The Science Museum presents Joan Fontcuberta’s discoveries of weird and wonderful natural phenomena!
The first section displays Fontcuberta and friend Pere Formiguera’s incredible findings in the form of photographs, documents, sound recordings and taxidermy, of the 20th century teratologist, Professor Peter Ameisenhaufen. Included in this selection of incredible species is the myodirifera colubercauda, a 35-40cm creature with a rodent’s body and a reptilian tail. Similarly fascinating is the hermaphrotaurus autositarius, a goat-like animal with two bodies fused at the head. It has both male and female sexual organs, which frequently results in it having sexual relations with itself. Included is a recording of this animal’s cry which sounds something like ‘pshhhht-gong’. The professor also uncovered skeletal remains of this animal which are more than 200,000 years old.
The solenoglypha polipodida is not an animal to be reckoned with. If encountered, it can resemble an ordinary grass snake. But be warned, it actually has 6 pairs of legs with extraordinary muscular development enabling it to scurry at an incredible speed. Further, as the professor describes,
“When facing its prey it becomes completely immobile and emits a very sharp whistle which paralyses it’s enemy. It maintains this immobility for as long as the predator needs to secrete the gastric juices required to digest it’s prey, which can vary between 2 minutes and 3 hours, as determined by the size of the victim… Unlike known reptiles it never rests after eating. Quite to the contrary, it sets off on a wild chase which is only interrupted for the purpose of defecation. ”
Prepare to marvel at these wonderfully exotic creatures!
Moving through the exhibition, on display are photographs of incredulously anthropomorphic plants, vertiginous landscapes and vivid constellations.
a plant with fur?! who knew
Soon we are confronted with another discovery case akin to that of Professor Ameisenhaufen. Photographs of a startling archaeological excavation reveal the discovery made by Father Jean Fontana in 1947 of fossilised remains of a previously unknown species, which he named the Hydropithecus alpinus. As the exhibition catalogue explains, “the fossils greatly resemble the dugong and the now-extinct Steller’s sea cow, yet have curiously human features. They have now been authenticated by anthro-palaeontologists and are thought to be early mer-people…”
Father Jean Fontana’s discovery
Perhaps most impressive are Fontcuberta’s photographs which capture monks in Karelia, a region straddling Finland and Russia, performing miracles. In the interdenominational Valhamönde Monastery of the region, monks are said to learn how to perform miracles as part of their training. But how miraculous in itself, that the artist was able to capture a monk performing correlative deconstruction (walking through walls) or of dolphinsurfing!
The miracle of correlative deconstruction
The miracle of dolphinsurfing
OK… so to all you sceptics out there, yes, it is all a hoax. The conceptual artist Joan Fontcuberta fabricated every scenario from top to bottom. Yes, Professor Ameisenhaufen is a fictional character and none of those animals ever existed, and yes, the fleshy and hairy plants are actually sculptures made of wire.
To those who believed it (or part of it), I’m sorry to burst your bubble! But why did you believe it? Because its in the science museum, obviously! What kind of museum presents false information?
But why do we have this knee-jerk reaction of just believing in the authenticity and validity of what is presented? This is the question which the artist poses through his wildly imaginative scientific scenarios.
He makes an important point. Why is our critical faculty dampened when we observe something in a glass case on a plinth? Why do we just believe in it? Because we want to. We want to believe that somewhere out there in a far away place, or in a far away age something as extraordinary as a solenoglypha polipodida is waiting to paralyse its next prey.
The Tate Britain is currently exhibiting a collaboration of genres and medias from the 17th to the mid 20th century considered as ‘folk art’. The curators of the exhibition define the pieces as all sitting outside or at the margin of what is considered to be fine art. The exhibition itself is very bold, beautiful and elusive, much like folk art itself. However, the curators attempt to stay clear of defining ‘folk art’ itself and instead offer us the opportunity to meet a series of folklore objects that have artistic interest.
At the beginning we are reminded of the days before literacy was widespread, also known as the ‘golden age’ of trade signs. In this ‘golden age’ boots were hung outside cobblers stores whilst locksmiths used oversized padlocks to promote their work to the public.
