This is a longer post than usual. Hopefully you will stay with it. The CSM degrees shows were exceptional this year in the way that they never let you down but just kept on-and-on engaging, twisting and turning, surprising and challenging, the whole wonderfully and thoughtfully composed and curated so that it didn’t exhaust or elude the visitor – no mean-feat given the enormous logistics to consider.
Hopefully, the few selections below explain themselves as not bestowing favour or exposing nepotism of any kind. Then again, perhaps that is impossible to wholly avoid or deny, whatever strategy we contrive to do so.
These forces always seem to persist in some form, however much art writing tries to purge itself of judgement, however much we might like to uphold art as a realm of special democracy in which banal and bourgeois hierarchies, cliques, cults, nepotism etc. could be challenged and overcome.
And how? By our creativity, generosity, and through our heroic and continual pursuit of the production of difference, which always means and leads to different differences (the antithesis of nepotism) and a constantly renewed questioning of all forms of pre-judice.
This is just one more experiment in your investigation of the possibilities of art criticism.
But before you start you just want to say a big CONGRATULATIONS to ALL graduating 2015 CSM students and to all your CSM teaching colleagues!
You are not an art critic but an artist, writer and lecturer who set up a weekly blog to explore the value, currency and modes of art criticism, how it affects art, writing and lecturing (see ‘Home’ or ‘About’ on this Blog.)
One of the most important factors, that you keep coming back to is Judgement (on which you recently published an article ‘Against Judgement’ in Art Monthly magazine.)
In your recent Blog post here, on ‘Raven Row’ (see post a few weeks ago, below) you raised the issue of milieu, i.e. the way in which judgements are influenced by social connections, proximity, class etc.
As a lecturer at CSM (Central St Martins College) London you are part of that milieu and so did not intend to write about this year’s degree show there. It would be difficult, not only because of a certain partiality but also because in a show containing maybe a thousand works it may also seem unprofessional or biased to spotlight a few, as you are almost bound to do.
Nevertheless, a certain piece of work got you interested, in writing this week about the show and so here you are going to explain how and why. You came across a piece of work, by a student you have never met and became interested in the judgements you made about it. Here, you thought, is an interesting example of judgement, a strong personal response to an unusually modest piece of work in a show that is full of very bold, sometimes spectacular achievements.
Adam Ralph showed a flea-market quality video player (the kind of monitor that has a built-in VHS carriage) on the floor and hung a hammer on the wall nearby. In an adjacent corner he had amassed a wall of poorly made clay imitations of the hammer. In the video you could see him making them, as if walling himself into the corner, but the wall was so low that he could simply step over and out of it.
As you say, you were strangely drawn to affirm, to ‘Like’, to value this work, and though you enjoyed, liked and valued just about everything else the students produced in what seems to be an unusually good show this year, you became interested in the strange attraction of this particular work.
A couple of days later you were asked to conduct a rapid tour of the show with your teaching colleague Mary Evans, and so, another interesting influence on judgement arose. How would you choose a handful of works that would enable the brief tour? As is so often the case you allowed a kind of faith, in chance and spontaneity to lead the way. You started by encountering a student and their collaborative work just nearby the assembly point for the talk. It happened that, though you knew this student quite well their’s was a piece that you hadn’t as yet taken time to get to grips with. Jasmin Newman and Alice Woods have worked collaboratively and made their show together. It is a forward looking and outward looking experiment in home economics (titled ‘Welcome Home’) It utilized aquaponics to circulate energies from the growth of fish to the growth of cabbages, and was all set in a domestic scene.
Collaboration of various kinds are a feature of working and studying at CSM Fine Art. Once you work effectively in teams, partnerships, groups etc. the habit of the lone, supposedly ‘Romantic’ creator can rapidly come to appear redundant, unethical, anachronistic or just plain ‘rinsed’ (as DJs used to say of records that had been played to death.) Pursuing the theme of collaboration you were able to make your next more or less judgemental choice of artist and work by segueing into the work of Yan White and Owain McGilvary who also collaborate. They assembled a variety of playful and sporting balls into towering, playful sculptures and elsewhere set a screen at an angle across a corner and projected onto it a variety of objects swinging past the video camera’s lens.’ e.g. a hammer on a rope, a pigtail, a boy on a monkey swing etc.
Collaboration seems to bring the devil out in males and so McGilvary & White’s work often seems to echo Fischli & Weiss or Jake & Dinos Chapman in its playful irreverence. When asked for their manifesto they said they wanted to make work that their parents would like, a surefire way of distancing yourself from any avant garde traditions.
