Monday, 29 November 2010



I’m standing under a brick railway arch in Vauxhall. It’s the Arch Gallery, one of three  spaces converted by the Beaconsfield Gallery out of what was once the London Ragged School ( said to be the school the film star Charlie Chaplin once attended – he certainly lived close by). On the wall of the gallery at the far end a video is projected which is exciting enough, but the music fills the space and travels up from the floor through my feet and fills me too. I can hear a tangy sound, like an anvil - metal, heat, energy. The experience is beautiful, inexplicable, visceral.

I’m watching young people dancing in a disco – or are they fleeing? And what about the colours drenching the screen? I am innocent of any technological knowledge so I’m free to imagine. The image comes to mind of the artist using a scalpel to slice the original colours into their constituent parts. You know as a child that when you mix blue and yellow you make green and that’s that – no going back. But Dean has conjured up hues by parsing and mixing and then brushing them on with the fluidity of water colours.

But what is the video about, I ask? I must have slept through 1984 because The Terminator passed me by. Fortunately I have my two daughters beside me. I gather that someone or something marches through a jolly disco and he or it is not full of the good intentions one would hope from a stranger. What I didn’t see – but my daughters point out – is that the way the colours change have technological overtones such as infra red vision and thermal mapping. And are those skeletons you can almost see through the flesh as it is stripped away in fleeting moments? We walk a few hundred yards back to my daughter’s house and within a couple of minutes my son-in-law gets up on his screen a Hungarian clip of the film. From my daughter’s description he pin points the exact tiny fragment (1.75 seconds) Dean uses on a continuous loop.  

Like Christian Marclay  Dean appropriates film clips and re mixes sound, but he also, as they say, ‘takes up a position behind the camera’.  This work is called Christian Disco/Terminator. He was recently ordained in the Church of England, and the breadth of his experience shows in the way he refers in his conversation to two charismatic Christians as diverse as Martin Israel and Gladys Aylward (one an Anglican priest the other a lay woman) signals someone to be heard. He says he focuses ‘on the most fundamental aspects of the human condition...I am interested in the relation of contemporary art and religion, but do not recognise any shared language with which to discuss this – at least, not at the level that either discipline requires. I might be wrong, of course. In any case, my work is driven by this question.’ 

The exhibition offers visitors the opportunity to view the range of Mark Dean’s art works made over the past twenty years. This includes Experimental Religion – an audio recording of Gladys Aylward preaching mixed with Ingrid Bergman playing Aylward in a Hollywood biopic and How Can You Mend a Broken Heart linked with 1 Corinthians chapter 11 verses 23-26. There’s even a tempting still of the head and shoulders of Sid Vicious with his eyes shut entitled Open Your Eyes. What is there to resist?

Mark Dean’s exhibition The Beginning of the End will run until February 13.


OUTSIDE TATE MODERN Holland Street 29.11.10

One day, no doubt, we shall all delight in the new iconic building bringing more space for displays, study and leisure to Tate Modern. In the meantime you have to weave your way around the building works and dodge the traffic. To celebrate the beginning of this enterprise Swedish artist Martin Karlsson was invited to create London – an Imagery 2008-2009, drawings printed on weather-resistant vinyl attached to the 100-metre hoarding that encloses the works. Karlsson took as his starting point the engravings of Gustave Doré, who, with Blanchard Jerrold, produced a comprehensive portrait of the city – London, A Pilgrimage - published in 1872.

A River Side Street 2009 Pencil on paper
24.2 x 19.8 cm
I have passed these delightful and heartfelt pictures many, many times, feeling a glow of appreciation but not slowing my step. Why? Perhaps because everyone walks purposefully to or from the Tate on a narrow pavement. To stop and stare would mean people would have had to walk round me or step into the traffic.

Today I stop. And stare. They are pictures entitled Borough Market, Under the Arches, Bull Dogs and Poplar Dock. The drawings are blunt, to the point, and ineffably generous, even affectionate: the woman walking away with a bargain in her basket, the man whose dogs may have other things on their mind. But I have another inhibition to overcome: Tate visitors have Serious Cameras. I take out my cheap camera which I still don’t know how to use properly.  I take the wobbly photograph below.  

