Monday, 19 March 2012

Joy in Art (and people)

If the art world had art world-equivalent baseball cards I'd have collected Jeremy Deller this week, adding him to my haul of Mark Wallinger, Grayson Perry, Yayoi Kusama, Elmgreen & Dragset, Hew Locke, Ryan Gander and Tracey Emin.*

Signage for Deller's show at the Hayward
I spoke only briefly to Jeremy, in a quasi-dorky, carried a watermelon/really loved your exhibition kind of a way but before that I'd had the privilege to sit in on an hour-long Q&A he did with 30 young people at the Hayward Gallery as part of a cross-site visit organised by the young arts project.

We had the chance to take a look around his show beforehand and I really, really enjoyed it. I'd never known a great deal about Deller's work - my first major encounter with his practice was the work March 5, 2007, the wreckage of a car destroyed by a bomb in Iraq that killed 38 people on the date of its namesake. In 2010 the rusted, mangled heap was put on display in the grand hall of the Imperial War Museum in London amid a staggering arsenal of impressive military weapons - planes, grenades and rockets. It was the first and only artefact in the atrium to bear witness to the human impact of war and it's now in their permanent collection.

March 5, 2007 in the atrium at the Imperial War Museum.
Image: Anthony Devlin/PA. Courtesy the Guardian
In 2009 Deller took the car on a road trip across America in the company of an Iraqi citizen and a US soldier, hitching it to the back of a campervan, and the documentary about the experience, It Is What It Is (2009), which I hadn't seen before, is part of the Hayward exhibition, along with the car wreckage.

Jeremy Deller, It Is What It Is, 2009 (detail)
I want to call Deller a conceptual artist but there's a realist bent to his work with its explorations of cultural and social phenomena, communities, history and participation and the show brings together work from the past two decades, including a re-staging of the exhibition he held in his bedroom at his parents house in 1993 while they were away. There's a lot of humour to Deller's work and a subtle but compelling mix of compassion and pathos too. The exhibition includes a display of failed proposals including his controversial suggestion for the Fourth Plinth - a mannequin of Dr David Kelly, the biological warfare expert who committed suicide in 2003 after intense media scrutiny over his comments about government documents purporting to explain the presence of weapons of mass destruction.

Jeremy Deller - Fourth Plinth proposal. Copright: Jeremy Deller
And then there's his performance piece, I Heart Melancholy, where a lone performer reclines on a sofa set against an overwhelming wall reading, pondering, wallowing in melancholy.

These are just a handful of works on display - there's also a 3D film about bats and a relocated snack bar serving tea and coffee under a roof full of political banners - but the over-riding impression is of Deller's sincere curiosity about the dynamics of social encounter and collaboration and the nature of people. What's amusing is that despite this apparent 'Joy In People', Deller considers himself a pessimist and actually wanted to call the show 'Animal, Vegetable, Minerable, Pop Music'.

Jeremy Deller, I Heart Melancholy, 2011
His Q&A was lively and revealing and I was impressed actually with the questions put to him by the group. We filmed the whole event, which is good, because I spent a lot of the hour being distracted by the perils of live tweeting. I remain in two minds about the phenomena that is social media. Twitter to me feels like a rolling tsunami of information dressed up as white noise. It's exhausting. And apparently facebook now encourages socially aggressive narcissism so it just gets better and better.

Art has had quite a bit of attention the last couple of days actually (notwithstanding the fact that yes, I work in an art gallery so technically it has my attention every day...) but yesterday Lovely Boy and I went to the Affordable Art Fair in Battersea Park to buy ourselves a work of art. One of our wedding presents was money towards such a purchase and affordable being a key part of the remit, the fair seemed the ideal place to look for our modest masterpiece. LB was only mildly facetious, dragging out the best bits of his art vocabulary to declare a fancy for buying a piece of conceptual performance art - or else something in his most favourite medium, video.....

Jeremy Deller, Valerie's Snack Bar, 2009 
Strangely all out of video art, conceptual art and bad performance art, we were left instead with swathes of mediocre painting, the likes of which is typically found in bourgeois doctors surgeries and some interesting sculptures, including one of a bulldog wearing pearls.

