Lee Bul at Ikon

Entering this first UK solo exhibition by Korean artist, Lee Bul, is (for want of a more grown-up word), magical. Confronted by a new commission, After Bruno Taut (Devotion to Drift) (2013), a piece suspended from the ceiling, comprised of chains and glass beads, the visitor is launched into this exhibition with a feast for the eyes. The exhibition continues with more beauty, lights, mirrors and trickery, making this a must-see show at the Ikon.

At the centre of 'Via Negativa' (2012)

At the centre of ‘Via Negativa’ (2012)

Playful and child-like, beautiful and crazy, experimental and chilling, this exhibition is bursting at the seams with creativity, fun and imagination. The curatorial decision to not display information about the pieces plays to the strengths of this show, allowing the visitor the freedom to engage his/her imagination with Bul’s works. And what a treat that is with such a collection of intriguing and immersive installations and sketches.

Inside Lee Bul's 'Bunker (M. Bakhtin)' (2007/2012)

Inside Lee Bul’s ‘Bunker (M. Bakhtin)’ (2007/2012)

Lee Bul’s dystopian installations, sculptures and sketches fill the first and second floor galleries of Ikon, taking the visitor to what almost seems like another world. Mirrored corridors distort reality, while eerie sounds playing through headphones in Bunker (M. Bakhtin) confuse the senses.

Optical-illusions galore, this exhibition is interactive and fun, while being thought-provoking and at times a little scary. The maze of mirrors, Via Negativa, confuses the visitor’s sense of space as you cautiously walk through it, narrowly missing walking into reflections of yourself at every turn.

At the centre of 'Via Negativa' (2012)

At the centre of ‘Via Negativa’ (2012)

What makes this exhibition really special is that the visitor can see Bul’s creative processes. Sculptures are displayed alongside their moquettes and sketches, and material exploration is expertly shown in a series of wolf sculptures, all identical in shape and size, but made from a huge variety of materials. It is exciting and refreshing to be invited into the creative process behind this collection.

'Untitled ("Infinity wall")' (2008)

‘Untitled (“Infinity wall”)’ (2008)

Allow plenty of time to see this exhibition. It is full to the brim of exciting works, with a section of the second floor gallery reminiscent of the crowded walls at the RA Summer Exhibitions. The installations and sculptures will set your imaginations rolling, taking you back to younger years and your eyes and mind will be tricked over and over again.

Lee Bul’s work is shown at Ikon until 9th November 2014.

True to Life? New Photography from the Middle East

From Morocco to Afghanistan, photography has become an increasingly important medium in today’s Middle East. It allows artists from this vast and diverse region to project an accessible, engaging and often deeply personal voice.

This exhibition is one of the most interesting collections I have seen for a while. Not only does it present beautiful and sometimes difficult images, it also asks the viewer to question the integrity of the very images they are seeing: ‘Do these photographs reflect real life, or are they merely versions of reality created by the photographers?’

With the Middle East frequently discussed and represented in the media, this question posed in True to Life? is a welcome one. The viewer enters the exhibition reminded that photography does not present the facts. We are immediately invited to step into this space with a critical eye, leaving our prejudices and indeed our faith in a camera lens at the door.

Spread across two galleries in BMAG, the first room of this free exhibition is haunting. A series of six portraits from Shadi Ghadirian’s series Qajar span one of the four walls. These images, staged and photographed like traditional Iranian portraits include women with modern objects that are forbidden in Iran. The mixture between old and new, forbidden and expected is particularly striking.

'Qajar #1' Image from shadighadirian.com

Shadi Ghadirian: ‘Qajar #1’ Image from shadighadirian.com

In the next room, Hassan Hajjij’s two pieces are displayed side-by-side. Saida in Green, the face of the exhibition sits alongside Jama Fna Angels. Both of these works depict Moroccan women wearing versions of traditional dress that are covered in symbols of western consumerism. The frame of Jama Fna Angels is decorated with aluminium cans, aerosol cans and glass bottles with famous, western branding on them. The repetitive nature of this piece gives a nod to pop art, creating an interesting, typically Moroccan, yet Warhol-like image.

