Last Sunday, along with half of London, their girlfriend and their grand-dad, i went to the Hayward Gallery's project space (that's the one you can enter for free!) to check out 'Someday All the Adults Will Die': Punk Graphics 1971 - 1984.
Punk is now part of the mainstream and we probably think we are familiar with the movement. A couple of years ago, the Ramones started selling more t-shirts at H&M than they've ever sold disks, Raymond Pettibon has a few pieces at Frieze this week, Jamie Reid collaborated with Shephard Fairey, you might pick up the butter that Johnny Lydon recommends and i'm an avid collector of Vivienne Westwood for Melissa.
But this is now and this is only superficial. Punk, i discovered at the show, has an aesthetics and an ethos that go far beyond the vociferous music and the safety-pinned ear lobes. Punk was about being young, being bold and doing things by yourself.
"If you don't like the culture you are spoon-fed, you can make your own. It worked wonders at the end of the seventies, and all these jagged, chiaroscuro urgent masterpieces of graphic design, executed by art school masters alongside anguished adolescents continue to reverberate as get-up-and-get-on-with-it eyeball-pleasers." -Johan Kugelberg, co-curator of the exhibition.
The result is at the Hayward show: homemade cassettes, hand drawn fanzines, photocopied posters, 45 covers and yellowed clothing. There's also far more humour on the walls than you might expect, even if you're not the sniffing glue kind.
The curators of the show are Johan Kugelberg and Jon Savage. Kugelberg is the author of The Velvet Underground: New York Art, and the gallery owner of Boo-Hooray in New York. Savage is a journalist and the author of England's Dreaming: Sex Pistols and Punk Rock and Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture, among many other books.
Allow me to leave you with a few words of wisdom:
'Someday All the Adults Will Die': Punk Graphics 1971 - 1984 remains open through November 4 at the Hayward Gallery Project Space, London, UK. Admission is Free.
A quick post about The Art of Chess, an exhibition of 16 chess sets designed by some of the biggest names in contemporary art. Hirst has a medicine cabinet, Tracey Emin a chess set that looks slightly unhygienic, Paul McCarthy adds ketchup, Yayoi Kusama goes for dots, and the Chapman brothers do it dark and provocative. Most of the artists are playing their usual tricks, then. But somehow i didn't mind because many of the works are spectacular.
The show is inspired by Marcel Duchamp, an artist who revolutionised art in the 20th century like no one else did. Yet, Duchamp gave up his art practice and spent the end of his life playing chess. He justified his decision by observing that chess "has all the beauty of art--and much more. It cannot be commercialized. Chess is much purer than art in its social position."
I don't have anything particularly smart to say about the Chapman's chess set. It clearly was my favourite in the show. So let's go to the next one....
Maurizio Cattelan placed on the board a series of action figures that represent famous international and Italian people he either despises or admires.
The 'Good' side has Martin Luther King as its king. Close to him are Superman, La Cicciolina, Gandhi, Sitting Bull, Sofia Loren, Pinocchio, Mother Theresa, Superman, Sitting Bull, the Dalai Lama, Che Ghevara, Joan of Arc. I didn't recognize them all.
The 'Evil' team is headed by Adolf Hitler, his black queen is Cruella de Vil. They are accompanied by Dracula, Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Nero, the snake on the Tree of Knowledge, General Custer, Rasputin. I laughed when i recognized also Donatella Versace. Anyone has an idea of who the latex-clad villain is?
Stunning chess board. Yours for peanuts.
Fryer's chess is an homage to Nikola Tesla. Because Tesla was a pioneer of the vacuum tubes, the 32 pieces in the set are glass vacuum tubes. I didn't dare touch the work but apparently The board of the chess set powers the vacuum tube pieces so that when unplugged the individual pieces glow for a little while, struggling to keep connection with the board, and then die. Plug them back in and they reactivate.
Paul McCarthy created a Readymade chess set using objects he had found in his kitchen. The board itself is made of squared segments from the artists' kitchen floor.
And i promised you pharmacology:
Last week, while walking down Marylebone Road, i saw a sign pointing to an exhibition of works by graduating students from the University of Westminster MA Photojournalism. I'm not one to miss a photo show when i pass by it.