The figures often have their backs to us, which is how it should be, for they are Everywoman and Everyman going about their daily business, unaware of us.  A refreshing non-celebrity culture. They’re a celebration of the fact that each morning us Londoners open our front doors and step out in safety into a city where we mingle with tens of millions of  strangers, drawn from all over the world and speaking hundreds of languages. Occasional skulduggery and thuggery do happen, but here in Karlsson’s drawings is the true London.

After I’ve taken my photo I look around. Other people have stopped too. They are scattered along the pavement enjoying the drawings. A group with several cameras is poised in the road. Do we believe a thing is only worth looking at if someone thinks it’s worth photographing?

P.S. Don't miss the video clip of Karlsson talking about the project at  


Saturday, 27 November 2010



There was strong opposition to this window in the early days of planning. Houshiary, the artist who won the commission, commented 'The brief would challenge and test any work of art'. The design selected by the St Martin's Advisory Panel was rejected by the Parish Church Council and only accepted after not insignificant changes.  It took two years to get all the necessary permissions before the work could start.Opus Operandi, who oversaw the project on behald of the church, reflected that it was one of the most controversial commissions they'd handled. Now it appears that several of the strongest opponents are happy to tell the vicar publicly they were mistaken.

To see it if you are in Trafalgar Square, turn your back on Lord Nelson, the lions and the fountains and go up the steps into St Martins in the Fields church. At the east end behind the altar, holding the space most tenderly is Houshiary's window (made in collaboration with the architect Pip Horne). It replaces a window installed following World War II bomb damage and has been described as 'one of the most significant pieces of religious art  commissioned in modern times'.

The window is made up of small panes. The surprise is that there is no colour. The glass, held within a stainless steel framework, is made of mouth-blown clear panels etched on both sides with a subtle feathery pattern derived from Houshiary's paintings. The panels graduate from a periphery of more transparent glass to a denser, whiter centre. Slightly off centre is an elipse, lightly etched, which stands out as a stronger source of light. It's tilted slightly to one side and the tiny panes spread away to suggest a cross. If you stand below the window to one side and look up, the window appears to bend like a gentle wave - or a Bridget Riley painting or one of Anish Kapoors' mystical sculptures.

 The leaflet at the back of the church says that the Old Testament story of Jacob's Ladder was a possible starting point. The ladder linked heaven and earth by standing firmly on the ground while touching heaven ,and angels were busily engaged in going up and down. So too here in the church light floods through and gives us a shadowy image of the world outside: some trees, a grey building, dissolving the barrier beteen inside and outside. The glass itself seems to be reacting with the light outside, so that it shimnes and glimmers, dulls and glows. It's hard to put into words.
 'For me there's no distinction between consecrated space and other spaces, as I feel the whole world is a sacred space.' (Shirazeh Houshiary)

Thursday, 25 November 2010



I’m standing in the middle of a poppy field. To be fair, it’s more of a rectangular space drenched in floor-to-ceiling videos of poppy fields. And not poppy fields as you and I know them: cheery, scarlet carpets ruffled by the wind. For a start the poppies are as tall as I am, or taller. Each stalk, stiff as a ram rod, is topped by a tightly packed bomb full of seeds. There are a few petals left fluttering, like white flags of surrender. Despite what the picture shows, the colours are mostly faded bronze, khaki and sleepy grey-greens. As you can see, any person in front of you throws a ghostly shadow on the screen. The images float in and out of focus. It is very powerful. There is a folding stool in case you feel the need for a little sit down...

The Wellcome Collection - - has an enviable reputation for mounting world-class exhibitions. High Society examines mind-altering drugs, past and present, reminding us that over the millennia human beings have been vastly imaginative in their use of them: as medicines, sacraments, status symbols, to investigate the brain, to inspire works of art, to encounter the divine, or simply as an escape. And drug users have variously been described as sinners, weak-willed, criminals, deranged or diseased. The show also addresses our current anxiety as to whether, in the light of history, we are in the grip of an unprecedented level of addiction – or not? 

There are at least three ways of enjoying High Society.

