280616 – Taxidermy – Jamb, London SW1
Revisiting and re-evaluating century old traditional skills is a curious pastime in a world of computer clicks and taxidermy is probably one of the last traditions one would expect to be revisited. Stigmatised with associations to crumbling Victorian country mansions and Carry On horror films. Contemporary works by Damien Hirst have helped the public re-evaluate the medium and anamorphic representations have been prevalent in many of the works of Alexander McQueen. Here taxidermy may refigure compositions from 17th Century Dutch paintings as three-dimensional still life or be the subject of unsettling contemporary portraits. Process is meticulously photographed, a white soapy water forms a distilled background from which radiates the subject’s ghostly beauty, a very modern interpretation of the medium.
Nature is beautiful but wisely cautious, we rarely see exotic creatures up close. Perhaps it is this proximity that really opens our eyes. We are forever confined to the human world with its unnatural cities, its miles of motorways and acres of glass and concrete. We are used to mechanisms and fabrications, our organising systems rely on grey grids and pure geometries, within which the biological is a masterpiece of aesthetic composition. We are reminded just how far detached we have become from the other species that occupy the planet.
The work of Ferry van Tongeren and Jaap Sinke can be seen at the New Masters exhibition Jamb London through to 080716.
The Surrogate Twin
270616 – IVH Future Couture – London
On the shelves in the studio is a book from 1992 Evolutionary Art and Computers by Stephen Todd and William Latham, a mathematician (Todd) and an artist combo. In this book now nearly a quarter of a century old lies an outline for the spatial form making of the art schools for the next few decades. The art is generated by simplistic rules typically scale change / rotate / move on xy or z axis – repeat. This basic algorithm generates spiraling patterns similar to fractal geometries. Minor alterations to the percentage of any of the three above radically alters the final form and the permutations are infinite. Add duplicate / mirror image and a 3d printer and you have the formula used to generate much of the work produced by architectural and industrial design courses over the last two decades. The formulas are perfect for work that is excreted. Over the past decade the work and research in this field has increased in refinement and sophistication. Algorithms sit on or inside algorithms so lacework can be integrated onto forms as part of the generative process. Colour and medium change can also be integrated into this seamless process. As the algorithmic input is infinitesimal so are the concluding forms. The artist/designers role is that of director/editor with the decision making process usually led by subjective aesthetic criteria. The next game change will come from AI’s contribution where performance criteria can be entered into the development process perhaps one day generating real time responsive form. As these ideas leave the research labs of the universities it has been adopted by industry and used in a range of unexpected ingenious and explorative ways.
Iris van Herpen works with Couture that is both futuristic and sculptural, mixing traditional hands on Couture techniques with 3D printing and laser cutting. With collection concepts such as Hacking Infinity, Biopiracy, Hybrid Holism, Synesthesia it is clear that the intellect drives the work and the craft delivers the product. The clothes are structured to hold volume and form and movement is very much part of the sculptural choreography. The work is some of the most beautiful conclusions to the application of the above paragraph and as such is a logical progression to this area of exploration. Van Herpen’s studio has had a prolific decade and the exploration continues to gain pace and the coming show will be watched closely. Below are the beginnings of new concepts being formulated by this exploration and these are of intellectual interest beyond the aesthetic.
1 Scale. Algorithmic generated form is scaleless. Whether it be a Zaha Hadid building or a Van Herpen dress. One could shrink Zaha’s Al Wakrah stadium and wear it or increase a Van Herpen dress from the Lucid collection and inhabit it.
2 Surface. Many of the pieces in Van Herpen’s work occupy a space beyond the body and as such form a penumbra in which a silhouette is cocooned. I would predict that this outer penumbra will soon be the intelligent surface of most buildings, just as animals have fur and trees leaves.
3 Movement. Movement has always existed in fashion but here something different happens. Sometimes the piece is a kinetic dress that amplifies the movements of the wearer but when there is a dislocation between the silhouette and the penumbra there are two independent choreographies within each piece, one organic and sexual the other abstract and sculptural.
4 Distortion. The use of Optical Light Screens within the garments distort both form and body.
5 Responsive. Sensory fabrics, fibre optic, sound emitting, have been woven into garments that encourage tactile and soon virtual interaction. Our technology, always a prosthetic extension of ourselves, gains a new intricacy and intimacy. Perhaps our garments will soon be knowledge intensive, self growing and self repairing.
Related exhibition Manus x Machina The Met Fifth Avenue New York through to 140816.
The Surrogate Twin
240616 – Brexit – London
Monday is market day, farmers from the surrounding areas are bringing their goods to the Spanish village market to sell. Spain is a country torn apart by two political parties. General Franco leads the Nationalist Fascists against the Socialist Republican Government.
At 4.30pm on a sunny afternoon a solitary plane flies over the market town and drops six bombs. Panic ensues as the buildings collapse to rubble. Terrified civilians, mainly women and children, run into the streets, by now the rest of the Luftwaffe Condor squadron has arrived opening with machine gun fire. As the villagers lay dying in the streets the Luftwaffe drop waves of incendiary bombs turning the village into a blazing inferno. The bombing continued for two hours. General Franco had ordered this bombing of his own people as part of a campaign to terrorise the civilians into submission and conformity. Thousands of innocent people die but then this is politics 1930’s style and as history confirms this was just a warm up for what was about to follow.
Manipulating the masses using populist opinion and irresponsible media to benefit the personal agendas of a selfish few is not the way to run a country.
