Friday, 14 December 2012

Hoist by Our Own Petard - introductory essay

To be hoist by your own petard means to be blown up by your own bomb, and that's a risk that we are willing to take. HbOOP is an experiment with 'art' as the subject, and with 'money' and 'every day life' as variables, but there are no guarantees that 'art' as we know it will survive the process. HbOOP firstly takes the form of an exhibition, where objects and pictures of stunning complexity and gross candour invite you to consider the nature of skill, effort and creativity. Of the individual artworks which go to form HbOOP(the exhibition), the majority were constructed within the creators home, and the concept of 'home' is a concern within much of the work on show. This is made evident with familiar and perhaps comforting shapes, textures, and colours; to some extent the gallery is made domestic. However the home is as much a site of disgust as it is of comfort, and if there is a boundary between the two, it is impossible to define.

In the work of Darren Adcock, cancerous cellular patterns coalesce into dystopian cityscapes, which appear at once distant and magnified. Adcocks pictures are meticulously hand drawn, with patterns that seem to have germinated instinctively. Similarly, in the work of Pascal Nichols, bulbous and irregularly limbed sculptural forms purposefully emphasize the base-ness of clay, whilst sitting snugly on household shelves, displayed (or stored) in their intended situation as part of a room. Suspended centrally, Susan Fitzpatrick's mutant, overdeveloped creature-garments confound with their sinister, cute, woolliness. Knitting is a richly connotative technique, and is
employed by Fitzpatrick without strict patterns or traditional 'grandma' skill, yet cheerfully bright
'hats' seem as though they would protect the wearer from more than just the cold. Meanwhile, Kerry Hindmarch paints with oils, making pictures which seek to expose the perversities which underly social conditioning. Hindmarch's interests lie in the abject and maternal, expressed via violent daubings of colour, which congeal into raging figures, and non sequential narratives. Joincey's is the largest body of work on show, whereby a superabundance of incidental photographic images give a baffling, but honest, account of a life. Hunker down in a curtained grotto to view the world through pictures taken on a whim, created in a moment, which are now archived, arranged and projected for your pleasure.
Hboop takes place as part of Free For Arts Festival, a week long series of exhibitions and events which seeks toprovide inventive and unique experiences for the public “on the house”, and it is within this context that we will question the 'Free-ness' of art. The five artists who's work features do not consider themselves to be 'professional artists', as is evidenced in their first hand accounts. Here, art happens in between and as part of 'work' and 'leisure', it does not have it's own distinct space set aside, with equal status. This means that time spent doing art can't help but be perceived as time lost from 'work' and 'leisure'. Art is the co-opted, and becomes part of both; which is discussed in more depth by Susan Fitzpatrick in; Art and uneven development's cause is one: reflections on art and 'regeneration'.

For art to flourish, and to be a way of experimenting, is it necessary to carve out a third space of “action” as defined by Hannah Arendt1, whereby thinking, making and experimenting 'for the sake of it' would be vital? In order to explore this question, and others, you are invited on Sunday the 21st of October 2012, to take part in a microcosmic badge-making economy, where you must put a price on your own creativity. Meanwhile, in conjunction with the 'Free for Arts Publishing Fair', musicians will peddle their songs for whatever you are willing to pay. Songs being an extreme example of how ubiquitous it has become to acquire commodities, for prices which do not reflect the labour that created them, and how it is essential that we examine our spending habits to work out how, and if, art can be 'free'. We will also be holding a 'Sumi Ink Club Meeting'2, whereby you, and everybody else, are invited to contribute to a collaborative ink drawing. 'Sumi Ink Club' was founded in 2005 by artists' Sarah Rara and Luke Fischbeck, as a kind of accessible social therapy, and will form a much needed counterpoint to the individualistic, and speculative nature of badge-making-business and human jukeboxes.

1Arendt, Hannah the Human Condition (1958) The University of Chicago

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Hoist by Our Own Petard - a group exhibition and interactive workshop experiment, as part of Free For Arts Festival 2012

This is my personal response to a curatorial project that I've been working on:

A few months ago Pascal Nicholls approached me to ask if I would be interested in helping him to organise an exhibition of a few of his friends' work; a diverse group, some of whom are ostensibly Artists, whereas others make art, but are ambivalent about situating themselves within any kind of 'art world'. Originally pitched as a straightforward group exhibition, with the opportunity for the Artists' to sell multiples of their work if they wish, Hoist by Our Own Petard has developed into something quite different, so much so that sometimes I'm not sure what it is, or who and what will be on show between the 19th and 26th of October. I've taken on the role of a project manager/curator/performance artist, in that I listen to other people's ideas, and then with my own in-put try to bring them to fruition.

