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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.

angelsposter

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.

pearblossom_hockney

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.

leemiller_plate

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.

meretoppenheimer_furgloves

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.

leonorfini_littlehermitsphinx

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

edithrimmington_theoneiroscopist

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.

doramaar_pereubu_36

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.

fridakahlo_diegoyfrida

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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Shooting the city @ night with Christina Seely & her “Lux” project …

christinaseely_lasvegas_lux

A few weeks ago I was privileged to help out a wonderful US photographer Christina Seely  shooting her latest project “Lux”.  I became aware of her work after a call out on Mark Page’s excellent Manchester Photography website back in June.

A number of reasons prompted me to answer the request for assistance.

  • I checked out Christina’s website and I really liked her work.
  • Her own areas of interest happen to be ones I share a passion for too; namely the planet, our relationship with nature/the environment and the effect of one on the other.
  • Personally, I have found collaborations are a good thing if one has a gut-feeling to do it.
  • It presented a great opportunity to learn from a successful photographer who has drive, talent and belief in abundance.
  • A  measure of helping is always good for the Soul Department.

The gist of the “Lux” project as explained by Christina (from a blog interview with Plazm magazine) :

“A few years ago I rediscovered the NASA map of the world at night and I kept coming back to it over and over again. I was captivated by the beauty of the light on the map and also the complexity of what this light represents about us.  The conclusion is that this light obviously equals an intensely negative impact on the planet.  However, since it’s inception, man made light has also represented; ingenuity and progress, innovation, growth, prosperity, amusement, romance, optimism and promise – basically fundamentally positive and hopeful things. My real interest lies in this complexity and what it reflects about our current relationship with the planet.

The final body of work will be made up of photographs that document the artificial glow produced by the 43 brightest cities at night.”

This is a 4 year, worldwide project and a great deal of organisation, skill and research has been required for each of the shoots to go ahead.  Many artists mention their process when they discuss their work, when you read Christina’s “Lux” blog, one can gain a very real sense of this being more akin to a quest.   It highlights the efforts an artist has to put in behind the scenes to deliver; including battling an airport theft (Madrid) and a fire (Edinburgh).

My role for the Manchester and Liverpool shoots: location scout, navigator, car driver, equipment carrier, safety-in-numbers guard, torch bearer, stopwatch watcher, umbrella handler, local guide and regional catering advisor.

christina_and_camera

Christina uses a beautiful handmade 5×4 field camera to record her work, modelled by Christina in the above phote.   For “Lux” the aim is that the finished prints will be large and so the rendering needs to be as detailed as possible.    After copious testing, her chosen film for the work was Portra 100T negative, which presented a problem as Kodak decided to discontinue the whole range once shooting had commenced.  I think by scraping Ebay Christina should just get through to the end of the project (however, if anyone knows of any further sources then please do get in touch).  Average time for exposing the film was 3 hours.  This is due to the effects of reciprocity failure.

The spot I thought might work for the Liverpool shoot was Bidston Hill on the Wirral, close to Birkenhead (thanks also to Chris Coles for help scouting locations and research).   However, I must admit I was a little worried about wandering a lonely location such as this in the dead of night.  Due to it’s landmark windmill, it is a popular meet-up place for the local youth.  Thankfully,  despite the shoot starting around 11pm on a Friday night, we were bothered only by moths and a shooting star, a hooting owl provided the odd punctuation mark.  Manchester was captured from a field near the summit of Hartshead Pike, Mossley.  No threat of hassle, just a wonderful night sky, a few curious horses, low-flying bats, great company (Richard Brook from MMU also helped on this shoot) and a tiny bit of drizzle.  Both shoots were surreal, magical and very special.  I do not think I have ever sat and consumed the same scene for so long.

lux1_manchester

This project is now nearing completion as regards photography and there is already interest worldwide concerning possible sites to exhibit the body of work.  I cannot wait to see all of the filmic images displayed in one place.   Especially the shoots I tagged along for, will those two sheets of 5 x 4 film reveal the same things I conjured and remember so vividly?  Will they even make the finished cut … as I know some degree of image editing will be necessary.

