Monday, 30 January 2012

Review of Art Erotica at the Gallery, Cork Street

Art Erotica
The Gallery in Cork Street
19 – 27 January 2012

This past week saw the launch of a new annual event in the London art calendar, both showcasing the talent of emerging and established artists, whilst also raising funds for a small but worthy charity. Opened by the internationally renowned art critic and historian, Edward Lucie-Smith, whose own books (which number nearly 200 in total), include titles such as Sexuality in Western Art; Erotica – The Fine Art of Sex; and Ars Erotica – An Arousing History of Erotic Art, Art Erotica, held in The Gallery on Cork Street, was the brainchild of Kathryn Roberts, who is also the founder and director of the Cork Street Open Exhibition, which has now been running for four summers. 

To read the rest of this review, please go to:

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Review of James Yamada's Parasolstice Winter Light Project at Parasol unit

James Yamada: The summer shelter retreats darkly among the trees
Parasolstice – Winter Light 2011
Parasol unit
23 November 2011 – 18 March 2012

American artist James Yamada (born 1967) is known for his installation works which explore the interaction between nature and technology. For the inauguration of Parasol unit’s new annual outdoor winter project, Parasolstice – Winter Light, which will feature works by international artists interested in the phenomenon of light, he has created The summer shelter retreats darkly among the trees, a kind of aluminium gazebo with 28 neon tube lights built into its roof, blue and white, and at an intensity known as full spectrum light, mimicking the strength of the sun. These wavelengths are recognised by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) to be highly beneficial for the treatment of SAD (seasonal affective disorder), whereby a lack of sunlight in the winter months can lead to depression, loss of energy, and sleep deprivation. As such, light of this intensity is commonly used in therapy. At Parasol unit, however, visitors are invited to bask in the winter sun for free, sheltered from the elements, and looking out on to the peaceful garden oasis, all the while only minutes away from the hubbub of Old Street roundabout. Small trees and shrubs growing by the pond reflect the bright white gleam of the artificial tree trunks supporting the structure – a collision of the natural and the manmade. These startling white buttresses stand out brightly against the grey winter sky, reflecting the sterile sanitation of modern medicine, and raising questions as to which is more salubrious: the proximity to nature with its hardy vegetation and vast sky opening up above the nearby high rise office blocks, or the antiseptic clinical science so commonly used to prolong life in today’s ‘advanced’ society? There is something awe-inspiringly sublime about the aspect of each, and their head on confrontation here is both calming and inviting of reflection, whilst simultaneously unsettling and thought provoking – an experience that takes you out of yourself and your glum day to day concerns, even if only for the duration of your exposure to the healing rays. 

Image Credit
James Yamada: The summer shelter retreats darkly among the trees (2011)
Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art, London, installation view, 2011
Photo by Stephen White

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Review of The Body in Women’s Art Now, Part 3 – ReCreation at ROLLO Contemporary Art

The Body in Women’s Art Now
Part 3 – ReCreation
ROLLO Contemporary Art
20 January – 2 March 2012

Philippa Found, the director of ROLLO Contemporary Art, initiated the three part exhibition, The Body in Women’s Art Now, in 2009, as a response to the massive under-representation of women artists in the canon of western art history. Of the 2,300 works on show in the National Gallery, for example, just four of these are paintings by women artists, and, at Tate Modern, women artists represent just 12% of the collection, with only 29% of solo exhibitions between 2000-2009 representing women artists’ work. Since the early years of the feminist art movement, in the 1960s and 70s, the body has played a key role in many women artists’ work as they have sought to reclaim its image from the male gaze of earlier centuries. The three exhibitions in this series, which have each been shown at ROLLO Contemporary Art in London and at the New Hall Art Collection in Cambridge, concentrate on work created by a range of international women artists since the year 2000 in which the body is a central component.

To read the rest of this review, please go to:

Monday, 16 January 2012

Review of UnderWire Film Festival Winners Screening at Shortwave Cinema

UnderWire Film Festival Winners Screening 
London Short Film Festival 
Shortwave Cinema, Bermondsey Square
Saturday 14 January 2012

The UnderWire film festival was launched in 2010 by Gabriella Apicella and Gemma Mitchell to both celebrate and help provide a platform for short films made by, and, in the case of the XX award, portraying interesting representations of women. In an industry still blighted by gender imbalance, the founders are seeking to encourage a greater diversity of perspectives and experiences. They therefore look to showcase all kinds of film, from drama to documentary, animation to music video and artist film. All submissions must, however, be under 20 minutes in length.

