Ai Weiwei – Royal Academy – My thoughts – Part 2

I feel this exhibition needs more than a single post, it’s so vast even for a few pieces that got my attention. As I moved through I could see his humor coming through, rather dark as it turns out. I was drawn to a piece in the corner of the room, where loads of porcelain  crabs had been piled up. I was reminded of the images of concentration camps such as Auschwitz which have museums that act as an important reminder to the massive loss of life. Thinking of the piles of shoes, bags etc that are behind walls of glass. OK not half as many as the concentration camp but the effect was just the same, a reminder of the food that was eaten at an opening and closing ceremony of his studio whilst he was under house-arrest. Seen as the remains of the last creative and wanted destructive act by Ai. At the time River Crab in Chinese (Hi Xie) meaning “harmonious” was a word used by the government as propaganda. A massive middle finger, something we see quite a few times in the show.

Moving onto the next room I was confronted by a single piece that consumed the space, looking much like the trees in the Academies courtyard. Fragments (2005) was like a constructed forest which you could get lost in. Again a lot of craftsmanship and carpentry has gone into this piece which you are in awe of.

The next room I was surround by pieces made from Marble – Marble Stroller (2014) beautifully constructed pieces. I had never seen the soft rock used in such a way. Usually a material for more classical sculpture which you’d rarely associate with modern art, reinvigorated here in the brutal forms we have here. Depictions of security cameras which were originally fixed inside his studio when he was under house-arrest.  He has also created a world out of the rock which is both harsh and delicate, a balance that is hard to achieve in the context of the objects he has made,

And finally the piece S.A.C.R.E.D (2012) in the final room that blew me away, 6 identical scale models of the prison cell he was in for 80 days during 2011 (from April 3 2011). Ordered to never talk of his time there, he hasn’t really broken that so much as issued drawings and sketches to be made in order to recreate 6 moments during that very testing time that would have otherwise broken anyone else. You can see from the images he was not left alone for a second. If he wasn’t being questioned he was being watched as he slept, went to the bathroom and even shower, he had no freedom. I wish I took a photograph of the room, these 6 metal boxes which view finders on two sides, one along the wall, another in the ceiling. He has invited us the go in with cameras to take photo’s. He’s letting the work do the talking. The idea that an image can say a thousand words is being taken literally as we can make up our own, share these images of our own. I have captured the moments as best I could below.

If before I wasn’t aware of the power of his work I well and truly have woken up to what he is saying and want encourage you to view this very powerful work that rounded off a days gallery gorging in the capital.



Ai Weiwei – Royal Academy – My thoughts – Part 1

Its not like me to take loads of photographs at an exhibition, unless I’m documenting my own work. I find the practice rather sad really, even today before I returned home, in the national Gallery, phones were being used to capture the smallest details of great classic paintings. I feel this takes something away from the work, it loses its power to have an impact on you when you are in it’s presence. Memory and first hand-experience of the work – the Aura is very important. If you can see it in the flesh you have strong reaction to the work then just a snap-shot of if which doesn’t really do it justice.

However with Ai Weiwei an exception was made. (I always ask permission of the gallery before taking anything) Knowing that this was something special. I was encouraged to take photographs if anything, at the artists request for the work to go viral, spreading his message on social media. A tool he has used as part of his practice rigorously to his advantage. I’m going to share a few highlights with you and my thoughts of the show, even after having a few beers I was soon sobered by the power of the work.

The first one we have a selection of pieces including Grapes (2010) and  which uses a number of stools which are fused together with craftsmanship to create this geometric shape. Ai is celebrating his countries heritage for the pieces it has produced, the material at their disposal and making something new here. There were others in the space which really got you looking at the workmanship which is flawless.

The next room was like nothing else I had seen that day. I knew he had previously investigated the aftermath of an earthquake on 12th May 2008 that destroyed 20 schools. A tragedy that was practically ignored by the government. They did attend but no thorough investigation was carried out. This compelled Ai to carry out his own, which has been documented, which could be watched on a screen. I was more drawn to the physical work. First a carpet of steel rods that had been laid out carefully on the ground. On the walls eitherside a canvas list of the dead children, some not even given completed dates as they could just not be found. I had entered an investigation that was to prove the countries own negligence. Looking at the various widths of the rod that had been straightened out by hand, you could see the evidence was not in the governments favor, it was appalling and devestating to see such evidence. It took a while to leave this space.

