Wednesday, 26 September 2012


Walking into Hoxton Square White Cube is a bit like entering a weird, abstracted version of a History of Art lecture. White-grey light from two slide projectors flickers through the otherwise dimly-lit space of the ground floor; quietly rhythmic, click-clacking slides take us through a series of images. Today’s topics: plain wall with skirting board; small painting hung on wall; large piece of propped-up Perspex. A bronze head; the same image rotated; a close up of the eye. What do these slides really tell us about the spaces and objects that they are representing?

Ways of seeing, ways of teaching, ways of reproducing images and knowledge: these boundless areas of debate in critical art history form the backbone of any half-decent undergraduate course in the subject. Artist Runa Islam, whose exhibition opened at White Cube last week, adds her contribution to these ideas in a selection of works produced especially for the gallery. Islam denies her viewers any clear or specific narrative; rather than passively absorbing information presented to us, we are to consider the usual processes of that absorption. Watching her 35mm films is like attending a lecture without a lecturer. But rather than being liberating, the experience is somewhat uninteresting.

The exhibition's opening night last week was a raging least for Peroni. Scores of people standing outside of the Hoxton Square gallery space chatted over small green bottles of the tasty Italian beer. Perhaps predictably, the gallery itself was less densely populated, with only a few visitors (some slightly swaying) half-interestedly surveying Islam’s work.

Don’t get me wrong – I love a good vernissage. Contemporary art and free booze can pretty much be summed up as a winning combination. It is only when the exhibition-viewing becomes subsidiary to the drinking do you get the feeling something might have gone a bit awry in the event planning.

Or maybe we need a little more meat from an exhibition than only the slightly tired self-conscious analysis of communication through artistic media. 

Runa Islam, White Cube Hoxton Square runs until 3rd November.

Sunday, 23 September 2012


‘Can art change the world? Maybe not in one year, that’s the beginning. But maybe we should change the question. Can art change people’s lives? From what I’ve seen this year, yes’ - JR

Supercool French artist JR has just this week opened a new photobooth in Gallery Perrotin, Hong Kong as part of the Inside Out project. It’s a really straightforward idea: have your photo taken, collect your four-foot poster, paste it where you wish.  
JR himself laughs at its simplicity: ‘paper and glue, as easy as that!’.

Connaught Road footbridge, Hong Kong

As with all of the photobooths, the Hong Kong photobooth is open to the public and free. So far over 100,000 posters have been printed (2/100,000 are mine, from the photobooth at the Pompidou last year). JR is only the facilitator of what is really a global, collective movement. He passes the project both literally and metaphorically into the hands of others. Inside Out is at once a celebration of human diversity and an investigation into the impact of images in different every day contexts.

In his TED talk from March 2012, JR demonstates the international nature of his work and how the project can be and has been adapted to the specific political and social situations of different countries. JR's enthusiasm is infectious. There aren’t enough visual art talks on TED. (I must have watched the Vik Muniz one about ten times)


Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

McEwan Hall, Edinburgh, Scotland

Saturday, 22 September 2012


Galleries, studios and department stores across London have this week opened their doors to showcase and celebrate cutting-edge contemporary design, under the scarlet banner of London Design Festival 2012. From futons to footwear and armchairs to chocolate, nothing is left untouched by LDF’s comprehensive programme of events. Masterful combinations of aesthetics and utility are to be found in exquisitely manufactured items all over the city (my personal favourite can be found here). But design of course can be extended beyond cherished objects to things more perishable and even...consumable.

Food designer Linda Monique has created a banquet to be served up in four courses in different locations in the Andaz Hotel this week. The dishes are visually spectacular, with colours and compositions as exquisitely balanced as anything you might expect to be served from the menu of the five-star hotel. But this is dining with a difference. Each course has been made up of ‘scraps’: products habitually thrown away by the Andaz kitchens. Rinds, yolks, crusts, pumpkin skin and even bones are among the peculiar ingredients used. Even the accompanying wine would usually be ‘scrapped’, coming from bottles with damaged labels which by law cannot usually be served.

I met Monique in Andaz’s dazzling 1901 restaurant to discuss the Scrap Lab project over one of her delicately decadent Club Sandwiches. Monique is extremely well turned out, well-mannered and well-versed in presenting her work. In her own typically succinct articulation, she hopes to find and promote ‘innovative ways of re-using products and making iconic dishes’ whilst also ‘showcasing issues surrounding laws and institutions’. 