This is the village Guernica Spain on 26th of April 1937.
In Paris an artist works in his studio on a 7.8m by 3.5m mural produced with a palette of greys, blacks and whites. The mural is for the Spanish Pavilion and is to be shown at the Paris International Exhibition of July 1937. The black and white canvas has the immediacy of a photograph, its contents a chaos of suffering, there is fire, anguish and incredulity. A horse screams with daggered tongue, a mother cries holding her dead child. The only hope is offered is from a small candle but this is powerless under the light of the all seeing eye. The composition of chaos is split with a central pyramid of disbelief, to the left a Spanish bull, to the right a burning woman. It represents a country divided into two equal but broken halves. Newspaper text forms a visual static, it offers no clarity or legible explanation. The canvass writes a message of doom, all that is loved is going to be lost. The painting would go on to endure as a symbol for an appalled humanity at the devastation of war. The artist was Pablo Picasso and his assistant Dora Maar.
This is Guernica the painting of 4th June 1937.
In London I wake to a country torn in half, to the right there are nationalist protectionists and on the left the liberal socialists. A referendum had been called and the nationalists won ousting Britain from the EU. The false promise of short-term gains was enough to swing the vote. The ensuing political brawl with its well-whipped media hysteria has been utterly shameful. The main protagonists all walk away once the damage is done. The chaos created leaves a country without confidence, trust, hope or dignity. The decision could well prove to be the catalyst of something much worse at a European or Global scale. It is a sad day as it proves that in a world of accessible information we are still unable to learn the lessons of history. The planet has global issues that urgently need to be addressed in unity and the sideshow of nationalism diverts the time and energies required for far more ever increasingly important considerations. Asking the UK citizen to make a life changing decision on a subject that no one understands the full complexity and complication of was irresponsible and gutless politics. The Brexit referendum should never have been allowed to happen.
Manipulating the masses using populist opinion and irresponsible media to benefit the personal agendas of a selfish few is not the way to run a country.
This is Brexit 24th of June 2016.
The Surrogate Twin
240616 – 3D Printed Shoes – London
In the last decade computers working with 3D printers have become the front line of design and innovation in which fashion has been no exception. Computers create and visualise the previously unimaginable completing three-dimensional compositions of such complexity that they would have formally been impossible to either draw or craft. This new 3D medium is forcing exciting cross discipline collaborations as designers, architects and computer artists work together to explore the new spatial possibilities. The shoe and the bag are strange fashion accessories but the way they hold volume and space may be the architects attraction. As all architects must design a chair the shoe is becoming the fashion equivalent of the must do project or collaboration project. As can be seen by the work above the results have all been positive pushing limits in new aesthetic directions and forms.
Images from left to right – Ben Van Berkel, Ross Lovegrove, Michael Young, Fernando Romero, Zaha Hadid x2, Iris Van Herpen.
The Surrogate Twin
220616 – Alexander McQueen – SS17 New York
The Alexander McQueen collections from SS16 to SS17 have taken on a new femininity. With dresses that have intricate embellishment that overlays lace and organza creating long flowing lines that glide and float. Ghostly penumbras support their own portable imaginary floral fields, summer fields to walk through or bath in. The Pre Raphaelites were not the source of inspiration for these collections but as numerous Ophelia’s grace the catwalk silhouettes enshrined by nature’s beauty it is difficult not to have John Everett Mills painting in the back of ones mind.
The Alexander McQueen team go from strength to strength.
210616 – Louis Vuitton – V&A London SW7
Of late I seem to spend all day everyday reviewing the problems of the world investing on some forth coming resolution and losing all my capital from my belief and error. The papers are full of terrorism, pollution, population, climate change, nationalism, amoebic economics, weak politicians, corruption and incompetence. It has been a struggle to remain optimistic when the planet that holds seven billion can only sustainably support two billion, and we waste time and energy with naive populist protectionism.
The Louis Vuitton lecture was so refreshing as none of the above was mentioned once and although I could be accused of congratulating fiddling Nero the short reprieve was a holiday in paradise. At Louis Vuitton the architects and designers simply get on and do what they do best, making exquisitely beautiful buildings and objects. David McNulty is Director of Architecture at Louis Vuitton and is responsible for 463 stores that require updating every six or seven years. The whole presentations focus was almost entirely on the translation of the LV valigia to a buildings skin. This focus continued from building to building and from country to country in an endless pursuit of reinterpretation and refinement. The building skin, a complex layering of elements that maintains thermal, acoustic, weathering, structural, light filtration characteristic along with thematic aesthetic manipulation. The presentation was a visual walk through projects rather than a technical and detailed appraisal of each façade and this was well paced for this presentation. Closer details, means of fabrication and materials used would be a welcome addition but have proved difficult to find.
The Surrogate Twin
210616 – Zaha Hadid – V&A, London SW7
The crisp folds of the collars and cuffs of a well ironed white shirt were the inspiration for the Neil Barrett shirt shop in Tokyo. This concept delivered with such sculptural simplicity and clarity brought a wry and unquenchable smile to our faces, a smile that just kept returning. Kar-Hwa Ho, Head of Interior Architecture at Zaha Hadid Architects presents recent retail projects. Zaha Hadid’s studio must be one of the very few design studios that can deliver innovation, integrity and quality through a full range of scales from the bracelet to the city. In this presentation each interior is a clean box into which a sculptural display piece is inserted. The echo of influence from the central display to the rest of the shop follows like ripples around a pebble dropped in a stream. A totally fluid and liquid space is generated, the effect assisted by glossy floors and subtle lighting. When the container, the store, is kept rectilinear the sculptural pieces sliver through the space as if on their way to another destination. All so incredibly beautiful!
