Clocking in

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A little before we clocked in and joined the production line in Tate Exchange we’d seen a series of 8,627 photographs and a film showing someone clocking in on the hour, every hour,  24 hours a day for a full 12 months during 1980-1981. One Year Perormance was undertaken by Taiwanese artist Tehching Hsieh in his studio in New York.

Marking the occasion by taking a self-portrait on a single frame of 16mm film, the resulting reel documents a year in his life at approximately one second per day – a pace that is polar opposite of the enduring length of the original performance

At the beginning of the project he shaved off his hair and we can see it gradually grow back in the series of photographs and the film.

It seemed such an odd thing to do. It meant that he was unable to sleep properly for a full year. He missed 133 clock-ins, and the reasons are documented on a note which is displayed amongst the contextual materials included in the exhibition along with letters, statements, uniforms, photographs, the punch clock itself and a time card. The main reason given was, not surprisingly,  sleeping through.

According to an interview in the Guardian the artist, the work

recalls the labours of Sisyphus, who, in Greek mythology, was forced to roll a rock repeatedly up a mountain, only to watch it fall down again

while it may seem to convey a message about the tedium and conformity of industrial labour, he tells Guardian Australia he is “not a political artist, although people are at liberty to interpret my work from a political standpoint … I’m interested in the universal circumstances of human life”.

Although clearly a crazy thing to do, there was something rather fascinating about the project and, personally, I can certainly see a political message about the alienation of work and how people are enslaved by work that is certainly relevant in this day of zero hour contracts and so-called self employed status workers employed by the likes of Uber and courier services.

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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.

Space Tapestry at Tate Liverpool

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The ground floor gallery at Tate Liverpool is currently showing Space Tapestry: Faraway Missions, a large-scale wall hanging made by the artist Aleksandra Mir with 25 collaborators, aged 18–24, using Sharpie marker pens..

The exhibition web site tells us that the work was

Inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry and the anonymous artists who depicted Halley’s Comet in 1066

The whole work is 200 metres long and three metres high, 3000 hours over 3 years to complete. Only part of it is on show in Liverpool, the rest is being displayed at Modern Art Oxford

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The main work is accompanied by 39 smaller drawings depicting a series of probes that have been sent into outer space since the 1950s

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Portraying a Nation at Tate Liverpool – Part 2 – Otto Dix: The Evil Eye

The second part of the current exhibition at Tate Liverpool features paintings and works on paper by Otto Dix who is best known for

his unforgiving depiction of Weimar Society and the Great War from whence it was forged. Along with George Grosz and Max Beckmann, he is  considered one of the most important artists of the Neue Sachlichkeit. (www.ottodix.org)

The exhibition website also tells us

Dix was a key supporter of the New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit) movement, a name coined after an exhibition held in Mannheim, Germany in 1925. Described by art historian G.F. Hartlaub, as ‘new realism bearing a socialist flavour’, the movement sought to depict the social and political realities of the Weimar Republic.

The exhibition includes a large number of his paintings and an important series of prints together with some contextual materials. Consequently it’s a good survey of his work.

August Sander, The Painter Otto Dix and his Wife Martha, 1925/26

The Painter Otto Dix and his Wife Martha (1925-6) by August Sander

The first section of the exhibition concentrates on his paintings and watercolours depicting the “underside” or the fringes of society. They’re quite brutal caricatures that don’t pull any punches. But they show quite a different side of Weimar Germany than August Sander’s photographs of more ordinary “mainstream” people taken during the same period. As the Observer’s reviewer puts it

Dix’s Weimar is a nightmare of raddled prostitutes, drunk customers and violent sailors, of rape, murder and maggot-ridden skulls.

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Reclining Woman on a Leopard Skin (1927)

The Observer again

Dix’s paintings are fiercely indigestible; you are meant to look at the livid cheeks and poisonous impasto and recoil. He believed in the disruptive power of ugliness.

Dix had volunteered at the outbreak of the First World War and served as an artilleryman and machine gunner on the Western Front, where he took part in the Battle of the Somme. In 1918, weary of trench fighting he volunteered as an aerial observer and trained as an aeroplane pilot. He was traumatised by the war and suffered recurring nightmares. His world view was coloured by these experiences which are depicted in a series of 50 etchings, many of which which don’t make comfortable viewing. I felt they were the most affecting part of the exhibition.

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Assault Troops Advance under Gas (Sturmtruppe geht unter Gas vor) (1924)

After viewing the horrors of war so graphically portrayed in the etchings, the next section of the exhibition brought us back down to earth with a series of more sober (a relative term when considering Dix’s work) portraits.

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Self-Portrait with Easel (1926)

This was a major source of his income during the 1920’s. His style was a mixture of realism and caricature, both old fashioned and avant-garde, as we can see in this example

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Portrait of the Jeweller Karl Krall (1923)

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Portrait of the Photographer Hugo Erfurth with Dog (1926)

He painted them using the techniques used by the Renaissance “old masters”. This involved using a layering effect, with egg tempera  finished with oils. There was a video on display of an old film which showed him “in action”.

The final section of the exhibition showed a different aspect of the artist with paintings of his family and a series of 14 watercolours painted in 1925 for a picture book for his five-year-old stepdaughter, Hana Koch. The subjects of these watercolours include mythical and biblical figures and stories such as St George fighting the dragon, St Christopher, Jonah and the whale, and David and Goliath.