The second UnderWire festival was held in November 2011, with awards for best director, best editor, best screenwriter, best composer, best cinematographer, best producer, and then the XX award. The range of submissions was impressive, and judging no mean feat, but the winners deserved every ounce of praise steeped upon them. This weekend, as part of the larger London Short Film Festival, the winners from UnderWire were screened once more, as an hour long compilation, at Shortwave cinema, on Bermondsey Square.

To read the rest of this review, please go to:

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Review of Helen Carmel Benigson: The Future Queen of the Screen at ROLLO Contemporary Art

Helen Carmel Benigson: The Future Queen of the Screen
ROLLO Contemporary Art
11 November 2011 – 13 January 2012

‘[...] the notion of identity used to be a narrative of geography or politics; now it is a profile – controlled, reduced and with the potential to be fantasy, reality or a mixture of the two.’

Certainly, the question of identity – both in reality and fantasy, the here and now, and in cyberspace – are key concepts repeated over and again in Helen Carmel Benigson’s easily recognisable video, print and performance works. A recent graduate from the Slade MA Fine Art, Benigson was named last July as one of the Independent’s top ten young British artists to watch out for. Perhaps better known as her alter ego, rapper Princess Belsize Dollar, Benigson has already had a busy debut to the new year with this solo show at ROLLO Contemporary Art, and a work featuring in the travelling group show, The Body in Women’s Art Now: Part 3 – ReCreation, also due to come to ROLLO in mid January.

To read the rest of this review please go to:

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Review of Linear B: A Memorial Project Responding To Works In The Collection Of Greek Artist Nikos Alexiou at the Stephen Lawrence Gallery, University of Greenwich

Linear B: A Memorial Project Responding To Works In The Collection Of Greek Artist Nikos Alexiou
The Stephen Lawrence Gallery, University of Greenwich
17 November 2011 – 6 January 2012

Linear B was an ancient syllabic script which predated the Greek alphabet by several centuries, existing from ca. 1500 - 1200 BC. The Linear B project takes the notion of this script as the beginning, and seeks to create a new visual and conceptual language, and, with it, to propose a model of the exhibition as a dialectic in which artists are able to respond to one another and interact. The idea is to open up the questions prevalent on the contemporary art scene, regarding the roles of the artist, the curator, and the collector, and looking at how and where these inevitably overlap. Furthermore, questions are raised regarding the nature of personal and private collections, as opposed to public ones, whereby the former may still be driven by love and personal taste, without regard for the financial value of a work.

Nikos Alexiou was a Cretan born artist, collector, and curator, with a collection of over 200 modern and contemporary works, all of which he kept in the same building as his own studio, and which thus, in a way, became a part of his own oeuvre. In 2007, he represented Greece in the Venice Biennial by creating drawings and constructions for the pavilion, referring to the mosaics in St Mark’s. His work is meticulous, precise, and methodical, using repetitive patterns and designs.

The Linear B project was born in 2009, although co-curator and artist, Christina Mitrentse, had met Alexiou four years earlier when they co-exhibited in the first Athens Biennial and he began collecting her drawings. She initially invited him to exhibit his floor installation at the Celestial Contrakt group show in Hackney Wick in 2009, and, from this, a friendship and collaborative artistic relationship was born. Sadly, Alexiou died in February 2011 but, through the Linear B project, his work and his collection will live on.

