Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Sony World Photography Awards 2011

1/8 Helmand 10/7, Balazs Gardi, Hungary (2011)

 To see some of the other photographs from the shortlist have a look on The Guardian website. 

Monday, 25 April 2011

Banksy: Should He Stay or Should He Go?

So, one of Banksy’s earliest works is to be sold to a gallery in New York. And blimey what a fuss it’s causing. The Kissing Coppers appeared on the wall of the Prince Albert pub in Brighton about 7 years ago and have been revered ever since. But now the pub landlord, the owner of one of the world’s most elusive artist’s signature pieces, is selling it, wall and all.  And I don’t blame him.

He’s coining somewhere in the region of £750,000 for the work, and told the Guardian that all the money is going into keeping his business running. Funnily, the issue hasn’t been with this man’s significant personal profit. Instead locals have said that he is stealing from the people and streets of Brighton. Technically he isn’t. The landlord was approached by a Banksy aide and the work thus belongs to the pub and the publican. Sadly, most ‘public art’ in Britain doesn’t have much value, think about the ridiculous sculptures scattered around. That big bang bee thing in Manchester and The Bullring, that’s about it for the Brits. With the exception of Anthony Gormley’s Sefton beach men and the much loved Angel of the North there is nothing worth selling. Unfortunately, people (singular) own Art and people (plural) look at it. But in the case of this Banksy, it is a great shame that one of Britain’s only claims to public art fame is being shipped west.

However, the argument that Art should always remain in the place it was created is really rather pointless. Snide comments have appeared on web forums suggesting that the next thing to be sold to the Yank’s will be the Royal Pavilion. A rather tenuous comparison, but where works of Art are concerned it really doesn’t matter how far or near to its place of conception one is exhibited. I’ve seen a whole room of Emin’s in the Pompidou, Picasso’s in Sheffield and Giacometti’s in every gallery I’ve ever visited. And I’ve never thought when viewing a Tracy Emin, ‘this would be so much better in Margate’.

The appreciation of Art comes not from its relationship with its surroundings. Most of the excitement of visiting an art gallery comes from wondering what you’re going to come across inside and not the relationship it has with the city around it. Coming across the work of a Bristol artist in the middle of Berlin…I didn’t wish I was on the shores of the city, he’d brought them to Berlin anyway with his earthy and filthy ‘land art’.

Whilst I won’t deny that the context of an artist’s work is valuable to understanding why they worked the way they did, in the case of Banksy, it is less relevant. His canvas and studio are easily understandable and his work is symptomatic of today’s urban landscapes, he doesn’t limit his work to a city or country, and neither should we. 

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Uprooted: Dieter & Bjorn Roth

Biodegradable isn’t a word often associated with works of Art. Usually artists want their masterpieces to last, so crowds can appreciate them for years to come. Or, so their fame or notoriety transcends time and death. Works of art should carry forward ideas, trends and socio-political contexts. Vast swathes of time, modernity, conservatism or rebellion can all be communicated within a single picture frame.  This was not, it seems, Dieter Roth’s agenda throughout his career.

Gartenskupltur (1968)

Born to Swiss-German parents in Hannover (b.1930-d.1988) Karl- Dietrich Roth used amongst other materials, books, newspapers and cheese (yes cheese) to create work that both fascinated and disgusted the public. He flitted between working alone and large collaborations with other members of the NYC Avant-Garde movement ‘Fluxus’- the basic concept of which being ‘anything can be art and anyone can do it’. But Roth famously distanced himself from the main man of the movement, George Maciunus. So why am I picking this obscure artist from the abyss all of a sudden? I took a trip to Hamburger Bahnhof- Museum of Modern Art in Berlin a week ago, that’s why.

Rather than tell you why you should go (you should), discuss the quality of the exhibitions (fabulous- permanent Kiefers, Rauschenbergs and Warhols) and what the atmosphere is like (lonely apart from the extremely rude staff). It’s easier to focus on one piece of work that justifies the galleries existence.

I’ve always thought family collaborations are pretty naff, think Hanson and The Vontrapps and you might see what I mean. But the Roth’s have changed this common misconception. Gartenskulptur by Dieter and his son Bjorn developed over a 30 year period and is truly magnificent. 

Think Tuscan farmhouse meets nuclear science programme and you’re on the right tracks. The looming structure fills a fifty foot square hall and comprises of hay barn ladders, rabbit hutches and burnt out TV’s. Then there are the jars, endless rows of glass jars filled with unidentified liquids and surrounded by electrical wiring. It looks like a complicated scientific experiment, or the internal mechanisms of an agricultural machine. There are also nods to nautical life, tall wooden masts rise from the sculpture and are strung with thick wire, whilst broken bottles of Campari suggest a good time ruined by a rough sea. But at the same time, the dying pot plants shoved on top of the TV’s strikes a familiar cord of shabby offices or conservatories. Amongst the plants nestle tins, clocks, screwdrivers, toys, all dusty and broken and inside the TV’s are black and white photos. Roth has, in the past, ripped the floor from his own studio and transplanted it in the middle of an exhibition, the sculpture in the Hamburger Bahnhof shares this sense of something ‘uprooted’…but what its natural habitat was is up for debate.

