The Garden of Good and Evil at the YSP

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The latest main exhibition in the Underground Gallery at the YSP had opened on 14 October, the day before our visit last weekend. It’s devoted to the work of a Chilean artist, Alfredo Jaar – “a pioneering practitioner of socially critical art” (Claire Lilley in the Exhibition Guide).

It’s a very different type of exhibition to those normally shown at the YSP as the works on display are not sculpture in the usual meaning of the word, but “installations”, film and photography.

Describing himself as “an architect making art”, Jaar constructs spaces and intricate light systems to navigate the ambiguities of what is represented and misrepresented in photographic and other media. (Exhibition Guide)

Unlike most of the major YSP exhibitions, there is only one of his installations outside the Underground Gallery (Tony Cragg’s sculptures sited outdoors from the previous exhibition are still there and will remain in place until March). This is a new work which will become a permanent exhibit in the grounds once the exhibition is over – relocated elsewhere as they won’t leave it in it’s present location immediately in front of the gallery. This work – The Garden of Good and Evil  (the exhibition is named after it) – takes the form of a grove of  101 trees sited in tubs along the length of the Underground Gallery open-air concourse. Inside this mini forest there’s a number of steel cells, of different sizes,  which are meant to reference ‘black sites’, the secret detention facilities around the world operated by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Visitors could wander through the trees discovering the individual cells – all different but all with a one-metre square base.

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The work was inspired by a poem, One Square Metre of Prison,  by the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Without being aware of this the work is perhaps an interesting curiosity, but knowing the inspiration it certainly made me consider and think about how people are imprisoned for their beliefs and hidden away from public view by governments, terrorist organisations etc. And with clandestine prisons, in practice illegal or only of borderline legality, themselves hidden from view by governments so that they can be ignored by the citizens – out of sight, out of mind.

Inside the gallery there are three major installations and a small number of other works. No photographs allowed, but the nature of most of the works meant that this was not that appropriate.

The first of the major works is The Sound of Silence (2005). Visitors enter a steel cube and sitting in the dark watch a video work telling the story of a South African photographer, Kevin Carter, leading to his image of a young victim of the 1993 Sudanese famine. The photographer stood and observed a young starving child being watched by a vulture, waiting for the appropriate moment to snap his photograph. A shocking image resulted which drew global attention to the famine, leading to aid being sent to help the victim. But the image raised serious questions about the role of the photographer and raises serious ethical questions. He did nothing to help the individual but, on the other hand, the picture may have contributed to aid saving the lives of others. The suffering of one saving the lives of many others?  This clearly troubled Carter himself and he later committed suicide.

The second of the major works, A Hundred Times Nguyen (1994), has 100 images of a little girl the artist met while visiting ‘refugee detention centres’ for Vietnamese boat people in Hong Kong in 1991. Jaar who photographed her five times at five-second intervals. He took four of the images altering the order in which they are shown using all possible combinations to make 100 pictures which are displayed on the walls of the gallery.  In this work the artist addresses “compassion fatigue” and

articulates the importance of the individual through many of his installations, rather than focusing on the mass of victims of the devastation and oppression he has witnessed. (Exhibition website)

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The third major work Shadows (2014) uses images taken by photographer Koen Wessing over a single day, early in the 1978 Nicaraguan Civil War, following a farmer’s murder. Entering a darkened room six of the images are displayed on the wall. Visitors then move through to a second darkened space where the seventh image is projected onto the entire back wall of the room, which shows two women grieving after the death of their father, shot by Somosa’s National Guardsman and left by the side of the road. The image alters as it is observed, the two grieving daughters being isolated from the picture and then altered and turned into a bright white silhouette.  The room then goes completely dark and the image is retained on the retina, gradually fading away after several seconds.

I’m not sure what the artist’s intention was, but I felt that it is easy to put aside the shocking images of suffering but here it wasn’t quite so easy to forget and perhaps that’s what we all need to do.

Although I’m sure many visitors will grumble about the “unorthodox” nature of the exhibition – not “proper art” will no doubt be heard – this is the second video based exhibition we’ve seen in the underground Gallery. The other being the Bill Viola exhibition we saw at the beginning of last year. That was intended to be “a sensory experience with space to pause and make time to reflect and enable an emotional or even transformational experience”. However the current exhibition is quite a different experience. Unsettling and thought provoking in a different way and making political points about cruelty and suffering and the role of the artist.

 

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“If the Ground Should Open” at the IMMA

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Another journey over the Irish Sea to spend a week working in Ireland. I caught the fast ferry from Holyhead that would get me over to Dublin for 2 o’clock and planned to drive out a short distance for a walk along the coast. But after a rough crossing I arrived to heavy rain showers with bursts of sunshine so decided to change tack and instead drove over to the Irish Museum of Modern Art.

