João Maria Gusmão + Pedro Paiva at Camden Arts Centre

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The other exhibition I saw at the Camden Arts Centre last week featured video works by the Portuguese artists João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva. They had shot a series of films on 16 mm film and they were being projected onto screens from old style film projectors. There were 27 films in all, being displayed simultaneously in three galleries. In additions there were two camera obscura installations with images also projected onto screens. The films are shot in high-speed before being projected in slow motion with the whirring noise from the projectors breaking the normal silence of the galleries.

The Guardian described

Their seemingly inconsequential films stay in the head and won’t go away.

in a review of a previous exhibition in Birmingham a few years ago

The Guardian again

These films are more than clever gags. Something deeper informs them, and they are made with a great deal of care, attention and expense.

A number of the films showed people at work – felling a tree, making a croissant –  or industrial processes – manipulating molten glass from a furnace.  Others included an egg being fried, a sunset seen from a cave,

a vessel of water emptying and a sequence of vessels revealed as each one was removed in turn.

The lighting, camera angles and the slow motion added interest to what could be considered, in some cases, to be a relatively mundane activity or scene.

In one of the galleries, some of the projectors showed several films in sequence.

My favourite work was one of the two camera obscura installations which featured rotating bicycle wheels. Different images appeared and disappeared in different positions on the screen, some larger than others. Looking carefully I noticed there was an array of several lenses in the wall that were projecting the images and that there was a programmed sequence where one or more were active at a given moment. I managed to look through one of the lenses and could see that there were two wheels being illuminated by several lights from different directions. And the lenses appeared to have different magnifications.  So depending on the particular point in the programme there could be one wheel or both or several images of different sizes of one or both projected on to the screen. Sounds complicated – I’m not sure I’ve described it very well. But it was very effective and mesmerising.

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The two Portuguese artists have collaborated since 2001 on creating objects, installations, photographs and 16mm short films and they represented Portugal at the 2009 Venice Biennale.

At one time, I’d have said I didn’t like video installations. And although I still find many baffling and not to my taste, I’ve started to become interested in a number that I’ve seen over the years, and this was one of them.

Camden Arts Centre

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London has a wealth of large museums and art galleries, mainly concentrated in the city centre. I always feel, when I’m down there, that they should spread out the concentration of works that they have there around the country, but that’s unlikely to happen – Britain is very London centric.

Although I like visiting the two Tates, the National Gallery and the like, a visit can sometimes be a little overwhelming and of late we’ve started exploring some of the smaller galleries, often located a little further out from the hubbub of the city centre, during our trips to the capital. I decided to take a look at another one of these during my visit to London last week. Although I was there on business I like to try to find some time for other things whenever I’m staying – there’s more to life than work and I I like to make the most of the opportunities travel with work presents me.

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The Camden Arts Centre is actually in Hampstead, near the Finchley Road tube station, and about 20 minutes walk from where I was staying. The building is a former library, which was renovated 10 years ago. It has a bookshop and cafe on the ground floor with gallery space on the first floor. There was a garden to the rear which is used as an extension of the cafe – but not on the day I visited when it was cold and it was pouring down.

The Centre describes itself as

a space for contemporary visual art with an internationally known programme of exhibitions and education projects, where a strong emphasis is placed on making art as well as showing it.

The Director, Jenni Lomax, was recently interviewed by the Guardian on their website.

It reminded me somewhat of the Bluecoat in Liverpool, both in terms of it’s size and the type of art featured.

During my visit there were two exhibitions showing.

Back to the Fields by Ruth Ewan

brings to life the French Republican Calendar in a new work made for Camden Arts Centre’s Gallery 3.

The room was filled with 365 objects representing the days of the year but based on the French Revolutionary calendar rather than our usual Gregorian version. It is said that “history is written by the victors” and the Revolutionary Calendar was designed to sweep away the past with its religious and royalist influences which were reflected in the calendar. It was also intended to be part of a general attempt at decimalisation in France, so although it retained twelve months (with new names based on the agricultural cycle) they were divided into three ten-day weeks with the additional days required to complete the 365 days inserted at the end of the year. It was used from late 1793 to 1805, and for 18 days by the Paris Commune in 1871. References to the calendar crop up in literature (Germinal by Emile Zola) and politics (the 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon by Karl Marx)

On the wall by the side of the entrance to the gallery there was a clock, but there was something different about it

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We Could Have Been Anything We Wanted to Be (2011)

It tells the time according to the decimalised Revolutionary clock  in which the day was divided into ten hours of a hundred minutes of a hundred seconds – exactly 100,000 seconds per day.