Linda Monique at 1901 Restaurant, Andaz Hotel Liverpool Street

As the press release for Scrap Lab promised discussion on food sustainability ‘throughout the evening’,  I was under the impression that Scrap Lab could be understood as a type of food-debate-performance project – like one of Rirkrit Tiravanija's home-cooked dinners, without the wanky art elite and with a prerogative to spark discussion on a particular issue. But Monique rebuffs terms like ‘eco’ and ‘sustainability’ seeing them to be ‘used in vain in so many instances’. Scrap Lab should be seen more as a business plan than an artwork. Asked whether this was a project which she hoped to initiate in other restaurants and institutions, Monique replied instantly ‘very much so’ only then admitting ‘it does take a long time to understand institutions and to redefine the ways they use food’. A long but worthy process if it begins to affect corporate and institutional approaches to food and wastage.

Sea bass cheek with cucumber skin jelly, lime zest, and bread crumbs from cut-off sandwich crusts

Monique’s Club Sandwich, in a lively twist on the British classic, is in fact served as a dessert, with thin slices of sponge sandwiching blueberry mousse, mint and strawberries. Served with a portion of thin doughnut ‘fries’ and raspberry and white chocolate ‘ketchup’ and ‘mayonnaise’.

If fish heads and marinated ribs don’t appeal, around the way on Baldwin Terrace, Studio Toogood are host to another food design project: the M25 Luncheon, a project from Milan-based experimental food designers Arabeschi di Latte. The concept is relatively simple – of the menu of four re-vamped Ploughman’s lunches, all of the products are sourced from within the M25. Each menu is based around a different combination of chutney and cheese, accompanied by a couple of other handsome ingredients such as smoked salmon, a pickled egg, or a drippingly syrupy cube of honeycomb. All are artfully arranged on a slab on concrete and to be eaten off your knees.

M25 Luncheon: pared-down design

MENU 1: Cheddar cheese + honey comb (from a hive on the roof of an ex-council block in Tower Bridge) 
+ ham + white London bread + pear and walnut chutney

MENU 3: Childwickbury cheese + smoked salmon (from a smokehouse in Stoke Newington) + pickled beetroot + 100% rye bread + nutty plum chutney

Both my friend and I kept repeating ‘it’s delicious…this is really good…that was delicious’ to sort of compensate for the fact that we had essentially each spent a tenner on a piece of cheese on a piece of rock. It’s a particularly ‘trendy’ approach to food with its à la mode local sourcing and contemporary/rustic design, but it does make for a different dining experience. The ploughman's lunch feels oddly bespoke, unique, something made for you personally. M25 Luncheon even has its own ‘scrap’ element as the chutneys are made from surplus market fruit and vegetables before they are discarded.

Both Scrap Lab and M25 Luncheon make us think through food, using rituals of conviviality with a greater purpose to increase our attention to where the food came from, not just where it’s going. Food design to change your thinking.

Lunch on the canal - the back entrance to Studio Toogood

Linda Monique’s installation Eggcentric can be seen at the Andaz Hotel, Liverpool Street. She is currently negotiating with Andaz to have her delectable club sandwich become a permanent fixture on the restaurant menu.

Arabeschi di Latte do some really fantastic projects, more about which can be found here.


Needle-like steel legs, seamlessly joined to a tabletop of uni-directional layered carbon fibre. This material is usually hidden in the interior structure of Formula One racing cars; here the designers Terence Woodgate and John Barnard bring it to our attention in this incredibly slick table and chair.

The carbon fibre is incredibly strong; when first showcased, the table was displayed supporting a racing car. The dripped oil aesthetic of the legs and the 2mm thickness of the table - incredible! 

I saw this at Established & Sons, Wenlock Road N1. Their working studio/showroom is open this weekend as part of London Design Festival

Sunday, 16 September 2012


Down in the secret underbelly of the Andaz Hotel in London Liverpool Street, in an ornately decorated 1920s Masonic temple, there is a small, glossy cabinet housing a hologram. The palm-sized flickering decagon of colour is certainly eye-catching, but more interesting is what it symbolises: things both physically and infinitely bigger than itself. It is a miniature interpretation of P R I S M, Keiichi Matsuda’s new creation at the V&A for the London Design Festival. On Thursday night, over scallops and champagne in the turquoise-ceilinged, candlelit hideaway at Andaz, we heard about Matsuda’s new work, virtual realities, and the opportunities that might arise from making the immaterial material and the invisible visible.  