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It wasn’t so long ago since I last visited the IMMA and one of the main exhibitions of works from their collection was still running. The exhibition in the other wing had finished and the next one hadn’t been installed. Two small exhibitions, The Plough and other stars curated by Kate Strain and Historica – Republican Aesthetics curated by Sumesh Sharma, had recently opened. I had a look around and although there were some pieces of interest they didn’t particularly “rock my boat” (mind you I’d had enough of rocking boats a few hours earlier!)

The third new exhibition was on the ground floor in the Courtyard galleries (a series of four interconnected rooms).

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Described as a “new video and sound installation” I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It was created by Jakki Irvine, an Irish born artist and

Her works in film and video, whether in single-screen format or in more complex multi-screen installations, weave together enticing, though ultimately elusive narratives in which image, voice-over and musical score variously overlap, coalesce and diverge.  (Source here)

Although there are some video art works that I have found I liked, in general I’m not a big fan of them. Too often they’re not done well. But that was certainly not the case in this instance.

It’s difficult to describe the work but I’ll try.

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In each of the four rooms there were two “boom box” video screens. Music or spoken words were coming from the speakers with accompanying images of musicians playing their instruments, singing or speaking with occasional text. The sound playing and images showing from each “boom box” were different but were all part of a musical piece. It was as if there were 8 musicians spread out across the room. But the viewer/listener, rather than taking this in from a fixed position, could move around the galleries leading to different perspectives of the music and visuals.

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There were 11 songs in all, played sequentially. They were inspired by the story of two working class women Elizabeth O’Farrell (a midwife) and Julia Grenan (a furrier and dressmaker), “lifelong companions” who were participants in the Easter rising along with more than a hundred other women who performed key roles as couriers, delivering dispatches and ammunition, and nursing the wounded. The majority of them have been ignored by history. Yet Elizabeth performed a significant role at the end of the Rising, delivering Padraig Pearse’s surrender to General William Lowe on Moore Street under gun fire. She stood beside Pearse as he capitulated in person to General Lowe.

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The songs are performed by 9 musicians – all women – and reference aspects of the Rising counterpoised with references to meltdown of the “Irish Tiger” economy, in particular, the collapse of the Anglo Irish Bank.

The eleven tracks were composed by Irvine using the canntaireachd system – originally developed as an oral scoring system for Scottish Highland pipes. The basic musical motif in classical piping (piobaireachd) is called ‘the ground’ of the piece, which is then built upon with additional notes and melodies. In If the Ground Should Open… the names of women involved in the 1916 Rising, form the ground. In this way they are performed and remembered, becoming part of the ground we walk on in 2016.  The project was also developed from the leaked Anglo-Irish bankers taped conversations. (IMMA website)

and Jakki Irvine tells us

“the legacy of 1916 is reconsidered in the light of a contemporary Ireland broken by corporate greed. Both the past and the present are reflected through a lens that is complicated, joyful, furious and hopeful”.

I found the work very moving and inspiring, and enjoyed picking up different aspects of the songs as I moved around the galleries.

Unfortunately there are no recordings of the work available – but there will be a live performance in the Chapel at the IMMA in December. I’d love to see this, but won’t be in Dublin. However the exhibition is on until January and as I’m likely to be over in Ireland again before then, and would like to see the Lucien Freud exhibition that opens there at the end of October, there’s a good chance that I’ll revisit.

 

There’s a recording of the introductory talk by Jakki Irvine on the IMMA Soundcloud channel and an interview with Jakki who talks about Elizabeth O’Farrell, Julia Grenan and the other women who participated in the Easter Rising in the Irish Independent.

The performers are – Vocals Louise Phelan, Cats Irvine, Cherry Smyth, Bagpipes Hilary Knox, Piano Izumi Kimura, Violin Liz McClaren, Cello Jane Hughes, Doublebass Aura Stone, Drums Sarah Grimes.

Bill Viola at the YSP

Last Sunday, we left the Hepworth Gallery around 1:30 so decided we’d have time to drive over the the Yorkshire Sculpture Park to have a look at their exhibition of works by the American video artist, Bill Viola. I’d first heard of him when his work Martyrs (Earth, Air, Fire, Water) was installed at St Paul’s Cathedral in May 2014. Intrigued, I was interested to find out more about him.

The YSP’s website tells us that

it is the most extensive exhibition in the UK by the artist for over 10 years. The immersive exhibition in YSP’s Chapel and Underground Gallery features installations from the last 20 years of Viola’s career and premieres a new work, The Trial.

It wasn’t a great day for walking around the park, but the nature of Viola’s work – high quality videos rather than the usual 3 dimensional works shown during YSP exhibitions – meant that all the works were installed indoors.

Inside the Underground Gallery the video works were shown in darkened rooms and visitors passed along a set route through them. Not quite sure what to expect, in the first room we encountered 3 video screens each of them showing an individual passing through a wall of water. Nothing much happened, but there was a calm, spiritual quality to the images. This set the scene for the remaining works – another six. Many of them involved people interacting with fire (Night Vigil) or water (The Trial, Three Women, The Dreamers and, shown in the first room, The Return and The Innocents).

