Dial Emma

Jonathan's Art Dilemma No. 17: What are exhibitions for?

Friday, 10 December 2010


The chaos and confusion that surrounded the White Nights was fantastic. We all felt proud to be part of it, however brief. “too short and too fast. I think that we could have walked around again and stopped more to let the public see more.” It was the perfect environment. An ad hoc experiment of flat 2D images up above, in amongst the swirly madness of zombies, opera, folk singers, day of the dead celebrations and roving packs of drunken nutters. Great night. “Whose are those faces at the back of my phone pictures? Oh, someone said that they are the people who work when it’s dark. Weird.”

Friday, 26 November 2010

Liverpool, 2010.

The Royal Liverpool Hospital is on the verge of redevelopment. The main building will soon be demolished. This was the site for Bridget Riley's brief foray into public art. 1979, asked to decorate the corridors of the new hospital, Riley designed a system of colour coding. One that used pattern and colour intensity to indicate where you were in the hospital. What Riley thought would be simple turned out to be incredibly complex. For respite she went to Egypt. In the temples she saw how the ancient Egyptians had used multi coloured palettes, how they had painted with the architecture rather than trying to obliterate it.
Bridget Riley returned invigorated. Bold horizontal stripes of blues, mauves, pinks, black and whites. Rather than paint applied directly onto the walls she had the designs printed on to vinyl wallpaper, this would hold the colours better, be simpler to clean or repair.
Three years later the designs were painted over. What was planned to be calming and uplifting received a critical thumbs down from patients and staff of the hospital. ‘Too hectic’. The walls returned to drab normality.
No remnants remain. I’ve spoken to those who were involved at the hospital. Questions are treated with good grace and humour, but even now you can tell that they were relieved to see the wallpaper taken down. I wonder whether there are a few rolls in a store cupboard somewhere? It would be interesting to hear what Bridget remembers about the experience. 

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Weekend in Manchester

Weekend (detail) (2010) Stefan Zeyen
On the outside of the Cornerhouse cinema there has been pasted probably fifty connecting prints that make a two dimensional version of the memorable scene from Jean-Luc Godard’s film Le Weekend. Walking sideways down Whitworth Street, on the pavement, close to the wall actually produces a real time version of the tracking shot. JLG took ten minutes to cover the distance. It was hard work going that slow in the mini version. I bumped into a couple waiting at a bus stop. It did make me realise how few cars and actors there are in the filmed ‘traffic jam’ and how choreographed the action needed to be. Nearer to Jacques Tati than New Wave.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

House of Terror

Continuing the theme of turning galleries inside out, Denise suggested The House of Terror in Budapest as an example. A museum, a civil monument documenting the disgusting treatment meted out by Hungarians on fellow Hungarians. Known as the House of Loyalty during the second war officials from the government tracked down Hungarian Jews, overseeing their internment in death camps.  After the defeat of the nazi backed regime the building became the HQ of the Hungarian communist secret police, the AVI. The torture continued until the fall of the Berlin wall.
The architects of the museum have designed the building so that photographs of those killed inside are shown on the outside walls. Conversely, on a wall in the exhibition there are pictures of those who carried out the atrocities. Some of whom still live in Budapest.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

100 jours (2009)

100jours en Paris (2009)
100jours en Paris (2009)
Cycling around central Paris last summer I whizzed past a large wall plastered with photos. Some sort of official document and passport style portraits. It was dark, I was hungry.

The next day I went back. The wall was in the area close to Place de la Republique. There had been sit ins, demonstrations and occupations of nearby buildings by groups of “Sans Papiers” earlier in the year. One lunchtime I had chatted with a group who had occupied a road junction. Without residency papers they were unable get legitimate work, a place to live and were vulnerable to all manner of abuse. Their situation needed ‘regularising’. They were desperate to bring the issue to a head.

I can’t speak French so couldn’t translate the photocopied description about the 100days photo exhibition. I could tell from universal language of the deportation letters that it was giving symbolic support to the sans papiers. The photographs were of people who had fled to France during previous periods of migration. Perhaps they had been taken in the photographic studio next door. History is sketchy. My explanation might be completely wrong. Weren’t the 100 Days something to do with the Battle of Waterloo? 

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Pop stars wife

Someone who successfully morphs the boundaries between visual art, music and storytelling is Laurie Anderson. On Saturday she performed a one off show at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill. I had forgotten about her deadpan humour. It makes you jump to attention after being lulled into the complexities of a story. The process made me laugh.
This is how the Brighton (and thus by default, Bexhill) Argus covered the story. No credit, where no credit is due.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Knitting display

One week after the White Night events a pair of knitted bicycle clips (?) still embellish the hideous monument to Max Miller in Pavilion Gardens, Brighton. So little effort, such a big improvement. 

