University of Brighton School of Art Degree Show 2018 pt 1: dystopia/utopia

This year’s review of the degree show is split into three parts: dystopia/utopia, race and miscellaneous.

The academic year of 2017/18 has been a tough one both internal and external to the students graduating this year. Externally, the world has turned progressively ugly. Artists have traditionally represented the ugliness of epochs in all of art’s forms: painting, sculpture, textiles, ceramics, etc. It would have been surprising if this year’s graduates had not reflected the external world in their work for this show. A disclaimer here: some of the artists I mention here may dispute my classification; but in the accompanying panels for much of the work, dystopia/utopia kept appearing.

So, for example, Judyta Sokolowska’s work (left) investigates the represention of mould, decay and rotting flesh on canvas. This is done, admits Sokolowska, because of her sense of our disconnection from nature and recognition of its vulnerability. In the same room one finds the work of Harley Redford (right). Redford’s style, we are told, “conveys the abyss of my longing”. Abyss is a dystopia-type word, even if the self-penned panel continues “the erratic nature of my brush strokes contrast the seductive and more finished presence of the nude male figures in my images. They have the effect of luring you into their own fetishised utopia”. I have to say that I am not entirely sure what that means. But the stylised nude males did it for me.

And so to a series of three pictures entitled Endenic by Angelica Pownal (left). At first sight, Pownal’s work is familiar (forest), warm, albeit a shade surreal. Indeed, she says of her work “while my images don’t project any evil, they entice a sadness within the viewer that mirrors the disappointment we all feel as part of the human condition”. A curious thought. Projecting on to us a possibly unwarranted disappointment seems presumptuous. But her method of progressively distorting her original images (using photoshop) beyond recognition is bound to result in alienation and a sense of foreboding.

For my next choice, I’m afraid I have not recorded the artist’s name. However, her artefacts have been created under the title “Bohemian Allegory of Slavic Beginnings of my Journey through Pattern and Form”. The journey in question is the transformation of what was Czechoslovakia between 1973 and 1993. As the artist says, it was a time of communist nomenclatura, propaganda, brutalist architecture in a “post-Prague Spring chaos…before the velvet revolution”. It was an “unsettling” time. The form has, she notes, “hidden meanings”. Whatever they are, they unsettled me. Incidentally, if anyone knows the name of artist, please tell me.

Next comes the graphic design work of Bertie Cloutman. Cloutman’s work, if I understand it correctly, focuses on political unrest around certain policies and represents it as some sort of dystopian future in the style of war propaganda. Mr Cloutman has certainly achieved his aim. I was curious, however, about his mixing of eras and styles and whether these were his view of our collective future or were just his sense of nostalgia.

This has been the year of our waking up to the surveillance capabilities of states (and increasingly corporations). As if were not sufficiently paranoid already, Tom Cafferkey elevates our “sense of fear” with his quirky but sinister cardboard-sculptured CCTV cameras (right).

Next I turn to the work of Yasmine Amanda Ansari (left) who has catalogued the actions of “The Save Movement” dedicated to bearing witness to the journey animals make to the slaughterhouse. As someone who has spent much of his life doing just the same, Ansari’s work is poignant. The photographs are haunting. It is not just the facing death, which my own witnessing tells me is clear to the animals themselves, but the dreadful journey there (physically in trucks, but also metaphorically). I always found the pigs to be particularly aware.

Let me move on to utopias – or more probably the natural world and our place in it. The work that potentially generated the most laughs was the Heath Robinson/Wallace and Gromit presentation by Peter McConnon (right). The premise here is flight. McConnon is a former mechanic with the urge to fly. Most of us would buy an airline ticket, but McConnon seems to want to do it in a bird-like fashion with flapping wings. He creates a collection of overtly mechanical and unnecessary devices ranging from a mechanical tooth brush, a food stirrer and a bath scrub. There is an accompanying video of McConnon in some sort of farm environment living the life – there is one scene of him sat in a bath being towed by a driverless tractor.

Next up – my favourite from the textile exhibition – is the work of Ella McGarry. Taking her influence from the work of Charles Darwin and in particular the Galapagos Islands, she has imposed some stunning prints on to swimwear (left), shawls and handkerchiefs.

