Sunday, May 06, 2007

Sure, Ditch!


For Ruark and Anna

A prochay. A prochay. Laah shahnts duh vot rah vee. Ven-ay ven-ay. Jes wee-lah. La mis air. Say fin-ea. Jes wee-la. No sool mon. Juh voos am-port la poor-toon. May lah g’lwaah voo cher-shay do trav-ey. Juh voos on ah port. Kell trav-eye. Le plu bo. Le plu no bluh. Pour la plu gron g’lwaah der vot-tra fameal. Por la plu gron g’lwahh du la pat-tree. Duh la nais-sion. Voos allay con stweer v’wah-chur door-toe-m-beel. Poo-joe.

There are 2 Sydney artists with stuff happening this week – and I have a fantasy tht one of them reads out to the other a bit of writing I saw in a London gallery recently.

That master of the type face and dulcet tone Ruark Lewis, has covered slot gallery with screeds of well constructed wordy bits.

Banalities for the Perfect House
until 2 June 2007
http://www.lenscap.com.au/v/ruark/

Ruark Lewis has transformed the fa├žade of SLOT by employing a text intervention that masks the building from eave to footpath with what he is calling 'a people's poem'. His second major public artwork, since "Relay" for Homebush's Olympic Park, Ruark's latest "Banalities" engage the surge of commuter traffic down Botany Road and the local neighbourhood of Redfern.

SLOT - at 38 Botany Road, Alexandria NSW 2015


In my fantasy he reads out the bit of a Liam Gillick drawing above to frogophone Anna belhalfaoui – whose show, "Let's Face the Borders" opens at Mori gallery on wednesday 9th May

Coz I get so much funstuff in my email inbox from the galleries I like and respect its easy to forget how small, parochial and frankly dire the Sydney art world can be. Lately I’ve been near a landline so had a few chinwags with art school friends who’ve been a bit gloomy about the dearth of decent drip in the galleries lately. A few weeks earlier I came across Johnny Mac’s review of the British Jerwood Drawing prize show which was held at NAS – and it made me want to cast out my eyes with sheer disgust and depression….

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. That I believe that art is not the same as sport, and just because the press in this country has gone down the toilet, writing art reviews like partisan football commentary is still not ON. I don’t gamble, I don’t’ give a fuck who wins the cricket or the league, or whatever else, and I don’t barrack for new vs old media or COFA versus NAS. I thing there needs to be more art and less sport, and more education, discussion, writing and research on art that goes beyond some footy fan mentality. Is it really so Unaustralian to want just one little area of life to be complex, confusing, ambiguous and strange? Huh?

After a few weeks of chewing up my passport, coughing up phlegm and chocking on my bile, I ventured out into the sunny streets of shoreditch to check out the British Drawing Revival for myself.

I’ve normally only connected shoreditch with low scores in monopoly, but lately it’s the new hotbed in international creative capital – it’s more Williamsburg than Williamsburg, even and ART is right at the centre of it all – and they’ve even still got squats, warehouses and studios happening amidst the Olympian facelift mdf spree….

A radical art collective called The London Particular did a great photo essay in Greenpepper mag, called ; Shoreditch; from shit to gold, exploring the paradox of the sudden rise to megabuck mediocrity of the areas historically marginalised activities – and, like Williamsburg, or Redfern, it’s undergoing bizarre and breathtaking change…..

Now my recently learned opinion is that The great British Drawing™ revival appears to be a product of most of the art schools being incorporated into Universities, and being obliged to adopt ‘research’ based models of inquiry and activity. I think drawing has a particular history in the UK – with beig associated with all sorts of protestant identity values of moral probity, hard work, serious investigation and rigour and so it kind of makes sense in a daffy blighty kind of way that Drawing™ would be the cornerstone, the benchmark, the Key Perfomrance Indicator of all things rigorous, earnest, investigative and modern in the modern copratised hothouses of creative economy fodder; universitised art schools.