With the rise of literacy level, trade signs became a thing of the past and text was used to convey meaning in work, a tool not often used in academic painting. John Vile’s ‘The Fat Pigs’ is a prime example of this. Vile was in fact considered a disabled artist as his arms were too short to paint. Nevertheless he paints here an advertisement of three fat pigs, which includes a thorough description of the animals.
James Williams’ patchwork bedcover can be considered as a classic piece of folk art, a handcrafted multi-coloured quilt. The extremely detailed bedcover that consists of 4525 pieces took the Wrexham tailor 10 years to complete. James William completed the piece by recycling varieties of woollen cloth, all hand-stitched in a mosaic style. Stitching carries on as the luxurious needle paintings of Mary Linwood are exhibited.
James Williams of Wrexham, The Tailor’s Coverlet 1842-52
'Lion Emerging From A Cave' Embroidery, Mary Linwood. Part of the Leicester Arts & Museums Service collection
The stylistic diversity of the exhibition continues when you are greeted with a mammoth figurehead which was constructed for the HMS Calcutta in Mumbai in 1831. The vibrant and colourful piece has been greatly restored since its last sail.
figurehead for HMS Calcutta, Mumbai 1831
The mix of work provided by the curators creates a truly engaging and unmissable exhibition. Head down to the Tate before the end of August!
I can’t remember the last time I was confronted with so much figurative sculpture!
Artists have always represented the body. Our physical selves provide endless sources of fascination - we’re a pretty vain lot, us humans. However, by the outset of the 20th century some kind of figurative boredom kicked in and artists began veering towards abstraction. Malevich took a plunge with his famed Black Square almost exactly 100 years ago, in 1915 (pop to the Tate Modern’s current exhibition to know more!).
Artists then departed from the question of what subject to represent, to where to look for this subject. Minimalists like Robert Morris with his untitled white cubes forced the viewer to question his or her own body in relation to the work for lack of anything else to do.. Conceptualists like Joseph Kosuth questioned the definition, and the definition of the definition of art. Yes, it really was as complicated as it sounds.
Sick of this intellectual over-complication, many artists returned to the figure in the 1980s, and it resumes importance today at the trendy Hayward gallery.
But there is nothing simplistic about this figurative return. The collection of work gathered here is hugely varied in both content and form, presenting pieces by 25 different artists. I really enjoyed contemplating the diversity of work but I have to say I was slightly overwhelmed by the end, having wandered through each room filled with a disparate collection of figures calling to mind such a breadth of themes from the deeply personal to the political and universal; from sexuality to ephemerality for example.
However I would not like to discourage visitors, you really are in for something special. With my interest in all things surreal I was particularly drawn to the work of Thomas Hirschhorn and his vitrines filled with uncanny mannequins. In his 4 Women 2008 the artist staged an unsettling version of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, but Picasso’s fragmented blue background has now transformed into grotesque electric blue styrofoam, spouting out of each mannequin’s left nipple. These figures labelled 1-4 are increasingly tattooed and they are matched with four images of increasingly severely injured, decaying male bodies. This shocking conflation of male, butchered forms with the smooth, plastic females holds ground as a comment on carnal desire: these commercialised, standardised women are exposed for consumption like meat.
This idea of the body as meat came to mind as I encountered Paul McCarthy’s work upstairs, That Girl (T.G. Awake) 2012-13. Not sure which direction to take I noticed arrows leading the visitor along a narrow corridor. Intrigued, I obediently followed the signs. Upon entering the room I was confronted with three hyperreal sculptures of the same naked women, each sitting on a glass table. Now I use the word ‘naked’ as opposed to the proper art historical term ‘nude’ because she just looked so shockingly real! Not idealised or embellished, offered up on the cold glass like a steak in a butchery. Every detail has been faithfully reproduced, from her wide, glazed eyes to the traces of persistent nail polish. I experimented a little, trying to catch her gaze in order to stir a reaction. I kept hoping she would snap to life and say, ‘what are you looking at?!’ Indeed contemplating these sculptures put me in the position of a voyeur, compulsively looking while feeling unsettled by the overly intimate display offered here. In the next room films have been set up demonstrating the process of the sculptures’ construction which involves the same techniques used in the film or pornographic industry, such is their lifelike quality.
