Krisdy Shindler, ‘A Reciprocal Process of Becoming’

by Struan Kennedy

Exceptions are nice things. Whether positive or negative, they stand for a world not always ruled by monotony. When they occur in that tricky matter of personal taste, then – well, they can awaken you to a new self.

I had such an awakening when I saw the animation, A Reciprocal Process of Becoming (2006), by Krisdy Shindler. If someone were to describe this work to me, they would probably start off by saying, “It’s video art…” and at that point, ordinarily, I would be sure to feel a sigh rising up from inside me. That was then, though – pre-exception thinking. Shindler’s animation has offered me an alternative way of thinking, and I am thankful for it.

So, what was it about this work that changed my stance towards video art? Well, there’s a few reasons, but first let’s turn our attention to the question of time. Both in and out of the world of art, time is a precious thing. Everyone is their own keeper of it, so the saying goes, and this is no less the case when viewing art. We have the luxury of choosing how long we stay with a painting, or how long we stare at a sculpture or a photograph. We are in control of our own time and are able to determine when it is we’ve had enough and want to break off our relationship with the artwork before us.

Video art, on the other hand, comes with a sneaky string attached to it. Unlike other media, it suggests an enforced encroachment upon our time – a time that had previously been ours to do with as we pleased. This encroachment, this little string attached, is the work’s duration itself, a detail usually stated alongside the work’s title and the name of its creator(s). Perhaps I am not alone in thinking that this factor of duration feels like a condition necessary for the enjoyment and understanding of the work of art. If you don’t watch it all, you’ve given up, failed in the relationship between viewer and artwork, and ultimately not reaped the benefits you may have gained from it. A lack of patience, uncomfortable seating (or, indeed, no seating at all), a humid room, the misfortune of walking in half-way through – or at the very end of – a video installation: these are just some examples of scenarios that would normally persuade me it’s time to move on from a piece of video art.

Until, that is, I saw Shindler’s efforts; I was struck by how much it was her work, rather than myself, that did the moving. On first seeing it, there was so much action contained in her animation that I did not wish to be distracted by anything else. Of course, the fact that her animation made a reasonably modest demand on my time, lasting just over three minutes, helped. (Having said that, three minutes can seem an awfully long time when faced with tedious material.)

One reason why I was so charmed by Shindler’s work was that, for me, it brought out an emotional core in the medium of animation itself. Not only is the work simply a record of animated images, but the particular way in which it is animated resonates with our own sense of imagination. This, like the short film itself, is manifested as a gradual ebb and flow of forms leading out to an exotic sprawl. The transformations that occur throughout the film do not happen in any predictable sequence. Rather, they consist of a variety of developments, from slow and steady image changes to what look like complete stops, before the animation seems to rush ahead of itself in a spurt of progress. In a moment, these first models for understanding her work leapt out at me: the sporadic nature of feeling, historical changes and developments in technology and our perception of time – time that is at once racing ahead in our consciousness and grinding on and on mechanically.

The idea came into my head to stage an exhibition where the only work displayed would be Shindler’s piece. The images and events that make up the animation would be fitting for the rudimentary curatorial model I was thinking up. Rather than dazzling an audience with room upon room of art, the exhibition would streamline an audience’s attention towards a single piece. The model hinges on exploiting the varying conceptual appearances of a work and, by this account, entirely justifies exhibiting the animation on its own.

Shindler’s use of the word ‘reciprocal’ in the title of her animation would become central to the exhibition model. Just what exactly is being reciprocated, and to whom? I believe it is the unfolding complexity of our relationship to art. For both ourselves and a work of art undergo multiple manifestations, especially when they confront one another. It is possible for us to grow and learn just as art grows and becomes ever more informed from the moment of its inception onwards, advancing through its conceptual journey. Though physically separated, we are joined to art by our shared occupancy, residing as we do in the state of Becoming. It is this searing synergy that would have propelled the exhibition on and on.

It was exciting to think what Shindler and I could have done with her animation, to think of where we could have taken it – literally. I wanted this exhibition to be a touring exhibition, a show to be stumbled across in a number of galleries, but also in many ‘non-art’ spaces. The work refuses to settle as one thing; instead, it wriggles and squirms – a motility also clearly seen in the animation’s palette of line, shape and colour. A curatorial restlessness, therefore, mirrors the work’s own capricious stance. “Unable to be held down for too long”: this is a phrase that adequately describes both of the reciprocating partners in this relationship. The show and the work move and develop, both conceptually and physically, sometimes together and sometimes apart.

