Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Whitley Arts Festival 2012 - Reading

Artists can be very resourceful when trying to find alternative, temporary spaces to exhibit or perform work in across the Thames Valley, as there are very few permanent places, and the Whitley Arts Festival is a great example.  This year's festivities opened with the St. Mary's Project on the 12th of October which was held in St. Mary's Minister located in the centre of Reading.  The Festival has been using this beautiful church since 2009 as an annual venue for attracting new audiences to multi-disciplinary contemporary art.  In the handout I was given on the night it stated that Canon Brian Shenton advocates a broader use of the iconic Minister to change the use of the space into more of an active community space, which traditionally churches were.  I think I saw him standing towards the back during the evening watching as the 'non-traditional' activities were played out to a disparate audience, many who seemed to find the religious decorations, relics and architectural features as worthy of attention as the contemporary art that brought them there.

This year's festival was focused around performance art, very topical given the rise in popularity it is receiving in London and elsewhere in the contemporary art scene.  The evening event at St. Mary's was just one element of the Festival, other performances that were played out over several days to the end of October included works in unexpected places such as a ladies toilet, parked cars, a pub, and so on.  I'll admit I didn't have the opportunity to make it to any of these pop-up performances but I thoroughly enjoyed what I experienced on the first evening in the Minister.  Soon after entering and taking my place in the pew I was enthralled as two women from Siobhan Davies Dance did a live performance of a piece entitled 'Songbook' by Matteo Fargion.  Given the holy surroundings I was sitting in I found the work, much of it non-sensical dialogue, both absorbing and confusing, kind of like a Latin mass.  The second part of the Dance troupe's contribution to the Festival was a film piece from the same project ROTOR 2010 entitled 'The Score' written by Siobhan Davies herself, here I was on more familiar visual ground.  The film of dancers movement shot from above was projected onto the beautiful, worn floor tiles in the small chancel area to the right of the altar.  I could have spent a lot longer enjoying the abstract hypnotic movements if it wasn't for a small child that found it great fun to try and step on the heads of the projected dancers as they wove their colourful pattern across the tiles.

There were several other performances on the evening, I was looking forward to 'Playing The Minster' by Michael Fairfax after having missed the opportunity to hear 'David Bryne Play's the Roundhouse' in London, but was somewhat disappointed.  Perhaps it was the position in the church where I was sitting, or that the 'source' sounds the Minister produced were lacking, but it was mostly just an undistinguishable noise that lasted a few minutes.  There were additional projections and sound-scapes in various parts of the church to take in once we were allowed to move around after the set performances, the snippets of 'The Walk' by Chris Lambert played from speakers in the choir area of the Minister was intriguing, I particularly liked the fact that it had a very local element, it was a combination of recorded  conversations with townsfolk mixed with audio recordings of walks through Reading.

Still from 'The Score' by Siobhan Davies Dance and 'Piece' by Julia Rogers

Another local element was the stunning installation 'Piece' by Reading artist Julia Rogers which she describes as a visual response to the audible sounds of the Minister, both inside and out.  The work was suspended spheres of varying sizes, "like thought bubbles emanating with the prayers and thoughts of those in the congregation". It was an interactive piece, a few of the spheres were at a level that you could insert your head into, once in you were enclosed in the muffled sounds of your own body played against those from the external world. The 'Piece' worked well as a link from the auditory to the visual art element of the Festival, and it was beautifully presented against the dark architectural beams of the ancient Minister.

There was much more on offer to the Reading arts going public throughout the month, films and performances, along with an Art Walk which included a few pop-up shop exhibitions, but it was this evening that was the main event, it seemed to have the most thought, time and effort put into it by all and a fine evening it was too!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Invitation to Krakow's International Print Triennial

As this hit my mail box I was quite intrigued, but alas it wasn't actually an invitation to go all the way to beautiful Krakow, which is quite a ways outside of the 'Grey Zone', but down the road to South Hill Park Arts Centre in Bracknell.  It will be a wonderful opportunity to hear and see what's happening in the world of fine art printmaking from the work included in one of the largest contemporary print open submission exhibitions in the world.  And our own foreign correspondent, Barbara Gorska, is going to be giving the talk.  As I wrote back in July, this young woman uses every opportunity available to gain experience, meet people, and travel using her art and studies as a means, and well done to her for it.  On the 31st of October she'll be talking to all gathered in the Recital Room at the arts centre about her experience as an intern during the selection process, the hanging, and the opening of the main event.  Perhaps we can get insider knowledge about how they DO select which prints get in, do they agree more times than not?  But what's going to be really visually interesting is to see a broad range of images from prints from around the world, both famous names and the unfamiliar, from lithographs to etchings, woodcuts to digital, and much more I'm sure. Plus it will hopefully also be a great chance to meet and chat with many of the artists from the 'Grey Zone'.  Guess I better email those ReOrsa Artists at reorsa@gmail.com to reserve my place, hope to see you there!

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

STATE – New Greenham Arts and the Corn Exchange, Newbury

How do you define STATE? The Studio8 artists from New Greenham Arts Centre, the studio space of the Corn Exchange, Newbury, chose this as the theme for their recent annual group exhibition and their artistic interpretations of STATE were as varied as the dictionary definitions. For their initial discussions they said their ideas ranged from “stating your case or making a statement, perhaps of intention, to the solitude of personal inner space. Then material and chemical states were considered, through to more political interpretations such as head of state, the state of the country or the notion of being stateless. From the cutting edge position of state of the art to the despair of being in a sorry state.".  With this influencing my state of mind, I visited this exhibition of two parts, the first smaller part at the Corn Exchange in Newbury town centre, then on to the gallery space at New Greenham Arts.

