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Friday, 9 September 2011

Expanded Self-Portraiture | This Unfolds | Ffotogallery | Cardiff

Text by Luke Healey

This Unfolds is a significant milestone in Ffotogallery’s Wish You Were Here program, which sees them oscillating between their HQ at Penarth’s Turner House and Cardiff’s Dairy, as part of a space-sharing arrangement with the temporarily homeless g39. Featuring 7 Welsh-resident photographic artists, many of them fairly recently graduated, the show undertakes to examine an approach to lens-based practice situated around ideas of narrative, duration and what the curator, Leela Clarke, refers to as ‘a kind of expanded self-portraiture’.

The work of Ami Barnes is undoubtedly the truest example of the latter on show here. Barnes successfully delivers a self-portraiture refracted and realised through all the mediatic surfaces that stand in the way of intention, representation and self-knowledge post-Match.com and post-Facebook. For First Dates, shown here in only half its glory, the artist, while posted in Marseille, invited six individuals out on dates. The documentation of these ambiguously romantic encounters is presented in slide-show format, overdubbed with the artist’s own narrated recollections. The trade-off was simple: her counterpart would be invited to live out their ideal first date in return for the experience being caught on film, by means of remote control to which both participants had access.

The finished product is reminiscent of lo-fi reality TV, with all the grisly fascination that entails – particularly in the case of the one really bad date recorded here. If First Dates functions as an effective comment on the commodification and hyper-narration of personality in the 21st century – the ‘unfolding’, in other words, of something previously singular into a stream of harvestable data – and of how this century’s emotional openness seems at one with a certain remoteness and disaffection (Barnes is concerned that the aforementioned ‘really bad date’ is using intimate conversational gambits merely to get good images), it also speaks more fuzzily about the relationship between image and wish-fulfilment, a shadowy discourse represented here by a stark, flinty economic transaction.

Unlike brasher examples of contemporary autobiographical work – one shudders to think of how First Dates might have turned out in the hands of Tracy Emin – Barnes’s work rewards rather than deflects time spent in its company. This is true of a number of the best works in this show, so that, ingeniously, the title This Unfolds works not just as a thematic marker but also as a two-word review.

Ryan Moule’s contribution, in particular, equals and then surpasses the Four Tet song for which the exhibition is named in terms of slow-burning emotional potency. January 1988 is as straightforward in its execution as Barnes’s First Dates: a time-lapse film of a durational work realised at the Truman Brewery, London in June 2010, for which Moule suspended a photograph of himself as a baby in his mother’s arms, subjecting this sentimental relic to the vicissitudes of chemical reaction, and ultimately erasing the image.

The idea of erasure has a strong lineage in contemporary art, stretching back at least as far as Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased Willem de Kooning Drawing. Though Moule’s film resonates with the ideas and appearances of this lineage (the washed out, semi-erased aesthetic of Gerhard Richter’s portrait work is another clear touchstone), it seems neither over-academic nor – as might be the other danger – melodramatic, instead treading the fine ground between Roland Barthes’s categories of studium and punctum, and augmenting the question mark projected by Barnes’s work onto the relationship between emotion and image in an age of endless reproduction.

Though the show as a whole possesses an overriding maturity, not all the works in question are as engrossing as those provided by Barnes and Moule. Amy Bullock’s large prints of deerskin floating on water are stunning, but their Beuysian poetics lacks depth, even if the carefully chosen hue of the accompanying wall texts – grey on grey – means that the accompanying inscriptions appear in a process of gradual revelation. Sheree Murphy’s images the homes of recently deceased relatives display their hauntological wares a little too obviously, and Chiara Tocci’s photographic studies of remote areas of Albania seem similarly bound too tightly to the conventions of ‘serious’ photojournalism, even if they are ostensibly underpinned by a rich, personal-political narrative encompassing the artist’s childhood and the migration of Albanians to her Italian hometown.

Absalom & Bardsley’s attempt at conveying social narrative through photographic montage is altogether more successful. Their studies into 8X’s, the ex-ammunition storage site in Bridgend, South Wales, is a concise and vibrant document of the lived experience of those born and raised in the sorts of ‘remote areas’ used as chess pieces in successive international conflicts: built for World War 2, the site was later nominated as a safe haven for a select 200 individuals should nuclear weapons ever be dropped on British soil. After the worst of the Cold War was passed, the artists colourfully record, 8X’s became a sort of adventure playground, and a key part of any Bridgend childhood. Images of industrial cast-offs bent and morphed into play equipment possess a levity and knowingness lacking from Tocci’s work.