For the project’s inaugural exhibition, also the starting point of the Stephen Lawrence Gallery’s 2012 Olympic Programme, seven contemporary London-based artists were selected to themselves choose a work from Alexiou’s collection and to respond to it in their own way. Upon Alexiou’s death, his collection was donated to the Benaki Museum in Athens, but many of the works are, nonetheless, virtually present in this exhibition, both in the videos showing, respectively, a film of an exhibition curated by Alexiou in the medieval tower on the island of Naxos, and an edited slide show, by the curators, of his entire collection, as well as in pages from a catalogue to his show The End (Once More) (2007), displayed on the window sills, and evidencing the microscopic detail of his own work. Additionally, one wall is hung with two giant sheets of an 11 sheet digital print – Alexiou’s last work – Grid (2010), intricately webbed, embroidery-like, dark, foreboding, but alluring nevertheless. This has been responded to by Mitrentse herself, whose Bed Constellation (2011) fills the main floor space like something out of a dark fairy tale, with that same twist of witchcraft and innocence, mythology and futurism. Decorated with over 200 printed stars, it represents all of the works in Alexiou’s collection, whilst a giant leather bound book, with the gilded cover text “only when its dark does the owl of Minerva begin its flight,” refers to his death.

Other pairings in the show include Jonas Ranson’s articulate Plans For A New Mausoleum At Halicarnassus (2011), a response to the similarly architectural Independent Landscape No. VI (2004) by Vassili Balatsos, and Alex Zika’s Find The Others (2011), a curious step-like construction, wedged atop a pile of National Geographic magazines, which somehow derived from a reaction to Adam Chodzko’s Meeting Here Everyone Welcome (2000), a text-based poster edition.

Perhaps the most obvious work in the exhibition is Marsha Bradfield’s What Does The Artist Do After The Death Of The Curator? (2011), a 10 minute video responding primarily to Bernhard Cella’s work of the same name (2007), but, more broadly, to Alexiou’s whole collection, where each picture, for her, represents a letter, and, together, they build up to create a new language. This work, and the exhibition as a whole, are to be seen as an experiment – a research project and a model – a way forward along a new pathway of interaction. The artists whose works are being responded to have all been alerted to the fact, and some have even been to see the show, provoking responses to responses.  Narrative networks, multiple dialogues: it is all an ongoing process. Further Linear B exhibitions are already being planned, firstly in Munich, and later in Italy, each time with a new selection of local artists responding to further works from Alexiou’s collection.

Linear B is very much a conceptual show. It is almost more interesting to read and talk about than to see in the flesh, much as is the case for much contemporary art these days. Whilst part of me regrets this loss of the celebratory aesthetic quality so integral to visual art, it equally ought to be recognised that it is precisely this quality which motivated the project in the first place – an investigation into the role of the collector who collects for love, not monetary value; a celebration of his personal taste and pleasure; and a study of his choices and responses to them, further inviting others to choose and respond themselves, thus becoming part of the collection, and extending it beyond its initiator’s death. Thus to suggest an answer to Cella’s and Bradfield’s question: the collector-as-curator never really dies. Or, as Mitrentse suggests, the collection itself becomes a performative work of art and takes on a life of its own.


Nikos Alexiou
Grid (detail) 
Digital print on paper, dimensions variable 
© KIPOS, Nikos Alexiou private foundation, 2010

Christina Mitrentse (responds to Nikos Alexiou)
Bed Constellation 
Silkscreen print on cotton, ed. 2, bed
© Christina Mitrentse 2011 

Christina Mitrentse (responds to Nikos Alexiou) 
Bed Constellation (detail: leather book)
© Christina Mitrentse 2011 

Jonas Ranson (responds to Vassili Balatsos)
Plans For A New Mausoleum At Halicarnassus
Silkscreen print on paper edition of 2
© Jonas Ranson 2011

Bernard Cella
What Does The Artist Do After The Death Of The Curator?
Limited edition print
© Bernhard Cella 2007

Marsha Bradfield (responds to Bernard Cella)
What Does The Artist Do After The Death Of The Curator?
Video still 
© Marsha Bradfield 2011

For further information please see Nikos Alexiou's website or the Linear B project website.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Review of Nothing in the World But Youth at Turner Contemporary

Nothing in the World But Youth
Turner Contemporary, Margate
17 September 2011 – 8 January 2012

When I began working as an intern for Turner Contemporary a year ago, I was sick. Having been seriously ill for several years, spending a large part of that time in hospital, I felt unable to return to my previous career, and didn’t know where to turn instead. I felt like a child again, or, rather, an adolescent: past the stage of innocence and security, but not quite ready or able to take on the uncertainties of the future.