The Surrogate Twin
170616 – Biomimicry – V&A London, SW7
Biomimicry the latest hyped trend does what many have previously tried to do utilise and learn from natures billions of years worth of R&D. So what is different this time around? The answer is thirty years worth of useable desktop computing. In the late eighties desktop computing became accessible, affordable and useable although they then had very limited CAD ability their power has increased exponentially over the last three decades. Information that was once the reserve of NASA or the military is available to all within a few clicks and new information is globally distributed from every bedroom or coffee bar laptop or ipad. Equally unprecedented is the intensity with which we are able to see. We have learnt new ways of seeing. We can look at the macro cosmological or micro intercellular, we can x-ray, gamma ray, infra-red and spectrum analyse. We can time delay photography over decades or nanoseconds speeding up or slowing down time and subject. At the same time access to information has, at last, allowed multi-disciplinary groups to form, expediting our transition from compartmented scientific studies to understanding systems and symbiotic synergies. The speed at which this transition has taken pace has been an exhilarating roller coaster ride sadly leaving many wrong footed or with displaced skills on route.
Today’s series of lectures ran from 2pm to 6pm. Talks by academics and practitioners on a range of implications and applications of biomimicry from the obvious to the incomprehensible. Our computers analyse and our robotic machines fabricate. There is a youthful optimism, a genuine excitement as new frontiers are opened and explored. Two things struck me from the talks, one to do with approach and methodology and the other to do with power and chronology.
One. Architecture use to be about problem solving; practising architects know how best to manipulate the rules. Light in relation to floor spans, distances between service cores, modulation of structural systems, thermal modelling, orientation and optimisation, procurement logistics – things like that. Cultural buildings, the ones architects love, have greater artistic license due to their inherent global semantic. Cultural buildings generally have large budgets justified by their symbolic and political agendas and not their pragmatic requirements but these architectures are still very much part of the problem solving approach.
The young architects presenting today do not problem solve as described above but instead edit. They edit algorithms that in turn control fabrication processes. At concept they have little idea of the purpose or form of their architectures. Form is generated through feedback, perhaps to a set of rules, abstract or otherwise but often simply edited by a strong aesthetic intuition to produce a scaleless landscape that can be occupied somewhere downstream during the design process. This approach may at first seem alienating but it has a long lineage of architectural precedent including the work of Cedric Price, Gordon Pask and John and Julia Frazer. In fact any system that is responsive and grows by accretion can be used as reference. Even cities, as these develop organically are generated by often abstract rules. Cities are occupied for purpose, how and when required and have a remarkable similarity to algorithmic generated form the difference is primarily scale, the length of the chronological evolution and the increased complexity of the editing criteria. The richness of the non-prescriptive algorithmic approach is, without doubt, its ability to generate new, previously unimaginable aesthetically intoxicating forms of exquisite complexity and beauty. Gordon Pask who once said “Whilst computer-aided architectural design is useful if repetition or standard transformations are required, it is inadequate to the task of producing new forms.” would be happily on his knees in disbelief. At numerous reviews within academia I have listened to a lot of ‘hot’ air and trawled through acres of equally ‘hot’ drawings all associated to the endless pursuit of new forms and the occupation of the residual consequence. Better critics than me have openly slept through whole presentations. But just as Gordon Pask, so understandably, missed the potential of computing we should remain optimistic that the residue will be occupied. That somewhere downstream, sense through reinterpretation or discovery will capitalise on this explorative pioneering.
Two. In ‘Skyfall’ Bond sits staring at Turner’s ‘The Fighting Temeraire’ oblivious to the ensuing parody that will follow. A spotty youth in the form of ‘Q’ sits alongside Bond and explains the melancholy that has been captured in oils. Q explains the inevitability of time and progress as the great three deck battleship is steam driven to dock to be broken up, now old and out dated.
Talented innovative youth is not a new phenomenon. Mozart, Borromini, Picasso, Pascal, Piaget and Ampére immediately come to mind along with the millions of innovative youths that never become famous. However today’s innovative youth with the help of social media and the Web have access to previously unimaginable influence. Ideas and personas are grown virally creating disruptive opportunities for those with little real world experience. Hopefully within this flux, where new ideas battle for longevity, natural filters will distinguish whom, which and what is relevant. The last two decades has witnessed start up CEO’s and their businesses valued at billions while they are still in their twenties. Businesses and influence of this stature would previously have taken multi generation companies decades to acquire. Handing the reigns to those so young, when their influence is global is an experiment in itself the consequence of which is for future historians to tell. But these are changing times and at a time when we need change and as an optimistic educationalist I can only say here are the reigns, now where are we going.
Images from left to right – Alisa Andrasek x2, Achin Menges x3, Julian Melchiorri, Michael Pawlyn.
The Surrogate Twin
150616 – Switch House – Tate Modern, London SE1
Joining the endless queue of Tate members for the preview of the new Switch House building by Herzog De Meuron I was aware that any kind of appraisal would be difficult. The galleries were rammed shoulder to shoulder with eager viewers crawling over each other to see the unseeable. From this position we produced our first opinion of the new galleries so with time this may change. This is an intuitive and contrarian view.