The Joshua Light Show will please those who appreciate an approach which is both aesthetic and visceral. Their videos are kinetic sculptures of great beauty and power. 

The pragmatist and historian can pore over documents, instruments and paraphernalia like Coleridge's 'Kubla Khan' manuscript; a description of a ship’s crew's experiments with Bhang - a cannabis drink - in 17th-century Bengal; a bottle of cocaine eye drops; and a hallucinogenic snuff set from the Amazon.

For those who can take their information neat there is a further art work: Painkillers by David McCandless  It’s a wall map which at first sight looks like a calm pastel Mondrian painting but turns out to be a lucid, elegant and pleasurable way of answering more questions about the world-wide economics and distribution of drug use than you knew you had. To see more examples of this kind of work go to

High Society runs until  February 27. Mike Jay the co-curator has written an illustrated book. 

Saturday, 20 November 2010



Where is the picture?

           Alas, this is the first time I have had difficulty in getting permission to reproduce an image with the correct attributions and without charge. The Hockney Foundation requires a fee of $150. This blog is run on a moneyless economy. The good news is that you can see the picture for nothing in every bookshop in the land, because it’s on page 634 of Neil MacGregor’s brilliant book The History of the World in 100 Objects :Or go to the BBC website of the Radio4 series :

Or cross the courtyard of the British Museum, up the steps and into the lift at the back of the building and see the real thing on the fourth floor in Room 90: 

I chose In The Dull Village because it’s a landmark image for this country.  It was a courageous act to publish it in 1967, just as Parliament passed the Sexual Offences Act decriminalising homosexuality. It’s a decorous picture of two young naked men lying side by side in bed, covered by a blanket up to their waist, one of a series of etchings inspired by the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy who found inspiration in an ancient Greek world where love between men was an accepted part of life. 
I’m also intrigued by the wider question of what beds are for when artists put them into pictures. Sleep, rest and talk is what most people in bed do, for most of their time there. But as Tom Lubbock pointed out in The Independent, when artists signal a bed you can usually be sure there’s trouble ahead: seduction, revenge, a passing god surprising lovers when they’d rather hoped no one had noticed, a passing assassin with a dagger, someone wanly dying - or just plain dead. But Toulouse-Lautrec's The Bed, painted in 1893, shows two young people, probably women, looking warm and snug under masses of heavy bedding, somewhere deep and safe, just drifting off... It’s a beautiful picture, as is In The Dull Village, both celebrating everyday life and loves and friendship.



Mysterious as shadows ten carved, larger-than-life wooden figures crowd together behind a young man carrying an older man on his back. They stand on a low wooden platform. 
For centuries the church used art to transmit a tightly controlled message. Not any longer. Pacheco’s title refers to the story of Aeneas rescuing his father from the ruin of Troy and the work is multi-layered and ambiguous. Perhaps it’s a story of asylum seekers? Or maybe it’s speaking to society’s contemporary terror of ageing, depicting how we are all forced to carry around the seeds of our own decay?

Pacheco grew up in Brazilian streets where polychrome statues were paraded at religious festivals: She knows she creates visceral art, not dependent on any one intellectual conceit. She invites an active response from each viewer. Indeed she seems to implicate us. Why not walk around this untidy group, she seems to say. This is more here than theatrical artifice or melodrama.

You could say the central figure is Everyman. Or John Bunyan’s Pilgrim. Eyes down, alert, concentrating on the next step, he suggests fortitude, resilience, courage, Could he be an Amnesty poster? The older man who gets a piggy-back, like a child, is vulnerable, dependent, poignant. The two men are trapped in an unknown predicament. Their vulnerable bodies hint at some tragedy and remind the viewer afresh how strange it is that one human being can hurt another. The sculpture’s earthiness fits the Christian tradition which makes the heavenly manifest in the here and now.

