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“Arty Wow Moment”: Review of Angels of Anarchy @ Manchester City Art Gallery

 

UPDATE ADDED:  5 March 2012.  Tremendous blog post on Francesca Woodman and her work over at Wayne Ford’s Posterous.   Her tragically short life is put under the microscope and the resulting post is a wonderfully informed and a comprehensive look at her background, work and influences.  Thank you Mr Ford!

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It has to be said I probably attend my fair share of exhibitions, but what doesn’t happen very often is that I enjoy one so much I feel a powerful urge to blog about it.  But the “Angels of Anarchy” exhibition currently in residence at Manchester City Art Gallery really does deserve to be seen by anyone with even the vaguest interest in the visual arts.

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My last real big “arty wow moment” in Manchester was back in 1997 at the David Hockney exhibition, the one with all his photocollage stuff.  OK, well yes, I did also have one seeing the footage of Gandhi visiting Darwen at the Procession exhibition (Cornerhouse, Summer09).  But that doesn’t really count as it wasn’t the art that made me hold my breath with wonder, rather the actual event happening at all and being recorded forever by someone with a movie camera.

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To be truthful, the only reason ‘Angels of Anarchy’ even twitched on my radar was due to the inclusion of some of Lee Miller’s photographs.  I am not really a big fan of Surrealism.  A few years ago, when I got to see some of Dali’s best work up close, I could appreciate the beautiful brush work but I didn’t find myself particularly moved.  It was all a bit too clever for me.

Surrealism emerged in the mid-Twenties, a potent, shifting and bubbling period in the art world.  Most of the celebrated artists and thinkers were male (Breton, Dali, Freud, Magritte, Man Ray, Picasso) and these are the names which are inextricably linked with the movement and whose work we have become accustomed to seeing.

Where the curators of this new exhibition have struck gold is by choosing to limit things to a unique viewpoint, namely the part women played as creators.  This helps to make the work relevant, it introduces a much more human aspect and allows the viewer to better understand and feel the emotion pouring out from the artists work on show.

Exhibition spaces can often feel cavernous, cold and intimidating.  Manchester Art Gallery have got things right here though.  Subdued lighting, warm rich colours and intelligent grouping of images make for a meandering and intuitive journey.

The work takes all forms, from painting and photography through to film, sculpture, books and poetry.  Many of the pieces can usually be found ensconced within numerous different private collections, there are 150  images from the 1920’s through to the 1970’s.

After viewing the exhibition I came away with much to think upon.  Many images deal with the representation of women as sexual objects; beautified, empowered, sad, disconnected, shackled.  Sometimes it felt like a celebration, stumbling into someone else’s party, women united and enjoying each others artistry, support and friendship (Lee Miller’s portrait work).  This is women experimenting and questioning, using their art to examine traditional roles and their place within a wider world and trying to find a voice.

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It is a privilege to have the opportunity to see powerful work such as Lee Miller’s ‘Severed Breast’ (a freshly removed female breast is photographed served up on a dinner plate complete with cutlery on a white linen tablecloth, the was showcased in Vogue the magazine Miller worked for at the time) and Meret Oppenheimer’s wickedly disturbing “Fur Gloves With Wooden Fingernails”.  I really like the work of Manchester-based artist Rachel Goodyear and I believe her images would feel right at home in the slightly gothic and fetish-themed room where Oppenheimer, Penny Slinger and Josette Exandier’s work is displayed. Within this leatherbound haven you will find a fur teacup, a blonde human hair whip (fairytale/Rapunzel?) and bird skeletons.

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Argentinian painter Leonor Fini’s work stands strong and powerful.  A remarkable women, artist, costume designer and novelist.  I was wowed by her “Little Hermit Sphinx (1948)” with it’s subtle colours and exquisite technique, capturing decay and innocence, a guardian for life and death.

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Batting for the British corner I found Edith Rimmington’s painting “The Oneiroscopist (1947)” haunting, weird and beautiful.

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Photography is well-represented in the exhibition.  I mentioned Lee Miller’s work earlier, but there is an abundance of powerful work.  I discovered the images of Francesca Woodman (Kate Bush a big fan apparently).  This US artist took the photograph chosen for the Exhibition poster and “Untitled” (1977) a self-portrait showing her hanging from a doorway really stayed bouncing round my mind long after I had left the gallery.  Using long exposures she generates a ghostly atmosphere, made all the more powerful when you discover she had a troubled life and committed suicide aged 22yrs.

francesca-woodman_doorway

Dora Maar’s photographic portrait of an armadillo embryo is freakish, spooky and rather innocent, whereas her “Sans Titre” seashell with a hand is classic surrealism, another of her prints hints at her striving towards a more documentary style and one can understand there is a truth to rumours of her appreciation of Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange .  Maar is perhaps better known as Picasso’s muse, but I would love to see more of her photography.