The Switch House has a strange initial feel, that of disjunction. The building has huge weight, a perverse introspection, a colossal structural cage combined with car park detailing. It doesn’t feel like a new build but instead like a conversion and a conversion with many twisted constraints. It is as if the architects first built a monument and were then forced to structure and inhabit it. It is like Gustave Eiffel’s Statue of Liberty where a smooth external skin hides a crude grid lattice of steelwork. One is aware that one is inside the other but the two never become a complementary totality. It is a film set in which architectural items may hang. In part this is driven by the lack of genius loci and is inevitable for a gallery that offers introspective spaces to view a collection of multi national decontextualized pieces.
There is little precedent for tower galleries. Typologically galleries tend to be wide low buildings, of sequential spaces that maximise light from above. The idea of a tower gallery is intriguing as there is a need to be creative with natural light coming from the side. This would usually be the type of problem that architects enjoy but not here at Switch House where natural light is ignored. A suite of sequential spaces that are artificially lit can be anywhere, they could be underground so why put them around the perimeter of a tower with potentially incredible views of the river and city? Why put the service cores central to the plan and emphasise their importance as the expected route of circulation? Why even in the café space do we sit with our backs to the view? None of this made any sense……and I usually like Herzog and De Meuron buildings. So here is what should have happened.
The service cores should be moved off centre towards the north façade, towards the river. Between the service cores and the north façade should be a zone of circulation and meeting spaces with cafes and viewing platforms on route. To the south of the service cores would be the internal galleries lit both artificially and naturally from the side. The galleries would be punctuated discreetly with vista points. In a pyramidal form where the façade retreats as it climbs and open circulation space along the façade would open up equally to the sky and views enhancing the sequence of movement from gallery to circulation and back to gallery. In summation we would climb the river and sky to return to the gallery.
It seems counter productive to write a critique of a building by setting up an agenda for another but here Herzog and De Meuron have so missed the potential of this site that reviewing it in situ seems nonsensical. Perhaps I am looking for a national gallery building and this is an extension to an existing gallery? Perhaps with time I will be able to look at this for what it is but for now why is it as it is and what were they thinking? None of it made sense. Herzog talk to me?
The Surrogate Twin
040616 – Infinity – Victoria Miro, London N1
The concept of infinity sits uncomfortably in a scientific world that relies so intrinsically on its units of measure. Infinity is an abstract, a mathematical or philosophical concept. Scientifically the idea of an infinite continuum does not exist, as all that is real requires a resource that is ultimately finite. Reality is a resource that can be measured and quantified.
Infinity has been an obsession of Yayoi Kusama from her early works such as the ‘Infinity Net’ paintings of 1961 or the ‘Endless Love Room’ of 1965. This obsession continues in the recent installations at the Victoria Miro Gallery that pursue the concepts of a finite space enclosed by the boundless perimeter. The spaces created are solitary, peaceful, meditive, cosmological, ethereal, like the endless spaces created by Superstudio or the infinite white space of Space 2001. These spaces are deeply rooted in the culture of 1960s philosophical ideology and have an idealised physical and conceptual beauty.
The Koch Snowflake is a mathematical curve and one of the earliest constructs of fractal geometry. Its area converges and is therefor finite while its boundary diverges and is therefore infinite. A fixed area bounded by an infinite border or enclosure, a very Yayoi spatial conflict.
Lucy, from the film Lucy and the only person known to have accessed 100% of her cerebral cortex explains the paradox simply - “Humans consider themselves unique so they invented their theories of existence based on this belief of uniqueness. One is their unit of measure, it is the means by which we quantify all systems but our units of measure have been conceived to make the world comprehensible. We have quantified all systems to bring them down to a human scale, to make them comprehensible we have created a scale so that we can forget its unfathomable scale.”
Infinity is a circular system.
The Surrogate Twin
280516 – Missoni – Museum Of Fashion And Textiles, London SE1
The Missoni exhibition at the Museum Of Fashion And Textiles is rooted in the 1970’s and in the Optical Art of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Colour, pattern, rhythm and technique are manipulated mathematically to form psychedelic patterns that tease and confuse the eye. Colours rarely, if ever, blend and instead are juxtaposed as balanced opposites that follow rules of sequence and collation. This is a small exhibition but the 1970’s focus gives it considerable punch. Clear referencing to Op Art, Ottavio and Rosita Missoni’s own colour studies and the whole predominant mood of peace, love, optimism and exploration of the early 1970’s can be felt in every room. For those interested in contemporary art history the exhibition is a beautifully nostalgic piece. For those interested in fabrication technique there are few more rigorous than Missoni.
250516 – Gothic Beauty – London
In Waldemar Januszczak’s The Dark Ages he describes the art of the barbarians and list among them the Vikings, Vandels, Huns, Moors, Celts and Goths. Waldemar rightly argues that their art was beautiful and inspired. Our own contemporary subculture of Goths has also inspired many designers of Couture to produce an exquisite dark beauty.
220516 – Refined Industrial – Newport Street Gallery, London
Damien Hirst's Newport Street Gallery is an impressive building, part of which was once the artist’s studio but over time he has bought several adjoining buildings and joined them to make one gallery in which to display his personal collections. Damien Hirst self financed the gallery (£25m) pays for the running costs, provides the collections and lets the public in FREE. All anyone can say is WOW thank you Damien, much respect. The building by Caruso St John (of Gagosian fame) is an essay in understated refined industrial and consists of exquisite, beautiful spaces, minimal details and considered materials. The building alone, even from just the outside is well worth a visit.