Thankfully though we did come across several prints that we liked and in the end purchased two quirky screen prints by a British artist called Martin Grover that re-imagine London's public transport signage as sites for distracted, philosophical, humorous wonderings.

A sculptural version of the screenprint by Martin
Grover that we bought - out by the car park at the fair.
We have one at home on the wall already, the other is being framed and we'll have it in two weeks time. We're gathering quite the art collection now, with the delightful Daniel Lehan painting that the gallery gave us for a wedding present and the breath-taking Andre Derain lithograph from Lovely Boy's parents, another beautiful, brilliant gift.

Original watercolour by Daniel Lehan
From the Art Fair to the food fair, we grabbed lunch at Duke of York Square in Chelsea at the food market, proving unable to say no to blocks of cheese and jars of passionfruit curd along the way. And then a detour down a small side street in search of a pub so LB could indulge in a Guinness for St Patrick's Day before home and a late afternoon sleep.

Queens Head pub, Chelsea
Today I've cleaned the house, powered through three loads of washing and enjoyed the quiet delights of the house while Lovely Boy is out on a man-venture for the day.

This week I'm going to Gillian Wearing's private view at the Whitechapel Gallery and on Saturday it's Kusama madness at Tate.

If I wasn't a trained professional, I'd almost be artied out.

* In the interests of full disclosure I technically haven't exactly met all these artists but if I've emailed them, if I've written questions for them for an interview, if I've seen them at close range in some kind of non-accidental, non-everyday setting then I count them. My art world cards, my prerogative.

Monday, 12 March 2012

For the love of a weekend.

It's a blessed thing the working week passes quickly, or has been lately at any rate. If only it had the converse effect on the weekends.

After the perks of two working weeks ago - posh dinners et al - the weeks since have been a bit of a beige blur, punctuated by lovely, albeit frustratingly brief, weekends.

The weekend before last was a long one for me. I took the Friday off and spent the day lunching with Tor and her fabulous pal May and getting a brilliant paint job on la toes on d'Arblay St. Before heading off for a massage. And then reconvening with the girls for a big glass of prosecco. It was a lovely, lovely day.

Zarina Bhimji, Shadows and Disturbances, 2007
On the Saturday I dragged LB to the Whitechapel to see the Zarina Bhimji show. I suspected, rightly, that it wouldn't be up his artistic strasse but I completely adored it. Her images as just the most visually elegaic understandings of absence - of things been and things missing - and her lightness of touch in dealing with the histories of violence written into now empty, often decaying, architectures across India and East Africa is quite profoundly beautiful.

Zarina Bhimji, Memories Were Trapped Inside the Asphalt, 1998-2003
Her photographs operate almost as still life paintings and perhaps not ironically it is the stillness that resonates so loudly as a kind of ghostly witness to what has gone before. You couldn't get a stronger anathema to the 24 hr new channels live streaming violent, noisy images from Egypt or Syria or some other latest place of upmost despair. So yes, I loved it. LB didn't so much but that was ok. As I said to him later, sometimes it's good to see things you don't like - it makes spotting the things you do like all the easier.

Zarina Bhimji, No Border Crossing, 2001-2006
From Whitechapel to Barbican, we headed off in search of a drink at the member's bar - another great wedding gift - christening our Barbican membership not with tickets to anything cultural, but with wine and a magnificent bowl of hummus. Happy times.

Zarina Bhimji, Illegal Sleep, 2007
And then on Sunday we took to the countryside in a search of a lovely lunch and some non-London wilderness. We eventually settled on Henley as a destination, Henley-on-Thames to be exact and yes, that Henley of boat racing lore, but before our idyllic wander along the river in stubborn winter sunshine, we took ourselves off in search of a pub lunch. Lovely Boy's most excellent researching skills sent us down wintry narrow country lanes, so reminiscent of Cornwall, before we came to The Crooked Billet.