This wit is shared by the Norwegian Paal Henrik Ekern’s large-scale photographs, which confront the Italian’s studies from the opposite wall. Manscapes repeats the same scene over and over again – a besuited Ekern confronts a naked Ekern against a bucolic backdrop taken either from his adopted or native home. Each work is a frozen dramatic narrative or a frozen joke: these wide-open landscapes are the sort of places where one might go to ‘find oneself’, but not perhaps in this way. A reductio ad absurdum in photographic form, Manscapes hints at something more stunted, self-fulfilling and ultimately futile in the quest for self-definition. If Ekern’s work evokes a particular act of ‘unfolding’, it’s the unfolding of an onion: a trek through seemingly endless selfsame layers that induces tears and ultimately leaves you with nothing.

This Unfolds ran from 18 August - 3 September. Currently on show at Ffotogallery's The Dairy is Gawain Barnard: Maybe We'll Be Soldiers and at the main gallery, David Barnes: King Tide.


Ami Barnes from First Dates (2010)
Courtesy the artist

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Alternative Delights | Branchage Film Festival | Various Locations | Jersey | 22-25 September

If you've got a boat it is feasible to sail across to France for dinner and be back in time for supper. For those of us that don't there's another reason to visit Jersey at this time of year; Branchage Film Festival.

The last few years have seen a host of vibrant new film festivals spring up; offering alternative delights to their big-industry counterparts. These smaller festivals thrive on a boutique selection of films, art, music and unusual settings, and generally create a dynamic and intimate atmosphere. Branchage Film Festival is one such festival. Established in 2008 and based on the charming island of Jersey off the coast of France, events stretch across the island from St Helier to the harbour and include art installations and live music.

Now in its 4th year, Branchage combines a creative, lovingly- curated programme full of site-specific events
and one-off performances. Tickets are on sale now via the festival website www.branchagefestival.com


Senna - Ambitiously constructed and deeply compelling, Asif Kapadia’s portrait of F1 hero Ayrton Senna is documentary making at its most thrilling..

Pina – a mesmerising tribute to the work of virtuoso choreographer Pina Bausch. Wim Wenders’ latest film will
be shown in Jersey Opera House, preceded by a live dance performance.

Of Gods And Men – Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes, the intense and absorbing atmosphere of this
masterpiece by Xavier Beauvois will be amplified by its screening in a monumental French Catholic church.

In A Better World - Susanne Bier is known for her intense relationship dramas, and this revenge-themed
masterpiece earned her the 2011 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

Tabloid - The latest from veteran doc-maker Errol Morris revisits the 1977 headline-grabbing story of former
Miss Wyoming Joyce McKinney and an abducted Mormon.

Project Nim – Oscar-winner James Marsh’s new documentary tells the story of Nim, a chimpanzee raised like a
human child as part of a ‘scientific’ experiment to see if chimps could be taught to use language.


King Kong Live Score: Rob da Bank - A rare chance to see BBC Radio DJ Rob da Bank’s live set to the classic and original RKO 1993 epic film King Kong.

Teeth of the Sea present Reaper - The UK post-electronica outfit will be bringing Doomsday upon us in Reaper, their newly commissioned live visual re-imagining of Neil Marshall’s apocalyptic vision.

Serafina and Sam Steer present: This Side Of The Moon - Harpist and songwriter Serafina Steer and her brother animator Sam Steer join forces for a performance inspired by Kenneth Anger’s Rabbit’s Moon (1950). Supported by a selection of classic and recent animated short films.

Around Cape Horn Live Score: Gerard Le Feuvre - Celebrated virtuoso cellist Gerard Le Feuvre will perform to the spectacular footage shot by Captain Irving Johnson during his 1929 rounding of Cape Horn aboard a square rigger vessel. Le Feuvre has based his accompaniment to Johnson’s vast seascapes on Carl Vine’s epic composition Inner World.

The Great White Silence Live Score - The festival will close with Simon Fisher Turner and The
Elysian Quartet performing his soundtrack to The Great White Silence – Herbert Ponting’s breathtaking 1924 footage
of Captain Scott’s last, tragic Antarctic expedition. The film was recently restored and released by the BFI.


