Restore to Factory Settings, 2014, Felicity Hammond (C-type print, acrylic, glass wool, paint) – installation at Saatchi Gallery December 2015
A couple of weeks before Christmas, I spent 2-3 hours at the Saatchi Gallery; it was interesting timing, juxtaposed with the previous experience of contemporary art on display at various locations in Sheffield. One couldn’t but reflect on the comparison of scale, for example, between the Saatchi in its grand setting, just off the Kings Road, and the small rooms at Bank Street Arts, Sheffield, or the semi-industrial Site Gallery, Sheffield. Then again, in terms of physical scale, Sheffield Cathedral could give Saatchi a run for its money (though not much of a run on the scale of the ‘money’ itself, one suspects!) – and I referred in my earlier post to the different significance attributed by viewing contemporary art in that particular setting (Previous Post). The Saatchi spaces are ‘grand’ but, understandably and appropriately, can supply none of the sense of ‘other-worldness’ that the Cathedral setting gave – well, other than the presence of the great God ‘money’, perhaps! That said, one can’t ‘knock’ 10 large spacious rooms of contemporary art, thoughtfully displayed, highly accessible, and all for free. Another comparison with that previous post, the significance of philanthropic capital in supporting new contemporary art – “Many artists showing at The Saatchi Gallery are unknown when first exhibited …” a quote from their website. ‘Unknown’ might need clarification, I suppose, but the main exhibition on show last week certainly seems to support the notion that this institution is targeting the work of emerging artists.
It was this UK/raine (‘pronounced’ as ‘UK-Ukraine’, I was informed). The show is a presentation of the work of shortlisted artists in a competition aimed at finding “… the most imaginative and talented young artists … who live and work in the UK or Ukraine …”. Entries cross five ‘categories’ – Installation, Painting, New Media, Street Art and Sculpture – with a winner for each and one overall winner sharing £75,000 of prize money. I thoroughly enjoyed the variety of inspiration on show, though I wouldn’t necessarily have agreed with the chosen prize-winners. ‘Twas ever thus’, I guess. Hard (and somewhat false) to choose a ‘favourite’ but I did enjoy the installation pictured above, from Felicity Hammond. I hadn’t seen her work before but, interestingly and coincidentally, a couple of days later she was announced as one of the winners of a BJP Photography Award, and it was for the image displayed on the wall in my illustration. It is a large-scale image that uses form – the blue tones, with all sorts of connotations around ‘blue screens’, blue-prints, and so on – and content – an elaborately constructed waste strewn industrial landscape that seems eerily and irrationally attractive – to prompt potential reflections across a wide range of issues around progress and, as she says when describing the work on her website, ‘error’ (Felicity Hammond). In the gallery, the blue is emphasised with the painted angular shape on which stands that sickly toxic yellow plastic column containing what appears to be some of the discarded waste from the image, bringing it into our presence and leaving one appropriately confused between attraction and revulsion. In the context of my own practice, I was interested by the mixing of media – the combination of the ‘photographic’ (because, although constructed, it uses Photography’s magic realism to evoke a viewer response) with installation in a way that seeks to subvert (I think) the perceived flatness of the photographic surface.
A work that had a strong resonance with aspects of my ‘Textbook’ project was this one:
Scorch of the Real, 2015, Installation, paper, fire; Roman Mikhaylov; Saatchi Gallery December 2015
It is a very large piece, comprising several layers of paper through which the artist has burned holes of receding size. It is the use of fire, of course, that I am comparing with my own project e.g.
I don’t think Mikhaylov burned his holes with the sun and a magnifying glass (!); the scale is, obviously, very very different; and his work is made in the context of his country’s recent history of war and destruction, giving it very much more significant connotations than my own. However, when I first embarked on my own little piece of “creation through destruction”, I was struggling to find contextual examples of the use of fire in creativity – though I did find some see here. Mikhaylov (on the Saatchi website) says that it was the events of recent Ukrainian history that started his experiments with fire in his practice and that war had never been a theme in his art before. The title of the piece Scorch of the Real seems to reflect that – the piece becomes a kind of formal representation of the way in which those dramatic events ‘burned’ their way into and through all aspects of the lives and existence of the people, shifting the experience of reality. Therein is another link to a reflection that I have made about my own work. I do question the lack of ‘emotional resonance’ – is my work’s detachedness indicative of the shortage of scorching reality in my own experience or of a personal resistance to it?
Moving on … a third artist whose work I was keen to see was Jonny Briggs. Jonny is one of the people with whom I’ve made contact in my networking and I had hoped to see his solo show whilst in London but the gallery wasn’t open. However, he was shortlisted for the New Media Prize at UK/raine and had three works on show:
Three works by Jonny Briggs – Saatchi Gallery, December 2015
I find his work particularly interesting because of the way that it ‘plays’ within the whole photography/reality context. There is reference to the conditioned perception of reality into which he was (we all were?) formed through the family and an attempt to explore the idea of a constructed version of reality – be that the one constructed from these childhood influences or the new version that he constructs in his imagery. The latter often takes account of the post-digital and post-internet notion that images are easily manipulated and reconstructed, using that pre-conception to challenge the viewer by not using those methods to make the images but creating ‘real’ constructs that look as though they may be have been digitally manipulated. “I find the mistrust in lens based media an interesting preconception to work with, in exploring my own relationship to deception”, he said, in an e-mail response to my Contextual Studies research. Seeing this small sample of his work ‘in the flesh’ confirmed that, when viewed large, the ‘reality’ of his constructed images becomes clear e.g. the monochromatic ‘still life’ in the centre, which has clearly been carefully ‘made’ to look ‘unreal’. I reflect that none of this would be possible were it not for some ‘unconscious’ expectation of reality in a photograph. Without that expectation, there is no notion of deception in the first place. Digital methods don’t necessarily change or undermine that residual idea in the unconscious, but they do offer further scope for the artist to ‘play’ with the viewers’ perception.