During mine and Pascal's discussions around the sale of multiples, we were forced to approach something which is a particular fascination of mine; spending habits. I feel that responsibility is inherent in the privilege of even meagre disposable income, responsibility both to yourself in that you must buy what you need, and can buy what you want, but also responsibility to the workers who's labour has gone towards the products that you buy. These obligations often contradict one another, and when applied to the making and selling of art seem to almost break down and lose all meaning. In that nobody needs art in order to feed, clothe and wash themselves, but art is not a luxury in the same way as a massive new telly or a shiny new car would be. Whilst researching this complication I came across Hannah Arendt's tripartite division of work, labour and action. Her definition of action is the most appropriate way to define art in contemporary, western, capitalist society that I have encountered, in that it doesn't really fit within contemporary, western, capitalist society. That's not to say that I agree with everything she says, and I'm still working my way through The Human Condition, but I feel that a tripartite division with room for something other than 'work' and 'leisure' is really useful in the context of contemporary art.

Our frustration and confusion at how to market and price art inspired the 'interactive experiment' which will happen alongside the group exhibition for one day during its' week long run. The 'interactive experiment' is not directly related to what is expressed through the work on show, the best way to describe it would probably be as 'parallel'. This feels wrong, somehow, and may well be seen as arrogant curators trying to upstage the art work which it is their job to proffer, but I would like to describe it as a playful attempt to approach a white elephant. There will be three workshops which examine the relationship of art to commerce, each of which incorporates an inevitable absurdity. We are still ironing out the details, and so I won't attempt to coherently describe them yet.

Hoist by Our Own Petard will take place at Islington Mill as part of Free For Arts Festival 2012, between the 19th and 26th of October, with the 'interactive experiment' taking place on the 21st of October.

Exhibiting Artists

Pascal Nicholls:

Darren Adcock:

Susan Fitzpatrick:

Kerry Hindmarch:


Official Copy

Islington Mill will host an exhibition entitled Hoist By Our Own Petard co-curated by Pascal Nicholls and Lauren Velvick. They are currently developing a project which will take the form of a group exhibition and an interactive experiement. There is a dual intention to this project; they want to arrange a fairly straightforward exhibition of the selected artists' work, but will also use the opportunity to interrogate issues surrounding art and labour, inspired by Hannah Arendt's differention of work, labor and action.

Each of the exhibiting artists; Sue Fitzpatrick, Joincey, Kerry Hindmarch, Darren Adcock and Pascal Nicholls, work in a different traditionally recognisable medium, enabling the exhibition to function as a microcosm, within which we can explore issues which bear upon all art-making. They will also produce an accompanying publication, containing the responses of each artist to a questionnaire which they have written, providing data on how art-making fits into everyday life, work and leisure.

In this way Hoist by Our Own Petard will function as an experiment. Finally, they would like to construct an interactive, participatory experiement whereby vistors are invited to 'make something' within one of the mediums exemplified by the work present, eventually providing another set of data which can go towards further research and publications.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Victoria Baths Fanzine Convention - Cooperative Workshop

After the success of last years event, On May 19th Natalie Bradbury of The Shrieking Violet staged the second annual Fanzine Convention at Victoria Baths, in conjunction with the Future Everything Festivals' 'Hand Made' event in the same venue. The theme this year was Cooperatives, and I was asked to develop a workshop reflecting this. Relief printing was such a hit last year that I decided to do it again, but with quick-print foam as well as lino, to make the whole experience less daunting.

A participant preparing his foam to print..... (credit for all photographs goes to Natalie Bradbury)

Working, again, with photocopied materials from the VB (Victoria Baths) archives, we invited participants to collage, print and illustrate an A3 page which would be bound into a giant collaborative zine at the end of the day. As the pages were made we hung them around the room, like bunting, which looked nice and was also a good source of inspiration for participants.