When I move on to walk round the group and gaze up at individual figures, I think  Tolstoy and Dickens. But there’s no single narrative here: each character is locked in their own history. Their stories may be tender, powerful, frightening or compassionate – the absence of gestures means there are few clues.  But you can feel the controlled violence. With parted lips as if to cry aloud, one man stares at father and son. Is he sounding the alarm? Or shouting abuse? A woman turns her head away, but she is rooted to the spot. The onyx eyes of another shine brightly. Could it be tears?
In earlier sculptures Pacheco used nails as hair, referring to a Congo belief that nails are hiding places for people’s souls. Some figures here have porcelain teeth made by dental technicians. The skin tone is achieved by blending an emulsion on the surface, like make up, working fast with cotton wool buds. The art critic James Hall talks of sculpture now being closer to play, bringing in real objects and non-art processes. They connect with the viewer’s real world, closing the gap between art and artifice. 

A decade ago the crowds thronged Trafalgar Square when Pacheco showed her amazing Dark Night of the Soul at the National Gallery. Now the tens of thousands of travellers from all parts of the world who daily pour in and out of Waterloo station opposite St John’s Church, have a chance of encountering a work which is equally powerful and exhilerating. George Szirtes, writing in Modern Painters, says Pacheco ‘offers no contract, no solution to a deeply wary and disbelieving world’. But, he continues, she helps us to live in a world ‘where there are no black and white moral issues heroes’.A church is probably not a bad place to reflect on this.

Post Script:
A few years ago at a Tate seminar I asked why Pacheco’s sculpture was not represented. After a couple of not-very-interesting replies Marina Warner came to my rescue, saying to the panel effectively, ‘Come off it, this is a serious question. Plenty of foreign born artists have made it over here. Carrington’s sculpture is not represented at the Tate, nor Leonora Tanning who was a major surrealist. The trouble is that irony is not present in their works. And nowadays knowingness is endemic. Pacheco does not fit the current fashion’.

Thanks, St John’s, for bringing her back to London. 

Monday, 15 November 2010



I first saw Marclay’s work in 2002 as part of Mike Ricketts’ Art Now course at Tate Modern. Video Quartet is a collage of synchronised film clips transferred to colour video and audio track on four huge screens standing side by side. Marclay uses either the original music/voice/sound effects or inserts other found sound, such as car horns, tapping feet and glasses being filled with water. It begins quietly with tuning up, moves into a crescendo, then cacophony and finally calm. The music is said to suggest 'the poetry & chaos of contemporary life, personal & anonymous, free & suppressed’. When I went back later people were having a great time dancing in the gallery.
This month Marclay has been back in town.  The White Cube Gallery - - which lurks in Mason’s Yard, Piccadilly, is the sort of building which amplifies whatever state-of-mind you bring to it. On good days it’s as fresh, exhilarating and breath-taking as an ocean gale.  You reel around as if on a deck awash with new ideas.  Today it’s just a square of  cold steel, concrete and glass stripped of colour, sharp edges and corners, bare walls and lots of steps to climb and re-climb (lift not working), plus reception staff  who, for reasons known only to themselves,  have hit on the device of pretending no one’s there.

Down, down into the basement and a pitch black cinema. A charming young man with a torch offers to find me a seat.  I can no more call him an ‘usher’ - with its hint of trays loaded with choc ice cream and pop corn  - then I can designate  the large comfy settees scattered randomly over the floor as ‘cinema seats’, for they do not tip up and are neither  scanty nor hard as a rock.

There is no starting time for Marclay’s 24 hour video. 'The Clock' is a collage of thousands of fragments of cinema at moments when time is expressed or a character interacts with a clock, watch or anything telling the time. They are woven together so that they flow in real time: I know I arrived at 10am exactly because it said so on the screen. But swiftly it’s a few seconds past 10 and I’m caught up in a vast current of narratives, settings and moods within the space of a few minutes. Time and place unravel all over the screen: b/w and colour, film noir and Tony Hancock; tenderness and cruelty lie cheek by jowl. Some events are more  clock-dependent than others so heists, job interviews, funerals and kidnapping are more popular than ,say, childbirth, marriage proposals or heart attacks. It’s bracing stuff.

Normally I go to a cinema and consent to be transported by a narrative (or non-narrative) anywhere at any time: past, present or future. When I come out I may be surprised that it’s dark or raining, as if I had expected my real time to be suspended. With The Clock the position is reversed. The viewer’s time is rooted in the here and now and is as predictable as ever, but it is stuffed full of countless fictional events -  punctuated by stabs of personal memories of films and actors and settings already known - which appear to be going on while she is sitting in the cinema. As I said it’s bracing stuff.


