Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life at the Tate Modern

Exhibition Reviews

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I have been a fan of Eliasson’s work since I first saw one of his pieces in person as part of the exhibition Light Show at the Hayward Gallery a few years ago, so naturally I had to go to his solo show at the Tate Modern.

I particularly liked how interactive some his works are, and that some of them specifically rely on audience interaction and participation in order to work- I think this kind of engagement in works of art is key for artists who wish to make their work more accessible to a wider audience. Also being able to participate and interact with the works makes them more enjoyable- you are no longer just a passive viewer but actually a part of the work and this turns it into an experience that the audience will remember.

I was also interested in the display of tests, experiments and maquettes; it is fascinating to see how these have then become full scale pieces and they are beautiful in their own right. I’m really keen on exploring the artist processes but often in exhibitions you don’t get to see any of the work, research, or processes that goes into creating the works on show, so it was inspiring and exciting to see this in such a high profile exhibition. I also liked that these took up the first room of the show as it felt like an insight into the artists’ mind and thinking/making process, before moving on to see some of these fully realised in later rooms.

There was a real sense of playfulness in a lot of the works which really spoke to me, as art displayed in galleries can often feel quite self important and frankly a bit boring- I loved being able to dance in front of the lights, walk through the tunnel of mirrors, peer through the wall at my friend on the other side as our faces became distorted, and get lost in the room full of fog (although it was quite disorientating which I want to discuss further). Art that allows for fun and silliness is always far more memorable to me, as I remember the feelings and experiences for far longer than I would probably remember a static piece of art. The way he utilises mirrors, shapes, and the manipulation of light is incredibly clever and somehow just as dazzling in person as it is in photos.

I want to talk about accessibility a little bit. Whilst most of the spaces in the gallery could be navigated by visitors in wheelchairs, or with other mobility aids, the mirror tunnel (Your Spiral View) unfortunately can only be accessed by steps, which is a shame.
A solution could be to install ramps either side instead of steps- which seems like an incredibly simple solution that I am frankly surprised they did not think of. As well as this some of the other works that are best enjoyed by looking through them are not at a height that wheelchair users could access- some of them might be difficult to replicate and have at a more accessible height, but it is definitely something to consider when creating or installing works with this kind of interaction in mind. Even though there were only a few pieces that were not fully accessible for those with mobility issues it still could affect many visitors enjoyment and experience of the exhibition as a whole. It should also be mentioned that most of the works rely heavily on vision, so those with vision impairments will not get much out of a lot of the works on display. I know that art is a predominantly visual medium but I feel that we should be working towards making art as accessible as possible, and one of the way we can do this is through engaging other senses, such as touch and sound, for example. Some of the works that use water have sound, but for the most part the works are silent, and untouchable. 

I found the fog room (Your Atmospheric Colour Atlas) quite overwhelming due to the temperature, the tight space, and not being able to see properly, so this could pose an issue for people with anxiety or sensory issues, and I found Big Bang Fountain very difficult to spend too long with, again because of sensory issues- it could also prove to be an issue for those with photosensitive epilepsy. Whilst both works are playful and fascinating I think it’s crucial to bring up these issues for discussion so that we, as artists, can consider the impact our work will have on others. I am not saying we shouldn’t make certain kinds of work, but it is imperative that we have these discussions and are aware of the impact it could have.

I was lucky enough to go on a day and time that was quieter, so I was able to experience the exhibition in a much more personal way, which was especially helpful for the works that did make me anxious and cause sensory overload, however I can imagine on a busy day that it would be incredibly overwhelming for people like myself with anxiety/sensory issues. I have been thinking about how difficult a busy day would be for not just people with these issues but again for people with other disabilities and difficulties, and how this might put a lot of people off visiting bigger art galleries and museums. I feel that it is a topic that again needs discussion, but this time not between artists and people with different needs, but between curators and managers of galleries/museums and people with different needs. Limiting entry and timed tickets is of course one way to do this, but it still feels like they oversell tickets a lot of the time to the point where the gallery space is still far too crowded. I wonder if specific days and time slots could be reserved for disabled/neurodivergent people, so that we could experience the exhibitions in our own ways, or if this would feel like we are being excluded from the space when other people are there? It is a tricky topic and something that would need research and time put into in order to come up with a solution that would work best for everyone.

