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Friday, 7 October 2011

Aesthetica Short Film Festival | ASFF | 3 - 6 November | York | Tickets Available Now

Tickets available here.

Presented by Aesthetica Magazine, the Aesthetica Short Film Festival (ASFF) incorporates creative programming and alternative venues. As the latest addition to the British film festival circuit, ASFF offers a unique experience within the festival landscape, bringing new and innovative cinema to visitors in one of Britain’s best-loved cities, using its iconic, public and hidden spaces as a backdrop.

ASFF is the first film festival ever to be hosted in the historic city of York. The festival is a celebration of independent film from across the world with 150 films being screened from 30 countries. Occupying the same territory as festivals such as Branchage and Encounters, the organisers of ASFF hope that visitors will leave with a greater awareness and appreciation both for independent film and the centuries of history in York.

The full festival programme includes a series of talks and classes from industry professionals such as: From Shorts to Features with Ivana MacKinnon (Associate Producer of Slumdog Millionaire), Academy Award nominee Mark Herman on Screenwriting, (The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Little Voice) and pitching with Channel 4. The full festival programme can now be found online at www.asff.co.uk.

Taking place in 15 diverse locations, York’s medieval halls, historic buildings 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. The screenings will cover a wide variety of genres and filmic styles, including narrative films, documentary, animation, music video and artists’ film amongst others.

Cherie Federico, Director of Aesthetica Magazine and ASFF says: “It’s a very exciting time to bring ASFF to the cultural landscape of Britain. With an excellent programme of talks and screenings, ASFF offers a new type of festival experience. The historic city of York plays a backdrop to contemporary and cutting edge cinema. From a range of venues – Medieval Halls, City Walls, theatres, galleries and boutique cinemas, ASFF not only offers visitors a change to engage with new filmmakers from across the world, but also to enjoy one of Britain’s best loved cities.”

Sally Joynson, Chief Executive, Screen Yorkshire, comments: “Screen Yorkshire is very excited to be working with Aesthetica on such a great festival. In a time of uncertainty over future funding it is heartening to see fresh and energetic projects making good things happen, adding a new and vibrant experience to the Yorkshire and UK festival scene.”

ASFF 2011 – presented by Aesthetica Magazine – will be launched on the 3 November at City Screen, York’s only venue for independent cinema.

Weekend passes and day passes are available now.

See you there!


The Primacy of Drawing | Jerwood Drawing Prize | Jerwood Space | London

Text by Paul Hardman

The Jerwood Drawing Prize has run since 1994, and is currently exhibited in the Jerwood Space in London, after it will tour nationally to venues including Bay Art Gallery, Cardiff and the Burton Art Gallery & Museum, Bideford and will then tour to other locations across the country. The entrants must have been pleased to know who was on the panel this year, particularly Rachel Whiteread who recently had an exhibition of her own drawings at Tate Britain, and must then have spent considerable time contemplating the practice of drawing. The directors of White Cube and Whitechapel made up the other two judging positions, as the heads of two institutions at the forefront of contemporary art, these also would be expected to make bold and insightful choices.

The gallery itself is ideal for an exhibition of drawing, not too large, lit with plenty of natural light, and the ever improving prize seems to guarantee excellent work. Due to the huge number of entries to the competition (3,354 entries from 1,779 artists, the most ever) the judges have had a significant challenge to select the winners and the work to be included in the exhibition. They are faced with the problem of quantity, but also the slippery issue of how to gage excellence in drawing, a fundamental practice within the arts. Almost all artists must draw, if only to sketch ideas or as the finished work. Everyone has at some stage put their pencil to paper to explain or work out an idea, to make a small map, or even to doodle a pattern or a face. Drawing is something common to us all.

Drawing as a category however, is a field with fairly blurred edges. For example, an ink drawing is a drawing, but what if the ink is in several colours and a brush is used, does this become painting, and therefore leave the category? If drawing is mark-making, then does the act of making the mark take precedence over the result, so that the act could be recorded and the mark disassociated? Is a film of a drawing still a drawing? And so on.

The judges then must decide on certain criteria to judge by, and faced with such choice they must realise that by their choices they define and redefine what drawing is, and which qualities constitute excellence. This year the judges have taken, to their credit, a variety of standpoints, and the selected work sets out a variety of different propositions for drawing. Perhaps the actual winners reflect a fairly conventional idea of ‘good drawing’, but the exhibition as a whole contains many curious and unusual items, combining to create a satisfyingly eclectic whole.

