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20 June 2011

In advance of art weeks 2011:

Whilst art weeks is only a mere two weeks in the running, this year from September 17th until October 7th (plug plug) if only the same could be said for the amount of time it takes to put it all together! Whilst last years art weeks had barely finished planning for art weeks 2011 had begun, and with around 450 artists taking part this year; most needing to find venues, submit photos, devise and curate a show and somewhere along the way actually maybe, perhaps make some work to exhibit; then its easy to see where the time goes! In preparation for art weeks this year myself and a group of four other artists received a small bursary to create a project/exhibition. The professional development opportunity that this bursary was a part of began in February this year and during the last four months, Simon Lee Dicker, Lucia Harley, Jon England, Hannah Bishop and myself have been meeting to discuss our projects and give each other feedback. This isn't the first post on the blog where I have mentioned this, so forgive me if some of it is repeated from before. Anyway, last Friday the 17th was the turn of visiting Jon England who's project researching with the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Yeovilton is based and also visiting Simon Lee Dicker's new studio/exhibition spaces at The Lanes and recently renovated Old School House at West Coker. All in a days work!
After flying in with Jon and Hannah we arrived at the spectacularly windy car park at the Fleet Air Arm Museum where we met up with Simon, Lucia, Kate Noble and Carol Carey and Zoe Li from SAW for a whistle stop tour of the museum and look at the restoration hanger in which Jon's project particularly is focusing on. I know from my own experience working with the Somerset Heritage Centre in Taunton that the curators/museum staff are incredibly knowledgeable and enthusiastic people about their subject and so meeting David Morris, curator of aircraft at the museum was no exception. In case you are in need of a little context here allow me to explain; Jon England has previously used World War 2 related research/photos/memories/artifacts to create both his own work and curate it sometimes in installations. Last year's art weeks featured work alongside Edward Milligan whose work included portraits and drawings from when Ted was a prisoner of war. You can begin to see then why some of the planes at Fleet would hold particular interest and resonance for Jon to use in his own work. In particular, the main focus in Jon's project is the Grumman Martlet which is currently being painstakingly (and believe me, it really is a huge task!) restored to its original war time paint scheme. This is really a project of forensic archaeology and the ethics of restoration. I'll explain, here we have in Fleet the last complete Grumman Martlet in the world that has in its lifetime been repainted either for a museum or during its wartime use. Therefore all of its history, its wear and tear and signs of human use have been covered up by layers of paint over the years. What the restoration team at Fleet are doing is to remove the layers of paint very gradually and very carefully (and it takes ages and ages) to reveal the original body of the plane. Along the way this tells the team a lot about the use of the plane, where it had been and all the patina and use it had that make the plane, not just a show piece in a museum but an actual working account of the people that flew it, mechanics that worked on it and more. A fascinating project, because I can see similar kinds of restoration being undertaken (but on a much much smaller scale) on the tools I've been looking at with the museum in Taunton. Anyway, Jon has been recording and researching this project in great detail with the crew at Fleet and is using his findings to generate and inspire his own work that relates to the plane and the idea of forensics. Some of his work in progress mimics the process that the team are using of removing layers of paint of the plane which Jon is combining with his own style of drawing using representational imagery connected with the history of the plane. *See image below for more details*

Moving on and the seven of us now embarked down the road to West Coker where we rendezvoused at the Lanes Hotel and the site of 'Under a new sun' exhibition from Simon Lee Dicker. The exhibition 'Under a new sun' will feature the work of eight artists some of whom have been invited/challenged by Simon to exhibit and create new work in ways they haven't worked before...I appreciate this concept is best explained with an example, so I'll provide: Michael Fairfax is part of this show and is best known for his stone/wood sculptures. As a part of 'Under a new sun' Michael has been invited to show something different and is going to exhibit some sound sculptures/works as a result. Not everyone has to do something 'different' and from the list of artists taking part already it looks as though there is a great mix of painting, installation, video, light and sound pieces! Artists include: Luke Paramore, Lucia Harley, Michael Fairfax, Megan Calver, Angela Charles, Simon Hitchens, Tascha Elena Stevens and of course Simon Lee Dicker himself. You see this project is slightly different because it sees Simon in a more curatorial role which is interesting because he's also an artist and how the two roles might work together differently to that of someone primarily from a curating background. However putting eight great artists in one venue like the Lanes is not all, no. Simon has completely renovated and transformed a near by School House (literally opposite the Lanes Hotel) into a beautiful, contemporary gallery and studio space. You should definitely check it out on his blog on the link below because its a fab space! So the resulting show is going to be across the two venues and won't be as obvious as 'hanging another painting where anther painting once was' to quote Simon's own words, but aims to come up with more creative ways in which art/artists can engage with the spaces and the people that use them in new ways. I really look forward to seeing what happens. *See image below for more details*

Some crispy noodles with chicken and a pint of cider later and we're ready to call it a day: with myself and Hannah left on the list of people to visit, next time the pressure will really be on! Like I said this is really a taste of the things to come and have been used to get us together as a group of artists talking through and testing our ideas. Actually, I've found that its been very good to talk. Speak to you soon!