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Performance Talk

Though I will never ever be able to observe it, except in the background to some pictures, apparently my way of taking a photograph is quite stylised. I don’t know how this has come about. Previously I used a small, shoot and snap camera, I had a very mannered stance. Feet flat anchored to the ground, the regulation distance apart, legs straight, bum shoved out, the top half of my body leaning forwards at about twenty degrees, the angle changing as I framed the shot. A glorified tripod, bent awkwardly to strange angles. In the manner of Jacques Tati, petit camera, large man, there was no chance that I could take discreet snaps. People gathered round and laughed. There was I thinking photography was akin to spying.
With digital and camera phones the process has become quicker, but I still have a very distinctive ballet posture. I try to relax. Get fluid. Take pictures on the sly, but always end up making a performance out of it.
Watching Pradip Malde’s talk ‘Haiti: Blind Architect’ and also the Al Pitcher Picture Show on successive days of the Photobiennial has made me realize what a public performance photography is. In all it’s aspects.
Both gentleman stood directly in front of an audience and used photography to illustrate and animate their points. Pitcher to promote his comedy routine, Malde to highlight desperate poverty and the effect on the mental health of an already weakened population.
During their shows both elaborately mimed taking, and in Pitchers case actually took photographs Both used powerpoint type projection to illustrate what they had to say. Performance input, and performance output.
Malde, a professor of fine art photography, told how his pictures had been printed using a platinum/palladium process on a specific paper, and that he was in the process of securing a book deal and writing the commentary himself. Same old, same old routine for documentary photography. One based on being published and academic advancement. The cupboards are clogged full of these books. The slide show presentation was a stop gap until that came to pass. However this performance to a small audience was astute, subjective, and emotive. Right on the button. The news from Haiti over the past few days will be reverberated a lot clearer and with higher energy by those six people who were at the talk.
Slide shows may feel naff, office bound and not as grand as a bound copy or a chi chi exhibition but as a means of communicating, and even as entertainment they can be the most environmentally crisp and sleek route available. Quick in. Quick out. Big fallout. Little detritus.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Al Pitchers Picture Show

Brighton is festival/biennial addicted. The city centre is awash with dueling festivals. One week it’s sacred music, the next an urban film festival. More often than not there is an overlap. This weekend was the turn of the Brighton Comedy Festival. Not my thing comedy routines. I’d heard about Al Pitcher from a photographer friend but not experienced a show.
Al arrives in a town in the morning, wanders around, snaps photographs of what he thinks is visually awkward, will raise a smile or create a conversation. In the evening he presents his slide show to a local audience asking them to explain, using their particular knowledge, what is going on in a photo. Sharing the absurdity of a street name, or a kitsch juxtaposition. Pitcher highlights titbits of the everyday, pointing out the obvious, he eggs the audience into taking responsibility for cringe making accidents, then rips the shit out of them. 
No hecklers, everyone was arguing, laughing and becoming involved; trying to explain the pictures or a local custom to an innocent outsider. A fine conceit. It was anthropology in action.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Brighton PhotoBiennial 2010

At the openings of the Photo Biennial one thing stayed with me. Not a memorable photograph, nor event or conversation but little shards of golden glitter. As a way of introduction one of the photographers threw handfuls of it everywhere. For the past week people have been coming up to me a trying to brush specks off my face. It is in my underwear, socks, pyjamas. My friends have had it passed on to them, contact high. It seeps into everything. In an era of XFactor sincerity and viral marketing it is the ultimate calling card. Unfortunately I have forgotten the photographers name. 

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Critical Run. Liverpool Biennial 2010

Thierry Geoffroy
Thierry Geoffroy organizes Critical Run. Art debates for people who are jogging, or perhaps jogging for those whose mission is sitting around theorizing on art. Sadly I was the only other person to turn up for the discussion ‘Is It OKay to Use Artists As Vacuum Cleaners’. 
Too early Sunday morning. Liverpool. Chucking it down with rain. I had been drinking most of the night. Years of goalkeeping have ravaged my knees, causing problems walking at the best of times. Whilst I was explaining this Thierry kept hitting me on the arm, in a pally but provoking manner. Jiggling around on the spot, waiting for me to change my mind, he wasn’t willing to discuss the motion there in the shop, I wasn’t capable of running. Deadlock. He jogged off. Farewell Monsieur Courbet.
Thierry Geoffroy places Criticial Runs in large international exhibitions and biennials, they are to tone and develop the Awareness Muscle. He also franchises Emergency Rooms. Temporary sites, usually built within galleries where artists can create and exhibit contemporary art about current events. Work is replaced in a ceremony (The Passage) at 12.30pm daily. Ex-contemporary art is stored in the Delay Museum, to give people chance to look at this archive. A succinct solution that recognizes that the gallery system, and funding, take too much time, and that this delay diffuses the potency and potential of much art endeavor. Crucially, it is important energy lost. 
Every part of every town should have an Emergency Room. www.emergencyrooms.org

Thursday, 30 September 2010

ExtInked in Salford (2009)

Solitary Bee (2009) extInked. The Ultimate Holding Company
My friend Chris had decided to have a tattoo. His first. On that same day I heard about a gallery in Salford that was looking for volunteers to be tattooed. They had commissioned designs of the different British flora and fauna that have become endangered species. Chris drove over to meet the people responsible, check the tattooist and choose an animal, bird insect, plant etc. One hundred people, one hundred species, one hundred designs. Everyone who was tattooed became an ‘ambassador’ for that particular rare breed as well as going home with a simple and unique design on their body. A fantastically succinct and pertinent idea, just wish I wasn’t so squeamish about needles.
One year later, whilst washing up, I had a sudden flash of memory and got Chris to show the result. A beautiful Solitary Bee.
Details, follow the extInked link (!) at the Ultimate Holding Company