Variable 4 at the coastal Elizabeth Castle - The wild weather conditions of the Jersey coastline will be
transformed into a dynamic musical composition by this 8-speaker outdoor sound installation. Created by artists
James Bulley and Daniel Jones, Variable 4 uses meterological sensors adapted to the environment to create music.

Whose Hedge Is It Anyway? - Jeff Leach (Big Brother’s Big Mouth) curates an afternoon of stand-up comedy
and improv featuring comedians including Mark Dolan (The World’s... And Me / Balls of Steel) Sara Pascoe
(Being Human) and Katherine Ryan (Campus).

Bergerac Black Tie Dinner - To mark the 30th anniversary of Jersey’s most famous export, we are celebrating
with a Black Tie Dinner in aid of local charity Holidays For Heroes Jersey. John Nettles himself will be in
attendance to present clips from some of his favourite episodes, along with the show’s creators and other cast
members, plus entertainment by Jersey-born comedian and Bergerac-fanatic Will Smith.

At Sea / At Land / At Last: A Utopian View on the Personal Histories of the Island of Jersey - Artist
and filmmaker Fritz Stolberg is re-arranging home-cinema films from different eras, that people of Jersey have
contributed, into a multi-projection live film event. This will be accompanied by an experimental live music score
by English folk-duo This is the Kit.


Branchage Globale - Internationally-flavoured live acts and DJs performing music from around the world.
Headlining is Santigold-cohort Martelo, plus Capitol K, local electronica collective Bubblebrain and more.

La Bordee d’Branchage: A Mythical Island Party - Always an extravaganza of live music and performance,
La Bordee d’Branchage transforms the Barclays Wealth Spiegeltent into a world of wonder. Many expeditions
have failed to reach this year’s Mythical Island of impossible beauty, but our sources say the veil of mist is due to
clear this September.

Club Kamikaze presents Teenage Riot! A Night of Grunge Music - Four bands - Brighton’s Skirts, Jonny
& The Rats, The Morves and The Midnight Expresso - will perform covers of The Pixies, Sonic Youth,
Nirvana and Daniel Johnston, respectively, along with their own original material.

Branchage Film Festival runs from 22 - 25 September.

For further information and tickets visit www.branchagefestival.com

The Aesthetica Short Film Festival (ASFF) is a celebration of independent film from across the world. Taking place in 14 diverse locations from 3 – 6 November, York’s medieval halls, tourist destinations and contemporary art spaces will be transformed into one-off, site-specific venues that will allow visitors the opportunity to explore the city and experience film in an accessible and unique setting.

Incorporating creative programming and alternative venues, ASFF will bring new and innovative cinema to visitors in Britain’s best-loved city. The screenings will cover a wide variety of genres and filmic styles, including narrative films, documentary, animation, music video and artists’ film amongst others.

In addition to four days of screenings, the full programme will include a series of masterclasses and workshops which support and champion short filmmaking, such as: From Shorts to Features with Ivana MacKinnon (Associate Producer of Slumdog Millionaire),pitching with Channel 4 and other industry leaders.

Stills from Pina, Benda Bilili and Just Do It: A Tale of Modern-Day Outlaws

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Last Chance To See | Compulsive, Obsessive, Repetitive | Towner | Eastbourne

Seven artists – Susie MacMurray, Brendan Jamison, Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva, Jill Townsley, Claire Morgan and the duo Henry Seaton have been asked to produce work that challenges the commonly considered belief that repetition is purely a means to an end or a device. Here repetition opens up debates about authorship, failure through repetition and the role of labour.

Compulsive, Obsessive, Repetitive is a group show of five new commissions (and one earlier work) by a group of sculptors who use small scale repetitive processes to create large scale sculptural installations. The common characteristic is the need to compulsively repeat an action – by hand, in a labour intensive and painstaking way – to create a large scale work composed of multiple elements.Presented on an expansive scale, individual elements are transformed through repetition into something more than the sum of the parts. Whether through accident or design the slippages and leakage between each repetition reveal something surprising and unexpected.

In her work, Susie MacMurray questions at what point drawing becomes sculpture, or vice versa, and whether such delineations are meaningful. A new ‘sculptural drawing’ across one large wall of the gallery comprises corrugated hose extruding from the wall, in a piece that is both formal and industrial whilst also unavoidably unruly and visceral.

