Thursday, December 01, 2005

Art Craziest Nation

Recently visited Liverpool for job interview-flunking purposes (again!), but the day had some positives as it also at least offered the opportunity to visit the Walker gallery on the way to the appointment and see some art, and one exhibit in particular, entitled ‘Art Craziest Nation’. The work of collaborative pair The Little Artists, it featured, basically, a tableau of an exhibition of contemporary and modern art, with these works and the gallery space in which they were displayed made entirely from Lego. The title is itself a play on that of a book by celebrity art commentator Matthew Collings, ‘Art Crazy Nation’, which surveyed the recent British art scene. I suppose the tableau itself was in the style of those of Jake & Dinos Chapman’s miniature visions of hellish scenarios and proceeded from there to offer a most creatively-accomplished and amusing recreation of a number of iconic works of modern art. It was great fun to recognize, and most impressive to appreciate, such works as Damien Hirst’s pickled shark and butterfly paintings, Tracey Emin’s unmade bed (with, delightfully, jumping intruders included, as happened during the work’s display at the Turner Prize show of 2000), Joseph Beuy’s ambulance and sleds (really impressively done), Warhol’s dollar painting, Michael Craig-Martin’s ‘Oak Tree’ (which is, in fact, in its original incarnation, a conceptual conversion, a glass of water upon a high shelf), Rachel Whiteread’s concrete-cast room, Jeff Koons’s basketballs in a tank and many others. In particular, such masterpieces of Minimalism – all of which I adore - as Carl Andre’s bricks and squares, Donald Judd’s wall-mounted blocks and Dan Flavin’s fluorescent lights were recreated perfectly in scaled-down form. The tableau also featured a gallery shop, a most witty and pertinent comment on the umbilical link between the contemporary experience of art and commerce, and numerous celebrity art world figures, glasses in hand, as may be encountered at a private view of a big contemporary show. All in all, it was a most enjoyable exhibit to see, so well realised was it. It also made one realise just how sophisticated the Lego itself can be, it’s developed such a long way since I was a kid and loved playing, creating, with it.

Images of and information about ‘Art Craziest Nation' can be found here at the exhibition’s official website.

I also managed a quick visit to a bargain clearance bookshop and, for £3 each, picked up hardback copies of Douglas Coupland’s ‘Eleanor Rigby’ – which proved to be a most engrossing, thought-provoking, moving and subtly profound read, as usual with DC, who is one of my favourite contemporary authors and whom I was once fortunate to see speaking most entertainingly at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, around the time of the publication of ‘All Families Are Psychotic’ – and Jonathan Coe’s biography of the writer BS Johnson, ‘Like a Fiery Elephant’, of which I’ve read enough intriguing and complementary comments to inspire me to explore its contents, despite knowing nothing of the subject’s work: I loved Coe’s ‘What a Carve Up!’, a wonderfully satirical account of the Thatcher years with some amazingly creative plot twists, and ‘The Rotters’ Club’, which most evocatively recreated the atmosphere of the 1970s and adolescence, wittily and movingly. Actually, I really should devote more time to reading and the study of art instead of this blog! Maybe that’s a suitable point on which to close for now.

4000 Photographs All The Same

But not really.

Watched the film ‘Smoke’ recently and enjoyed it immensely. A quite wonderful, thoughtful, engrossing, human piece of work, seemingly about nothing much in particular, revolving as the central narrative does around the comings and goings of the proprietor and clientele of a New York cigar shop, yet ultimately, through its various episodes, about the great value of relationships and human interaction, expertly played by Harvey Keitel, William Hurt, Forrest Whittaker et al. Just a great, slow-burning, deeply rewarding film I’d recommend is well worth anyone’s time.

Although not a smoker myself, I can appreciate and identify with the circumstances of being partial to the quiet, reflective consumption of a cigar, either alone or in company, being disposed towards the leisurely and contemplative enjoyment of a glass of red wine or otherwise a pot of tea in similar circumstances.

One element of the film is of particular interest to myself, as an artist, especially concerned with the processes of making work, and features the project being carried out by the proprietor of the cigar shop during the course of pursuing his hobby as an amateur photographer which, incidentally, he regards as defining himself more essentially than does what he does, or is seen to do (i.e. pass merchandise across a counter in exchange for and receipt of money), on an everyday basis.
Anyway, to the project itself. Each day, at the same time (8 am), he mounts his camera at the same street corner spot, establishing the same view of the opposite corner, and takes a single photograph. To the untrained eye, all the pictures - over 4,000 in total - look the same by virtue of their architectural aspect, but, of course, each of the photographs is in fact unique, rendered so by its incidental details - seasonal, weather, light, human presence and activity or, indeed, absence of - and time spent looking through the albums, studying the sequences of photographs contained within, rewards the viewer with such a revelation as to their differences and individuality.
I love the concept of this project, it's such an admirable one, exploring the 'never-changing, ever-changing' nature of life, people and things in such a simple but effective and poignant way: it’s most certainly something to be filed away for future reference, with perhaps a view to undertaking a similar endeavour as and when circumstances may be propitious for doing so.

There's also another little incident during the course of the film which tickles my creative fancy. One of the characters - who has already been exposed as disguising his given name - introduces himself to another as bearing the name of the last person he has enjoyed any significant interaction with. This act of reinvention poses an intriguing question: could one assume such an endeavour as a viable creative project? Might it be possible to assume the name of, e.g, the last person one has met and also either their character or otherwise create one, distinct from that person's and one's own, around that name, and to do so convincingly? I'm imagining this project to take place in the real world, among the world of everyday relations, rather than, for instance, in cyberspace, over the interweb, where it's quite possible to create an alternative personality or tailor the representation of one's character towards a particular aspect of it. Much food for thought, anyway.

The Life Aesthetic…

This is something in principle to which I attempt to adhere when- and wherever possible, focussing on the beautiful, appealing, intriguing, spiritually and intellectually stimulating in visual art and design, art history and theory, music, cinema, literature and other popular cultural interests. The intention is that this blog will document my mostly rambling and, hopefully, occasionally more lucid thoughts on any of these subjects as and when appropriate, and serve to supplement the personal website, featuring examples of my visual arts practice, I endeavour to maintain here. You have been warned.