Friday, 18 January 2013


Underground Great Eastern Street in the Victorian Vaults lies a cavern. The air is thick with the too-rich aromas of tropical plants and suffocating foliage and a tinny soundtrack of artificial jungle hooting, hisses and clicks fills the space. Bright jungle-green spotlights pick out a selection of misshapen sculptures and a large gauze screen which covers the furthest brick wall.

On the screen a large, disembodied head appears. It is Dante the Horticulturalist (complete with green elfish cap and shaving foam beard) and he welcomes us into his realm. 'You-you-you-are how old? I've been doing this for quite a while now---horticulture'. His voice redoubles upon itself - it becomes apparent that there are two voices, one recorded and one live, spoken in the room. The one rolls in and out of sync with the other. But the real-live Dante is nowhere to be seen. And yet, move around the room and you are followed by the eyes of the Horticulturalist - or so it feels. Where is he? Where are we? What are the relationships at play here between installation, environment, artist and audience? 

The press release to the show which amassed Dante’s intentions (apparently to achieve pretty much everything possible through art) made for a convoluted bit of supporting literature. But its flowery, overstated language somehow matched the languid heavy hum of the tropical underground which distorted clear thought with its sounds and smells.  Dante seems to share the interests of the seminal Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist in playing with physical and psychological relationships produced by bodies inhabiting space. Both artists confuse or merge these initially separate entities in some way so that their boundaries become indistinct...surely the resemblance of Dante’s exhibition’s title to Rist's Eyeball Massage last year at Hayward Gallery cannot be unconscious.

Without a doubt, one to watch. Explore Dante's world here. I especially recommend his radio discussion of cheese.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012


'When you enter the space you will smile. When you leave the space you will love dinosaurs.'
-Reed and Rader

Super-charming duo Reed and Rader this week came over to London for the first time to stage an exhibition at trendy HQ 18 Hewett StreetThe New York duo famed for their bright, glitchy GIFs refashioned  the East London location as a prehistoric party house, staging large-scale projections and sound and video works in a space populated on- and off-screen by…dinosaurs. Around their prehistoric/futuristic GIFs, they lined the white gallery walls with paper cut-out grass and tropical plants, and imported over from New York a massive paper dinosaur friend.
 The opening night was a dino-extravaganza with videogame-graphics, dancing and dining on the digital artists’ favourite food – pizza – served up wood-fired style from bespoke street food company Bosco and Bee. 

Reed and Rader’s work is undeniably, unapologetically fun. They push the GIF, perhaps the first real art form of the internet, to its faux-futuristic limits, creating dynamic and deadpan imagery that never takes itself too seriously. Inherent in their work is a bittersweet nostalgia for the simple pleasures of the early internet age – the happy-go-lucky Moldy Peaches era when Pokémon cards and Gameboys, pizza, kitties and cartoons were king.

And yet, beyond their spacey amusements-arcade of imagery there is the potential for more serious discussions about the ways in which new technologies are to direct the future of art and art-making. Just as the prehistoric, the nostalgic and the futuristic are jumbled in this new exhibition, so are the categories of fashion, advertising, technology and art, converging to form a new breed of post-Pop art. Reed and Rader don’t only question the boundaries of ‘high’ and ‘low’ art but disregard them all together - with the irresistible audacity of teenagers. 

Cretaceous Returns is only on for a week: catch the duo and their dinosaurs before they party on back over the Atlantic. Their show at 18 Hewitt Street runs from 8th – 20th November.

(adapted from an article for The Cultural Expose)


When I spoke to Matthew Rader about what I was writing, I discovered that he hadn't actually heard of the Moldy Peaches (?!) The photographer at the preview apparently caught me harping on about them to him. 

Monday, 12 November 2012


An astoundingly original sound-installation-sculpture-performance from German contemporary composer Heiner Goebbels. Powered on some level by idol organisation ArtAngel. Runs until 18th November. 