P R I S M offers an alternative portrait of London as a virtual city defined by the digital world of data. Intersecting aluminium frames contain irregularly-shaped paper screens, onto each of which is projected a different, moving pattern. The patterns change according to a live feed of information: the touching in and out on an Oyster card, the hiring out of Boris bikes, weather conditions, even energy usage in residential homes. Londoners, commuters and tourists alike constantly contribute to how the installation might look at any given moment. Even 10 Downing Street is under this silent scrutiny: ‘if the Prime Minister switches on the kettle’ says Matsuda ‘the design will be altered’. Matsuda’s project makes visible the ever-watchful agents of data-collection. ‘This is really plugged into London…its eyes and ears are all over the city’. 

Undoubtedly, P R I S M is visually impressive but its concept is more than a little unnerving. I questioned Matsuda on the sense of unease generated by his aestheticised data-show: was it really something to celebrate, this constant monitoring of our actions? Certainly this was one of his less critical works, he admitted, but through lending the immaterial world a certain materiality he hoped to open a platform for discussion about how this data might be presented and used. Matsuda compared this to the writing of elegant code; his work embraces ‘a new kind of craft’, in using a new set of tools to imagine what the city could be.

I appreciate that P R I S M tackles a significant contemporary issue in a visually impressive way, but wonder whether it could be more explicitly critical. At Thursday’s satellite event to the main exhibit we were shown a promotional video of the work’s construction which, with its speeded-up footage of commuters and up-beat music, seemed to present the project as an exciting vision for the future rather than as a comment on the present, as seems to have been Matsuda’s intention. Scary stuff.

P R I S M will be on show at the V&A until 23rd September.

Thursday, 13 September 2012


 ‘[The city is] man's most consistent and on the whole, his most successful attempt to remake the world he lives in more after his heart's desire. But, if the city is the world which man created, it is the world in which he is henceforth condemned to live. Thus, indirectly, and without any clear sense of the nature of his task, in making the city man has remade himself’ – ROBERT PARK

How often do we think about the architectural structures that contain and direct our every day movement? Urban architecture and planning dictates to some extent the ways in which we use a city; certain routes and spaces are left open for our navigation. But we are fenced in by more abstract barriers and borders, as our access to allocated ‘public’ spaces is granted in different degrees by various authorities. Who are these authorities? Who is dictating how public spaces in a city are used? How might the public (the 99%) reclaim rights over those spaces that were intended for their use?

New York-based Chilean artist Francisca Benítez investigates the power relations behind the structures of our urban environments. Last night, a small group gathered in Vauxhall’s Gasworks gallery for a performative lecture by the artist in which she presented several of her documentary and intervention/performance projects undertaken in New York, Paris, Santiago and London. Quoting extensively from eminent Marxist thinker David Harvey, who is clearly a strong influence, Benítez discussed the importance of ‘the freedom to make and remake ourselves and our cities’ which Harvey calls ‘one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights’.

Rather than talking abstractly about these issues, Benítez investigates the politics of specific locations. She developed one work, De-fence LNP, in response to the restricted public use of the publically-owned Louise Nevelson Plaza in New York, where certain areas had been cordoned off with steel barrier fences. These heightened security measures were originally effected in response to 9/11 but had spread across the space ‘like tentacles’, blocking access to a part of the plaza often used for gathering protesters. Benítez choreographed a simple performance-dance piece in which 26 dancers would enter the square from different directions and simultaneously pick up and remove the metal barriers that filled the public space, lining them up at the side of the plaza. The intervention was neither aggressive nor illegal and yet it was interrupted by New York's Federal Reserve (Benítez likened them to ‘a privately owned army with the authority of federal officers'). Her investigations continue.

Another of her works, Property Lines, examines the less visible fences that map the city. Benítez has made a series of graphite rubbings of property land markings – lines etched in the floor to demarcate the margins of a site when the facade of a building has moved. The piece exists as both an intervention/performance piece and drawings, the latter of which, when seen together, accentuate the hostile tone of the inscriptions: PROPERTY LINE CROSSING BY PERMISSION ONLY; PROPERTY LINE CROSSING BY PERMISSION ONLY BUT AT THE RISK OF THE USER; PERMISSION TO CROSS WILL BE REVOKED AT WILL. 