A new large-scale installation by Brendan Jamison (known for his sugar cube scale models of Tate Modern and NEO Bankside for the London Festival of Architecture 2010) combines elements from the architecture of local landmarks Beachy Head Lighthouse, Redoubt Fortress and the Martello Towers. Tower (2011) is 5m high and constructed from over a quarter of a million sugar cubes, weighing over 500kg. The built structure is surrounded by a sea of loose sugar crystals, rippling in waves across the gallery floor.

Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva often endures months of repetitive and nauseating labour in her process. Reoccurring Undulation is made out of 1,100 salmon and trout skin tiles which have been previously cleaned and preserved. The skin tiles are arranged to form an intriguing and dynamic pattern, taking over the full length of the wall, filing the space from floor to ceiling like a tapestry. The light reflecting on the material and its patterns makes further references to its richness and beauty.

In Claire Morgan’s Machine Says No (2007), a wild rat, preserved using traditional taxidermy techniques, is suspended and appears to be falling through geometric forms created from stretched pieces of plastic bag. Morgan is concerned with the process of life and death and the interaction between man and nature, in all its perfection and ugliness. The passage of viewers through the space creates constant and subtle movement.

Jill Townsley’s work is repetitive to the point of obsession. Using common and everyday objects, she strives for a geometric perfection in her process yet knows it is impossible to achieve. Till Rolls (2011) is a large floor-based installation consisting of 9,375 paper rolls, each extruded from its centre to form vertical cones of varying height (up to 12ft). The rolls recall the countless transactions of trade and industry and interactions between individuals. The result is an undulating structure reminiscent of a three-dimensional graph – but no clue is given as to whether the peaks and troughs of this structure represent good or bad results; the paper is blank.

Finally, a new commission by Henry Seaton (Rex Henry and Graham Seaton), known for their interest in the city, its narrative and its built forms, integrates elements of the gallery’s architecture into a field of objects.

Compulsive, Obsessive, Repetitive continues at Towner, Eastbourne until 18 September.


Aesthetica Magazine We hope you enjoy reading the Aesthetica Blog, if you want to explore more of the best in contemporary arts and culture you should read us in print too. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

Jill Townsley, Till Rolls (2011) (detail).

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Maybe We'll Be Soldiers | Gawain Barnard | Ffotogallery | Cardiff

This summer, Ffotogallery turns the spotlight onto new photographic and lens-based media work in Wales. In a series of exhibitions and events across two spaces, the main gallery in Turner House, Penarth and The Dairy in Cardiff, an off-site venue, Wish You Were Here is dedicated to nurturing and foregrounding emerging artists in Wales. The season reflects the concerns - social, conceptual and technical - of a new generation of photographic artists. Whether challenging cultural stereotypes of offering glimpses into unseen worlds, the artists offer fresh perspectives on photography whilst exploring the expressive potential of the medium. The latest solo exhibition in this series sees Cardiff-based artist, Gawain Barnard present Maybe We'll Be Soldiers at The Dairy in Cardiff.

Maybe We'll Be Soldiers is a story of realisation, self-doubt, expectations and coming of age. A young person's sense of invincibility fades as they reach adulthood and the naivety of youth gives way to uncertainty around future plans. Barnard has captured that moment in his intimate portraits of young teenagers in Wales, juxtaposed here with images of forests, housing estates and underground passes.

The exhibition title was inspired by the artist’s memory of the armed forces coming to his school and talking only to children from the ‘middle’ to ‘lower’ classes, being the most likely potential recruits. Barnard remarks, “It just seemed odd that the decision to join or not join the armed forces should be made at an age when we have no idea what to do with ourselves and are quite susceptible”.

Barnard sees the work as partly autobiographical, evoking a time when he came to view the towns and villages he grew up in as a psychological barrier that was very difficult to see past. Being unable to drive and too young to move away, these familiar landscapes can become an obstruction to seeing a future beyond one’s immediate situation. 
Maybe We'll Be Soldiers opens on Thursday 8 September and continues until 24 September and is accompanied by an Artist Talk on Thursday 15 September at 6.30pm.