In the next room was drawn to a model of the his old studio which was once funded by the government before it was later demolished. This acts not just as an architectural model but also a memento and artifact of his recent past. Made from wood, delicately crafted from what appears to be a single block.


London Trip 21/11/15 Part 2

Next on my trip was a stop at Fold Gallery, A solo show by Ellen Hyllemose,- Landscape Reconfigured. Not what you would think I go for, It’s the formal quality of the work that has my attention. The sculptures she has constructed that have the impression they took little time to make. Yet the more you look, you can see the craftsmanship. Looking at the floor piece, which looks like the white mounds of fabric, is oozing with textures that grab you, working into the main structure that is intruding in on the space, as if it will increase in size before the days out. It has a massive presence in the space which is hard to ignore.

Hyllemose’s other piece that got my attention was a hanging piece, a number of various sized sheets of MDF that were suspended with green rope. Creating a landscape in the gallery space, whilst also intruding on the space. For me its the presentation, always reminded that if you suspend a piece the suspension element is part if the piece, it allows it to be hung, your audience can’t ignore that fact. The sheets are loosely covered in lycra suggesting hills that are off in this distance painted with these loose gestures. This could easily be done on a smaller scale in my work.

The last show of the day was out of the City centre near the Olympic Village in the Hackney area at Stour Space for David O’Shaunessey’s Zoo Logical which was the last show that I had to see out of the day. A series of photographs that appear to be staged. Empty zoo enclosures where you would hope to find animals inhabiting. However for the most part in these images (bar one) we could see nothing. To me they didn’t seem like the environments in the descriptions. The titles all the Latin names of the animals, adding a layer of mystique to the work. We have to decipher which animal is living here. It all felt too staged for me, could these images really have been just taken at the right moment, or when the animals were sleeping or just out of shot. You could say all the majority of photographs are staged, with deliberate intentions behind them. I know mine are, you have an idea of what you want to achieve and shoot. I guess part of these images are that the environments are constructed for the animals to live comfortably for visitors to view them. We are however left with a bigger question, the function of a zoo, beyond being an attraction they take animals out of their natural habitat, they are placed in a semi habitat that we can live in.  I am however still fascinated by these artificial images.

London Trip 21/11/15 Part 1

It was a busy day that ended with an intense show at The Royal Academy last night. I’ll be dedicating a post to that show. Meanwhile I spent the day all over the capital taking in more work in the hopes of informing my own practice and to see whats going on in the wart-world (not very good at that aspect).

My first stop was a little show by Thomas Demand – Latent Forms at Spruth Magers, a gallery I’ve not visited in a long time. He is continuing to look at architects work, a previous show – Model Studies at the Nottingham Contemporary saw him photographing John Lautner’s models. Exploring the work of a fellow model maker. Turning this time to Kayzuyo Sejima and Reyue Nishizawa. Once again he is zooming in for intense close-ups of another makers models. These feel more pure, white creating soft shadows. The image create new worlds to be lost within, you can explore another’s and sharing your own perspective with the world. You can see the pieces here.

Next up I was a little bit let down initially if I’m honest at Blain Southern, coming for one artist – Bill Viola who is experimenting with media. I think I was expecting more than what I found. The piece  Moving Stillness (Mt. Rainier), (1979). I wanted more than the one piece. I couldn’t sit for long with the piece, thinking it would change from the mountain. When the invigilator placed her hand in the water (not that I knew water was there, it had a massive effect on the piece, it became distorted. I could see that the image was projected down into the water in a three colour projection. You could see that a DLP could just as easily achieve this effect. However that would change the piece completely, removing it from its time and place in Viola’s practice. The effect that’s achieved is haunting and mesmerizing at the same time. However cumbersome it may look. Sometimes the simplest effects are the most powerful.