Paul McCarthy, That Girl (T.G. Awake) 2012-13
After this hyperreal experience my eye was hungry for more detail of this intensity. This hunger was satisfied, but quickly dissipated, after experiencing the work of Maurizio Cattelan. I noticed another secluded room. This could be good, I thought. At the far end of the room a little boy was kneeling in prayer, facing the wall. Oh isn’t that nice, something pious and touching. Walking to take a look at him I was confronted by Hitler’s face! Again I did my experiment, trying to catch his gaze. I felt provocative, daring - trying to challenge a dictator in a gallery on a Tuesday morning! I then reminded myself I wasn’t in Madame Tussauds and perhaps should stop all this tomfoolery.. Possibly the most striking feature of this sculpture was the juxtaposition of this brutal dictator’s head on a vulnerable little boy’s body - even Hitler had a stage of innocence.
In contrast to these confrontational works, I was quite taken with the room dedicated to Ugo Rondinone’s seated nudes, cast in wax from the bodies of four young dancers. Each sits elegantly, their long, lean limbs in graceful resting positions. The bodies are made up of separate parts, in varying earth hues. I was almost tempted to take a seat beside one of them and absorb their aura of calm.
Ugo Rondinone, nude (xxxxxxxxx) 2011
Whether its shock or repose you are looking for, you will not be disappointed with this daringly varied and rich exhibition.
In which way does furniture design dictate the way we feel, act and interact?
The Geffrye Museum celebrates the centenary since it’s founding with a contemplative show: Useful + Beautiful: Contemporary Design for the Home.
The museum is home to a unique furniture collection that explores the way homes have been used and furnished over the past 400 years. It aims to inspire the local furniture-making trade. This temporary exhibition brings together works from contemporary British designers with the objective to make us reflect on what our homes may look like and function in the near future.
The exhibition space is quite small, but the scope of the show is large. We are encouraged to interact with many of the designs, to build, to sit, and most importantly understand the design process.
Rising Chair (2011), by Robert van Emricqs is one of the many designs that enchant the viewer. It is a chair that transforms from a flat-pack of wood slats into a comfortable, elegant chair. It is beautiful. Not just the outcome, but also the whole function of the design works perfectly and gracefully. Emricqs investigates the dynamics of the materials to create an intricate yet functional design.
The most exciting part was being able to sit in this intriguing chair and see that it was actually quite comfortable!
Sam Hecht, founder of Industrial Facility, states, ‘Successful design is much more than making something that is purely functional. The things I would regard as successful have a message and a meaning’. Although what we are mainly presented in this exhibition are innovative, creative solutions to issues such as efficiency, sustainability, durability, usefulness and beauty we must not forget that, today, design is much more than just a “solution”. Critical Design is a new concept consolidated by Professor Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby, which proposes design as a means of raising questions rather than answers. It is used to make us think, spark debate and provoke action. And in this exhibition RCA graduate, David Steiner, does just that.
In House by David Steiner takes an interesting approach to production methods and outcome. The objects exhibited are all produced from the artist’s existing possessions at home. He uses different methods to transform everyday household objects into tools that replicate industrial manufacturing processes. “The project began as an experiment in self-sufficiency, to some extent a reaction against the growing prevalence of desktop digital manufacture,” Steiner explains. Although these objects are not as functional as – let’s say – Rising Chair, and cannot be mass-produced, they invite you to contemplate and question production systems, reusability, recycling, and consumption.
The exhibition also presents us with another design from David Steiner in collaboration with Joni Steiner: Edie Child’s Stool. Only this time we are actually able to see the pieces and build it ourselves. This design is part of OpenDesk, which is an online platform that allows users to discover a range of designs that are available online for DIY or to order from local workshops. It is a brilliant platform of open source design, taking advantage of technology to make design accessible to everyone everywhere. This is why I admire this piece so much. It encourages people to engage with design, to build and to be part of the objects they live with.
