abstract art, a systems view

Archive for the ‘Contemporary art’ Category

The Warwick Dials

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For me, the best thing about Warwick Arts Centre is The Mead Gallery. However, it is also an arts venue with dance, film, theatre and music performances. The Warwick Dials, art work by Richard Wentworth, could easily be mistaken for real dysfunctional clocks.

warwick dials 2 

Well that’s what they are!


Written by Andy Parkinson

March 19, 2012 at 8:45 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.

Doing the Whitworth Walk

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We had done some walking ourselves, in Derbyshire, and I had also recently seen Marek Tobolewski‘s work at Tarpey Gallery, where he seemed, in part, to be taking Paul Klee‘s advice about “taking a line for a walk”, so walking had already become a bit of a theme, when my brother and I visited the Whitworth, Manchester.

As well as the Flailing Trees and the film(s) 1395 Days Without Red, we saw Projections: Works from The Artangel Collection, art work by Francis Alys, Atom Egoyan, Tony Oursler and Catherine Yass. And there were walking themes! High Wire, 2008 by Catherine Yass features a four screen video presentation of a walk on a very high wire, (the wire stretched between two tower blocks at The Red Road Estate, in Glasgow) by Didier Pasquette.  I was on the edge of my metaphorical seat (I was actually standing at the time) as he edged his way onto the wire, walked about half way and was then forced back by the buffeting wind. The four videos showing different views, from different perceptual positions, includes one filmed by the walker, a camera being attached to his head. They are each dramatic in different ways, each supplying a different description.

Different too are the walks described by Francis Alys in his Seven Walks, 2005. Whilst I view I am walking, retracing his steps in my imagination as I look at various documents and maps recording walks in London made by the artist, for example walking only on the sunny side of the street, or on the shady side of the street. I find I get engrossed and fascinated as I study drawings, notes, lists, and photographs, along with photocopies that seem connected to the walks through something similar to the psychoanalytical technique of free association. It seems a lot like what happens whenever you take a walk, you free-associate as you go. Ideas, images come to mind only to be replaced or built upon by others vaguely related to the sights, sounds and feelings of the ‘external’ walk.

There are videos too, The Nightwatch is an installation of multiple CCTV screens, placing the viewer in the perceptual position of security personnel at the National Portrait Gallery, watching an urban fox make its way through the labyrinth of galleries. The fox’s walk is also documented as a storyboard and drawn on a plan of the galleries. Seeing this line taken for a walk, I free-associate, remembering Paul Klee and Marek Tobolewski.

In the video Railings, a man walks through the Regency squares of London, drumming a stick along the cast-iron railings, the walls, the pillars at the doorways of the Georgian (?) houses, even at one stage setting off a car alarm. Screened in trio, with a staggered timeframe, like a round, the rhythms become a cacophony, an auditory record of the walk being shown visually.

Years ago, when Clement Greenberg was charting the ‘progress’ of visual art towards the flattened picture plane I seem to remember that, as well as glorying in the replacement of the window-on-the-world with abstraction, he also recognised it as a loss. (It is a loss that many painters have since been unwilling to make, hence the return with a vengeance of figurative painting since modernism.) At the Whitworth today I saw sculpture, figurative painting and drawing both traditional and contemporary, prints, photography, video, film and conceptual art documented in a variety of ways and there was ‘sound art’ too. What I didn’t see anywhere on my Whitworth walk was an abstract painting and though there was much to enjoy, and I did enjoy it, I experienced this conspicuous absence as a great loss!

Flailing Trees by Gustav Metzger

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Visiting Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, can’t be done without bumping into these upside-down weeping willows, 21 in all, set in concrete, an art work by Gustav Metzger, entitled Flailing Trees.


An example of ‘auto-destructive’ art, it will self destruct in who knows how many seconds. Well, it was made nearly three years ago and one of the trees has fallen. That happened about three weeks ago.

Written by Andy Parkinson

September 4, 2011 at 9:20 am

The Jean Genie

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Should I be slightly embarrassed by the fact that my introduction to Jean Genet came through the 70’s hit single by David Bowie?

Nottingham Contemporary have a show about him (Genet, that is, not Bowie) running until October.


It is divided into two parts or acts. Act One is an installation by Marc Camille Chaimowicz entitled the Courtesy of Objects, featuring Alberto Giacometti, Tariq Alvi, Lukas Duwenhogger, Mathilda Rachet and Wolfgang Tillmans. I recognised the Genet I knew a bit about, in this exhibition which is about his early life, his books, his homosexuality, his friendship with Giacometti etc.

I did think it a little strange to see Giacometti featured. In my view, he is the major artist here and I wondered if I would simply have preferred a solo show. (Check out this blog about one such show).

Act Two, entitled Prisoners of Love, brings together work by André Acquart, Emory Douglas, Latifa Echakhch, Mona Hatoum, Glenn Ligon, Abdul Hay Mosallam, The Otolith Group, Lili Reynaud-Dewar, Carole Roussopoulos, Gil J Wolman and Akram Zaatari. And this was the Jean Genet I knew nothing about. He had engaged in a lot more political activism than I had realised, including the events of 1968, and his support of the Black Panthers.


I found the second part of the exhibition the most interesting and I learned a lot about Genet. I am not sure how much of it I read as ‘art’ though. I felt more like I had visited a museum than an art gallery.

There also seemed to be something incongruous about looking at (wonderful) Emory Douglas Black Panther posters and other images inciting revolt, viewing Gil J Wolman’s ‘Scotch Art’ prints of May ’68 in Paris, watching the Otalith Group’s film set in Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank, and then taking a short walk down the steps to drink expensive tea and coffee on the nice terrace of the posh restaurant.

Written by Andy Parkinson

August 14, 2011 at 9:48 am