Thursday, 27 February 2014


WHITE CUBE, BERMONDSEY, until 15th April 2014
Tank 2011-2013 © He Xiangyu Photo: Ben Westoby
Courtesy White Cube
I am by nurture, if not by nature, a rule-keeper rather than a rule-breaker, so was surprised to hear a voice from behind urging me not to touch the exhibit. It's something I don't do. But I had walked straight into this large gallery and instinctively stretched out my hand because I could not believe my eyes. Here is a life-sized military tank, a crumpled, defeated monster, sucked of air and vigour, its huge, hungry, flaccid proboscis sliding across the floor. What is it made of?

The touch was worth the risks of infringement, for this war-weapon (890x 600x150cm) is made entirely of  soft, luxury Italian leather. You want to stroke it as if it were a pet - or perhaps a wickedly expensive handbag. The work was  hand-sewn by an entire factory of women needle workers, specially trained by the artist, and took two years to create. It is both an explicitly political as well as a deeply introspective and personal work by an artist who currently lives and works in Beijing.

Also on display is He Xaingyu's Coca Cola. For this work the artist boiled down 127 tons of the drink over the course of a year. What looks like geological remains inside 3 display  cases are heaped mounds of the soft drink residue. By subjecting the products of western consumer culture to a profound process of material transformation, the artist comments on the effects of that culture on contemporary China. 
Tank also reminds me of  a work by a Turner Prize nominee which I saw at the Imperial War Museum  in 2010. (See Blog 9). Baghdad, 5 March, 2007 is a work by Jeremy Deller made of a compressed tangle of twisted metal he'd salvaged from a suicide attack on the historic Al-Mutanabbi street book market in Baghdad, which killed 38 people. Al-Mutanabbi, who lived in the 10C, is said by some to be the greatest Arab poet, and the attack was seen as a war on culture as well as a war on human beings. Nearby in the Museum were some of the most deadly weapons of the past 100 years, including a Jagdpanther (Hunting Panther), once the most efficient tank-destroyer in the world. 

Sunday, 23 February 2014


at the WHITE CUBE, BERMONDSEY until April 13th

Fullmoon@Cape Verde 2013 © Darren Almond
Courtesy White Cube
I first saw Darren Almond's work in 2001 when his Night as Day exhibition at Tate Britain captured and intensified time  in a way I'd never experienced before. He was responding to places in the Chamonix landscape immortalised by J M W Turner, and to other iconic sites chosen by John Constable and Paul Cezanne These artists rendered what they saw moment by moment as they were painting. Time was an actual lived experience. Almond on the other hand shoots colour photographs during full moon using long exposures. Each single frame of exposure  allows the experience of time to be captured and intensified. The result is a world previously unseen by the human eye - a world of night made light. Almond's photographs capture and intensify time

In 2005 Almond wrote that his 'photographs are intentionally concerned with memory and chance, with mobilising light and time'. He goes on to say that 'the choice of locations -  zones outside the  urban, untouched by artificial lighting - continue the legacy of Romantic paintings'.
Laurentia 2012 Cast bronze and paint © Darren Almond
Photo: Jack Hems Courtesy White Cube
His new works at the White Cube Bermondsey- the Fullmoon and Present Form series - have taken Almond to every continent over the past 13 years. In Patagonia, Tasmania, Cape Verde and the Outer Hebrides Almond explores time, geology, myth and history. Here in Cape Verde (geographically speaking a comparatively young upstart) rough black stones emerge from a heavenly blue Atlantic Ocean. The rocks are solidified larva and bear evidence of their own formation. What has been described as a 'seemingly diabolic landscape' is also beautiful and arresting, mysterious and eerily empty.

The photographs are complemented by words on the wall of the corridor outside the galleries. Suddenly the viewer/reader is placed centre stage 'somewhere between the fire of the rock and the fire of the sun' by sparse, simple words of great beauty. It feels a privilege to be there.

P.S. Laurentia is the name of an ancient continent incorporating much of what is now North America and Greenland.

FULL MOON by Darren Almond will be published by Taschen in March.


Friday, 21 February 2014


 ART FIRST, 21 Eastcastle St, London, W1W 8DD, until March 22

 Shangri-La, 2013, watercolour on paper, 35x50cm (c) artist
I place in your hands, (2013) 109 x14cm,
Shangri-La is a fictional place described in Lost Horizon, a 1932 best-seller  by James Hilton, later made into a Frank Capra film. It's a mystical, harmonious valley, an earthly paradise where people lived years beyond their normal span. ageing very slowly. Walk down streets like Kimberley Road, Lowestoft  40 or 50 years ago and you were  likely to see the words on  a small wooden plaque naming some of the neat  bungalows and semi-detached houses owned by the retired. (The next most popular name was Dunromin (Done Roaming)). Nowadays you may  still  find the name painted on a beach hut in Southwold or somewhere else offering peace and pleasure.

What is Shangri-La doing in an art gallery?
Its message sharpens the poignancy of other darker art works in the show. For this show is entitled Lost Horizon and chronicles our search in vain for a Utopia. Paintings, scrolls, videos, mirrors, word lists, collage, etched crystal glass all invite us to reflect on  our dream of a perfect society. 

This particular art work looks like a collage but is in fact a beautiful trompe d'oeil painting of discarded flora  and prunings from the artist's small balcony garden in South Korea.The accompanying notes remind us that "The search for paradise begins, and ends, at home".

