26 July 2016
Unable to attend the OCA study visit to the “British Art Show 8” in Norwich during August, I luckily managed to fit in a visit on my own.
The show is a touring exhibition, held every 5 years at galleries in different cities across the UK. In Norwich it was spread across 4 venues: Norwich castle museum and art gallery, Norwich University of the Arts (NUA) St. Georges street, NUA East Gallery and The Forum. It features the work of 42 contemporary artists who are making an important contribution to art in the UK, encompassing sculpture, film, video installation photography, painting, performance and design.
The central concern of the exhibition is the changing role and status of the object at a time of increasing convergence between real and virtual. The artists have addressed ways of thinking about materiality; some revisited craft or industrial techniques, digital material or considering everyday objects in as archeological or narrative devices. Consequently, the exhibition was extremely diverse.
Choosing just two pieces of work to review was difficult and I have chosen two which are very different. The first is a a textile piece by Alexandra da Cunha, the second a film by Rachel Maclean.
“Kentucky” (2010) Alexandre de Cunha
Alexandra de Cunha is a Brazilian-born artist resident in London, who’s work is typified by the use of mass produced consumer or industrial products.
Kentucky (2010), is an abstract, sculptural wall hanging, described by the artist as a 3-dimensional collage (British Art Show 8, 2016). I have not been able to find precise dimensions for this work, but estimate it’s size to be in excess of 2m (width) x 3m (height).
Fig 1. Kentucky wall sculpture (2016)
“Kentucky” is composed of mop-heads, dyed and woven together in the form of a Modernist tapestry (British Art show, 2016). Although dyed, the piece retains a natural, neutral feel. Kentucky is richly textured with unruly, shaggy fringes which hang freely and contrast with the tight geometry of the woven sections. Both the scale of the piece, and the materials from which it is made share parallels with works by Sheila Hicks, for example, Linen Lean-To (Met Museum, s.d.).
“Kentucky” is certainly materials led; the texture, form and repeat being be dictated by the objects it is constructed from. The multiplicity of the elements suggests mass production (Colin and Yee, 2016:38), reflecting the fact that the mops were selected from hundreds of thousands of identical items destined for domestic use. By making them into a purely decorative artwork, de Cunha has disrupted their utilitarian association and in doing so, draws our attention to the subjects of labour and value, both in art and the wider world (Colin and Yee, 2016:38)
In relation to my own practise, and in particularly in the context of Textiles 1: Mixed Meida for Textiles, the use of found objects is relevant, demonstrating that purchased artists materials are not always needed or indeed desirable. In fact, the texture and interest of this piece as well as it’s poignance as an artwork are reliant on the use of mops and the way in which they have been transformed.
“Feed me” (2015) Rachel Maclean
It is unusual for me to relate to films or video installations but this was an exception, being one of the most powerful artistic expressions I have seen, and certainly the stand-out piece for me at British Art Show 8.
“Feed me” in an hour-long 18-rated film produced in association with Film and Video Umbrella. Luckily, I had enough time to watch it in it’s entirety. In the film, Maclean plays all the main characters and has written their script (although some of the voice overs are provided by actors). The work provocatively explores the subjects of commercialisation, consumerism, sexualisation and exploitation. Using part fairy tale and part hyper-modern fantasia, it is a parallel for the pleasures and perils of excess. This is perhaps best illustrated in a YouTube clip (Rachel Maclean Feed Me film; Modern 1 Gallery | A little bit of everything, n.d.)
In asking myself why the film resonates so strongly with me, I have concluded that it is partly because of the subject matter, but also because of the clever way Maclean has been able to convey her ideas. Consumerism, sexualisation and exploration are present within our daily lives; in shops, adverts, journalism, TV programmes, music videos, gaming, You-Tube and social media (I could go on), yet they are rarely at the front of our consciousness. Subliminally, they have a huge impact on our lives, but their pervasiveness is like canker, permeating our core, developing and spreading unseen.
In the YouTube video Rachel Maclean “Feed me” (2015), the artist talks about her influences, and how she has strived to communicate through the film. Although “Feed Me” is superficially concerned with the insatiable appetite of the consumer, it also has wider connotations regarding the feeding of society in a less literal sense (emotionally, for example). In the interview Maclean asks “Who feeds who?, to what extent to we feed each other, and/or do we feed off each other?”
The influences of “Feed Me draw” heavily from characters associated with fairytales and children’s TV. Maclean talks about programmes such as Telletubies presenting a safe, utopian, unrealistic, sanitised view of the world (Maclean “Feed Me”, 2015). In this way Maclean addresses the issue of pretence and make believe. She explores the imaginary boundary between the pretend and real world and the effect this has on how we report and react to events such as youth murder and paedophilia.
The characters in Maclean’s film are stereotypes, yet they are unstable, frequently switching without warning from caring to exploitative. The same can be said of objects, for example the free gift: a “stress ball” which actually causes stress by continually questioning the happiness of it’s owner and coercing them into intrusive and counterproductive online interactions. In this way the film questions the values of our society and the validity of its perceived goals.
“Feed me” does not shy away from violence. There are simulated shootings, imprisonment and scenes of deprivation, all linked seamlessly into scenes of glitzy, candy floss world of childhood, innocence and play. As a piece of art, it holds up a mirror so that we can examine ourselves, our society, and it’s behaviour.
In relation to my own practise, it was initially difficult to see how a film might translate into a textile piece. However, thinking about why the film is so engaging, makes me reflect upon the contrast between hideous violence, purity and innocence. There are parallels with the work of textile artist Rozanne Hawksley in this respect. Hawsley also achieves a strong viewer response by contrasting imagery and symbols of death and violence with elements suggesting fragility and calmness.
British Art Show 8 (2016) Alexandre de Cunha. At: http://britishartshow8.com/artists/alexandre-da-cunha-1497 (Accessed on 14 September 2016)
Colin, A. And Yee, L. (2016) British Art Show 8. Norwich. Norwich University of the Arts and Norwich castle museum and art gallery.
Met Museum (s.d.) “Linen Lean-To” Tapestry Bas-Relief. At: http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/484699 (Accessed 14 September 2016)
Rachel Maclean “Feed Me” (2015) [user-generated content online] Creat. Film and Video Umbrella. 2015. At:https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=S9DFdQvGn-w (Accessed 14 September 2016)
Rachel Maclean Feed Me film; Modern 1 Gallery | A little bit of everything (n.d.) [user-generated content online]. Creat. Modern 1 Gallery. Date n.k. At:https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=GqNJKE_hwvQ (Accessed on 14 September 2016)
List of illustrations:
Figure 1. Eastaugh, N. (2016) Kentucky wall sculpture [photograph]. In possession of: N. Eastaugh. Ipswich.