One of the most stunning photo series was In the Shadow of Faded Dreams by Zlata Rodionova. The young photo reporter traveled to Star City, a small town near Moscow that hosts the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center, the heart of the Russia Space Programme. She encountered nostalgia for a time when the USSR was a Space Superpower, poor living conditions, impressive machinery and an inextinguishable passion for the cosmos.
The idealism of the Soviet Space programme speaks of serving humanity and a belief in peaceful future. However, politics has left a negative trace on these ideas and we often associate Gagarin with the tense atmosphere of the Cold War. Still, for people working at the Yuri Gagarin Training Centre, a military complex where all cosmonauts have been trained since the 1960s, Gagarin remains a hero while space is the only reality they know, almost blending with the surreal machines they work with, they seem to be trapped in a window of time. In the shadow of faded dreams, thus sheds the light on a close-knit community of space-lovers, still clinging to the decaying legacy of the 1960s Space dream.
I contacted Zlata to know more about the conditions in which she made the photo series. I suspected that the stories she'd tell me would be as fascinating as her images. And i haven't been disappointed...
In the past, Star City was a highly secret military installation and access to it was restricted. This is not the case anymore. How easy was it for you to visit the training rooms, talk with people working there, and document what you saw? Did you need to obtain special permissions? Could you roam free and photograph as you wanted?
Indeed during Soviet Times, Star City's location was kept secret. Most ordinary Russians had only vague ideas about its location. The lucky few that had the chance to visit it (through jobs or rare state organised 'excursions') revealed that Communist's ideals promised by the State could only be seen and enjoyed there.
Today it is very different as you can visit it as a tourist, pretty much everyone in Russia knows where it is, however it is quite expensive.
For instance, the 'Russian Space Museum Tour' cost $165. You basically have to choose what exactly you want to see within the city or the centre but there is not really a tour that encompasses everything. So for me it quickly became evident that for my story to be told the way I wanted I would need to obtain a special press access.
It was very difficult to get. While explaining my project I often said that going there felt like travelling back in time to the Soviet era. For me this journey started at the very early stages, as when obtaining papers I had to deal with proper Soviet style administration. One call to one office led to another. I had to obtain different permissions to live in the city's hotel, be able to walk around the city freely and a separate one for the training centre. As in soviet times the person on the desk could not give me any information as long as the head or deputy-head of the administration was not there. If the person in question was on holiday I would have to wait for days. I don't know what it would have been like for a foreign photographer, as the first question I would be asked was "Do you have Russian passport?", which fortunately I do.
The process became a bit easier when I commissioned my story to the Russian political weekly magazine Profile which regularly runs photo-reportages alongside more political and business orientated articles. With their support (they were more keen on working with an accredited photographer than an MA student), I was given access and allowed to live within Star City in the hotel Orbita for two weeks. In the whole it took me a month to get all the papers I needed.
Once on site, I could walk around freely in the residential area and document it in depth as well as discover its spirit and people but the training facility remained a closed zone. I was only allowed to be there on particular times, specific areas and always accompanied by someone from the media team or one of the instructors. Also when international crews would be training I was not allowed to photograph as it meant I would have to get another authorisation from NASA.
How big is Star City? How many people are living and working there? I'm interested in the size of the place because many of the photos show huge rooms with machines, cockpits, training simulators but there is no animation, no people busy working on it, getting in or out of the capsules for example. You mostly show people posing for a portrait. Is Star City so vast and desolate? Or was it just your choice to depict it like that?
Star City itself is a small town about 25km of Moscow, it is within this town that you can find the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre but they are two distinct areas and have two distinct administrations. They divided in 2009 when the town itself became subordinate to Moscow Oblast (Moscow region) while the centre is administrated by Roscosmos.
The city has about 6,500 inhabitants. Approximately one-third of whom are pensioners aged 60 to 90 years. This year the city will even celebrate the 100th birthday of one of its citizens. Most of them are former employers of the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre (GCTC).