The first few pages are are clipped around the space for inspiration (credit for all photographs goes to Natalie Bradbury)

The 'giant collaborative zine' part was a total experiment, but I'm pleased to say it all worked out well, and we were left with a hand bound book, which can be opened out and hung as bunting, too. I want to develop and hone the idea of the collaborative book, stitching all the pages on to their string spine was a little awkward and needs to be re-thought to make it easier for more people to join in. However, it still worked, and all in all it was a fun, fulfilling day.

Here's an online copy of the giant VB fanzine, thanks go to Natalie for scanning each page!

This chap made a page about how men didn't wear swimming shorts before the 1930's...Scandalous!

Some of the pages hung up, waiting to be bound.

Rebecca Kelly and Alice Kelly the excellent volunteers.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Idris Khan, 'The Devil's Wall' - a review

Idris Khan: The Devil’s Wall at The Whitworth Art Gallery 23 rd Feb - 3 rd May 2012: Review

Idris Khan, The Devil's Wall, 2011. Courtesy of Victoria Miro Gallery, London and Yvon Lambert Gallery, New York.

Idris Khan’s installation The Devil’s Wall consists of three monumental sculptures, teamed with seven drawings chosen from a series of twenty one, called 21 stones, and four photographic works entitled Voices. Khan draws inspiration from the Hajj; the pilgrimage to Mecca, and presents both religious and secular imagery, utilising the written word in Arabic and English, as well as musical scores.
Khan’s use of text in order to draw shapes in the 7 of 21 drawings is somewhat reminiscent of traditional Islamic sacred art, whereby letters and words are used to create elaborate patterns. However, with these drawings Khan has not created elaborate, overtly beautiful patterns. Instead there are largely circular, uneven formations composed of overlapping phrases. These shapes which are simultaneously violent and joyous correlate with those parts of the text which are discernible; a combination of sacred chants and deeply personal disclosures. In this way parallels can be drawn with concrete poetry, and as such the 7 of 21 drawings reference both traditional Islamic Art, and much more recent movements in the history of art. The way in which Khan emphasizes similarities between techniques employed in traditional, sacred art forms and contemporary art is also evident, and much more pronounced in Voices, which are based on 20th century minimalist compositions.
The Voices series is visually very different from the other pieces; they are rectangular, lined and effervescent, where the 7 of 21 drawings are round, with inky black and blue. Moreover, the roundness which Khan has produced in the 7 of 21 Drawings is clearly echoed in the three weighty sculptures which mirror their shape and colours, but with a smooth and glistening perfection. The immediacy of the drawings is not present in the sculptures, although they too have overlapping phrases recorded upon their surface. On the sculptures words are inscribed, showing as silver upon a glassy, seemingly infinite surface, and instead of becoming incomprehensible in a mess of ink at the centre they flow together and disappear into the dark.
Significantly, the title of this installation The Devil's Wall, refers to one particular ritual within the Hajj; the stoning of the Jamarat, during which, pilgrims throw seven stones at three walls in three different locations. Thus, it becomes clear why there are three sculptures and seven drawings, the concave shape of the sculptures represents the bowls which are used to collect the stones after they have been thrown, and following this logic perhaps the drawings are an illustration of their impact. Stones are thrown in order to rid the body and mind of destructive thoughts and pain, and the combination of religious and personal statements which are just about discernible in the 7 drawings could be the residue of a meditative purge.
An astonishing amount of people take part in the Hajj each year, experiencing their pilgrimage together, and the concept of shared experience is thoroughly explored in The Devil's Wall, with a definite sense of multifarious and overlapping voices, elegantly expressed with tangled lines of text. Furthermore, Khan's use of three languages is compelling , in that it seems at first to make language a dividing tool. The experience of a viewer who understands Arabic, English and can read music could be very different from somebody who is fluent in only one of them. Yet, everybody is equally unable to read as the words and notes overlap and merge together in each piece, which in turn evokes a nonlingual, more primal kind of experience.
The distinct feelings which becoming part of a crowd engender, whether in religious or other circumstances, are explored and represented by Khan throughout; particularly in Voices where meditative chanting and repetitive sounds are depicted with transcribed music. Here Khan employs one of his signature techniques, overlaying delicate photographic prints to create a visually confusing, ghostly image which seems to long for movement whilst remaining still. In Voices Khan uses the scores of compositions by Philip Glass and Steve Reich, pieces which famously use repetitive structures and overlapping rhythms. By including Voices within The Devil's Wall Khan contrives a direct association between the communal actions of thousands of pilgrims simultaneously taking part in the rituals of the Hajj, and the meditative, stupefying potential of experiencing a performance of these minimalist scores.
The use of lighting in this exhibition is also significant to the viewer's experience, and is particularly striking is terms of Voices, whereby direct lighting makes the pieces appear as golden windows shining into the dim room, bringing to mind sacred buildings and again exemplifying Khans mingling of religious and secular imagery. At the Whitworth Art Gallery low lighting is often employed to protect the delicate fabrics and papers of their collection. However in The Devil’s Wall notable atmospheric lighting is used in the display of contemporary pieces, which lends them the type of reverence usually only afforded to historical works. In the shapes and effects which Khan has employed we can discern bowls, walls and temples, but also black holes, explosions and a perhaps most of all a sense of immensity. Khan's treatment of profoundly sacred subject matter successfully humanises and demystifies religious ritual, whilst simultaneously preserving a sense of awe in linking such ritual with contemporary and secular forms of contemplation.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Manchester Artists' Bonfire