Moving downstairs I found an artist I didn’t come to see but got far more out of from Kishio Suga with another old piece Perimeter (1985) which looks at boundaries which we create. Here is both physical in the space and mentally. We look from one angle and we’re trapped, unable to move away from it. Another and we can escape. It’s an illusion that ever more real that we could find in the open landscape. In terms of my practice its the illusion it creates at this scale that excites me.


Bonnie and Clyde (1967) Revisited

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)I was inspired to get out of my collection a film I hadn’t seen in a few years thanks to m friend over at Once Upon a Screen. It was one of the first classics that I devoured when my interest in film was developing, hungry for the more obvious pieces that everyone knows without really having to look to far, readily available to watch you could say. Bonnie and Clyde (1967) is also a turning point in American film, breaking the mold of the decaying studio system to deliver one of the then most violent films. Very much a product of its time, that has stood the test of time, still having the power to shock. It may look dated in places however that’s hardly something to complain about, it’s almost 50 years old, yes 50 years old, a film about two of the most prolific bank-robbers of depression era America, a two-man Jesse James gang that drive around the Deep South, robbing from the rich banks that prevented them having the life they felt they deserved.

I can’t leave the subject of violence that my friend discussed, It wasn’t used for the sake of violence. Like any content it has to be used properly and for a reason, unless the intention is to throw you off-balance, a stylistic choice by the director. Violence has since this film and The Wild Bunch (1969) been attributed to a rise in violence which is nonsense, violence was there before both those films and as we know after the events in France its still happens. No  one is blaming film-violence for the acts of terrorism there. It comes from a root cause, a method to scare and control. Violence of the screen acts only as a mirror image of life, if we don’t see violence behind the security of a projected image we don’t truly understand the power of violence. It’s not glorified by Arthur Penn its simply mirrored and exaggerated in order to show us how bloody and horrific it really is. Just what Peckinpah built upon two years later using slow-motion that became a signature in hos work. If we re forced to look at it we’re engrossed by it, which we should be repulsed by. The images on the news is the real violence which we’re warned about before a piece of broadcast. To deny violence on-screen is to deny that it happens, much the same goes for strong language which is used right is a true reflection. Obviously not all audience should be exposed to this, learning the dangers of the world through the comfort of fairy tales that have dark characters and morals that stay with you, allowing you to understand the world around you as you grow up. Violence and strong language if dealt with sensitively can be powerful weapons in their own right.

Enough of the lecture and onto the film that I hadn’t seen since I was at uni so over 3 years ago now. I think that was long enough to forget most of the plot, even the odd clip didn’t really join up all the dots. Allowing me to go into this film very much with a fresh pair of eyes, maybe that’s the power of the images that they stay with you long enough that they you can feel their presence even as they fade into the long-term-memory. The events had long since faded leaving a sense of visceral violence and youthful energy that excites you, even though it’s about bank robberies. We are slowly lulled into a false sense of security, an uncertain time of un-seen poverty in America via old photographs that depict suffering, poverty and struggle to survive against the odds, the banks and ultimately the system that itself is fighting to stand-up. Before we meet a young couple in the oddest of situation, a crime is about to be committed,  the start of a strange relationship between Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) and Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway). Sparks fly between them but not in the standard sexual sense, getting their kicks on the open road in the small towns of Deep South.

It’s the youthful energy that sets this film alight, we don’t really care about what they do in the beginning, no bloods shed. They are stealing from the rich, whilst respecting the poor. In the beginning it’s just the too of them, riding the open road, enjoying the spoils in the cars that come and go like the clothes on their back. As if they don’t have a care in the world, they have their whole lives ahead of them. Before meeting their getaway driver C.W. Moss (Michael J. Pollard) who wants to share the spoils, add some excitement to his otherwise boring life. It beats the routine of adult life they are now trapped in. Are they escaping adulthood or just the responsibility of it? They are using their bodies to get what they want, becoming powerful forces in the Southern states, forcing the hand of the already stretched banks. They are unaware of the effect they are having, a danger to society, only interested in the notoriety that is produces, they relish it, they are somebody, the Barrow gang as they come to be known when they join up with older brother Buck (Gene Hackman) and wife Blanche (Estelle Parsons) who is trapped between her upbringing and obligation to her husband.