The city was an intriguing place. To me it felt as if I was in an Soviet sanatorium or pensioner's retreat but one dedicated to Gagarin, his statues and portraits gaze at you from every corner while you can buy your groceries at the supermarket Little Star or go for lunch at the cafeteria Little Sun. On the days where I couldn't photograph there were old people sitting by the lake sun bathing. But the glory of the olden days is definitely gone. The town has not received any funding since the nineties, and the flats have not been renovated since the sixties. For many residents hot water or heating is a treat that only occurs on occasional days.
The training facility itself is a place of visual contradictions - colourless decaying buildings are aligned in an orderly way, however inside you discover machines that you could only expect to encounter in Stanislav Lem's science-fiction novels.
For my project, I decided to focus predominantly on the training centre, as Star City's residents' lives revolve around it and it is there that you can see all the commitment, relationship between men and machines as well as the last glimpses of the Soviet Space dream. While walking around it, you can see people are working and it is more active than shown in my pictures, however as the physical space and machines are huge it always seems pretty empty. The atmosphere that comes out of this gives you the impression of walking through a dream that is slowly fading away, I wanted to capture the strange magic locked beneath the surface in order to reveal the nostalgia associated to the USSR's status of Space superpower and shed the light on a close-knit community of space-lovers, still clinging to the legacy of the 1960s Space dream.
Thanks to the use of my medium format camera, the Leica S2, 30 x 45 mm in size, which often had to be used on a tripod due to poor lighting conditions within the training centre, I managed to create a distance both physical and psychological between myself and my subjects. The aim was to create a surreal, respectfully distanced and neutral mood leaving the viewer to make his own opinion about my pictures and this particular place.
Being motivated by the desire to uncover the unknown, understand its purpose, and display its majesty this format also permitted me to show all the surrealism and grandeur of these gigantic training devices. Finally, this camera, does not allow you to take photographs in an instant, it requires more installation and planning, which gave me two advantages. First, it offered time for my subjects to open themselves up to me, and gave me the opportunity to shed the light on individuals that traditionally do not receive such attention. Second, the photograph produced is still, detailed and frozen, which helped me to suggest a community and place fixed in time in a volatile moment in the country's history.
The Russian space program seems to be pretty active though. I was reading this morning about the Soyuz capsule returning to Earth. Did your visit to Star City and the discussions you had with the people working there make you perceive space missions as adventurous and glamorous as ever? How much has your experience there changed or reinforced your perception of space travel?
One of the Russian space industry's main problems is financing. A third of the industry's enterprises are practically bankrupt. Compared to developed countries, Russia invests ten times less in research and development in the industry, and five times less in basic assets and personnel training.
Every single person that I spoke with: trainer, engineer, cosmonaut said that no one comes into this industry for money.
Also there is simply a loss of interest, if in the Soviet era cosmonauts were considered heroes and every single child dreamed of flying in the outer-space nowadays Russian schools don't run programs like astronomy anymore. I was amazed to find out that a cosmonaut who finished his military service, finished an MA in aerospace engineering, spent about 15 years training and 164 days in the outer space only received around $350 a month as well an allocated room within a shared flat for him, his wife and child. Another one told me he worked as a part-time taxi driver to make ends meet.
So the image I got out of there was definitely not the glossy one you get from US blockbusters with big rooms full of flat screens, and sleek looking man running around with perfectly ironed white shirts and coal black suits. The GCTC's people you see are probably from the most ordinary archetype you could imagine. Chubby smiling middle-aged men, or on the contrary older very dignified veterans, resembling the ones you see on postcards from the Soviet times. I also gained new respect for them, they really all are people of dreams. When asking the question what brought them here, most of them replied that they still remembered the day Gagarin was sent into space or the fact that they've been dreaming of flying to the stars since childhood. One of the trainers who works in the Hydrolab and couldn't qualify to be a cosmonaut said that after training cosmonauts for long hours under-water, at night he sometimes dreamed that he was himself walking in the outer-space.
They are all very aware of the crisis within the industry but no one wants to change jobs because it's simply their passion and they couldn't imagine their life without it. It does seem like they live in a bubble where time is standing still.