Hassan Hajjij: 'Saida in Green' Image from bmag.org.uk

Hassan Hajjij: ‘Saida in Green’ Image from bmag.org.uk

The standout works for me were the poignant images from Amirali Ghasemi’s 2006 series, Party. In these photographs of young people enjoying a house party, any visible flesh is blocked in white, while any hair is blocked in black, creating cartoon-like, featureless young adults. These party-goers are having their anonymity and safety preserved but are consequently covering up their identity and even their race.

Before reading in the supporting information that this was a work based on the underground youth culture of Tehran, images of the secret parties in Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (graphic novel and 2007 French animation film) came to mind. Perhaps Ghasemi was aware of Satrapi’s work. For me, the association deepened and enriched my understanding of the photographs and added an extra element of youth rebellion to the images.

Such was my fascination with True to Life? that I made notes on almost every work featured. However, I must leave some space for surprise for any future visitors. This exhibition has been brilliantly crafted and presented and it is certainly one to leave you thinking. Go to it with an open mind, leave your previous convictions at the door and question everything you see. You will not be disappointed.

 

True to Life? is in galleries 12 & 13 of the Birmingham Museum until 2nd November 2014. Entry is free.

Patrick Caulfield & Gary Hume at the Tate

Having gone to the Tate Britain just to see the Patrick Caulfield exhibition, we were informed upon arrival that our ticket price also included entry to the Gary Hume exhibition. Seeing the two together turned out to be rather interesting:

Patrick Caulfield

Patrick Caulfield 'Portrait of Juan Gris', 1963. Image from Tate website.

Patrick Caulfield ‘Portrait of Juan Gris’, 1963. Image from Tate website.

Caulfield is well known for his use of bold blocks of colour and heavy, black outlines. The exhibition feels both inviting and playful as you walk around a series of large canvases in spacious rooms.

Excellent organisation of the exhibition in chronological order shows the progression of Caulfield’s works from far more simple, stripped-back compositions in the first room, to textured, elaborate canvases in the fifth. My brother even eloquently labelled one painting in the final room a ‘mind f**k’ due to its complex structure and optical illusion.

Patrick Caulfield ‘After Lunch’, 1975. Image from Tate website.

‘After Lunch’ is one of many highlights in the exhibition. I often think that Caulfield painted the idyllic postcard scene just to prove he could paint realistically! The merging of two genres is both striking and impressive and it is this innovation of composition that sets Caulfield’s work apart for me.

Gary Hume

Photo of the doors to the Gary Hume exhibition

Photo of the doors to the Gary Hume exhibition.

The next half of our visit to the Tate took us through doors specially designed by Gary Hume for this showcase of his work. The colourful walls and optical illusions spilled over from Caulfield’s exhibition but in a more abstract way.

Admittedly, a comparison of the artists may not be a fruitful one to make (I have not researched their practices or influences) but it is also unavoidable when viewing the exhibitions in such close succession.

Gary Hume 'Tulips', 2009. Image from Tate website.

Gary Hume ‘Tulips’, 2009. Image from Tate website.

One aspect of Hume’s work that I did particularly enjoy was his use of thick paint to create lines. This technique contrasted Caulfield’s use of black outlines splendidly, as Hume uses the same tone of paint either thickened or dented to create impressions. This subtle means of depiction is very beautiful and effective on large canvases, often encouraging the viewer to walk in closer to inspect the shapes.

Both exhibitions are showing at Tate Britain until 1st September. To find out more information visit the Tate’s website.

Mini Internet Roundup

A few things of interest this sunny Thursday evening.

BBFC gets Railway Children complaint

Health and safety gone mad! This article made me chuckle.

Art Everywhere: A very very big art show

An exciting initiative that aims to see tens of thousands of billboards across the country transformed into British masterpieces.