If ever there was an organisation that had its proverbial finger firmly on the pulse of cutting edge contemporary art forms, it is commissioning body Artangel. This month, the team that brought us Roger Hiorns’ sparkling azure ex-council flat grotto and Rachel Whiteread’s full-size casting of her own House have orchestrated the delivery of another extraordinary project to the heart of subterranean London: Heiner Goebbels’ Stifter’s Dinge.
Having travelled across the world, this remarkable ‘performative installation’ returns to its original home at Ambika P3, Marylebone Road. The massive monolithic interior of the former concrete testing facility has once again been transformed to become Goebbels’ cavernous laboratory of sound and light.Stifter’s Dinge defies definition: it is at once a theatrical performance, a visual spectacle, a musical sculpture – and yet it is none of these things exclusively.
A towering structure blinking with LEDs supports five pianos which appear to play themselves, singing out short melodies which combine and blend with the clanking and clunking of other components in the installation. Bodies of water bubble and ripple with the reverberations of sound; a thin mist hovers across the scene. Lights flash and dance across the space, casting abstract patterns on vast gauze screens that lower themselves from the ceiling at various intervals. Phantom-like voices hauntingly play out over projected images of idealised landscape paintings. At times meditative, at times unsettling, the experience is totally mesmerizing.
The title of the work translates as ‘Stifter’s Things’, after nineteenth-century writer Adalbert Stifter who was (in)famous for his fastidious, vividly detailed descriptions of nature: part of his attempt to close the gap between the ambiguity of language and the reality of experience. Goebbels uses similar tactics of immersion in his ‘no-man show’. The contemporary composer created this piece for instruments, not their players; and as the only human presence in the room, the audience is made to focus on the objects themselves which appear to perform autonomously.
This is a project to experience, not one to read about. Stifter was right – sometimes language just doesn’t have the capacity to adequately describe nature (or a multi-faceted, sensory-immersive installation). Artangel never fail to deliver the cutting-edge of cool – the newest addition to their list of weird and wonderful projects is no exception and should not be missed.
(Written for The Cultural Expose)

Thursday, 1 November 2012


Crouch to enter a small arched opening to find a small Chinese woman wandering as if lost around a small space inside. She sings short, breathy notes into the semi-darkness. She comes up close, and after folding and unfolding several dog-eared slips of paper, whispers, as if confidentially: ‘I read---the Happy Prince---did you read this story? ---I draw lot of --- inspiration from---.’

Climb out of this otherworldly space to find a small girl in slippers and striped pyjamas waiting for you, staring straight ahead. She follows you for a short time: just a few feet behind, never looking directly at you but horribly present. At one point she drifts away but you don’t notice where she goes.

A live statue frozen in mid-fall, blinking passively upwards; silkworms that hiss and chatter through headphones that hang from the ceiling like maggots from a tree; a golden tower of human fat; a piece of meat on a pedestal, slowly oozing two pools of grey-blue blood.

If these sound like the surreal components of a bad dream, that is what it was like. In reality, it was the Hayward Gallery’s Art of Change, an exhibition showcasing of the work of nine contemporary Chinese artists dealing with the idea of change: the unstable, the impermanent and the volatile.

I could have written a soul-searching post about the visual links to established Western artists (Orozco, Hesse, Bourgeois, Long) and what this meant (problematic Eurocentric art history in general or only naturally situating the works within my own mental archive).  But before this critical dissection, first and foremost this show is at once human and touching and wholly unsettling. Don’t eat lunch beforehand, especially if you are going to make a trip to see the silkworms. 

Art of Change: New Directions from China, Hayward Gallery, runs until 9th December.

Yingmei Duan, 2012

 Xu Zhen, In Just a Blink of an Eye, 2005

Yingmei Duan, [note from] Happy Yingmei, 2011/2012

Monday, 29 October 2012


'Often an artist will focus so much on the painting that he forgets he is in the act of painting' muses Michel, in one introduction of The Collaborative Drawing Machine to a group of soon-to-be collaborators at the Worlds Together Conference last month at Tate Modern. The Machine is one of several projects formulated by Brazilian couple Michel Groisman and Gabriela Duvivier which focus upon the performative experience of the self in the act of drawing.  In this work, the process of producing is more important than any finished product, as participants are given the chance to paint 'as one' with seven other people.

The Machine has a DIY aesthetic and is made with modest materials. A tangle of pulley mechanisms, ropes and pipes link up around a large steel frame. Eight emptied plastic milk bottles of paint are hung in pairs at each top corner - three hold the primary colours, two black, three white. All of the components converge in a single needle held a couple of centimetres from the floor. 

Simple harnesses are looped around four of the participants who together determine the position of the needle. The other four are given two valves, which, when opened, release paint down to the needle. A higgledy-pigglydy network of rainbow coloured lines snake across the slab of thick paper. A full kaleidoscope of incredible turquoises, emerald greens, clementines and pinks cross, combine and blend; when the needle stops, they pool into psychedelic lakes of colour. 