We have our outsider within the gang acting (Blanche) as the conscience of the film. Scared witless by the acts of violence that escalate, and torn by her love for Buck. Screaming at any given time, out of fear or excitement the line becomes blurred as she comes to accept her position in the gang, neither a prisoner nor a participant in the robberies. We the audience however have the choice to continue watching or turn-away. I stayed. There was too much to not ignore. I noticed that as however modern the content, the violence of the bolemic blood. It’s very classic in terms of production. The interior car scenes are all completed with front and rear projection, this could be due to budget or stylistic choices, to have a classic look, when as early as the mid-fifties car scenes were being taken to the location. We’re reminded we are looking at an artifice not reality, it shows up on-screen, yet we don;t care as we are lost in the energy and conversation of the Barrow gang. We are looking at kids, young people swept up in the moment before reality soon comes back to haunt them.

I could go on about the plot, which we all know, it is also a road trip that charts the life of these two lovers on the run from the law. They start loosing that youthful edge as the presence of the police is not far behind them. Numerous shoot-outs which I had forgotten reference films from the era, loud and messy affairs that are nostalgic for that era of film before the Hays code had been enforced on American film. It’s finally breaking free from those restraints. However as much as they are loosening there lies within a moral, that all these acts of violence will catch-up with you. As we have come to have burned in our minds, as one of modern cinema’s greatest scenes begins to unfold, bringing a close to an era in the South.

The gunning down of Bonnie and Clyde is the only scene I have re-watched away from the film, yet connected to the film is even more powerful, we’ve been taken on a thrill ride through open country, sex, violence and silliness. Reality kicks in, and orders restored in the world, our image of the film’s shattered and reformed. Violence is not a nice thing, as a mentioned earlier, it can kill with ease. The slow-motion image of their death, two dancing corpses being pumped with bullets is hard to swallow yet at the same time parodies the death scene, that moment actors relish, to leave the screen with a dramatic exit. They are also leaving life to something less exciting…death that has no escape. Driving that image home is enough to shock the audience, whilst at the same time wow them with this effect.

Bonnie and Clyde was a turning point in cinema there-after there was no point where you could go back, the fast images of death have been burned into a generation. Wanting more, seeing more on the TV at night with the Vietnam war showing death every night, when it happens everyday on our streets. Cinema had to reflect that not shy away from reality which is far darker than it wanted us to believe. It’s not even just a standard crime thriller as the characters each question their position in society, all equally “rednecks” who are fighting against the stereotype to be something more, it has a voice for the younger generation that was then still fighting to be heard against the establishment.

Local Hero (1983)

Local Hero (1983)I’ve said it before when I saw The Train (1964) after seeing  The Monuments Men (2014), the same applies to Local Hero (1983) after seeing Promised Land (2012). Each pairing of films sharing the same basic themes. It just so happens that Burt Lancaster is  in the better and Matt Damon is in the not so-good films. Just an observation as both are capable actors. I think it comes down to the writing on both scores. So with observations out of the way, why was the superior earlier film of Local Hero far better than Promised Land?

Both have an environmental message to get across, one oil, the other gas through fracking. Big corporations send out men to hopefully negotiate the sale of all the necessary land to make the plans come to fruition. Local Hero is far softer on the message front when Mac (Peter Riegert) is sent to a Scottish coastal town to buy up town and surrounding land. Whilst in Promised Land it’s Steve Butler (Matt Damon) who has to persuade a more savvy farming town to sell up and move on. You have to also consider that there is very little mention of environmental issues in the earlier film. There is discussion of how the land could potentially be used, to research marine life with Marina (Jenny Seagrove) who also acts as an intelligent love interest for Mac’s colleague love-struck Oldsen (Peter Capaldi). It’s not really shared with the small fishing village who think their ship has finally come in. Made during the time of another recession, the smell of money is not something to be sniffed at.

