On Saturday i went all the way to the Stanley Picker Gallery , that's in Kingston and Kingston is in zone 6! I had never ventured beyond zone 3 before. Apart from the endless Piccadilly line trips from Finsbury Park to Heathrow airport and back, of course. But i'd travel the globe for a good show about sound art. And Sound Matters: Exploring Sound Through Forms is not only very good: it is impeccably curated (there isn't one weak work and each piece is acoustically insulated from the neighbouring ones), seducing and has a clear and simple concept as it explores the physicality of sound by looking at the connections between contemporary craft practice and sound art.
The added bonus for me are that i've discovered a couple of interesting artists and designers.
Performance ceramicist (surely this term exists, right?) Keith Harrison noticed that potter Lucie Rie had the same Roberts radio in her studio as he uses in his own studio. His other sources of inspiration were her potter's wheel and her use of manganese slip. Lucie Rie vs Grindcore are two potter's wheels customized to become a set of turntables which Harrison then connected to two transistor radios. A grindcore metal record is played on one deck, a raw clay one covered with a layer of manganese is played on the other deck.
The resulting sound might or might not be to everybody's taste but visually, the installation and performance (at least the one i saw in the video) are stunning.
Textile designer Ismini Samanidou collaborated with sound artist Scanner to explore a shared interest in mapping, the physicality of code as well as in the visual and technical similarities between the softwares they both use. The larger of the two Weave Waves textiles they created visualize the artists' own breath. The recording of their breathing was processed through a software and the data was then translated it into a digital jacquard weave design. The other, smaller piece used a software to map the loudest areas of London and Manchester. The details of the fabric structure and the interpretations of the cities can be explored through magnifying devices. Meanwhile, the soundscapes, recorded on the locations, also become audible.
The wooden horn uses the geometry of the hendecahedral (that's 11 sides) horn shape to naturally and spectacularly amplify sound. The shape of the horn is designed using vector maths and Owl Project's bespoke software, Bevelator78.4˚, to calculate the cutting angle between horn planes.
Owl Project had another work in the show: the rather ingenious Sound Lathe, an instrument based on a traditional green wood turning pole lathe that explores the relationship between the crafting of physical objects and the shaping of sound. During the performances, the movements are turned into electronic music. 8 sensors rest on the turning spindles and translate its changing profile shape into data which is then converted into sounds. At the end of each live demonstration, a unique wooden object is produced that will preserve a memory of the performance.
Studio Weave's Polyphony functions as a large compound ear that separates, abstracts and re-organizes the sounds coming from multiple directions through listening horns. I was alone in the very quiet gallery so i didn't really get a good feel of the installation. However, i'm glad the exhibition gave me the opportunity to discover the works of Studio Weave. Do check out their portfolio, it's an impressive one.
Sounds of Making in East London is a 10″ vinyl record that celebrates the work of the 21 of the many skilled makers who live and work in East London. The record captures sounds as diverse as the clatter of lyric poet John Hegley's typewriter, the chopping of garlic in a Michelin star restaurant, the tap of rock 'n' roll cobbler Terry de Havilland's hammer and the sound of a bell being tuned in Britains oldest manufacturer.
Wilcox later asked Yuri Suzuki to create a new sound work inspired by Sounds of Making in East London. The young artist selected a few tracks and mixed them. The resulting record was pressed with loop grooves (the tracks continuously repeat) which allows various points of the record to be played simultaneously on Suzuki's Prepared Turntable, a device that allows music to be played by 5 tone arms with individual controls. The ensemble creates an overall soundscape that further interprets the energy of East London's makers.
The voices and sounds in Tweed were recorded in the Outer Hebrides, remote islands off the North west coast of Scotland. The first voice, of weaver Catherine Campbell, was recorded in her weaving shed and shop in Plocrapool, on the east coast of Harris. The next voice was recorded in a weaving shed near Callinish on Lewis in 1998 as the weaver was demonstrating how to work on the Hattersley loom (used to produce Harris Tweed since 1919.) In the background are voices and mechanical sounds from a mill at Shawbost as it was about to be sold.
Max Eastley's steel and canvas sculpture is covered in tiny metal fragments animated by a motor fitted with magnets. The ongoing movement generates a subtle, quiet sound. Landscape was originally created to be installed within a Georgian fireplace, as an echo to the 18th century practice of placing a landscape-painted screen in the fireplace during Summer.