‘Art is supposed to link societies not separate us’ Benítez announced half way through the lecture; ‘art isn’t meant to sit and look pretty but empower us’. This empowerment she sees as coming though a collective movement to reshape the processes of urbanisation; we can change ourselves through changing the city.
Join Francisca Benítez for her walk through London on Sunday 30th September ‘Through Sites of Dissent’ to hear more.

Benítez and the three other resident artists at Gasworks are opening their studios to the public Friday 28th-September 29th September, to coincide with the South London Art Map (SLAM) Late Fridays. All events are free.

Sunday, 9 September 2012


So Tate Modern’s Damien Hirst exhibition, the highest-grossing show in the gallery’s history, has finally closed this weekend. Its assortment of mindlessly executed spot- and spin- paintings, its farm-full of petrified animals-in-formaldehyde, its fancy-coloured pills and fag ends – all will be dispersed and shipped back to their investment-savvy collectors.

I felt almost physically ill as I made my way through the rooms of the exhibition. Not so much at the turgid pink sausages preserved and suspended in their glass frame, nor even at the skinned cow’s head sitting in a pool of its own thick blood, swarming with flies. What was really stomach-turning about the show was the resounding vacuity of the works of display and the inescapable image of Hirst sniggering at his trusting public who were compliantly searching for ‘meaning’ in this vapid artwork.

One particularly nauseatingly pretentious work was ‘Crematorium’, a large-scale ceramic ashtray full of cigarette butts, which Tate hopefully describes as ‘a contemporary memento mori of the inevitability of death.’ Elsewhere in the exhibition a wall-blurb informs us that the making-process of Hirst’s Spin Paintings ‘allows him to exercise some distance in their execution’. As if Hirst is no less distant from his animals immortalised by someone else, his Spot Paintings painted by someone else and his bejewelled skull encrusted by - someone else.

With the launch of the new live art/installation space The Tanks, Tate have set up some keynote questions, one of which is ‘How Can Art Change Society?’. I would be interested to know how Tate might argue that this exhibition could provide any useful fodder for this debate. In anticipation of the 2012 Olympics, when London would be inundated by visitors from all over the world, Tate might have taken the opportunity to showcase new or up-and-coming (young) British artists, or taken pains to bring attention to less visible issues. Instead they capitalised on the hugely expanded international audience, selecting a shamelessly money-grabbing artist though what we can only imagine were their own similarly financially-driven motivations. I hope the capital generated by this show will be injected into projects that have a little more depth and take a better shot at ‘changing society’.  

Visitors to the exhibition seemed to struggle to connect with Hirst's installations directly.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012


Along the balcony overlooking the Turbine Hall in London's Tate Modern, a group of people are stood watching the space below. This in itself isn't surprising - the balcony is a commonly used vantage point for finding lost friends and for people-watching. But there is something noticeably different about the dynamic between the bodies in the Turbine Hall; something out-of-the-ordinary about the way that they move and interact. Whilst some of the figures below appear to be making a more routine visit to the gallery, others amongst them have different intentions: they clumsily dance around one another, stopping and starting, lightly jogging in different directions, without any immediately evident pattern. Their individual journeys begin to synchronise, and all at once a mass of these people are speeding toward the main entrance. They pause and run back down the slope.

This is Tino Sehgal’s These Associations, a piece developed in response to the Turbine Hall commission. A group of people – it is unclear how many – perform a choreographed piece in the public space. They have no costumes and no stage, and there is no clear distinction between performers and audience. Sometimes they move with purpose, other times apparently randomly, as free agents. (This reminded me of how Carolee Schneeman had described in her talk at Summerhall how dancers had always been to her 'like particles of energy in space’). They don’t talk, and their faces are impassive. Watched from above, the rhythms and patterns made between their bodies are like those of rippling water, or shoals of fish. The runners’ mass exodus up and down the slope is like the sea tide; at points, participants run circles around visitors, catching them in a whirlpool of bodies.

