On Tuesday the 30th of August, I attended the opening of the 2011 St Martins MA Fine Arts Show. It was the last one to take place at the historical Charing Cross site, as the programme is being moved next year to new premises near Kings Cross and Archway.
The usual crowd of (mainly young) arty types was gathering outside looking good and sounding excited. I was meeting three friends, one of whom had just been for a wax and was thereby doing her best to walk in a casual manner: the episteme of cool. We tried to look detached as we walked in bragging our home printed invitations.
It was already quite busy inside with most people running briskly towards the bar. As we stepped into the second room, I was struck by a very large pixelated picture of a truck open boot. The almost life-size scale of the work was quite effective in disrupting my perception of the space. The artist, Kate Barsby, was also showing pictures of an armchair and a football net. They were all slightly smaller than life and not on the pretty side. I casually thought about the power of monumentality in Vicky Goldberg’s photography.
The next memorable experience was a promenade through an internet cafeteria, which had been turned into an end-of-the-world film set by Oliver Guy-Watkins, courtesy of his generous use of fake snow. There was a bit of a Narnia/The Day after Tomorrow/Alien feel about it. It looked as if the artist had tried to achieve a magical transformation similar to Roger Hiorns’ with his derelict crystal filled council flat.
When attending openings, it is usually easier to interact with the louder artworks. One installation that beautifully and silently stood out was Edward Collinson’s earth sculpture Mont Ventoux. Situated on the top and sides of a stage, the trompe-l’œil structure looked as if it was literally emerging from it. It was as smooth as the isolated mountain of Provence, famously nicknamed The Bald One. Within this genre of staged sublime, Pallas Citroen’s reinterpretation of Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Theresa came as a theatrical homage to the floating Baroque masterpiece and its use of light.
We reached another floor just in time to witness Eleanore Clare’s performance, My horn is a Chalice. Invoking folklore and mythology, two white unicorns danced and fought while a third character in a glittery wig sang an ode to the power of the horn. It is always interesting to watch the faces and reactions (or absence of reactions) of the crowd during a performance. It did not seem that this good looking interpretation of the unicorn’s myth openly moved most viewers.
Another memorable artwork dealing with the body was an installation by Kam Wam. His work consists of a trace of the physical impact he makes on space. Documenting his actions on space understood as medium, a video showed him spraying ink from his mouth or patiently repeating the same steps on the same surface: a carefully executed series about movement and obsessive repetition.
Now besides all this serious chit chat, quite a few artworks dealt with humour and irony.
Thus Gucek Andromak presented a rug fully made of pubic hair. He had asked for donations on the interactive programme called Facebook (still leading the pack so to speak), offering a mention for taking part in the project in return (classic trap). And one is bound to find that the density of the rug was a proof that many people indeed had felt compelled to donate some of their body hair for the sake of Art!
Very amusing was also Andrea Giulivi who claimed his practice to be rooted in the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman ‘s concept of « liquid society », and who exhibited a realistic wax hand perched on top of a standing Italian ham. Titled Nothing (a thousand times yes), the visually effective hand pointed at a deflated balloon attached to the wall. The work showed an obvious taste for the unresolvedness in the content as well as in the form.
Tom Mason’s clever illustrations/collages/paintings used fragmented images and quotes with a very English acerbic wit. I particularly remember the works Yes I am thirty, no I am not desperate or Flâneurs get lost.
Ben Turner’s Landscape: Noon was a cabinet-of-curiosity type display of thirty different reproductions The Hay Wain by Constable. Starting from an old family print, the collection evoked the history of its uses as well as clearly tackling issues raised by Walter Benjamin in The work of Art in the Age of mechanical reproduction. Not so funny.
Now on the entertainment side a definite opening night crowd-pleaser was Aimilia Palo’s platforms of sand, aluminium, wood, carpet, perspex, and bin liner, all miked-up to speakers around the room, echoing, and creaking as visitors traversed the surfaces. It made me think about how struck I was when I started to discover the amount of participatory art activities provided by museums in the UK; you can’t get into a museum these days without encountering a child screaming into an overblown microphone.
On the serious side of things, there wasn’t much painting or photography to see or remember. The exception was Vasilis Avramidis’s beautiful oil paintings which translated objects and people into pieces of land, as if the vegetation had taken over disused structures. These new lands themselves incorporated smaller landscape, scenes and narratives. Photographer Chloe Sells also stood out. Her large colour prints of landscapes and plants dealt with the sublime, nostalgia and the exotic. The varied topography also seemed to work as a mirror of people’s perpetual mutations.
We were getting to the bottom of it all. In a quiet room, towards the top of the building, Michael Martychowiec’s mixed media pieces, Vanito Vanitas, dealt with the notion of nothingness. Attempting to empty the empty, he showcased blank sheets of paper with cut-out squares. More squares had been cut out of photographed floral vanitas paintings.
The most striking realisation was without any contest his life-sized reproduction of a wax body bisected lengthways and carved so that you could see the insides (or the lack of it) when moving around the piece.
The evening was sponsored by a beer called cholera.