Thursday, 27 September 2012

Letters from Lilian: Doorways Part 2 - Anita Grosz

Artists gather inspiration and motivation from countless sources, there is no one path or standard method.  For some it is an emotion that they'll explore through their chosen medium, for others a found or sourced 'object' can inspire new work. I personally find some of the most thought provoking art is where an artist creates work that stems from an investigation into a person or a place, especially within the context of a specific period of time.  The starting point may be a vague memory, a personal artefact, or a social or political event that spurs the artist down a path of research, investigation, and development.  One such artist that works in this manner is Anita Grosz, a recent Masters graduate in Fine Art Photography from the University of the Creative Arts, Farnham.  I saw some of Anita's work in a group show back in March, one of my first reviews here, so was very pleased to have the opportunity to see where her research and subsequent art outcomes have taken her in her recent solo show at Gallery@49 in Bracknell.

Anita has been working on a project focused on specific archival family documents which are part of a much larger story about forced displacement, identity, memory and exile.  She has done intensive research into the 'Kindertransports' which were rescue operations of Jewish children from Nazi Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia by train to England in 1938 and 1939.  Britain had agreed to accept children at risk under the age of 17, so long as they travelled without parents, had a £50 re-emigration deposit (£3000 in today's terms which often came through anonymous donations), and a placement identified.  Aware of the growing danger, many Czech Jewish parents were desperate to secure places for their children. One such Kindertransport from Prague on 18 April 1939 carried two young boys age 15 and 13, Anita's father and uncle.    

Documentary work for 'Letters from Lilian' by Anita Grosz

The boys travelled by train to Holland and boat and train to Liverpool Street Station, London then progressed onto Warborough, Oxfordshire where they would be farmhands. They had been 'sponsored' by Lilian Bowes-Lyon (the Queen Mother's first cousin), an aristocrat, published poet, and spinster.  Thus began the life of two urban boys in rural, depressed England.  Anita's research for this photo-documentary series was initiated by letter's from Lilian Bowes-Lyon to her father and uncle, found after her fathers death in 2001.  The letter's are from the period of those first ten years, their formative years. Lilian Bowes-Lyon died in 1949.  The return correspondence from her father to Lilian has never been found, but the investigations to find it or potentially re-create it, has artistically driven Anita's work in interesting and varied ways.

Doorways Series by Anita Grosz

The main body of work on display in this small solo show are images of the doorways where Lilian Bowes-Lyon lived and the letters from her father would have been received.  The present day images of these front doors still reflect the well-healed upper class living standards of 1940's England that Lilian would have experienced. The photographs are laid over Lilian's faded letters, undecipherable other than a date, a signature or a brief word or two, and printed on thin, faded parchment paper.  The large doorway prints, of which there are several from Oxford and London, are accompanied in this exhibition by enlarged photographs of the young Hans Grosz.  One is of a teenager on the farm, with an air of uncertainty behind the smiling face; another a striding, confident young man ready to face the world.  The story between these two images, a young man's development to adulthood through uncertain times in a foreign land, with the guidance and support of a mature aristocrat, is only half told. Anita's art seeks to find a voice for her father and bring to light the rest of the story.

Friday, 7 September 2012

An Artist's Progression - Angelika Steiger

Venturing out of the 'Grey Zone' for the first time in months, I took the slow train into the 'city', well Wimbledon, to catch a look at the Masters in Fine Art Show at Wimbledon College of Art, part of the University of the Arts London.  This was because the fourth ReOrsa member, the one who has participated in more projects then even the 3 founders, Maidenhead based artist Angelika Steiger, was graduating and showing her final work.

I first met Angelika, a Lichtensteiner/Swiss native but long-standing Thames Valley resident, when she took the opportunity of one of the 'empty shops for studios' in Bracknell town centre that kick started the ReOrsa activities over six years ago.  At that time her practice was very much as a painter, mostly egg tempera and acrylic, in abstract, colourful compositions that spoke of happiness and light.  Though some of the work was interesting, the style and nature of the work for me was fairly decorative and missing that extra 'something' that makes one want to examine it closer and explore further.  Here are two examples from 2008 which I came across that was characteristic of her style then.