Different groups react differently to the task. Some want to take control of the process by vocalising instructions, others set themselves tasks - attempting a circle was a popular ambition. Most groups however work silently together, deep in concentration and strangely mesmerised by the invention on the floor that they have created in conjunction with the strangers around them. Everyone watches the needle. Only when it stops or the inks stop flowing through some unspoken decision of all of the collaborators do we look up. The spell breaks and we are all in the room again. 

The experience is a deceptively simple one and one that has less to do with drawing than with re-imagining social structures and investigating ways of communication. I asked Michel a few questions about the history of the Machine and the ideas behind it.

       S P E C T A C U L A R U M: How long have you been working on the Machine? To what extent does it relate to other projects or past performances?

MICHEL GROISMAN: It was in 2009 that we began to develop the Machine; since that time it has undergone several changes, both in its appearance and mode of functioning. During this time we also went through transformations, because each time we would find different ways of how to guide the public and different possible games to accomplish with the machine. However, the idea to use the act of drawing as a pretext for playful interaction between people came long before that. Perhaps the first time we tried this was in 2006, using pieces of wood which allowed two or more people to draw together. But this idea of proposing an interaction between people through games started even earlier, with other projects such as Octopus and Help Yourself, games where the purpose is not to win but to have fun in discovering oneself through the relationship with the other.

       S P: Which other kinds of art practices would you align your work with? Whose work in particular has served as a strong influence?

M.G: I understand art as a field of self-research and the world. In this sense our greatest influence has been experiments related to art and education, Buddhism and Alexander Technique. To mention some names: John Cage, Chögyam Trungpa, and Keith Johnstone.

       S P: What does the future hold for the machine following the conference at Tate? Did you set it up in Paris and will you be using it again in Rio?

M.G: Our participation with the Drawing Machine with the Worlds Together Conference was great! Several people have contacted us asking for some more information, but we have not yet confirmed anything. But as soon as we receive any confirmation you will be the first person we tell!!

Watch this space for updates on Michel and Gabriela’s fantastic projects. I will certainly follow their work with great interest! For now, here are a couple of videos that give a sense of the way in which the Collaborative Drawing Machine was presented at Tate Modern - Michel tinkering with the mechanics of it between drawings, and, throughout the painting process, Gabriele translating Michel's poetic explanations and metaphors from Portuguese. (My particular favourite was his comparison of the experience to a football game ‘…but with eight players...and there's no goal...and nobody loses...’)

The Collaborative Drawing Machine, Tate Modern, September 2012 [listen to Michel at 03:48]

The Collaborative Drawing Machine, Tate Modern, September 2012

Tuesday, 23 October 2012


Last Sunday evening, down in the deep red-walled basement of The Book Club, independent illustration and poetry magazine inc. threw an Interactive Poetry Party. Under a low ceiling crowded with light bulbs, we listened to and collectively wrote poetry, drank, drew and were drawn at this homespun-style underground event. The crowd seemed equally in awe as I was of the acts and of the setting. The energy was palpable in the room – intermittedly tense as we held our breath listening to Zena Edwards’ melodic tones, loudly and cheerily released in shared laughter at Raphael Attar’s surreal variety hour.

Throughout the evening, illustrator-animators Phoebe May Halstead and Hannah Simpson captured the punters and performers in a series of quick pen and ink sketches. The super-talented duo transformed the night into beautifully composed, expressive little drawings teamed with lines of verse lifted from each performance.

I highly recommend a browse through Phoebe May Halstead’s animations found here. There are some really strong line drawings to be found on Hannah Simpson's site here. See also an animation by the two girls in collaboration here; it has something of The Beatles' Yellow Submarine and BLU street art without wholly committing to either and successfully holding its own style.

Learn more about inc. magazine and its brilliant, innovative founder-editors Will & Anya here. The next issue will be out later this year and will be found in stockists across London, a list of which is on their website.

Hannah Simpson and Phoebe May Halstead

Saturday, 20 October 2012


The Whitechapel Gallery have recently opened their doors to spectacular new exhibition Mel Bochner: If the Colour Changes. Last week I was lucky enough to be accepted onto a small seminar at the gallery, which included a preview of the show before a Q&A session with the seminal conceptual artist.