The simplest quality by which to judge a drawing to be outstanding is of course the technical skill needed to produce it, therefore it is no surprise that the winning entry, Gary Lawrence’s Homage to Anonymous is both large, 115 by 175 cm, and incredibly detailed. Speaking about this year’s winning piece, Paul Thomas, Jerwood Drawing Prize Co-Founder and coordinator of the selection process, said: “This drawing is an imaginative take on the tradition of topographical drawings, often made by unknown artists, and here rendered in ball point pen on the back of old discarded posters. It was a delight to see such a seamless fusion of the real with the imagined. The ordinary with the extraordinary; to share a quiet daydreaming that reveals a sense of place beyond mere recording. The subject matter is the harbour and town of Pothea, with the comings and goings of daily life but caught here in a muse of meticulous narrative details. This drawing transcends anonymity and ordinariness with intimacy, sensitivity, particularity and invention. There are many delightful thought provoking and exciting drawings in the exhibition, but Gary's moment, in Pothea, in his studio, in his head, is certainly a highlight of this years show."

The Cut by Jessie Brennan wins second prize and is again a technical achievement, detailed pencil drawings connecting across 12 sheets, a total of five metres long. This piece is one of the most commanding in the space as it is laid out in a long cabinet in the centre of the first room. The long image that she has created has the form of a street but is made up of household objects, strung out in a line and inhabited by tiny characters. Her drawing contains an element of the fantastical which is also present in Lawrence’s piece, but perhaps more-so. In fact it is the culmination of a project about the social history of the Lea River Navigation Canal, but it brings to mind something more whimsical, like the games of children, constructing worlds out of upturned books and furniture.

The exhibition contains several pieces that are much lighter, which provide a welcome contrast to the more overwrought work. One video for example feature two people lying opposite each other on a large sheet of paper, each of them scribbles rapidly on the page filling the space that is made between their two bodies, there is humour in watching this performance, but the video also says something about the directness and joyfulness of drawing.

Humour is apparent elsewhere in different forms; Brendon Lyons submitted a frame with only small pieces of paper left attached to staples after it had been ripped out. In a similar spirit Amikam Toren’s piece is the card back of a spiral bound notebook, the wire spiralling upwards where the rest of the pages had been torn off. The wire makes a lyrical line against the background of the frame; this is the raw act of mark-making.

Another trait shared by several intense works is a feeling of the uncanny, such as a suggestive image of a form under a white blanket against a dark background by Liam Allan, and the solid Magritte like volumes of curtain in Fran Richardson’s charcoal Drawing Room. Others found constructive ways of expanding on the format of the sheet of paper. Pattern of Faerie Tales by Iain Andrews is a set of fantastical images of bloated fish and blobby flora, but these were drawn on 11 loose sheets in such away that they would all fit together in any order to make any one of 990 continuous images.

Some of the work that dealt with purely abstract forms stood out particularly well, again exhibiting great skill, particularly Arthur Roberts Summer 2011 (Euclidean), depicting tessellating triangles drawn on wood has a particular presence. Soft Geometry by Ruby Manson, in which each tiny square on a sheet of graph paper was filled with a tiny dot of ink created a pleasingly rippling effect and showed great concentration and economy of means.

Clara Drummond exhibited great drafting skills with her half cathedral, half ship. Bonsai by Liz Bailey was an example of straight forward and impressively observed drawing at a large scale. Other work dealt more with surface, layering types of marks. I could go on, but it would be pointless to describe everything. The exhibition contains much wonderful work. If I had any kind of disappointment it would be that there was not much in the way of confident free mark-making, there could have been less tight and careful work and more vigorous looking image making. But this is only a small gripe; anyone visiting this exhibition will be more than satisfied.

The Jerwood Drawing Prize continues at Jerwood Space, London, until 30 October.

Monday 17 October 6-8pm
Jerwood Drawing Prize: In Conversation - Iwona Blazwick OBE & Deanna Petherbridge CBE
Director of the Whitechapel Gallery, Iwona Blazwick, and artist, writer and curator Deanna Petherbridge, discuss 'The Primacy of Drawing....in a time of unprecedented freedom and experimentation'.
Events are free but must be booked in advance. Please see the Jerwood Visual Arts website 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!