Inside the gallery itself the exhibits were arranged around the perimeter of the room

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The artist had selected an object to represent every day in the calendar – they included plants, animals (fish, crayfish and crickets) minerals and tools and other objects, mainly relating to agriculture. A leaflet was provided that identified all of the individual objects

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For Ewan, the Republican Calendar is an inspiring and innovative example of collaboration between artists and the state. Often cited as a ‘failed utopianism’, Ewan reconsiders the calendar as a complete artwork in itself, asking what can now be gleaned from this bold reframing of our daily lives. Presenting strands of subversive histories, her work reflects on how radical ideas have been transferred, absorbed or lost within popular culture, whilst reopening their historic continuity to the present moment. (Source)

I found it interesting trying to identify the different objects before checking the list provided. And as someone interested in French Revolutionary history the exhibits allowed me to relate better to the calendar.

Downstairs, in the corner of the cafe, there was another work by  Ruth Ewan  – A Jukebox of People Trying to Change the World (started in 2003). I’d seen this before at an exhibition at the Tate in Liverpool in 2013. It’s a CD jukebox with over 2,200 politically and socially motivated songs collected by the artist. Visitors were able to browse the catalogue and select tracks to play.

The other exhibition, being shown in the other two galleries, was a collection of video works by Portuguese artists João Maria Gusmão + Pedro Paiva. But this post has gone on long enough, so I’ll have to write that up separately.

Mornington Crescent

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I finally made it! An ambition fulfilled

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Over the past 3 years, on visits to London, we’ve frequently stayed at the Premier Inn at Belsize park, Hampstead. To get there after we arrive at Euston we take the Northern Line tube that takes us through Mornington Crescent station – the next stop after Euston. As the train arrives at the station we are always disappointed not to hear a raucous cheer. Fans of the BBC Radio 4 programme, “I’m sorry I haven’t a clue” will understand the reference and also why I was pleased that I finally managed to visit the station when I went to have a look at the Carreras cigarette factory last week. (Anyone baffled by what I’m wittering on about see here)

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I was pleased to see that the pub across the road from the station has been re-named in honour of the sadly missed Humph (Humphry Lyttleton).

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The Carreras Cigarette Factory

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Another short trip to London this week. On business this time, but I found some time to seek out an Art Deco masterpiece a short walk from Euston Station.

The former Carreras cigarette factory was built in 1926-28 on what had been a semi-circular park on Mornington Crescent. Obliterating the green space in front of a Georgian crescent would probably not be allowed in this day and age, but it clearly wasn’t a problem in the 1920’s!

The architects were Marcus Evelyn Collins and Owen Hyman Collins with A G Porri and Partners as consultant. The Egyptian style of the building was fashionable at the time, following the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 by Howard Carter.

Production ceased in 1959 and the building was converted into offices and many of it’s distinctive features removed. But it was renovated in the late 1990’s and most of the original decoration was recreated.

It’s a massive building and impossible to get a shot that includes all of it, but there is a photograph of the factory and it’s environs here.

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There are 10 columns in the central bays with Egyptian style decoration

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Two giant black cats flank the entrance (the black cat was used as a logo by the cigarette company)

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There are cat motifs high up below the upper storey windows

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And the name of the original occupants is spelled out in “Egyptian style” lettering

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There’s more info and photographs herehere and here.

The Didrichsen Art Museum

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Time flies and it’s a few months now since I was in Helsiinki. I’m heading back over there in a few weeks so thought it was about time I wrote up my visit to the Didrichsen Art Museum.

The Museum is located on on Kuusisaari island, a 20 minute or so bus ride from the Central Station. It holds temporary exhibitions and has permanent displays of ancient Chinese and pre-Columbian artefacts, although during my visit the indoor rooms were devoted to an exhibition of works by Edvard Munch – The Dance of Life. There’s also a sculpture garden with some excellent works including pieces by  Henry Moore and Bernard Meadows.

The museum was originally a private residence owned by enthusiastic Modern Art collectors Marie-Louise and Gunnar Didrichsen. It’s a Modernist building designed by architect Viljo Revell  in 1958-59. An extension was added six years later to house the owners’ art collection.

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It’s an attractive house in a beautiful setting in the woods by the sea.

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There’s a photo of the inside of the house here (it was too full of people on the day I visited to get a decent shot)

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As a former private residence the Museum is quite small, but they have an excellent collection. Due to the Munch exhibition (which was excellent) I was only able to see the works in the sculpture garden. Here’s some of them.

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Adrift (2013) by Jenni Tieaho – a Viking longship in an appropriate setting

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Atom Piece (1964) by Henry Moore

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Reclining Figure on a Pedestal (1960) by Henry Moore

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Stele del Offerende (1960) by Mario Negri

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Augustus (1962/3) by Bernard Meadows

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Auringonkukkapelto (1975) by Eila Hiltunen

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Mama Europa (2009) by Tilla Kekki

and its companion piece

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Mama Africa (2009) by Tilla Kekki

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Turoulenssi (1996) by Eila Hiltunen

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Arctic Aphrodite (1972) by Laila Pullinen

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Strange Rain Last Night (2008) by Matti Peltokangas

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Crescendo (1982) by Eila Hiltunen

Boyle Family: Contemporary Archaeology

Boyle Family: the Barcelona Site, World Series Artists tend to be solitary creatures but, in reality, many works of art require collaboration and team work. The named artist has the inspiration and designs the work, but often they are supported by “assistants” and others to create the work. This is certainly the case with sculptures where larger works would remain as ideas or small maquettes without the support of assistants (usually skilled artists themselves) and,  artisan craftsmen (e.g. specialist foundries). These people who are vital to the creation of the work remain anonymous wile the headline artist laps up the fame and glory. The Boyle Family are an exception to this in that they really are a family – parents and children – who work as a collective. Their website gives details on how this evolved. They are particularly well known for their recreations of random squares of ground, realistically recreated from fibreglass together with sand, stones, bits of metal and other objects representative of the setting. Abbot Hall are currently showing a selection of their works in the exhibition – Boyle Family: Contemporary Archaeology. The main focus of the exhibition are works created for The World Series Lazio Site, from 2013, the most recent of their on-going World Series project. It includes

earth studies, electron microphotographs and video that provide a compelling and arresting visual record of the surface of the land, the plant life, insect life and the presence of the artists themselves. Accompanying this work will be earth studies from the previous decade, including the first public showing of their Coral Quarry Triptych from 2001-2

Their landscape works are incredible in the detail and look so real. Looking at the comments in the guest book for the exhibition it’s quite clear that I’m not the only person who wants to touch them (forbidden, of course!). This is a reproduction of a rusting metal plate

Boyle Family, Study of Rusting Metal Plate, 2001-2

and this is an example of one of their works featuring a section of beach. Boyle Family, Coral Quarry Triptych (3 of 3), 2001-2

There’s a tremendous amount of detail too which illustrates just how much we don’t “see” when we look at the ground. Taken in isolation and divorced from their location and environment we can really start to observe how much there is to see. These works are realistic  – but taken out of their environmental context they’re like abstract patterns. Their work concentrates on the landscape,but not just that of the Earth. They also explore the biological landscape – plants, animals and humans. To do this they use electron micrographs – massively enlarged pictures of insects, plants and human hairs and cells that reveal complex and interesting forms and patterns otherwise invisible to the human eye. There were some examples in the exhibition. I found them fascinating – like their geographical works they are, to me, at the interface of art and science. Given my scientific education, work and interests in both of CP Snow’s “two cultures”. CA full “catalogue” of the works shown from the Lazio site can be viewed here. There was a documentary showing on a loop. It provided good background and context to their work and was well worth watching. Mark Boyle, the father, who died in 2005, was certainly a character. I couldn’t find a copy online but di locate a short video from their exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in 2010. Part of the TateShots Edinburgh Special, August 2010.

Kendal

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We went up to Kendal on Saturday to take another look at the current exhibitions at Abbot Hall. It was a fine winter’s day so we had a stroll up to the castle and round the town centre. Here’s a few photographs I took.