The beauty of the work is that it's temporary. This is a feature of much of Roth's work and one that I've rarely considered as a positive thing. The structure itself looks unstable, in fact, I’m pretty sure a large chunk of wood fell off as I took my pictures. It’s not that it has a best before date like the artists dairy product based works, but its ordered chaos could never be recreated.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

War, Wurst and Walls: Berlin

April 2011. A little jaunt to Berlin. Perfekt! 






Monday, 4 April 2011

Theatre Uncut: Libby Brodie

Libby Brodie is one of the people behind Theatre Uncut. She tells me why the Arts aren't just about men in tights and how she thinks the political voice of theatre is underused in today's society.


Sunday, 3 April 2011

Snipping Away at the Arts: Theatre Uncut

In the current 'cuts climate' it's easy for people to shun the Arts in favour of protesting about cuts to the NHS.   In fact until recently, it seemed even the Arts were shunning themselves. The 'I Value the Arts' Campaign seemed to be the only group around to have a popular (and by popular I mean social media related) presence...

But of course, it's in keeping with the nature of the beast to build up suspense. And boy was it worth it. 

Ever since George Osborne made that lengthy speech on a hazy autumn day, a narrative of blame, anger and Clegg hating has shaped almost every news bulletin and report. (One might almost think thank goodness for Libya. At least it gives us a bit of a break.) But, one sector that has remained pretty quiet is the Arts. Despite seeing a significant blow to their one of their only champions- Arts Council England-any anger has been overridden by the charging students and workers. 

To put you in the picture, The Arts Council has to make a 30% cut to its spending by 2015. Last week, this figure was translated into real terms as 600 organisations were refused funding and many more saw their budgets slashed dramatically. Museums Sheffield was one of the victims, losing all its ACE support as did several other Yorkshire based arts groups. 

Enter stage left:  Theatre Uncut. 

This nationwide protest, culminated in a day of ferocious performances across the UK and certainly packed a punch. It began, as all the best plans do, as a discussion in a humble kitchen, between friends Hannah Price, Libby Brodie and Mark Ravenhill. They decided that the 'political voice of theatre' should be utilised in some way against the cuts made in the Government Spending Review.

Soon after the kitchen conversation, they secured the performance rights of eight plays, by some of the UK's leading playwrights, about various types of public sector cuts. Lucy Kirkwood, Dennis Kelly, David
Greig, Laura Lomas, Anders Lustgarten, Mark Ravenhill, Jack Thorne and Clara Brennan all produced original short plays for the cause. The performances began up to a week before, but ended on the 19th March with hundreds of people performing them across the country. 

The plays, some monologues, the rest with up to three actors encompassed a wide range of issues...disability allowance, mental health funding, drug rehabilitation and bankers bonuses...but all had one thing in common, the reminder that the cuts to our public sectors run deeper than any of us can begin to imagine. 

The most moving of the eight were the two monologues, Fragile by David Greig and Hi Vis by Clara Brennan (both directed by Sean Linnen in Sheffield's take on Theatre Uncut). I wasn't the only one left in tears by the mother figure in Brennan's play, who explained how her disabled daughter was missing the vital support she had once received. She explains how as parents they care for their daughter themselves, covered in blood and shit, she is hauled from bed to bath. No quality of life, and even less now the public sector cuts take their toll on Council services. 

Then came 'Jack' the once drug-addled youth who depends on the support he receives from 'Caroline' and the others 'down the centre'. We're all guilty of thinking these kind of  people don't matter...but Greig makes us see that if the precious few who do care are no longer there, then there really is no hope at all. Jack may be riddled with paranoia and anxiety, but he's smart. Really smart. And quickly works out that 'freelance' means 'redundancy'...from the sounds made by the audience it seems this turn of phrase is all too familiar. 

But What makes Fragile really clever is that 'because of austerity measures' the audience play the part of the carer, Caroline. As a result her words are formal, mechanical and unfeeling...a tone not far removed from that of the MP's we hear on the news. 

Most startling is how current the plays are. There are references to Mohamed Bouazizi and Tunisia and the student protests. And, as the characters of Jack Thornes play Whiff Whaff ask the ultimate hypothetical question 'What would David do?' the audience shifted uncomfortably in their seats. 

Libby Brodie, one of those behind Theatre Uncut, told me that they were conscious not to make it 'about theatre, by theatre people' and that it isn't 'just theatre for theatres sake', and I promise you it isn't. Strangely,  not one of the plays is about the cuts to the arts, but I soon realised that they don't have to be. The very method of performance and the poignant conveyance of passion, despair and disappointment with our current Government is enough to convince anybody that the Arts need to be protected. If only to make more stands like this. 

Keep an eye out for my interview with Libby Brodie which I'll be posting in the next couple of days. 

Theatre Uncut was performed at The Crucible in Sheffield on 19th March.
Directors: Daniel Evans, Jonathan Humphreys and Sean Linnen