Portraying a Nation at Tate Liverpool – Part 1 – People of the 20th Century

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On Saturday we drove over to Liverpool – the main purpose being to visit the latest exhibition at the Tate, Portraying a Nation: Germany 1919–1933. It’s actually two exhibitions: ARTIST ROOMS: August Sander, and Otto Dix: The Evil Eye.

August Sander was a German photographer who between the two World Wars attempted to document the people of Germany in a series of photographs People of the Twentieth Century. The exhibition includes well over 100 photographs (I lost count) from this series

Sander August, Self-Portrait, 1925

August Sander – Self Portrait

He took portraits of people from all segments of society grouping them into seven distinct categories: ‘The Farmer’, ‘The Skilled Tradesman’, ‘The Woman’, ‘Classes and Professions’, ‘The Artists’, ‘The City’ and ‘The Last People’.

To take the photographs he used an old-fashioned large-format camera, glass negatives and long exposure times. This allowed him to capture his subjects in minute detail.

August Sander, Farmer’s Child, 1919

At the same time his set up meant that there was a shallow “depth of field” which meant that the background is out of focus. This means that the viewer concentrates on the subject rather than their surroundings.

The image many people have of the Weimar Republic was of a rather wild, bohemian society where “anything goes”. He certainly captured this aspect of the times with photographs like this one of a secretary with her fashionable, shapeless dress,  androgynous, almost masculine hairstyle and manner. She looks like someone out of Cabaret

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Secretary at West German Radio in Cologne

He also photographed intellectuals such as the subject of the second half of the exhibition – Otto Dix

August Sander, The Painter Otto Dix and his Wife Martha, 1925/26

The Painter Otto Dix and his Wife Martha

But the majority of his subjects were ordinary workers, farmers, mothers and children. which probably paint a truer picture of life between the wars in Germany

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Blacksmiths

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The Man of the Soil

August Sander, Police Officer and Master of the Watch, 1925

Police Officer

He also included portraits of people on the fringes of society – including the blind and disabled people. The same people who would soon be persecuted by the Nazis. His portraits however, for the times, are sympathetic.

Sander had leftist views and was clearly on the side of the outsiders. Included in the exhibition were a number of Jewish victims of persecution, such as this young lady.

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A victim of persecution

The photographs were originally taken for their passports as they were attempting to leave Germany towards the end of the 1930s. They show real, ordinary people at a time when the Nazis were presenting  distorted caricatures of Jews.

Sander wrote

”It is not my intention either to criticize or to describe these people, but to create a piece of history with my pictures.”

and to achieve that aim he also photographed the very people who were responsible for the persecution

August Sander, National Socialist, Head of Department of Culture

National Socialist, Head of Department of Culture

even though one of their victims was his own son, an active socialist.

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Political Prisoner [Erich Sander]

The Tate has displayed the photographs chronologically along with a commentary listing the events occurring when they were taken, rather than grouped by ”type,” as Sander intended. I wonder whether this loses something. Nevertheless I felt that it was an excellent exhibition of outstanding portraits, showing the skill and the dedication of the photographer as an artist.

William Blake at Tate Liverpool

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Satan smiting Job with boils

Tracey Emin’s bed was being shown as part of an exhibition which is meant to explore the connection between this controversial work and the paintings of William Blake.

According to the Tate

This new display affirms Blake’s Romantic idea of artistic truth through existential pain and the possibility of spiritual rebirth through art, shared in the work of Tracey Emin.

I have to say I found it difficult to see any real connection – if there is one it is rather tenuous. But it was great to see a significant collection of magnificent prints and drawings by Blake, most of which I hadn’t seen before “in the flesh”, displayed together in Liverpool. A real treat.

William Blake is something of a hero of mine. As well as a visual artist – a painter and printmaker – he is also well known as a poet. He was a political radical – a supporter of the French Revolution – and a religious visionary.

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(Picture source : Wikipedia)

He was also an innovator, developing a printing technique known as relief etching and used it to print most of his poetry. He called the technique illuminated printing and the poetry illuminated books. Many of the works on display in the exhibition were created using this process.

This is just a small selection of them

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Pity (c 1795)

This image is taken from Macbeth: ‘pity, like a naked newborn babe / Striding the blast, or heaven’s cherubim horsed / Upon the sightless couriers of the air’. Blake draws on popularly-held associations between a fair complexion and moral purity. These connections are also made by Lavater, who writes that ‘the grey is the tenderest of horses, and, we may here add, that people with light hair, if not effeminate, are yet, it is well known, of tender formation and constitution’. (Tate website)

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The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve c.1826

This work shows Adam and Eve discovering their dead son. His brother Cain, the murderer, flees the scene. Despite his evil deed, Cain, appears as an ideal male figure. (Tate website)

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Nebuchadnezzar 1795–c.1805

 

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The Night of Enitharmon’s Joy (formerly called ‘Hecate’) circa 1795

Enitharmon is an important female character in Blake’s mythology, playing a main part in some of his prophetic books. She is the Emanation of Los, and with Los gives birth to various children, including Orc. Although symbolising spiritual beauty and poetic inspiration (some critics have argued that Blake’s wife Catherine was the inspiration for the character) she is also used by Blake to represent female domination and sexual restraints that limit the artistic imagination (Tate website)