Wednesday, 23 July 2014


MEDICI GALLERY until Aug 23rd
Summer Show

Self Deception by Pippa Young

The title might suggest that the girl is partly wrapped in her own thoughts, a sort of protective carapace, though the fabric is  quite soft and pale and translucent. It might even suggest that the artist knows more of the truth than the subject of the painting. Through the title she's the one who judges her subject's response to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. But she is careful to say that her works are not psychological studies. They are 'not intended to be portraits of individual people...rather they are a metaphor for something more universal... The figure is meant to communicate directly with the viewer and the absence of context allows it to occupy its own objective space, timeless and unadorned'. 

Indeed, complicated and convoluted as the girl's garment is, we can see right through it. She herseslf herself exists with head bowed, eyes averted, all in soft, beautiful melted greys and greens.  It is a picture a great poignancy and tenderness. There is nothing in the  background, no manipulation, no clues or pointers as to how we the viewers should develop our thoughts.  We are free to make our own connections, form our own interpretations and perhaps ponder how the artist might paint our own protective carapace of self deception.

The artist writes 'My aim is to express something of the transience and vulnerability of the human condition as well as the surreal and fragmented nature of the world around us'. 

Tuesday, 22 July 2014


MEDICI GALLERY until Aug 31st
Summer Show

Waterloo Shadows by Anna Simmons
Once upon a time artists chose to paint the cool, dreamy, ornate interiors of cathedrals; now we are more likely to be confronted with different stark architectural spaces, in this case a railway station and a museum. 

More than 90 million passengers pass  through Waterloo Station each year. They travel up and down on any of its 23 escalators. Outside is the busiest bus station in the country. Inside disembodied voices and flashing electronic notices shepherd crowds round to where we ought to be. Not exactly a place for a spot of quiet conversation or contemplation? But Anna Simmons'  diminutive figures in shadowy groups are preoccupied with matters canvas cannot reach.
Pinakothec Munich by Anna Simmons

She selects vast buildings which speak of change,  fragmentation and 'otherness'. Light is a sparkling metaphor infiltrating their dark interiors, illuminating geometric patterns. Her work is life-affirming. It is said it speaks of  'some gently persistent inner self that will not be is always looking for it, unaware that it has been present all along'.

If you like railway stations, here are three suggestions: Audio Obscura, Blog 115, is a sound work which occupied the middle of the concourse of St Pancras. Artist, poet and novelist Lavinia Greenlaw devised 'dark listening', an aural version of the camera obscura. Special ear phones were on offer which overheard tiny snatches of conversation and a glimpse into other worlds. Then there is a conceptual work: David Batchelor's  I Love Kings Cross and King's Cross Loves Me (Blog 105), Thirdly, Alex Cave's  Kings Cross , Blog 67, is energising, optimistic and innovative. Some of his work is also  currently on show at the Medici Gallery. And while I was writing his blog it was reliably reported in the  newspapers that a tame ferret alighted on a Scottish platform having caught the train at Kings Cross. 
No wonder paintings of railway stations remind us of life's possibilities. 

Monday, 14 July 2014


TATE BRITAIN: BP Walk through British Art

In the 80s Mona Hatoum became known for her performance and video pieces, which often used her own body as a site for exploring the fragility and strength of the human condition under duress. Here she is shown walking barefoot through the streets of Brixton in South London, with Doc Marten boots - usually worn by police and skinheads - attached to her ankles by their laces. To walk through dirty sticky city streets barefoot is bad enough. But to be shackled, as animals and birds are sometimes shackled to prevent their escape, is the stuff of nightmares – or at least of fairy tales. Those Big Bulbous Black Boots have a life of their own, tumbling and clattering at her heels, never letting go, as if inhabited and animated by invisible monsters.

Mona Hatoum has a reputation for confrontational  themes: violence, oppression and voyeurism. Her video presentation Corps 'etranger (Foreign Body) was shortlisted for the Turner prize  a decade later in 1995. It featured the eye of a medical camera journeying through her body, harsh technology intruding into soft tissues. It’s said that she had to get a doctor from the Pompidou Centre to help, as no one here would do an endoscopy for a non-medical or non-research purpose. As I viewed it, standing inside a white tubular column seeing and hearing the sights and sounds of pulsating channels propelled by peristalsis, was I a voyeuristic ‘foreign body’ inside the artist?

There is more. Hatoum was born in Beirut, to a Palestinian family and attended Beirut University College from 1970 to 1972. She came to Britain as a student in the mid-1970s, settling in London in 1975 when civil war in the Lebanon made her return home impossible. The Turner Prize catalogue suggests ‘On another level,  the artist herself,  as both woman and exile, could be regarded as a ‘foreign body’ by a patriarchal European culture’. 