Whilst on the topic of accessibility I feel I have to mention the cost- at £18 per person for a standard ticket, or £17 for concessions, this exhibition is NOT for people on a budget. Children under 12 go free- but when the adults accompanying them are paying so much it really is not affordable for many people. If we truly want the art world to be more accessible to everyone, not just those who can afford it, we need to make exhibitions like this cheaper (or ideally free). I won a Tate Pass for a year as part of my work with the society I set up and ran at uni and if it wasn’t for that myself and my friend who accompanied me would not have been able to afford to go. We are lucky here in England that the main collections of many art galleries and museums are free to visit, but a lot of working class and disabled people do not see themselves represented in the older works of art shown or find them engaging. If we want more people to engage with the arts the works shown In Real Life at the Tate are crucial- as they can expand people’s ideas of what art is and should be- but when exhibition entry fees are so high this prices a huge group of people out who would otherwise really enjoy it and get a lot from it.

So, in conclusion- not at all accessible in terms of cost, and some of the works are particularly inaccessible for the groups of people I have mentioned. Is it beautifully curated and full of stunning work? Absolutely. Is it perfect? No. British art institutions letting down working class and disabled people, as usual.

Smoke and Mirrors: The Psychology of Magic

Accessibility Project, Exhibition Reviews, Residency at The Playground

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” Explore how our biases affect our perception and whether our senses can be hacked. Discover spirit photography, magic props and psychology experiments to see how magic works on – and in – the mind of the spectator.

Artefacts on display from the world of magic include the head of the gorilla costume worn by Derren Brown, Harry Houdini’s ‘Bell Box’, Tommy Cooper’s fez, and Paul Daniels’s sawing-in-half box. ”
– Taken from the webpage

This exhibition is currently on at The Wellcome Collection, exploring the psychology of  magic tricks and illusions, examining modern and historical tricks through a scientific lens. I found it very fascinating, as like most people I was very fascinated with magic as a child, although it does spoil the fun a little to learn how it is done! I particularly enjoyed the video content in the booths (as shown in the photos) labelled Perception, Reasoning, and Memory as it explained the three aspects to magic tricks that utilise the flaws in our brains to make tricks seem believable. Each one broke down a different trick into its base components and it was actually super fascinating. I also really loved the old newspaper clippings and posters for magic acts- really aesthetically pleasing and I wish more art and advertising would hark back to this style and era. (Examples below)

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The older films and photosets of tricks being broken down, shown, or disproved were also fascinating to see- it just goes to show how human beings interest in the unknown in universal, and I found it really curious how people who were well known for being supposedly rational were willing to suspend disbelief for magic and psychics. People such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, well known for his detective novels about the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, were believers in the supernatural and mysterious- something that seems strange when you consider the quest for logic and scientific reasoning present in his books.

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In terms of accessibility the exhibition had lots of engaging content, all with subtitles, was well laid out for wheelchair users and those with mobility aids to get around (although more seating would have been nice), and there were large format guide books available. There were plenty of videos that could be listened to for those with visual impairments, however nothing was available for visitors to touch, and as magic and illusory tricks are very visual by nature I think visitors with visual impairments might struggle to get as much from the exhibition as those without visual impairments. As someone who gets easily over stimulated by sound I found the exhibition manageable as some video pieces had headphones available, and none of the videos had audio that was overwhelmingly loud. I also found the subtitles on the videos very helpful. In terms of lighting it was quite dim all the way through, which might be to preserve the older photographs, and print based works, but it made it tricky to read some of the descriptions and might not be comfortable for people who struggle in low light conditions.

 

DOROTHEA TANNING EXHIBITION

Exhibition Reviews, UNIT 2

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  • I had never heard of this artist before- I saw a post on Instagram of one of her fabric sculptures and decided to drag my friend along on a whim
  • a really surprising breadth of work
  • paintings ranging in size, large fabric sculptures, an installation of a living room filled with these strange, vaguely human fabric shapes, drawings
  • I’m not usually that wild on paintings but I really love the use of color, layering, and the suggestions of shapes and figures that blend into each other seamlessly
  • the fabric installation was really unsettling and creepy- loved it!
  • The exhibition was curated really well- the use of color walls to highlight certain pieces was very effective and I enjoyed seeing a deviation (no matter how small) from the standard white walled gallery space

Gallery visits low res

Exhibition Reviews, UNIT 2

We  visited a ceramics studio this morning, and it was inspiring to see that there are so many artist run spaces like this around London- this one is a bit far for me to travel, but would be useful for my classmates based in North London.