I have never had much time for contemporary art. I would tell my students that art stopped in the 1960’s with Robert Rauschenberg and nothing but marketing has existed since. This never went down well but much of what has been produced since seems without intellect or skill. There were always a few that have stood out, marketer extraordinaire Jeff Koons being one. Damien Hirst's personal collection of Jeff Koons’s work is on display at the Newport Street Gallery and a gem of a collection it is. Many of the works have been seen before but the production techniques used are still baffling. Arnold in Germany produces the cast aluminium and stainless steel pieces but give little technical information away.
Making copies of inflatables and plastic disposable items with such permanent and difficult materials and techniques re-evaluates the objects. A further re-evaluation comes from the presentation and The Gallery context and inevitably the cost and price of production and resale. To then make the cast aluminium piece look identical to the temporary inflatable piece right down to creases, faulty seams and sticker details is a perverse indulgence unique to the art world and wonderful it is too.
It is difficult to establish how ‘Seal Walrus (chairs)’ (image 3) was actually made but that’s all part of the illusion. Are they plastic or aluminium and can we sneak a touch when the heavy-handed security are not looking (no chance)? It was a shame that the balloon Monkey was not a Balloon Dog of the same scale as the space in which it was housed was like a huge kennel but the Balloon Monkey is an amazing piece that is guaranteed to make each visitor smile.
This is an exhibition and a gallery well worth seeing.
210516 – Foster Products – Aram Gallery, London WC2
The Aram showroom at 110 Drury Lane has a small gallery on its upper level. On display through to 02.07.16 is some of the industrial design work of the Foster + Partners studio. In typical understatement the products on display were everything expected – extremely professional and as always, despite their aesthetic simplicity extremely complex. I have always admired Foster + Partners as they are the architectural equivalent of Apple, McLaren or Volkswagen. All these companies have an evolutionary approach to design where models are constantly developed and tested. Good ideas from previous designs roll over into future designs, being upgraded, made more efficient, elegant or production friendly on route. The Nomos table being a typical example where the 1981 table originally built for the Fosters own studio was a fairly crude adaptation of an existing drawing board, this is refined when used in the Renault building and refined again when mass produced by Tecno.
The show has a combination of early sketch models, working models, production stage models and finished pieces. The crudity of some of the early concept pieces and models lends us mere mortals hope when we next look at the first sketch of our latest project. Knowing that all ideas are first conceived on the back of an envelope as a sketch or a quickly made cardboard model and only with considerable work, skill and time do they develop into useable pieces of merit. The Foster industrial products on display are very much the resolve of teams of designers, each with a specialised input and the sophisticated concluding piece is an agglomeration of these inputs.
Some of the lighting pieces therefore are particularly complex. The Lumina Dot light a simple disc LED pendant lamp being one. LED’s give off a considerable amount of heat which is usually absorbed by a large heat sink. In Dot the LED’s are cooled by a fluid that runs through a tube connecting the lower LED disc to the heat sink in the larger reflector. The cooling fluid turns to vapour and transfers the heat to the heat sink. The vapour would then cool return to liquid and the cycle would continue. This in itself would be a beautiful diagram to see. Unfortunately there is little information at the exhibition and it takes the trained eye quite some time to work out what is going on. Why a product takes a certain form or how components were fabricated is what makes these exhibitions interesting and educational so please more information. Sadly students of design still naively believe that design is about inventing endless shapes and forms and increased design and production information at exhibitions such as this would help knowledge transfer.
It is an exhibition I will revisit as I still have too many unanswered whys? Why cast the heat sink? Why does any light product require so many parts? Why use Ductal concrete? Why cant we touch, feel the weight or texture of a material? The biggest why for me would be this - why does Foster + Partners find it so difficult to deliver organic forms and are happier with pure geometries. There are numerous talented students leaving the Bartlett each year that have an eye for soft complex computer derived geometries and many head straight to Fosters. Perhaps those at the top of the Foster hierarchy should loosen the reigns a little so that those in the office that are not yet associates may show what they can do?
150516 – Concept Art – Tate Britain, London
Conceptual Art In Britain 1964 - 1979.
Art has often had to redefine its role in society. With the invention of photography the impressionists addressed this with conveyance of mood over pictorial representation. Between 1964 and 1979 Conceptual Art readdresses arts roll valuing process over product. The numerous pieces on display at the Conceptual Art exhibition at Tate Britain have little aesthetic value and are incomprehensible without pages of descriptive text. Art as a conclusive product becomes totally redundant and the process of making art, the idea behind the art is the art itself. This process is ephemeral, a passing event, the deliverance of an idea. When the idea becomes art, technique, skill and conclusion are secondary and this makes a lot of the early conceptual art less credible.
One of the questions raised by the conceptual artist is the value that the art establishment puts on the aesthetic. Representational art is first valued aesthetically. Is it beautiful? There is a philosophical dilemma in valuing art primarily on beauty. Should battles, war, famine and hardship be aesthetically beautiful? This was an apt question during the years of the Cold War, The Vietnam War and the student uprisings of the late 1960’s. An equally apt question is the purpose of the concluding art image in a time when TV, film and advertising begin to saturate and de-contextualise meaning in image. Historically Conceptual Art is pigeon holed into a narrow time frame but much of art produced today is conceptual. Scale, context, inversion, invasion, juxtaposition and repetition are common tools used in contemporary pieces and the early Conceptual Arts opened the doors to enable these investigations.