If anything Local Hero is played more for laughs and gentle ones at that, it’s a small community who are practically cut-off from the world. Whilst in farming America there is a far stronger tone of environmentalism going on. Families have previously been affected by Fracking so will take a harder stance against an outsider coming in and wanting to buy up the land and possible pollute it, killing livestock. Fracking is still a very young technique which doesn’t have the security of Oil drilling pumped on or off-shore, its assumed to be safe (for the most part). Also looking at the two strangers who enter into their respective towns. One comes to want to stay, even with all the negotiating that goes on with Urquhart (Denis Lawson) who wants the money, knowing what it means for everyone. Unlike Butler who puts on a front, wanting to get in and out as quick as possible. He does develop and conscience unlike his colleague (Frances McDormand) who see this as just another job doing what she believes to be done in order to secure the land. A harder person unlike Butler. 

It’s a harder sell overall for the community and for the audience, I came away not really caring for anyone. Whereas in Local Hero you get to know the people who populate this town, it’s very provincial, an old world community which we have less and less off. You want to spend more time with these characters. Even when we meet the stumbling block at the end, the beach which is owned by Ben (Fulton Mackay) who holds the message, he doesn’t preach, open to discussion, his age makes it harder to negotiate with. He even offers to take a pound for every grain of sand in his hand. He’s not bothered by the money, he know the land in away that the others don’t care about, they’re blinded by money. Not they that they’re blinded by Felix Happer’s (Burt Lancaster) money, they aren’t even made out to be the bad guys, wanting a better life for themselves. Moving back to retired teacher Frank Yates (Hal Holbrook) who uses his knowledge as a weapon against Butler and the town gets behind Frank.

We have progressed since the early 80’s in terms of how we discuss environmental issues, we have become more sophisticated as an audience. Our knowledge of the subject has increased, of course there will always be the odd horror story which we do have to accept. But at the heart of these two films you must have heart to engage with the audience, something we have, even at the top of Local Hero in Lancaster who by the stage in his career is in a minimal role really. However his enigmatic presence is felt throughout the film. He’s a man who has his faults, his interest in the stars, in short he’s human. Whilst in Promised Land it’s just about getting the job done or get fired. There’s no room for any manuever there, it’s so corporate that we are left cold. The oil man in Lancaster talks very little about his business, even willing to get his hands dirty. However its all down to Mac who as much as he wants to do his job, he’s won over from the big city for the country life that he had seen as so alien, he’s awoken to know what he wants in life, has he reached the same point as his boss, without the freedom to go out and grab it just yet, trapped by his job and obligations. It’s a film of understanding one another, to be open to change in your life, even when it may come in the form of a corporation.


Making it Last (2015)

Experimental video using found footage from Punch Drunk Love (2002) manipulating a scene to make the romantic moment last longer.

Meeting P.T. Anderson – 15 (2015)

Experimental video using found footage from Inherent Vice (2014) removing the dialogue from the opening sequence to leave unspoken tension between Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) and Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston).

The Shootist (1976) Revisited

The Shootist (1976)Legend has it, The Shootist (1976) wasn’t supposed to be John Wayne‘s last film. Hmmmm could have fooled me, with all the trouble to build up his latest character J.B. Books who is given a myth that’s built up of old film clips from Wayne’s back catalogue of we see another fictional version of him, another gunfighter whose been depicted in many guises, merging as one, Books who has had a long and eventful life. I also noticed that the sequence was all in black and white, even converting colour film to create this new character that has this back-story,as if we have been building up to this gunfighter over the course of his career. He’s already being built up as these mystical figure of the West. Not that he really needs that, his position in the genre was assured during the 1940’s as the strong, silent and powerful figure who always spoke his mind and took little s*** from others. The ideal man in many eyes, the personification of America to the world. So to say his wasn’t going to be his last film is not something I can accept. Maybe its the fact that he was ill during filming (not with cancer) that got audiences thinking after that he would never be on-screen again.