Jon England exhibiting at the Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton

Luke Paramore exhibiting as part of 'Under a new sun' at The Old School room, West Coker, Somerset

Lucia Harley exhibiting as a part of 'Under a new sun'

So in advance of art weeks which run from 17th September - 2nd October you can check out details of the exhibitions created by the artists mentioned in this post now: -Venue 1 -Venue 11 -Venue 100

12 June 2011

Its showtime!

End of year shows! 'Ad Lucem' at The Brewhouse and Somerset College.


pencil, tracing paper, foil, food wrappers, plaster, bell jars, fabric, perspex, milk cartons, orange emulsion, string, leaves, pulp, wood, nails, glue, light, sound, paper, steel, chair, latex, tape, newspaper, darkness, frames, boxes, foil, wheelchair, pins, the human body, canvas, flowers, fruit, ink, turps, salt, Dave's jeans, oil, acrylic, clock mechanisms, gin, evidence, glass, wool, felt, blood, sweat, tears, gloss, plastic, paper, card, rust, film, wire, cable, sound, shadow, bed, cogs, concrete, resin, board


This isn't a review; I quickly came to the conclusion that it would be difficult to articulate into words the vast qualities, styles and thoughts surrounding the work in an end of year Fine Art degree show like 'Ad Lucem', where I can only but try (in so few words) present to you an accurate enough flavour of the wide variety and diversity of work on offer. I'll do my best to summarise and perhaps, if need be, convince you why the above statement is correct. You'll just have to trust me, and take it from the list of materials above that there is STILL something inherently magic about the way in which artists (in particular these artists) transform existing stuff...into new stuff! And once again my friends, peers, fellow artists, protagonists from Somerset College have pulled it off, yet again, with no exception.

Themes of, history, the environment, abstraction, expressionism, illusion, identity, the mysterious, the banal, space, time, illusion and ecology that borrow from minimalism, conceptual ism, formalism, surrealism, feminism and traces of just about every other kind of 'ism' you could probably think of are evident in the work. This is one reason why end of year shows, in general, are always so exciting. Why be stuck looking at a Futurism exhibition at the Tate, when you can indulge in a show of new contemporary work that takes inspiration from lots of different art forms? Maybe I'm just greedy in my eclectic tastes, but isn't this truly what contemporary practice is all about? In example, why stick with one thing when you can recycle from many and invent something new?

'Ad Lucem' (read as Latin for 'Into the light'), in case you were wondering is the second exhibition of the same name from the now graduating, third year BA hons Fine Art students at Somerset College, University of Plymouth. The first 'Ad Lucem' was the second year show at a Tithe Barn in Pilton, Glastonbury and took place last year. Ironically, perhaps this years show could have, in places, also been called, 'Ad Umbris' ('Into the dark') as there were around four or more installations at least in which the you as the viewer found yourself, rather trustingly, walk into a black void as a part of the experience or the way in which certain works needed to be 'viewed'. Hooray! If you had read my post about the Brewhouse 'Inna space' show then you'll know I'm particularly becoming a fan of, art in the dark. Don't ask why.

Ha ha, anyway, both at The Brew and at the college there is a good mix of painting, photography, sculptural, mixed media and installation, with more including sound and video works as well at the college site. Phew! I'm exhausted! It has always been a challenge at these sorts of private views to somehow take 'anything' in, even to understand properly just one piece of work, whilst somehow still managing to look at the entire show and talk to dozens of different people you haven't seen in ages having to summarise the most interesting things (of which you can no longer remember) that you've been doing with your life in the space of five seconds! But if you can somehow manage to do all that then I salute you, as I am particularly bad at the latter. Social awkwardness aside, when and IF you do get round to looking at any work you'll see everything from igloos made of milk cartons, to shadow martial arts, abstract paintings, delicate drawings, multi-layered psychedelic collages and prints, rich 'earthy' textured surfaces, stop motion animation, historical documentation and re-presentation, felt-y body parts, wooden hideaways, narrative photography, more paintings! And more!!! "Look upon it as you watch the stars," a wise person once told me when viewing art work. Without being to corny or romantic I think what they were basically saying was that you just as you cannot always rationalise stars and space, and nor need you have to do so in order to enjoy them; neither should you overly try to force meaning on art. That doesn't mean that meaning isn't there, just that it should reveal itself naturally as you look at it. I guess that's resonance isn't it? Hmmm, anyway, I digress and the 'how one engages with art' is a debate best left for another day.

Back to the show. If you're interested in my opinion and if I can say without trying to sound too pretentious, my feeling is that there is a really strong overall consistency to the work this year, in the sense you've all probably seen shows where you think that there is real glaringly different standards of work with some strong and some really weak work in them. In my opinion I can honestly say that the overall show was really great. Pride is a word that seems to be popping up a lot these days and did you know it works in all directions. I'm still really proud to have graduated from this particular course and seeing my friends graduate from it as it continues to grow and thrive. Even better when we have got to work together since and how we continue to support each other in our practices in Somerset. Things are looking very healthy indeed. Thank you and good stuff to all involved!

