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Published in Financial Times, 17 May 2013
She famously blew up a garden shed and displayed a sleeping Tilda Swinton in a glass case. Remaining staunchly apart from the hype of the YBAs to follow her own path, she has become one of Britain’s most popular artists.
It is more than 20 years ago now since Cornelia Parker pushed the plunger on an army detonator and blew a garden shed and all its contents to smithereens. This was an early example of a process she would repeat over the next two decades: the transformation, often through violent means, of a familiar object to an unfamiliar form, which could be unexpectedly beautiful in its reincarnation, and always retained a ghost of its former self. With the shed, she’d gathered up the charred pieces and hung them in a delicate abstract formation around a single lightbulb in the Chisenhale Gallery in London. The result was like a cartoon recreation of the original blast, and inside the industrial space of the gallery the shadows of the debris exploded once again around the walls. There, in 1991, she gave what would become her world-famous work its title – “Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View”.
This was a year before Damien Hirst’s shark in formaldehyde was exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery, and two years before Jay Jopling opened the White Cube gallery, which would support many of those the media lumped together under the label Young British Artists. She was not much older than them but Cornelia Parker was, and has remained, separate, over the years building up a body of work that is as individual, as intellectually complex and as multifaceted as that of any artist working today.
Published in Frieze d/e, 7 May 2013
Before his death in 2012, Chicago gallerist Donald Young commissioned nine artists for an exhibition series of projects responding to the work of Swiss writer Robert Walser (1878–1956). Tacita Dean’s contribution, Berlin and the Artist (2012), is a series of collaged images using found postcards and drawings from around Walser’s time. The book In The Spirit of Walser is based on the exhibition series. Released this spring by New Directions Press, New York, it includes Dean’s essay Sluggardizing and illustrations from her project alongside stories by Walser himself.
PABLO LARIOS: I’ve been reading your essay Sluggardizing .
TACITA DEAN: Robert Walser uses that word in his story, Berlin and the Artist (1910). It refers to the hermetic element of an artistic life. What I love about the story is Walser’s intimation that you can effectively be doing work while seeming passive – when you’re lying in bed or staring at the ceiling. Walser understands something about the artistic process that is so often misunderstood or mischaracterized. Working on the images for this project, Berlin and the Artist, I was lying on my bed gazing up at a turn-of-the-century ceiling. To the outside world it would have looked like I was being lazy but, in fact, I was ‘sluggardizing’.
PL: Walser’s story is also an account of artistic life in Berlin, where he lived from 1905 before returning to Switzerland a century ago in 1913 (in his words, as a ‘ridiculed and unsuccessful author’). The suggestion – in both of your texts – is that there’s something unique about artistic life in this city. How did your project come about?
TD: Donald Young, who died three days before the exhibition opened in his gallery last year, had sent me a copy of Microscripts, a compilation of Walser’s coded texts that were translated into English in 2010. The miniscule notes had fascinated Donald. Some time after reading this book, I went with Lynne Cooke to a flea market in Berlin. Very strangely, we came upon hundreds of pencil drawings by an artist called Martin Stekker. It was a remarkable discovery: Berlin observations from a century ago.
Related Artists: Tacita Dean
Published in The Financial Times, 26 April 2013
From the Venice Biennale to the Hayward Gallery, photographer Dayanita Singh is having a big year.
In an age of Google Maps, hardly anyone gets lost. Yet on a bitter January morning, I find myself asking for directions in a Japanese supermarket in London’s Soho en route to a show by Dayanita Singh.
The experience could have been the fruit of Singh’s imagination: no one is better than the Delhi-based photographer at hinting at labyrinths beyond the image in her lens.
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Her exhibition, when I do find it, encapsulates those metaphysical gifts. Entitled File Museum, it gathers photographs of the archives of India’s public offices prior to digitalisation. Taken over decades, Singh has chronicled a neglected kingdom: shelves sinking under box files; a cupboard colonised by volume-spilling sacks. Room after room walled in by racks of documents: abandoned, dusty, unseen by all but their elderly custodians.
Published in Time Out, 25 April 2013
In John Riddy’s sombre series of cityscapes, the seasoned British photographer envisions the Sicilian capital as an empty stage, devoid of players or inhabitants. Absence and ruin linger here, hinting at our own mortality in the face of an enduring urban landscape. The debris of human existence litters each frame; an abandoned car lies drenched in shadow and empty fruit and veg boxes swim through dark, concrete streets. Riddy exploits this greyscale to its full advantage, finding moments of pure pictorial poetry against a backdrop of neglect.
Published in The Guardian, 24 April 2013
John Riddy opens up the world and he hems you in. His black and white photographs of Palermo in Sicily, now at London’s Frith Street Gallery, are filled with endless detail. No painting could record so much and with such clarity; no eye could take it all in. You’d go mad thinking about it all.
Each photograph is a lexicon of light and dark, rubbish and dirt, patched-up stucco and rotting stone. And every day, every moment, is different. The streets are swept and more rubbish gets strewn about. New graffiti is sprayed over old. Lights go on and off, shutters are raised and lowered, chairs appear outside doorways and are brought back in again. The cars parked on the street are different from the ones that were here yesterday. Why photograph this day and not the next? The light wasn’t the same. On New Year’s Day in 2012 the streets are empty. Only the Afghan grocers have their shutters up on a street called Carmine. It rained last night, while Palermo was celebrating. In the distance, one street lamp is still on, its light as white as the sky reflected in the puddles.
