Tuesday, 19 November 2013

More from High Cross House - Fiona Robinson, Sophie Tarbuck & Melanie Guy

I've previously posted about High Cross House - an example of modernist architecture in Dartington currently run by the National Trust but which will be closing to the public after early 2014 due to low visitor numbers. Nevertheless, it is going out with a bang, and is showing a number of interesting exhibitions during 2013. Exhibitions by Fiona Robinson and Sophie Tarbuck finished this weekend and I managed to catch them just before they closed.

The Fiona Robinson works are a series of drawings she has made in response to High Cross House and can be seen in full here. 'A significant amount of the work made for the High Cross House commission focuses on the curve that connects the two sides of William Lescaze’s stark modernist structure'. It is a fascinating set of drawings.

Sophie Tarbuck's work is a series of small wooden structures - similar in style to some of Michael Samuels' work - aesthetically pleasing and retro in equal measure.

In addition, some impressive sculptures in pewter by Melanie Guy were being exhibited when I visited.

A number of photos of High Cross House and the works being exhibited are shown here. For a fuller selection of works by each artist follow the links in this post.

Fiona Robinson

Fiona Robinson

Fiona Robinson

Sophie Tarbuck

Sophie Tarbuck

Sophie Tarbuck

Sophie Tarbuck

Melanie Guy

Melanie Guy

The arrangement for High Cross House to be managed by the National Trust and kept open to the public will end after March 2014.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Lisa Watts and Lucy May at Exeter Spacex - Skittish (final week)

This is the final week of Skittish at Spacex (ending on Saturday 23rd November). The exhibition combines sculptures by Lucy May with performance by Lisa Watts.

Lucy has made some very visceral sculptures out of wax for the exhibition. The pieces are substantial but retain a fluidity which is achieved by her personally blending the wax that she uses. In addition to the wax pieces there is a large work which combines coloured foam with artificial flowers and other material on a wedding cake-like dais, and three gilded bronze sculptures mounted on individual plinths.

Lucy's influence is the baroque but she interprets this using modern materials and in a uniquely personal way. The wax sculptures produce conflicting responses because they are both beautiful and yet rather gruesome at the same time.

Lisa Watts will be performing from Wednesday afternoon until Saturday. Her previous work has included pieces with a strong feminist agenda but she says that this project is deliberately playful. She works with all kinds of materials including tin foil, light sticks, extending rules, plastic bags etc and after a month of her performances, the gallery is littered with the stuff she has used.

While the intent may be playful, she is entirely serious when she is performing, using earplugs to maintain her concentration; and she performs regardless of whether there is anyone in the gallery. She also teaches on degree level art courses and is both approachable and fascinating to talk with, when not performing.

In the other gallery space a 7 minute film made by Lisa is showing in a loop. This is also a playful piece but has a soundtrack which is reminiscent of a science fiction movie, which gives it a slightly menacing feel.

Skittish finishes on Saturday at Spacex but goes on to two other venues - Newcastle and Leeds - where Lucy will be working with different artists. In the meantime, get along to see it at Spacex, if you can.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Wasted by Gina Czarnecki at RAMM, Exeter (ends September 29)

As mentioned in a previous post, during the summer I have been acting as an art volunteer at RAMM in Exeter on several days during the week. This has involved engaging with visitors about the temporary art exhibitions. One of these, Wasted, closes on 29 September. This is your last chance to visit this fascinating exhibition.

Gina Czarnecki and Professor Sara Rankin
The exhibition has been produced by Gina Czarnecki in collaboration with Professor Sara Rankin of Imperial College, London. To quote the RAMM's own blurb, it "explores the life-giving potential of 'discarded'  body parts and their relationship to myth, history, cutting edge stem cell research and notions of what constitutes informed consent."

In fact the exhibition is a collection of  Gina's work from recent years which is concerned with these issues. The artist is passionate about her work and when she is there to talk about them, the pieces really come to life. However, without Gina's commentary, and with little commentary in the gallery, both the focus and the context that makes the works interesting are easily lost. I have included several links below that help to put some flesh onto the bones of the exhibition.

The Palace and the Diagram for a Summerhouse behind

The first thing that you see when you enter the gallery is the Tooth Palace. This is a large scale illuminated stalagmite-like resin construction to which donated children's milk teeth are cemented. The palace itself was made by MDM, who make props for museums, artwork, theatre etc. Children are encouraged to touch the exhibit and part of its aim is to publicise the possibilities of using stem cells to create body spare parts. However, milk teeth contain few stem cells and these are not really worth harvesting for this purpose. Most stem cells are harvested from umbilical cord blood and this is only done at centres in the UK which are equipped to carry out the work to required standards - which tends to raise questions about some of the work's stated aims ...