Sophia Crilly Harald Szeemann (From Ausstellungsmacher / A History of Exhibitions & Spaces series) Pencil on paper (2011)
Courtesy the artist

Thursday, 6 October 2011

The Joy of Energy | Abraham Cruzvillegas: Autoconstruccion | Modern Art Oxford

Text by Matt Swain

Abraham Cruzvillegas (b.1968, Mexico City) is an artist and writer who works predominantly in sculpture, using found materials to explore specific local areas in a social and economic context. He studied under Gabriel Orozco from 1987 to 1991 and was a central participant in a new wave of conceptual art in Mexico City during the late 1980s and 90s.

The exhibition here seeks to generate and unify collaboration, dialogue and celebration as a source in which conflicting economic systems clash, questioning the failure of consumption as a buoyant environment in which creation and joy can flourish. It is the latest in Cruzvillegas' project Autoconstruccion which derives inspiration from his family home in the area of Pedregals de Coyoacan in Mexico City.

In the Upper Gallery, The Optimistic Failure (2011) dominates the central space and immediately demands your attention. This is a large-scale hanging "mobile" made of reclaimed metal and timber poles, the trajectories of which represent journeys that Cruzvillegas took around Oxford during his research visits. It is, effectively, an abstract, three dimensional map of his movements through the city. Suspended from the poles are shrunken Amazonian heads made from animal dung, soil and grass that was collected from a local area of farmland close to the River Thames. It feels stark and humble whilst at the same time slightly unsettling.

Blind Self Portrait as a Post-Thatcherite Deaf Lemon Head. For 'K.M.' (2011), is the latest in a series of Blind Self Portrait works produced by the artist in recent years. Essentially, it a mass of flyers, newspaper cuttings, postcards and travel tickets collected from around the world which are covered up with layers of paint, in this case white. Each is pinned to the wall by two thin pins. The intention is to obscure their true identity, giving the piece a sense of nothingness and joyless exclusion facing as they are, the white brick gallery wall. There is a reference here to Russian Suprematist painting in the use of white-on-white, although the hidden narrative, albeit obscured under layers of paint, ensures sufficient deviation for the work not to be derivative in any way.

Untitled Scratching Relief with Builders Groove 3 (From the Oxford Suites) (2011), is a wall-cut drawing of a map based on the various routes taken by Cruzvillegas around Oxford. This large-scale line-drawing is actually cut into the brickwork, revealing the brick beneath, thereby cutting into the very fabric of the architecture of the gallery. It represents a cutting back into the past and in doing so reveals the interaction between now and then, a manufactured manipulation of existing form.

Perhaps most engaging of all is the sculpture located in The Yard exhibition space. The Simultaneous Promise (2011), is a tricycle with portable PA, horn speakers, amplifier, car battery, metal tubing and numerous mirrors. The tricycle plays a continuous looped recording of Cruzvillegas whistling an array of tunes, from Latin American protest songs, punk, ska, salsa, country, funk and hip-hop to songs by current Oxford bands who form part of the vibrant Blessing Force collective.

The bike has been taken out onto the Oxford streets by the artist during the first week of the exhibition and can be ridden by visitors in The Yard. There is more than a playful sense of humour about the piece, not least an overwhelming feeling of happiness, or as Cruzvillegas put it, "the joy of energy". His interest in bringing together music, performance and collaboration is represented most successfully in this work which is inspired by Mexican street vendors, Caribbean sound-system culture, Indian sound carts and 'speakers-bikes' made by kids in New York neighbourhoods. It is a deceptively simple piece - there is a depth and breadth here that belies initial impressions. In that sense it is equal parts quirky, unique, real and ever so slightly surreal.

Across the whole exhibition, Cruzvillegas successfully takes his origins into a foreign place by immersing himself in the culture and history of his surrounding environment. His work here represents his response to the diverse contexts of the city of Oxford and his own personal background in Mexico, blending personal identity and the identity of a place. Truly interactive, truly innovative, thoroughly absorbing.

Abraham Cruzvillegas: Autoconstruccion: The Optimistic Failure of A Simultaneous Promise continues at Modern Art Oxford until 20 November 2011.

The Optimistic Failure (2011) and Blind Self Portrait as a Post-Thatcherite Deaf Lemon Head. For 'K.M.' (2011)
Commissioned by Modern Art Oxford
Installation view. Photography by Stuart Whipps
The Yard

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!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

An Interpretative and Investigative Angle | Shahidul Alam: My Journey as a Witness | Wilmotte Gallery at Lichfield Studios | London

"If you’re not making certain people uncomfortable by your presence, you must be doing something wrong. The struggle for change is a never-ending process that requires you to be constantly alert, and forever swimming against the current. It is a lonely, stressful, tiring and immensely gratifying journey.” Shahidul Alam

A retrospective of the ground-breaking photographer, writer, teacher and activist Shahidul Alam will take place at the Wilmotte Gallery, Lichfield Studios this autumn. The exhibition will introduce to London a dynamic figure, who has been largely responsible for the development of photography in the Indian Subcontinent. Alam’s eagerly awaited new book (Skira Press), My Journey as a Witness, will launch simultaneously. It includes more than 100 images that retrace the artistic and visual journey of one of the most significant figures in documentary photography.