There’s nothing stealthy or sleazy about private viewings, simply the chance to see art with a free glass of wine the day before the exhibition is open to everyone. Agreed the wine might improve the chances of a sale – I recall at the same gallery in the 90s sitting in a roof garden when the summer sale was on, and buying The Upside Down Chair 1966  by Pamela Izzard, a large oil painting all 60s oranges and blues which has hung in my various kitchens ever since and is loved more and more each day.

I arrive at the Abbott and Holder Gallery at noon, the very minute the show is due to open, and climb several flights of stairs. I know of Mungo McCosh as an illustrator - Out of the Woods  and An Alphabet of Aunts. (I later discovered he’d painted the rood screen in the Crimean Memorial Church in Instanbul and in 2007 was an embedded artist with the Argyll and Sutherland Regiment in Basra - but those I am not likely to ever visit). So I’m surprised to walk straight into a room full of beautiful linocuts. Then it happens. This picture jumps out at me. I’m a sitting target, having once built an installation of (empty) golden syrup tins on the window sill when  I moved into my new office, to remind me of life outside.

The artist himself greets me. The idea for Mire and Clay came from a conversation with a cousin in the kitchen making biscuits. When asked, she said she’d like a painting of a hungry lion. Here it is. I know almost nothing about linocuts and when he began to describe what goes into making such a beautiful picture I became dizzy at the thought of so many processes.

Why is it called Mire and Clay, I ask? Tate and Lyle tins have a text which runs along the lower half of the white egg-shape encircling the lion. It’s from the Old Testament:
 ‘Out of the strong came forth sweetness, (Judges chapter 14, v 14) and is indelibly fixed in the minds of countless small children who ask at the breakfast table what on earth the lion thinks he’s doing..
But here we have a verse from the Psalms, which in a modern translation runs like this:
 ‘He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along’. ( Psalm 40 v 2).
‘Clay’ instead of ‘mud’ comes from the King James translation.

‘My’ picture is number 2 of an edition of 30. Why did I buy it? Because it is a beautiful work of art; because I could (just) afford it; because it’s witty; because it reminds me of warmth and food and being cared for; because it glows as brightly as the Bible text which speaks of quiet and confident and hopeful footsteps.  

Wednesday, 10 November 2010



I'm cheating here because I haven't seen this art, only pictures of it on the above website. When I go out I try to keep my eyes down, but no luck so far.

Ben Wilson paints miniature pictures on chewing gum stuck firmly to the pavement, having first prepared his ‘canvas’ to make it more durable by applying heat and lacquer.  Old gum is best having no moisture and presenting a good flat surface. Each one may take from a couple of hours to days to paint. Some are abstract, some are representational and may refer to people or places in the neighbourhood. They belong to no one and there’s no plaque nearby to tell you what they stand for. The more people are creative in their environment, Wilson believes, the more they’ll feel responsibility for it.

On screen the pictures look like bright little cameos which should lift the hearts on any passerby. Unless of course they feel that making something special out of second hand chewing gum is disgusting. There’s a question as to whether he can be charged with criminal damage too, though, as he reasonably points out, the damage has already been done by the person who spat out the gum.  

The Royal Society of Chemistry is exploring the possibility of commissioning him to paint depictions of each of the 118 known elements.

Monday, 8 November 2010


 pencil, 47.5 x 62.5 cm
                                                 JERWOOD SPACE, LONDON 8.11.10
This drawing was shortlisted  for this year’s Jerwood Drawing Prize (which goes on tour in 2011). One critic wrote ‘Nina Fowler has produced a beautiful drawing of three women, Submission, in sharply defined pencil relief. What is their connection? We shall never know why they look so yearning’.

I can well believe there are cultural references which escape me every day but at face value this one looks simple: Rudolph Valentine (1895 – 1926), Clark Gable (1901 – 1960), and Marlon Brando (1924-2004) are film idols who span the 20th century when a new sort of fame became available to performers through cinema. It crossed continents and lasted tens of years, not tens of months. When Valentino died aged 31 there were riots and hysterical collapses and wild rumours about secret outside malevolence, something not unknown in this country not so long ago. The artist herself has produced Valentino’s Funeral, a collection of pencil and graphite drawings of the movie gods and goddesses of the Hollywood age who attended.