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Anka Gallery- Aaron Scheer

  • mostly multimedia and digital art
  • organises regular shows and exhibitions, 4 students a year are offered a show
  • bulldog clips used, and plain black frames for smaller pieces
  • using screenshots and layering them on iPads and phones
  • main themes are digital, interaction with the digital
  • challenging ideas of art through the gallery space
  • easier to sell print based work than screen based work
  • commercial gallery
  • authenticating the digital artwork- i.e. USB with a video artwork, limited edition, with a certificate of authenticity
  • how do you value digital art? When there is no “1st edition” or “original” how can you market and sell the work?
  • the value is often in the certificate of authentication

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Arebyte Gallery- Refigure: Ground group show

  • VR works, film and animation on screens
  • not a commercial gallery- aim isn’t to sell work
  • online programme, events, shows
  • Arts Council funding
  • open calls, always open to proposals
  • paid internships
  • looking for artists to run workshops for adults and children

At this point my work isn’t very digital, and when I do use digital technology it tends to be a means to an end, rather than something I consider to be work by itself. I think this exhibition has opened my eyes up to the possibilities though, especially regarding the VR work- it was super immersive and it makes art more accessible to a wider audience, which is definitely something I’m interested in exploring further in my own work. The work was very thought provoking but also quite playful, and reminded me a lot of video games. I think I might need to reconsider my stance and explore the digital a little more in regards to my own practice, so it’s food for thought! I spoke to the curator of the gallery whilst we were visiting this gallery, and she seemed keen to get me in to run an event in future- I got her email address and I plan on getting in contact with her sometime soon.

Modern Couples:Art, Intimacy, and the Avant-garde at the Barbican

Exhibition Reviews

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(a photo taken by myself from the talk at the beginning, as no photos were allowed in the actual exhibition)

“Modern Couples presents a different way of looking at Modernism in art, as seen through the lens of the artist ‘couple’, an elastic term encompassing all manner of intimate relationships that the artists themselves grappled with, expanded, embraced or refuted.”

– From the official booklet for the exhibition

I visited the Modern Couples exhibition today! I was immediately struck by how well thought out it was- the guide spoke to us at length before and during the tour about the level of research and planning that went into this show, and it was apparent throughout how carefully curated it was. The experience of the exhibition is that of a journey, told through the curation of works and couples chosen, the design and layout of the pieces and quotes, the architecture of the space, and the strong visual branding throughout (I appreciated the title font, but I’ll spare you from my inner typography geek!) An especially interesting use of space was for the section on the ‘Temple of Friendship’ and the women who were part of it. It was built to mimic the oval shape of the temple, blocked off from other sections with heavily draped curtains, with a circular display case at the centre. It definitely added a sense of reverence, but also of safety. The ground floor of the gallery is specifically built to invoke an intimate feel, with the works contained primarily focused on the body, and each section dedicated to a different couple, like a small shrine to each. Upstairs the space is a lot more open, with the work becoming increasingly more abstract as you pass through. It simultaneously felt both familiar and yet separate from downstairs.

The most exciting part of the exhibition was the idea that ‘couple’ doesn’t always necessarily denote a romantic pairing. This is an unusual idea that I don’t think has been explored enough- as they said ‘couple’ can be a fluid term for all kinds of relationships, and some of the ‘couples’ in the exhibition were actually polyamorous groups of three or more people. I think this expanded idea of what a couple can be is challenging the old ideas of couples and relationships, and I hope it leads to a cultural shift. The guide talked about how art in the 20th century became a platform to be more experimental- a playground or springboard for different kinds of relationships to happen. As a proud bisexual I was really happy to see a variety of bisexual, lesbian, and gay relationships portrayed- I had not previously heard, for example, that Salvador Dali had an intimate relationship with a man- and it is important to LGBTQ+ people to see that we have always existed, and are finally getting the recognition we need.