For more of Krisdy Shindler’s work, or to view her recent and current exhibitions, see:

‘Turner, Monet, Twombly: Later Paintings’, at Tate Liverpool

Cy Twombly, Hero and Leandro (Part I) (1984)

Exhibition Review by Louis Shadwick

On the announcement that Tate was to group these three artists from different eras together in a major show, it was perhaps too easy to be sceptical about the inclusion of Cy Twombly – his presence at first glance seeming somewhat overshadowed by, or simply disconnected from, two such major predecessors. Indeed, the suggested elevation of Twombly’s own status to that of a level with these modern ‘masters’ has proved hard to stomach for some of the more conservative art commentators, with the artist himself having only passed away last year and the nature of his legacy as yet unclear. Of course, we do not possess the luxury of seeing how Twombly’s work will age with time, or whether his current prominent position within the art historical canon will prove a long-term affair. Yet, what we do see throughout this thought-provoking exhibition – and, ultimately, what it represents – is surely something of a crucial moment in the positive identification of Twombly as a ‘master’ in his own right.

Curator Jeremy Lewison was clearly aware of the controversy implicit in Twombly’s inclusion, and presents a compelling explanation of this decision in the preface to the exhibition catalogue. Crucially, he notes how it was “important for the exhibition to suggest the continuation of an approach to painting rather than a terminus,” and thus how “Twombly would be the key to this show for he would provide a new context in which to understand Turner and Monet’s work.” Indeed, temporal distance between painters in this exhibition is presented as a traversable barrier, in that the narratives and relationships established constitute meditations that are themselves timeless. In this light, the show demonstrates, through specific painted moments of contemplation which focus on an experience of change, the very constants inherent in the relationship between each artist’s subjective temperament and the manner in which he finds this temperament reflected back in the natural world around him. More precisely, different styles of pictorial representation and distinct art historical groupings are breached in order to bring out the artists’ shared thematic preoccupations – with mortality, with the sensual, and with the sublime power of nature, to name but a few.

Several of these relationships are apparent from the outset, with little need for too much curatorial intervention to tease them out. But poignant chords are also struck between the works of these artists from entirely different eras by means of thematically organised rooms that are both sensitively and intelligently put together. These rooms are almost all large, open spaces, around which the dramatic atmospheres and vibrant colours upon each canvas seem to echo back and forth among each other.

J. M. W. Turner, Light and Colour (Goethe’s Theory) – the Morning after the Deluge – Moses Writing the Book of Genesis (exhibited 1843)

The very first room, for example, is a large exhibition space on the ground floor entitled Beauty, Power and Space, and is orientated around the concept of the Romantic sublime, defined by John Ruskin as “the effect of greatness upon feelings…whether of matter, space, power, virtue or beauty.” Such “greatness” here finds its focus in the overpowering force of the sea in relation to the relative insignificance of man. We find such sublime encounters encapsulated in Turner’s raging seascapes, such as his Light and Colour (Goethe’s Theory) – the Morning after the Deluge – Moses writing the book of Genesis (1843) which conveys – via a swirling vortex of intense yellows, crimsons, pale blues and whites – the ferocity of a storm at sea. The tiny translucent faces of indistinct figures can just be made out vanishing beneath the all-consuming wash.

These disorientating swirls of paint convey a sense of the painter locating himself at the heart of the experience – of the human senses being overwhelmed by forces beyond his control and understanding. Similarly, a fantastic four-piece by Cy Twombly, Hero and Leandro (1984-85), based on the myth that Turner also had addressed in an 1837 canvas, evokes the experience of the human form drowning amid the waves by means of vivid splashes of colour surrounded by a violent wash of turbulent greys and whites that threaten to consume them entirely. It is the sorrowful image of man losing his own battle against the power of the sea, in which the presence of blood-reds spattering the seascape in the first panel indicate Leandro’s vital presence and the impassioned sensual energy that drives him through the water. Ominously, these colours are slowly drained from Twombly’s palette and are replaced by dark greens and blacks, which are themselves soon overcome entirely, until a field of almost untainted white is all that remains in the sombre final panel.

Monet’s work seemed to me to ‘fit’ the least well into the general mood of the show. For, comparatively, Monet seems to be little engaged with the actual presence of the human temperament within the natural world; he is less directly concerned with the sensual and the inexplicable, sublime effects of nature relative to man. His work, instead, seems more firmly rooted in a worldly beauty, hardly allowing for personal angst or unfiltered emotion to intrude upon this world outside himself. As a result, his paintings, in the context of this exhibition, seem to lack the expressive intensity immediately recognisable in the work of Turner or Twombly. It often felt like the curators were trying a little too hard to find Monet’s ‘place’ within some of the spaces, with this very first room being a prime example.

