This week, i'm trying something new. Cramming into a quick post the exhibitions i've seen over these past few days in London. Only the ones worth a mention, though.
Starting with Mark-ing which brings side by side works by British and Japanese designers. There are all sorts of pieces of furniture to sit on, a brain lamp and an ipod speaker but there's also Yuri Suzuki's Sound of the Earth and Moritz Waldemeyer's Wushu Sword. The Sound of the Earth is turned on so you can listen to it in the gallery. The super impressive (on video) kung fu LED weapon, however, just lays glowing on the floor.
Hurry up to Gallery Libby Sellers because the show closes on 25 January.
Next is The Uncanny at the Ronchini gallery. Berndnaut Smilde is showing Nimbus clouds suspended within empty rooms. The artist uses a fog machine and carefully balances the temperature and humidity to produce the clouds. He then quickly photograph the result before the cloud evaporates. So there wasn't any cloud to gape at in the gallery, just the stunning images hanging on the walls.
Now for something completely different, i finally visited the Grant Museum of Zoology. Mostly because i had read about the jar of moles which was as creepy as i had hoped. I hate to link to the journalistic disgrace of this country but the Daily Fail has a nice photo series.
The other night, i went to a talk by Chrystia Freeland at the London School of Economics. The title was the one of her recent book Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super Rich. Highly entertaining and informative (only thing is that i will never understant why it is more acceptable to mock Russian oligarchs than US or UK billionaires.) The podcast is online.
On my way to the lecture, i stopped by The Strand Gallery. They are showing the winning series of the Terry O'Neill / TAG Award, it's an international photo competition. I like photo competitions. I'm giving you the third prize, Marc Wilson's series The Last Stand which aims to document the physical remnants of war in the 20th century in the UK and northern Europe, and the shifting landscape that surrounds them, focusing on some of the remaining military defense structures situated around their coastal areas.
I'm picking up this series because it's in line with what the blog usually covers but the first prize Youth Denied: Young Immigrants in Greece, by Alessandro Penso, is stunning. As was this gentleman portrayed by Mimi Mollica for a series about Sicily.
Last Friday, i tried the London Art Fair. The press desk was supremely rude, the location horrid but the fair is promising. Prices were almost affordable and i discovered a couple of exciting galleries. Tiny selection of the goods:
Revolvers shooting at each other:
Finally, if the quest for the philosophers' stone keeps you awake at night, do check out Signs, Symbols, Secrets: an illustrated guide to alchemy at the Science Museum.
I've seen a depressingly high number of bland exhibitions this week. But then i also visited one that makes up for all these hours spent tube-ing and walking from gallery to gallery. Have a look:
The redeeming show is the first solo exhibition in the UK of artist and inventor Michael Joaquin Grey since 1992. You get the reason for the title, Orange between orange and Orange, as soon as you enter the gallery.
For Orange between orange and Orange, Grey has produced a group of new inter-related works that playfully transform the narratives and forms associated with the models and myths of Western science, art and spirituality into a multivalent personal cosmology and cultural map.
We're not talking about any kind of orange but about the bright orange i'd call '1970s orange'. Orange fruit is displayed inside a white anatomical bust, strange organic-like shapes are contained inside orange perspex cubes, gigantic orange worms crawl onto the floor, etc. It's playful, medical and disquieting at the same time.
A narrow, adjacent room is turned into a natural history museum display. Everything is rigorously grey but instead of taxidermied animals, the visitor sees a slice in the history of tv set design, with each specimen positioned according to size and chronology. Other pieces in this series of Morphologies show even more historic media devices kept secure behind orange-windowed vitrines.
But it's Grey's 'computational' films that kept me glued to the bean bags. So What is a generative film projected on two screens, a contemporary orrery in which the viewer repeatedly travels at exponentially increasing speeds from a pixel at the centre of the sun through outer space to the furthest reaches of the solar system and back again: a journey that compresses time and space to our perceptual limits. At specific way-markers in this media-saturated universe, the voices of Steve Jobs, Ella Fitzgerald, the Rolling Stones, Miles Davies, James Cameron, Marshal McLuhan, Werner Herzog and others are heard as a soundtrack reminiscent of channel surfing on an old analogue radio. I found it both relaxing and exciting.
Downstairs is Umwelt Belt, another of Grey's computational cinema works. Bland 3D shapes of usb stick, antenna, projector, wrist watch, alarm clock, and other pieces of mechanics or electronics we've all used and consumed at some point in our life are circling in a slow, perpetual abandon in the air. Uniformly grey and discarded like space trash.
Michael Joaquin Grey: Orange between orange and Orange is at the Carroll / Fletcher gallery until 16th February 2013.
SWITCH has an absorbing interview with Michael Joaquin Grey.
Exhibitions at the Wellcome Collection are always eventful. I've seen sliced brain, freeze-dried brain, dessicated brain, two wax babies heads dissected, tin face masks for WWI soldiers disfigured by explosions and gunshot, i've learnt about the history of narcotics, read about a gentleman turned on by dirty maids, etc. Wellcome's exhibitions are dramatic and engaging but they are also impeccably researched and edifying. I can't remember having exited one of their shows without being fascinated by the amount of information their curators manage to pack in each room. Except this time.