Not dissimilar is the work of Rosie Rara-Avis with her collection entitled “Planet Bloom”. Rara-Avis is clear about her objective “the collection is derived as a reaction to the world we live in an age of pending doom”. That is first-order pessimism. From that though comes beauty captured in a couple of wonderfully printed jackets (right).

Finally, two further artists – Antonia Packham and Robyn Edwards. Both create beautiful objects from detritus. Edwards’ work is entitled “Plastic Planet: An Exploration of Plastic Waste Through Jewellery” (plastic waste is a recurring theme). She has created a number of exquisite items – a little bulky for me (necklaces and earrings, left). But listening to some of the other visitors, there was a collective approval of her designs.

Packham’s collection of artefacts is entitled “Mining the Antropocene”. She creates this material called Plastiglomerate which is a stone formed of sand, wood, shells (natural stuff from the shoreline) cemented together in molten plastic (unnatural stuff from the shoreline). The artefacts are great. My favourite was the candle holders (right). I’m not entirely sure about the sustainability of process by which they were made,  but there you go.

 

 

 

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Joan as Police Woman, Vienna, 31 March 2018 and Hove, 23 April 2018

We are regulars at Joan as Police Woman gigs. I think this is about our fifth time, though the first outside of the UK. All bar one of these share one thing in common: the intimacy of the venue. Intimacy enables Joan Wasser to play to her key strength: emotion. The venue matters, therefore. Last time we saw her, in her collaboration with Benjamin Lazar Davis in Brighton, UK, the venue was rammed and the bar was simply in the way. Tonight was perfect, though as bizarre as they come. At the Ottaker Brauerei (a real working brewery) one might have expected the bar to be in the way again. But no, the bar has its own room and the concert space is what it says on the can. Space. Nothing fancy – a dark hole with steel girders. Perfect for Joan as Police Woman (seemingly she has performed there twice before).

l-r Parker Kindred, Jacob Silver, Joan Wasser, Eric Lane and Jared Samuels

By contrast, The Old Market in Hove, UK, is rather less industrial. Once it was a market hall, but as venue it is versatile, fully furbished, though with visible wooden beams holding up the roof. I think it was her first time at the Old Market (having previously also appeared at Brighton’s Concorde 2, if I am not mistaken). It did not matter, the intimacy was there. The audience engaged, though clearly the band, coming to the end of a comprehensive European tour, were admitting their weariness. For some bands, this could easily lead to fractiousness; but these musicians seem very much at ease with one another. It was a much more relaxed performance than Vienna.

Now this was the Damned Devotion tour. Dammed Devotion is her latest solo album and it is worthy of a collection to add to her existing body of work. Actually, it was not until seeing Joan as Police Woman in Vienna that I realised how different this album is from its predecessors. The big clue came in the stage setup – three sets of keyboards – not seen before. We were reassured to see her long-time percussionist, Parker Kindred (left), mount the stage. He was intricately supported by bassist, Jacob Silver. Together they kept an order to the proceedings; Kindred’s timing is impeccable and it was great to be close enough to spend time watching a master caress and cajole a drum kit. It was also the first time that I have listened to a band from the drum kit outwards. By which I mean, the beats come first, followed by bass, keyboard and vocals. And with Joan as Police Woman live, that seemed to make sense.

And that is another reason why Damned Devotion is different, Kindred gets his moment to let rip on Joan’s uncharacteristic “dance track”, Steed (for Jean Genet).   I’ve never heard Wasser sing so high at such tempo and with so much noise

Wasser with Jared Samuel in background

behind her, not only Kindred’s percussion, but also two sets of keyboards played by Jared Samuel and Eric Lane. Equally, Wasser must rightly assert herself. On her album, Classic, I always celebrate her divinity captured in the song The Magic: “And I find I am face to face with none other than me; I’ve got the mirror up against the marquee; And all it reads is, I am fine, I am divine; But there is a wild side going on behind the sign”. We got it in the set, of course, but it is now complemented by her lastest self-anthem, The Silence with its clear lyric “My body, my choice, her body, her choice”. The Magic is subtle in tone, if not lyric. The Silence is neither.

