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Critical reflections

Updated: May 22, 2019

Doug Fishbone ,Post Graduate Lecture

This was a very funny and entertaining performative lecture. Doug Fishbone used a stand up style to deliver a relentless and dizzying assault on the senses. He juxtaposed often controversial imagery from his personal archive and the internet with zany and quirky narratives that compelled us to address our preconceptions. Underling the whole thing was a gnawing critique of the way the world economy is structured - both absurd and profoundly unequal. His strategy ,if there was one, reminded me of that of the Situationist technique of ‘Detournment’, developed in the 1950s.This, according to the writer Douglas .B. Holt, consisted of ”turning the expressions of the capitalist system against itself - like turning slogans and logos against the advertiser or the political status quo.” I really enjoyed this transgressive, political presentation, peppered with insights and laced with wicked humour.

Jordan McKenzie Interdisciplinary Practice Seminar

Jordan McKenzie took us through a video presentation of a selection of his performance work which addressed areas such as the art world, sexuality, and class. Of all his work I found his piece The Shame Chorus particularly moving, where members of the Gay Men’s chorus were invited to perform songs written by amongst others, Billy Bragg and David Mcalmont, on the theme of ‘coming out.’ He emphasized that the idea was pretty controversial at the time and not universally well received in the LGBTQ community, but persisted regardless. He said that” I wanted to make something positive and uplifting out of the negative experiences that the LGBTQ community across the country had faced in reaction to coming out. This is the transformative power of art – it helps us to question, make sense of things and communicate – and what better way to overcome shame than through loud and powerful song.

Jordan then went on to stress that artist’s should “make their own luck”, to really develop a DIY ethic as a matter of urgency and not rely on institutions. He related how, when at particularly low moment and feeling rudderless he initiated his own performance space, LUPA (Lock up performance Art), out of a garage on his East London Council Estate .As a project that was initially greeted with scepticism by the local community it went on to emerge as a hugely popular monthly pop up space for performance and film for over two years.

Reading Groups, Dear Painter Paint me, Learning from Kippenberger: Figurative painting as provocative and sincere, critical and sentimental . Engaging Images by Merlin James

Martin Kippenberger, Untitled, 1981

I identify as a figurative painter and as such found the piece by Alison Gingeras particularly relevant and thought provoking. The original introduction to the exhibition at the Kunsthalle, Vieanna in 2002 stated that the “exhibition is an international group exhibition that will attempt to trace a distinct strand of figurative painting practice in the post-war period. And... “will attempt to challenge the Modernist dismissal of figurative painting as "traditional", politically reactive, and anti avant-garde; it will argue that a certain strain of figurative painting is still a privileged space in which to engage and digest the proliferation of images in contemporary culture.

Although this was a review of an exhibition that took place over 15 years ago many of the questions and issues raised by her resonate with me, particularly the idea of painting as a potentially antagonistic strategy and not just a ‘retreat into mimetic forms of representation.

The accompanying essay, Kitsch in the Painterly age of Reproduction,or a Short History of Kitsch by Blazenka Perica was really useful in contexualising some issues I tried to clarify in my 2000 word essay. In challenging what she views as Greenberg’s rather simplistic ideas on kitsch and figuration Perica observed that” At the same time as the rise of totalitarian regimes in Europe , figuration and realism ,as the antithesis to Modernism were devalued as reactionary”. Despite often overt hostility she states that “figuration remained an important means of expression despite being frowned upon from a Modernist perspective. Although sporadic and by no means a dominant movement, figuration continued to exist but was given little consideration.

It was also useful to read an extract from Merlin James book Engaging Images, where the reader is asked to question the rigour of contemporary art criticism. James argues that literary criticism unlike most art criticism has long since moved beyond mere aesthetics and embraced a concentration on the quality of each, autonomous, self sufficient work.