Nevertheless, the Palace works well enough as a work on its own terms. Each of the stalagmites is modeled differently: One is based upon animal sinews, another on Cologne Cathedral and the tallest upon a Disney palace - reflecting another of the artist's concerns - the Disneyfication of our world and our history (follow Palace link for more details). Gina's original sketches are also on show, as are letters from children about their experiences losing their milk teeth. Unfortunately the latter is the limit of the exploration of milk teeth myths which is promised in the exhibition blurb.

Diagram for a summerhouse (detail)

Behind the Palace is a wall of dental impressions entitled Diagram for a Summerhouse. The dental impressions are typical of thousands routinely taken by dentists which previously would have gone into landfill after use, but which now cannot because of the methane emissions that they produce. Gina had planned to build a Victorian style folly using these impressions in place of the more typical seashells but, apparently, her husband objected. As a work, they are quite impressive. Their arrangement - white on black - resembles the rows of military graves in Flanders and elsewhere that war dead are buried. The impressions themselves are fascinating - It is surprising that in the 21st century people have such poor teeth.

Tony Garner

The next group of pieces are centred upon the hip bone replacement of Tony Garner. Following problems in getting permissions to use human tissue in her art, Gina turned to a living donor where the same constraints do not apply. An interview with Tony Garner is shown where Gina explains what she plans to do with his replaced femur head and he signs to show his consent. Alongside this the removed femur head is on display. The art works consist of a beachball-sized globe to which has been added multiple castings in plaster of the femur head. A further photograph shows the beauty of frozen femur heads.

At the far end of the gallery are the Fat Chairs. These are two chairs which have been reupholstered in an art deco style and the seat cushion is filled with fat. The fat chairs can be referenced back to the Fat Chairs work by Joseph Beuys. Gina's father was incarcerated in a nazi concentration camp in Poland during the war and this is why the rendering of human fat is a subject in which she has a particular interest (the nazis produced soap from human fat) and why the chairs are in the deco style.  She sought to obtain human fat for the chairs but found that surgeons would not release human fat (obtained by liposuction, for example) for fear that they would put at risk their licences to practice medicine.

Typically, she does not make it explicit in the exhibition that the fat is not human and it is interesting that some people are upset by knowing that the chairs contain fat (regardless of whether it is human or animal) while others have a different reaction depending upon what they think is being used - especially vegans. At the start of the exhibition visitors were allowed to sit in the chairs and to experience the comforting feeling that the seats provide as the fat warms to body temperature, but subsequently this was stopped because of concerns that they might be damaged.

The video Pixie Dust "explores the notion of limb regeneration for humans within the contexts of science, sport, disability and super-ability. The title Pixie Dust comes from the substance taken from the pigs gut matrix that is applied to wounds to prevent scarrification and therefore allow continual growth of the tissue." However, the video is stitched together from material found on the internet and its message is largely fictional. Again, Gina is commenting upon the disneyfication of scientific research and its interpretation and reporting. But the mixture of fact and fiction is confusing for the viewer and tends to detract from the primary message that Gina is apparently selling ie that permissions for the use of human tissue in art or in research should not be so prescriptive that they restrict either activity unnecessarily.

Tony Garner's removed femur head

The final elements of the exhibition are two fold: A large banner recording ethical discussions which were held at the Bluecoat Gallery when the exhibition showed there, and an opportunity for visitors to give their own views on whether they would donate their tissue for Art. The latter makes interesting reading and does pull together the disparate elements of the exhibition, although the prevailing view is somewhat unsurprising - ie people are keen to donate for science but indifferent about art.

Overall this is an interesting and thought-provoking exhibition, although it does have flaws: It is a collection of previously shown separate pieces and that means that it does not have a really clear focus; it blurs fact and reality (ok for art but undermining if you are pressing a particular viewpoint); and it mixes the arguments for making consent easier for the use of body parts in art and in medicine.

A frozen femur head - photo by Rod Dillon

The exhibition also lacks a decent commentary. If you want to get the most from it, then you need to read around the exhibition or have a guided tour. RAMM is the last venue where Wasted  is being shown. However, Gena Czarnecki is negotiating with places where the Palaces sculpture may be put on permanent show - and it is planned to continue to accept milk teeth for adding to the sculpture for the next year or so.

