patternsthatconnect

abstract art, a systems view

Archive for December 2011

Art in the University workplace

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I have written from time to time about art in the workplace, keen as I have become, to see good paintings there, pleased on the odd occasion that I find some, and fascinated by the responses of workers.

Why I haven’t thought before about art on display in those particular workplaces called universities I don’t know, especially as there are often galleries associated with them, and also that the buildings are sometimes open to the public. In Nottingham the Lakeside Gallery is part of the University of Nottingham and The Bonington Gallery is in the School of Art & Design at  Nottingham Trent University. It is not so long since I visited the Whitworth, at Manchester University and the other day I was introduced to the Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery in the Parkinson Building of Leeds University.

They have some lovely abstract paintings, including work by John Hoyland, Terry Frost (one that I think is particularly good), Victor Vaserely, Victor Pasmore and Trevor Bell.

I have many times been on the campus of Warwick University but never realised that there was art to be seen there, not only at the Mead Gallery, but also on the walls in the University buildings. Click here for an excellent introductory online exhibition.

Against Nature 2

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Yesterday I posted about an artwork by Klaus Weber subtitled “Against Nature” an allusion to the novel of the same title by J.K. Huysmans, which I feel I have a connection with simply because as an art student I read it as part of my Aesthetics course and enjoyed it. There is nothing unnatural in that! Nor in the connection I then made to my Aesthetics tutor whom I emailed and got a reply from.

By chance today, as I was surfing the net, I came across another art work entitled “Against Nature“. I wonder if it has any connection to the Huysmans novel. It is by David Batchelor, with whom I also have a connection, he was an art student in the year above me at Trent. I remember him, and I liked him, (though I would be surprised if he remembers me).

His piece is on display at the University of Warwick, and I hope to see it in the near future.

Written by Andy Parkinson

December 27, 2011 at 9:45 am

Against Nature

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When I was an art student, many years ago, our Aesthetics tutorial group were encouraged to read Against Nature by JK Huysmans, one of those books that I find stays with you for a long time, in that it keeps coming back to memory. I do not know how much that is to do with the brilliance of the book and how much the brilliance of the tutor.

When I was visiting Nottingham Contemporary recently I saw a copy in the book store and wondered why they had it there. Then, when I saw the Klaus Weber exhibition, it became clear.

Sun Press (Against Nature) contains layers of allusion to the natural, and our idea of it. A heliostat on the roof concentrates the sun’s rays to print A Rebours (Against Nature) by JK Huysmans in the gallery below. The ultimate natural force is harnessed to slowly reveal a book that was explicitly a break with the 19th century Naturalist style of literature.

An alternative translation of the book title is “Against the Grain” you can read the whole book here.

Written by Andy Parkinson

December 26, 2011 at 9:45 am

Klaus Weber at Nottingham Contemporary

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Visiting the Klaus Weber show at Nottingham Contemporary the other day I realised that one of the things I like a lot about Nottingham Contemporary is that the gallery attendants talk to you about the art, if you want them to.

I noticed that in this piece one of the heads was missing…

…and I had fallen for the artist’s little joke when I asked the attendant of it had actually been stolen or damaged or if it was part of the piece. You guessed the answer! I asked if she had met the artist, which of course she had, and was able to tell me all about his visit to the gallery.

The exhibition, showing until 8 January 2012, is in two parts: If you leave me I’m not coming is Weber’s solo show, whereas Already there! is  Weber’s selection of artifacts from the Science Museum, The Ashmolean Museum, Berlin’s Bode Museum, Archaeological and Zoological collections of University College London and art works mostly from the Tate collection.

Already there! represents our tentative understanding of ourselves – belief systems since discredited or abandoned. The exhibition is perhaps a memento mori of our own scientific and social systems – now the apogee of human achievement. In the future our own artefacts will be just as charged and curious Weber seems to suggest – part of another natural process of decay.