The 40 images in the exhibition will mark the 40th anniversary of Bangladesh Independence. They range from portraits of local people and scenes of daily life, to breathtaking landscapes and the impact of disaster situations. All taken in his native Bangladesh, the photographs chronicle Alam’s journey to challenge oppression and to document the social, political and cultural realities of his country. Spanning three decades of his life, the images offer both interpretative and investigative angles into a culture and national reality that is often misunderstood in the West.

Shahidul Alam: My Journey as a Witness runs from 6 October - 18 November 2011 at Wilmotte Gallery, Lichfield Studios.


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!

© Shahidul Alam

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

The Neo-Modern Myth | Nicolas Ruston | Propensity Modelling | Hay Hill Gallery | London.

Text by Bethany Rex

Nicolas Ruston (b.1975) is a British artist and sculptor, most recognised for his silicone and mixed media works, which explore the notion of artificial manipulation. Ruston's work is concerned with collective beliefs and shared verbal and visual narratives in relation to the mass media and its version of reality. Referencing the notion of artificial manipulation, science fiction, robotics and cloning techniques. His new body of work quietly attempts to draw out the complexities surrounding the packaging of DNA sequences and its value as commodity. Ruston's new show hosted by Hay Hill Gallery will see fiction and reality mingle as the miracles of modern science and the horror of science fiction become one, as creatures are born into a neo-modern myth.

We caught up with Nicolas to talk about his new show, mass media and the concept of a neo-modern myth.

Propensity Modelling includes historical works by Rodin, how has his work informed your new material in this exhibition?

I first encountered Rodin’s monumental masterpiece The Gates of Hell at the Musée Rodin in Paris in 1996. The piece had a lasting impression on me. Situated outdoors, solitary, detached from walls and with no rooms to lead into, the sculpture is ethereal, a doorway to another dimension. It was the closest thing I had seen to a horror movie in sculptural form. Rodin inspired my early groundings as a sculptor and my recent paintings still employ a very tactile sculptural element. I also admire Rodin’s process; he had a habit of stripping away from his works any detail he felt was superfluous. In fact, at an exhibition organised by Rodin in Place de l'Alma in Paris The Gates of Hell was largely stripped of its figures. He wanted to remove from his Gate any attributes which contributed to its immediate understanding.

For Propensity Modelling I have selected pieces from the Hay Hill Gallery’s collection of individual figures from The Gates of Hell. My aim was to transform these works into props, to manipulate the way in which they are viewed. I wanted to show that I had tried to reframe their story, to stage-manage meaning - to be clear a gesture had been made. The Thinker and The Kiss represent ideologies; they were derived from smaller reliefs contained within The Gates of Hell. The Thinker statue was, in fact, meant to represent Dante himself at the top of the Gates. I have incorporated Rodin’s work so as to try and announce the death of religious ideologies in the face of science fiction ideologies.

Mass media plays a central role in your work, what is it about this that fascinates you?

Mass media plays a central role in defining what it means to be human, of portraying a version of humanness. My work is concerned with exploring human issues in relation to the mass media such as morality, religion, science, desire, need, greed, truth and love. I try to explore this through a notion that real life is stage-managed. I think of the mass media as a landscape - a set of collective ideas, pre-conceptions, perhaps, of the outside world. These manifest as an environment that exists in our head, an environment that both immerses and involves. I’m interested in the visual codes of the mass media, their meaning and impact on our lives. As an artist I try to unpack these notions and capture what they feel like.

The narrative surrounding your work often speaks of reality, picturing the real, and the idea of dichotomy between the object and its presentation. These are all complex issues to confront, what is your perspective on these issues?

My interest in this subject started many years ago when I was a teenager making props for TV adverts. To make something look real on TV you had to make a fake version - perhaps oversized, or more luxurious, brighter, smoother or fragmented - so that cameras could read it. Later in my career, working as an Art Director, I found myself in constructed sets telling mock families to act naturally and enjoy breakfast cereal for photo-shoots. It all felt very pop, so this came out in early work. In my current work I’m trying to articulate the sensation of an idea - to uncover the ways in which the mass media acts as a social construct and how we participate in the construction of our perceived social reality.