What are you going to do now that you've graduated?
My main problem is that I have too many interests. Besides photography I have a real passion for writing. For me they complete themselves.
So right now I am really hoping to find a job as a writer on photography, and finish to build my online portfolio and website, which I couldn't concentrate on while doing my MA. I am also hoping to promote and sell my project to a magazines as I really want my story to get out there.
Once I build up a portfolio strong enough and wider range of contact I would ultimately like to become a foreign correspondent.
Thank you Zlata!
A week or so ago, i attended the press view of Art of Change: New Directions from Chinaat the Hayward gallery in London. The exhibition that brings together the work of some of the most innovative artists from the 1980s to today. Each of them is allocated one room to demonstrate the state of installation and performance art in China.
According to Curator Stephanie Rosenthal, China doesn't have a long tradition of performance art. The art form began to flourish in the late 1970s when the country opened up towards more avant-garde forms of culture but the State banned it after the protests on Tiananmen Square. And because neither performance nor installation art are supported by the governmental art system, artists often had to work under the radar.
The works exhibited by the 9 participating artists are extremely strong. As much as i admire Ai Weiwei and his opinion of the show, i do believe that artists can create meaningful, valid works even if they are not openly criticizing their country's politics. Besides, some of the works exhibited did comment on political issues such as censorship and international relationships. Ai Weiwei is probably right though when he writes that "The Chinese art world does not exist." At least probably not in a uniformed, self-conscious fashion.
I don't know how typically Chinese the works in the exhibition are but i do know that they give a dimension to contemporary art from China that had been ignored by the blockbuster exhibitions that opened in Europe -from the Saatchi gallery in London to the Cobra Museum in Amsterdam- a few years ago. For a moment, it looked as if European audiences couldn't get enough of contemporary Chinese paintings and sculpture (custom-)produced to delight rich "Western" collectors in search of the exotic and of a good story of censorship. The works exhibited at the Hayward are certainly less market-savvy, they are less about the final product and more about creating a platform for thinking.
Change, and the acceptance that everything is subject to change, are deeply rooted in Eastern philosophy. The exhibition focuses on works that deal with transformation, instability and discontinuity, looking at how these themes are conveyed through action or materials.
My main criticism is with the archive that charts the key moments in performance and installation art from China. The archive is distributed in the gallery on posters and digital screens. Why this valuable resource is confined to the gallery space and isn't available online for people to read and comment is a mystery to me.
The most moving work for me was Yingmei Duan's Happy Yingmei. Visitors have to bend down to enter a small room turned into a forest. The artist was waiting at the back of the room. She was sitting and singing what sounded like a lullaby. She then raised up and walked towards me, dead leaves rustling beneath her bare feet. She was looking at me and i couldn't move nor look away from her gaze. As she advanced towards me, i kept wondering "what will she do? how should i react?" You need to go and experience the work for yourself if you want an answer.
Wang Jianwei's Surplus Value invites visitors to grab a racket and play ping-pong on a wonky table. Endless frustrating fun. I do suspect however that if you're an extremely talented player you might be able not to make a fool of yourself.
Xu Zhen's video The Starving of Sudan recreated Kevin Carter's 1993 Pulitzer Prize winning image of a vulture waiting by a starving child in the desert. In Xu Zhen's version however, the child was from an immigrant Guinean family living in Guangzhou (she was supervised by her mother who was paid by the artist), and the vulture was stuffed. Visitors and members of the press who saw the performance in 2008 Beijing's Long March Space were placed in the position of a news photographer in a war zone. They recoiled in horror but still took pictures and discussed the work on their blogs. Who's the vulture?
Talking to art.it, the artist explained that the work is about making the audience use their own knowledge to produce a judgment. So at Long March the audience were in the same role as Kevin Carter. They went to the show, took out their cameras, shot pictures and I'm sure were very excited. Then afterwards they could pass judgment on me - "Oh, this artist is no good." And that parallels the fact that when Kevin Carter died, he was under a lot of pressure - condemned by the whole world; but the whole world does exactly the same thing that it condemns.
The work was created soon after China entered into controversial trade and agreements with African countries, including Sudan.