(from the notes on the exhibition web page)

As well as the heads already mentioned If you leave me I’m not coming includes Bee Paintings, looking like abstract paintings of dots and blobs they are actually the record of bee performance,

every year when the bees first leave the hive they perform a ‘cleansing flight’ when they excrete, preferably on clean white surfaces. In this casethey have obligingly decorated Weber’s canvases.

In the little video I have posted here the Bee Paintings can be seen behind the Large Dark Wind Chime (Arab Tritone). What would usually be a small garden ornament, cheerfully making audible the natural force of the wind, is here a gigantic object set in motion by electirc fans and tuned to the “devils music” or the “tritone”. Click on the video clip to hear it.

The video starts with Weber’s massive “windscreen wipers” constantly clearing away the artificial rain that pours down the inside of the gallery window.

The Indiscipline of Painting at Mead Gallery in January 2012

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I am exercising self discipline resisting the urge to look in the exhibition catalogue for The Indiscipline of Painting that I saw in Waterstones, and bought and asked my kids to wrap up for me as a Christmas Present.

I had hoped to go and see the show at Tate St Ives, before then seeing it in Coventry at the Mead Gallery in Warwick Arts Centre, but St Ives is a long way, so I will wait until 13 January and see it for the first time at Mead Gallery. It is on until 10 March 2012, and it is near enough for me to see it once a week if I choose to do so (and I may well do)!

Warwick Arts Centre is part of Warwick University, and I had no idea that they had a collection of colour-field abstract paintings which are on display across the campus. I have booked a tour.

It’s only recently that I have been admitting my interest in colour field abstraction now that I am so unfashionable myself that I have given up caring about what is in or out of fashion.

There’s a bar in Nottingham called ‘Fashion’ and I used to like stepping into it and out of it saying “now I am in fashion” and “now I am out of fashion” (childish I know). It was the oscillating between positions that was so enjoyable.

Written by Andy Parkinson

December 22, 2011 at 8:45 am

If you want live music you have to live it

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“If you want live music you have to live it” said dance band leader Dennis Halfpenny at the closing dance of 2011 by The Terry Peters Big Band at the Regency ballroom, Sutton in Ashfield on Saturday night.

Live music is wonderful and dancing to a live band is surely the best way to live it.

There is something always old, repetitive, and at the same time, always new, each repetition a beginning, in dancing that seems equivalent to what’s hapening with the music, and I wonder if the musicians feel the same way. This rendition of “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else but Me)” will be similar but never identical to the last one or the one to come, and likewise the jive we danced to it. This “Veleta” will be like the previous and subsequent one, without ever precisely repeating.

For me, it is this repeating whilst simultaneosuly starting anew that living live music is all about. I think this is one of the reasons why I am so fond of the old-time dances like the Veleta, and why I hope that it will continue to be danced to live music for many years to come. There is something magical about following the tradition of dancing this to its own signature tune, the continued playing of it keeping it alive.

Does all this not connect to desire and drive? In Slavoj Zizek’s The Parallax View, he says

We become “humans” when we get caught into a closed, self propelling loop of repeating the same gesture and finding satisfaction in it

It’s not old-time waltz turns, or repeat pattern abstract painting that he is referring to, but it could so easily be.

Band photo by courtesy of M&N Photography

Gillian Ayres in the meeting room

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In a workplace recently, walking past a room where there was a meeting going on, I saw out of the corner of my eye, artist proofs by Gillian Ayres on the wall. I considered interrupting the meeting to take a look. I also wanted to ask the group whether they had noticed the art, and what difference it made to their meeting. Instead, I determined to go in early next day and see the work before anyone else could get in there.

I couldn’t help it! A bit like Gillian Ayres whos says she paints because “One can’t bloody help it”, nice little video of her here saying that and other things too.

Written by Andy Parkinson

December 13, 2011 at 8:45 am

George Shaw’s ‘The New Houses’ at BALTIC presents Turner Prize 2011

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George Shaw says he wants ‘non-art audiences’ to appreciate his paintings, and I can see how they would (despite the Daily Mail who could only note that one included a dog-shit bin). There is a real sense in which they document what the Coventry sub urban landscape has looked like, and really looks like now. So there is a sense in which they are not paintings about painting. Maybe it is because I am filtering for it that I do find lots in his paintings, (showing at BALTIC presents Turner Prize 2011, until 8th January 2012) about the process of painting.