Hence there are lots and lots of new drawing initiatives, drawing research centres, drawing research publications, drawing research programs and drawing PhD’s happening all up and down blighty. This is great for my own research it would seem. Imaginatively and delightfully enough drawing has been largely metaphorised to include a lot of other activities and conceptual prospects, which is great – but meanwhile, as stated, university programs are actually cutting budgets for undergraduate teaching of actual drawing. So there is a funny contradiction between capital D Drawing™ and the nuts and bolts of drawing pedagogy. Ho hum standard university dilemma really – but the brits seem to do really well at vapid corporatised doublespeak – the British library shut early twice last week; once to set up an exhibition for tourist customers, then once to go on strike coz there ain’t enough staff, and the place is increasingly resembling an offshoot of the novotel hotel next door.

Anyway art education aside, there has been talk internationally of a bit of zeitgeist revival of Drawing™. It’s mean to be hot on the art market, and cool in the funky indi spaces. In blighty, it’s simply not English to not be into it, Prince Charles has opened a school for it, there is even a national campaign ‘the big draw’ designed for young and old.

London has two commercial galleries devoted to drawing: one being “the drawing gallery” which is located somewhere near cold comfort farm, and the other being “the drawing room”. The latter was on the northern edge of Shoreditch at some place called Brunswick wharf which looks like a scary pre-Olympics building site. I stood in some alley, in front of a locked gate, rang the buzzer and waited – then called them on my mobile . Eventually someone came and let me in to the studio complex – and up to the gallery. Inside – they had papered all the walls with 214 works on a4 paper – which were being auctioned off as a fundraiser for the space. From the outset the aesthetic was funky, artist run, edgy – a bit like Cinders Gallery in Brooklyn or even Tracey Clement’s curated fundraiser at Peloton last year…..

Lots and lots of different things on paper – ink, pencil, biro, cartooney things, abstract things, exquisite sculptural things, minimal things, expressive things, flouro things…

Then I saw the names

Lordy – this was not Kansas

Phyllida Barlow, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Rachel Goodyear, Polly Gould, Cornelia Parker, Grayson Perry, Paula Rego, John Stezaker, Antony Gormley…

It was like having walking into an edition of Frieze only I was looking at original little paper relics – not reproductions. So I allowed myself to be swamped with the aura of originality…..

Apparently all the great art punters had donated pieces to be auctioned off in a fundraiser for the space. I couldn’t afford a £150quid bid so opted to lash out on some catalogues instead. I didn’t want to leave – coz it felt so nice to hang out with the work, in the space, with the staff, with all the nice zines, plus mags, and books, and catalogues... but eventually I thought I’d better see some more spaces.

Outside I sms’d my Australian friends that art was alive and well in east London. It wasn’t only that there were some Good Drawings™ but that drawing was operating as the site for some really interesting social relations of conviviality playfulness, altruism, good will, collectivity, experimentation, and just the right touch of speculative capital to keep the motor ticking…..

Feeling happy I wandered down the road to Flowers East – which is the nearest I could bear to get to a real cork street gallery. What drew me in (hah!) was a retrospective of Derek Boshier –one of the grand old boys of the RCA in the ‘60’s and a mate of David Hockney – who appears to be blighty’s version of Warhol – everyone wants a piece.

Boshier ain’t a YBA – but he’s a great drawer – and a challenge to the maxim that the 60’s/70’s whenever it was killed drawing. His strongest pieces for me – came from the 70’s and 80’s when he abandoned the studied modernist graphing of his RCA student days and really pushed drawing into new places; merging it with photography – taking photos and collages and ticket stubs – cutting out, re-pasting, drawing around and drawing beyond them. The line becomes a delineation, an embellishment, an index, a transformation into so many things….that slips outside language but squiggles around and scoops it up again.

