Saturday, 30 June 2012

Review: 7th Berlin Biennale

Miroslaw Patecki, Christ the King

 This year Berlin held its 7th Biennale. Begun in 1998 it has seen Berlin emerge as one of the art capitals of the world. The 7th Biennale had people talking as soon as the infamous Artur Zmijewski was said to be curating the show.  The Warsaw born curator is known as much as for his ego, as for  his provoking, uncompromising artwork.  His manifesto The Applied Social Arts in which questions such as ‘Does art have any political significance’ and ‘can art change reality’ formed the point of departure for the 7th Berlin Biennale.

   With the heavy political theme running throughout,  it was always going to be an exhibition which provoked and infuriated some, and at the very least made you react. I reacted as soon as I entered the corridor leading up to the first floor of the Kunst – Werke Institute for Contemporary Art. The ground floor had been taken over by the occupy movement (invited by Zmijewski) and for this reason the corridors and stairs were covered in stencil art, and signs put up with peeling pieces of gaffer tape, and scrawled messages. If you wanted the antithesis of a ‘white cube’ space, or exhibition, this was it.

   The first floor saw the space being taken over by a huge head of Jesus, created by Miroslav Patecki. The head was a replica of the one that he created for the Christ statue, Christ the King in Swiebodzin, Poland. Patecki had been working on the polystyrene head throughout the exhibition with part of the gallery space as his workshop. I saw it in its final guise and I couldn’t take it in. The piece was meant to display ‘a perfect face of Christ’, although the disembodied head did little to enlighten my Christian leanings, especially as it was topped with a shoddily made crown which seemed several sizes too big. I feel that I would have gained more than simply bemusement from the piece if I had seen the piece whilst being made.  In its completed state alongside the empty studio space it looked like an oversized prop for a theatre. 

   PM 2010,a work by Teresa Margolles a year’s supply of the  tabloid newspaper covers  published in one of the most dangerous border cities in Mexico. The majority of the pages displayed grainy pictures of fatally shot victims in blood smeared clothing, and next to this, bare breasted models. This juxtaposition of the images seemed too absurd to be true and yet they were.

   In response to Margolles installation, Antanas Mockus, former Mayore of Bogota and political thinker created a piece titled Blood Ties. For the piece he asked people to donate a drop of their blood and choose to sign a legal waiver stating that they would not consume drugs during the Berlin Biennale as a statement against the Mexican drug wars. In conjunction to this a Mexican flag and book were placed on a lever over a bucket of liquid. When people signed the waiver and donated their blood the flag and book were hoisted into safety. When I viewed Blood Ties the flag and book were dipped in the pool of liquid, sodden and water damaged. Apparently due to health and safety regulations visitors were no longer allowed to give blood and thus the piece had stalled, leaving the sodden flag and book dipped in the liquid, and a table messy with the signed declarations of the waiver. 

  On the top most floor of the KW housed Polish artist, Lukasz Surowiec’s  project, Birke. Surowiec had taken Birch Tree saplings from the Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau and had planted them throughout Berlin, including two in the courtyard of the KW. The viewer was greeted with tables upon which pots of birch seedlings rested under bright lights, ready to be taken away by the visitor and planted wherever you chose. In a darkened room a video also showed the process of removing the saplings from Auschwitz and then replanting them around Berlin.  I found the idea behind the piece to be beautiful, and there was something moving about seeing the two saplings out in the courtyard on a grey wet day, their thin branches fighting against the wind that made me conclude, that although not all the works exhibited fufill Zmijewski’s manifesto, ones like Birke certainly leave the world a more eloquent, thought provoking place. 

Sunday, 24 June 2012

No.1 From 1st Year Out of Uni Series: Interview with Seamus Green

I wanted to conduct some interviews with artists who have spent one year out of education and have faced the big bad art world at it alone. I was interested to see how artists have coped having to juggle work and their studio practice, as this is something that I am concerned about for me in this next year.

The first artist I interviewed was Seamus Green, a painter who graduated from University College Falmouth with a 1st class degree in 2011.

Seamus Green, Last Light on Flushing,
 oil on canvas, on board, 2012, 30cm x 30cm

Elizabeth Dismorr: What do you miss (if anything) about being in an educational environment?