The Surrogate Twin
090516 – Glamour – London
Oil painting celebrated private property. Ownership is measured in quantity and quality, vast landscapes of the country estate, elegant details of the jewellery collection, exquisite fabrics, rare porcelain and sculpture. The quality aspect of ownership puts emphasis on fine detail and from this the hyperreal super intense assemblage develops as a genre in which to indulge in excess. The viewer is to envy the excess as they are excluded from it. The digitally manipulated image continues this collation of detailed and elegant excess and uses it to advertise a lifestyle via desirables. The advertisement encourages envy but simultaneously offers hope as it sells the idea that lifestyle can be purchased through products. Lifestyle is sold on association so new products are juxtaposed against established lifestyle criteria. The hyper-real is tactile and touchable, being within reach is part of its selling power. The advert differs from the oil painting in one very important aspect. The oil painting reaffirms ownership; it is a picture of products, property, landscape already owned, an authentication of status. The advert promises a lifestyle if one could own. The advert has to first make the viewer dissatisfied with their existing lifestyle to encourage them to buy into the lifestyle promised. Adverts play on the anxiety that if you have nothing you will be nothing. The oil painting was a summation of wealth at a particular time and was therefore painted in the present tense as a record to be handed down to the next generation. The advert is always in the future tense, what could happen if you bought into the proposed lifestyle. Most people can rarely afford the whole lifestyle so they buy a symbol of it, the designer t-shirt or the signature sunglasses. Advertising aimed at the middle class does so by selling lifestyle combinations, complete outfits or complete interiors.
Glamour is a twentieth century invention and presents the enviable. To be enviable it has to be achievable and within reach. True beauty, genius and supreme talent are not envied as we appreciate their rarity and their genetic good fortune. These are not glamour. Glamour is envy added to the everyday.
Glamour’s true potency begins with the cinema of the 1930’s and is a twentieth century marketing invention. The exponential potential of dispersing media with the invention of film and television puts emphasis on the visual above all other characteristics. Glamour capitalises on the distribution and manipulation of the visual. The digitally enhanced image becomes the symbol and identity of the person. The person is assessed completely through the visual image. Markets are saturated by recurring images and these substantiate the ideas of glamour. The concept of glamour is most tenacious in urban conglomerations, in large cities, such as Paris, Rome, London and Los Angeles. Previously here the glamorous image could be quickly distributed. Today the concept of city has little relevance as glamour is propagated globally online. Glamour is international and tied to modern economies. It is a sellable commodity. As advertising develops, the visual image is increasingly used to provoke yearning for a lifestyle. As glamour is always advertised in the future tense, achievable through purchase, it is insatiable and enduring. Modern man exists within the contradiction of what he/she is and what he/she aspires to be. Advertising and glamour exploit this contradiction and this life of envy. Advertising gains credibility and longevity by bringing the unobtainable within reach only to offer the next desirable once reached.
Celebrity culture specialises in selling glamour, it packages the normal in a wrapper of envy. The viewer realises that the only difference between themselves and the glamorous is the wrapper. Today the glamorous are made over night they need no special talent other than being exposed to an audience. Reality programmes have taken the most banal and repackaged their product as celebrities. Marketing loves the celebrity, as they are able to capture a wide audience through a single character. The increased normality of the celebrity the greater the catchment potential for the marketing teams. Not too pretty, not too bright, not too talented the girl and boy next door all wrapped in glamour selling envy and desirability. As the marketing of glamour captures a forever widening audience with new mediums of distribution the subject of glamour reaches a new low. The greater the market-reach the lower the common denominator needed of the subject. Maximising market catchment becomes the driving force behind glamour. Glamour is an illusion. Glamour keeps the viewer at a distance and it needs that distance to maintain the illusion, this is why glamour works so well when distributed via the media.
Glamour may have peaked during the 1950s and 1960s. At this time glamour and style were intrinsically linked and the marketing of it was personalised and limited enough to retain its credibility. Glamour today is mass produced, a factory product, a process through which each new prospective celebrity is churned. It uses a generic formula for what is glamorous and applies this to each individual, saturating the identity and qualities of the individual. Numerous talent shows have the ability to turn raw talent into tacky mediocrity via the glamour machine producing a poor derivative of the celebrity juror. The celebrity juror is often already a second or third generation derivative and this process is dilutive.
Glamour fortunately does still exist where the individual is in full control of the marketing machine. Glamour provides the platform for experiments in excess, where designers can explore the limits of luxury and the conventions of etiquette. The recurring red carpet events of the Twentieth and Twenty-First Century have become the substitute platform for The Royal Courts of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries and as such glamour has replaced pageantry.
The Surrogate Twin
050516 – Happy Yellow – London
Creativity is problem solving and is associative, it takes what surrounds us and uses it in a novel way to resolve new questions. Creative people see unusual connections that others may miss when problem solving. The problem with being creative is that one needs outside substantiation to verify that ones own creativity is not insanity. Creatives work best as a team bouncing ideas one to the next. Constructive creative links differ from random associations and being able to edit constructive from random is the key to true creativity. The difficult part of creativity is rarely solving the problem, it is recognising a relevant problem to solve in the first place. One thinks of problems in terms of pragmatic issues, product development, infrastructure, logistics but problems can be social and cultural and these may also need creativity to resolve.