Claude Monet, Les Rochers de Belle-île, la côte sauvage (1886)

Amid the compelling and vigorous tones of Turner and Twombly’s paintings – with their provocative visual stimuli and the suggested narratives they elicit in the viewer – the four Monet canvases selected for this room seem unable to live up to the promise of an artist engaging with the sublime power of nature. While the exhibition pamphlet does its best to ally Monet with such ideas – namely via the recounting of the story where Monet was knocked down by a wave while painting in “increasingly isolated and perilous places” – the pictures themselves seem devoid of a sense of the artist’s relating himself to the scene before him. Instead, they appear driven toward a painterly evocation of place itself, revolving around colour, light and vivid descriptions of visually engaging landscapes. Les rochers de Belle-Ile, la Cote sauvage (1886) for example, is unmistakably powerful in that it is aesthetically intense, but it is so solely in that rather remote Impressionistic manner that keeps it at a remove from the expressive context – and content – of this first room. All of the works featured seem to be included due to their entailing an ‘encounter with the sea’. But, aside from subject matter, Monet’s work ends up seeming a little isolated from that of his counterparts who operate with such an overwhelmingly immersive visual aesthetic.

This problem of trying to find Monet’s place in the exhibition is at its most apparent in the fourth room, entitled The Vital Force, which is focused on the ‘sensual’ and the ‘sexual’ – characteristics that are difficult enough to draw out of Turner’s work withoutany prompting, let alone Monet’s. The justification for the presence of this room in the show at all seems to be the overbearing eroticism of much of Twombly’s later work, demonstrated most strongly by the fiercely sensual Camino Real (II) (2010).

Cy Twombly, Camino Real (II) (2010)

However, apart from the record of Turner’s sketchbooks, in which his interest in erotic imagery can be sourced, and works such as Glaucus and Scylla (1841) in which the subject matter ‘hints’ at the erotic, there is little about Turner’s painterly style to realistically engage the viewer with the sensual as an atmosphere such as he delivers in his expressions of the natural sublime. But it is Monet’s place within this room that is even less credible. The artist was – if anything – disinterested in the erotic, and the presence of a series of Monet’s paintings of Japanese Bridges in which colour is described – again, in the exhibition booklet – as a “sensual paint surface, dripping and lubricious…a womb-like space” seems to be a rather transparent case of clutching at straws. This statement is subsequently defended: “it would be wrong to insist on a consciousness of this on Monet’s part”. And yet, the text still goes on to assert, “the combination of water, nearly always symbolic of femininity, and the hair-like reflections, is redolent of vaginal imagery”, bringing us to the conclusion that these works may have been angled in a manner that is both forced and possibly even inaccurate. In a rather clumsy clash of artistic interests, we are first directed to find the sensual within the synaesthetic style of Twombly’s canvases, next within the ambiguous subject matter of Turner’s, and finally in both the vibrant brushstrokes and the subject matter of Monet’s – despite neither of the latter’s qualities convincingly relating to Twombly nor Turner’s ‘sensual’ interests.

Of course, this is not to say that points of intersection are not there – the connections between Turner and Monet are long established. Monet greatly admired his predecessor’s work, in particular his sunsets and his focus on the Thames as a recurring motif. Monet even attempted to imitate and surpass Turner in several wonderful images, such as the famous Impression, Sunrise (1873). Critics at the time, moreover, were quick to notice the marked influence of Turner upon both Monet and Impressionism as a whole. This influence is perhaps most apparent in the second and third rooms, labelled Atmosphere and Fire and Water respectively. Here we see Monet at his very best in majestic works such as Morning on the Seine, Giverny (1897) and two pictures from his Waterloo Bridge series. For, away from the context of the sublime, and hung next to Turner’s views of Venice and the Thames, Monet’s works take on a brilliant new life through an accentuation of their purely sensory qualities – the masterful rendition of the vivid effects of sunlight upon water. Turner was undoubtedly the primary inspiration for such scenes, his The Thames above Waterloo Bridge (c.1830-35) drawing attention to its own unfinishedness through a play upon appearing and disappearing structures through smoke and fog. Silhouettes of buildings, bridges and vehicles seem to shift in and out of focus through the haze of the air around them. Monet’s Waterloo Bridge (1902) similarly shows the subject of the painting fading into obscurity through the haze of an early morning mist, the red glow of the sun stirring the composition through its suggestions of time passing, warmth and an overbearing meditative silence.