I wanted the exhibition to read a bit like a science fiction film about us, where science and technology are creating a reality - providing more reality than nature can, but at the same time enforcing systems of control. The scratch paintings I made for the show, entitled Dreamers Who Created Their Own Nightmare, are identical in size to storyboard panels for TV, advertising and film. I wanted to create a set of sequences, a series of scenes, that were unrelated, but which could be set or arranged in many different ways in order to re-tell an event. I have referred to them as Acts to reference film and theatre. This ties in to my work as a Creative Director, which involves thinking up stories and creating storyboards for adverts and video. I wanted to explore the notion that ideas and myths can be framed as events in order to become truths. This also ties in with the re-framing of Rodin’s objects.

How does your work at an ad agency inform your work?

I work in an industry where we engineer meaning. Where compelling truths are a product of creative endeavour. I really first became interested in advertising because I was fascinated by its effects socially, (as well as visually of course). My first encounter was through Oliviero Toscani’s controversial Benetton Ads. My background has been based on the manufacture of illusion. Working as a Creative Director in advertising helps me to explore devices that are set up to appeal to our inner mechanics of desire.

Will we see any more unusual case studies in this new body of work? I’m referencing your controversial installation Euphoria, which references Josef Fritzl’s basement.

The exhibition was originally inspired by an article published by The Independent newspaper on the 4th of April 1996 reporting the race by Japanese and American companies to acquire patents to human DNA sequences for future development and marketing. This was my starting point, which manifested in a silicone painting entitled Brave New World.

There is also reference to a behavioural study on cockroaches conducted at the Free University of Brussels in 2007, which combined elements of entomology and robotics, and involved an experiment in which small, light-sensitive, cockroach-scented robots were placed alongside real ones.

Could you expand on the idea of the neo-modern myth?

Myths are often associated with early levels of intellectual evolution or associated with a pre-logical mentality common to primitive stages of mankind. Mythology is, however, still a part of our culture. Man has, and still does, utilise symbol and myth to express an experience of reality that transcends the physical world. One of the foremost functions of myth is to establish models for behaviour.

When I refer to neo-modern myth it is largely in relation to the characteristics of science fiction. The show is like a science fiction suspense movie where we anticipate seeing a glimpse of a science-horror being which could manifest as a monster or a god. This is referenced in my video work where the image manifests as many things. We see glimpses of demons, gods, stupid looking sci-fi creatures, a few aliens, cartoon characters, weird machinery and the sublime. I’m interested in our points of reference for these images - where they come from and why.

Propensity Modelling by Nicolas Ruston continues until 22 October.


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!

The Thinker (1880) by Auguste Rodin, the bronze sculpture has been covered in a white drape by Ruston revealing only a part of the bottom half of the sculpture.
The paintings either side are a diptych, Sequential Pattern Mining Function (2011) , Silicone on canvas, Each canvas 91.5x126.5cm
Photographed by Adrian Burke

Monday, 3 October 2011

New Issue Out Today - October/November

New Issue Out Today

October is one of the busiest months for art, with all the fairs and exhibitions on the horizon; I’m looking forward to making some discoveries and seeing some new works. On another note, in November, we are launching the inaugural Aesthetica Short Film Festival (ASFF). This international event will screen 150 films in 15 venues across the beautiful and historic city of York along with a host of master classes and Q&As.ASFF brings a new offering to the boutique festival experience.

This issue has a strong focus on the interconnectivity of art and politics. Building the Revolution: Soviet Art and Architecture 1915-1935 opens this autumn at the Royal Academy, London; presenting a survey of Russian avant-garde architecture. September 11 is on show at MoMA in New York, marking 10 years since the terrorist attacks in the USA. The Turner Prize opens at Baltic ; it’s the first time in its history that the exhibition and prize have been presented outside of a Tate venue. We examine the 12th Istanbul Biennial and its ambiguous theme –Untitled. There is also a visual glimpse of PhotoPhnomPenh, Cambodia’s photography festival, as well as an introduction to Silja Magg, an upcoming photographer from New York.