Coming from a background in academia, it was the research aspect of the internship which attracted me, and my qualifications in that area sufficed to get me selected. And now here I am: fully settled on a career in the art world, having, in the interim, gained varied experience as well as employment as a writer, researcher and part-time curator. I am about to embark upon an MA in the History of Art, and I have recently moved further away from my parental home and the hospital which previously kept me bound. Put quite simply, I have come of age, and the process was enabled, to a large degree, by my involvement with this exhibition.

For Nothing in the World But Youth is just that: one big coming of age. Or, rather, many individual comings of age, many group comings of age, many cultural comings of age – a look at adolescence, as portrayed in art and the media, as well as by young people themselves, from 1890, when the concept of adolescence as a distinct phase of life began to be recognised, to the present day.

I will not call it a survey show, for it isn’t. It neither proceeds chronologically, nor does it claim to be all-inclusive, for how could such a challenge ever be met? The initial idea for the exhibition developed out of conversations between Karen Eslea, Head of Learning at Turner Contemporary, and young people in Margate who spoke of their isolation and feelings of being stigmatised. And, of course, Margate has a longstanding history as a place of youth activity and experimentation, best known as one of the seaside resorts favoured by the Mods and Rockers in the 1960s.

So as to render the exhibition accessible and appealing to all, both young and old, it has been arranged around four key themes: place, space and territory; groups and individuals; responsibility and rebellion; and sexuality and growing up. Works included range from those produced by well-established and famous artists to contributions from local students and school children; from paintings and drawings to sculptures and film works; from clothing to shoes; from letters to comics and magazines, posters and flyers: there is something for everyone. Alongside Mary Quant’s tasteful tan nail varnish (1966), a dispo paper dress (1968), an Adam Ant makeup box (1980s), and varying shoes and boots representative of different trends and ages, hangs a green velvet jacket belonging to David Bowie, which he customised with felt tip pen stripes when he was just 13. These items are displayed in cabinets which have been custom made by Matthew Darbyshire, and painted by his mother, to recollect his own childhood bedroom furniture from the 1980s. As gallery assistant Penny Jackson says: “This show has been both curated and created.”

The first thing that greets you as you climb the stairs or exit the lift at gallery level is a compilation of film clips showing youth in Margate across the decades. This sets the scene for a show which is, as John Kampfner, Chair of the Board of Trustees, puts it, being held at an “international gallery at the heart of the locality.” As you cross the balcony, which looks out over the sea, framing the view which makes Margate such a spectacular location and a draw to so many artists throughout history, you have the opportunity to immerse yourself further, by selecting DVDs to watch from the Teenage Wildlife vidéothèque, curated by artists and filmmaker Esther Johnson, or to thumb through various comics from the past century. On the facing wall, one is also greeted by local writer and artist in residence Iain Aitch’s photo gallery of Margate residents back in the heyday of their youth, hanging next to recent portraits, as they are now.

The theme of individuals and portraits continues into the next gallery, where we encounter many iconic photographs, including Corinne Day’s seminal shoot of Kate Moss as a young teenager (Kate, 2008), Diane Arbus’ old before their time Teenage Couple on Hudson Street, N.Y.C (1963), Jacob Riis’ journalistic photograph (Showing their Trick, Hell’s Kitchen Boys) of a group of young toughs in Manhattan, re-enacting an everyday crime, which, when published in 1890, caused widespread panic about youth, and a bewitching sepia image of Marie Bashkirtseff, a young Russian artist, whose journal, published in 1889, has been likened to a female counterpart of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions, and which inspired American psychologist and educator, G. Stanley Hall, to define “adolescence” as a distinct phase of life in 1904.

We are also greeted by a life-size painted bronze by Marc Quinn, A Moment of Clarity (2010), which stands menacingly in the doorway, a youth in a hoody, but based upon the painting by 17th century Spanish artist, Francisco de Zurbaran, Saint Francis of Assisi in his Tomb. Swapping a monk’s hood for a tracksuit hood, does this change the character and intent of the wearer, or is it a reminder that appearances are only external, and one ought not to judge and fear on these grounds alone?

Another sculpture with religious connotation is found in the West Gallery, in the form of Ron Mueck’s Youth (2009-2011), a black teenager lifting his t-shirt to reveal and cautiously inspect a knife wound in his side, resonant of the wounds inflicted upon Christ on the cross.