Underlining this influence further, the following room presents the viewer with a stunning range of well-known Turner and Monet sunsets, including the latter’s enduringly impressive London, Houses of Parliament. Burst of Sunlight in the Fog (1904) and San Giorgio Maggiore by Twilight (1908). The sheer intensity of colour employed in Turner’s sunsets, such as his Sun Setting Over a Lake (c.1840), is given more compositional and descriptive focus by Monet. For Turner’s work is looser, more freely experimental and conveys a more distorted notion of an ‘impression’ via sensation. Nonetheless, this series of works surely presents us with the most vibrant use of colour in Monet’s oeuvre. Twombly’s sunsets, on the other hand, sit rather uncomfortably within the space – and not because of their quality, for on their own the works remain marvellously dynamic, gripping experiments with colour. But they do seem to fit awkwardly onto the end of a suggested chain of influence that so naturally develops between Turner and Monet. It is the one moment in the show where Twombly seems to become the ‘odd one out’. Indeed, as an abstract symbolist, Twombly’s introduction into the mix could be seen to derail the apparent trajectory of Turner’s influence upon modernism via Monet and Impressionism. Monet simply does not provide the ‘stepping stone’ from Turner to Twombly, and instead we are presented with the reality of two very different relationships between Turner and each of his painterly successors.

J. M. W. Turner, Sun Setting over a Lake (c.1840)

The impact of Turner upon Twombly, as well as being seen in the spontaneous aesthetic intensity that they both share, is seen in their shared interest in myths, symbols and metaphors. Twombly uses scrawled words and lines of verse across the canvas to imply narratives or epics, often taking up large proportions of his canvases with almost illegible scrawl. Yet while this interest in the mythical past unites Turner and Twombly thematically, their means of alluding to it stylistically divides them. Indeed, Twombly’s contemporary twist upon the work of art itself was to subvert the traditional use of space and material upon the canvas – to challenge the traditional power of the painted canvas that someone like Turner could be seen as a chief proponent of. Twombly’s use of mixed media undermines the canvas’ traditional sense of grandeur, for despite the ‘epic’ sizes of many of his canvases, many come across instead as a series of scattered elements – an artist’s enormous ‘thought board’ united only by concept. Interested in contemporary graffiti and calligraphy, Twombly essentially wished to separate himself from American abstract expressionism by means of a type of ‘anti-painting’ that rested upon the use of scrawled words and verse as much as it did upon the effects of colour or paint. Moreover, his continuous allusion to classical themes and narratives was partly employed in direct opposition to the increasingly self-conscious presentation of ‘modernity’ throughout American art during the latter half of the twentieth century. We begin to see, therefore, how despite clear thematic crossover in the subjects of these works, each artist’s concerns were rather separate – as to be expected, each artist was first and foremost engaged in reaction to and progression of the art of their time.

Now, this seems to be where the ‘later paintings’ concept of the show’s title fits nicely into the exhibition model. “This is not an exhibition about late style,” Jeremy Lewison writes in the catalogue, “but late preoccupations. How do artists deal with the aging process, the increasing awareness of mortality, the debility attendant upon old age?” This theme, while not being fully established until the latter half of the exhibition, is both a convincing and poignant lens through which to view the work of these three artists in the same space. And while such themes rely on the viewer’s appreciation of a little autobiographical context in some cases, witnessing side-by-side each artist’s take on their subjective understanding of mortality and melancholy in old age is an enriching and fascinating experience.

Cy Twombly, By the Ionian Sea (1988)

The boat becomes a poignant symbol for all three artists in the fifth room, Naught So Sweet as Melancholy. Turner’s Peace – Burial at Sea (1842), for example commemorates the painter Sir David Wilkie, who had passed away during a voyage, via the funereal symbol of a boat with black sails. Twombly’s boats, too, have an air of life passing. For him, they  represent the passage of time. His sculpture, By The Ionian Sea (1988), is a skeletal form that resembles a shipwreck, apparently stained by the weight of history and an era long gone.

The culmination of this theme can be seen in the final two rooms of the exhibition, and it is Twombly’s enormous four-piece Quattro Stagioni (1993-95) that both opens this last section and dominates it. For me, the strongest work conceptually, and the most personally affecting piece within the entire show, Quattro Stagioni demonstrates the cyclical nature of life and death via the enduring motif of the seasons. Steeped in metaphor, symbolism and a highly intelligent conceptual employment of paint – both in terms of colour and brushstroke – the works seem to encapsulate the bittersweet spirit of the exhibition in its double-edged celebration of the beauty inherent in both life and death.