The recently opened exhibition Death: A Self-portrait is entertaining, it contains some fantastic pieces and it definitely deserves a trip to the Euston Road museum but it is a bit light in reflection and cross-disciplinary references compared to what Wellcome has used me to. The show displays some 300 works -most of them being skulls- from Richard Harris's collection of cultural artefacts, artworks and scientific specimens devoted to the iconography of death and our complex and contradictory attitudes towards it.
The artefacts are grouped into five themes: "Contemplating Death" (a room full of memento mori), "The Dance of Death" (the 'many' faces of death, most of them are actually skelettons), "Violent Death" (artists representing the ravages of wars), "Eros and Thanatos" (the human fascination for death) and "Commemoration" (death, burials, mourning and their rituals). One moment you're looking at rare prints by Goya, next you find yourself in front of anatomical drawings, puzzling photos in black and white, ancient Incan skulls, or a gigantic chandelier made of 3000 plaster-cast bones.
Dr Luis Crucius's drawings of skeletons animated a promotional calendar distributed to doctors by the US Antikamnia Chemical Company in 1900--01. Ironically, the company's antikamnia painkillers contained an active ingredient which was later found to be toxic and addictive.
Our (western) culture tends to keep death in the background. We have lost touch with death and its rituals (unlike, for example, Mexico which celebrates the Día de los Muertos in the most flamboyant fashion.) And since none of us has a direct experience of death, we leave its interpretation and representation to artists.
Death: A Self-portrait remain open until 24 February 2013 at the Wellcome Collection in London. Admission is free.
I wasn't particularly dazzled by the press pictures of the exhibition Everything Was Moving: Photography from the 60s and 70s and i thought i'd visit it on a day i'd be really really bored. Which you're never supposed to be in London. Still, last Sunday i was at the Barbican, attempting to recover from the heart attack i had when i saw the endless queue to experience Random International's Rain Room and took the lift to see the photo show. I found that the press pictures didn't do it justice. Everything Was Moving is a magnificent, albeit slightly exhausting, show. The exhibition shows the work of photographers who lived and worked in countries as different from each other as Ukraine under Soviet control and Apartheid South Africa, Maoist China and Vietnam attacked by American soldiers. Plenty of politics, social issues and conflicts to cover!
I might not have (or rather 'take') the time to cover the whole exhibition but one of the rooms that impressed me the most was dedicated to the work of Japanese photographer Shomei Tomatsu. His most famous series is "Nagasaki 11:02". Fifteen years after the horrific atomic bombings of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Shomei Tomatsu was commissioned by the Japan Council Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs to document the effects of the A-bomb on the city of Nagasaki and on its inhabitants.
The series is named after the photo of a watch that was dug up 0.7km from the epicenter of the explosion and which stopped at the exact moment the bomb fell: 11:02 a.m on the 9th of August 1945.
Another of his most admired series is Chewing Gum and Chocolate which exposes the influences of the US occupying forces and of American military and popular culture on Japanese society.
Everything Was Moving: Photography from the 60s and 70s remains open until 13 January 2013 at the Barbican Art Gallery in London.
Photo on the homepage: Hairstyle, Tokyo 1969.
Last Friday, i spent the evening at the Arts Catalyst for the Kosmica sound night, a social event for artists, scientists and the cosmically curious exploring sound and sonification of space. That means drinks, crisps, pop corn, space music and presentations by curator and artist Honor Harger, sound artist and composer Kaffe Matthews and designer slash sound artist Yuri Suzuki. With Nahum Mantra as master of ceremony.
I frantically took notes during the presentation, thinking i'd blog the talks until i realized that the Arts Catalyst was going to upload the video of the whole evening. So i'm going to merely point you to the videos: This way please!
Now all i'm going to write down is a summary of the presentations, along with a few links to the projects, historical facts and scientific discoveries mentioned during the presentations.
The first presentation was by Honor Harger. She is the director of Lighthouse, an arts agency in Brighton, UK. But she is also part of the artistic duo r a d i o q u a l i a together with collaborator Adam Hyde. One of their main projects is Radio Astronomy, a radio station broadcasting sounds from space. And i don't know how she does it but she also finds time to write a brilliant blog called Particle Decelerator.
Honor's presentation was an investigation into how we have used sound to gather information about space. We all have an idea of what space looks like. We've all seen images of it but what does space sound like?
Karl Jansky reads an instrument that detects radio waves from the Milky Way. © Bettmann/Corbis (via)
The story of the discovery of the sounds of space is intimately linked to the history of the telephone. From 1876 when Thomas Watson, the assistant of Alex Graham Bell, was listening through the wires to some strange sounds which corresponded in fact to activity taking place on the surface of the sun. To 1932 when Bell Telephone Laboratories engineer Karl Jansky was called to identify the cause of a "steady hissing" interfering with transoceanic telephone service. He correctly guessed that the noise wasn't coming from Earth but that they were cosmic radio noise from the Milky Way. The final stop Honor Harger made in the history of Bell Laboratories is 1964 when two researchers detected a source of low, persistent noise in Bell's antenna, the Holmdel Horn. It turns out that the noise was cosmic radiation that had survived since the birth of the universe. That was the first evidence of the Big Bang.
