How do we remember? Before the invention of the camera most people never possessed a likeness of themselves or those they loved – a lock of hair, a letter, were the heart’s most treasured possessions, the artefacts that conjured the past. Photography democratised the ownership of images. A portrait need no longer be in watercolour or oils, it could be an informal snap taken on a box Brownie: a casual moment sealed in the proverbial amber of memory. With the technological advances of the 20thand 21st centuries, with film, video and digital technology and the predominance of surveillance equipment it might, theoretically, be possible to record a whole life from the moment of birth till the second of death.
Roche Court is one of those well kept cultural secrets like Garsington Opera at Wormsley in the Chiltern Hills, or Charleston, the former home of the painter Vanessa Bell; loved and valued by those in the know as something unique and rather special. Just off the main A30 into Salisbury, it is easy to miss the unassuming sign that directs you to the private sculpture park a few miles outside Salisbury.
object is every bit as important as the object itself. Invisible: Art about the Unseen 1957-2012, currently at the Hayward Gallery in London, is the sort of exhibition that gets up the nose of tabloid journalists. You can virtually hear them snorting that this isn’t art, just as they once expressed their philistine opposition to the purchase of Carl Andre’s ‘pile of bricks’, Equivalent VIII, 1966. After all why spend good money paying to go to a gallery to look at nothing when you could stay at home and watch paint dry?
“Happy families are all alike”, claimed Tolstoy, while “every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The same could be said of individuals. Happiness, a sense of well being, involves a feeling of rightness with the world, of belonging in one’s own skin, while unhappiness and dysfunction have their own infinite variety. The mind’s response to emotional pain is ever inventive. Self-destruction is a creative business. In many cases it turns out to be a life’s work, as those who give their true confessions to the artist Gillian Wearing attest.
The nude is hardly a new subject for art and turning titillation into culture, whether in Courbet’s the Origins of the World (1866) or the Pre-Raphaelite, John Collier’s Lilith (1892), – simply an excuse for a bit of snake bondage given respectability by a biblical title – is what male artists have always done. But Ruff’s blurred distortions, while distinguishing the images as ‘art’, also rob the women of their individuality so that they become mere screens (as is always the case in pornography but is not always the case in art) onto which all male fantasy can be projected.
Shrigley’s friend the artist Jonathan Monk, with whom he once shared a house, compares the piece to On Kawara’s early telegraphed work: I am still alive. It is an interesting point, but this is a stuffed dog announcing that it’s dead and not a disappeared Japanese artist claiming to be alive, so I’m not sure he’s right. Still there’s something both sad and funny about this little Jack Russell. He reminded me of the man who used to walk up and down Oxford Street carrying a placard proclaiming that the end of the world was nigh and insisting that we should all renounce protein because it enflamed lust. Perhaps, on second thoughts, this might actually be his dog. You never know.
by Sue Hubbard ‘All truths,’ the philosopher Alain Badiou writes, as quoted by the psychoanalyst, Adam Philips in his Five Short Talks on Excess, ‘are woven from extreme consequences’ . Philips then goes on to quote the dramatist Mark Ravenhill: “art that isn’t driven by this basic impulse to create an unbalanced view of the…
The Eurhythmics may not be considered the philosophical fount of all wisdom but the insistently recurring line that: “Everybody’s looking for something”, from their 1983 hit, Sweet Dreams, kept swirling round my head as I walked round the exhibition Forsaken, the first in the UK since 2004, by the controversial South African artist Marlene Dumas.
Recession? What recession? The collapse of the Euro-zone? Who’d have guessed? One in ten Londoners unemployed; never? It’s Frieze art week in London and the glitterati are out on the town. My email in box is awash with invitations to private views, post opening parties, and champagne brunches. Everyone is hurrying somewhere, being terribly, terribly busy and in demand.