'Vortex' by Marie Sudwell (left), 'Hot Glass Drawing I' by Shirley Eccles (centre),
and 'as red' by Sally Haynes (right)

All the work at the Corn Exchange was strong, each of the artists having one or two wall mounted works in the foyer area. The venue is a hard space to show in, what with numerous doors, theatre entrances, and a hallway display area which makes it difficult to stand back and see the work. The first piece I noticed was a work by the newest member in the group, Marie Sudwell. Her print 'Vortex', a dark, intense, whirling shape drew me in for closer inspection and there I could see the characteristic scratchy line of the drypoint plate, it gave the work a heightened state of fear and anxiety.  I liked Flora Gare's resin works though they were difficult to really see in the narrow space but Sally Hayne's drawings practically sprang off the paper in the bright spot lights. Shirley Eccles, a glass artist, had an impressive 'Hot Glass drawing', the work was scary, it looked like a gaping wound that had etched it's way through the paper leaving it in a painful, agitated state.

This part of the exhibition in Newbury town centre runs until the 21st November and is well worth the visit. But I wanted to make my way down to the main exhibition located a few miles south at the New Greenham Arts Centre, as this larger part of the exhibition would be closing within the next few days.

In the white cube gallery space at the art centre there is room to move around and the artists seemed to respond with larger, more colourful work, including several floor based sculptural pieces.  It's a lovely venue but is located on an industrial estate 10 - 15 minute drive from Newbury town centre and the visitor count most days is low.  The gallery and the work on show was deserving of more!  Here each of the artists had another 2 - 3 works displayed that I could, for the most part, relate back to what I had seen in town. In some ways though the exhibition now looked and felt more like a mixed group show and less a thematic response, not that this was a detriment, just the state of affairs given the location. 

Having been quite taken with Sally Hayne's technical skill and the impressive detail shown in her drawings, I thoroughly enjoyed the contrasting state of her simple wall hung installation piece, 'as red'.  It was a very playful interpretation of the same red bands she had drawn, here seemingly strewn across a few twigs, so which came first?  Perhaps one of the smallest pieces on display here, 'Present state' by Helen Peake, was a rather understated collage in its use of colour and materials and could easily be overlooked, but it had a special attraction for me.  It seemed to be just there, tucked at the end of the wall space, not vying for attention with the other more colourful and larger works, but content in its composition and size.  Her artist statement summed up the work of the group exhibition as a whole, and perhaps that of many artists working in the 'Grey Zone' in this age of austerity; “for me state is a way of being, a present existence, where I am now, a step on the path from which life will move forward”.

STATE by Studio8 Artists at New Greenham Arts Centre gallery views
with 'Present state' by Helen Peake (centre)

The Studio8 Artists showing work in 'STATE' included Shirley Eccles, Flora Gare, Chrissie Gutsell, Sally Haynes, Helen Lunn, Luke Webb, Steve Sommerville, Marie Sudwell, and Helen Peake.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Autumn Exhibitions - South Hill Park Arts Centre

I was leaving the building at South Hill Park after a morning session of bending and stretching these old bones when out of the corner of my eye I spotted something that drew me back in.  What had caught my attention seemed like ancient shards of cups and vessels from some archeological dig, cleaned up and presented for further study.  Of course this is exactly what the artist had intended, presenting her ceramic work as "pieces that reflect the iconic shapes of urns, plates and vases", her stated intention is to reject the concept of industrialisation and contrast it with our notions of these pieces as functional objects.  I was pleased to discover the artist, ceramicist Sophie Waite, is regionally based with a studio in Newbury.  I hadn't encountered her work before though from her CV she has been showing in numerous exhibitions and craft fairs since graduating from Plymouth University in 2008 with a 1st Class Honours Degree in 3D Design.  Her ceramics, inspired by traditional shapes and natural forms, are made using methods of press-moulding and slip casts then smoke-fired in sawdust and wood.  She uses special glazes in order to achieve a lovely, warm, earthy quality to the surface, with a crackled aged feel to them.  There is a strong similarity to traditional African clay pots, not surprising as she spent time in Malawi and sites the time is very inspirational.  So pleasantly surprised I was to see her work that I strolled through the Mirror Gallery at South Hill Park to find the other exhibitions in the Mansion Space that are part of the Autumn Exhibition season.

In the Atrium is the work of John Joseph Lynch, an artist-printmaker from Bristol who is exhibiting his latest prints combining screen, digital and relief print techniques.  He uses a mix of familiar imagery, juxtaposing the archaic with the contemporary in work that is bold, bright and impressive.  The surfaces are busy, the eye darts from one element to another, the bold black inks of the relief print elements in stark contrast to some of the more subdued but busier digital print imagery.

Keeping with the printmaking theme in the Print Gallery, the long corridor leading to the fully equipped Print Studio at South Hill Park, there is a selection of work from the local Print at the Park Group with their theme 'Remember Last Summer'.  Here one can see a range of print techniques, many taught in the workshops and courses held in the Print room, and a broad interpretation of the subject matter.  The overall quality was good but a few that especially stood out were by Sue Pither, Rukshi Brownlow, and Ros Ingham.  I particularly liked Sue Pither's 'August Bank Holiday' print which sums up the weather conditions of most of our recent bank holidays!

work by  Sophie Waite - Broken teacups, John Lynch - Saturation, and Sue Pither - August Bank Holiday.  (apologies to the artists for the reflections in the prints behind glass!)