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A big star of the show is Frida Kahlo, probably acknowledged as one of the more celebrated female surrealist artists, her work is vibrant and pulses with it’s own distinctive style,  symbolism and themes.  I must make an effort to see the film “Frida” based on her life,  she overcame huge odds to create such powerful paintings.

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A new discovery for me was Kay Sage, an American painter working mostly with oils.  She created beautiful, linear landscapes filled with futuristic structures all coloured from a sublime palette.  Sage’s work felt decidedly modern and distinctive, her painting “The Hidden Letter” immediately made me think of Phillippe Starck’s famous iconic lemon squeezer (or am I alone in that thought!).

kaysage_starck

This really is a feast, an exciting opportunity to see such a range of high quality work in one place.  The Gallery has made sterling efforts to enhance the experience, with a programme of talks and tours, games and interactive websites.  All part of a quietly terrific marketing and social media campaign, steered by Wilmslow agency Wonder Associates. Fantastic to see an arts organisation making such an effort to find and engage with their audience.

Further reviews of the exhibition can be found at the Guardian, Independent, Prospect Magazine, creativetourist.com and for a queer slant try Chroma Journal. Angels of Anarchy continues at Manchester Art Gallery until 10th January 2010 and was curated by Dr Patricia Allmer, MIRIAD, Manchester Metropolitan University.

UPDATE: Nov 2010.  Just found a well-written piece in The Telegraph newspaper (England) today on Francesa Woodman.  It’s well worth a read, particularly  if you have an appreciation of Francesca’s work and would like to learn more about her (sadly) rather tragic and short life.  It also highlights the fact that some of Francesca Woodman’s work will be on display at the Victoria Miro gallery in London 17 Nov 2010 – 22 Jan 2011 and also in the New Year 2011 a major retrospective will be on show at San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art and then on to the Guggenheim in New York in 2012.

Next year, a major Woodman retrospective will travel to San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art, and on to the Guggenheim in New York in 2012. Before that, though, an exhibition of around 50 of her photographs, including some rare colour prints, opens at the Victoria Miro gallery in London on Wednesday.

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“Silent Light” – Update. It’s being shown on Film 4 tomorrow night!

A little late in the day, but I just happened to notice a film I blogged about back in April is being shown in the UK tomorrow evening (Monday 11th August) at 11.30pm on Film4.

“Silent Light” is the latest film by the talented Mexican Director Carlos Reygadas and was given it’s theatrical release in 2007. The pacing is described as “funereal” so it might not be to everyone’s taste, but it is described as “overwhelmingly powerful” by the Guardian.

Below is some information on this award-winning film taken from the Radio Times website, my original post can be found here. I was initially struck by the beautifully composed still images from this film and I vowed to track it down and give it a viewing. Tomorrow evening will provide the perfect opportunity. :-)

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Editors cover “An End Has A Start” photography by Idris Khan research from sleevage.com website


The days of purring over sleeve artwork are probably long gone for most music buyers nowadays but a good cover can still play a key part in packaging, branding and marketing a band. Over recent times a cover which consistently caught my eye was the Editors “The End has a Start” I don’t quite know why, but I liked the colours and the image and so I decided to investigate a little more.

There is a fantastic website (Australian in origin I believe) which made my task a whole lot easier. Sleevage.com is a fantastic resource which started a year ago and it delights in record sleeve art. Any interesting cover (new or old) can be put forward and the origin of the image or design is discussed with intelligence and insight. If you really love your music there is the opportunity to suggest and submit your own review, in return you can get your hands on free CD’s and gig tickets.

Luckily, the Editors cover was discussed in staggering detail by Ash at Sleevage only a few months ago. For me, the image on the front cover evokes memories of an industrialized area just on the edge of city centre Manchester near the Velodrome where huge gas storage structures tower over terraced houses. For the reviewer at Sleevage it looked like it could be a stadium or a racetrack and just goes to show that what we see is in the eye of the beholder.

The photography is by Idris Khan a controversial UK artist who uses other peoples images to build up multi-layers until a “new” piece is created. I use the word controversial as he has created a bit of a stir due his actual source material being other artists’ work, which raises many questions as regards authorship, originality and copyright. (see also Richard Prince’s work). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Prince

The cover shot was created by Khan using a series of images taken by Bernd and Hilla Becher, they were a German husband and wife artistic team who began working in the late 50’s their work often featured the industrial structures which surrounded them. (Bernd Becher sadly died last year and his obituary can be found here).

Whatever the rights and wrongs, I do find Idris Khan’s work haunting and rather beautiful. The strongest images are those which have the central spine and linear core provided by buildings. On this work the architectural symmetry allows the layers to blossom and creates a real atmosphere and feel that works ‘with’ rather than ‘against’ the originals.

 

“it’s obviously not about re-photographing the photographs to make exact copies, but to intervene and bring a spectrum of feelings – warmth, humour, anxiety – to what might otherwise be considered cool aloof image. Idris Khan.