His vintage; Journey/Israel project in one of the most powerful examples for me. It starts with a photograph of 3 young Auschwitz detainees, wearing striped prison pyjamas. The next image is the same photo but with the heads gouached out in grey, leaving the pyjama stripes. The following image – the pyjama stripes become tents in a field, and then furrows across a field. The final image is a coloured furrowed field, copied onto a pick-handle. How the index of an image translates and punctures through space, becoming emblematic of history, of horror and of change – is real, moving, intense. (I’m not doing real well with the adjectives today, sorry)

Not everything he did was genius – and I thought his Picasso life magazine cover sucked – but this piece was magical, so too the ‘queen’ drawing; a detournement of clippings about the royal family visiting the then poor East end in the 1977 jubilee year.

Flowers had a great library of catalogues so I spent money I don’t have on John Keane’s “guantanamerica” – coz I like what he’s done with the images and paint….. I then STUPIDLY spent the dumbest £4 ever in my entire life. This was even dumber than the time ten years ago that I kept inserting £1 coins into some skilltester machine in soho just because I liked the music… It was the vintage B&W layout that did it – coz it looked like an alternative art-zine, and the front cover had text railing against the Olympics – so I thought ‘right on’ and chucked it on the VISA. Much later I realised where Sebastian smee gets his review copy from; The Jackdaw. Some sewers are best left unexplored.

I crossed the road and wandered into a very self consciously silly show called “it was the best of time outs, it was the worst of time outs” by 3 likely lads: Peter Davies, David Ersser, Graham Hudson. There were 2 big protest/ pop art paintings, a really silly sculpture with ‘when it windy this sculpture falls over’ scrawled on it, and then my favourite piece of all, by David Errser – who embodied a beautiful marriage of Jim Dine and ricky swallow. The title of the piece was “I need sexual healing’. The title reminded me that I needed to head to the feminist erotica shop on hoxton square so I took a few small streets inwards.

En route, I wandered into my favourite gallery ever, which is my favourite gallery ever because the exhibitions ALWAYS induce me to stare ponderously at some room fixture. Last time I was transfixed by an unusual packing crate, and this time it was by the central heating duct running along the skirting board of one wall. I tried to tell myself it as a reflection of the felicitous synchronicity of the artist placing empty 7’ record sleeves just above the duct which was covered in 7’ radial discs, and I was hoping that the whole exhibition would induce me to have a quirky re-imagining of the mundane post-industrial fixtures of this converted storeroom space….. so I wandered around carefully measuring my steps, but decided that crushed white doonas arranged on 2 foot pine armatures, were a prime example of ‘stylised conceptual minimalism’; low on form, low on colour, low on content…. So I left.

Bad art always gives me a frisson of giggling glee when its surrounded by the good stuff. (should I mention that the catalogue essay mentioned Wittgenstein? Just the sheer exhuberance of such immense intellectual posturing is mindboggling when you think of the obligatoire dumbing down or Ozzie Art Writing inc.

Coz round the corner from STORE and next door to the sex shop – was the White Cube. The White Cube is an imposing and frightening space, and the staff all look pimply and posey, but…. They had a show by expat strinegirl, Jessica Rankin. She went to VCA and is now based in new york – and I wish I could have afforded 15 quid catalogue.

Downstairs there were large exquisite textile pieces – where words formed constellations and moved between wonderful spaces of form, meaning and pattern. I wish Nicole Barakat and Ruark could have been there…. She even appropriated a central desert campfire icon with some degree of sensitivity – incorporating it into a constellation map. I stared, I wandered, I paced, I stood, I sighed. I deciphered words and counted stitches.

I went up stairs because a sign on the wall said Andreas Gurzky, but I found were the small works on paper that precluded the large sewn pieces. (of Jessica’s) Small intimate sketches. And again the beauty and delight that a drawing produces. Because its easy to make a mark or a line with a pen or crayon or pencil. Because they travel anywhere – and can act as a first thought. Because seeing them on small bits of paper – makes them hand size, and you have to stand close to see them. Because they show how artists think through lines ad forms and shapes, and that drawing, like drawing breath is a constant process…

And no, it’s not dead at all…

ps sorry I havne't put in links to this space. i'm at an internet caf and some drunk guy wandred in and spilled cider on the floor.....

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