As a non binary femme person it was particularly refreshing to see women placed on an equal footing with men, with their contributions given the consideration they deserve. I enjoyed seeing the role of muse flipped by the work of the women displayed, objectifying and exploring the male figure in the same way that we usually see reserved for the female figure. It was equally refreshing to hear about all the women artists who were pushing and playing with the boundaries of gender- it shows that non binary gender identities have always existed, contrary to what a lot of people still think. I wish that there had been more trans artists included, as they must have existed, but I appreciate that the curatorial team had a pool of 300 or more couples to choose from for this exhibition; perhaps a future exhibition could focus solely on LGBTQ+ artists from this period and their impact on modern art.

Whilst the exhibition doesn’t shy away from the negative and unhealthy sides of relationships, such as objectification and obsession, and is at times a very honest examination of what relationships can become I am, however, critical of one thing. I feel that mental health/mental illness could have been explored in a more nuanced way. Many of the people featured in Modern Couples ended their own lives, and in some cases took their partners life, at least in part due to the unhealthy aspects of their relationships, and although the topic is dealt with sensitively I felt it could have been discussed a little more frankly. I appreciate that this can be difficult when looking at people who are no longer here to speak for themselves, and when you consider that mental health/mental illness was even less talked about or recognised as legitimate in the 20th century than it is today. I understand that this all makes it hard to find out about mental health of the artists displayed, so I am not sure how it could be approached differently, but it is something that could be considered in future. I wrote in my notes that it would have been nice to see some positive endings for artists with mental health issues, but even today many people don’t even realise someone is unwell until they take their own lives, so I understand that this is wishful thinking.

All in all it was a really eye opening experience, finally shining a light on all the amazing women and LGBTQ+ people behind the great male artists of the 20th century, I would recommend it to anyone who has in an interest in modern art, especially those who would like to delve a little deeper into the relationships that fuelled some of the most progressive and innovative art ever made.

Anthea Hamilton- The Squash at Tate Britain

Exhibition Reviews, Photographs

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Photos taken by me

A solo performer in a squash-like costume inhabits the Duveen Galleries every day for more than six months for the Tate Britain Commission 2018. Each element of The Squash has evolved from Hamilton’s interest in a photograph she found in a book several years ago when looking at improvisational theatre and participatory art practices in the 1960s and 1970s. It showed a person dressed as what looks like a vegetable lying among vines. The original photograph dated from 1960 and depicted a scene from a dance by American choreographer Erick Hawkins. Hawkins was interested in Native American philosophies and he took the form of this costume from the Squash Kachina of the Hopi culture.
The performer selects their outfit for the day from a collection of seven elaborate costumes. Each one is inspired by the original image and by different kinds of squash or pumpkin. The length of the galleries’ terrazzo floor has been tiled in domestic-scale white tiles to create a new environment within Tate Britain’s neoclassical architecture. ”
– taken from the Tate Britain webpage

I recently visited Tate Britain to run a summer school workshop and whilst I was there I got to see one of the performances for The Squash, which I did some blind contour drawings of, below. I tried to capture the movement of the performer, as well as the shapes created by the performer and their interaction with the costume (in particular the large squash head piece), and I felt blind contour drawings would be best for this, as the lines are more fluid, and once made are permanent. I experimented with different pens- fine liners, biro, and felt tips, to vary the quality of line, and as you can see some are far more sketchy and hesitant, whereas others are bold and simplistic.

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This piece was very enjoyable to watch, as at times it felt like the performer was responding to the audience in the space, and at other times it felt like they were in their own world, inhabiting the physical space whilst not being quite present. Regarding the costume, I particularly liked how it obscured the performers gender- the ruffles and design of it removed the idea of gender from the performance, as well as any other distinguishing features, giving the performer a sense of other worldliness and detaching the viewer from any preconceived notions of gender.

