Kicking Snow, 2013
Kennington Park Snowmen, 2013
Night time walk, 2013
Nell and Sye, 2012
The Strand, 2012
Courtauld Library, 2012
The London Flat, 2012
View from my London Bedroom, 2012
It’s always going to be hard to sum up the 20 year award-winning career of a photographer who’s enjoyed by tumblr as much as by Alisdair Sooke in The Telegraph and the high fashion brands of Marc Jacobs, Helmut Lang, Yves Saint Laurent, and Vivienne Westwood. But the ICA has managed just that by opening up their entire gallery space for Juergen Teller: Woo!. The show was recommended to me by a coursemate who was lucky enough to interview Teller a few days previously. Despite a horrible cold I made it along to the ICA and I can say it was absolutely worth it.
The exhibition is sharply divided along the lines of commercial and personal work. In an interview with the Guardian Teller states that “There’s very much a divide”, he seems to prefer the freedom of subject matter that personal projects allow, while recognising commercial work is important - it funds his personal projects, and allows him to meet new people.
This divide in his work seems to be reflected in the hang of exhibition. The grand downstairs and upstairs galleries of the ICA are dedicated to Teller’s personal projects. Here the photographs are all framed, hung sparsely, and some of the prints are vast, easily 3 metres tall. Its the downstairs gallery that houses the infamous 2009 nude triptych of Vivenne Westwood. Meanwhile the commercial work has been relegated to the small Fox reading room. Here the aesthetic is closer to his recognisable eclecticism, the walls plastered floor to ceiling with tear sheets.
Juergen Teller’s wide appeal and popularity comes from his distinctive anti-aesthetic: brightly-lit highly-saturated analogue photographs. But also from his ironic subjects; he photographs the absurd and mundane, as well as the sublime, sexual, and abject. Of course, his commercial projects are generally toned down, and I think that’s why my two favourite photographs of the show were both personal works.
One from the Louis XV series. A double portrait of his long-time collaborator and subject Charlotte Rampling playing a grand piano while Teller himself sits ontop of it naked and baring his anus.
The second, a snapshot of a dead octopus upturned on a bed, its tentacles and mouth pointing towards the camera, thoughtfully entitled Octopussy.
It’s been nearly a decade since Juergen Teller’s work has last been exhibited in a London gallery, so this show should be on the to-do list of anyone interested in contemporary photography.
Juergen Teller: Woo! is at the ICA, London until the 17th of March, 2013
I’ve finally gotten my hands on a copy of South London photographer (and friend) Emily Sherwin’s Cellular zine. This zine takes the mobile phone snaps of several young photographers (Ian Bird, Matthew McNulty, Emily Sherwin, George Morris, Patrick Lawrie, and Seamus Gough) out of the context of the screen, and into a quality printed, 60 page, perfect-bound book.
Mobile phones are increasingly the medium in which we access photography - especially as film and camera sellers go bust. The lo-fi aesthetic is one side to their appeal, but also the subject matter of the photos. There’s a certain beauty to the mundaneness of photo of an ice cream. It’s this celebration of the everyday that really makes this zine stand out when compared to the equally beautiful staged portraits of other contemporary publications.
Cellular is available on iamsherwin.com
Before I travelled back to Manchester for the Christmas holidays I went to see Shoot! Existential Photography, currently occupying the top two floors of The Photographer’s Gallery, London. The exhibition was one of the clearest and most thought provoking I’ve been to in quite some time. It is a fantastic exploration of the intimate bond between the history of photography and the act of shooting, and the violence involved in each.
The works in the exhibition are varied, but the focus is on the photographic shooting gallery, a funfair attraction popular after the First World War: When the shooter hit the bullseye, they triggered a camera which took a photo of them in the act of shooting. The simple enjoyment of the shooting gallery at the funfair becomes an existential contemplation, the act of shooting the gun literally becomes the act of shooting a picture. The shooter, after they fire the gun and receive the picture, see themselves as their own executioner.
Of the whole exhibition, two artworks really stood out. First, the huge photographic collection of Ria van Dijk (pictured above), a woman who has documented every year of her adult life in shooting gallery photos since 1936. Her unusual autobiography shows the passage of time in her steady ageing and fashions - but in a very mechanical way. The slightly off centre angle of the photographs reminded me of a comment by Slavoj Zizek about the experience of seeing yourself from an odd angle. The confusion of realising that the idealised virtual image of yourself is not actually real.
The second work was Christian Marclay’s 2007 video installation Crossfire. A dark square room with full screen projections on each wall. A choreographed montage of what seems to be every single gunshot in Hollywood history. I stood in the middle of this room for the full 8 and a half minutes of this film. It was a very intense experience, with the pace of the action constantly changing with the flashes of light and rhythm of gunshots. The effect though was very different to that of the videos at Frontline: A Year of Journalism and Conflict of early 2012.
Shoot! Existential Photography is at The Photographer’s Gallery, London, until the 6th of January 2013.
Nobrow Press is perhaps the UK’s best contemporary illustration and graphic design publishers, genuinely dedicated to producing high quality books. It’s no surprise then that one of their latest prints, Bicycle, by French artist and recent graduate of one of Paris’ top art schools, Ugo Gattoni, is absolutely stunning. Inspired by the London Olympics and the current trend for cycling, Gattoni has worked in his distinctive pencil and fineliner style to create a monochrome masterpiece.