Cy Twombly, Quattro stagioni, Part III: Autunno (1993-94)

Twombly had agreed just prior to his passing that the Seasons should be hung beginning with Autunno – a telling decision in its denial of any sense of definitive beginning or end to the cyclical process of bloom and decay. Instead, it evokes a sense of the process as perpetual motion. The deep autumnal purples and greens of the plant-like splashes of paint in this first canvas seem heavy and swollen, while simultaneously trickling away down the painting in thin lines of paint that seem suspended in time. The intense and  passionate crimsons he uses are steeped in allusion to the transience of romance and the sensual, hovering on the brink of their inevitable disappearance at the onset of winter, demonstrated in the next work Inverno. Here, frozen white structures interlace dense patches of darkness, reminiscent of shadowy patches of woodland and of the passing of life, hovering ominously amid the static chill of the winter air. Primavera subsequently encapsulates the moment of bloom and emergence of colour as spring begins, via jubilant strokes that announce themselves prominently upon the bleak white background behind them. Finally, Estate encapsulates the brief intensity of summer heat. In three small yet pronounced sun-dappled yellow patches that appear both stained upon the surface and as though they have leaked downwards to the foot of the painting, Twombly evokes the brevity of youth, and the swift passing of life at its prime. Reflecting the dualities inherent in the experience of human mortality via the aesthetic power of the ever-changing natural world, Twombly delivers a contemporary masterpiece of epic proportions.

Turner and Monet, too, retain their rightful places within these closing spaces, with the seventh and final room, A Floating World, featuring the former’s melancholy The Lake, Petworth, Sunset; Sample Study (c.1827-8) and several of the latter’s enduringly captivating Water Lilies series, painted during and after the First World War. These works by Monet remain, to me, one of the very few examples in which a sense of the artist’s own temperament is vividly suggested through his focused interest in the natural world. The still, meditative calm of each of these works – each painted in different lights – is imbued with a mix of touchingly human sensitivity and profound, disciplined concentration. As Lewison suggests, “Monet created his own consoling world, removed from the reality of painful external events, to heal the psychic pain of loss and bereavement.” Although this may be a slightly overcooked reading, one certainly gains a sense of Monet’s own refuge in this particular motif, and of the personal resolve and strength with which he painted toward the end of his life.

Despite the initial niggling doubts as to how to fully reconcile the place of each artist in relation to one another throughout the exhibition, one leaves this show soaked in the resonant atmosphere of these paintings, and with an overwhelming sense that Tate Liverpool has succeeded in presenting an undeniably powerful and pertinent combination in the grouping of Turner, Monet and Twombly. Jonathan Jones questioned in his own review for The Guardian, “is it wise to short-circuit art history like this, blithely assuming that a famous name of our own time can hang alongside hallowed giants?” My simple answer to this question is yes. The very assertion that such an exhibition ‘short-circuits’ art history, in fact, testifies to an unnecessary separation and preservation of such ‘masters’ upon their own distinct pedestals – an attitude that this exhibition should hopefully serve to at least momentarily destabilise.

For what the show so successfully achieves through its inclusion of Twombly’s work is the bringing back down to earth of such art historical ‘masters’, whose overwhelming status has in itself often distracted from the immense quality of the works that gave them their names in the first place. In this respect, both Monet and Turner’s work can be appreciated in a new light, being both challenged and becoming challenging once again in reaction. Moreover, we are shown how absorbingly relevant such works remain in relation to the art of our own time. As such, the importance of Twombly’s work is undoubtedly elevated – and rightly so. In commanding our attention and dominating the atmosphere of rooms in which world-famous works are hung alongside them, his canvases more than prove their staying power, as well as their rich relationship with the art historical canon. In breaking the mould and exhibiting proto-modernist, modernist and contemporary work in such open conversation with one another, Tate Liverpool offers the viewing public a landmark exhibition that is an absolute must-see.

‘Turner, Monet, Twombly: Later Paintings’ at Tate Liverpool runs until October 28th 2012.

For a full programme of events and exhibitions, follow the link:

Storm in a Teacup

Struan Kennedy

You want every article you write to mean something: to be, in some way, important. So you prepare a shortlist of exhibitions that have caught your interest; you get it all arranged – times, addresses – and you look out for a sturdy notebook. At least… that’s the plan. It certainly was mine. I had an abundance of ideas about what I was going to do and exactly where I was meant to go.