Although Useful + Beautiful: Contemporary Design for the Home is a small show, it brings us to sincerely reflect on the effects everyday objects have on our lives, to consider and admire the process as well as the outcome.
Useful + Beautiful: Contemporary Design for the Home is on at the Geffrye Museum until 25th of August.
With seven floors and seven miles(!) of gallery space, the Victoria and Albert Museum is truly somewhere to spend hours getting lost amongst the exhibits. But, there are more focused ways to experience the vast and eclectic collection of fine and decorative arts. For instance, the museum runs a programme of public talks, often given by the curators themselves. These are rare opportunities to gain insights from the people who know the most about the objects on display. What’s more, these talks are usually free, with no booking required — simply turn up at the designated time and place. Find out about upcoming talks here.
Yesterday (14th August 2014) I was lucky enough to hear Rebecca Wallis, Curator of Sculpture, Metalwork, Ceramics & Glass, speak about French Art Pottery from the 1860s to 1920s.
We began in Room 101, which is dedicated to the decorative arts of Europe and America throughout the nineteenth century, to get a feel of the styles that Art Pottery both grew out of, and reacted against. The ceramics in this room showed potters beginning to experiment with new designs, but historical quotation was still at the fore.
Part of a Dinner Service Painted with Animals in Japanese Style, c. 1866, Shown at the International Exhibition Paris, 1867. France, Creil; commissioned by F.-E. Rousseau; designed by F.-J.-A. Bracquemond; made by Lebeuf, Millet et Cie. Earthenware, printed. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Given by François-Eugène Rousseau.
This service, for example, utilises the new availability of Japanese objects following the opening of Japan in 1853; however the shapes of these ceramics continue to follow Western precedents, and the Japanese designs are transplanted from drawings to ceramics (Bracquemond used drawings by Hokusai as reference material). Therefore, at this stage, ceramicists were still primarily interested in Japanese motifs rather than techniques. Artists such as Bracquemond were beginning to work with ceramics factories, but they did not yet see pottery as an artistic avenue of its own.
Next we looked at the changes that Art Nouveau brought about, and as Room 101 included all aspects of design, we were able to see Art Nouveau ceramics juxtaposed with posters and furniture, discerning the stylistic continuity between the mediums.
Moving to Room 145, which contained only ceramics, we looked at a number of examples of different types of fin de siècle Art Pottery.
Case 15, Room 145, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Rebecca explained that two contemporary Japanese pots were included in the lower shelf — to illustrate the striking similarity to the western-made ceramics.
The main innovation in art pottery was in the perspectives of the makers of the pots: ceramics was no longer a side-venture but at the forefront of their artistic practice — an art in itself. Prestige was gained by the complicated and risky glazing techniques, which required extreme care and precision in order that the works stayed in one piece.
Background: Stoneware bottle vase. France, Saint-Amand-en-Puisaye, c. 1895, made by Georges Hoentschel, carved and modelled, glazed and gilded. Foreground: Stoneware vase. France, Saint-Amand-en-Puisaye, c. 1890, made by Jean Carriès, with incised decoration and coloured glass. Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
There is an independence and individuality that is lacking in the earlier works, which follow a prescribed design. In this vase by Georges Hoentschel, the gilding on the neck reveals the artist’s hand. It is this type of aesthetic touch that ensures that these pieces still look remarkably contemporary today.
Rebecca reminded us that although we were separated from the ceramics by the display case glass, in practice they are tactile objects that the owner would enjoy through use and physical touch. This partition is, of course, a necessity in museums; but curator’s talks are excellent opportunities to — metaphorically — dismantle the barrier between the artwork and the viewer, and enrich your understanding of collections and curating.