Ged Quinn in conversation with Dr Marquard Smith, Ruin

This was another of the very interesting and stimulating talks in the Ruin series. I found Ged Quinn’s work strange and intriguing and his explanations equally arcane and oblique. However as the talk went on I got the impression that Quinn felt that unpicking complex individual works would be an exhausting and futile enterprise. Instead the discussion covered broader themes ranging from the Situationist strategies in his approach to alternative art histories. He recalled the stifling modernism of his early art education and referred to his use of reproductions of Claude and Possain as source material. Quinn stated that he studiously avoids contact with the original paintings for fear of being distracted by the “old master” technique and of it possibly overwhelming the ideas underpinning the work.

In one of the most striking works “Bela Forgets the Scissors”, (2016) the Situationist/ Dadaist thinking really comes through. He montages a bewildering array of pictorial references to literature, popular culture, politics and philosophy on the picture plane, creating new meanings and associations as a result. I got the sense that he derives real relish in both completing and then disrupting the seductive, idealised beauty of the landscape.

Maria Kapajewa, Perspectives

Maria Kapajewa’s practice mainly spans video, photography and installation. During the talk she described a residency in Narva Estonia and her engagement with the Kreenholm textile factory that closed in 2010, devastating the local community. I was interested how, in collecting dozens of interviews and digitising hundreds of photos from mainly female ex employees, she fused collective memory and individual narrative. Her mother was once a designer there and through that connection she also explored her own past.

The aims and central ‘mission’ of this work reminded me of a quote by Gerhard Richter in 1962. “Art serves to establish community. It links us with others, with the things around us in a shared vision and effort.”(Notes, 1962)

Towards the end of the talk she addressed us directly and spoke of the challenges facing young artist’s today. She was recently asked how photographers should be noticed. I am not sure what this question is meant to be about. Noticed by whom? By gatekeepers, large institutions, or the young generation of artists? Trends are often created by both groups via different channels. I don’t think any artist should aim to be in trend or follow it to get noticed, as you will always end up being late. I think it is more important to find the techniques, subjects, materials you enjoy working with and exploring. I think the current opportunities for artists are incredible, starting from still-accessible old craft techniques to high-tech processes. So, it is up to everyone what to choose – the choice is rather overwhelmingly exciting”.

Interview, FK magazine, Dec 2018

Painting research introduction to Ruin with Geraint Evans, Suzy Round, Nelson Deplexito, Zoe Mendelson

There was a poignant melancholy in Geraint Evan’s description of the unlikely intertwining of the ruinous demise of Swansea’s Bad Finger, formed in the early 1960’s and the Weaver building, a flour mill and corn storage depot, built in 1897. The Weaver seems to embody the notion of an iconic contemporary architectural ruin- it was the first reinforced concrete building in Europe-its legacy and its subsequent demolition( to make way for a Sainsbury’s) still arouses strong feelings and divides opinion.

The Weaver Building once in Swansea

Longlost Jack. post on planet Swans, edited 12 Jan 2017 20:45]

Restoration programme on BBC 2. They were talking about history of reinforced concrete buildings couple of clips of the first ones in Paris and then they show the old Weaver building. Took a hell of a lot of getting down did that one. With hindsight Swansea lost a bit of its heritage and it could have been a feature. Sad.

Morningstar replied,

Nah mun! Obviously has historical value as the world’s first reinforced concrete structure (so i’m led to believe), but certainly a blight on the landscape that had to be leveled! Nothing could have been done with that eyesore mate.

Geraint also highlighted the work of Laura Oldfield Ford who sees ruin as a potentially creative space. She works in pencil, spray paint acrylics and biro and depicts bleak urban wastelands and neglected fringe spaces in a pretty nihilistic way-it’s the uncompromising, punky, stark, photo copied domain of those marginalised and dispossessed by creeping gentrification.

Skye Sherwin writing in the Guardian observed that in Fords realities there are” false promises of a brighter, better more sanitised tomorrow here”.

