Monday, 20 July 2009

Contemporary art, parsnips and the Hayward Gallery.

Occasionally, after days upon days of 14th C wills or 15th C property contracts from Zadar, I step out blinking into the light of what is apparently the 21st C and gingerly embrace some of what it has on offer. The other day, I felt a spot of contemporary art might be a good thing to complement the medieval metalwork and panel paintings that seem to litter my particular academic path. So off I pootled with a chum to the Hayward Gallery on the South Bank where they have a rather spiffing show on at the moment called Walking in my Mind. 10 artists have interpreted through various media (painting, drawing, sculpture, installation, video etc) their take on the creative and imaginative processes that go into producing their own art. A rather self-reflective - and some uncharitable types might argue self-absorbed exercise - but the results would surely prove a thought-provoking way to spend a Sunday afternoon, even if those thoughts ranged in emotion from expletive-peppered outrage to genuine admiration.

The prizes go to:

Joint favourite

Charles Avery, a Scotsman and accomplished draftsman, fashions flora and fauna, landscape and people that populate his epic and fantastical project, The Islanders. His sculptures and drawings imbue the seemingly commonplace with the bizarre yet without the bombast of Matthew Barney and his Cremaster Cycle, another magnum opus that made manifest - in glorious Technicolor - the rather mad and complex world within the artist’s mind. Although both artists are technically superb, Barney in film and Avery particularly in his drawings, strangely the Scotsman’s understatement and simplicity are what give his work a grandeur that Barney seemed to try too hard to achieve. In human terms, it’s a beauty competition between a tanned, beach bunny blonde Californian in a day glo bikini versus a milk-skinned, wind-swept, auburn haired bonnie Scottish lass in a sensible jumper. Choose what you will but my ideal of beauty lies with the latter.

Most use of packing tape

My chum is now a fan of Thomas Hirschhorn and his cavern-esque installation Cavemanman. Constructed almost entirely of cardboard and packing tape, this would have taken quite a while to put together. For myself, I have now discovered a mild propensity for claustrophobia as a result of my participation in this piece.

Best artist for the wee ones

Yayoi Kusama. I have never seen an 18 month-old child look so gobsmacked before. Possibly the potent combination of giant inflatable spheroid things and white polka dots on a red background. Lots of polka dots.

Best comedy value moment

Pipilotti Rist, Extremities (smooth, smooth). This is a video piece where you wander into a darkened room and sit on a circular bench in the middle. Stars seems to fill room and projectors, well, project, various bits of body on to sheets of diaphanous fabric thus giving the impression that they are floating. Oh, and a voice occasionally announces some piffle about being “butterflowers”. But on this particular afternoon the scene is enhanced by two rather special protagonists:

(Mother and three-year old in the room, admiring floating limbs. Child is thrilled by the "spaceman". Mother just about to depart with child when ginormous floating breast and nipple appears).
Child (loudly): Mummy, mummy, what's that?
Mother (with aplomb): It's a planet, dear. (cleverly keeping with spaceman theme)
Child: Which planet, mummy?
Mother (still with aplomb): It's Venus, dear. (Attempts to drag child out of room. Other visitors in the room starting to giggle)
(Cue ginormous floating phallus).
Child (very loudly): MUMMY, MUMMY! What's that?
(Outright guffaws amongst other viewers)
Mother (aplomb starting to slip): It's a carrot, dear. (spaceman theme starting to slip as well)
Child: Are you sure?
Mother (mortification finally setting in): Ermmm... maybe it's a parsnip. Yes, a parsnip. Come. On. We. Are. Going. NOW!
(Other viewers in gales of laughter).


And after that interlude, it’s back to the wills.

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