After the talk, I visited the Ceramics Study Galleries, which were opened in 2010 and are designed to make the V&A’s permanent collection more accessible, both to the public and to the museum’s curators. Meticulously arranged but stacked like sardines, the pieces on show here reminded me of the proliferation of ceramics. Even Art Pottery is part of the industry that produces ceramics to be sold and consumed in multiple editions. Therefore, these galleries not only demonstrated the breadth and variety of the types and styles of pottery, but also brought to mind the busy atmosphere of the world’s fairs of the previous two centuries, which were so important to the development of the trade and framed the viewing and consumption of ceramics.
Photography is the only major art in which professional training and years of experience do not confer an insuperable advantage over the untrained and inexperienced — this is for many reasons, among them the large role that chance (or luck) plays in the taking of pictures, and the bias toward the spontaneous, the rough, the imperfect.
— Susan Sontag
The Travel Photographer of the Year (TPOTY) awards without a doubt resonates with the thoughts of Susan Sontag.
TPOTY is a competition that aims to increase the value given to travel photography. The vibrant selection gives a glimpse into the magnificence and beauty of this planet and its inhabitants. Giving everyone — regardless of age or experience — the opportunity to submit his or her works, with the winners being exhibited at the Royal Geographical Society in London during the summer.
The winners of the TPOTY Awards 2013 were announced on 13th December 2013, and are currently being exhibited in the gardens of the building until 17th August.
The exhibition space is beautiful -– especially on a proper summer day. So we strolled through to see the 2013 winners of every category. To my amazement, the youngest winner in the exhibition is just 10 years old! Another competitor was only fourteen: Jonathan Rystrøm from Denmark, winner of the Young Travel Photographer category. Jonathan’s exploration of photography is unique; he manages to capture the hectic, busy life of big cities by experimenting with movement and playing with the exposure of his photographs. In doing so, he successfully rouses a sense of wonder in the viewer -– a consciousness of madness and peace at the same time.
An example of Jonathan Rystrøm’s work. Image source.
The runner up for the category of New Talent Portfolio - Metropolis was Sheng Hong Tan from Malaysia. He captures the precise moment where the gaze of the busy New Yorker interlocks with that of the photographer, before they continue on to the hustle and bustle of city life. Seeing these photographs (which were taken in Grand Central Station) I couldn’t help but relate to these strangers that were pushing through the turnstiles. New York City is similar to London as they are big cities known for their eclectic diversity and brutal honesty. Cities where you have to be constantly going, moving, changing. They are difficult. I was completely captivated by these photographs as they freeze a moment of complete rush and chaos and capture — only for that instance — the stranger’s innocent, purely human gaze.
TPOTY is a truly captivating show. It will take you around the world, from the biggest metropolises to the most secluded places inhabited on this earth. It’s incredible to see such great art that triggers your sense of curiosity, wonder and care for this planet. This show proves what Sontag states: not everyone needs years of experience to take great photographs — you simply need to be in the right place at the right time, and of course, have a camera.
If you think you have photographs that should be considered for the TPOTY Awards 2014 make sure to enter before the deadline, 1st October 2014! And head to the Royal Geographic Society before the show ends on Sunday!
Marina Abramovic, 67, Serbian, arguably the most recognised performance artist in the world performs 512 hours in the Serpentine Gallery, London. Marina started her career as a performance artist in the early 70’s since then has become world renowned for her sometimes eccentric, masochistic and unusual methods. Before I share my personal experience of Marina Abramovic, I would like to visit her previous works that differ greatly from her London performance.
Marina Abramovic. Photograph by Marco Anelli (2014)
Out of her many worldwide performances two particularly stick out to me. Innsbruck, 1975 and Naples, 1974. Innsbruck, 1975, consisted of Marina downing a bottle of red wine, carving a five-pointed communist star onto her stomach with razor blades and laying on an ice modelled crucifix. Personally I’m quite glad I wasn’t around for that one. Naples, 1974, saw Marina offer her visitors 72 items to use in any way that they wish upon her. These ranged from a feather to a loaded pistol. Marina states “I had a pistol with bullets in it, my dear, I was ready to die”. The invitation Marina extended to the audience frightens even me and I wasn’t the one having a pistol waved infront of my face on a daily basis. Although her MoMA performance in 2010 ‘The Artist is Present’ conjured 750,000 people, causing thousands to cry and initiating even Facebook support groups (‘Sitting with Marina’), I find her 1970’s performances as the most riveting.