Looks like in the end it did turn into a bit of a review (or an essay!) after all. Maybe next time I'll just make it simple, express it in a few words. So there you have it:

Ad Lucem: illuminating, enlightening, incandescent, blazing, shiny, radiating

Go see it now!

For more info from 'the horses mouth' please go to:

'Ad Lucem' can be seen at The Brewhouse until Wednesday 22 June and Somerset College until Friday 24th June.

5 June 2011

May's Art book of the month: 'Dirt: the filthy reality of everyday life'

May's art book of the month is quite simply, filthy. 'Dirt: the filthy reality of everyday life' is the accompanying book to the exhibition of the same name at the Wellcome Collection on Euston road, London. One of my friends, knowing I'm a keen fan of anything banal, domestic and everyday recommended that I see this exhibition, especially since I'd recently at the time just come back from a trip to Paris where I went on a tour of the sewers there. I don't quite know exactly what it is, why the recent fascination with sewage, waste, dirt and water closets? Maybe its from an ever increasing drawing realisation of how much 'stuff' there actually is in the world. That and I find the whole thing quite funny too, I mean who wouldn't want to visit the sewers then followed by a trip to the Louvre without seeing some sort of irony in that! Perhaps we take art too seriously most of the time, and that's why its good to every once and a while be reminded of something really practical, that at first seems kind of silly or bizarre but is actually a necessity and says a lot about human ingenuity and innovativeness. Anyway, whatever my reasons, my curiosity led me to going to see this exhibition and read the catalogue which is my book of the month for May.
Firstly, what made the exhibition so great was it covered a broad range of 'dirty' places and themes within what was quite a small overall exhibition. From the home to the street, the hospital, the community and the land: the theme of dirt was explored in these different contexts. What does 'dirt' actually mean, is one of the key questions the book/exhibition seeks to answer,

'Dirt, is a term used to encompass dust, excrement, rubbish, bacteria, and soil. It is also used as a metaphor to denote social, cultural or ethnic outsiders. Humans like all living organisms are efficient generators of dirt, which may partly explain why dirt can provoke visceral fear or disgust. Ultimately, the deterioration of our own bodies is the most profound and unsettling reminder of how everything, in the end disintegrates.'

The book continues and describes the ways in which science has been used to explore and form what our are modern day conceptions of cleanliness and hygiene are, how engineering and creative means of problem solving led to our sewer system, how we organize ourselves and how waste on a global/environmental scale continue to affect our planet and how dirt can appear magical in the way in which crops grow from soil and strains of antibiotics have been discovered in sewage. When it comes down to it, from a speck of dust you can end up talking about an awful lot! Its particularly good as well because it doesn't just focus on the West and looks at our human relationship with dirt from other countries, Peking and India to name a few. The book itself is made up of six essays all of which are backed up with lots of photos of the artifacts, images and artworks in the exhibition. The latter an important point to mention as a nice touch to the exhibition was the presence of some contemporary artworks in amongst the museum collection. For example a normal everyday broom stands propped in the corner of the gallery and as it turns out on closer inspection is actually a Susan Collis and all the detail of splashes of paint are actually mother of pearl set into the broom handle. Other work such as 'Raw material' a video showing a pair of hands being obsessively washed by Bruce Nauman and an installation of a Breman carpet made from dust on the floor of the gallery by Igor Eskinja add to the story telling and challenge our perceptions of dirt. Of course the book wouldn't be complete without references to Piero Manzoni's 'Artist's Shit' in a can and our old favourite, Duchamp's 'Fountain. For the environmentalists among you the book/show also features work by Mierle Laderman Ukeles and her project with the New York sanitation department.

Like all good books should probably have in them somewhere is that this one has a comic book in the middle, how cool! Obviously, its in there deliberately as the story is about a cartoonist whose art and creativity was aided by being surrounded in junk and dirt, which leads me onto my next point that ultimately at the end of reading this book, if you didn't already, you come to accept the fact that dirt in all its forms, contexts and meanings is a part of what makes us human. Whether you like it or not it is also vital to our existence. In terms of creativity and art, some would argue that a degree of mess is essential in order for anything creative to be generated at all? Some of the moral implications, however, like how it affects our environment are also addressed, but, as is very often the case its the debate and realisation that balance is what is needed, that makes this an interesting and eyeopening journey to read. The book marries with the exhibition very well but actually takes it a lot further and the essays, by six different authors from historians to anthropologists looking deeper into some of the history and politics surrounding the themes mentioned above. An interesting and unusual exhibition and an equally informed and good record of the show in the book. Sure, its not exactly the sewers meets the Louvre like what I experienced before, but in its wit and charm of having art and artifacts together its not entirely dissimilar either. I'm off now to go make some mess! I don't think anyone could hardly complain. So, what are you waiting for? Wash your hands and immerse yourself into the grimey, fascinating book on dirt!

You can still visit the exhibition too until August 31st, see website below for more details: