Katie Spragg at Blackwell

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So this weekend the “Beast from the East” made a comeback. Although the east and south east were worst hit, snow, freezing temperatures and a strong wind in the North West meant that we cancelled a planned short break walking around Ullswater. So stuck in the house I had the opportunity to write up about an exhibition we saw the last time we were up in the Lakes at the end of January (when the weather was less awful!).

While we are Abbot Hall visiting the Land|Sea|Life exhibition, as usual we had a look at the other rooms in the Gallery. On display were a couple of works by Katie Spragg, a taster for her exhibition showing at the Lakeland Art’s Trust other main venue, Blackwell.

Katie Spragg creates ceramic works but they’re not the usual pots and vessels. They’re uncoloured, ghostly, reproductions of plants – grasses and flowers. She also produces animations using her ceramics and illustrations.

At Abbot hall there were two animated pieces. In the Meadow illustrated the effect of the elements and people on a grassy meadow

For the other piece, While Away, vsitors could sit in a deck chair to watch grass made of porcelain blow in the wind.

Intrigued we decided to drive over to Blackwell to take a look at the works on display in the Arts and Crafts House.

Blackwell’s website tells us

The exhibition of ceramics at Blackwell will showcase eight new responses to the Arts and Crafts house and the surrounding landscape, alongside six existing works previously displayed by the Craft Council COLLECT at the Saatchi Gallery, Miami Art Week and the British Ceramic Biennial Award show.

Spragg spent a week at Blackwell in November and was inspired to create new works based on her experience. She said, “In the mornings Blackwell feels very serene. The nooks and corners of the house lend themselves to daydreaming, particularly at this time of day. I became interested in how the landscape is framed through the windows of the house and also how nature is brought inside.”

Most of the works were displayed in one of the exhibition rooms upstairs, but three had been located downstairs – two in the White Drawing Room and a third high up on the window sill in the Great Hall.

As well as displaying her work in standard style Perspex boxes, she also uses Victorian glass domes, “peephole boxes” and other types of cabinets.

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A visit to the Art Gallery of NSW

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On the morning of the third day of our holiday in Sydney we decided to visit the Art Galley of new South Wales. It’s located in The Domain on the road to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair and close to the Royal Botanic Gardens. The Gallery has a good collection of Australian art as well as an International collection. There was also a temporary exhibition we thought we’d like to see.

We were particularly taken with the paintings by indigenous artists. During my previous visit these were relegated to the basement gallery but I was glad to see that although there was still a good selection there, there were a good number displayed in the main galleries devoted to Australian art in the main galleries on the ground floor.

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Most of the works by indigenous artists were contemporary pieces painted using the traditional techniques but using modern materials. Here’s a selection of some of my favourites.

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It was also interesting to see works by other Australian artists, most of whom I had little previous knowledge. Here’s a selection

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Here’s some works by a contemporary Australian artist Mikala Dwyer from her exhibition A Shape of Thought.  Some rather weird and a little scary, others interesting, particularly the balloon like objects

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Here’s some works by contemporary artists

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There were several galleries showing pre-21st century works by Australian and International artists. Some were of interest but they  largely lesser works. I did rather like this little sculpture though

"Veiled female bust" by Agathon Leonard

The temporary exhibition we decided to see featured a selection of works from the Rijksmuseum. Report to follow.

MCA Collection: Today Tomorrow Yesterday

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After disembarking from the ferry at Circular Quay, we walked the short distance to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). The Gallery is located on the west side of the Quay in an imposing six-storey building originally built as the offices of the Maritime Services Board (MSB). It’s a late example of the Art Deco Style, having been constructed between 1947 and 1952. The main entrance, reception, stairwells, lifts, café and shop are in a modern extension, the Mordant Wing, which opened in 2012.

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I rather liked this art work painted on the wall on the staircase by the Harbour side entry to the building.

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As its name suggests, the Museum is devoted to contemporary art, with the main emphasis being on work by Australians, including a good selection of works by indigenous artists.

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We visited the free exhibition featuring works from the Museum’s collection, Today Tomorrow YesterdayThere was quite a lot to see and I was particularly impressed by those works by indigenous artists. Here’s some examples.

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I also liked this giant clock, even if it wasn’t showing the correct time!

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Production at Tate Modern

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After wandering around Borough Market and visiting Southwark Cathedral, we walked the short distance along the South Bank to Tate Modern where we spent the afternoon. The Bankside gallery is huge, even more so since the addition of the massive extension, that it would take more than a day to see everything. During this visit we concentrated on the extension (now named after a rich foreign mogul who contributed to Trump’s election, so no name check for him, as far as I’m concerned it’s the extension or “Switch House”) which occupied the rest of the afternoon and we still didn’t have time to see everything in it.

The exhibition space on Level 5 of the extension is devoted to the Tate Exchange which is described as

A space for everyone to collaborate, test ideas and discover new perspectives on life, through art

Currently the space has been transformed into a pottery production line by the artist Clare Twomey an artist who

works with clay in large-scale installations, Sculpture and site-specific works

and whose

installations have the social and historical context in which the installation is created as their point of departure

Entering the gallery we had to pick up a clock card and “clock in” and were given an apron to wear .

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We were then invited to join one of the production lines where gallery staff were instructing visitors on how to weigh out materials, cast vessels from a slurry of clay (known as “slip”) or bone china flowers.