But it seems the slightest of distractions can throw off those intended actions – the ones that were meant to mean something. In my case, it involved one of the most British of practices: the making of a cup of tea.

Last night I discovered a neglected cup in my room which was badly in need of a thorough cleaning. It was while I was scouring it in the downstairs kitchen that I was struck by its majestic resemblance. There was something, unmistakable for me, about the way that the bristles of the washing brush came into contact with the residual staining on the inner curvature of the cup that reminded me of Turner. Not the man himself (this was not some secular, creative version of Christ’s face appearing in a pancake) but what he was capable of, what he left us: a career of idiosyncratic stainings.

All of a sudden I was looking down into scenes familiar to me from having gawped at them in a more ‘artful’ environment. Wisps of sun-stroked shores, misty battles, scratched skies of some calming storm all came racing toward me in a single moment of staring into this cup. Of course, by now viewed as a new fantastical portal, this cup was no longer a cup to me. It was now gone – its former life, function and image swept away by the Romantic winds that were whipping up some ethereal matter into a Turneresque frenzy.

Plenty of people might point out the suitability of this article’s title, as they may think that a storm in a teacup is exactly what this all sounds like. They would refer to the phrase’s idiomatic use, to denote something small exaggerated out of all proportion, and I would be inclined to agree with them. In this instance, however, exaggeration is not a dirty word. In fact, it firmly and frequently belongs in the domain of art. When other structures in society do their utmost to remain reasonable and responsible, it is often liberating to consider something which is as free as art.

Turner was an artist of exaggeration. His stormy skies and deserted beaches have enough realism about them for us to recognise what they are, but they also have… something else, something much more difficult to pin down. It is that something else which ensures that the distinctive atmospherics of Turner will be remembered into the future. So then, if certain art is exaggerated – in, say, its depiction of nature – it is possible that the interpretation of this art can also be rightfully prone to exaggeration.

Which is why there is no shame in my saying that I saw a storm in a teacup. Art is not captive behind the walls of a gallery or, indeed, anyone’s walls. It is a thing more flowing than water and, occasionally, just as difficult to hold in your hands. The importance lies not always where something is placed but where it is that you yourself are standing – where your mind is at the time of the encounter. You can visit the most prestigious centres of art in the whole world and not be moved one jot; you can witness something passed-by by thousands and be halted dead in your tracks.

Take the current acclaimed exhibition of Turner’s work alongside that of Claude Monet and Cy Twombly at Tate Liverpool. Now, this show is at a fixed address, one that is by all accounts a steadfast, agreed-upon home of art. And yet this does not prohibit Turner’s visions from escaping the confines of the gallery and working their way into the most peculiar of happenings. By all means go and see the show – and be amazed! – but don’t switch off your eyes when you leave the gallery, or as you ride the bus home. You’d be surprised when you might just see great art again. If anything, the misplaced peculiarity of it will enhance its greatness. A greatness that – depending on where your mind is and what you’re looking at – might be found under your shoe, inside an envelope, over someone’s shoulder, or, as it was for me last night, at the bottom of a teacup.

Art-ickle: Barbara T. Smith, ‘Feed Me’ (1973)

Stumbled upon today at ‘The Historical Box’ (curated by Mara McCarthy) at Hauser & Wirth, Piccadilly…

Barbara T. Smith, Feed Me, 1973

“This piece took place between sunset and sunrise at the Museum of Conceptual Art in San Francisco during an event called “All Night Sculptures,” in the women’s rest room of that 1920s building. The relatively large room had a single toilet behind a door and a washbasin at one end. I sat naked on a divan surrounded by items of sensual connection (bread, fruit, drinks, books to read, massage oils and perfumes, tea and coffee, beads and ornaments, marijuana, etc.) and one person at a time was allowed to enter. A tape loop in a corner played my voice saying: “Feed Me” over and over. Rumor had it that I intended to make love with every man who entered. My intention was instead to turn the situation around so the man would be challenged to figure out what would please me and offer it. It was a request for subtlety, sensuousness and complexity rather than mere lust. I was given every nuance of the room’s potential, which included making love, in a sequence of super-intensified encounters (due to the heightened awareness and focused intensity of the piece and the context of the times). Sixteen men and three women came in.”