This is a tour to promote The Damned Devotion, it is certainly not a greatest hits. Though it was good to hear Eternal Flame, the song that introduced me to Joan as Police Woman back in 2005 with its beachy-kitsch video. And there is one other addition to the repertoire. What is it Like to be You?, Wasser tells the audience, in a peculiarly revelatory exchange with the audience, is about her deeply missed father who passed away a couple of years ago. Of course, she is not the only daughter to fail to ask questions of a parent before they die. Wasser laments this with her father and captures her lament in this song. This is doubly intimate and it is why venues matter.

Vienna’s washrooms

So there we are looking for breakfast. We end up at Schwedenplatz. We cross the Donau Kanal using the Schwedenbrücke and stumble into Spelunke on Taborstraße. It is one of those cafés that doubles as a nightclub. Versatile. But as we have found over the years, the proof is in the toilet, and Spelunke is special. The breakfast was ok, too.

So, the first challenge is to get in. Because one does not expect to find instructions on the floor, the tantalising glass door just refuses to open. It takes a couple of helpful women to point out the floor sensor (above left).

Once in, there’s more going on. Now I did not go into the women’s toilet, but my partner came out with a couple of interesting shots from inside a cubicle where the portal window has a couple of surprises (left and right).

And just in case you cannot find the loo roll, it is illuminated.

So the next day, we are after breakfast again. We concede Stadtcafé adjacent to Freyung, a rather central location. The café is pretty regular. The porridge was good. Then in the toilet one finds another mysterious piece of equipment, albeit designed by Dyson (right). These three-in-one contraptions never seem satisfactory and always challenge. The wash basin itself is a bit of a mystery. It is more of a drainage channel.

As a design idea, this borrows directly, I think, from the old ghastly Wallgate three-in-ones that seemed very popular with English public authorities either building or refurbishing their public conveniences (left).

Wallgate picture by Retroscania (Flickr) from Dudley bus station

Das Kunsthistorische Museum, Vienna

This museum and art gallery is just about as outrageous as it gets. The only concession to normality is the cloak room. Everything else screams empire, wealth, kleptocracy and vanity. It’s great.

Recently, our favourite art historian, Andrew Graham-Dixon, made a series of four documentaries about the British Royal Collection. It’s a familiar story of European royals, they have all used art for propaganda, as a store of value, diplomatic gesturing and self-gratification. The Habsburgs were no different. Their collection is equally outrageous, but at least the Austrian Bundes Republic now owns the collection and a grand building in which to display it.

David Teniers’ fantastic picture of Leopold Wilhelm (1614-62) inspecting his haul of 51 Italian works from the collection of the Duke of Hamilton in Brussels (above left) just captures the obscenity – or scale economies – of art buying and collecting. It is simply my favourite picture in the Italian collection on show which took us 3 hours to view with as much respect that we could.

The curators enjoy juxtaposition. Some of which vaguely work. Others not. Putting Titian up against Picasso is an interesting one (above right). Titian’s intimate portrait of Pope Paul III (1546) was, I sense, intended to humanise him, without diminishing his stature as Pope. He sits. His hands and arms are almost close enough to touch. But not quite. By contrast, Picasso’s portrait of Carlotta Valdivia (painted, not surprisingly, in his blue period in Barcelona, 1904) is not accessible at all. She was not ostentatiously rich, but her pearl earring and cowl suggest more wealth than Picasso had at that time as a bohemian. The slight rosy colouring of her face suggests, apparently, a former physical beauty swept away by the years.

This flattery of sitters is not uncommon. In England, we know that Holbein, Henry VIII’s court painter, overdid it on Anne of Cleves before the King married her. Probably not a good idea. This overdoing is on display again with Titian’s second  portraits of Elisabeth d’este (1534) who looks amazingly good for her 60 years’. Good work.