Ceder Lewishon, Artist’s talk

Two things really stuck with me during his talk. Firstly, a Drill track played by Cedar from You Tube featuring Kennington based Drill artists Harlem Spartans. Derided and scorned in the mainstream press, Ceder instead, put forward the possibly controversial view that the Spartan’s violent, evocative, lyricism is very much part of the British poetic tradition,“ “Spartans dip like custard cream” and should be seen as extentions of the theatrical and the carnivalesque .It did remind me of the hysteria that surrounded the emergence of Punk in the 1970s but in the light of the appalling reality of gang related knife crime in London, this does somehow feel different.

Secondly, at the end of a hugely enjoyable talk, simply put, he appealed to artists to give up making art (a view I also recently read from Jeremy Deller’s future appearance on desert island discs) as there were too many art objects in the world. Siting Suhail Malik, co-director of MFA Fine Art at Goldsmiths, he ended by saying that we should perhaps go off and write something ‘good’ instead. Too late for this sinner I’m afraid.

Mark Fairnington - reading group, 2 poems by Seamus Heaney

I lay waiting

between turf-face and demesne wall,

between heathery levels

and glass-toothed stone.

My body was braille

for the creeping influences:

dawn suns groped over my head

and cooled at my feet,

through my fabrics and skins

the seeps of winter

digested me,

the illiterate roots

pondered and died

in the cavings

of stomach and socket.

Mark asked us to read 3 poems by Seamus Heaney. The Bog Queen, Punishment and Digging-poetry seeped in rich, evocative imagery and metaphor. We were also presented with a lecture Heaney had given at the Royal Society of Literature in October 1974.I found it an extraordinarily poetic and insightful reflection on the nature of creativity and is worth reading and re reading, along with the poetry itself.

Heaney quotes Robert Frost as saying: ‘a poem begins as a lump in the throat, a homesickness,a lovesickness.’

He traces the gradual acquisition of craft and technique and finally, the finding of one’s own artistic voice.” Finding a voice means that you can get your own feeling into your own words and that your words have the feel of you about them; and I believe that it may not even be a metaphor, for a poetic voice is probably very intimately connected with the poet’s natural voice, the voice that he hears as the ideal speaker of the lines he is making up.”

Seamus Heaney Lecture given at the Royal Society of Literature, October 1974

Studio visit and group crit with Mark Fairnington

During a group crit Mark felt that my painting ‘Come as you were ‘ shared some parallel concerns with a painting he had been working on; a very small, intensely rendered image of wasteland detritus. He noted the forensic nature of my approach and suggested I look at the drawings of George Scharf, the first director of the National gallery, shown below.

Bearing Mark’s comments and observations in mind I was excited to join the group on a visit to his studio in Chisenhale Studios, Bethnal Green.

Mark had set his studio up to show a series of exquisite paintings to his gallerist. I gained an invaluable insight into his approach-working processes, materials and techniques. He also talked at length about his engagement with and the challenges he faced working with institutions and collections such as the Natural History Museum and the Imperial War Museum.

Mark Fairnington, oil on panel

Psychogeography with Mary Clare Foa

Mary Clare opened the talk with a definition of Psychogeography as ”being in, interpreting and responding to the outside environment”.

The term Psychogeography was coined by Guy Debord, a Situationist in 1955 and I had been aware of the Situationist International since the 1980’s as social revolutionaries and avant-gardists. Anarchist/squatting activist’s leaflets of the time referenced them and Malcom Mclaren sited them as a formative influence in his management of the Sex Pistols.

Walking is an act of subversion

Sea Sick Steve's boots

Mary Clare described the rich array of approaches in defining psychogeograpy, from Gerrard Winstanley and the Diggers through the Peace Pilgrim and Brian Haw, to ”I’m a hobo, I’m a tramp I’m a bum, I’m all three!” Sea Sick Steve. And in the true spirit of the Situationists, she interspersed her talk with unaccompanied vocal renditions of the Beatles “In my Life” and Billy Bragg’s “Diggers” to generous applause.


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