Tuesday, 25 October 2011

There's this stretch of wall on Great Eastern Street, you'd know it if you saw it, a spot long favoured by East End street artists looking for a place to paint. With its large, frame-like, indentations, it seems built for that very purposeNow the guys who run Village Underground have a plan. They want to turn this wall into 'The Wall', a public exhibition space for artists to show their work to the world for free. Sturdy metal and glass panels will ensure art displayed there is protected from decay, theft and vandalism. A betrayal of street art's ephemeral and illicit roots? The jury's out. All I can say is far better this than yet more insipid billboards advertising a load of crap you really don't need. 

Click here to find out how you can help fund the project. 


Saturday, 15 October 2011

While at Frieze, I took a break from the rampant cash splashing to grab a cup of tea and a chat with artist Vanessa Hodgkinson as she was gearing up for her new show, Economies of Language, launching tonight at The Hardy Tree Gallery...

The Spectacle of Threat, 2011

So how’s all the preparation going?

Overall I feel good about it.Things have started to fuse together. There are three main elements to the show: the √©criture, the fake writing, the QR codes and then the collage work, which is mostly based on images of women.

In what way do you see this show as a continuation of what you were doing before?

 It's a continuation of mark making using my hands, which I’ve been doing for a couple of years now, where I use my fingers to paint words. Having done so much work with paintbrushes and reed pens and really delicate implements, it’s been nice to use my body much more which i think is part of moving into a more performative approach.

Untitled Pair, 2011

That very raw, material engagement seems to contrast with the work you've done using QR codes

That’s what interests me. How we can bring something emotional into something so mediated? The QR codes are essentially pieces of work where there’s an unknown message.You know there’s something locked into the image because the code leads somewhere but it depends whether or not it can be accessed.

The Origin of the World, 2011

Of course it still 'works' if you’re not accessing it with your iPhone

It works visually but there’s this itch that you need to scratch. There’s something behind it, something else that the artist has considered, but it’s whether or not the artist chooses to give the key away. QR codes also have an aesthetic kinship to squared Kufic calligraphy, a form of Arabic writing. And there’s a really interesting relationship between new media art and Islamic art to do with algorhithms and digitization, the idea of patterns that underlie everything.

Tell me a bit about the √©criture. It looks like writing but isn't, right? 

I studied Arabic language at Kuwait University a few years ago. I never advanced passed the toddler stage but can read the letters. I enjoyed the experience of being on the outside of language. The language we use everyday is so intrinsic to us we don’t think about it. When you learn a language you strain to get into it. These texts are forms that don’t actually say anything. If you were to go to a mosque and read the script on a monumental frieze, you could appreciate it from a purely aesthetic standpoint without knowing what it said.  

The Answer Is On My Teeth, 2011

It's kind of like a child's finger painting

Exactly. Very naive. But I can’t pretend to be at another stage of knowledge than I am. I’m not a calligrapher and don’t ever want to be seen as someone who is trying to emulate something.

Are there many experimental calligraphers or is it always about following tradition?

The word in Islam is the word of God so calligraphy is the most important form of visual art in the Islamic world. People who do do calligraphy tend to stick to the traditional forms because you don’t fuck with what’s sacred. One of the pieces I’ve made is called ‘the more incomprehensible the text the more scared it seems’. When I used to write about sacred art I often misspelt the word sacred as scared. I love the idea that if something is incomprehensible, if you’re stopping something from coming through, it’s something you’re uncomfortable with.

No God Present, 2011

How did your interest in Islamic art arise? 

My first experience of the middle east was the Gulf. I was in Saudi when I was about 8, seeing family, and I’ve been going back every two years since. Then I lived in Kuwait  but prior to that I had studied Ottoman art and architecture at Cambridge, where I became interested in Orientalism and the politics of imagery between the Islamic world and Europe.