Seamus Green: I miss a lot about Art School. I think the immediacy, social set up and the feeling that you are part of something special as a unique group of practitioners is what I miss most. Having the space and time given to you for 3 years to develop a practice with the support of a peer group and tutors is something I didn’t fully appreciate until it had gone. I fully immersed myself into the college environment; I was hungry for knowledge and hungry to become a good painter, at the time this felt like it could be achieved through dialogue with friends about our practices and spending a lot of time looking at work on the internet or in the library. Looking back now, I would love to be there doing it again. Now I just don’t have the time, money or space to fuel such an intense period of working where you can dedicate all your efforts on to a very specific output. College gave me a glimpse of what it is to be painting every day.

ED: Do you feel that you have managed to balance earning enough money to live, with practising as an artist?

SG: On the one hand yes and on the other no. It has taken me a long time to get into the rhythm of working and balancing painting, it is so easy to get disillusioned and lose your way when you have to be focusing on essentially working 2 jobs. I’ve ended up working in a supermarket which obviously isn’t ideal but I have been very surprised at how much I have actually enjoyed having that social interaction away from anything art related. However, supermarkets have a tendency to want to push you up the ladder quite progressively and they can start to make you believe that it is a fantastic thing to be taking on more responsibility, earning more money and challenging yourself to succeed in the business. I am a very driven, ambitious and (I hope to think) hard working person so it is very easy for me to direct myself at anything and I will try my hardest to do well. This is what has been so difficult for me to balance, a working life that pays the bills with prospects for a ready-made future and an art practice that is a real slow burner and feels like I’m constantly in the dark waiting to see where it will end up. It is a struggle to pay the bills and keep the practice chugging along but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I love painting and I’m quite happy sitting it out and waiting to see what comes along, as hard as that might be.  

ED: Have you done any unpaid work experience/internships/volunteering since university? Do you think these will stand you in good stead to finding a job? 

It isn’t really work experience but I felt like I gained a huge amount of knowledge through the setting up of a group show called Between States  which was initiated by myself and 3 of my peers. Having to put all the work in to setting up the show, I think we all gained a huge amount of understanding in how to make proposals, write statements, market the show, curate the work in the space etc. It gave me a real buzz and made me think about trying to get some work experience in communications and marketing exhibitions.   

I have been volunteering at Trelissick Gardens (as much as I can but don’t get along nearly half as much as I would like). Trelissick is an incredible National Trust garden set along the Fal River; it is very beautiful and very inspiring to spend a day working in such a stunning place. If gardening wasn’t so physically demanding I would definitely love to follow a route into working in a place like Trelissick. I just wouldn’t get any painting done – I’d be far to cream crackered for that. I think any relevant work experience is essential to get a job you want these days, I have a friend who’s on a residency at a school where he gets free accommodation, studio space and food. In return he has to teach the students at the school and he is now being given increasingly more responsibility in teaching as the residency goes on. Not only this but he has been given space and has the time to make his own work for a solo show at the end of the residency. For me it is clear that having that kind of experience under your belt is invaluable when you come to apply for the next position. Although, if following your practice as a career is what you want to do, I don’t think working an irrelevant job is bad at all. In that situation the best experience you can have is actually dedicating your efforts to going to the studio and continuing to make work.  

ED: Have you managed to participate in many exhibitions/events in the year since you have graduated? 

SG:I’ve been really lucky to have exhibited a number of times since graduating. As the course was coming to an end I wanted to get my degree work out there as much as I could so I entered a lot of competitions and open calls. I managed to get accepted on to the Discerning Eye at the Mall Galleries in London, the show seemed perfect for me because it focuses on small works (all of my canvas’ are 30 cm x 30 cm at the moment). I was then accepted on to the RWA 159th Autumn Show in Bristol, this again was a fantastic opportunity to get my work out and about in a prestigious Gallery setting. Then at the end of 2011 I entered the National Open Art Competition where I won the Teddy Smith Young Artist Award, this was the biggest break through for me because the prize was £2000 and has been an unbelievable help in supporting me financially over the last year. Another incredible part of the National Open was that the award winners were taken on from the exhibition at Minerva Theatre to the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester. The award winners’ show at Pallant House was just amazing, the gallery is such a great building and the show ran alongside the Edward Burra exhibition which was absolutely superb. 

After digesting the ups and downs of open call exhibitions I decided it was time to put on a show with my peers. I wanted to be part of an exhibition that felt like it was adding to a critical discussion and the control of the process of showing was in our hands rather than someone else’s. Myself and 3 of my peers put a show on called Between States at the Exchange Gallery in Penzance. This has been the highlight of my year, showing with my friends and being in control of our output right up from actually making the work to marketing the show and writing statements. The process was a real learning curve and it is something I have felt very proud to be part of.      

ED: How has your practice evolved since you left university? 