From here you led the little tour to a part of the building where another collaboration was being celebrated in the work of Maureen Monod & Moea Creugnet. This piece occupied yet another a corner (another emerging theme?) but here the projection was artfully divided by the converging walls in a way that complimented the work’s agenda which was, basically, to describe and record discussions of the collaboration itself. However, the two female collaborators had aded a lot of additional, sensual and formal information so that, while they were self-reflexively and ardently discussing their own work they wore similar clothes, hairstyles and make-up, or propped themselves in poses that were almost redolent of academic painting.
Having seen three collaborations you thought it would be a good time to link to what might be their antithesis, the work described above by Adam Ralph and which seemed to document an extremely lonely activity, a kind of personal and idiosyncratic obsession (the making of a wall of clay hammers), and the reasoning behind which was possibly far more difficult to access than that of the works you had thus-far negotiated. And perhaps this exposes your own judgement, your own ‘taste’, your own interests in art in some way? You feel it is very important for art to share its discoveries with a broad public but it also seems crucial that it never loses its esoteric site as an almost private space in culture wherein an individual is entitled and enfranchised to pursue a personal enquiry, no matter how elusive it remains to a broader audience. Why Adam Ralph was walling himself into a (yet another) corner with poor clay renditions of hammers you can’t tell, and in truth you don’t want to know, but you are strangely thrilled that he was doing so and this strange action was unlike anything else you have seen for a while.
You could then say that the ‘production of difference’ is important to you. We live in a very permissive society full of ‘creatives’, new liberties etc. but the artist’s role in producing difference doesn’t end, it just becomes harder perhaps to produce works that really surprise, question or confuse, really challenge and speculate. One last point to be made about Ralph’s modest installation was that it probably cost about £5.00 to make, and this too seems to touch some of your heartstrings. It has always been important to you that – as Robert Rauschenberg once said – an artist can make work simply by taking a walk around the block i.e. with little equipment, funding, special materials, social contacts etc. If you intend to make art for life then you need this ability, to ride-out all the highs and lows that you will encounter and to keep on going.
The relative poverty of Ralph’s enigmatic procedure was then used as a springboard to take in the relatively lavish production values of Fred Lamb’s contribution to the show. Here, the artist combined high-end sports shoes and a winged helmet that reconnected their commodified mythology (by means of which sports are aligned with Greek gods etc.) to their roots. ‘Mercury’ and ‘becoming mercurial’ was the theme that Lamb used to assemble a video and soundtrack in which sports and expensive cars, blues, rock and R&B all used the myth of the ‘mercurial’ as a value to sell, inspire and excite. The overall impact on the senses was a stunning assault of sheen, gloss and sparkle, of digitized camera movements, CGI effects and animations. Visual reference to the Stock Market also suggested that the artist was not only enjoying this hi-tec jamboree but suggesting that ‘becoming mercurial’ might be a manifesto to launch Lamb’s career as an artist prepared to survive in neoliberalised global consumerist capitalism; an artist prepared to go with the (mercurial) flow; attempting to operate at the extreme rate of the phenomenal contemporary forces with which any serious artist hopes to reflect in and as their art. Needless to say, Lamb’s video screen was set at an acute angle across the corner of his given space.
The work of Rebecca Lindsay-Addy deals quite subjectively with the artist’s identity but also draws in wider issues of cultural identity. She has, in a way, ‘collaborated’ by researching family photographs and finding there a familiar pattern on a favourite bedcover. She also involved family members in making the pieces for the installation, together, on the time-honoured kitchen table. The bedcover pattern forms the basis for her deployment of an arrangement of modular discs across the wall of her given space (again she utilises and emphasizes the corner and displays the modules from wall to wall.) The modules are colouful and glittery, they look machine-made from a distance but on closer inspection are hand cut. On many of them you find traces of the artist’s hair attached. Fortunately she was on-hand to talk about the way that people are fascinated by her big, frizzy (perhaps part-Afro?) hair and tend to “touch it without asking.” In the midst of the modular pattern you find a few words written, apparently communicating a certain passion on the part of the artist, or of the artwork itself “I WANT TO OFFER MYSELF UP” They transform the rest of the work into a kind of sacrifice or votive device and so the hair and the glittering circles become, not only about proximity, perspective, privacy and personal and wider culture but also a kind of belief system in which art-making resembles a prayer.