Now Marina has taken a far different approach in London, collaborating with the Serpentine Gallery co-director Hans Ulrich Orbist on 512 hours, which she states is the art of doing nothing. Sounds easy enough? Apparently not. The Serbian born has been on a strict diet and fitness regime to get her into shape for the performance. Both mental and physical. She will be walking around the gallery space, Tuesday to Sunday, from 10am to 6pm, allowing herself only toilets breaks for 512 hours (64 days).
I arrived at the Serpentine, 9:40am, in by 10 am along with 120 other curious guests who decided to spend their Tuesday morning exploring the ‘Art of Nothing’. Upon entry I was greeted by Marina herself with a warm good morning. I was then asked politely to surrender my bag, sunglasses, watch and beloved iPhone. After doing so I was handed noise-cancelling headphones for the performance. The space was split into three rooms, one large room leading into two smaller rooms. Much to my surprise there was actually quite a lot to do. In the far left room you could extremely slowly lap the room. In the middle room you could sit on a chair, sit on the floor, sit facing a wall, sit facing a podium, sit on a podium, stand on the podium, stand against a wall etc. The far right room was equipped with camp beds and desks that offered grains of rice for guests to sort, paper and pencil. The opportunities were endless.
I found myself quickly occupying a chair facing a wall, legs crossed, hands in lap. I was soon enough asked to uncross my legs and place my hands on either leg by one of Marina’s assistants and close my eyes. Having my watch stripped from me I assume I sat there for an hour or so. Once I had enough of sitting down I decided to stand, at this point Marina Abramovic herself was approaching me. I don’t know if it was my bright patterned trousers or my inability to stand (I was in fact leaning against a wall) that drew her to me. Nevertheless she had now taken my hand and was leading me to the far right room, towards the camp beds. Luckily all the beds were occupied. Laying in a room full of strangers personally didn’t appeal to me. She shook her head at all the occupied beds and smiled. Marina then guided me to the slow-mo room, which consisted of people pacing back and forth at an exceptionally slow pace. Once there she asked me: “What do you do?” I proudly replied: “I’m in the arts” in which she just said “Crazy”. A common response to Art. Marina then gave me the following instructions “Walk the room, very slowly, seven times, after the third time your mind will go to bullshit”. We then walked for a moment or so and she left. I did as instructed by the famous Marina Abramovic, and my mind really did go to bullshit.
512 was an extraordinary experience. It is not often that you can merely do nothing knowing that the outside world have no way of disturbing you. I have read several reviews in which people enclose their experiences and feelings of the performance. I believe mine differed from all of those. This is a performance that purely depends on the individual and how you choose to occupy the space and time offered by Marina. I strongly advise that if you have the time, take advantage of the Serpentine Gallery and meet Marina before the 25th August.
"When I do my collection, it is in a way my own story" Jean Paul Gaultier
Jean Paul himself expresses his excitement to have the exhibition in London. If there is one place he should of lived, if Paris was not an option, it would be London, due to the sheer appreciation he received in his early career from the public.
During Paris Fashion Week 2012, Jean Paul Gaultier showed his love and respect in a tribute to the recently deceased Amy Winehouse. The models were transformed to carbon copies of the star, consisting of the beehive trademark hair, unmissable flicked eyeliner and staggering high heels. Gaultier incorporated his own couture style in combination to Winehouse’s Camden-esque style. Male model Andrej Peljic starred in the show wearing a multicoloured Winehouse inspired dress. The pieces used at the 2012 Paris Fashion Week, including the dress worn by Andrej Peljic, can currently be seen at the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition.
Andrej Peljic wearing a multicoloured Winehouse inspired dress at Paris Fashion Week 2012 catwalk. Reuters
The exhibition is a must see for any fashion enthusiast, so head down before the month is over!