SG: My practice has evolved a lot since graduating. Many aspects are still the same and I am still developing ideas that came to the fore when I was working up to my degree show. However, being outside of that environment has allowed me to open up and take a lot more risks. I feel gutsier with my work because I am less precious with it as I spend less time looking at it and being around it like you are at college. I feel the space that I now have to give my paintings due to other commitments has actually allowed me to be more concise or direct. Don’t get me wrong, I’m more lost now than I ever have been with my work but for some reason to me it now feels more meaningful. At college so many factors come in to your working process, a lot of that being self consciousness about peoples opinion, but now I have a much more mature relationship with painting where I feel it is an honest conversation rather than a contrived one (if that makes sense?).   

ED: What do you hope to achieve in the next year in terms of your practice and career as an artist? 

SG: This last year, post graduation, has taught me some very valuable lessons. Myself and my partner, Katherine, decided to stay in Falmouth because we are so in love with the place and Cornwall as a whole. We wanted to get to know it again outside of the intense pressures of College and we wanted to do this so much that we didn’t take any other options in really. We didn’t think that the majority of our peer group would be leaving, we just made a snap decision in that mad time when you’re graduating and thinking what on earth am I going to do now. It has been the best decision we ever made but it has also left us pretty solitary. So the next year looks to be a very exciting one, we are moving to Bristol in the hope of getting studios at Spike Island where we can begin to start building a support network again. It has been very difficult to stay positive without the company of other practitioners in a similar position to me. Over this next year I hope to achieve a better sense of stability, keep developing my practice and hopefully tip the balance so there isn’t such a reliance on the day job. Basically, if I’m still painting or practising I’ll be a happy man. 

ED: What advice would you give to anyone about to graduate in an arts related subject and keen to make it as an artist?

SG: I think the degree show is such a flash in the pan and for me it was far less important than the hard work I had put in to making and asking the questions about the work itself. So baring that in mind I found it really important to find a studio space as soon as I could so I could continue asking those questions while they were still hot.

It is extremely difficult to do what I have done by getting a studio on my own with no one else around to stay critically engaged with (this might suit some people of course) I would say a better idea would be to take advantage of the incredible artist run spaces and studio organisations that are available across Britain. Apply to rent space from places like Spike Island, The Royal Standard, The Lombard Method, Bow Arts etc – where you will be thrown in to a rich environment of practitioners at all different stages and with lots of different ideas. You need the support of others in a similar position to yourself, so making connections with other artists is so important.  

I would also stress the importance of the long haul and, remembering that as tempting as it is to want to skip straight to the big time, your practice actually needs a long time to develop so just because you might be working a crap job to get by today, doesn’t mean you will be later down the line. So really appreciate those days that you struggled to find the motivation to actually make something in the studio rather than wishing away the hard work. 

Finally, be as active as you can. Put on shows, talk to artists, do it yourself because it won’t get done for you.    

You can find out more about Seamus Green and his work by looking on his website:

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Bristol Arts Jobs and Opportunities

Last year I set up a page on Facebook where I post any arts jobs and opportunities in and around Bristol that I come across. It now has over 100 members. I try and post jobs on there several times a week which I think other people interested in 'the arts' might be interested. 

So, if you are anything like me, and desperately trying to find a job you can find a link to the page here

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Twitterview with artist Corinna Spencer


 Corinna Spencer destined for great things, (2012) oil on found postcard, 11.5x17cm
from the series Jesse James

 Today I conducted an interview on Twitter with the artist Corinna Spencer. Corinna is a UK based artist who is interested in the fragments of stories that can be found in images from the past, and then makes series of paintings from them. Her work has been shown nationally, including Transition Gallery in London. I wanted to interview her, not only because I see similarities between her work and my own, but also because Corinna is an artist who seems to be excellent at using social networking to connect with other artists, as well as galleries and organisations. For this reason I thought that Twitter was the perfect method in which to conduct an interview with her! 

@BuffyDismorr  can you tell me a bit about your 326 project? It looks really interesting!

@Corr_ I can, I am reading about Wallis Simpson at the moment at the same time as making work about Edwards obsession with her.

@BuffyDismorr ooo - and will that involve 326 paintings of her?

@Corr_ yes it will, it is very simply the number of days he was on the thrown before he could abdicate to be with her.

@BuffyDismorr Do you have any idea of how you would like to present work once you have finished the series?

@Corr_ either in small groups or as a whole. Right now though I am making work in groups.

@BuffyDismorr 326 is just one of your many projects which involves looking at characters from history. What inspires you so much about the past?