A final footnote, Christina has been in touch to tell me about another project she is involved with called the Civil Twilight Collective who have been busily working on a fantastic idea: Lunar Resonant Streetlights.  It has been nominated for the prestigious Index Award (the world’s largest design award 500,000 euro prize-money) in the Community category.

lunarresonantstreetlights

There are some amazing ideas shortlisted, all along the theme of “Design to Improve Life”.  It merits a blog post of it’s own and if you have an interest in this subject you will find it well worth a visit.  Whilst there, you can cast your vote for the People’s Choice (I have) but be quick as voting ends tomorrow Friday 28th August when the winner is announced.

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Zaha Hadid @ Manchester International Festival, past, present, future …

Last year I watched a programme illustrating the shortlisted buildings for the “architectural Baftas” aka The Stirling Prize.   One entry that stood out for me was the elegant and fluid Nord Park Cable Railway built in Austria by Bagdad-born Zaha Hadid.  I read up a little on the architect and the more I delved, the more I liked her, and realized her projects had  seeped closer to me than I had imagined.

zaha_nordpark

Zaha seems to relish tackling different practical and creative challenges and she is not averse to mixing her genres.  She designed one of the better elements of the Millenium Dome “The Mind Zone” and has set-designed for the Pet Shop Boys and the Belgium Charleroi Dance Company.  Earlier this year she was guest editor on the Radio Four “Today Show”.  She has a mathematical aptitude, she studied for her Mathematics degree in Beirut and moved to England following her graduation.  In Sept 2008, Zaha guest edited “Wallpaper” magazine and designed the award-winning die-cut front cover.

Her London-based architectural practice grew in size and reputation during the 1990’s and she is now world-renowned for her innovation and organic sensual style.  Awards started winging her way,  judging by her current work, it seems she has gained an appetite for them.

zaha_bmw

The scene is now set.  It is a cold, windy late winter day and I get my first chance to pick up the newly-pressed Manchester International Brochure for 2009.   I admire the design, the graphics and printstock.  I then open up the pages and I’m very excited to discover Zaha Hadid will be working on something here in Manchester for the Festival.

“Zaha Hadid Architects have created a unique chamber music hall specially designed to house solo performances of the exquisite music of Johann Sebastian Bach.  A voluminous ribbon swirls within the room, carving out a spatial and visual response to the intricate relationships of Bach’s harmonies. As the ribbon careens above the performer, cascades into the ground and wraps around the audience, the original room as a box is sculpted into fluid spaces swelling, merging, and slipping through one another.”

zaha_mif_bach
zaha_mif_bach_1

Tickets sold out fast for all the evening performances but free tickets were available for lunchtime concerts featuring students from Chethams School of Music and the Royal Northern College of Music, two highly prestigious Manchester-based music schools.  It soon became clear that one could not just stroll down ten minutes prior to the concert as demand was huge for these 1pm sessions.  After a thwarted first attempt, I was still not certain I would get in when I went down to the Art Gallery for a second time the following week.  I had to go onto a waiting list for returns, and as I was number 13 on the list I was non-too hopeful, but the luck Gods were shining on me and I was given a late entry.  Hallelujah.

So, alongside 191 other lucky punters of all ages, sizes shapes and colours, I took my seat and felt quite special within the cocoon-like protection of the Music Hall Sound Pod.  The simple colour scheme of black and white belies quite a complex construction and the months of acoustic research the aim of which is to create a magical listening experience.  There was certainly an expectant crowd, our noises bounced around and created an excitable hubbub.  Our entertainment for the next 24 miutes entered quietly through a neat side archway, stepping onto the stage came Christian Elliott a talented cellist from the RNCM.  The Bach piece chosen was “Cello Suite No 3 in C major”.

Though a massive fan of music, my knowledge of classical is extremely limited, nevertheless the whole experience was entrancing.  The connection between performer and audience was instant.  The designed space fostered a sense of intimacy and many of the performers have spoken of feeling relaxed and protected within this womb-like aural grotto.  Delicate moments on the cello were crisp and easy to hear, silence was broken with a slight background hum (maybe air conditioning?) and the rich sweeping notes which tumbled out from the stage were moving, filled with warmth and fullness.

This was a bold and exciting use of a fairly standard boring gallery room and fantastic to see the Manchester International Festival pushing on with their remit to bring new work and collaborations to a wider audience.  I also applaud the blending of pricing options so those on a tighter budget can get to experience some of the work on offer.  It would be nice to see this remain a key policy for future years.  I bet that Manchester Art Gallery’s collections and visiting exhibitions have benefitted from a vastly expanded footfall too.