The work on the right is embellished with gold vinyl lettering spelling out its title, I place in your hands, a fragment of dialogue from Lost Horizon. Postcards like these are still sent as friendly, perhaps tantalising, tokens from remote and desirable places. Many of the other exhibits are not so benign. A work in ink on Chinese linen To Be Governed lists some words taken from the writings of the 19C anarchist Proudhon: "taxed, stamped, forbidden, corrected, punished, spied on, choked, sacrificed..."

The artist tells us that the show refers to his new home in Seoul, close to the Utopian construct of North Korea. He writes ' ...a few dozen miles north lies a monstrous nation ...its leaders persist in the most absurdly ruinous and barbaric attempt to realise Shangri-La'.  (by Simon Morley, 2003)
The Sublime, a book edited by Simon Morley and  published by Whitechapel Gallery 

Saturday, 15 February 2014


Martin Creed   The lights going on and off 2000
Photo: Tate Photography    © Martin Creed

TATE BRITAIN - THE ARTIST'S ROOM until April 20th 2014

'Every picture tells a story...' But not in this case. Side by side we have two images of the same room, one with the lights on, the other off. How exciting is that? 

Martin Creed asks us to question everyday actions and expectations. Here, in a national art gallery we are standing in an empty room. Although Tate Britain and Tate Modern have a monumental collection of works of art, not a single painting or sculpture or installation is to be found. Instead the artist has adapted existing light fittings to fill the space with a perpetual cycle of movement between light and darkness every five seconds. 

He's challenging our idea of 'on display'. We expect art to be there in the gallery, dumb, passive, awaiting our judgement, our understanding and appreciation. Someone has probably spent hours, years, a lifetime in its creation. Someone else has decided that it is worth all that. Here we are invited to ask if art can be produced by doing almost nothing at all, just switching some light fittings, which is not beyond the capability of many people.

The room floods with light, then goes dark. Is that all? Our sense of time and space is disrupted.  We become aware of our presence in the room.  What is the protocol? We question our role as viewer. And what can we reasonably expect from the artist? He has commented 'My work is 50% what I make and 50% what the viewer makes of it'.

Martin Creed’s output is diverse. The Lights Going On And Off  was shown when Creed won the Turner Prize in 2001.  At Tate Britain in 2008 he presented the Duveen Commission Work No. 850. Every 30 seconds a person ran as fast as they could through the entire length of the Duveen galleries. Each run was followed by an equivalent pause, during which the gallery was empty.

Until April 27th 2014 the Hayward Gallery at the Southbank is showing What The Point Of It?,  ‘the first major survey of Turner Prize-winning artist Martin Creed’s playful, thought-provoking art’. You will need a ticket for this. 

Monday, 3 February 2014


TIMOTHY TAYLOR GALLERY, London, until March 6th
Pink on the Inside  2013 Cut armchair, paint, linen, glazed ceramic 90 x 84 x 84 cm T008963
(c) Jessica Jackson Hutchins; Courtesy, Timothy Taylor Gallery, London
Rarely does an armchair get a chance of being an artwork. Armchairs (like couches, several of which are also in this exhibition) are usually props where maidens and mistresses languish. Or they may be useful in providing stiff horsehair upholstery where family groups sit in uncomfortable rank. They may even be relegated to fill an awkward space in an interior composition. 

But Jessica Jackson Hutchins takes a found arm chair which bears the marks of time, and persuades it to offer up its a unique history.  Pink on the Inside is  a hybrid. The artist mixes furniture and paint, found objects with those that are  thoughtfully crafted. It is not just  an armchair. It also acts as a plinth to a ceramic sculpture, a crumpled vessel so sinuous it appears to have been poured or slung over the back of the chair.The sheer physicality of the irregularities and bulges of the sculpture, the way they twist and turn, are disturbing. Where is the exquisite perfection of the curves and planes with which ceramics is usually burdened?  

The bright pink is a shock. It draws our attention to the innards of the chair, the bits we don’t normally care to look at. The chair is undressed. It seems rude to stare. The phrase ‘pink on the inside’ has sexual undertones: it’s also how some people want their steak cooked. Meat like chicken left ‘pink on the inside’ can cause havoc.  The artist explores the relationships between people and objects and how they form and inform each other.  She fuses public and private moments, creating a giddy sense of the mystery of humdrum, repetitive, quotidian life.

Two Hearts 2013 Acrylic on armchair, shirts, glazed ceramics,
93 x 92 x 70 cm  T008969
(c) Jessica Jackson Hutchins; Courtesy, Timothy Taylor Gallery, London


Two Hearts  is soft and curvy; its arms are open ready to enfold. The colours of the upholstery melt lazily into each other, stunning shades of earth and water. Its fabric looks silky, made perhaps of ‘plush’, a gentle material with a nap not unlike that of velvet. It would be pleasant to touch (as if I would dare). And what can we infer from the shirt and T shirt absent-mindedly draped over the back? Is the sculpture a stand-in for a real occupant who one day might have slumped onto its cushions?

In 2010 Hutchins made a work Kitchen Table Allegory (not in this exhibition) by turning her family’s old table into a printing press. She applied ink to the surface and used it like a woodblock, letting its scratches and scrapes reveal the story of its daily use. The art critic Colin Lang writes in a recent publication that she is an archivist, different from most in that she excavates the present.