Goin’ Back (The Birds/The Byrds x 32 + 1)

I wouldn’t admit to being a great fan of “video art”. I often find it to be pretentious and uninteresting – and sometimes downright silly. But in recent years I’ve come across some good quality works which I’ve liked. There was one at the Leeds Art Gallery during our visit last Sunday.


While exploring the galleries upstairs we could hear a haunting sound coming from one of the rooms. Going inside we found a video work playing – Goin’ Back (The Birds/The Byrds x 32 + 1) by Mark Dean.

In Goin’ Back (The Birds/The Byrds x 32+1), 1997, Dean combines the moment when Tippi Hedren wakes up to relive the horror of being attacked by the birds in Hitchcock’s classic film with two lines from the song Goin’ Back by legendary sixties American group The Byrds: ’1 think I’m goin’ back, to the things I knew so well in my youth. I think I’m returning to those days when I was young enough to know the truth’. The momentary film clip is slowed down to last the same amount of time as the sample of music, and then both are played backwards and forwards – one bar forward, one bar back, two bars forward, two bars back – until they have progressed through the full thirty-two bars of music.

The work lasts for 9  minutes and the overall affect was eerie and hypnotic. You can see it for yourself here*


* Video on the web site is at lowered resolution, and does not reproduce the experience of works installed for exhibition

“Liberty and Anarchy”; – Op art and string theory in Leeds

The main exhibition showing at Leeds City Art Gallery at the moment is “Liberty and Anarchy”, with works by the Australian artist, Nike Savvas. The exhibits occupy two rooms on the ground floor of the gallery.

One of the rooms is devoted to a specially commissioned large scale installation ‘Liberty and Anarchy’ , after which the exhibition is named. It comprises 18 large screens made up of thin plastic, brightly coloured ribbons, hanging down vertically from the floor to the ceiling, each screen with ribbons of a different colour.

Entering the gallery and seeing a curtain of brightly yellow coloured strips, with hints of other colours through the gaps, wasn’t particularly inspiring. The work really needs to be experienced from the inside – by walking through the spaces between the individual curtains when visually unsettling patterns will be experienced by the viewer, like the effects created by “op art” paintings. Unfortunately the ribbons are fragile and so  the gallery has restricted access within the curtains to “guided tours” at specific times (11 o’clock each day). Unfortunately we arrived too late to participate. However, I found the following video where the curator talks about the work and which gives an impression of what it would be like to get inside the work (once you’ve watched the advert at the beginning).


In the second gallery there are a number of structures made of coloured wool threaded on wooden frames, not unlike the stringing that Gabo, Hepworth and Moore sometimes used on their sculpture. The stringing on these works, however, was more complex. The artist had created them in accordance with a mathematical formula, x 2/3 + y 2/3 = L 2/3, an equation that can be used to determine the length (L) of a ladder that can be carried horizontally around a corner, or the positions on the wall and floor of the ends of a ladder sliding down a wall. The solutions to the formula (anyone mathematically inclined can read find out more about the procedure here). Hence the collective name for the works the “Sliding Ladder” series. The ends of the strings have been positioned in accordance with the solutions to the formula (the x and y co-ordinates) generating a distinctive star shaped “envelope” – an astroid. The results reminded me of the patterns I used to create with my “Spirograph” when I was a boy.

Conceptually, this stringing is a simple idea. But constructing the individual pieces would have required considerable skill and patience. And Savvas has introduced some interesting variations on the theme in this “sliding ladder” series.  So, for example, the astroid is normally a four pointed star shape, but Savvas’ use of polygonal structures to support the strings has created different patterns. Combining several strung frames adds complexity and interest, as does ghostly shadow patterns cast on the floor by light shining through the structures.

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For most of the works, she’s used brightly coloured yarn for the stringing, in some cases using garish, fluorescent, hues.

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She has also used the approach with three dimensional structures producing more complex structures and patterns.

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There were also some related black and white two dimensional works on display from the Sliding Weave series, also created using mathematical relationships, which were quite similar to the op art work produced by Bridget Riley

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Leeds City Art Gallery and Henry Moore Institute

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I always look forward to the break over Christmas and New Year. A great chance to forget about work for a few days and relax, catch up on some reading, watch TV and a few films on DVD. The trouble is, after a few days in the house I start to get stir crazy and want to get out somewhere other than Tesco. So yesterday we decided we’d drive over to Leeds and visit the Henry Moore Institute and Leeds City Art Gallery. It’s been a while since I was last there and there were a few new temporary exhibitions on that sounded interesting.