If you can, I urge you to take half an hour out on your next trip into town and pay the Zaha Hadid ‘ribboned wonder’ a visit.  The live lunchtime concerts have now finished, (but maybe with demand so high it would be a welcome decision to have them continue?) however, music is piped through to allow visitors to gain a sense of the sound experience.  It is worth a trip just to examine and walk through this beautiful temporary creation.  Opening hours are Tuesday – Sunday (and Bank Holiday Mon) 10am – 5pm exhibiting until 31st August 2009.

One wonders whether the design could be pushed even further?  Imagine an all-weather self-supporting version which could travel the world and bring gifted performers from all musical leanings to remote audiences, but within a sound arena of such exquisite quality.

Future UK build plans for Zaha Hadid include the Transport Museum in Glasgow and the Aquatics Centre for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

UPDATE : Zaha Hadid´s pavilion for the Burnham Centennial recently opened at the Millennium Park in Chicago (updated 25 Aug 09).

UPDATE: First images of Zaha Hadid’s new Contemporary Arts Centre in Rome, Italy, which opens today (updated 13 Nov 09).

UPDATE: A further in-depth look at MAXXI museum in Rome, Italy with some fab photographs by Iwan Baan. (updated 18 Dec 09).

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Cutting Room Experiment: the aftermath @ #smc_mcr

cuttingroom_smc

I managed to make my second appearance at #smc_mcr earlier this month.  In an exciting departure from the norm, the event was held at the BBC on Oxford Road and many thanks to all the organisers for making it happen and run so smoothly.  These meet-ups are always very open and welcoming; fashioned from a happy blend of creative wannabees, digital sages and the odd normal earthdweller snuffling up the crumbs.  (I am  a paid-up member of the first category).  This time we had some home-made cakes (awesome apparently), Teletext bingo and a subsidised bar.  Who could ask for more.

From the #smc_mcr wiki: “The Social Media Cafe is a place for ALL people interested in social media to gather, get acquainted, and to plot, scheme, and share.. emphasis on open and interesting conversation!”.

Given the Network’s copious skillsets, some great tweets and blog posts are always on offer if you are not able to get down on the night and you want to catch-up with the fun.  Check out Tim Difford’s extensive coverage on One Greener Day for more on this last meet-up.  I am going to concentrate on giving some feedback on the Cahoona and Ear to the Ground session which dealt with the groundbreaking “Cutting Room Experiment” which took place on 20th June in Ancoats.  To use their own words they were aiming to put on “the biggest user-generated event in the world” aiming to publicise the opening of a newly designed square in New East Manchester called The Cutting Room.

First off, I was a little torn on the night as I also fancied the Twitter talk (being a relative newbie into Twitterworld) and the fact that the session was delivered by an artist and writer (@thecharmquark) gave added interest.

In the end, I opted for the Cahoona fellas as I had heard a little of the experiment and wanted to find out how it all panned out.  Plus I’ve always found a good de-brief is often a worthwhile use of half an hour.

The session began with details of the Cutting Room Experiment’s inception and aims, then the plan of attack was mapped out, to hopefully ensure the experiment’s success.   It was clearly demonstrated that key online tools were utilised with creativity and skill, the resulting spread of publicity and visitors to the website, testament to the guys picking a winning strategy and social media playing a starring role.

However, things did seem to fall down a bit on the day of the experiment, 20th June 2009.  Though the target of 400 people attending was achieved (though the photo’s shown during the session didn’t illustrate that very well) the vibe was,  I think, that a larger audience was expected.

© TST 2004. http://www.space-hoppers.co.uk

© TST 2004. http://www.space-hoppers.co.uk

One can only conclude that different strategies are required to engineer different responses to any campaign.   The hardest deliver of all is real people.  Ones who wear out their own shoe leather, co-ordinate their day and put themselves out to attend an event.  The poor weather on the day may explain some of the problem ; sadly a common issue for outdoor promoters living in a rain shadow.  I guess that the harsh truth is that the user-generated ideas chosen were simply not a big enough pull.  Despite a fun-looking Spacehopper race and Manchester Science and Industry setting up Alka Seltzer rockets.

