Like a bunch of lost tourists we all assembled at St Pancras station at the pre arranged time outside Benugo’s coffee shop with the purpose of fitting in visits to as many galleries as we could muster in a day.
Our guide on this artistic exploration was Nigel and our first port of call was the Jerwood Visual Arts, (171 Union Street, Bankside, http://www.jerwoodvisualarts.org ) and an exhibition called Family Politics.
The brochure foreword describes the work of the five artists and a collaboration as “picks and worries at, inverts or critiques received notions of family identity and representation or memorialisation… (Shonagh Manson – Director, Jerwood Charitable Foundation).
When I think of family politics, using my own as a starting point, photographs play a key role in that they bind the family unit giving it its own sense of identity. You are either in the family photograph collection or you are not, thus by default giving you the status of ‘family’ even if you are not a true member i.e. a friend. Over time the participants lives in this family album are recorded and documented and act as a springboard to educate the newer members of their family antecedents. Thus a collection of photographs becomes a powerful tool that without doubt the family album has become one of our most treasured possessions.
Taken in this context the exhibition made a lot of sense to me even if the background narrative to many of the images was missing. Never the less the images had their own sense of familiarity, we all have similar images in our own albums, thus allowing a tantalising connection to each artists work and their family.
Next was the ICA, (Institute of Contemporary Arts), The Mall.
The exhibition, Bloomberg New Contemporaries, offered us the chance to see the best work of students in their final year and the newly qualified. It covered a range of media which included sculpture, photography, video and performance.
There was much to like about the exhibits in particular my attention was drawn to a sculpture involving coloured lights against a mirror background. It was a clever play that resulted in the coloured lights forming a circle due to the reflection in the curved mirror. By comparison to other exhibits this was far more attractive to the eye which was part of its appeal.
The other sculptures on offer weren’t so attractive making much of their meaning more obscure resulting in those exhibits being difficult to read without a narrative.
In many ways though the exhibition inspired me, more because of what could be achieved than in any measure of artistic talent. I found myself wondering whether I might have a work of my art displayed here in my third year, so in this respect the show was a success to me.
Our next port of call was Sprueth Magers, 7a Grafton Street and an exhibition of Stephen Shore’s work entitled Something and Nothing. (www.spruethmagers.com)
Photographer Stephen Shore’s images of the West Bank, Abu Dhabi and Israel resonated with me as his style of travel photography is similar to my own although I have never been to these locations. His documentary photography records life in this troubled area of the world from the busy bustling streets to the peace and quiet evident in an image of a girl in a green dress and white headscarf on a balcony. Most fascinating was an image of an old pink ‘Bakelite’ radio next to a pile of newspapers, evoking memories of life as it was for us in Britain 50 years ago, but still giving the feeling that the image was only recently taken.
The next gallery was one by chance in that we passed by and decided to call in.
The exhibition was at Gazelli Art House, 39 Dover Street, London (www.gazelliarthouse.com) and featured the photographer Charlotte COLBERT. Her exhibition – A Day at Home, is described in the brochure as ‘playfully exploring the relationship between the imagined and the real within the context of the home’ – Gazelli Art House exhibition brochure.
The black and white surreal images, which use long and double exposures, feature a solitary nude female and were captivating. All were taken in a derelict house offering the viewer the contrast between the nude whose face is rarely glimpsed and the crumbling building with its rough walls and bare floorboards to evoke an almost nightmare-ish quality.
This dream / nightmare subject is something I’m very interested in and would love to try myself. Although the idea is not original as many photographers have photographed nudes in derelict houses, Colbert’s shift to the surreal imagined world of dreams and nightmares adds a twist to the subject and making all the images black and white with a strong use of a wide angle lens and long exposures is inspired making this my favourite exhibition of the day.
Our last exhibition of the day was a hurried look at the twin buildings of the Serpentine, (Serpentine Gallery, Serpentine Sackler Gallery, West Carriage Drive, Kensington Gardens,) http://www.serpentinegalleries.org
The first thing to impress me was Fischli / Weiss’s ‘Rock on top of another rock’. The balance defying impression of these two heavy weight natural boulders sitting on top of one another without toppling immediately draws your attention and is truly fascinating to look at. Having been to wild parts of this country and abroad and seen similarly precariously balanced boulders and avoided going near them in case my presence moves them, this exhibit gives the impression of the boulders frozen in time, evoking homage to the prehistoric monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury stone circles.
Inside the Galleries we saw Wael Shawky’s puppets, the cast in his retelling of the first Crusade in his film ‘The Cabaret Crusades’ and his latest film Al Araba Al Madfuna II, a strange film where all the cast are children wearing beards and moustaches in a parody of arab life.
In the Sackler Gallery were a series of model panoramas by Jake and Dinos Chapman. In their interpretation of hell and torture the miniature figurines within the scene portray Hitler, the Nazis and Ronald McDonald? Extremely surreal but truly fascinating due to the fine detail.
The life size manikins dotted around the exhibition were all dressed as Klu Klux Klan, several of which sat next to the audience in the Kino Klub where the brothers film ‘Fucking Hell’ played its controversial and sometimes shocking but underlyingly humorous retrospective. The manikin Klans-men’s stripy socks and open toed sandals reinforcing the idea to the audience of not taking this film too seriously.
My whistle stop tour around the Galleries was a fantastic day out. Never in my life have I seen such imagination and skill which has inspired me so much. The gloves are off, the challenge is set, its time to make my own art…!