Very small venue, and not at all like seeing the pieces in situ. Conscious of it being a commercial gallery and a sales promo. But the pieces are still impressive, eerie, unsettling., seeming to have a life force, but quite reptilian, capable of staying still for a long time, then moving.
Good chance to get to hear Kate MccGwire today at Hong Kong Arts Centre: she was here to install her exhibition at a local commercial gallery, Galerie Huit, opening next week.
I’ve seen Kate’s work at Art Central and loved it: her feather sculptures are amazing, sinister, abstract, sinuous, violent- and her pictures (I don’t know what to call them) images made of lead lined with feathers, like bullet holes with teeth, rather scary, beside extremely peaceful landscapes constructed with overlapping feathers.
I was interested in hearing her talk about how and why she often presents her works in glass cases, as this was something that I am also considering regarding some of my pieces.
Her feather sculptures evoke organic forms, human bodies or knots. She said she collects glass cases- old pieces, that would probably have been used for stuffed natural specimens- by doing thus she creates context- gives them the air of being aged museum pieces, scientific objects even.
She also spoke of HOW she fits them into the cases- she makes her sculptures to fit the case as nearly as possible, so that sometimes they may appear to be close to bursting out. This gives the pieces an energy that adds to their constrained force that they get from being tense, knotted structures already.
She said that this idea of containment was important to her as it also suggested the containment if her idea inside her head, things that burst out into her work.
While she was talking, I thought about my own ideas of presenting the portrait work relating to my mother. I could see how the idea of putting it into an old suitcase was also relating to this idea of containment, of emotions. The link to “emotional baggage” is also there. But I also realised the way the old suitcase, like MccGwire’s antique cases, creates a historical context. There is also a sense of revelation, as a suitcase is something that can be opened, and that is also a potential threat, as it may may reveal things hidden or forgotten. But it also evokes a sense of preservation, of something stored because it is valuable, an heirloom. All in all, I feel convinced by this choice now, and am happy that listening to the artist talk helped me articulate the reasons.
This was the exhibition that I saw in Hong Kong in October 2014, referenced in my parallel project.
The title “Metamorphosis” referenced the process of silk worms spinning cocoons to make silk, and the constructive/destructive process was enacted in an installation of a mulberry tree populated with silkworms that evolved in the course of the exhibition, Meanwhile, at the end of the exhibition, there was another destructive/constructive exhibit that had the silkworms enclosed with a book which they proceeded to eat to fuel their metamorphosis, while at the same time leaving the characters on the pages to deform into moving “type”.
The exhibition explored meaning making through signs. Signs included Chinese characters, deconstructed and unevolved into their primitive imitative state, as representations of phenomena. The video on the evolution of the character for “one”, “The Character of Characters”, related history and culture, and the development of landscape, to the evolving meanings of the term “one” including clever animations that satirised mass production, and copyright piracy, as comments on contemporary China.
Xu’s on the tobacco industry was included- this has personal resonance due to his father’s death from lung cancer- a book made from pungent tobacco leaves, reconstructions of Chinese brands of cigarettes, and an installation of prints based on tobacco packaging stencils with their slogans turned into a poem/song made this section a multi-sensory experience.
Book from the Ground is a recent project that is a counterpoint to Book from the Sky- in this exhibition, Xu’s studio was recreated to give insight into the process of developing a new language of visual signs, based on the language of airports and streets, of new media such as emojis, as an exploration of modern iconography. Visual signs differ from oral ones in interesting ways, and work to the extent that we share global cultural capital. (This piece is not as profound as Book from the Sky though, and is in fact a bit gimmicky, I feel.. )
Xu is strong when dealing with the interplay of Chinese culture, text and meaning, which was evident in a work using the traditions of Chinese art- highly stylised and rule-bound- in a subversive recreation. As in Book from the Sky, with its appropriation of the ancient techniques of printing and bookmaking, Xu has had to learn the rules of this type of art and display his mastery of the tradition in order to subvert it and free it up to be an expressive form.