Published in Art in America, 4 April 2013
On the exterior of the L-shaped configuration that I saw, the photographs were mounted on what looked like moveable screens, and jostled for breathing space in their rows of three and columns of five. In contrast, the cabinetlike interior seemed empty; only two photographs were displayed in smallteak boxes, with the rest viewable upon request. A third box had migrated to the wall of the gallery’s smaller space, where it contained the inspiration for the series, a photograph from 2000 taken at Kerala’s Trivandrum Museum Library.
Like the eerie nightscapes captured on daylight color film in “Dream Villa” (2010), Singh’s last exhibition here, the images in “File Museum” are largely unpeopled. Exactly 39 of the displayed works show the archival custodians alongside the documents in their care, and all were arranged in three parallel rows on the left wall in the large space. The others feature Singh’s characteristically emptyinteriors, so redolent of human presence yet so oddly abandoned-looking. Amid the disintegrating paper documents stuffed into boxes or bags and piled high on cupboards or shelves, we find vague allusions to sanitation and revenue, to polls and governor generals, even to war. Some of the documents are dated as early as the 1860s, others as late as the 1950s; true contextual specificity falls by the wayside. Here the artist assigns priority to viewing conventions engendered by themuseum and the book—two categories she treats as interchangeable.
Indeed, the prevailing sense of archival depersonalization in “File Museum” marks a shift from earlier, more compelling works such as Myself Mona Ahmed (2001), Singh’s beautifully personal account of a eunuch who lives in a New Delhi graveyard and dreams about building a marriage hall there. “File Museum” also dispenses with the keen sense of social nuance in Privacy (2004), in which Singh turned her camera on the secret familial world of India’s elite. Memorably featured in the Serpentine Gallery’s “Indian Highway” (2008-09), the former photojournalist will also be exhibiting with Romuald Karmakar, Santu Mofokeng and Ai Weiwei in the German Pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale. Her inclusion in this group feels very timely: working from the ascendant margins, Singh deals with the globalized condition without capitulating to the documentarian impulse.
Published in The Guardian, 2 February 2013
With a parallel show at Ghent’s prestigious SMAK, the Italian installation artist infiltrates the main Fruitmarket space with La Strada di Sotto (The Street Below), an installation of typical aesthetic enchantment. For those of us who have been captivated by Palermo’s nocturnal festivals, Bartolini’s work here will take us all back. The artist floods the gallery floor with a patterned maze of festival illumination. Relieved of their religious context, the lights still retain a melancholic and mournful aura. Bartolini is a true installation artist, not so much placing pre-existing sculptural works in a gallery as transforming the whole gallery space with atmospheric magic and turning it into something else entirely.
Published in ArtForum, September 2012
In a short video made to accompany FILM, her 2011 piece for the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern in London, Tacita Dean begins by describing the making of ‘The Green Ray’, 2001. The title alludes to the last flash of light from the setting sun - which is ‘just slower than the red or the yellow ray.’ To capture this elusive aura, often witnessed by sailors, she watched the sunset off Madagascar. Positioning her camera, loaded with its spool of celluloid, she began the exposure and waited. As the sun disappeared under the horizon, Dean ‘believed byt was never sure’ she saw a flash of green. Next to her were two observers with a video camera. They neither saw nor captured the phenomenon, and insisted their video proved that Dean had not seen it either. But when Dean’s film was developed, there - unmistakable in the fleeting movement of film frames - was the green ray. It had been too elusive for what she calls ‘the pixelation of the digital world’.
The rest of the article can be read in this month’s issue of ArtForum.
Related Artists: Tacita Dean
Published in Modern Painters, 11 September 2012
They are photographs of strangers, yet we’ve see them countless times: toddlers grinning from foamy bathtubs, teenagers awkwardly showing off their first party dresses, granddads cuddling newborns. Local variations aside, they could be found pretty much anywhere, stuck on the yellowing cardboard pages of hefty photo albums. These pictures form Fiona Tan’s primary material for “Vox Populi.” In this series of wall pieces and books begun in 2004, the Indonesian-born, Amsterdam-based artist has selected and rearranged images she sourced in locations as varied as Norway, Switzerland, Tokyo, and Sydney, each time creating a multifaceted portrait of the place through the photographs of the people who live, or lived, in each locale.
Related Artists: Fiona Tan
Published in Artforum, Summer 2012
If you cross London’s Waterloo Bridge heading south, you will see a familiar complex of large buildings that make up the Southbank Centre - the Royal Festival Hall, the National Theatre, the Hayward Gallery. To the right you will see the more recent gigantic wheel of the London Eye. And currently, perched on the roof of a convenient concert hall, you will see what looks like a new, small, stranded houseboat. It is a sort of houseboat, but it isn’t stranded. It has been designed (by the artist Fiona Banner and the architect David Kohn) to float there for a while. It is modeled on a Belgian river steamer called the Roi des Belges, once captained by Joseph Conrad in the Congo before he mythologized boat, river, Africa and all in ‘Heart of Darkness’ (1902).
Related Artists: Fiona Banner
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