The South Gallery explores the theme of responsibility and rebellion and contains a couple of walls pasted with posters and flyers from the Mott Collection, dating from late Punk and other subcultures of the 1980s, whilst Mark Leckey’s video compilation, Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore (1999), shows footage from the underground party scene in the UK. In direct contrast to this are photos from the Imperial War Museum’s collection of young girls hard at work, and letters and journal entries from the Mass Observation archive, which express, with a tragicomic twist, the emotions and experiences of young people during the war years.

The timing of this exhibition, itself already in planning for ten years, could not be more apt, with the recent highlighting of the issue of youth, following August’s riots. This theme of violence is also included in Martin Brand’s series of riot images, Fight for Your Right (2005), and photos by Algerian born Mohamed Bourouissa, from the same year, capturing similar events across France, emanating from the Parisian suburbs.

Clearly adolescence corresponds to a period of change, the transition between childhood and adulthood, both physically and psychologically. The final gallery looks at issues related to sexuality, sexual identity, and gender. Androgyny has long been a representative motif, introduced over a century ago when an older female actress, Nina Boucicault, already 30 years of age, was cast to play the role of Peter Pan in the 1904 stage production of J. M. Barrie’s book. Sadie Benning’s video, Flat is Beautiful (1998), picks up on this theme, addressing issues of sexual identity. Works by Sarah Lucas are more overt in their sexual innuendo, and David Hockney’s We Two Boys Together Clinging (1961) depicts two young men kissing at a time when homosexuality was still illegal in the UK. Perfectly capturing the androgyny of teenagers on the cusp of puberty, and with an air of both innocence and nonchalance, posing almost provocatively, are Rineke Dijkstra’s near life-size, swimwear clad girl and boy, Kolobrzeg, Poland, July 26 1992 and Kolobrzeg, Poland, July 23 1992 respectively. In contrast to, or perhaps as a result of, this seeming naivety, there is also a series of large photos of teenage mothers, Into the Arms of Babes (2005), by Michelle Sank, and, next to these, a heart searing set of sketches by Mary Husted, who, falling pregnant as a teenager in the 1960s, was forced to give her son up for adoption, being allowed just ten days with him, during which she made these pencil drawings. Completing the circle of pregnancy options is Paula Rego’s Abortion I-VIII (1997), a disturbingly gothic series of etchings.

Many other big names are also on display, including, to mention but a few, Peter Blake, Martin Boyce, Phil Collins, Dexter Dalwood, Chantal Joffe, Henry Moore, Walter Sickert, Juergen Teller, Andy Warhol and Francesca Woodman. And, of course, J.M.W. Turner himself, since it is integral to the concept of the gallery to have at least one of his works on show at all times. Although he predates the period covered in the premise of this exhibition, he is incorporated thematically, through the showing of a number of beautiful and precocious sketches and watercolours made during his childhood and teenage years.

In a speech at the opening night, Camila Batmanghelidjh, founder and director of Kids Company, spoke of how she has seen, with her own eyes, the power of art in changing things for young people. Not only have many contributed to this exhibition in terms of works displayed, but there are also a number of local teenagers acting as guides around the gallery. It is no exaggeration then, when Batmanghelidjh continues: “This institution and this exhibition are an absolute celebration of everything that is good in our young people.”

As sociologist Richard Hoggart wrote about We are the Lambeth Boys, one of the films on show in the Teenage Wildlife vidéothèque, “it sets out to show, not the whole truth, but some aspects of the truth, wholly.” This is an apt description of the exhibition as a whole, a show so vast and appealing that, although there are inevitably gaps, visitors, both young and old, will want to return again and again to find and re-experience their own truths. 


Santiago Mostyn
Callie on the Sandbank
from Excerpt All Most Heaven
Credit Santiago Mostyn

Sarah Lucas
from Self Portraits 1990-1998
Eating a Banana
courtesy the artist, Sadie Coles HQ London
Inkjet print on paper

JMW Turner
St John's Church, Margate
Pen and ink and watercolour on paper

Peter Blake
Self Portrait with Badges
courtesy Tate London 2011
Oil on board