So here we have three beautiful portraits - like frames from a film - of women filled with yearning for their pop idol, a yearning which can never be satisfied. On the left is blind tearful adoration, a woman rising up to assure us that she is intends to be left comfortless.  On the right an enigmatic woman lies on her belly, waiting.  The woman at the centre looks back into the picture, warm and safe, passive and patient. While a camera gives us flesh and blood and oil gives us permanence, a mere pencil makes these portraits ethereal, full of space. Three Titanias, perhaps?

These women do not have their feet on the ground.  They are all lying on some sort of bed or couch which are things that in real life most people use for most of the time as a place for sleeping or talking. But in art you rarely get beds without sexual intent: if that’s absent the subject is likely to be lying there wanly dying or just plain dead. Women lying on beds or the floor have been widely used in advertising too.

So sexual intent is registered but why is the title Submission? Fowler is after something stronger than vague girlish longings which easily vanish. These women cannot free themselves from the allure. They adore, they empty themselves, they are glad to be passive victims. In real life submission is not pretty or charming or even fun. It’s deeply serious. It has financial and political implications. In the wrong hands it can have terrible consequences. 

What are these pretty girls doing? Will anyone draw them in 10 years’ time?

Friday, 5 November 2010


© Mary McCartney

Three women are present in this picture: the subject Tracey Emin; the woman she’s ‘impersonating’ the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo; and Mary McCartney the photographer. It’s part of the display of photographs by Mary McCartney called FROM WHERE I STAND’ which is at the National Portrait Gallery until 13.2.11. 
 McCartney’s interest in photography began when assisting her mother, Linda McCartney. She became a professional photographer in 1995. FROM WHERE I STAND is a collection from her archive of informal portraits of old friends, family and famous people.

You could be forgiven for thinking that we have enough portraits of celebrities to be going on with...and yet what a multi-faceted gem this is.

Frida Kahlo, a Mexican artist who lived in the first half of the last century, was once described as ‘a ribbon around a bomb’, which I think is a pretty good summing up of this portrait of Tracey Emin. Here she is, like Kahlo all flowers and frills, bejewelled, in virginal white, lying in bed. Yet we know both of them as artists of exceptional anger, honesty and vitality, untouched by self pity or humility.
Freda Kahlo
In both cases their art displayed their life history. Emin became famous overnight with her unmade bed at Tate Britain; her tent entitled Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995 ; and her moving video ‘Why I never became a Dancer’ . She uses text, paintings, embroidery, video and installations to re create her past. Sometimes her work is funny, often tragic. Kahlo’s paintings include terrible depictions of the pain endured from her teens onward after a traffic accident which broke her body. The medical help of the time tortured her further with surgical interventions, corsets and mechanical "stretching" systems.  Living in a deeply macho world with her philandering husband, Diego Rivera, a man of great fame and ferocious artistic energy, didn’t help either.
McCartney’s portrait magically conjures up these two women’s  uncompromising depiction of what they experience as women. A former Bishop of Bristol used to talk of ‘telling it slant’ when it came to important things, because straightforward words and pictures fall short. Emin’s face is wary, like a mask. Her neck seems tense. She gives nothing away. So we look to the setting, the artefacts for clues.  Kahlo used teardrops, thorns, nails and arterial red ribbons with psychological intent.This sort of work made more sense to me when I heard a Tate lecturer suggest that Emin’s unmade bed was the latest (visual) contribution to a long European tradition of confessional writing by young women. Some people have suggested that such self-portraits could be compared to religious icons.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010



The Jerwood Drawing Prize, sponsored by Parker Harris, is the largest and longest running annual open exhibition for drawing in the UK, open to anyone resident or domiciled here. I first call in to see this year’s prize winners and shortlist too early, before the exhibition has been properly hung. Any excuse for visiting the Jerwood Space. I have a cup of tea. An empty cafe: 28 chic white chairs standing guard in groups of 4 round immaculate tables. It’s Friday at 3.30 – why isn’t everyone partying ready for the weekend? The floor is black, the counter is black. Only chrome glistens. My white cup of tea comes in an asymmetric saucer, which is a good device for making you notice it, as it easily spills. Outside on the terrace with its white floor, white chairs and white bunting, a solitary man is eating a pink ice cream. Pity he didn’t choose vanilla. 