The impressionists faced a problem at the turn of the twentieth century. Art previously had a representational and allegorical role within society. With the development of improved literacy, accessibility to printed text and the invention of photography arts conventional role was disrupted and its previously exclusive minority elite market broadened. Science had shifted the focus from the mythological to the everyday and the wonders of the everyday were all encompassing waiting to be discovered by those that were able to see. The Impressionist painters took to this challenge by trying to capture the mood or experience of the moment instead of an accurate figurative representation.
To Van Gogh a paintings feeling was its essence. Feeling is of course subjective but with Van Gogh capturing this feeling was a pursuit followed with a religious zeal. The feeling captures, sunlight, wind, heat, smell, sound, all of these things make up the experience of the moment and all are fleeting. The painters work is intense, quick, tactile, immersive and the result is the outcome of this outpouring. The canvas is not strategically composed, structured and balanced it is improvised on the spot, there and then. It is reactionary, and carries with it the mood of that moment, happy or sad, overwhelming or humble, hot or cold. When the canvas is finished the viewer should ‘feel’ the artists experience and in so doing share the moment with the painter. Feeling by definition is measured by intensity, the sensitive are the greater receptors of the atmospherics that set mood. Being sensitive and creative provides the perfect conduit for capturing this form of expression. Bias, emphasis, enhancement and magnification are part of the creative tools that help shift focus and reinterpret the feeling, enabling others to share and see. Van Gogh uses the medium of paint, with this medium he tries to capture the feeling of burning heat, of slow winds, of happiness. These are represented with intense colour and brush strokes that form an assemblage of micro foci. The viewer is drawn close to the canvass and sees the painting as the painter painted it. The viewer scans the canvas for areas of intensity and draws from it their own subjective conclusions.
Van Gogh as a creative, explores new ideas and means of representation and as such is isolated. There is no precedent by which to compare the results of his work. Success or failure depends on the acceptance and the interpretation of others. Associative thinking has no time for abstract society rules, all is equal and of equal measure and are part of the same alchemic mix. The creative that explores the unexplored walks a lonely path and in so doing questions the limits of their own creativity. During the creative process there is a continued dialogue between constructive and random associations and the artist is both editor and director. Van Gogh, like many creatives, had a personality of extremes, he was depressive, schizophrenic, bipolar. Exploring these emotional extremes enables access and interpretation of and to the creative tools of expression. To be creative one needs to question accepted norms and conventions but this experimentation needs affirmation through outside critique. When isolated logic is self-substantiating. For Van Gogh happiness was best represented by the colour yellow this is seen in many of his paintings. Yellow is a subjective representation of happiness but to Van Gogh eventually happiness and yellow become one and the same. Van Gogh concludes that to be happy the cure for his depression was to eat yellow. Potassium cobaltinitrite, Cobalt Yellow unfortunately for Van Gogh is a toxic cure for happiness. In the spectrum between what is normal and insane, between creativity and madness, one walks a dangerously narrow path but without those that question the limits of what is understood the world would stagnate.
The Surrogate Twin
280416 – Angry Light – London
Rough and ready to brawl, rejecting the idealised compositions of the Renaissance Caravaggio painted up close and personal. He painted what was there, disease, decay and dirt all squashed into a flattened and compressed picture plane. Lighting flashing angry diagonals across the canvas, orchestrating the eye and unfolding the narrative, all set upon a darkened background. Caravaggio painted the light of the basement, the dive bar, the back street brothel, the light of the alley, intense one directional, splitting. Light that lands on his subjects like thrown fire burning patches from the canvas. The spaces are shifty, shady, squalid, the inhabitants dubious and suspicious. This was the Rome that Caravaggio occupied in the late 16th century. Doublet’s, daggers and dueling, ready to fight over a misplaced smirk or a poorly directed comment. Life day by day, hand to mouth, fight by fight, in the back streets of Rome, the underworld far removed from the Renaissance Papal elite. Supreme talent wrapped in a rough outer case.
Caravaggio’s personal representations convert the mythological to the everyday pulling flying disciples off of the Papal ceilings to sit them on bar stools around an empty table in a lowly tavern. In The Calling Of Saint Mathew the prosaic is interrupted by the miraculous but to most of the bystanders of the composition the event goes unnoticed. Jesus and Peter enter the tavern barefoot wearing period contemporary clothes. Jesus points an accusing finger at Mathew. Mathew could be the bearded male third from left but the composition has more potency if he is the young male fiddling with the coins on the far left.
The magic of the painting is in the lighting; here tenebrism is used with deliberate mystery. Light is used in two ways. An upper window top right sets up a diagonal across the painting and this aids the narrative by giving it direction. A second light source falls on aspects of the characters, their faces and gestures. This second light is the one of interest as its source is unclear. Some of the light is frontal, some low as it illuminates under the table and some comes from the right, possibly from an open door through which Jesus and Peter entered. The light from the upper right window is above the majority of people in the composition. The light from the assumed open door (off frame) would need to travel through Jesus and Peter to hit the table. Jesus and Peter throw no shadow. Any frontal light, which is the most probable direction for light to be able to hit all five figures to the left of the composition gathered around a table, is shadowed on the left. This second light is used to split the composition into two groups. The group around the table sit in a sphere of multi directional light and as such are illuminated. Jesus and Peter stand in a more natural light that falls on their backs and obeys most scientific laws. The brilliantly lit hand of Peter, seconding the motion of Jesus’s hand, being the exception and is unnaturally lit. There is a dark chasm that divides the two groups in the composition. Into this dark chasm are the pointing accusing hands and here they float as an offering, a salvation. The picture could be read as a tripartite with a dialogue between two groups across a dark void and as such is symbolic.