Over the years we have learnt a lot about how to look at pictures and, indeed, what to look for. Andrew Graham-Dixon taught us to go for the detail. For example, Lazarus in, what is simply a landscape painting by Pieter Breugel. So, when viewing landscapes, it is the little detail that makes the difference. Take, for example, the view of Schönbrunn Palace gardens (1758/61) by Tintoretto (right). There are lots of court figures in the grounds. But, of course, to keep everything perfect, the groundsmen had to follow them with their rollers. And look closely (left), we can see them!

More recently, Waldemar Januszczak’s documentary about Mary Magdelene, has us always looking for her in depictions of Jesus’ body after the crucifixion. To be honest, I’m not sure if I have found her at Jesus’ foot in The Lamentation of Christ by Savoldo (around 1513, right), but probably.

Another Graham-Dixon prompt is to look for Ghouls, particularly done by Germans. Now this one doesn’t quite qualify, but by goodness, that is one heck of a snake (Raphael in 1518) that St Margarete has to slay (left).

The Gods are always good value in 16 Century art. Venus and Adonis, in particular. Of course, Adonis is destined to be killed by a wild beast (Venus knows this because she has that most awkward of powers, the divine power of prediction). But when if comes to affairs of the flesh, this does not really matter. I trust that when one’s nipple is being squeezed (right), the future is of little concern. Veronese’s picture tries to warn us with storm clouds, but my eyes are elsewhere.

Tucked away in one of the small rooms off the main gallery is a series of four pictures about the seasons by Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1566). Each one has a profile portrait to make the point. The portraits are entirely made up of non-human components – for want of a better word – such as fruits and, here (left), fish. They are extraordinary pictures. Peculiarly unsettling.

There are, of course, pictures that remind one of earlier times. My mother was particularly enamoured by the biblical story of Samson and Delilah. Delilah was a lot of a baddie, and not only took away Samson’s strength by cutting off his hair, but also had him blinded. My mother was keen for me to grow my hair, which I did, but I was never strong enough to push down a temple (top panel, right Tintoretto 1543).

Finally, there are some pictures that quite simply do not belong in this part of the collection. There’s a Turner, for goodness sake (another attempt at juxtaposition). There is also Bathers by Paul Cezanne (1890, left).

OK, we had no time for the huge collection of low countries art, Gustav Klimt and Dürer. We’re coming back, soon, to mop up.

Unconscious bias

As a lecturer at a university, I am confronted on a daily basis with my own biases. After all, I’m a middle-aged white male in a relatively powerful position vis-a-vis my students (a discussion about relative-ness, is for another time). As a course leader, I am charged with achieving inclusivity targets (however it is measured) and widening participation. These are good things, but achieving them is very hard indeed. I’ve been on the training courses, studied exemplars and worked with knowledgeable colleagues. To some extent, it is not for us to define. One cannot wish into existence wider participation, for example, in a climate – economic and political – that is structurally biased against the very people we are trying to include.

Last week I was driving home listening to an edition of BBC Radio 4’s Analysis, entitled: Why are even women biased against women? As a white male, naturally, I’m looking to get off the hook. In my head, I can hear things like, “well, if women are biased against themselves then I’m ok”, etc. And so I listen. The programme is presented by former Times journalist, Mary-Ann Sieghart, but that is not significant other than her admitting to her own biases against women.

In the programme are two scenarios. I was listening whilst driving paying reasonable attention. I am mortified that I got caught out by both of them. I have been naughty taking a bit of BBC intellectual property and posting it on to my blog. But as Sieghart says, not only are we complicit in our unconcious bias on a daily basis (the conscious bias is another question), but we must find ways of exposing ourselves to our biases on a daily basis also. So here goes:

Scenario 1: 

Scenario 2: 

So, how did you get on?

If readers want to try something else, go to the Harvard Implicit Bias project website and do the test. I did it myself (before the Analysis programme) expecting the worst. I came out of it neutral. But as my failure in Scenarios 1 and 2 demonstrates, there are no laurels to rest on.

 

JPS identity crisis

John Player Special is trying to knock us over with its striking new campaign, Make your Day. There’s a lot of red. It is supposed to “fit in”, as the strapline indicates. Because it is compact! What is a compact cigarette? More tobacco? If so, the bit they do have to put on the poster “Rauchen ist tödlich” is as fitting as ever. Deadly.