Each of the ‘performers’ are in their own clothes. As they jogged past, I recognised one among them as the man who shared my bench outside the gallery while we both separately ate our supermarket lunches. A lunch break for Sehgal’s artwork. How easy it must be for these people to break themselves off from piece and melt into the regular crowd - their status is defined by their behaviour only. The work probes our definitions of identity and the division between art and audience.

 At one point an intermixed crowd of performers and viewers gathers at the base of the main slope. They chant, then sing. WE HAVE CHANNELLED CHANNELLED CHANNELLED CHANNELLED THESE FORCES INTO THE WORLD WE HAVE CHANNELLED THESE FORCES INTO THE WORLD. Their voices rise in the gallery space to an echoing, glorious crescendo before stopping abruptly. Slowly, figures pick themselves from the main group. On either side of me were two men – each were approached by a figure from the group and apparently launched into a one-way conversation. The woman to my left spoke closely and intimately to her chosen listener; on my right a girl in her twenties plunged into her own story: ‘It was the end of the bread, you know? So I thought, okay, it’s night-time, and I wanted it toasted yeah? I found some jam, spread it on thick, thick layers right? And it was like, the most satisfying thing’. While they are talking, the others slowly walk backwards into the dimly lit opposite end of the Turbine Hall, having divulged their own strange secrets to members of the public.

Adrian Searle has described in The Guardian how, during this brief moment of confession, the dynamic is changed between himself and these people, before ‘they’re off again’. But I think that this feeling isn't restricted to this one moment; the dynamic changes as soon as we recognise the figures as behaving differently to ourselves. We notice them properly. We scrutinise our co-inhabitants of the Turbine Hall to discern whether or not they are part of the piece. Something in wanting to connect with and understand the people around us shifts to the positive.

For this, Sehgal’s piece is remarkably successful in its reinvigoration of the social dynamic of the space and the way in which it encourages us to look again at each other, and at ourselves. Sehgal has requested specifically that there be no ‘explanatory’ text or literature for the piece, ostensibly in an effort to keep it as ‘live’ as possible and retain focus solely on social connections in the present. In this, the artist has set up a situation and departed from it – one thing you don’t want to ask the people involved is ‘What’s it like working with Tino Sehgal?’ – instead ‘What’s your story?’ and ‘How did you get involved in this?’.

The artist is giving a talk at the gallery on Saturday 6th October, in conversation with Tate curator Jessica Morgan. I am tempted to go but doubt the artist will enlighten us to anything that would change or ameliorate a direct experience of These Associations. The work will be in the gallery until 28th October. I'll definitely be back.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012


An insight to the inner workings of the minds of the Great British Public, as displayed on the communal feedback board in Tate Modern's new space The Tanks. Quite incredible - this selection is pretty representative of the comments left, most of which demonstrated the same level of engagement with the gallery and its collection...Up your game, Tate! A new method of gathering feedback needs to be developed!

Monday, 3 September 2012


Andrew Miller's The Waiting Place is not, truly, much of a waiting place as it doesn't include anywhere obvious to sit. But although we may not be encouraged to rest there, in making the seemingly pointless journey through the structure we are made to consider its physical properties more closely - as, in fact, we might do anywhere we are forced to wait.

The through-way of the wooden construction contains no interior event, but for a tree which seems to burst through its roof. It is as if the tree has grown into the structure and through the cast iron roof panels that have been cut roughly to accommodate its branches. There is thus a sense that the structure could have occupied the space before the tree, were we to fabricate our own imagined history of the site. This idea corresponds to the strange timelessness of the architecture - the overlapping cantilevered roof planes suggesting simultaneously Japanese pavilions and primitive huts, whilst the planks of dark wood are arranged in such a way to suggest something of the linearity of Frank Lloyd Wright's domestic designs and his use of textured materials. But these were only my thoughts while I was waiting.

 Today, The Waiting Place, along with all of the wonderful site-specific public installations which formed part of the Edinburgh Art Festival programme, is closed. August is over and we must wait another year for it to come around again. Freshly back in London, and with far fewer exhibitions under my belt as I would have liked (a month of double shifts at the bar-then-burgervan would have proved too taxing I hope even for the most enthusiastic of gallery-goers) I am reminded how important it is to see such works in the flesh. No artist's impression or photograph can come close to conveying the direct experience of a work and the thoughts and personal associations it might provoke.
The 'artist's impression' in the Edinburgh Art Festival programme was far from the reality of the finished installation