@Corr_ I like looking at old pictures, I like projecting my own stories/feelings onto them. Telling stories generally is nice.

@BuffyDismorr Most of my work is inspired by old pics 2. Some of your wrk like Moss Haired Girls is quite gothic. Whats ur favourite gothic novel?

@Corr_ Im not mad keen on gothic novels. But if you could suggest one to change my mind I will try it :) 

@BuffyDismorr I was thinking of Victorian ones - Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights are certainly my faves! Northanger Abbey is a parody but good!

@Corr_ Wuthering heights I did read recently and did like. Jane Eyre I have tried a couple of times and failed. But oh, the film :))))

@BuffyDismorr  Can you describe your studio to me? Does its appearance reflect your practice?

@Corr_ I don't have a studio as such, it's in the corner of my kitchen, an easel and a table.

@BuffyDismorr Is the table neat or filled with ephemera like my painting table?! 

@Corr_ haha it's a mess, paintings, postcards, paint all the normal stuff. S.O is very good about it.

@Corr_   :)

@BuffyDismorr That is exactly the same as mine! What's the best painting show you've seen recently?

@Corr_  ha, good :) I liked Malerie because it surprised me, perfect nude and obituaries. But I haven't seen many purely painting....

@BuffyDismorr Many artists are now using social media as a way of promoting their shows and their work. You seem to be v good at it. Any tips?!

@Corr_ uh oh one of my fav subjects. I love twitter but its a lot more than promo. It's more of a community for support, fun and..

@Corr_ keeping in touch with people I wouldn't be able to otherwise. For me it's a lovely place to be not use. If that makes sense :)

@BuffyDismorr If you weren't an artist, what would be?

@Corr_ an actor. 

You can find out more about Corinna Spencer by looking at her website

And feel free to follow her on Twitter at @Corr_

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Review: Superpower: Africa in Science Fiction, the Arnolfini, Bristol

Review: Superpower: Africa in Science Fiction
5 May – 1 July 2012
the Arnolfini, Bristol

Still from Pumzi, (2009), directed by Wanuri Kahiu

 I must be honest; I did not think that this exhibition would be my sort of thing at all. I do not have a particular interest in Science Fiction, and have certainly never pondered on the presence of Africa in popular science-fiction. However, I found this exhibition to be thought provoking, at times tender, sometimes violent, and intermittently dispersed with humour.  

   The theme of Science Fiction has been used by artists and filmmakers to address the complex issues of an often misunderstood continent. A continent, as displayed in Omer Fast's three part film installation Nostalgia,(2009), which the Western World judges sometimes wrongly. In the final film in the installation, a retro-futuristic film shows at West African colony increasingly hostile to asylum seekers from a dystopian Britain. One of the female West African characters states how she has been to Britain to help with aid work, and states of the population that they are a proud and ancient culture, and ‘good at dancing’. This part made me cringe as a white British person, only too aware of how in the past, and even now, Africa and its people has been patronized and subjugated to racial stereotypes by the West.

    Another highlight for me was two early Neill Blomkamp short films, Alive in Joburg (2005) and Tetra Vaal, (2004). The films again made the viewer question how societies treat outsiders. To make the film Alive in Joburg, Blomkamp interviewed real people about the influx of immigrants into Johannesburg. Their answers were then edited to appear to be commentary on unwanted aliens by a scared local population.

The last work in the exhibition, and again one of my favourites was a short 21 minute film titled Pumzi, directed by Wanuri Kahiu. The film is a rare example of African science fiction. Having been brought up on science fiction in with an almost all Western and all white cast I found it strange to watch a film where the only white character was a servant. The film is set on a post apocalyptic world where the “Maitu Community” are living below ground. The heroine is a museum curator who is delivered soil in which she plants a old seed, which then germinates immediately. She rebels against the council to escape outside and plant the seed. I found the film beautiful, haunting and sadly a possible reality in terms of the themes of water shortage and mis management of natural resources.

I have only touched upon my own highlights of this exhibition, but I would certainly recommend anyone to visit the Arnolifini before it closes. It will leave you with a different view of science fiction, and a renewed or perhaps changed view of Africa, and indeed humanity itself. 

Sunday, 10 June 2012

"TRY IT...You'll Like It" UWE MA Final Show opening

On Friday night it was the opening of my MA final show, which was held at Motorcade/FlashParade gallery in Bedminster, Bristol. I was nervous before the show, as so much work had been placed, not only into the work exhibited, but also marketing and fundraising for the show itself. I was scared that the opening would be poorly attended and that our work would be badly received. However, the night was a great success, with a lot of people turning up. 