Gauloises’ winter season continues

Gauloises’ Vive le Moment campaign sticks with the winter theme and young people being naked in the snow. This time it looks like a hot tub in the garden with the clothes carelessly discarded on the wet snow. For some reason, there is no catchy strapline (I suppose it is cheaper that way?), the picture says it all!

Seville in December – Museo de Belles Artes

Take your passport for free entry into this wonderful example of a city gallery celebrating the work of its sons, if not artist daughters.

There is a lot of extraordinary medieval – largely religious – art here from the likes of José de Ribera, Juan de Valdés Leal, Taller de Zurbarán and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. But also some more contemporary work from the likes of José Garcia Ramos, Rafael Senet, Jose Villegas Cordero and Gonzalo Bilbao Martinez. There are some cameos by influential Flemish artists including Jan Brueghel de Velours, Pieter van Lint and Sebastian Vranckx. There’s also the odd German; namely, Lucas Cranach.
 
The building is a former monestery (left). It has two floors and an inner garden courtyard. The religous art tends to be about alterpieces. There’s plenty here with lots of virgins with child and grusome crucifixions. I recall Andrew Graham Dixon on his Art of Germany series that no one does ghouls better than the Germans. That may be true, but the Spanish and Flemish artists throw them in, too. Martin de Vos’, The Last Judgment (1570), has some pretty nasty ones dragging the sinners to their eternal damnation (right).
There’s a couple of paintings by 17th Century painter, Francisco Pacheco. His Portrait of an Elderly Lady and an Elderly Man (c1630) is chilling in its wizened-ness (left).
 
Alonso Vázquez’s The Last Supper (1588) has a wonderful sinister feel, notwithstanding Judas with his bag of money. There is something decidedly inedible on the table and some creepies on the floor. The apostles are muscular figures deeply concerned about the traitor amongst their number.
Maestro del Papagayo’s Holy Family (right) seems wholly mischievous. The child squeezes the nipple but is tempted by a grape! The symbolism is, I assume, fertility and the blood of Christ?
There is a lot of St Francis of Assissi going on in this gallery. For example, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s Stigmatisation of St Francis (left) dating from c1645. More of Murillo’s wonderful work was in a special gallery where no cameras were allowed.
Another favourite son is Taller de Zurbarán. The gallery houses some rather large canvasses of saints; for example, St Anés with lamb (whom I know nothing about) and St Dorotea with fruit and flowers (both 1650, right). Dorotea was a legendary virgin martyr who may have lived in the 4th century. She is called a martyr of the Diocletianic Persecution.
Francisoco de Goya y Lucientes finds a place in this gallery as well as the cathedral. In the gallery, one finds his dark portraiture; for example, that of Canon José Duaso y Lastre (1824, left). This is the precursor to Goya’s black paintings, and you can see why.
 So, back to the Flemish artists, Jan Brueghel’s depiction of paradise with its paired animals, verdant backdrops and the odd naked Adam and Eve (right) delights in its detail and idealism.
This being a local museum, quite a bit of space is given over to paintings of dubious value. There are something like 8 canvasses by Domingo Martínez charting the route of a allegorical carriage through Seville in 1747 (left). It seems reminiscent of those major cavasses representing street scenes in Venice. Clearly important for the city but not necessarily for art. Though Martínez was very much a student of Murillo and the depictions are rare examples of secular art of the time.
 Talking of which, the more contemporary art occupies a few rooms on the second floor. Two things are really important in Seville. Flamenco and bull fighting. Both are represented in the collection, but not always as one might expect.
The dancing, for example, has a modesty about it; it is street flamenco. For example,Manuel Rodríguez De Guzman’s Baile en la taberne (right) and José Garcia Ramos’s Baile por bulerias (left). These both strike me as capturing the spontaneity of flamenco in Sevillian society. All you need is a spanish guitar (and someone to play it) a frilly frock, some shoes and maybe a male partner. And knowledge and passion, for I have no doubt that it is a technical art. Whilst I find flamenco myself to be rather dull to watch, I do not doubt its importance to the culture. Also nothing dies, unlike with the bullfighting.
The matadors are heroes. When one is lost, it is captured on canvas by the likes of José Villegas Cordero’s La Muerte del Maestro (1913, right).
Back to the real heroes, the people of the city. Part of the city’s wealth came from tobacco. Gonzalo Bilbao’s La Cigarreras (1915, below left) lets us into the working environment in one of the cigarette factories. It looks like a cathedral rather than a factory; it has all humanity in it.
Rafael Senet’s La Pescadora (1885 right) also draws on the lives of ordinary folk. The fisherwoman walks the beach with her large basket and exposes her feet as she tries to keep her dress from getting too wet.

