Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The streets are paved with gold!

Well, that of the photographic, rather than the Dick Whittington variety at least. As the Tate Modern’s current exhibition Street and Studio amply demonstrates, the camera and the street have a longstanding affiliation, with many photographers deriving their inspiration from the highways and byways of metropolises the world over.

Shoot London, organised in collaboration with Shoot Experience, challenged participants to produce a series of images from the concrete pathways threading the environs of the Tate Modern – with the negligible qualifications of a six-hour timeframe and a specific set of encoded directions. Undaunted, the Forum team set out on a race (gentle amble after chatting about ‘tactics’ for at least an hour over coffee) to decipher the photographic treasure trail that had been laid for us, armed with three cameras (one of which we knew how to use), a mangy but trusty A-Z, a plastic fish and a fake ear (props, not private peccadilloes).

Ten clues would lead us, and the sixty or so other competing teams, to ten different locations along the river - and at each location we had to take a photograph. This all sounded straightforward enough, but became much less so as we desperately attempted to create an image which simultaneously demonstrated we had cracked the riddle, captured a specific sense of place, and found an innovative way of looking at bits of London as wearily au-fait with the photographer’s lens as St Paul’s and Borough Market.

As with any set task, the parameters were at once limiting and librating. The most successful images to emerge from the days hunting were those that found a humorous way of re-inventing the clue – such as the woman who lay down gamely on the bank of the river Thames whilst her team mates endowed here with a pair of wings and a halo in the surrounding sand (Clue: ‘Gabriel’s Wharf’, of course) – or those which captured a moment of spontaneity, like the simple but effective image of three figures leaping on the Millennium Bridge silhouetted against their umbrellas.

Yet whilst the rule of the day was fun and enjoyment, there were some interesting things to come out of the slideshow showing everyone’s images that rounded off the end of the day. It was fascinating to see the details that other people had picked up on - and, despite having scoured our brains for new interpretations and alternative shots, it was revealing (and a little chastening) to see how many times the same angles and ideas were repeated across other submissions. It was also particularly informative to notice the capacity of tiny differences – in depth, tone and composition – to differentiate two photographs of the same subject and cause you to dismiss one in favour of the other. An enjoyable, if exhausting day, there were more than a few little technical and conceptual gems to mull over and bear in mind during the next encounter with a camera.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Why has 'Commodity' Become a Dirty Word?

1. Something useful that can be turned to commercial or other advantage.
2. An article of trade or commerce, especially an agricultural or mining product that can be processed and resold.
3. Advantage; benefit.
4. (Obsolete) A quantity of goods.

If you were anywhere near the South Bank on the afternoon of the 10 May, you might have seen two figures shrouded in black plastic bags carrying a bucket and a sign stating “Artists say NO to commodity. Please give generously...” Walking from Tate Britain to Tate Modern , the specters of Art's Past and Art's Present collected funds and stares in a bid to alert the passerby to... What exactly? The dangers of being an artist who needs money yet doesn't wish to contribute to commercialism? The perils of commerce that transforms art into articles of trade?

Cack-u-like, a self-described “radical anti capitalist art group”, is behind this cryptic death march. Since 2001, they have aimed to “challenge the inherent elitism in the art world” with performances like Demonstration Against Toffs in Art (2001) and the upcoming exhibition What’s the F@£king Point in Doing Art which will last one evening and will culminate in the works being destroyed and thrown away at the end of the opening. (If you wish to submit rubbish/art the deadline for entries is the 30 August... )

There is certainly a relevance to criticism of the art market and its impact on the lives of artists and the perception of art. As long as criticism of a status quo leads to alternatives, it can be both radical and instrumental in changing the situation. Sadly, Cack-u-like appears to have adopted a rather hopeless view at the moment: “The generalized feeling after these events was the Bourgeoisie domination of the art world is a fait accompli and any form of Demonstration about the situation will merely be either ignored or digested by art institutions and anaethersized [sic.]”

A glimpse at the very productive and compelling arguments of Gustav Metzger , Hans Haacke and other masters of active resistance to the apparent pitfalls of the art world confirms that there is great art to be made out of great dissatisfaction. They have been invigorated to defend their beliefs in the face of ignorance and, although their work is now recognized and respected by art institutions all over the world, they have actively maintained their marginal position. I would say these artists have gained something along the lines of the third meaning of commodity: “Advantage; benefit”. Why chuck it all away?

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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Talking Art at the Tate

‘I'm fairly literal as opposed to literary’
Glen Ligon at Talking Art, Tate Modern, 24 Apr
If you don't know the work of Glenn Ligon, a New York-based artist known for his work around language, then now is the time to get acquainted. At the latest in the Tate's Talking Art held in collaboration with Art Monthly Ligon was a candid and entertaining interviewee as he spoke to Art Monthly editor Patricia Bickers about appropriation as a dominant cultural mode of the 1980s, the inspiration he draws from James Baldwin’s writings and his ‘first political act’.

Ligon has created work across a variety of media, including painting, sculpture, neon and drawing, in which a key feature is his fascination with language, especially as written text. 'My work is sort of autobiography filtered through other people's narratives and text,’ he says. Adding: 'I don't think of myself being attached to any label. When people ask me what kind of artist I am, I say “I'm a painter”.'

As an artist he is interested in the ‘moment when something goes really wrong’ and that includes making the most of accidents. During the conversation he also told the audience about Henry 'Box' Brown’s epic 27-hour postal journey, the fact that his father was a ‘numbers runner’, his Richard Pryor paintings, which were based on the stand up comedian’s jokes, and the first moment he thought he was an artist. When he was eight, he was making a papier-mâchè boat in an art class and painted the boat with a blue hull and orange smoke stacks. The teacher suggested he repaint it and remarked on the 'ugly colours'. 'I painted it black,’ he says. ‘It was my first political act.'
Visit his web-based work Annotations

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