In terms of our work being exhibited at Motorcade/FlashParade, the space worked really well for us. We had only two days to curate and install the show on the Monday and Tuesday, but despite this we managed to put together a slick exhibition. I was lucky with the placement of the three pieces I showed - 'The New Girl, I', 'The New Girl II' and my latest piece 'Mill Girls'. My paintings were placed in the manner I wanted, with a good deal of space around them. I was really happy with the way they appeared in the show. 

I am writing this post on the Sunday after and am invigilating at the space from 12 till 6. So far 34 people have turned up, which isn't bad at all, considering it's a horrible rainy day!

My piece 'Mill Girls' (2012)

Installation shot showing Seila Fernandez Arconada 'Home' (2012) in the foreground

Tommy Cha's film piece 'Going Somewhere' (2012)

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Artist Blogs

I wanted to write a post about artist blogs. There are a lot of them out there! The ones I find most interesting are those that chart the journey of the artist, and write about their interests, shows they've seen, their developing practice and general commentary on the art world in general. 

These are some of my favourites: 

Cathy Lomax

(From the series, Mock Tudor, 2011)

The artist Cathy Lomax has been keeping her blog since early 2003, and it charts her trajectory as director of Transition gallery, as well as reviews of films and exhibitions, and also her own practice. It is interesting to see a blog that has been in existence for such a long time, especially as it was begun fairly soon after she graduated from her MA, and thus displays the journey she has made as an artist in the decade since. I cannot imagine how my practice will have developed in ten years time. It would be wonderful if I was still keeping a blog then though! 

Corinna Spencer

(Vampire, 2011, oil on paper)

Corinna Spencer's blog is very thorough and updated on a regular basis. The blog discusses her practice, but she also posts reviews of shows and press releases. I can imagine that the artist invests a good amount of time in the site, as it is thoughtfully illustrated and written. Definitely worth checking out, especially for those artists who believe in the power of social media sites.

Rebecca Harris

(Live, 2011)

Another example of a regularly updated blog. Rebecca Harris is an MA student at The University of Plymouth, and I find the blog interesting as she is an emerging artist like me! The blog mixes good quality illustrations of her work, alongside discussion of her practice. Many artist blogs appear to just to post images of art work (which my old blog used to do) rather than to give any insight or discussion on the work itself, which I think is a bit dull. Rebecca Harris includes both on her blog. I believe that she will find it extremely useful to look back on her posts when writing her dissertation. I wish I'd written one throughout my MA!

Sarah Maple
(An Artist and Female Artist, 2012)

Sarah Maple is young artist whose work explores what is is to be an attractive woman who is also a Muslim. and has been called 'The heir to Tracey Emin's throne' by The Independent on Sunday after winning '4 New Sensations' run by Charles Saatchi in 2007.  She has kept her blog since 2008, and updates it fairly regularly. Her blog not charts her progress as an artist, but also discusses other issues of interest to her, such as 'The Objectification of Take That' or the manner make up adverts try and make women see themselves as sex objects. Her blog is at once informative and funny and a glimpse into the career of a young successful artist. 

Friday, 1 June 2012

Why do I paint?

  Painting has had the threat of being rendered obsolete since the invention of photography in the 1830s, when Paul Delaroche announced:   “From today painting is dead.” In the 1980’s two essays were written about the death of painting; Douglas Crimp’s paper ‘The End of Painting (1981) and Yves-Alain Bois’ work ‘Painting the task of mourning’ (1986), but paradoxically during this decade painting was seeing a revival with artists such as David Salle and Julian Schnabel gaining celebrity status. Since then painting has continued to be revived.
     I paint to make sense of things that interest and intrigue me.  As Alison Gingeras argues, ‘Memory is often triggered by the banal’, and the painted image corresponds more closely to the impression of ‘the brains mnemonic function’ than photography. Painting also offers me a way to link between fact and fiction. Charlotte Mullins states:  paintings connect us to the ‘complex histories’ of the past. Although I paint images connected with the past, it is my interpretation of the past. The found images I work from are also interpretations, as are the historical texts I study. In light of this paint is the perfect medium for me to work in.
  Barry Schwabsky has written about the act of painting: “For the viewer painting is a noun: the finished object we see. For the painters it can also be a verb: the activity in which they are engaged.” The physical act of painting is important to me as I feel the need to connect with my subject matter through paint and I consider it an extension of my research.  For this reason, it was never enough for me simply to source a photograph or illustration depicting women during the past and display that as my final piece of art.