Sometimes, if enough buzz is created, then people will make an effort as they don’t want to miss out on an exclusive and potentially trendsetting event (moreso if something is free).   Maybe a band plays a secret hometown gig,  celebrated writer reads from a latest novel or respected thinker delivers a talk on an engaging subject.  The aim is to make those at the event feel they are lucky and are attending something with real pull.

I guess the Cutting Room Experiment showed that great publicity and user-generated ideas are not quite enough when the aim is to deliver a big audience on a wet Saturday in Ancoats.  Once the event date was drawing closer I wonder whether even more time and effort should have been concentrated on targetting the local population and reaching them using the more traditional routes?  Maybe the public still want a bit of old-fashioned entertainment once the avatar has been allowed the day off.  A bit of bribery might help too …. 50 free spacehoppers anyone?

Click through to Technical Fault’s blog where you will find a link to the whole #smc_mcr Cutting Room Experiment session, his own on-the-button thoughts, plus an excellent critique of the night.

LATE ADDITION.  Link to @MartinSFP ‘s freshly uploaded video of the Teletext Bingo session.

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Manchester International Festival – 5 day countdown begins …

mif_09_festivalpavillion

The Manchester International Festival is nearly upon us and the lineup this year is certainly eclectic and exciting.  I am sure even the most difficult to please should unearth something to tickle their fancy.

I have my eye on a few things:

If anyone has a spare ticket to donate to me I would quite like to see what happens at the Velodrome when Kraftwerk are allowed to run amock and also what Rufus Wainwright creates for his first opera to be premiered at the Palace Theatre.

That Festival Feast sounds a great idea too, but it sold out weeks ago so I shall have to keep checking for returns along with every other Mancunian food lover.

UPDATE : For anyone that missed it (me included as I had to work yesterday!) a nice little 5 minute piece on the Jeremy Deller curated “Procession” along Deansgate is over on the BBC Manchester website.  The steel band version of The Buzzcocks “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)” is a real crowd-pleaser.

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Shot Up North exhibition reaches Newcastle @ the Biscuit Factory in March …

biscuitfactory_ext

I blogged during the light nights of June 2008 about my decision to enter the Shot Up North Awards.  SUN is a showcase designed to reward the best in professional photography north of Birmingham and to increase the profile of Northern Photographers in general.  50 images are chosen to be printed in the SUN catalogue, this wings its way to most of the movers and shakers in the Northern creative fraternity.  The winning work is also printed and framed and exhibited at various venues including Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Nottingham, Newcastle, Belfast and Birmingham.  So not a bad little showcase at all.

This was my first time for entering any kind of award, so I tried to canvas opinion from my inner advice circle (you know who you are – and thanks!).  In the end there were 3 or 4 images that seemed to be the most popular, which I then entered via the Shot Up North website.  Each image entered incurs an entry fee, so it isn’t just a case of entering hundreds and hoping one will produce success – unless you have money to burn of course.

After the judging I discovered I was successful with one of my images, which I had taken during the summer, at the Feast Festival in Manchester.  It was chosen for exhibiting, inclusion in the SUN catalogue and is also available to purchase as a limited edition print (framed or unframed) via Comme Ca Art.

I had to supply some blurb to go in the brochure and having to write this proved far more strenuous than taking the shot I can tell you!

“I find our physical world fascinating in all its forms from tiny seeds to panoramic landscapes, even crumbling buildings have a soul which sometimes cries out to be captured.

The image (see below titled “lanterns”) was taken at a recent Festival in Manchester, locals placed the floating lanterns on the Lake and created such a beautiful and powerful scene, I just tried to catch the moment – the merging of the community, nature and mankind in harmony, rebirth or farewell?  It made me think of so many things.”  (Gill Moore).

biscuitfactory
The exhibition has now reached what looks like a very nice venue in Newcastle called the Biscuit Factory.  It is Britain’s largest commercial gallery with two floors of space.   Apparently my image has been chosen to go on the front cover of their latest gallery brochure which previews the SUN show, which, if true I shall take as a real compliment.  I will endeavour to get my hands on a copy and post up on the blog.

For now here is my image “lanterns” and the overall winning image (and my favourite too) a stunning shot titled “Alpine Choughs” taken by Robert Pogson.

lanterns

robertpogson_sun

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