Bicycle is filled with stereotypes of contemporary life - hipsters on fixed gears, hooded youths on BMXs, commuters on folding bikes - but also with a heavy dose of Hieronymus Bosch-like surrealism. There’s no concern for space or time in the print, the cyclists flow through a half destroyed London; small details show people having sex, vomiting, and crashing their bikes; and an enormous pig’s head, glass vial, and farting buttocks look over the city.
This kind of large scale highly intricate illustration, similar to the Procession to Caute, is precisely my kind of art, and very different to the whimsical folksy ‘realist’ illustration that many graduate shows have been filled with for the past few years.
The original drawing for Bicycle was made on a single five metre sheet of paper, and took Gattoni 723 hours to complete. The print has been reduced only slightly, covering both sides of a two metre long concertina - making Bicycle the biggest Nobrow print to date.
Bicycle is avaliable from the Nobrow Press for £18.
Gattoni will be signing copies of the book on August 9 from 6pm-8.30pm at Nobrow’s shop, 62 Great Eastern Street, London EC2A 3QR.
Illustrator Tom Edwards’ small exhibition The Procession to Caute is a masterpiece of intricate craft and thought, and the pinnacle of Edwards’ creative imagination. Through only a few objects he has created an entire world with its own rich mythology and iconography.
The venue, Beach London, was ideal for this exhibition of Edwards’ one man cat-cult: The tiny basement of Beach, with its narrow stairs and low ceiling, became some sort of lost tomb or temple. At each end of the room there was a huge fresco-like poster (detail shown above), a single cat rug on the floor, and a few drawings and ceramic works on the other walls.
Looking at Edwards work it’s easy to pick out his wide-ranging influences; from the meticulous art of medieval manuscript illuminators, to ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Pieter Bruegel paintings, and Where’s Wally books. I really enjoy large single-panel comics and satirical prints, so Edwards’ keen attention to detail and subtle humour worked incredibly well for me.
Though the posters are the focus of the exhibition - one depicts the procession of worshippers, the other the interior of the cat temple - it was the pottery and paintings that made it for me. The miniature drawings that hinted towards Byzantine icons and the canopic jar and bowls were details that brought the whole mythology of Caute to life.
'Damien Hirst is weird'
This is the reaction fellow contributor Laura gave when I said I was visiting the Damien Hirst retrospective at the Tate Modern. Months ago when I initially heard about the exhibition I was unsure whether to bother seeing it. Damien Hirst is far from my favourite artist, and his key works are so well known and reproduced that I seriously doubted whether seeing them IRL would allow me to consider them differently. It was only when a few friends invited me to a late viewing that I thought I ought to go and see it.
Viewing the exhibition at 9pm on a Sunday night we experienced it in a totally different way to most people. A friend who had seen it earlier had described queues stretching into the Turbine Hall, and said that actually viewing the artworks was nearly impossible. For us there were no crowds, the few people who were there clearly had a significant interest in the arts and I imagine they genuinely appreciated Hirst’s work. My friend George was one of these enthusiastic viewers, and he recognised I was less so. I have various problems with Hirst, which this exhibition only confirmed.
Hirst has always seen himself as a conceptual artist, however much of his work is marked by a sheer lack of concept. The low level of thought which has gone into its creation means the viewer will very rarely be challenged or forced to think critically. Like Thomas Kinkade’s work, Hirst’s is a very comforting art, easy to hate and easy to like. It is this ease of viewing that George actually finds appealing, for me, art which fails to make us think is the worst form of kitsch.
Hirst repeatedly works on the same weak concepts. The retrospective lacked variety, it felt like a single exhibition, rather than an overview of a lifetimes work. In repeatedly constructing pharmacy shelves, Hirst isn’t increasing the concept, merely his market value. The endless dot paintings are the archetypal Hirst work, mass produced and articulating one thought. Comparisons could be made with Mondrian, who likewise turned out dozens of similar abstract works, however seven decades have passed since Mondrian, and Hirst only appears to have just caught up. Perhaps though we should consider Hirst in context, the vapid vacuity of his work more suited to those halcyon days where the end of history was truth, not ideology.
The greatest problem I have with Hirst is what I see as an almost complete lack of irony. Hirst imagines himself a punk-artist or troll, operating some sort of accelerationist programme within the artworld. Instead, all I see is a sincere pandering to the ruling class and its various structures, institutions, and the state. Towards the end of the exhibition there is a room where Hirst has ‘ironically’ created new bejewelled versions of his classics. However I felt sincerity hadn’t been entirely eclipsed.
The few works I did enjoy were the ones involving living / dying animals - A Thousand Years (1990) and In and Out of Love (1991) - perhaps because they can’t be accurately replicated in images or videos. Even then though I felt that these works would be more suited to a Futurist exhibition in 1912 than 2012.
Ultimately it is the fame of Hirst supports and destroys him. The repetition of his works across all media is what has made him famous and justifies the obscene prices for his works, yet at the same time it devalues the art object. When I stood in front of the dead shark, it wasn’t the dead shark, but a dead shark, merely one of the hundreds of others I’ve seen in my life. I was glad that I went to the exhibition, precisely because it only confirmed my belief in the continual destruction of the artistic aura.