The Henry Moore Institute is part of The Henry Moore Foundation, which was set up by Moore in 1977 to encourage appreciation of the visual arts. The building is physically connected to the Leeds City Art Gallery by an interior bridge, and although they are independent of the Gallery they collaborate with them and manages their sculpture collection and archive.

The main exhibition at the Institute at the moment is 1913: The Shape of Time featuring sculptures and some two dimensional works created in 1913.

“Marking the eve of the centenary of this year, and with George Kubler’s book The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things (1962) in mind, 1913: The Shape of Time is an exploration of the complex lives sculptures lead after their original production. …… This exhibition points both to the impact of sculptural thinking on the mutability of time and to the ways in which temporal thinking impacts on the production of and encounter with sculpture. All of the works on display were first produced in 1913, however many have been cast or replicated at a later date

I particularly liked the two sculptures by Henri Gaudier Brzeska, a beautiful little crucifixion sculpture by Eric Gill (despite despising his personal life I love his work), a Modgliani sketch, a Picasso collage two sculptures by  by Vladimir Baranov-Rossiné. I’ve not come across him before so will have to follow up with some research.

Christ on the Cross

Eric Gill Christ on the Cross 1913 (source: National Gallery of Scotland website)

In another room there was a recreation of a work by my Marcel DuChamp (I can’t avoid this guy!!) – his "Bicycle wheel" by an American-born, Paris-based artist, Elaine Sturtevant.

Made from memory and with the same methods as the original, Sturtevant’s repetitions are eerily similar, if not almost identical. Through this subversive approach, Sturtevant divorces an artwork from its visual image to investigate its conceptual meaning and value.

Elaine Sturtevant ‘Duchamp Bicycle Wheel’ 1969-1973 (Source: Henry Moore Institute website)

We spent most of our time looking round the City Art Gallery. Unlike the public galleries in Manchester and Liverpool, where there is a major emphasis on Victorian art, Leeds’ collection is strongly biased towards the 20th Century and they including a good selection of sculptures. It’s an excellent gallery with a good collection and they show some good exhibitions. They don’t allow photography but, despite this, they aren’t great at providing information on the exhibits that visitors can take away with them and their website isn’t particularly good, with only limited information on the works in their collection. It can be difficult to follow up on discoveries made during the visit.

The Henry Moore Institute collaborates with the City Art gallery to curate sculpture exhibitions and at the moment are showing a selection of small scale works from the city’s collection in an exhibition titled Natural Form: Shape and Growth in Sculpture. It was really excellent with works by Moore, Hepworth, Jean Arp, Paule Vézelay, Richard Long, David Nash etc etc etc . There were a number of ceramics too, including a really nice "squashed vase" by Elizabeth Fritsch and a plate by Henry Moore.

What particularly caught our attention were a number of pieces by Andy Goldsworthy made from leaves formed into boxes and other forms. They were particularly excellent.  They must have required tremendous skill and patience to create them and I couldn’t help but wonder how the fragile leaves stay intact. Perhaps they are sprayed with some sort of preservative?

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Upstairs they have a large display of post war works including a significant number by St Ives artists (including 3 Christopher Woods paintings) and sculptures by Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and F E McWilliam.

There were a couple of temporary exhibitions including one Contested Ground, run in conjunction with the Contemporary Art Society, and which focuses on works connected to the landscape. The exhibition is curated by Debra Lennard, and it

explores the revision of the landscape tradition in British art throughout the last century, and the meaning of that tradition for artists today. Drawing on Leeds Art Gallery’s rich collections, this exhibition presents key works by pioneers of Modernism in England, from Paul Nash and Ben Nicholson to Barbara Hepworth and Peter Lanyon, alongside more recent experiments with landscape by artists including Richard Long, Boyle Family, and Clare Woods.

The information on the exhibition was very limited. BUt as I mentioned above, this is a particular problem with the Gallery. However, I did manage to late a copy of the exhibition catalogue online here.

Contested Ground, Leeds Art Gallery

Picture source: Contemporary Art Society website

Downstairs there was an exhibition "Liberty and Anarchy" of works by an Australian artist of Greek extraction -  Nike Savvas. One room had an installation specially made for the exhibition which consisted of curtains of hanging coloured strips. You’re meant to be able to walk through the work, seeing it from the inside, so to speak, but the gallery restrict when you can do this as the work would be easily damaged.  We didn’t have the opportunity during our visit which was a pity as we weren’t able to properly appreciate the work just looking at it from one side. The other room displayed three dimensional works with coloured wool threaded on wooden frames, not unlike the stringing that Gabo, Hepworth and Moore sometimes used on their sculpture, though more complex, especially as she created them in accordance with a mathematical formula. There were also some related black and white two dimensional works which were quite similar to the op art work produced by Bridget Riley.

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All in all a good day out.