Light adds a super-real element to the painting increasing its intensity. It highlights and accentuates, focusing on aspects of the narrative to aid decryption. Light sets the scene by establishing the space, location and atmosphere in which the meeting takes place. Light aids the dynamic of the composition by setting up a diagonal to aid the reading of the narrative whilst it moves the eye across the canvas. Finally, light emphasises the spiritual through mystical illumination, it splits the two groups of the composition into deliverer and receiver.
The Surrogate Twin
260416 – Punk Sexuality – London
The UK of the 1970s was a complete mess. The working class, as always, react to oppression with invention. Cohesive society fractures and splinter groups form to establish areas of new art, identity and exploration. Some of these groups were retro and some new, some are positive and some negative. Skinheads, Teds, Rockabilly, Ska and Punks were all on the streets during this period. They had their own clubs, music and style of dress. At the time all of these may have seemed negative or without direction but with hindsight many positive things came out of this period of unrest. None was more positive than the achievements and legacy of female punks and this continues to enable and influence future generations. The punk movement encouraged complete self expression, neither talent nor tuition was a prerequisite and everybody was equal. This formed an unlikely platform for women, it was explorative, liberating and wild. The Roxy of the late 1970’s was a male dominated venue, it was aggressive, dangerous and intimidating and yet there were women there holding their own. I was in my mid teens when at the Roxy I recall how disturbed and confused I was about punk women. I found punk women incredibly attractive I had a primal lust for them but they terrified me. All of the signals were confused, public/private, inviting/defensive, attractive/repulsive, welcoming/opposing, aggressive/friendly male/female all of this in the chaotic cocktail of sweat and energy that was the Roxy set off sensory alerts that kept you on edge. It was an adrenaline junkies heaven. Punk women were aware of this male disorientation to their aggressive androgyny and explored its limits. It was, of course anarchic, it destabilised and confused, it was living performance art reassessing all conventional relationships. I can remember reading many years later a quote from Viv Albertine of The Slits “Guys didn’t know whether to fuck us or kill us” and although I’ve never wanted to kill anyone I knew exactly what she meant.
The counter culture of the punk scene encouraged women to participate on equal terms. If you could play get on stage. If the crowd approved they would dive into that bouncing scrum called a dance floor and you could continue playing. If the crowd disapproved they’d throw things at you until you left the stage, the same counteraction whether male or female. Punk enabled more women to form bands, play instruments and tour independently than in any previous music scene. Women pre-punk were often kept on the sidelines or added to a band for decorative affect. Previously there were many women front singers but now there were whole bands. The influence has continued as it is no longer unusual to see female guitarists or drummers. The role and the attitudes of Metal group L7 are indistinguishable from male Metal bands and this gender liberation owes a lot to the women of Punk.
For Punk the body was a political instrument, a symbol of opposition, of statement, of disgust for established conventions. It made the viewer question their own ideals on what is acceptable and gender presentation and identity featured strongly in this. Men dressed as women and women as men. Gender specific garments were adopted by the opposite sex. Hair, make up, piercing was all part of a genderless uniform. The conventional hierarchy and ordering of clothes was also questioned, everything that was normally hidden was brought to the front creating explicitly outward identities of sexuality. Further dress hierarchy was destructured as skirts were worn as tops, shirts worn back to front, clothes worn inside out. There was ripped multi layering, material and colour clashes, country tweeds with torn tights, suit jackets with metal studs and chains. Slogans adorned most surfaces and were no longer confined to T-shirts. The only rules were there were no rules. The body politic juxtaposed items of conventional clothing as a critique of their established roles and their use in society. Punk was an angry movement expressed through a masculine aggression. Women adopted an aesthetic of masculine aggression but pushed this further by using their bodies in the same way that men would. At the time Punk was not a deliberate intellectual movement but intuitive and responsive. In retrospect Punk was very much part of the Post Modern schism, a point of inflexion, questioning and redirection.
The influence of punk endures. Ten years after the Roxy I remember seeing a student at an art college, she was dressed in an orange Gaultier top, It had arms down to her knees and her arms came out at the elbows. The top was spray fit. She had a pair of Wolford electric blue tights on and had black steel toed hobnail boots, unlaced. On other days she would come to college in stripy pyjamas or an old ripped boiler suit that had no sides, you could see straight through from one side to the other and she rarely had much on underneath. When she left she would wrap up in a moth eaten fur coat, more living compost than garment. It was easy to read the legacy of punk simply from her outfits. Design houses had favoured it from Gallilano to Gaultier and quickly explored the new freedoms of aesthetic. Chanel was using graffiti?? Designer fashion pieces were now being mixed with found and altered items trawled from the second hand charity shops. Women were still questioning the conventions of beauty and appropriateness and aggressively staking their space. They would argue their case with a blind vengeance and defend their work until the critics became overwhelmed or defeated. The student in question was Lorraine but it could well have been many an art student of the 1980s of 90s. Once again I was overwhelmed with the irrationality of it all but reassured by the undiscovered potentials expressed though the medium of continued conversation that is progress.
The Surrogate Twin