The Dreamers, shown in the final room in the Underground Gallery was an installation of seven large screens which depict seven clothed individuals – men, women and a young girl -submerged underwater. Their eyes are closed and it looked as if they were dead, the only evidence otherwise being the occasional bubble rising to the surface. Strange, creepy but oddly beautiful.

I think that the Spectator review gets it right

his short, silent films are more like Renaissance paintings. Not much happens, but every moment feels full of meaning. Like religious iconography, his work addresses birth and death, and love and grief.

All were high quality videos, professionally shot with slick production values. The videos are actually produced by his wife Kira Perov. Viola comes up with the ideas and Perov sees them through to completion.

He has the visions, the flashes of inspiration — she sorts out everything else. ‘These are all his ideas, and I help make them happen,’ says Kira. (Spectator)

It’s like the relationship between a director and a producer, or an old master and his studio.So it’s more of a collaboration than he work of a single artist, but as is often the case the dreamer gets the credit while the craftsperson, the artisan, is left in the shadows.

Emerging from the darkness, the end room in the Underground Gallery was , as usual, used to display contextual materials and documentary videos about the artist. And we were able to treat ourselves to a free cup of green tea.

Afterwards, braving the icy wind, we made our way across the field to the Chapel. Here two linked works from his Tristan Project, were being shown consecutively projected on a tall screen in the darkened room. It’s a very calm, reflective space well suited to the works that were being shown –  Fire Woman and Tristan’s Ascension (The Sound of a Mountain Under a Waterfall).

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The exhibition is intended to be a sensory experience with space to pause and make time to reflect and enable an emotional or even transformational experience. The Spectator review comments that “even the most down-to-earth people get emotional about Bill Viola’s videos.” I certainly found then moving and emotional, but they didn’t want to make me cry. I’m too much of a hardened materialist to be swayed into spiritual musings. But watching some of them, particularly the works from the Tristam Project shown in the chapel – was certainly an opportunity to do some calm, reflective thinking.

So another good exhibition from the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. It never disappoints.

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

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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.

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.

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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

Drop Sari by Liz Rideal

While we were in Manchester on Tuesday we called into the Whitworth Gallery. I wanted to have another look at the two exhibitions The Devil’s Wall and Cotton – Golden Threads, both of which finish this weekend, so it was the last chance to see them.

One of the exhibits in the Cotton exhibition that I particularly liked was a video installation by Liz Rideal. A series of images of fabrics, India and textile production processes were projected onto four white saris hanging from the ceiling and gently wafting in a breeze created by a fan. I thought it was very effective.

The video was flanked by two other works by the artist – Ghost Sari i and ii, monotype prints of of crumpled saris printed on Japanese paper from and a display of vintage sample books featuring Indian fabrics – some of which are actually featured in the Drop Sari film.

There’s an interview with the artist here

Another version of the work, Light Curtain, was also projected on the outside of the gallery during the night. Unfortunately I never got the chance to see this.

Jem Finer–“Still”

One of the current exhibits at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park is “Still” a video installation created by Jem Finer, a founder member of the Pogues who originally trained as a computer scientist and who has now made a name for himself as a multimedia artist. A previous work Longplayer, is an “algorithmic musical composition” that began playing at midnight on 31 December 1999 and and will continue to play without repetition until the last moment of 2999, when it will begin again.*

I used to think that I didn’t like video installations. I  think that this was because the first ones I’d seen I either didn’t understand or didn’t really like.  However, following a visit to the Nam June Paik exhibition at Tate Liverpool last year and the woks by Jesper Just shown at the Baltic Gateshead (also last year) I’ve started to take more interest in them. So when, during our visit to the YSP last Sunday, we discovered that they were showing Still in the old chapel we decided to take a look.

Commissioned by Stour Valley Arts in 2011, Still  consists of a large number of individual photographs taken automatically from the same location in a forest in Kent by a solar powered camera over a two year period. The photographs show an identical view and the video cuts from one photograph to another revealing the changes. However the photographs are not shown sequentially but selected at random. This means that one photograph can be followed by another from a completely different time of the year. It can jump from summer to winter, autumn or spring. It isn’t a sharp edit. One photograph merges into the next so the changes are gradually revealed. People animals and objects appear and disappear seeming to dissolve in and out of the scene. It’s a continuous stream without a distinct start or end.

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According to Jem Finer’s blog the work :

composed in real time by a generative sequencing system, is continually finding new and different paths through the days, weeks and months.

The large object that looks like a large old fashioned gramophone player that features in Still is Score for a hole in the ground another work by Jem Finer created in 2006 and which uses water and gravity to create music,

We sat transfixed for about 30 minutes and could have stayed watching it longer, but wanted to see some of the other sculptures in the park so left somewhat reluctantly. We’ll try to go back to take another look before it closes on 7th May 2012.

There’s a short documentary on the work on Vimeo.

 

* Longplayer can be heard at the Lighthouse in Trinity Buoy Wharf, London, and at several public listening posts around the world. There’s also a live stream on the Internet.