by Sue Hubbard Tate Britain until 4th September It was the modern art movement that brought London, if not quite kicking and screaming, then rather reluctantly out of its Edwardian gentility into the 20thcentury. Most people had never seen a Cézanne or a Van Gogh. The continental ‘isms’ of Cubism, Futurism and Expressionism were more…
Full of iconoclastic verve they filled the Royal Academy for Charles Saatchi’s infamous 1977 exhibition Sensation with unmade beds , pickled sharks and an image of the serial killer Myra Hindley painted using children’s handprints. Now their waist lines are thickening and they face the slow decline from the excitement and glamour of being YBAS (Young British Artists) to MABAS (Middle Aged British Artists). In the case of the Queen of the Britart pack, Tracey Emin, she has also renounced her role as official enfant terrible by recently coming out in support of the Tories as “natural patrons” of the arts. There can be few artists in recent years, except Damien Hirst, who can be so readily identified in the public consciousness by a single work. Everyone has an opinion of her 1999 Turner Prize exhibit My Bed with its sex-tossed sheets, stained knickers, spent condoms and cigarette stubs. As with her igloo-like tent appliquéd with the names of all the people she has ever slept with, (lost in the MOMART fire), the subject is herself. It is her only subject. Her work chronicles the child abuse, the teenage rape, the broken relationships and her botched abortion. In this, her first London retrospective, the solipsism is evident in titles such as Conversation with my Mum, 2001, Details of Depression When you’re sad you only see sad things, 2003, The first time I was pregnant I started to crochet the baby a shawl 1998-2004 and Those who suffer love, 2009. I first met Tracey Emin when I went to interview her for Time Out at her audaciously named The Tracey Emin Museum on Waterloo Road in the mid 1990s. She was young, slightly cookie and evidently suffering from a bit of a hangover but there was something engaging about Mad Tracey from Margate with her Tammy Wynette sentimentality and her wonky teeth dancing around the space in her short skirt and bare feet amid pieces of unfinished art and scraps of confessional writing. Fresh from running a shop on Bethnal Green Road in East London with her fellow artist Sarah Lucas where thy sold decorated key-rings, wire penises, T-shirts emblazoned with “I’m so fucky”, or “fucking useless”, her work seemed confrontational and challenging; shoving her dysfunctional private life in everyone’s faces. She wore her heart and her hangovers on her sleeve, hitting a wider public consciousness when, in an arguably brilliant (if unintentional) PR stunt, she mouthed off drunk on live TV. It was not that she was saying anything particularly original in her work but that she has had a genius for voicing the emotional concerns and obsessions of young woman. This was Bridget Jones and Amy Winehouse made visual. Emin’s work grew from the fertile cultural soil of 70s feminism that produced novels such as Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time or Mary Kelly’s installations displaying soiled nappies. Other women responded to the work not because it was high art but because it reminded them of the emotional chaos of their own lives. Her early blankets made and stitched herself rather than, as now, by assistants – the first Hotel International 1993 was made in response to a request for a CV – have a genuine rawness. Like a teenage girl’s private diary they are full of self-pity, anger and poignancy as they assault the viewer with phrases in dyslexic script such as ‘youre good in bed’ or ‘at the age of 13 why the hell should I trust anyone. No fucking way.’ In Pysco slut 1999, where she announces she hasn’t had sex for three days, a damaged psyche can be seen trying to make sense of an unforgiving world through the medium of art. While I do not expect, 2002 is a painful meditation on motherhood (Emin is childless) where she says “I do not expect to be a mother but I do expect to die alone.” She has been extremely clever in collecting the detritus from her life: the needles from her abortion, the tiny china dogs and knickknacks bought with her dinner money as an unhappy child in Margate and reassembling them as art. But the more self-conscious the works become and the further away they move from the secret contents of a shoebox of adolescent keepsakes, the less plausible and more emotionally manipulative they become. Further into the Hayward Gallery there is a case containing her used tampons. In an accompanying text she tells how she never bled much to begin with, and now bleeds even less. That’s because she is now 47 and verging on the menopause. But there is a queasy feeling that this is all just too much information. The truth is I don’t honestly care very much about Tracey’s waning menstrual cycle while other less privileged women (she is now very rich) of the same age are worrying about whether