This is a piece both about and for the Artists' Bonfire. I was comissioned to write an accompanying essay for the event, which was a great opportunity to get my ideas and opinions straight. I went last year and while I had fun, I've never been quite sure what I think about the whole thing. I've heard lots of criticisms and lots of 'urgh I just don't like it' so I wanted to incorporate that in the piece. It was never meant to be a hymn to the event, or even positive, but the more I thought about it all the more I liked the idea. This is just the first part, I want to look into non-western sacred art, where the destruction is as important as the creation, in relation to how the participating artists feel that the fire affects their practice.


In January 2011 the Manchester Artists’ Bonfire happened for the first time. At its genesis the event was heavily influenced and stimulated by anger, confusion and panic at cuts in government funding which have been inflicted on the cultural sector. This element of the event was emphasized in the official literature, and in some ways it felt like an extension of protests which had been taking place as a reaction to the rise in tuition fees. The question of funding for non-compulsory education is, of course, another issue similar to that of funding for the arts, whereby much of the argument relies on qualitative judgements and abstract concepts, versus the arguably more ‘real’ issue of cost. The Artists Bonfire' is taking place again this year and aims to become a regular annual event, which removes it from the particular conditions of its first manifestation. Whilst we have still been grappling with issues surrounding 'the cuts' since last January, the situation is different, and it will differ every year from now on.

With this in mind I seek to avoid dismissing the Artists' Bonfire purely as a form of protest, rooted within the wider context of demonstration, riot, and occupation. It can be argued that whilst the historical and political context of the event is important, there are fundamental art historical questions concerning iconoclasm, reception and the status of art in contemporary society which the Artists’ Bonfire raises. It is the above which I seek to address; how the event functions as a collaborative performance, and what the destruction of a work of art means in terms of its status as art, especially when such destruction is engendered by the artists themselves.

One of the initial criteria for submitting work to the fire was for the participant to give a speech, to say something about their work, their practice, the event, and what it means to them. This requirement to verbally express thoughts and feelings about your work coherently, in front of your artistic peers and non-participating viewers, is an incredibly important part of the event. Galvanised into action by a financial threat to the credibility, and sustainability of a vocation which the participants had chosen to devote their lives to, they were also required to at the last moment justify and explain their choices. Thus, whilst fire and destruction in the context of politically motivated anger is at once evocative, exciting and notably clich├ęd, significantly there is also a platform for debate and uncertainty amidst the fever of action and destruction.

Unsurprisingly the contentious and evocative nature of fire, along with the very notion of will full destruction has attracted harsh, and not unfounded criticism. In this way the event recalls the famous iconoclastic orgies of history and as such jars with a traditional conception of how art works should be handled. This destruction for the sake-of-it could be construed as a pretentious tantrum, indeed to many the whole event seems distasteful and decadent; a spectacle to gawk at but with no serious artistic content. If we are reacting to a perceived threat, and criticism of our conception of art as a vitally important part of society, then wouldn't it make sense to treat artworks with reverence? A simple way to counteract such hostility is to merely acknowledge that art which processually self destructs is not without precedent, there is a rich history of contemporary art for which decay and eventual disintegration are essential components. Dario Gamboni recognises this in his discussion of iconoclasm and vandalism, but also accedes that this is not a 'normal' way to treat works of art. Thus, he concludes, that 'attacks' “can prove particularly useful for illuminating those 'normal' attitudes”1.