The exhibition includes pieces from the 1960s to work made this year. ‘Once you recognise that my work is an analytical attempt to rethink painting’s meanings and functions,’ Bochner writes in the foreword to the exhibition catalogue, ‘you realise that it is all one continuous investigation’. But it isn’t only painting he investigates. Over an illustrious career of nearly half a century, Bochner has returned again and again to unpick the various systems of representation that we rely on in trying to make our world comprehensible. Using different media, or ‘delivery systems’ as he terms them, Bochner layers, juxtaposes, or combines these systems; cancelling or disrupting their legibility, and questioning their reliability.

Actual Size (arm), 1968 

In a formative early work, Bochner took a photograph of his arm. Recognising that in photography, ‘there is no mechanism to say what size anything is’, he placed his arm next to a line marked with a length of twelve inches. But the verifying measurement in the photograph is impossible to verify in its photographic reproduction; what is more, it is of course now false. How are we to know if it was correct in the first place? This was the last photograph Bochner ever made, but it had a decisive effect on his work as he began to consider the relationship between measurement and belief.

Three decades later, in 1998, Bochner would make Event Horizon: a series of differently coloured canvases carefully aligned across a wall, inscribed with various horizontal measurements. Bochner related how a ‘very important’ German reviewer had walked out of an exhibition of Event Horizon, furious about the artist’s use of imperial measurements. He took out a metric tape measure and exclaimed angrily, ‘But I can’t measure it! How do I know the dimensions are correct?’ Although Bochner lost the much-coveted review, he delighted in this, the ‘perfect’ response to the work: ‘[the reviewer] was seeing it as pure meaning...he realised that measurements were built on trust. At that moment, I got into his head. That’s got to be a good thing’.

Event Horizon, 1998 (section of larger work)

Many critics are keen to situate Bochner’s work in the 1960s ‘period of doubt’, a questioning of the claims made for painting as a vehicle for ‘truth’ of the psyche of the individual (Abstract Expressionist) painter, further expanded to question the ‘truth’ or objectivity of accepted systems of measurement and communication. I asked Bochner what he felt about this. Did the realisation that we had only belief in, not knowledge of, established systems have to be ‘momentarily chilling’ (Weiss) or induce a ‘nauseating vertigo’ of uncertainty (Borchardt-Hume)? Or, could his work in fact be understood as a neutral or even celebratory reflection on the communal systems we have set up around ourselves in order to better communicate with one another?

Bochner’s response to this was evasive, and somewhat unsatisfactory. ‘I don’t listen to what critics say about my work, in case it changes how I feel about it,’ he replied; then, laughing, ‘but I’m not as good natured as I’m appearing!’

This was Bochner’s response to many of the more probing questions of the afternoon. He’d start: ‘well, I’m not sure about that, but...’ and then go on to tell a relevant anecdote from his career history. At first I found this frustrating – why wouldn’t he engage us in these debates? His regular retreat to these simple stories and events seemed to be totally at odds with the deeply philosophical nature of his work. But Bochner’s refusal to reveal his own interpretations of his work is a manoeuvre to regale any notion that his ideas should be any more valid than anyone else’s, and to have his work speak for itself, rather than serve as an intermediary for the artist’s expression.

This resistance to ‘self-expression’ is seen again in Bochner's thesaurus paintings, where he ‘lets the language speak for itself…without interference’. In these works, Bochner uses Roget’s Thesaurus to generate colourful word chains. The language deteriorates as the eye follows the text downwards, as the terms become increasing colloquial and often vulgar: ‘I start with a formal, neutral word’ Bochner explained, ‘and let it fall apart’. The language is active, and the paintings almost performative – whether spoken out loud or read silently the words and phrases seem to have a voice of their own. And yet of course we imagine or project the tone of this voice through our own associations.

Language systems, like measuring systems, are in Bochner's work revealed as fallible, and subjective: ‘That language is a direct conduit to thought, short-circuiting emotion: this is a fallacy. Language is not transparent; it is full of ideologies’. In seeing so much of Bochner’s work brought together in this new exhibition, it is impossible not to join the artist in his interrogation of these ideologies and accepted ‘truths’. Definitely worth an afternoon’s deep thinking.

Mel Bochner: If the Colour Changes runs until 30th December.

Babble, 2011

Sputter, 2010

Die, 2005

Oh Well, 2010