The BA and MA fine art shows share this event and so the next reason to make a link and spotlight a work was in order to include one or two MA students’ works in the tour. You made a beeline (again perhaps betraying a personal bent of some kind; perhaps just a weakness for work that you felt prepared to talk about at short notice?) for the work of Katya Gargi Here the artist installed paper and card cut-out drawings on one wall and a projected video animation on another. Both played with a perspectival system that seems reminiscent of Mughal paintings or perhaps of the early Renaissance. Here, again, you felt you saw what you call the ‘production of difference’ as Katya Gargi is an artist who seems capable of constantly confronting you with surprising images for which you don’t seem to have the appropriate vocabulary or means of evaluations. The animation portrays a series of spaces, like apartments with their fourth wall removed to reveal the private activities of the occupants. Most of their actions are abject, inexplicable and absurd. A woman floats in mid-air while a hole in the wall of another apartment repeatedly opens to reveal a lunging arm that attacks a trio of male figures. In a ground floor space a figure sponges down another helpless individual, and a leak repeatedly falls from one apartment onto a coffee table in the room below. There is much more to describe here but suffice to say that these funny, slightly repellent scenes coalesce as kind of critique of the current housing boom in which thousands of tiny apartments (with tiny, symbolic ‘balconies.’) are being rapidly built and sold, each seemingly for the purpose not of meaningful living but purely as an aspect of the market. So it is easy to imagine sealing the deal on a life of indebted mortgage payments only to find yourself lying on the floor staring at a ceiling fan, contemplating the purpose of your life, while overhearing the perverse antics of your similarly incarcerated neighbours.
The final piece to which you lead the group is, again hopefully chosen without too much ‘judgement’, ‘taste’, favoritism, nepotism etc. but in this case according to the fact that it was a piece that you had previously talked about with the artist. It is by Irini Folerou and utilizes new technologies effectively to make a classic play on illusion. A white, institutional wall appears to have a small piece scrapped out of it. This small area become illuminated by a projection before a rejected film of a woman’s hand very gracefully and slowly approaches it and seems to lift the missing slither of wall out of its place then gradually makes its way – a little like a dancer, a little like a mechanical digger – to a point where it seems to jettison the piece. There is a sound of it falling, although nothing really falls, and there is a real pile of similarly shaped slithers of wall, apparently amassed earlier. But this activity actually appears Sisyphean in that it adds nothing to the pile –in fact- and takes nothing –in fact- from the surface of the wall, everything projected remains virtual. It is dangerous and possibly digressive to relate a work to the nationality of its maker but the fact that the artist is Greek leads you to connect the pristine wall and broken surface to the classical tradition of perfected figuration and its broken interior – as revealed by fractures etc. But another Greek reference also coincides, i.e. the way the work can seem to add up to a futile or perhaps alternative economy in which nothing is gained and nothing is lost – a message perhaps from the artist to her country’s finance minister and his EU counterparts, as they tussle over Greece’s prospects.
On the way out you are attaching your panier to your bike when you confront the performative work of Dennis Vanderbroeck. He is standing in a window space, on a revolving turntable, like a commodity displayed for sale, and wearing a signature blue costume, complete with a large ‘D’ (for Dennis) logo, an outfit that has made him noticeable around and about the college for several weeks. His deadpan expression as a living manikin is more amusing than sinister, as he slowly revolves, as if saying goodbye t you as you leave the show. Then, right on cue, the performance ends just as you mount your bike. Dennis’s assistance pulls a translucent blind across the window, the artist gets off his revolving plinth to take a well-earned rest, and you see that the blind has a slogan writ-large across it, reading: “THE ARTIST FAILED TO STAY IN CHARACTER BUT WILL BE BACK SOON.” Perhaps you are a little exhausted or perhaps this really is art that does not require critique or interpretation, nothing more than description, admiration, a nod and a smile.
Hopefully, the selections above explain themselves as not bestowing favour or exposing nepotism of any kind. From perhaps a thousand works you have relayed your experience of a mere handful, mainly according to a kind of serendipitous series of connections This has been one more experiment in your project of exploring the real value and means of writing art criticism. You don’t ever really expect to find any solid ground, any predictable or accurate process in this regard but looking and testing your assumptions can certainly be a great pleasure and an adventure. CONGRATULATIONS once again and a BIG THANK YOU to ALL graduating 2015 CSM students!