Honor's story was accompanied by a series of references to art and amateur science. I'm going to list them rapidly:
Joyce Hinterding's electromagnetic installation Aeriology (1995) "aeriology", a huge antenna that resonates to the VLF (very low frequency) section of the radio spectrum, and makes audible the crackle of spherics from the solar winds as they interact with the ionosphere and the background noise of the Milky Way, the energy emitted from stars.
Honor also showed one of my favourite videos of 2011: 20 Hz. The work observes a geo-magnetic storm occurring in the Earth's upper atmosphere. Working with data collected by CARISMA (Canadian Array for Realtime Investigations of Magnetic Activity), an array of magnetometers which study the Earth's magnetosphere and interprets the data as audio, allowing us to hear the "tweets" and "rumbles" caused by the interaction of solar wind with the Earth's magnetosphere.
Caroline Devine's 5 Minute Oscillations of the Sun, explores naturally occurring radio signal and solar activity and alternates every five minutes between acoustic and electromagnetic "listening modes" that provide new ways to "listen" to the sun.
Kaffe Matthews presented the work she created with Mandy McIntosh when they worked with NASA scientists and got to meet ex-astronauts to whom they asked "What is the sound like in space?" More about the project over here. The last part of her talk focused on the Star Gazer chairs, music and suits made to watch the star in the Galloway Forest, Scotland. The project was again developed with Mandy McIntosh and is called 'Yird, Muin, Starn,' which means earth, moon, star in old Scott.
Yuri Suzuki brought us firmly back to Earth with The Sound of the Earth, a spherical record with the sound engraved on the surface of the globe. Each country on the disc is engraved with a different sound, collected by Yuri Suzuki during his travels or with national anthems for the countries he had never visited.
During the last edition of Design Week, Yuri Suzuki drove a Sound Taxi around London. The vehicle was equipped with a microphone that recorded the noise of the city: traffic, screeching brakes, sirens, construction work, etc. A specially designed software analysed the frequencies of these noises and used them to generate music in real time.
His White Noise Machine calculates the quantity of street noise and then generates the same amount of white noise. The boxy design of the White Noise Machine was inspired that by the noise-generating devices that Italian Futurist Liugi Russolo built at the beginning of the 20th century. The videos showing children shouting at Suzuki's White Noise Machine is hilarious.
And with this i close my notes about Kosmica sound night.
A new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present ResonanceFM, will be broadcast today Tuesday 11th December at 4:00 pm. There will be a repeat on Thursday 13th December at 10:30 pm. You can catch it online if you don't live in London.
This week i'm talking to Bruce Gilchrist, who together with Jo Joelson is the founder of London Fieldworks, an art practice that dialogues with science and technology.
Their work, which is usually developed in collaboration with other artists and with scientists, has investigated subjects as different from each other as the caravan and nomadic culture, the animal habitat, the impact of natural phenomenon such as the weather and the light on human consciousness and the possibility to send human beings into hibernation.
The projects of London Fieldworks have led them to the Atlantic Rainforest, the Scottish Highlands, North East Greenland but right now London Fieldworks have a show at the WORK gallery near King's Cross.
The exhibition, Null Object: Gustav Metzger Thinks About Nothing, has received much coverage in the press. The first reason for it is that London Fieldworks collaborated with Gustav Metzger, an avant-garde artist who launched the auto-destructive art movement back in 1959. The idea of auto-destructive art is roughly speaking to demolish art, and reconfigure the act itself as an artwork. His work however is never empty nor gratuitous, most of his pieces deal with social and political issues: threats to the environment, nuclear weapons, nazi Germany, capitalism, etc.
So it seemed almost logical that London Fieldworks would ask the artist to sit on a chair for 20 minutes thinking of nothing. But the second reason for the vast media coverage is that while the artist was seated, readings were taken of the electrical activity taking place inside his brain. The resulting electroencephalograms were then analyzed and turned into instructions for a factory robot to drill a hole inside a bloc of stone. The result is a 50cm high cube of stone with a void that represents what happens inside the brain of Metzger when he is thinking about nothing.
In the show we'll talk about neuroscience, brainwaves, biofeedback technology and other technologies that are influencing the way we live today.
The exhibition Null Object: Gustav Metzger Thinks About Nothing is up at the Work Gallery until 9 February. The book accompanying the show is Null Object. Gustav Metzger Thinks About Nothing (available on amazon USA and UK.)
Finally, if you're in London on Friday, Jo Joelson and Bruce Gilchrist from London Fieldworks will talk about their work at the symposium Digital Reflexes: Craft and Code in Art and Design.