The Historical Box’ closes tomorrow and the Hauser & Wirth guys are on a summer break until Monday 13th August. But pop along after that if you get the chance, the place is great – it’s an old bank with vaults and everything…

The Tanks

The Tanks, a new space dedicated to live performance art, has opened at Tate Modern. Enrico Tassi reviews a recent visit to the restored oil tanks of the former Bankside Power Station and explores why they mark an important development for the gallery.

Having descended the gentle slope of the Turbine Hall, visitors to Tate Modern can now delve even deeper into a hive of raw, subterranean galleries. Housed in the cleaned out oil tanks of the former power station, these echoing chambers offer a striking contrast to that other sunken Herzog & de Meuron structure opened up to Londoners this summer. The cavernous, solid concrete space of the Tanks couldn’t be further from the muted, cork-lined pavilion currently occupying the lawn outside the Serpentine. Where memory lies at the heart of the latter, with its incorporation of the imagined ruins of the previous eleven commissions, the Tanks are a bold embodiment of the future. The tranquility of an infinity pool has been replaced by an invigorating smell of damp (or is it oil?).

The Tanks are an important development for a gallery whose very name insists it remain at the forefront of contemporary art and its dissemination. Not only do they offer a variety of unique spaces dedicated to live and performance art – artforms often necessarily sidelined in more traditional white cube setups – but its opening fifteen-week programme of ‘Art in Action’ has been presented as an ‘open manifesto’ by Director Chris Dercon: a call to define and shape the future programme of events that the new space will house. His insistence that “it is the meeting of artworks and audiences that will establish what the Tanks are” highlights the potential of the new space as a means to re-evaluating the relation between artworks, artists and audiences in a new era of social connectivity and interactivity. Appropriately for such an enterprise, one wall of the central chamber is dedicated to displaying projections of recent tweets (#thetanks) and written responses to questions such as, ‘What is the role of the audience?’ and ‘How do you imagine tomorrow’s museum?’

If these don’t seem like the sorts of questions that can be answered within a 140-character limit, then the Tanks’ curators may have gone some way to answering them in their choice of works to inaugurate the new spaces. Fulfilling the ambition of Catherine Wood, Tate curator of contemporary art, to show that “performance isn’t just this thing that has been invented just now,” and to “set the older generations of artists . . . in dialogue with what the youngest artists in the programme are doing,” a commission by young South Korean artist Sung Hwan Kim has been placed alongside two newly-acquired pieces from Suzanne Lacy and Lis Rhodes, pioneers of contemporary social and interactive performance.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Sung Hwan Kim commission is a curatorial touch by the artist himself, who has responded to the architecture of the tank by dividing it into two rooms with two separate entrances, and installing a two-way mirror that allows a view of the second room from the first. Visitors edge forward into an increasingly dark space only to find that it leads to a dead-end with a tantalising view of visitors walking around an inaccessible space beyond. The architectural imposition reflects a dynamic of longing and displacement, which sets the tone for the works in the second room. Notable in this respect is Temper Clay, a new video piece that juxtaposes the domestic spaces of Kim’s parents’ flat in a modern apartment complex in Seoul, and the patch of land next to the country home to which they wished to retire, all accompanied by a voiceover intimating themes of love and loss, ownership and bequeathing.

Perhaps the most striking room conceptually and architecturally is the Gaonkar Haarmann Gallery, a cylindrical space whose wall is made up of cast iron sections bolted together. With each section still bearing the foundry’s mark, 18-0 / Bankside / HW & CO, it is the most overtly readymade space, incorporating rather than effacing the tank’s industrial past to achieve a unique space that invites artists to interact with it. Susan Stone’s soundtrack of seventy five older women talking about their ambitions, goals, careers and relationships turns the potentially oppressive space into one of anticipation and affirming optimism for the future: as we hear one lady relate how, at age eighty five, “there’s still things to do,” you can’t help but be struck by the appositeness of hearing this in a place seeking to present an alternative vision of what a gallery should be in the twenty first century.

Walking around the bunker-like development, I was struck by the Tanks’ practical potential as a composite and up-to-date space in which to display the work of smaller, less institutional artists whose output might not fill or be appropriate for the museum’s larger, more conventional galleries. With its multiple smaller spaces allowing for a higher turnover of works and artists than is usually afforded by the three- to five-month exhibitions upstairs, the pieces that the Tanks display can theoretically be kept as fresh as the curatorial space now available to showcase them. And it is precisely the freshness of the space itself, and the blurring of the distinction between ‘venue’ and ‘gallery’ that it invites us to consider, which is most fascinating. For it is in this reconsideration of the parameters of exhibition and performance that the Tanks’ true significance lies: it is the seed from which exciting new approaches to art and its curation might grow, ensuring Tate Modern’s position as purveyor of perpetual newness well into the future.

As Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker (amazing, a new hero!) finished her final performance of Fase, four movements to the music of Steve Reich last Friday night, her curtain call was followed by a telling gesture. Raising her arms to the ceiling of the breathtaking ‘Live’ tank – the stomach of a vast oil drum, both polished and raw – she mouthed to the audience surrounding her that this was “a great space.” She was right, and honestly, I can no longer imagine Tate Modern deserving its name without it.

‘Art in Action’ at the Tanks runs from 18 July – 28 October 2012.

For a full programme of events and exhibitions, click the link below:

Submit to Issue #5!

So, Issue #4 has been doing the rounds in the outside world and we’ve had some great feedback! But we’re not resting on our laurels – oh no!

Issue #5 is scheduled for release in the early autumn and we’re on the lookout for contributors. If you’d like to submit a piece of writing, some fashion, art or design work for the next issue, please get in touch at We’d love to hear from you!

Issue #4 extracts

Read the full issue online HERE!

Tengen Issue 4, p. 3

words by Joseph Kerridge; illustration by Joanna Houghton

Tengen Issue 4, pp. 26-7

drawings by featured artist, Erika Altosaar

Tengen Issue 4, p. 29

artwork by Kanitta Meechubot

Tengen Issue 4, p. 32

poem and illustration by Maru Rojas

Tengen Issue 4, pp. 36-7

photographs by Johanna Torell; prose by Louisa Little and Khalid Tetuani

Tengen Issue #4 Out Now!

Tengen Issue #4 is out now!
Read it online at
(Printed copies to follow super-duper soon!)

What’s inside?

– Interview with Tom McCarthy
– Exclusive artwork from Kanitta Meechubot
– Poetry by Joseph Kerridge, Steve Willey, Rupert Cabbell Manners, Olivia Ho, Umar Hassan, Stephen Mooney, Jow Lindsay and Justin Katko
– Prose from Maru Rojas, Sean Bonney, Kyle Robertson and Louisa Little with Khalid Tetuani
– Visual work from Erika Altosaar, Johanna Torell, Lara Kamhi, Poppy Whatmore and Sarah Pickering
– Q&A with Steve Willey on Poetry and London
– Interview with Zaheer Ali on the reinvention of Malcolm X
– Film reviews and more!

We really hope you enjoy this latest issue of Tengen – we’re certainly very excited about it!

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and you may just receive a lovely message from us every now and then.

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We can’t wait to hear from you!

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Tengen Issue #3 Out Now

Issue 3 Cover

Issue #3 is out now!

Read it for free online at

So, what’s in Issue #3?

– Original poetry by Mark Ford, Graeme Abernethy, Peter Robinson, Olivia Ho, Khalid Tetuani, Clarissa Pabi and Rupert Cabbell Manners.

– Prose pieces from Liv Schulman and Timothy Yam, as well as an excerpt from Louisa Little’s ‘The Wake’.

– Sing Yun Lee and Olivia Ho present a special feature on The Small Publisher’s Fair, including interviews with painter, poet and publisher, Yves Chaudouët, and Susanna Jones of the Royal Holloway Creative Writing Programme.

– Visual theorist, illustration lecturer and performance artist Adrian Holme explores the division between art and science in ‘London and the Multi-Sensory City’.

– Colleague Gareth Polmeer applies his complementary research to a discussion of William Raban’s new London film, ‘About Now MMX’, in his article ‘The Cinematic Map’.

– Francis John Guillem Gene-Rowe and Khalid Tetuani interview China Miéville about his acclaimed novel, ‘The City & The City’.

– Tim Marshall reviews Paul Auster’s latest, ‘Sunset Park’.

– John Tucker relishes the opportunity to get to grips with jaime robles’ new verse triple-volume, ‘animus anime anima’.

– In film, Halim Boudjeltia takes a look at ‘The Social Network’, while Timothy Yam wholeheartedly recommends ‘Black Swan’, albeit from behind the sofa.

– Ho Zhen Ming presents her untitled installation piece examining the “multiple systems” that govern our everyday lives.

– Pencil drawing from Yuwei (Vivien) Zhang.

– Also, watch out for an introduction to Sing J. Lee’s short film, ‘O R D E R’.

A limited number of printed copies to follow soon, each individually hand-stamped and numbered. Pick up a copy if you’re lucky enough to spot one!