their kids are going to pass their exams or are smoking too much dope. At an age when it might become her to do otherwise Tracey is still fixated on Tracey. Her genius for self promotion is evident in the project when she sought financial support for her work by sending out 80 letters asking friends to invest £10 in her creative potential. In return subscribers received regular pieces of correspondence that along with other personal ephemera have become art works that are displayed here and are now, no doubt, worth a great deal of money. But it is the body that is her true territory as in the photograph of her shoving coins into her cunt like in an ironic version of Titian’s Danae and the Shower of Gold or the video of her masturbating, long legs splayed, like some animated Egon Schiele drawing. But it is her less sensational paintings that are the most resonate. She is, in fact, an interesting painter. In these small-scale subdued, yet expressionistic works, where the subject (herself) is often faceless, there is a subtlety and poetic ambivalence rarely achieved in her more ‘sensational’ works. There is no doubt that this exhibition will be popular. The private view was packed and when I went back again in order to write this it was heaving. There is nothing difficult about her work. What you see is what you get. She is the popular face of art, the Judy Garland of the art world tugging at public’s heart strings with yet another tale of ‘poor me’. Like some torch singer pouring out her heart about lost love she wails: Love is what you want. Like listening to Alanis Morissette late at night over a bottle of wine after just being jilted by a recent lover, she touches something universal. Yet when one wakes the next day one the alcoholic haze of emotional indulgence one is likely to realise that there are other concerns in the world; politics, social deprivation, philosophy and other people – yet Tracey’s world doesn’t contain any of these. Tony Blair once declared another brilliant self-publicist who caught the imagination of the public with her maudlin self-pity, Princess Diana, as the People’s Princess. I would like to offer a similar title to Tracey Emin: stand up the People’s Princess of Art. Images: 1 Love is what you want 2011 2 Running Naked, 2000 3 Hotel International, 1993 4. I’ve got it all, 2000 She has had a genius for voicing the emotional concerns and obsessions of young women. This was Bridget Jones and Amy Winehouse made visual.
by Sue Hubbard Can art regenerate a community? Can building an architect designed gallery in a socially deprived area change its fortunes? Everyone wants a Bilbao Guggenheim. Almost overnight Bilbao was transformed from a culturally moribund commercial centre in an unfashionable corner of Spain’s Basque region to a must-see destination. After its opening in 1997…
In 1969 the German artist Anslem Kiefer compiled a book, Unfruchtbare Landschaften that brought together two disparate elements: landscapes and the pages of a medical textbook dealing with contraception. Placing the IUDs out of context on top of the landscapes seemed to imply sterility. Wrenched from their purpose and context these now alien objects brought with them not only traces of their own history but took on new metaphorical meanings. The beauty of the gesture of these juxtapositions lay in the attempt to say something beyond language.
The poster for the British Art Show 7 promises a naked young man poised on a metal bench tending a live flame. The day I went to the Hayward Gallery there was only Roger Hiorns’ empty bench – which was a bit of a disappointment. Young men in the nude are still something of a rarity even in the most outré of contemporary galleries. There wasn’t even a flame. Still there was the compensation of work by 38 other very diverse artists, three-quarters of which has not been seen before.
The haunting, dreamlike footage of this post-apocalyptic landscape depicts the desolate remains of Prypait, the purpose-built town constructed to house the plant’s workers. Here we see abandoned class rooms and the collapsed carcass of the movie theatre where, amid the detritus, a grand piano stands as if still awaiting a pianist.
At the V&A until 20th February 2011 www.vam.ac.uk/shadowcatchers Sponsored by Barclays Wealth by Sue Hubbard In his Allegory of the Cave, Plato’s chained prisoners, trapped in their subterranean world, mistook shadows cast on the wall for reality. When they spoke of the objects seen what was it they were speaking of; the object itself or…
There is no doubt that there was a middle-class market for sentimental fantasies about the countryside but Guthrie and his colleagues were influenced by the unvarnished depictions of rural labourers from mid-19th-century French painters such as Millet and Jules Bastien-Lepage. It would be hard, even for modern cynics, to condemn his The Hind’s Daughter as sentimental. Here a young girl stands cutting cabbages, her small frame obviously chilled to the bone by the harsh Scottish wind