We joined the slip casting production line. We were shown how to assemble a mould, pour in the slip. The filled moulds are left a short while for clay to deposit on the sides, forming the shape of the pot. We were given one that was ready for the next stage, pouring off the excess slip, cutting off the excess clay and then opening the mould to extract the cast object.

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The next stage would be firing the pot but we were told to take the pot we’d extracted to the end of the line and exchange it for another that had already been fired, which we were then free to take home with us after clocking out and having a photograph taken of the selected objects and clock cards.

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The final stage in real pottery production would be to apply a glaze and give it a second firing. But the pots available were all unfired “biscuit”. I guess the objects made will be fired and added to the exchange for another visitor to collect.

I’ve never been in a real pottery production factory although because of my job I know about the production process and the health hazards associated with it. The main concern being exposure to silica dust from the clay, talc dust used as a parting material to stop the clay sticking to the moulds, and toxic materials, such as lead, in the glazes. So it was interesting, as well as fun, to participate in the installation.

The pottery production was the first part of the installation, lasting a week. During the second week, 5 to 8 October,

The production line stops, the workers have left and you will enter a factory soundscape. The now redundant factory becomes a space for questions. Talks from industry specialists, researchers and makers will explore how communities are built by collective labour, look at where the industrial processes of our past are informing our future and consider what we will need from factories in years to come.

Cards placed throughout the factory floor invite you to think about raw materials, how knowledge is acquired and shared, where transformation takes place and the different systems of value we apply to material culture and human relationships. Leave your thoughts and share where production exists for you in exchange for an object made in the factory.

It would have been interesting to return and participate in the second phase. Like most tradition al industry in the UK, the pottery industry which used to dominate the Staffordshire Potteries around Stoke on Trent, has declined as production and jobs have been transferred to countries where labour is cheap and conditions are often significantly worse for the workers. So the exhibition mirrors what has happened to the pottery industry in the UK. Given my professional interest, and political philosophy, I’d have plenty I could contribute to this discussion.

Everything we, and other visitors, were doing during our participation, seemed to be logged. There was a phone app we could download and log in and out of the different stages of the process. It was also possible to see the towns where the objects produced had ended up (we had to include this on our clock cards). So no doubt there is more to this project then meets the eye.

[Re]construct at the YSP

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There’s always plenty to see at the YSP so after our first look around the Tony Cragg exhibition we had something to eat and then walked over to the former chapel which has been converted into an excellent exhibition space to see the [Re]construction exhibition which had only opened a few days before.

Selected largely from the Arts Council Collection by YSP, as part of the National Partners Programme, the exhibition questions what we know and understand about architecture, and features work by artists including Martin Creed, Anya Gallaccio and Cornelia Parker.

Walking through the entrance the first thing we saw was what appeared to be a brick wall with a large section of bricks that had melted.

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This was Alex Chinneck’s A hole in a bag of nerves (2017) which was constructed especially for the exhibition. The bricks are made of wax and a section has been melted with a hot air heater.

The centre of the main space was dominated by Cornelia Parker’s Neither From Nor Towards.

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This work comprises weathered bricks from a row of houses destroyed when they slipped into the sea on the south-east coast following the erosion of the cliffs. The bricks are suspended in space, recreating their fall. Like the exploding house we saw at the Whtworth a couple of years ago it was an impressive work.

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This work, can love remember the question and the answer, is by Anya Gallaccio

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Those are real flowers trapped between the glass panes in the mahogany door. The flowers will rot and decay, so the work will change subtly over the course of the exhibition.

There were a number of video works included in the exhibition. I found two of them, Rooms designed for a woman by Emily Speed and Device by John Wood and Paul Harrison – the “ art-world equivalent of Laurel and Hardy” according to the Tate website  showing in the Chapel’s gallery, particularly interesting.

“Sprung a Leak” at Tate Liverpool

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I called into Tate Liverpool during a day out in Liverpool last week. I hadn’t been for a while so there was plenty of new exhibits to see.

Something different seemed to be going on in the ground floor gallery so I thought I’d have a look. And it certainly was different. It was

a “multi-dimensional work featuring two humanoid robots and a robot dog”

by half-Belgian, half-American artist Cécile B. Evans, currently based in London, who .

No paintings or sculptures on display but instead the room was filled with video screens and in the middle of it all two robots, plus a robot dog, whizzing around and performing a three act play

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Interviewed in the Guardian

“In its simplest form,” says Evans, “it’s an automated play about a collaboration between machines and humans against external forces that affect their wellbeing … There’s a coup, there’s an incident at a pool party, and then everyone dies.”

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Human characters were represented by three digitised pole dancers – the Users – and a beauty blogger with hands but no arms.

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The work took the form of a three act play

“about a collaboration between machines and humans against external forces that affect their wellbeing … There’s a coup, there’s an incident at a pool party, and then everyone dies.” (Guardian)

It ran for 18 minutes and then the robots repositioned and the play re-run.

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It wasn’t exactly a straightforward play – the dialogue was rather abstract but it seemed to be about the loss of liberty in society – there’s a character called Liberty in the play – very appropriate given what is happening in the world at the moment with all the worrying  Populist and Nationalist  developments. For me, another theme was how society is becoming more and more automated with humans becoming ever more dependent on machines. Perhaps these two trends are linked?

It was an interesting work that makes you think and entertaining too – watching the robots whizz around. Worth seeing again if I get the chance