The gallery guide is online.
The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM, London's favourite radio art station, is aired this Wednesday afternoon at 4pm.
Today's guests are not the usual suspects as they are scientists using art to explore and communicate mathematics. Marcus du Sautoy is the Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science and Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford. Victoria Gould is a mathematician and actress.
Marcus and Victoria have just spent several days and evenings at the Science Museum in London to perform X &Y, a theater show that use mathematics, humour and theatre to navigate the known and unknown reaches of our world and ultimately to approach some of the biggest philosophical and scientific questions we might encounter: where did the universe come from, does time have an end, is there something on the other side?
I saw one of the last London performances fearing everything would fly high above my head (math classes are far far away from my mind now) but the whole show is incredibly accessible, whether you're a child or a retired professor of physics. I'm neither of those and i found X&Y surprisingly entertaining. I even enjoyed the language of equations and laughed. About mathematics! In the process, i learnt that zero is a relatively new number and that there are many sorts of infinity.
If you've missed the shows, you might want to head to the Science Festival in Manchester. I know i might. The programme is very tempting: an exhibition about contemporary architecture in Antarctica, retro computing events, a talk about the application of quantum physics on communication technology, a presentation about controlling brains from the outside, etc. And a series of X&Y performances from October 30th to November 3rd.
The Science Museum in London has recently inaugurated a new Media Space. I was expecting it to be filled with photos of super computers and distant planets. Instead, i found Only in England, a retrospective of Tony Ray-Jones' photos curated by Martin Parr. Which is completely fine by me as i'd rather spend an afternoon looking at eccentric English ladies than at moons around Jupiter (no disrespect to satellites.)
In the late 1960s, Tony Ray-Jones traveled across his country in a VW camper to document the leisure and pleasures of the English. He was a man who lived by his own rules. One of them was to never take a boring photo. There are dozens of images in the exhibition and none of them is remotely insipid. It's easy to see why the photographer had such an impact on Parr's work: he had a taste for the quietly humorous, the compassionate detail, the ironic narrative.
Ray-Jones died of leukaemia in 1972. He was only 30 but in his short career, he invented a new way of looking at society.
A black and white photo series by Martin Parr, The Non-Conformists, is also part of Only in England. The work follows the religious life of the Methodist and Baptist communities in and around Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire. Shot in the mid-1970s, just after Parr graduated from art school, the photos have a gentleness i wasn't expecting from Parr.
Only in England: Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr is a the Science Museum until 16 March 2014.
And now for something completely different....
Last Thursday, i stopped at the British Museum to see Shunga: sex and pleasure in Japanese art. I thought that Thursday would be a good day for a quiet visit. Wrong! It was the kind of crowd in which you have to stretch your neck in unnatural directions to read the descriptions of the works and wait patiently behind several people before you can actually approach a print. When finally you're in front of the work and have had a good look, you want to turn and walk to the next window but you're blocked by the people waiting and staring behind you. And no, they won't move lest they loose their spot in the queue.
My visit was thus laborious but i liked the show so much i'll have another try (a Tuesday morning when the doors open? a lunch time?)
Produced in Japan from 1600 to 1900, Shunga (or "picture of spring", spring being an euphemism for sex) are erotic paintings, prints and books that were used for personal stimulation and for the education of young lovers.
Make no mistake: this was art, not what we'd now call "pornography". In fact, the works were regarded as a suitable gift to brides on the eve of their wedding or to official foreign visitors. Unaffected by the inhibited sexual attitudes of Christianity or Islam, Shunga presented a fantasy world of sexual delight enjoyed by both sexes. The sense of sin didn't have a place in shunga. But female pleasure, tenderness and beauty did.
The genre flourished even when it was officially banned and many works were in fact produced by some of the country's most distinguished artists. The decline of shunga is attributed to the arrival of Western culture and technologies at the end of the 19th century and in particular the importation of photoreproduction techniques. How could Shunga compete with erotic photography?
In Japan, however, the influence of shunga can still be seen in manga, anime, tattoo art and other popular cultural forms.
I got the following photos from the British Museum press office. Unsurprisingly (but disappointingly), the ones i received were quite tame compared to most of what you can see in the show:
Shunga: sex and pleasure in Japanese art is at the British Museum, until 5 January 2014.