2 ink pencil and charcoal on Arches Velin crème 65.8x.85.5

When I call back later  Northerly Migration  catches my attention. A small image cannot convey the subtlety of this beautiful drawing. What look like slightly powdery tadpoles at first glance are all travelling in the same direction to the top of the sheet of paper, Immediately there is a glimpse of a story - where did they come from and what happens when they get to the top? I find I care about these peaceful travellers, heading off in pairs or groups or making a solitary journey. Sometimes the line of the mesh shows through their bodies giving the little creatures an eerie transparency. And anyhow, they’re us really, aren’t they? 

What immediately springs to my mind is the 1983 film Koyaanisqatsi , with its haunting evocative score by Philip Glass. In the Hopi language the word Koyaanisqatsi means "crazy life, life out of balance, a state of life that calls for another way of living".  It was the first time I’d seen aerial views – which is what Davies’ drawing is – of multitudes of human beings,  speeded up, slow motion,  in cars, on escalators,  Like the drawing, the film is speech-less.Godfrey Reggio, the Director, justifies the lack of dialogue:  ‘it's not for lack of love of the language that (this) film has no words. It's because, from my point of view, our language is in a state of vast humiliation’. 

This drawing has a calm, mesmerising and thought-provoking quality, as well as reminding us that drawing is still alive and well doing what no other art form can manage.
 ‘I need to be as surprised by what I create as much as anyone else that may see it. It's that 'internal travel' experience of not knowing what's around the next corner that keeps me enthralled by the whole process of making art’.DAVID DAVIES

Monday, 1 November 2010


Where is the art in this?
Nothing in the room except about 20 'poster paintings' round the wall, each one comprising perhaps 10 or 12 layers of old and battered posters piled on top of one another, the top layer completely message-free.  The caption says that they are found posters, topped by a blank sheet painted white, and held stiffly together by wheat paste. I find I want to pick at the stiff curled and bent edges of the posters which tease me with a glimpse of scraps of colour and writing. What have I missed? A circus? A film? A Two-For-One ticket offer?

Why did Liden do it? She’s been described as a space hacker. She is a Swedish artist and has done this in real life too by pasting blank paper over advertising hoardings in Copenhagen. She ‘rethinks the places we inhabit and builds spaces that deviate from their normal functions’.  By breaking into our patterned expectations , our ‘default’ position, and then creating ‘nothing’ does she shows us what is missing? A blank space might leave room for thoughts and feelings we normally keep at arm’s length.  

An axe tied to a piece of string hangs from the pulley above the door into another room.  Here Unheimlich Manover ‘explores the psychological and physical space we inhabit’. It consists of everything in her apartment : cratesbookslaptophammockjeansflaskduffelbagtinsfridge, squashed together on metal shelves slung on scaffolding   All is sprayed black and the paint lightly splashes  the walls beside it. It’s the black of the negative of a photograph. Or it could be the charred remains of a fire.

Liden  says her aim is ‘to divert materials or spaces from their prescribed functions, inventing ways of making these things improper again’. She makes me think of Michael Landy with his immensely powerful installation Break Down , when he hired the redundant and empty C & A store in Oxford Street in 2001 for a few weeks in order to destroy everything he owned. Ten workers filled and refilled a conveyor belt with his stuff, reducing each item to its basic materials and then shredding it. Mass production in reverse.  They included the irreplaceable like family documents and valuable paintings, his own as well as gifts from friends.  At the end all that was left were bags of rubbish, none of which were sold or exhibited. As we watched mesmerised, above our heads slogans left by C & A urged us to spend and be happy.

Is Liden’s work antisocial and chaotic or is she ‘purposeful, (disrupting) our shared and accepted social norms with a focused radical energy? And Michael Landy?