Why the humanities? Professor of history discusses the value found in humanities courses

Martin Jay makes a compelling argument for the humanities:

‘the humanities can compel us to reflect on the premises we take too quickly for granted and the values we uncritically accept.’

A recent graduate in English Literature and History of Art, this topic is very close to my heart. Here’s hoping future employers are reading this…

Hiatus Kaiyote

I’m currently on my way to see this band in London. The link takes you to a YouTube clip of Nakamarra.

Painting in Hospitals

Paintings in Hospitals

Fairly awful photograph of a poster in the QEH

As I was walking through the Queen Elizabeth Hospital the other day I was drawn to this poster on the wall. I am aware that this is a fairly awful photo taken from my phone in a rush but this is a poster that explains the work of a charity called Painting in Hospitals.

I have recently taken it as my mission to prove the importance of art to a friend who doesn’t share my enthusiasm. However as well as the arts, another particular passion of mine is people and I love finding ways that these two passions work for each other.

It was with great pleasure that I presented this evidence to my friend:

“From GP waiting rooms to hospital wards, our surroundings have an impact on the way we think and feel. Artworks create a welcoming and stimulating environment, conducive to improving wellbeing and promoting a positive image of healthcare.

There is now an overwhelming body of evidence demonstrating that participating in the arts and having access to artworks can dramatically improve clinical outcomes and mental and physical health.” – taken from the website www.paintingsinhospitals.org.uk

I look forward to finding out more about this organisation and I hope to come across others like it soon.

Antony Gormley

I’ve become a bit of an Antony Gormley enthusiast recently. My twitter (@Lucyemold) background and header are photographs of two of his sculptures – ‘Iron: Man’ and ‘Model’ – perhaps showing that I’m a bit obsessed? I’m going to try and justify myself here.

Iron: Man

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Antony Gormley’s ‘Iron: Man’

The last year has been spent studying this fella in depth. Standing in Victoria Square, Birmingham, Antony Gormley’s ‘Iron: Man’ has been the focus of my undergraduate History of Art dissertation.

I have really enjoyed going into detail on this rusty, mummy/robot/human sculpture and making friends in high places trying to dig deeper into his history, which, by the way, is fascinating.

When he was erected in 1993 as a gift from the Trustee Savings Bank (today Lloyds TSB), he was hated by the local press and much of the public who thought he didn’t fit in with his surroundings. When Princess Diana visited Birmingham she was said to giggle at the sight of the leaning creature and some people called for him to be removed.

But today he is an asset to the city. Antony Gormley is now an internationally renowned artist, perhaps most famous for his ‘Angel of the North’ and ‘Iron: Man’ is well worth a visit if you find yourself in town. Spend some time walking around the square and looking at him from various angles – he really is an intriguing guy.

Model

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Corridor of Antony Gormley’s ‘Model’

This is Gormley’s most recent work, a show exhibited earlier this year at the White Cube, Bermondsey. Gormley has said of this exhibition ‘I can’t but see this exhibition as a culmination of 32 years of exploration’ (see full interview and lots of other great videos here: whitecube.com/channel). It featured lots of human-like figures made out of a series of blocks.

The main attraction of the exhibition however was a huge human figure that you could walk through. In a vast room at the back of the gallery was a giant body lying down made out of blocks large enough to walk through. The blocks interlinked to make passage ways, tunnels and different sized rooms.

Inside 'Model'

Inside ‘Model’

There was no artificial light – the only light that could get inside the sculpture came through gaps in some of the blocks. In some rooms you were in total darkness which created optical illusions – I found myself almost walking into a wall that I thought was a walkway.

It was almost like a playground inside – some parts of the body you had to crawl through, there were bits you could climb on (although we had to sign a disclosure before going in saying that we would not damage the sculpture and that the gallery was not liable for any damage to us) and it was altogether a great, fun piece.

Inside 'Model'

Inside ‘Model’

These are just two of Gormley’s pieces that I particularly admire and I hope this post has explained the reasons behind my obsession – although let’s call it a fascination – with Gormley’s work.