My absolute favourite work of hers is reviewed in my Blog 48. Mouli-Julienne (x21) is a dramatically enlarged 1960s vegetable shredder.  You stand there like Alice in Wonderland looking up at something which is a bit like a huge black prancing horse. At your feet are three discs with multiple cutting & shredding edges, each 2 metres in diameter. I was flooded with memory: I used this type of shredder to convert grown up food into pureed baby food, scorning tins & jars from shops. Later came my anthropological take: how all humans convert nature into culture. We break off bits of the earth & chop, shred, peel, core, mash, wash, bake, braise, stew, grill those bits even if it’s not entirely necessary from a nutritional aspect.

 Mona Hatoum says ‘ you first experience an artwork physically. Meanings, connotations & associations come after the initial physical experience'. 
Yes, she's right. 
To see Mouli Julienne go to Blog 48 or to this site:
For an overview of Walk Through British Art at Tate Modern see:

Sunday, 13 July 2014


at the PANGOLIN GALLERY until August 23rd

Human Connections, Main Figure, 1990, Bronze, Cement and Wood, 107 cm high x 113cm wide, photo by Steve Russell
This is probably the largest piece in the exhibition (see Blog 292 for two other works). From a distance it wouldn't look out of place in a cathedral as a memorial tomb to some grandee, surrounded by protective railing. Go close up and peer down at the vulnerable contents. For a moment it becomes a child's cot. (See Ken Currie's Steel Cot (Blog 247)). 

Human Connections,  1990, Bronze, Cement and Wood, 107 cm high x 113 cm wide, photo by Steve Russell
The foot and ankle are the first recognisable  indications that we are looking at the depiction of a corpse buried in debris. A number of battlefield still lives in the exhibition were inspired by what was exposed in the early 70s by a JCB in a section of the front line near La Boiselle: fish tins, a knife and fork, medical instruments and bottles saw the light of day after 60 years. They are a poignant illustration of what the poet Wilfred Owen called 'the pity of war and the pity war distills'.  One of Hurst's arresting bronzes, Tambour, also in the exhibition, incorporates some of them.   'These relics of the ordinary lives of ordinary men are far more eloquent than waving flags and displays of polished killing machines'. 

 But in Human Connections why so many carcasses of books burnt, fossilised, torn, their content scooped out? Is this a reminder of how often and how powerfully the written word - such as Mein Kampf - was used to stir up hatred between nations and races. I had the good fortune to meet Steve Hurst at the Pangolin. He explained that it's not so much about what happened before war as war's aftermath. It's one of several works which present a visceral challenge to our concept of memory, remembrance and official history, works which are particularly pertinent in this centenary year.
 'The history of the Great War is not only mendacious, it shames our country...Since the death of Harry Patch, the last soldier to serve on the Front Line in WW1, the Government and right wing historians can publish what they like'.

The artist argues that his attitude to war, like his work, is ambiguous. He was child in WW2 and says he never regretted the 10 years he spent serving in the army. 'Unfortuantely recent wars have been those of aggression rather than defence'.

Friday, 11 July 2014


at the PANGOLIN GALLERY until August 23rd

Cruise Missile, Painted wood for bronze, 2011, photo Steve Russell.

How can an artist make work about war?

 'The joy of sculpture is ambiguity' says Stevc Hurst. 'War' and 'Toys' are not words you would expect in the same sentence. They set up a powerful tension which runs though this whole exhibition. The vehicle is colourful, sturdy, the sort of toy which might pass from generation to generation. But stare into the face of the missile monster and you see a huge mouth seeking whom it may devour. It looks as if those teeth have had plenty of practice. The body is deceptively curvy, almost cuddly except for sharp wings, but the tail flails out into a three point trident such as Dante might have had in mind when describing the harrowing of hell.

Steve Hurst, Iraq Diaries, pen on paper, 35 x 29.5cm
 Iraq Diaries is equally double-tongued, for at one level it is  a witty comic strip. The contrast in both pieces is between playfulness and horror. They permit no complacency.

Steve Hurst, sculptor and war historian, says he found his response to war through parable. Cafe-museums around the battlefields of Ypres were extraordinary enterprises. They displayed a bizarre mixture of horrific relics covered in mud and rust, together with coloured kitsch objects: plastic flowers, garden gnomes, Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy and even a large painted machine dispensing sweets in the shape of skeletons. A mile or so from the Western Front - where farmers still dig up shattered steel helmets, reminders of what power does to human flesh - you can buy a chocolate model of the Menin Gate Memorial.  

Hurst's works are wide-reaching. They refer to  specific conflicts over many years, from the Somme and Ypres to Northern Ireland; from the First World War to Iraq and Afghanistan. And he chooses to work with a remarkable range of materials, including bronze, aluminium and steel, wood, paint and found objects.

The next blog will show how he interrogates memory, remembrance and in particular the notion of an 'official history'. As we approach the centenary, his work is as much a critique of how we deal with the after-effects of war  as of war itself.