George Shaw The New Houses 2011 BALTIC presents Turner Prize 2011 © BALTIC & the artist Photo: Colin Davison

Am I wrong to see in ‘The New Houses’ a painting of nothing, much in the same way that some abstract painters have painted ‘nothing’?

And I must be reading in the metaphor of a blank canvas as I view the muddy ground where further new houses will be built, and consider the way in which the barriers around the building site create frames and therefore paintings within a painting, the whole becoming a meta-painting. ‘Meta’ in the sense that it is a painting that includes the smaller paintings that are held within the overall frame, and ‘meta’ also in that it is a painting about the subject of painting, a comment on painting as an act of construction, built on the razed ground of whatever was there previously, painting possibly even as a counter-creation, replacing the ‘natural’ with the artificial.

Written by Andy Parkinson

December 12, 2011 at 10:02 am

The ultra-Taylorist Soviet utopianism of Aleksei Gastev (including Gastev’s landmark book <i>How to Work</i>/<i>Как надо работать</i>)

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Brilliant exploration of the patterns that connect industry, technology, scientific management and modernist art.

Written by Andy Parkinson

December 9, 2011 at 7:36 am

Metamodernism, Oscillation and the Beer Game

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In Luke Turner‘s Metamodernist Manifesto he says “oscillation is the natural order of things” and he, along with Robin van den Akker, Nadine Feßler and Timotheus Vermeulen, sees this oscillation ( “between a modern desire for sens and a postmodern doubt about the sense of it all, between a modern sincerity and a postmodern irony, between hope and melancholy and empathy and apathy and unity and plurality and purity and corruption and naïveté and knowingness; between control and commons and craftsmanship and conceptualism and pragmatism and utopianism”) as an indication of the emergence of a new cultural dominant – metamodernism.

I feel sure that I am mixing metaphors as I attempt to question the naturalness of oscillation by referring to a business simulation known as the Beer Game, invented, I believe, at M.I.T by Jay Forrester and referenced by Peter Senge in the opening chapter of his book The Fifth Discipline.

Four ‘players’ take up the positions of Factory, Distributor, Wholesaler and Retailer, making up a production and distribution system, the product being crates of beer, represented by coins or counters, that make their way from the factory, to the other sectors and ending up as sales to external customers.

There are some system conditions: no communication takes place between the sectors other than the placing of orders and the receiving of product (silence), and there are delays in production and  transportation as well as in processing the orders. Orders are made by external customers and they are re-acted by each sector concluding with the factory that places orders with its own workforce. The decision-making required by each sector, at the end of each week, is how many crates of beer to order from their supplier upstream.

The activity spans a simulated year, at the beginning the system is stable, customers are ordering 4 crates of beer per week and each sector has 12 crates of beer in their respective inventories. Each sector aims to minimise costs by keeping inventory down at the same time as preventing backlog.

In conducting this simulation (as I have done with groups over 100 times in the last two years) we always find that when external customer orders are stable, the system becomes unstable, with sometimes wild oscillation, (as well as amplification: the oscillation pattern becoming more pronounced the further upstream you go).  A flat line could represent the orders from customers whereas this graph shows the oscillating pattern of orders placed within the system.

Getting back to the Metamodernist Manifesto, if we were to think of orders from customers as the external environment or  ‘nature’, we might conclude that oscillation is an artificial experience. It is not the ‘natural oder of things’ so much as the invented and exaggerated response to external stimuli. We do it to ourselves (that’s what really hurts, apologies Radiohead).

Then again, we could say that it is ‘natural’ in the sense that it is the repeated and predictable response: it seems to come naturally to us.

Maybe what I am saying is that although oscillation may indeed be ‘the natural order of things’, the natural order of things is not itself natural. Whilst the territory is flat, our maps oscillilate wildly.