I haven't seen that many exciting exhibitions in London over the past few weeks. I was however, bowled over by the photos of Philip-Lorca diCorcia at the David Zwirner Gallery. The East of Eden series brings side by side biblical references and the American dream gone sour. East of Eden is named after John Steinbeck's 1952 novel, contains direct references to the book of Genesis and is inspired by the collapse of the economy as well as the political climate of the United States towards the end of the Bush era.
"It was really about the loss of innocence I think the whole world went through when the financial crisis started," diCorcia explains. "The financial crisis was the beginning of an economic crisis that led to a political crisis. It took two administrations to learn that the war on Iraq was based on a lie, that Saddam Hussein didn't work together with Al-Qaida, and that Afghanistan was an impossible country to transform. Now we have natural disasters that we never could have imagined before. And then there are all those people with no homes. I did feel some compulsion to respond. I never respond directly. But I had a distinct motivation for the conceptualization of the imagery."
The only photo in the gallery that is not likely to throw you into a melancholy state is the one with the two placid white dogs watching porn in a Hamptons home. They were actually looking at much tamer images. 'I rarely manipulate photographs after they are taken,' said diCorcia, 'but in this case the dogs were watching Bambi. I put in the porn later.'
The lady in Iolanda is the artist's mother-in-law. She is either staring at her own reflection or looking at the sky outside, waiting for the tornado forecast on tv.
The tempting Serpent from the Garden of Eden is symbolized by the stripper gliding up and down a pole.
Everything has a meaning and purpose in diCorcia's photos. One man is wearing a red jumper, the other a blue one, while a pregnant woman looks at them from the door. Cain and Abel are locked in reluctant embrace before one kills the other. They also represent U.S. politics and more precisely the Democrat/Republican relationship.
UPDATE: David Zwirner will host a talk by Martin Barnes, Senior Curator of Photographs at the V&A, about the artist's work, 19 October 2013, 11 AM, RSVP to +44 (0)203 538 3165.
The first early human human fossil found in Africa that provides a key evidence to support Darwin's theory of human evolution (and in particular the origin of anatomically modern humans to sub-Saharan Africa) was discovered by a Swiss miner in 1921 in a lead and zinc mine in Broken Hill, Northern Rhodesia (now Kabwe, Zambia.) An upper jaw from another individual, a sacrum, a tibia, and two femur fragments were also uncovered. Anything else was lost during the mining exploitation of the area. The skull, dated to be between 125,000 and 300,000 years old, was taken to London by the British colonial authorities -in violation of protocols put in place by the British South Africa Company- and it is still there, as part of the collection of Natural History Museum. Meanwhile, the Lusaka National Museum, in Zambia, is only exhibiting a replica of the cranium.
Except that right now, the Lusaka National Museum is not even exhibiting a replica but an identical model recently purchased online by a Thai artist. A replica of a replica, thus. The replica itself is on show, all alone in a big room, at Chisenhale Gallery in London.
Pratchaya Phinthong has loaned the replica skull and asked the museum guide, Kamfwa Chishala, to travel to London for the duration of the exhibition in order to communicate the history of the skull to the visitors of the art gallery, as he does in Lusaka. Kamfwa Chishala is thus the only genuine participant to this exhibition. He was invited by the artist to bring his own subjectivity and perspective to the story of the Broken Hill skull. Something he certainly does with passion. I'd recommend that you get to the gallery, listen to his presentation and have a chat with him. He's a lovely man.
The replica skull is displayed with a copy of the wooden box where the original is kept at the NHM and with the export license that the artist had to obtain from the National Heritage Commission in Zambia because the replica skull is classified as a national relic. I thought the Zambian government was quite brave to allow the replica to travel to London since their attempts to repatriate the original to its country have all failed so far (tell that to the Greeks!)
Broken Hill explores the provenance and the authenticity of artefacts but also the way human interference further complicates their status. The exhibition is the outcome of a network of personal relationships between individuals living in cities as different from each other as Lusaka, Bangkok and London.
After all these years seeing skull after skull in art galleries and contemporary art fairs, it was time some artist put a skull in a context that is more than simply anecdotal, sensational or sloppily 'zeitgeist'-conscious.