Finally, I share, what is clear from our visit to Seville. The people love to dance and celebrate. Gustavo Bacarisas’s Sevilla en fiestas left (1915) captures this nicely with, what seems to be a night-time scene where the light captures three woman all dressed up with somewhere to go.

If you are in Seville and are looking for somewhere to go, this gallery is a gem.

Seville in December – the city walls and back

Early new year’s day in Seville is tricky for breakfast – don’t try it before noon. Our favourite place, Picatoste, was closed. We ambled along to the Cathedral area and found a hungover cafe bar with torched croissants on offer. Full of charcoal, we ambled further along the river to Puente del Barquita walking south east towards the district of Macarena. There one finds the remains of the 12th century city wall (left) and gate. Most of the wall was removed in recent times to facilate the expansion of the city. It does, however, face the parliament building, a converted hospital! Nestled in between is the baroque façade of the Basilica de Macarena. It’s not really baroque. It is also closed, like most places, to visit on 1 January.

We then walked south along San Luis, a wonderfully narrow throughfare with a mix of dereliction, exquisite restorations (Santa Marina) and local people. This is not really tourist central. San Marcos has a Mudéjar tower, a reminder that the 14th century church was actually built on the site of a mosque. We managed lunch in a fast-running-out-of-food tapas bar close to Santa Catalina. In the sunshine. Unfortunately, 5 minutes later one is back El Centro. Back to the hotel for a cup of tea.

Seville in December – where did we eat?

Breakfast is not so difficult. There are plenty of cafes doing it; though what constitutes breakfast is mixed. In Seville there is lots of Churros and chocolate sauce. Churros are long and thin doughnuts.

More to our liking was warm croissant with jam. Easy. Coffee comes as leche (with milk), solo (espresso) and Cappucino. For meat eaters, add ham. And ham.

We have frequented a locals’ place called Picatoste. It’s fast, furious, loud, of mixed clientele. And inexpensive. We’re off there now.

Seville is full of Tapas. I recall a few years ago in Malaga finding many veggie options; not least aubergine and courgette. But Seville (and Cadiz) serve largely tapas with fish and ham. There is one place, though. Habanita is tucked away in an alley near to the cathedral. It is meat and veggie – the latter predominating. Not only can you get aubergine, but also banana balls, garlicked yucca, wok-ed vegetables, stuffed pepper some sort of black bean pancake thing and even veggie steak (we didn’t try it). For dessert, the caramelized apple custard is a must (right). We also had cheesecake. Interesting. The online reviews are mixed; in relative terms, it is inexpensive, cheerful, cosy and welcoming.

The only exclusively veggie place we found was Restauranto Ecovegetariano Gaia. We had a couple of visits with mixed results. The set menu is probably best avoided as the better dishes are excluded. For example, there was a tofu/spinach egg-less quiche that lacked something. By contrast, the sauteed bulghar, tofu and vegetables was great as were the pasta and salads. A couple of vegan cakes for dessert finished off the meal nicely.

If one has to do battle with the tapas bars, then there are some hidden veggie dishes. At one place we had gazpacho – a cold tomato and cucumber soup. It came with grilled aubergine, courgette and mushrooms. Excellent. There are a number of variations: Salmorejo, for example. This comes without cucumber and is topped with olive oil. We also got served spinach and chick pea stew. It was not stew at all! But very welcome.