 

In 2004 he scanned all 1,953 pages of the Koran to create what he believes is his best piece. He discusses this project in a Guardian interview here.

Now I’m off back to Sleevage.com to check out that “Nevermind” cover for Nirvana …

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“Tokyo Story” a film by Yasujiro Ozu (Japan) 1953

This is a wonderful film I saw last weekend. I have listed below some random facts and opinions. I hope it intrigues and encourages some of you to see it and do let me know what you think.

  • Brief Plot : Two elderly parents from a small seaside town in southwest Japan pay a visit to their busy children in Tokyo – a journey that, before the introduction of the bullet train, took almost a day.
  • Released one year after the end of the Allied Occupation of Japan, showing the changes and transitions on the road to a modern Japan.
  • “This film is the Director’s masterpiece: tender, profoundly mysterious and desperately sad” (Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian)
  • A classic of World Cinema (BBC)
  • Made post World War II, released in 1953 and shot in black and white.
  • One of the best 100 Films ever made (Time Magazine).
  • Sight and Sound magazine called “Tokyo Story” one of the three greatest films of all time”.
  • The Best Film Ever Made declared in 2005 by Halliwell’s Film Guide.
  • Simple yet universal theme of families and how they can drift apart.
  • 100% Japanese reflecting a very different culture and society values to the West.
  • Many filming techniques are quite alien to those familiar with mainstream movies.
  • Trademark Ozu style: slow and still, low camera angles, minimilist, static camera (as a mere observer), lack of action, uneventful plot, no upbeat ending, landscape or wide-shots are used to allow a “chill-out” and separate scenes, characters often filmed sideways allowing the viewer to feel in the middle of the conversation, scenes often filmed in profile and framed within a building.
  • The Director pioneered “ellipses” where major events are discussed but not shown within a film.
  • “Tokyo Story” was not released in the US until 1972.
  • Ozu made 54 films (26 in his first 5 yrs), which were very popular in Japan but under-appreciated in the West.
  • There is a lack of editing and scenes are often shot in one take.
  • Because of this lack of manipulation the viewer slowly becomes emotionally engaged with the characters and eventually by the end of the film the cumulative effect is that it hits home with power and honesty.
  • Ozu does not point fingers instead he creates more of a contemplative meditation on the transitory nature of life.
  • One of the most sympathetic characters Toriko (the daughter-in-law) is played by Sesuko Haro who features in many of the Director’s other films. The actress never gave interviews and refused to be photographed, she retired from making films at the height of her fame.
  • The viewer is drawn towards the characters through subtle gestures, observation of Japanes social manners and conversation, tiny details echo the bigger picture with wonderful camera framing and cinematography.
  • Sound plays an important part, the rhythm of journey pervades the entire film, from background steamboats to speeding trains. A ticking clock or the sounds of the city subtly compliment the major themes of the story.
  • One of the Director’s favourite films was Orson Welles “Citizen Kane”.
  • My favourite key message “the beauty of life is often found by standing still”
An amazing website detailing images and journals from Ozu’s huge back catalogue can be found here it seems to be part of the University of Toyko website.

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The Apprentice, no I don’t like any of them either but it’s fun to watch ….

 

 

Hands Up …. Yes, not everyone is prepared to come clean but I hereby admit I am hooked onto “The Apprentice”.  So sorry to let you all down :-(  

If anyone is suffering from a similar affliction and needs to share and undergo some communal therapy then check out the blog on the Guardian’s site.  Some of the comments are quite funny.  Here is a taster, detailing the remaining 6 candidates :-

“Clare: Rampant Rottweiler, 28, loves my tissues, seeks submissive male for world domination and quiet nights in listening to me gob off. Must like horses, cake, and giving it 150%.

Alex: Handsome well-groomed superman, 24, likes fit girls, boxing and shirking responsibility. Desperately seeking sexy soulmate, must have personality because mine’s gone AWOL.

Lucinda: Quirky fashion-loving blond, 31, likes scuba diving and playing the harp, WLTM naughty naughty naughty gent to push her beret boundaries. Must have GSOH and sunglasses.

Lee: Tall dark geezer, 30, does somefink in sales, loves bloke stuff and shouting, looking for well fit bird to tame my pterodactyl. Tha’s wot I’m talkin’ abaaaht.

Helene: Willowy brunette, 32, Global Pricing Leader, likes football and pulling the wings off butterflies. Doesn’t seek a man because she can break through the glass ceiling without one, thanks. Now fuck off.

Michael: Good Jewish boy, 24, WLTM kosher/halal soulmate who likes her men manipulative, whiny and incompetent, or father figure to provide guidance through the corridors of commerce. Happy to beg if necessary”

Yep, I know Michael has now gone the way of the dodo but I like his description so have kept it in.
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