Paintings by Angelika Steiger

But what has proved incredibly interesting over these six years has been the opportunity to watch her development as an artist and the changes in not only the medium and style but in how she approaches her work.  She has progressed from the paintings to installations, explored many print processes and sculptural work, while keeping to her interest in the use of light to explore emotions.  My favourite work to date had been a window installation she did as part of the ReOrsa Project No 4 in 2009 entitled 'Crystal Wishes' that used broken glass from a nearby shop.

The journey through the MA was difficult for her for many reasons but she has come out the other side with strong work that has a depth and a meaning far greater than anything I've seen her do before.  She showed 3 pieces for her final work, two of which utilised the play of light, broken or distressed glass, and spoke of emotions and belonging. It's hard to say which of these two are my favourite, both equally strong in different ways, both showed imagination, emotion and beauty, but with a darker undertone of reality and life's harsher side.  These are works that I wanted to keep looking at again and again, I could see and feel and question and understand a range of emotions the longer I looked.

'Shoreditch Diamonds' and 'Spring' by Angelika Steiger

It is with great sadness that we have to say goodbye to Angelika, she is leaving the 'Grey Zone' and venturing back into the wider world, to places where her art may continue to grow and change and may stand a chance at the exposure it deserves.  It's been lovely to watch her work evolve, I wish her happiness and light for the future.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Art in Empty Shops - ReOrsa Projects

I recently received an email from Martin Franklin, Manager of the Digital Media Centre at South Hill Park Arts Centre with the annual tally of downloads from the Gene Pool Podcasts, an arts broadcast he's being hosting for five years now.  I was very surprised to see that a podcast made with the ReOrsa artists back in Sept 2008 received the 4th highest downloads during 2011-2012 and that it's listening audience has continued to grow every year since it was first broadcast.  It's now well over 3,200 downloads, amazing given its not even available on the main pages of iTunes or the DMC web site, those listeners are finding it through various podcast directories.  I was curious to know why it might still be of interest four years on, given it's about a group of artists using empty shops in a small town at the heart of the 'Grey Zone', so I had a listen, you can too to by clicking HERE.

What struck me was the ability to compare what the state of affairs was in 2008 with where ReOrsa and those artists are today.  Martin discusses with ReOrsa Co-Founder Janet Curley Cannon how the artists obtained the use of empty shops and what's involved in converting them to spaces for contemporary art.  I found these 'before' and 'after' images of the inside of the empty shop at 4 Charles Square, Bracknell that featured in this project and podcast recording.

ReOrsa Artists Project No 2, 4 Charles Square Bracknell

Janet expressed in 2008 the intention to keep ReOrsa going, along with co-founders Tonia Maddison and Jenny Parkes as long as they had studio space in the town centre which was, and continues to be, under a constant demolition threat.  She says there will be more annual projects and perhaps hopefully a more regular presence for regional artists.  Four years on, four more projects and ReOrsa has managed the Gallery@49 exhibition space for the past year offering over 50 regional artists an opportunity to show their work.

One of those artists is Jo Thomas who occupied Gallery@49 just last month. It was very interesting listening to her talk about her involvement in this 2008 project and wanting to get a 'sense of the place' in light of her August 2012 use of Gallery@49.  Several other regional artists who were involved in the ReOrsa Project 2 talk of how they approached the use of their empty shop for installations and displays, you can see images of those shops discussed here. So though several years have passed the topics are just as relevant today, hence the podcasts continuing popularity. There is still an interest by Thames Valley based artists to have an opportunity to show their work, create installations, interventions or respond with site specific work in places that are affordable and without the pressures of the commercial art world. These places continue to be in very short supply.