I have recently become interested in performance work for myself- I have always admired performance artists, but had firmly decided for myself that it wasn’t for me, and would probably never become part of my artistic practice. However lately, as my drag project idea has developed, I have found myself considering the idea of taking my drag persona out as a performance. I think the reason I never considered performance for my own practice is largely my lack of confidence in front of large groups, and my fear of being judged or laughed at by others, but I think that challenging myself to perform as part of my art might actually help me to build my confidence. I feel like the gallery space is almost a kind of safe space for artists to try out new things and perform as a character without fear, as audiences are perhaps more open to it, than if I was to take the performance out into a more public space. This piece of work has definitely inspired me to give it a go, and I think it is something I will try in the near future!

Whilst at the Tate I also did some blind contour drawings of pieces from the permanent collection, shown below.

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Dirk Braeckman at Bozar

Exhibition Reviews, Research for River Project (White)

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Photos by myself

“Dirk Braeckman was invited to the 57th Biennale di Venezia, where he showed a selection of monumental works in the Belgian pavilion. His black-and-white photographs convey a sense of stillness, and combine intimacy and distance to create a private, secluded world whose meaning remains undefined. For BOZAR, Braeckman adapts the project to the architecture of Victor Horta. From Venice to Brussels, from one iconic interbellum building to another.

In parallel, the M-Museum Leuven presents a complementary exhibition on Dirk Braeckman from 02/02 to 29/04/2018. The starting point of this double project was the exhibition of Dirk Braeckman at the Belgian Pavilion during the Venice Biennale 2017.” –https://www.bozar.be/en/activities/128185-dirk-braeckman

Whilst in Brussels this Spring break I came across an exhibition of work by Dirk Braeckman. I had not heard of him before, and after seeing this exhibition I can say I am definitely a fan of his work.

the photos I took don’t really do the works justice- they were huge, and despite being under or over exposed had a lot of detail that could be seen close up. His work had a voyeuristic feel, like peering in and getting glimpses of a strangers life, and the subjects felt both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time, like a distortion of every day life and reality. Whilst at the exhibition I wrote in my notebook:
“haunting, each image is both familiar and unfamiliar, a distortion of reality and the everyday”
“the sea prints are calming and serene”
“The women, with their obscured bodies, seem like ghosts, not wholly present, but a faint memory”
and “The mundane shifts, becoming almost unrecognisable to the viewer”

I often find myself drawn to works that take everyday subject matter and transform them, or shows them from a different perspective, and I felt that connection to his work and my own, even though the mediums are different.

WHITE ROOM AT TATE

Assessment, Exhibition Reviews, Research for River Project (White), UNIT 1

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  • this room really got me thinking about white, and how it can be used IN art, rather than as a blank space in which to display art
  • by choosing not to use colour the artists featured in this room at the Tate Modern were deliberately choosing to subvert the idea of the white cube space, and of what art could be
  • I used to find monochrome paintings and artworks to be quite dull, but I think now I appreciate how big of a rebellion it can be to choose less colour, especially now, in a world where you can access hundreds of hues and use almost every colour imaginable

Rachel Whiteread at Tate Britain

Exhibition Reviews, Photographs, Research for River Project (White), river project

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“One of Britain’s leading contemporary artists, Whiteread uses industrial materials such as plaster, concrete, resin, rubber and metal to cast everyday objects and architectural space. Her evocative sculptures range from the intimate to the monumental.

Born in London in 1963, Whiteread was the first woman to win the Turner Prize in 1993. The same year she made House 1993–1994, a life-sized cast of the interior of a condemned terraced house in London’s East End, which existed for a few months before it was controversially demolished.

This momentous show tracks Whiteread’s career and brings together well-known works such as Untitled (100 Spaces) 1995 and Untitled (Stairs) 2001 alongside new pieces that have never been previously exhibited.” https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/rachel-whiteread

In preparation for joining the course, and because I have been a fan of Whitereads’ work for quite a while, i visited the Rachel Whiteread exhibition at the Tate. I am particularly interested in the way she alters the viewers perspective on the everyday objects she casts- this is something that inspires my own work quite heavily. It was amazing to see the bookcase casts and staircase in particular in person, as the size and scale can be hard to grasp from pictures, although I wish we had been able to walk between the bookcases, as I feel that would have added something to the piece. I am also interested in the materials she uses in her work- plaster, concrete, and resin, for example. These are materials I hope I will get the opportunity to work with in future, particularly on this MA.

All photos pictured are my own.