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Millennium Walk

Bill Richardson
Linen Services Supervisor
Brighton Health Care NHS Trust
December 1999

Last week I was visiting the Maternity Unit in the hospital. It is on the 14th floor of a tower that has very wonderful views over the sea. I got the lift up, but there was a long queue to come back down. After a period of grumbly hanging around reluctantly I decided to try the stairs. A hidden delight. All the way down the stairwell  was a display of photographs of staff members and patients. Some going about their jobs, some displaying pieces of equipment, others in regular portrait poses. Below each were detailed descriptions of people roles that were clear and interesting. It took me an age to get down but I was gifted a very uplifting portrait of the hospital, and by association the National Health Service. 

Monday, 6 September 2010

Fabrica, Brighton September 2010

This pastiche of a Pierre et Gilles photograph was on the outside of Fabrica last weekend as part of wedding (civil partnership) celebrations. Unexpected and unexplained, it really got a lot of positive attention from shoppers, tourists and night time passers by. It is so bold, I even like the white frame. Pierre et Gilles pictures are so attractively done and look great on a drab grey church front. Instant positive vibe. 

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Whistles (2010)

I live in the town centre. Over the past few weeks subtle graffiti has blossomed on the pavements around my home. Very fine, almost screen printed images that advertise the new Whistles store. Whistles (2008/9 turnover £35.2m, loss £5.1m) are in the process of being remodeled by TV ‘Style Genius’ Jane Shepherdson (ex Topshop, Burton) in an attempt to return to profitability. They were one of the chain stores badly mangled in the recent banking crisis. According to the Guardian they want to leave their ‘yummy mummies’ image behind and appeal to ‘more fashion conscious shoppers’. This probably accounts for this print outside the gates of the local primary school. Link for the Guardian article here and Whistles website here. 
Note to self: look up whilst walking.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Brighton August 2010

Grafik Warfare (2005)

You can still see this A5 sticker around the centre of Brighton. There’s one just at the entry to the Laines off North St, but I have spotted others. It must be at least five years old, and probably stuck up then, cunningly placed and missed by successive clean up campaigns. I like it’s simplicity. Something about it stirs strange (aggressive?) emotions in me. It has a punk, b/w photocopy, sixties graphic type effect yet the cap has a clone, leather club type feel. I can’t figure who it is aimed at and what it was for, if anything. The type down the side says ‘GRAFIK WARFARE street art collective’ so I have to presume it is a tagging thing.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Alexandra Palace. London (1980)

When I was at college the building we were housed in burned down. It was during the summer holiday, few people were around, so no-one was hurt. I was there to finish off cutting huge stencils for the outside wall of a local milk distribution factory. Whilst everyone was being evacuated this person from the council gave me my own personal, outdoor exhibition of one of the paintings he had rescued from the blaze. Sadly my stencils, all my hard work and precious tools were lost.


Holy Bible. imbue (2010)
One of my dastardly habits is photographing flyposters and stencilling. If it’s bold, bad, makes me laugh or evokes in me strange emotions I’ll photograph it. I also pick up flyers for anything. From these you can learn more about what is going on in a place, and it's mental health. Better than any spangly radio station, thrusting website or direct marketing campaign. My flat is a tip of ad hoc promotional material. 
To ban the distribution of flyers and flyposting, as they did in Brighton  a couple of years ago really makes me laugh. Initially I thought the ban was Pure Evil. I became upset,  denuded, fidgety. It was an insult to ornament, creativity, to music and design. Another closing down of communication. The final nail in the coffin etc. 
But what has happened is that then ban has meant that people have used more ingenious means. Facebook etc obviously but graphics, stencilling, stickers have become more interesting again. My current favorite is the down beat branding exercise being carried out by IMBUE. Bus shelters, shop fronts, no-entry signs, police head quarters, the station, whatever. Imbue is claiming responsibility for it all. This version of the bible is currently next to the swimming pool.

Friday, 13 August 2010

April. Venice, CA.

Sheltering in the local library during the miserable gap between school and the bus home I came across an article about Chris Burdens performance ‘Trans Fixed’ (1974). Just a small cutting, no picture. The writer was a bit perturbed. Later I would scour through copies of Flash Art and back issues of Studio International for any mention of Burden. This led me to bucket loads of other artists, some fantastic stories and a little more information about Trans Fixed, but still no picture. The image stayed with me.

Eventually the internet and Chris Burden’s extended fame within the artworld lavished me with a small photo of the artist and his cross. I was disappointed. Not with the actual picture, that was fine. What more could you do with a pic of someone crucified on top of a volkswagon beetle, add fake blood? It evoked all the emotions of sixties imagery, grainy, black and white with slightly hippy rebel rock ‘n roll posing. Bonnie and Clyde. Maverick school. Good adolescent stuff.

What upset me was is that a photograph of the event actually existed and was now being included in exhibitions.