In the atrium were examples of Xu’s famous square word calligraphy, hanging as scroll paintings, and also cleverly worked into the design of wire birdcages which contained mechanical birds that responded to external sounds such as a hand clap. Square word calligraphy is Xu’s form of writing which has the appearance of being Chinese but has no meaning in that language, instead being a subversion of Roman script. People look at it and find no meaning, until at last they break the code, at which point they are swept along by cultural familiarity, as the texts are usually nursery rhymes, as if they suddenly find a childs voice from the past breaking out from the patterns, in what might be a rediscovery of learning to read for the first time. The birds cages, familiar cultural icons here, also respond to the audience’s interaction. The use of cultural appropriation here to play with ideas of language and voicelessness, and the idea of speaking only when bidden, while being caged, had obvious political connotations.
This exhibition was on a small scale but focussed a lot on materials, their associations, and processes of change and transformation, while text and culture were challenged, and Xu’s fascination with how language operates in the struggle to make meaning was clearly evident. For me, the most satisfying pieces were the video and the silkworms/mulberry tree/Book, which embodied a process of dematerialisation, and recreation, in a cyclical pattern that spoke of the continuous flow of life, death and rebirth transformed. The silkworms literally ate the text of the book as part of the process, but created unreadable moving signs as they went about their silent work of recreation.
An inspiring collection that was exhibited nearby when I was still in France, it included sculptural works, paintings and drawings by some familiar and some new artists to me. I was particularly attracted to the quality of lines, gestural, geometric, impressionistic and calligraphic as I was working on drypoint plates at the time. It was interesting to see works by Henri Michaux, who uses and deconstructs text in his art, Pierre Alechinsky sketch-like works and Miro’s mark making.
Stand out pieces for me were Anne Treal-Bresson, “Le Cri” intricately drawn in ink, using hatching in a distorted face that references “The Scream”. Hans Hartung, for the variety of marks and evidence of relating with the canvas. Alexander Calder for composition and balance. Eva Bergman for her minimalism.
I spent time in London and got a chance to visit some galleries, and this was my favourite exhibition.
I loved the visceral, tactile nature of Hatoum’s work, the way everyday domestic objects were repurposed to create visual effects of patterns and geometries, and to evoke powerful emotions, often fear and threat. The best though were the most abstract. The black cube first encountered on entering the gallery was just demanding to be touched, as it seemed to be made of hair, or something soft and organic, but was actually iron filings. It was mysterious, other worldly, and looked like a scale model of the Kaaba.
My favourite piece of all though was + and -, a large circle of sand with a mechanical rotating arm, one side of which raked the sand, the other smoothed it. It was a paradox in motion, marking and erasing, doing and undoing, a continuous cycle, and hypnotic in its effect.
Kate MccGwire mentioned Hatoum as an influence, as she relates to the “intricate and repetitive” nature of the process of making. I found that this resonated with me, and describes a lot of the work that I admire, such as Xu Bing, Agnes Martin.
This was a lovely exhibition, including prints which have really inspired me to go and try collographs. I particularly liked the prints that featured collographs that had been cut into separate shapes, something I tried with my “Greying” series. McLaren’s images are semi-abstract landscapes, and the collograph technique gives them unique textures. McLaren studied printmaking under Stanley Hayter.
There was no information on the techniques, but this looks like a combination of collograph, drypoint or perhaps lithograph… I think I can try it with gel and drypoint on Perspex.
Her painted landscapes remind me a little of Richard Diebenkorn’s, but they’re softer, more lyrical, with their glowing colours and painterly marks. She also uses mono printing and drypoint techniques in a minimalist way, on a large scale.
Besides that, the colours and the subject matter were calming and meditative. I enjoyed this one very much (and appreciated the gallery shop too, which had a brilliant selection of books on printmaking).
I was a little disappointed in this one, this year, as many of the exhibits were exactly the same as last year’s. It was nice to see some things again, such as Kate MccGwire’s feather sculptures, but I had been hoping for something new. As always in HK, it began with bling: a moving sculpture made of crystal, commissioned by Svarowski. It was much photographed.
The artist I cam across for the first time was Marc Quinn, and I was really interested in what kind of printmaking techniques he used. I liked his embossed works “The Frozen Wave”, and the combination of embossing with ink layers.
I was particularly interested in his photographic prints of raw meat, and wondered about trying to produce something in this style using photopolymer.