In Sophia al-Maria’s essay in the booklet which accompanies your show, she says this is something you've struggled with

I think so but this show is probably the most comfortable I’ve felt with my work. It’s also the most humorous. It’s very tongue in cheek. I think Sophia puts it well when she says it’s ‘bawdy’. I can’t imagine doing a show five years ago where the word bawdy would be used to describe it because all my work then was be very, very conservative and to do with serious Islamic art. If you choose to use a religious art as a visual formal language, you get caught up in the implications of that and that was a real struggle but this show I really own. 

Allowed East, 2011

What changed?

A lot of the collage pieces are based on the odalisque and look at the position of the female within the Orientalist painting tradition. I realised I was never going to be a Muslim although I struggled with it for a bit. Doing more performance work meant I was relating more to the model. The odalisque is actually a white woman dressed as an Arab and, having done a lot of life modelling, I had a link to that. Another influential thing was seeing PJ Harvey on Valentine’s Day in Paris. I saw her do what I’ve been trying to do for years - being not of the subaltern voice but able to make statements about it, to show a concern and an interest and a desire to engage.

You've started to work more with video but there’s no video in this show

I’ve been working through film ideas in collage. If you look, there’s a close relationship between those two images (below). In a way, I consider the work in this show to be studies towards film. I want it to be my last show of work on paper before I make a real departure into film. 

Major Harem Break, 2011

This is not a Sales Pitch, 2011

Economies of Language runs until 30 October at The Hardy Tree Gallery, 119 Pancras Road, London NW1 1UN. 



Thursday, 13 October 2011

Douglas White, New Skin for an Old Ceremony, 2011

While travelling in East Africa ten years ago, artist Douglas White chanced upon the rotting remains of a dead elephant. "The image of that scene has always stayed with me," he writes. "It was a visceral encounter. Here was a body become landscape, a body both present and absent in which the distinction between the inner and outer had evaporated in the heat and decay." Check out White's uncanny and wonderfully skin-like clay sculptures, inspired by this experience

Douglas White, Song of the Pachyderms II, Clay and steel table, 2011

Douglas White, New Skin for an Old Ceremony runs until 12 November 2011 at Paradise Row, 74 Newman Street, London W1T 3DB. 

Visit and


I have a confession to make. I've never been to the Frieze Art Fair. Or rather, I hadn't until yesterday. Now I'm under no illusions about The Way The World Works but nothing could quite prepare me for this. Art everywhere. Champagne popping. Stack 'em high, sell 'em higher. Eager gallerists, over 170 of them, peddling their wares to swarms of frighteningly glossy, international moneyed sorts. There was even a bloody great yacht in the middle of the space. 

Christian Jankowski, The Finest Art on Water, 2011. Photo by Linda Nylind. Courtesy of Linda Nylind/ Frieze

Okay so said yacht was in fact a specially commissioned  artwork by German artist Christian Jankowski but there was still something a tad distasteful about the whole thing. At a time when 12 million people are at risk of starvation in East Africa, when here in the UK we are seeing a massive rise in poverty set to continue for at least the next two years, the surreal world of the super wealthy collector drifts along regardless. There is plenty of beautiful and fascinating work on show this year at Frieze, well worth checking out, but for true spectacle, just take a look at the sheer commercialism of it - remarkable, if slightly nauseating, to behold. 

 Frieze Art Fair runs from 13 - 16 October in Regent's Park. 



Sunday, 2 October 2011

If your tresses could do with a trim then get down to Toynbee Street in Whitechapel, where arts collective The Hair Cut Before the Party are currently running a pop up hair salon with a twist.

The Hair Cut Before the Party

Instead of chatting about where you went on holiday this summer, THCBTP is encouraging people to share their thoughts on social and political questions, while getting their hair cut for free. A different theme is explored each month and the resulting conversations will be mapped out visually online and published as a series of books. 

The Hair Cut Before the Party

For more info, visit The Hair Cut Before the Party salon is at 26-28 Toynbee Street, Whitechapel, open Thursday to Saturday, 12-6 pm until December. To book a hair cut, call the salon phone on 07928072825

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