In film, we chat with acclaimed British director and BAFTA Award nominee, Sallie Aprahamian, about Broken Lines, a film that asks: to whom do we owe loyalty and why? Tindersticks release Claire Denis Film Scores 1996 - 2009, and to accompany the release, the band will perform a series of ambitious live concerts in cinematic settings. In music, we look at the impact of social networking on music journalism and chat with the “it” band of the moment, Submotion Orchestra, about their debut. In performance, we speak with Sean Holmes from the Lyric Hammersmith about his production of Edward Bond’s Saved.

Finally, Frankie Shea offers a few last words on this year’s Moniker Art Fair and the rise of street art in the contemporary art market. Hope to see you at ASFF in November.

Pick up your copy from one of our stockists or our website today. www.aestheticamagazine.com

Postmodernism: Style & Subversion 1970-1990 | V&A | London

Text by Emily Sack

“Why can’t we be ourselves like we were yesterday?” ask New Order in their song Bizarre Love Triangle (1986). The Victoria & Albert Museum’s new special exhibition Postmodernism: Style & Subversion 1970-1990 explores the recent past in design with two decades of hindsight. For many, the 1970s and 1980s are not too distant phases of his or her lifetime making this exhibition a retrospective of their youth, whereas for others, this exhibition highlights aspects of a period only recalled through history.

Perhaps the most asked and debated question for students of art, design and visual culture, among other fields, is: what is postmodernism? This query is not a simple one and the V&A exhibition hopes to shed light on significant aspects of postmodernism. As a walk through the gallery clearly elucidates, there is not a single set of aesthetics that defines postmodernism, but rather it is a way of conceptualizing the world as it is. Reacting against High Modernism, architects and designers of the early 1970s questioned the radical idealism inherent in the movement. Whereas modernists championed universal solutions to social problems, the early practitioners of postmodernism explored color, material and taste in ways never seen before.

The exhibition is follows a roughly chronological thematic approach with sections entitled: Presence of the Past, Apocalypse Then, New Wave, Money and Postmodernism Redux. Upon entering the exhibition, it is apparent that the galleries themselves have been transformed into works of art and that the V&A created a postmodern experience in which visitors can become immersed in the style. Large-scale reconstructions supplement the models and architectural drawings in the gallery devoted to architecture. Other parts of the gallery resemble department stores (albeit for an elite clientele) with groupings of like objects such as coffee and tea sets, lamps, chairs and jewelry. Examining such objects with similar purpose together highlights the vast array of design techniques and styles used by the various designers.

The beginning of the exhibition examines the state of the world and the postmodern response with a strong focus on architecture. The rebuilding of Hans Hollein’s façade from the Strada Novissima from the Venice Architecture Biennale of 1980 chronicles the history of architecture through individual columns. Each column represents a different period and style of architecture and by placing them together and fracturing on to create a passageway, Hollein demonstrates the revival of historicism in the postmodern sense. It was no longer necessary for artists to replicate former styles to create “neo” movements, but as Philip Johnson demonstrated with the AT&T building in New York (1984), elements of previous design can be reincorporated in a contemporary manner.

A survey of postmodernism would be incomplete without significant reference to music and club culture. Such icons as Laurie Anderson, Grace Jones, Klaus Nomi and David Byrne are featured with large-scale audio-video installations. The gallery itself resembles a gritty, underground club complete with chain link fence partitions and pulsating lights. The creativity of Jean-Paul Goude in the Maternity Dress for Grace Jones (1979), Leigh Bowery in the many costumes created for the Michael Clark Dance Company, or Boy George in the London club culture, inspired a sense of individuality and freedom of self.

The last section focuses on the reaction against the consumer culture of the 1980s. The booming economy of the decade encouraged spending which ultimately leads to the desire to buy bigger and better products. One entire wall is a photographic representation of Jenny Holzer’s iconic video projection from the Survival Series, Protect Me From What I Want (1985-86). This image contrasts the busy capitalist associations of New York with a self-aware plea against the superficiality of consumerism. Alessandro Mendini, one of the exhibition’s key practitioners, capitalized on the notion of designer clothing and branding by creating a suit with Kean Etro, called Designer’s Suit, that is completely covered in logos and brand names.

Closing the show is Robert Longo’s Untitled (Joe) (1981) - an ambiguous charcoal and pencil on paper image of a man in a black suit contorted in an unreadable action. The image can be read as whimsical or morbid, and the uncertainty reflects the debated end of postmodernism. Is postmodernism still alive and dancing through contemporary culture, or has it died with the 1990s leaving us in another uncertain time?

Postmodernism: Style & Subversion 1970-1990 continues until 8 January 2012.


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!

Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970-1990
© V&A Images

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