Dying three years later drawing the end of an era of the genre and cinema. In part leading to my title for my degree show piece Did the Duke take the Myth to the Grave? (2012) The genre by the time of his death had long since entered a period of decline that would take years to really come back out of in any healthy shape that we could again be excited by. His last appearance at the 1978 he was by then a shadow of his former self before Hollywood. It was only a few months later that he died, leaving behind a long career, a legacy and a lasting image of the cowboy. The genre was very much left in his image. Something that would later affect me like many others.

Ok so all the emotional context out of the way and down to the business of the film itself, which was released alongside The Missouri Breaks and The Outlaw Josey Wales (both 1976), only one of them has really raised in stature. Damp squibs at the time of release, the genre was tired out and had become a tumble weed itself. You could say that The Shootist was a too late for genre. However it fits well into the arc of Wayne’s career, this larger than life figure become a dying man who rides into a town, in a time where he has become displaced. The roads are being paved, the town is more substantial. Civilization has reach the West, its been won and now its being enjoyed by society who have begun enjoy a modern way of life. The first automobiles are seen on the roads. There’s little place for the cowboy or the gunfighter who have been left out in the cold to die.  J.B.Books is very much a dying breed and he knows it as he gets a second opinion from Dr. Hostetler (James Stewart) who confirms his first diagnosis of cancer. Instead of going out into the woods to die like a dog, Books has come into the warmth of civilization to end his life in quiet.

Taking up residence at a guest house run by Bond Rogers (Lauren Bacall) who is weary of his presence, especially when his alias of long-dead Wild Bill Hickock is blown by her son Gillom Rogers (Ron Howard) whose in awe of this larger than life figure who is a shadow of his former self. An idol of a gunfighter who over his lifetime has killed 30 men is his home, a fact he wants to boast about. Before learning of his intentions of a quiet few days seeing out his life. The peace is soon broken when the local paper wants to print his life story, making money out of the man. Whilst the local Marshall Thibido (Harry Morgan) wants him to get out, know his place is not with society who has since moved on, accepted the law and progressed. Books is learning that is position has changed, no longer one of fear but one of living legend of the past, a walking dinosaur and feels it too as his symptoms worsen.

Wayne surrounded himself with old friends on-screen, that we have seen work with him in various films throughout his career, all apparently working for less than their standard fee. Maybe they all knew something that he didn’t at the time. It’s strangely timely that actors from his past, friends surround him in a film that sees him die on-screen. Something I have only seen a few times on-screen, part of an image he has help create, one that never dies, doing all the killing, delivering justice in the film, putting right the wrongs. Here however the his character is going to die the death of an old man, not one at the hand of the gun, one he has become accustomed to. With his presence known in the town, there are men who want to try their luck at taking down the legendary Books, the one who has killed so many.

With Sweeney (Richard Boone), Pulford (Hugh O’Brian) and Cobb (Bill McKinney) after him, he decides to go out the way he wants to be remembered. In a blaze of blood and gunfire of a saloon where so many gunfight’s have gone down before. It’s a calculated battle that takes only a few minutes to be over, A bunch of old men with guns, scores to settle and glory to be had. The West is not quite dead yet. All ending in a twist that I forgot even happened, the barman returning with a shot-gun that deals the final blows. Before Gillom has to kill him, an act he knows he will never again commit. The days of gun-fighting are over in one battle, not the most bloody of battles, it’s an end of era really, with little hope for the future really. Not in the same tone of a Peckinpah Western who laments that passing, all the great figures are gone as we wander into the modern age. Here its one last moment drowned in the inevitability of death.

If it was intended to be Wayne’s last film could be argued about forever, biographies state that it wasn’t, however with all the evidence on-screen and reading into the film there must be some unconcious intention on the part of The Duke to make this his last film. Surrounded by so many friends, he wanted to be comfortable. Still making way for new talent in the form of Ron Howard who go onto bigger and better things. It’s a swan-song really, not one of his biggest films like those featured in the prologue, this is a much smaller affair sees him bid farewell to the big-screen. It looks as tired as the majority of the actors, not in terms of performance however which are solid, Wayne still stands out in his last starring role before bowing out. Leaving the Western very much in the state that it was in the mid 1970’s tired and worn out, needing to rest those boots to be reinvented for a new generation.


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