A book is available that includes a number of works from Gina Czarnecki's varied art career: Humancraft: Contaminating Science With Art. You have until the 29th September to view Wasted at RAMM.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Acoustica Festival at Exeter Phoenix & other venues 13-15 September

Last night was the first of this year's Acoustica Festival - the Exeter festival of alt-folk and Americana - although as ever this definition seems to have been stretched pretty widely. The event is that odd thing - an indoor festival that extends over a number of venues.

We managed to get along to the Phoenix venues for the start of the Festival from 6 to 9.30 on Friday but had to leave just as the number of visitors was starting to swell. In the early part of the evening there were a number of mainly young performers on at the garden stage and the cafe.

After that, we saw a bit of Ben Goddard (above) in the main auditorium and then Carnivala (below) in the Voodoo Lounge. They were true to their name, playing music with a good time vibe, and attracted quite a crowd.

The stars of the evening (or at least the part that we saw) were Saturday Sun and Aidan Simpson.

Saturday Sun are a duo from Dorset who combine wailing and picked guitar with mesmeric vocals. They transfixed the audience and filled the auditorium with soaring sound.

Aidan Simpson, also from Dorset, is a Dylanesque 'protest singer' but is in a class of his own. His songs are well crafted, his guitar technique perfectly matched and his vocals are uniquely flexible. It was a shame that he was on stage so early and had only a small audience - but his future looks good.

We bought a copy of his 10 inch EP recorded on Blanket Records with John Parish.

The Acoustica Festival continues tonight and tomorrow (14 & 15 September) at the Phoenix and other Exeter venues.

Monday, 9 September 2013

The Christians at Exeter Corn Exchange

A few weeks ago we saw the current incarnation of the Christians at Exeter Corn Exchange. The original Christians were a trio of brothers who had a series of blue-eyed soul hits in the 1980s. Many of their songs were ahead of their time and dealt with social issues: Harvest for the world, Hooverville, Ideal World, Forgotten Town, etc.

Fast forward to today and unhappily one of the brothers is dead, while another no longer wishes to tour. Fortunately that leaves Garry Christian - the main voice of the original trio. The current tour sees him working in an unplugged format, supported by Joey Ankrah and Neil Griffiths. Ankrah looks like he's auditioning for Pirates of the Caribbean, while Griffiths resembles a chubby Jean Paul Gaultier. However, they do a great job filling in for the missing Christian brothers and provide accompaniment for all the songs, with Garry only picking up a guitar for one number.

Garry has an easy relaxed style and chats with the audience about the summer heat, about his mates Ian (McNab  from The Icicle Works), the other Ian (McCulloch from Echo and the Bunnymen) and more. The Exchange audience are not your Phoenix audience - middle aged disco kids rather than old hippies.

Garry's voice has weathered well and they do unplugged versions of the old songs together with a few new ones. They talk about a new CD but don't seem to be selling anything. In fact the new single Inner City Blues is out later this month - on the 23rd September. Here is a reminder of the Christians at their peak in the 1980s (I Found Out) followed by the new single:

The Christians still have something to offer in 2013 - apart from some great memories, that is ...

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Design for Living at High Cross House, Dartington (ending 15 September)

High Cross House will no longer be managed by the National Trust from the end of this year - and may therefore become inaccessible to the public.

I took the opportunity to visit High Cross a couple of weeks ago. The Devon Guild of Craftsmen are currently showing an exhibition of work responding to the Modernist ideals espoused by High Cross House architect William Lescaze. This includes a specially selected group of work by Marianne de Trey to celebrate her 100th year.

A visit to High Cross before the exhibition ends on 15 September is highly recommended. Here are some photos which give just a flavour of what can be seen in this exhibition which cleverly brings together great design, terrific art works and a fascinating history:

The full list of Guild exhibitors includes: Carol Ballenger - Photography; Matthew Burt - Furniture; Liz Clay - Wool; Paper; Philippa de Burlet - Ceramics; Susie Gillespie - Weaving; Liz Lawrence - Ceramics; Sue Macgillivray - Glass; Janine Partington - Enamel; David Plagerson - Toy Maker; Jane Price - Textiles; Elizabeth Smith - Ceramics; Anne Smyth - Glass; Jenny Southam - Ceramics; Deborah Treliving - Printmaking; Sasha Wardell - Ceramics; Heather William - Jewellery; and Taja - Ceramics. (Thanks, by the way, to Deborah Treliving - whose blog/facebook page brought the exhibition to my attention).