Aesthetica Magazine
We hope you enjoy reading the Aesthetica Blog, if you want to explore more of the best in contemporary arts and culture you should read us in print too. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

Gawain Barnard Tonisha (2011)
Courtesy the artist.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Out of the Dark Room | PhotoIreland 2011 | Various Locations | Dublin

Text by Rosa Abbott

Following on from the success of last year’s inaugural edition, the PhotoIreland Festival returned to Dublin in 2011 with a bolstered programme and the duration doubled from two weeks to a month. The festival seeks to promote photography from all levels, with participating artists ranging from internationally respected photographers to new graduates and amateurs - perhaps the most egalitarian event being the un-curated was Homeless Gallery, in which would-be photographers are given the opportunity present their work wherever they see fit in a sizable exhibition space with no gallery fees. The result of this all-encompassing approach is a festival programme that is difficult to navigate for the sheer volume of events. There are far worse complaints that could be made about a festival, however – especially considering that even some of the smallest, least publicised exhibitions I’ve attended were of a high standard. The gap in quality between the big names and the emerging artists being satisfyingly small.

By far the biggest name on the bill was the controversial Magnum documentary photographer Martin Parr. Unfortunately, though, none of Parr’s own photographic works are on display. He is instead exhibiting items from his own collection, presenting his favourite photo books from the past decade. Parr’s critical opinion on this matter is probably well worth heeding to: an avid collector of the medium, Parr has traveled to far-flung corners of the globe to source these books, and the selection on show at the National Photographic Archives is diverse and engaging. The exhibition excels in its interactive nature: each book, though attached to the display with wire, is meant to be picked up and flicked through, introducing a kinetic and textural element usually unattainable in art exhibitions. The physical qualities of photography books – from paper type to page dimensions – are of course carefully selected, and form a central part of the overall aesthetic. By presenting a selection side by side, these differences in tactile qualities are fore-grounded – the rough, grainy pages of Scrapbook create quite a different effect to the ultra-silky gloss paper of the adjacent Temporary Discomfort, for example.

Scrapbook also appears in an exhibition in the nearby Gallery of Photography as part of The Long View, which ran until 28 August 28. This time, it is dismantled, and it’s pages arranged faux-chaotically across a long white wall – the pleasing textural qualities of the book in Parr’s exhibition giving way to the visual dynamism of this alternative arrangement. Despite Scrapbook’s nostalgic title and hippy-ish floral cover, its subject matter is subversive and politically charged, dealing primarily with The Troubles (this element of deception created by the cover gives the book format seen in Parr’s exhibition an edge over the wall-mounted version, if you’re interested in comparing display formats). The theme of Northern Irish conflict appears in many of the works in The Long View, a group exhibition of six Irish photographers making an impact on the international photography world.

Despite expectations that may arise from the name PhotoIreland, this is actually one of the few exhibitions running as part of the festival to focus specifically on Irish photography. The exhibition programme is predominantly very internationally focused, with other ‘headline’ exhibitions including a retrospective of Spanish press photographer Luis Ramón Marín; a showcase of twenty-five Mexican photographers in Mexican Worlds and an exhibition of works by the Polish artist Zofia Rydet. Though it would be nice to see more Irish photography on the billing – particularly from more established names – the opportunity to catch stellar displays of international photography like these are fairly few in Dublin, so PhotoIreland still doesn’t disappoint. Rydet’s The Arc of Realism in particular was well worth visiting – her oeuvre is an ambivalent mixture of simple documentary style photographs, usually of lowly European peasants in their domestic environments, and dynamic, surrealist photo-collages. Though it’s the latter group of works that are the most instant and visually arresting, the subtleties of Rydet’s photographic sociological studies add layers of depth, especially when presented alongside their more experimental counterparts.

Happily, PhotoIreland this year also sees Dublin’s acquisition of noteworthy photographic works on a more permanent level. The Irish Museum of Modern Art’s offering, Out of the Dark Room, is an exhibition of the extensive collection of Dublin-born physician David Kronn. It includes photographs by the likes of Irving Penn, Robert Mapplethorpe, Diane Arbus and Herb Ritts, with works from the collection to be donated to the gallery on an annual basis - beginning with an Annie Leibovitz portrait of Louise Bourgeois. So not only will Dubliners be able to look forward to ever-bigger editions of the PhotoIreland Festival each summer (going by the success of this one), there will be a new piece from the Kronn bequest to visit each year as well. 

PhotoIreland ran from 1 - 31 July. Many of the individual exhibitions are still running. See individual websites for further details.

Aesthetica Magazine
We hope you enjoy reading the Aesthetica Blog, if you want to explore more of the best in contemporary arts and culture you should read us in print too. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

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