Xu Zhen also placed performers wearing striped pajamas in a neat line near the entrance of the exhibition. The actors pick up a visitor and follow them wherever they go.
Chen Zhen covered a roomful of household objects with a layer of red mud. The clay dries as the exhibition progresses. According to the artist, the clay has the ability to purify and disinfect the materialist culture of objects, giving them a "new destiny".
Sun Yuan and Peng Yu's Civilisation Pillar is a monument to capitalism, vanity and excess. The structure is made of the fat collected from plastic surgery clinics.
More ping-pong and more images from the exhibition:
Another mag has an interview with Stephanie Rosenthal, Chief Curator, Hayward Gallery.
I must have been pretty desperate for distraction the day i went to see Island Stories: Fifty Years of Photography in Britain at the Victoria and Albert Museum. This Summer now seems like it has been a long, relentless photo exhibition dedicated to London, England and/or Great Britain. I thought that even an anglophile like me wouldn't stomach yet another exhibition celebrating the joys and wonder of the country. But Island Stories: Fifty Years of Photography in Britain is such a gem of a little show, i'm on my way to see it for the second time. Incidentally, i'm left hoping that one day my own country will develop such propensity for navel-gazing, but that's another story.
Drawn exclusively from the V&A collections, this display features a selection of more than 80 photographs made in the UK since the 1950s. It focuses on individual projects, each of which tells a story. Collectively, they give a picture of life in Britain that reflects upon subjects ranging from landscape and industry to family and community.
There are work by Jeremy Deller, by Don McCullin and by Martin Paar but most photographers were new to me. I loved the show and i'll keep the comment short:
Maurice Broomfield's prints of post-war British industry are particularly fascinating. For 30 years, his images celebrated as much as they documented the labour of factory workers. Most photo series were commissioned by industrial clients. Most of them I suspect have now outsourced their assembly lines to other shores.
I think you're not supposed to laugh at this one:
Elsbeth Juda's 1952 series Milling around Lancashire also takes the factory floors as its main setting and the photos are as staged and polished as Broomfield's. This time however, the industrial context serves only as a backdrop for fashion shoots.
The text accompanying Grace Robertson's photos at the museum says "Using a compact Leica camera, Robertson was able to capture the unrestrained and unselfconscious mood of a women's annual pub outing." Annual? I'd better keep the snarky comment to myself. The photo below is based on this one by Kurt Hutton. But Robertson's models are middle-aged and wearing, i read, whalebone corsets.
In 1999, Peter Fraser photographed from up-close details of the apparatus used for the study of matter at the Physics and Applied Physics department at the University of Strathclyde, where research was being undertaken into the fundamental nature of matter at a subatomic level.
There you go! A lovely show, entrance is free.
Another London, an exhibition which opened a few weeks ago at Tate Britain, reminded me of my schooldays. I was 12 and started to learn english and about the English in illustrated text books. There were the bobbies, the bowler hats, Big Ben and the changing of the guard, the red buses, the red phone boxes, the smog. Clichés that screamed Great Britain for foreigners. When i first visited London, i looked for them. I didn't spot any bowler hat but, hey, i went to Piccadilly Circus to 'see the punks'!
Another London is a collection of pictures taken in London by foreign photographers between 1930 and 1980. Either many of them read the same text book as me or they were hired to fill its pages with their images.
But the show is no postcard pictures party. It is less about the parks and monuments than it is about the Londoners. The photographs selected in the exhibition depict the social history of the city in black and white. I guess i'll never cease to be amazed by the photos of Shoreditch before the hipsters and by the sartorial audacity of Londoners (though i can't imagine anyone nowadays loitering around town with 'Destroy London" written on the back of their leather jacket.)
Here are some of the images you can see at Tate Britain. In no particular order:
This one wasn't in the show, i found it looking for photos by Al Vandenberg:
The photographs come from a collection created over 20 years by Eric and Louise Franck. Most of them were donated by the couple to the Tate. I hope that means that Tate is going to pay even more attention to photography in the coming years.
Another London is at Tate Britain until 16 September 2012.