblazoned with the word “Caonima”, in the style of the Coca-Cola logo, stand on an antique marble table. A rug in a drawing room is covered with the aforementioned ceramic river crabs, and in an adjacent room stands a cluster of traditional Chinese stools, taken from peasant houses, and stuck together into a shape not unlike a large chestnut. Under the oil paintings in a state room, two chairs carved of uncomfortable-looking marble stand opposite from two antique seats, and in the Long Library, the walls are hung with photographs from Ai's Study of Perspective series, of the artist's hand making a rude gesture at various world landmarks; at the other end, a blind marble security camera watches the scene. (During the day, adding to the incongruity, a small orchestra was playing Christmas carols in the middle of the scene.) The palace's chapel is home to a large cube, made as if of steel pipes replicated in traditionally patterned porcelain. More subtle interlopers are stowed in various places: traditionally patterned porcelain owl houses (an absurd, yet almost plausible, object) stnd in the Great Hall, and a porcelain watermelon beside a seat almost blends into the rich ostentation of the palace's contents. Outside are yet more objects, from ceramic spheres in a park to fake oil slicks, made from porcelain, under a tree in the Secret Garden. The overall effect is to make one suspicious of everything around one: is this one of the Duke of Marlborough's heirlooms or a subtle subversion deftly inserted by a mischievous artist half a world away?
Alas, this exhibition closes this coming Saturday, so those wishing to see it must hurry. However, it should be worth it.
This afternoon, I made my way to the Design Museum in London to see Friendly Fire: The Graphic Design of Jonathan Barnbrook. Barnbrook is probably best known for his fonts, particularly Ma(n)son Serif, a.k.a. "that 90s goth/metal/occult font" (last seen on a package of "sinfully delicious" cheesecake or somesuch; presumed dead of overexposure). He also did a lot of political/protest work, including design for Adbusters magazine and surreptitious flyposting during Bush's visit to London, and some of these works were on show at the exhibition, along with context.
There were examples of fonts he had designed, the influences he drew on (Barnbrook is a keen historian of vernacular design, and many of his fonts refer to bits of it — from Edward Johnston's Underground type to Yugoslavian Communist brand lettering to the Lindisfarne Gospels), along with related context (such as how Mason was originally named Manson, but Emigre renamed it after being deluged with letters of protest, and Barnbrook's surprise at how Exocet was used by a neo-Nazi group for its website). There were also examples of more recent typefaces, which included NixonScript (a "font to tell lies with"), Expletive (a cursive font with two sets of forms, one which goes above the base line and one below), Prozac (a font made up of just six shapes in various rotations) and the Shock & Awe series), and a set of alternative Olympic symbols named "Olympukes" (and free for non-commercial use), with symbols for things like bribery, reinforcement of oppressive regimes and ridiculous made-up sports. There was also a section of artwork riffing off North Korean propaganda art and mashing it up with Western commercial design (such as Kim Jong Il as Colonel Sanders; in some ways, this was a little like Banksy's "Santa's Ghetto" salon, only with better design/more thought/less punk-rock attitude).
The exhibition is on until the 10th of October, if you're interested in this sort of thing.
Yesterday, Your Humble Narrator went to Banksy's latest exhibition, titled "Crude Oils". It was held in Westbourne Grove, Notting Hill, in a shop which had been transformed into a ruined art gallery for the duration of the exhibition. By this, I mean that it had been filled with props such as smashed artefacts and a skeleton in a security guard's uniform, and then populated with dozens of live rats, which were kept provided with pellets and water in shattered vases and such. Because of the rats (which, apparently, were borrowed from a film animal company and had probably appeared in any films, TV shows and commercials made in London recently and containing rats), the main part of the gallery was behind a plexiglass screen and one had to sign a disclaimer, promising not to bother the rats. Time inside the main part of the gallery was limited to five minutes per person.
The exhibition itself was quite entertaining, in characteristic Banksy fashion, consisting of various artworks "remixed" and updated for the grim meathook present, as seen through Banksy's cynical, kitchen-sink sensibility. There were romantic landscape paintings updated with police incident boards, CCTV cameras, submarines, vandalism and violence. A classical nude statue was covered in tattoos, and a bust wore a gimp mask. All the usual sort of thing, and enough to not disappoint any Banksy fan. Though the rats were the stars of the show, and their presence (which one could see, if not smell, all around) made the most striking impression.
The exhibition is open for two more days, 11am to 8pm. Meanwhile, my photos thereof are here.
I'm having an exhibition of digital photographs and autotraced prints thereof over the next month or so at the Empress Hotel, 714 Nicholson St., North Fitzroy. (Not a bad choice of venue; they also have some decent bands playing, fairly good food and Guinness on tap.) The exhibition is partly live-music themed, with a number of photographs from gigs, as well as some others. It opens this Sunday the 29th, and runs until the 26th of June.
The Fitzroy-themed Between the Spires art exhibition, formerly at the Found Project Space (which has since been evicted to make place for a trendy clothing shop or yuppie lifestyle apartments) is now taking place at Dante's Upstairs Gallery, in Gertrude St. (It's above a café named Dante's). Why am I telling you this, dear reader? Because among the works in this exhibition are two of my photographs of the last day at the Punters Club. (Albeit not in their original 640x480 cheap-digital-camera glory; they have since been autotraced and processed into something a bit more interesting-looking, or at least a bit more amenable to being printed on large pieces of paper.)
Anyway, the exhibition opening is this Tuesday the 1st of October, at 6:30pm, at Dante's Upstairs Gallery, 156 Gertrude St., Fitzroy.