The above point is vital in relation to the Artists Bonfire, whilst perhaps 'attack' isn't the most appropriate word in this context; the Artists who take part are forced to confront their 'normal' attitudes toward their work, and that of others. We could invoke the old adage; “You don't know what you've got till it's gone”, which neatly sums up philosophical attitudes pertaining to the benefit of exploring death, destruction and the abject. Thus, an important message that the Artists’ Bonfire can convey, is that in order to genuinely appreciate the value of creativity, it is necessary to confront the inevitability of death and decay in both objects and ideas. Furthermore, by forcing ourselves as artists to confront these difficult ideas, and to question our own ingrained and comfortable attitudes towards art, we can better formulate defences against the ideological attacks which recent funding cuts have precipitated. Reverence here would not be helpful, we need to delve and discuss in order to carve out a place of Art in an austere society where, for good or ill, respect is increasingly difficult to maintain for anything which is not incontestably pragmatic.

As well as being a forum for artists , the Artists' Bonfire is also open for non-participants to attend, and with a club night afterwards there is a definite element of entertainment and spectacle. With this in mind I wish to further analyse the event in terms of its identity as a collaborative performance, which can be viewed and experienced aesthetically by an audience. Returning to the above argument pertaining to the problem of how we treat artworks, it is necessary to further define why a reverent attitude towards art can be construed as unhelpful in audiences as well as artists. From the viewpoint of a spectator, as I was at last years event, if the Artists’ Bonfire is essentially a way to reaffirm the credibility of art and creativity, it is somewhat disconcerting that the treatment of art during the event/performance runs contrary to traditional defences of art against iconoclasm. Such defences have sought to ideologically raise art above political or religious persecution on the grounds that it is autonomous, and therefore should not be judged by any criteria other than that which has purely to do with art itself.

However, considering art to be autonomous is perhaps not as advantageous as it may seem; Michael Kelly argues that identifying art in this way engenders a 'disinterested' attitude towards it. In this context 'disinterest' is taken in both the philosophical, and every day sense2. Kelly locates iconoclasm in this 'disinterested' understanding of art as autonomous, an interpretation which is particular to modern and contemporary art, turning a traditional and historical view of what iconoclasm looks like on its head. To elucidate further; disinterest in philosophical terms, originally defined by Immanuel Kant in his Critique of Judgement3, calls for art to be apprehended independently of bodily desires. Kelly argues that this type of disinterestedness consequently breeds disinterest in terms of a general indifference towards art. This is not to suggest that all art should be politically committed in order to have credibility, rather that art and creativity can be part of life along with eating, shitting, having sex and walking to the shops. Art does not have to be partially incomprehensible and removed from the mundane, necessary and genuinely exciting parts of life.

With this in mind, art which admits annihilation necessarily by dint of the materials from which it is made, or how it is employed by the artist, confounds the viewer’s ability to appreciate with philosophical disinterestedness. Danger, disgust and recognition act as a barrier to reverence. In terms of the Artists' Bonfire, whereby art works which may not have been initially intended to decay into oblivion, are wilfully destroyed by the artist, this dissension from disinterested appreciation is intensified. This is because, referring back to my earlier point about the 'normal' way to treat works of art, the pledges which are incinerated during the event/performance have often been removed by their creator from their 'normal' situation. This cannot be taken as writ, submissions would be welcome from those who work within ephemeral media, but nonetheless work in relatively traditional media is the norm.

Therefore, the vast majority of work submitted does not coincide with what we would usually recognise as temporary art work, which is intended to decay as part of its directive. In 2011 there were no pieces made with food or bodily matter that would ordinarily deteriorate when exposed to air and moisture, rather there was paper, wood, wax and glass, which when consigned to flames cracked, melted, crumbled and decomposed at an alarming rate. I don't pretend to claim that this rejection of philosophical disinterestedness makes the pledges more 'interesting' in every day terms for every spectator, rather that the nature of the Artists' Bonfire as exciting, destructive, voyeuristic and sensual does not detract from its' status as serious art.
1Gamboni, Dario The Destruction of Art: Iconoclasm and Vandalism since the French Revolution Reaktion Books Ltd. (1997)

2Kelly, Michael Iconoclasm in Aesthetics Cambridge University Press (2003)

3Kant, Immanuel Critique of Judgement First published (1914)