The Observer Good Food Guide rates it as one of the best Sunday lunches and apparently Kate Winslet held her (first) wedding reception here. It's not hard to understand why, with it's quirky, crooked charm. We didn't have a booking - the fact that we had to park in the "Overflow Carpark" (and very nearly in the "Muddy Field Carpark") suggested it might be a stretch to get a table.

A table indoors would have meant a three hour wait it transpired - but a table in the garden, in the sunshine, under the gas heater under a beautiful blue sky - that was no problem. We certainly didn't suffer for the cold or for a lack of attention. And the meal was beyond delightful. Mozzarella and mushroom risotto balls, the pinkest, most exquisite meat and warm chocolate and banana cake. All washed down with a big glass of wine. It was so civilised.

For the first hour we had the garden to ourselves but then people began to drift in and sit down: National Trust types with their maps and sensible walking shoes, all decked out for a day of ambling, and then a few wanker types, pulling up in their Jaguars and accessorising their self-congratulatory smugness with boat shoes and blackberries and jauntily draped cashmere scarfs - all hedge fund and holiday talk. The two to our left were almost certainly still at university which made the conversation - and the eavesdropping - all the more hilarious.

Getting back into our little car we retreated to Henley and strolled along the river, willing winter to just be finished already so we can get started on Spring.

Last weekend had shades of deja vu with a return trip to Night Jar on Friday, this time with Tor, the Hungry One and Lovely Boy in tow; and an introduction to Kingsland Rd Vietnamese for our erstwhile food-obsessed friends (we're not dwelling on the oversight of their not having been before....)
while Saturday was a trip to the cinema in Leicester Square. Sunday I had a bit of a meltdown. Not enough alone time, no down time, no headspace, long weeks, longer commutes and a huge case of the guilts about how my slightly psychotic behaviour was impacting on my not-quite-long-but-still-suffering husband. Understanding my state of distress with breath-taking, almost frustrating, simplicity, Lovely Boy took himself off for the afternoon for some Alone Man Time while I went for a long emo-esque walk in the rain along the Thames before sitting in the house and enjoying, nay, loving, the quiet and the space to do..... absolutely nothing.

It's funny how headspace can manifest itself in the need for physical space and I've realised that until we're back in Sydney, where space is in abundance, I'm going to have to find my own space in some form or another regularly to keep me sane. I'm planning to get back in the pool in the first instance and be grateful for my patient understanding husband in the second. Though he does get the house to himself for a couple of hours every evening before I get home so he does ok......

Andy Goldsworthy-esque trash
line on the receding Thames tide...
After another blurred work week it's now Sunday evening again and my heels are being dragged petulantly towards Monday. Every atom in my body is whimpering "please don't make me go", which is strange because I'm not hating work, but I'm just tired out. This weekend has been so lovely. Lovely Boy and I had a date to the cinema at the Barbican on Wednesday, seeing Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy (I'm still confused) but we agreed then that this weekend would be decidedly low key.

We finally finished our thank you cards, we did loads of washing and yesterday we moseyed up to the River Cafe to meet Tor and her hungry husband for a cheeky limoncello and some ice cream AND some totally illicit, totally thrilling Gwyneth Paltrow spotting. She was lovely and it was so surreal to walk right past her as she chatted easily to the friends of her children in the sunshine. It was like seeing life from another planet up close. Another planet that technically you understand is out there but had never seen tangible, physical, living proof of before, never mind living proof dressed in killer suede ankle boots. It's a testament to the River Cafe's almond ice cream that it too warranted gasps of surprise and delight.

From here we moved on to our pub across the road for more wine and a serious post-Gywneth debrief and from here, back to Lovely Boy's and my abode for not-posh tacos. It was messy but delicious and by 10pm we were washed up, pajamed and in bed.

And today, it's been a late brunch (more pancakes) before lunch before a wander in the sunshine (Spring my friend, please don't be shy....) and an early evening on the sofa watching a film. So very inconsequential but so very, very lovely.

I'm already looking forward to next weekend.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

A pop-up invite and a very posh dinner.

It started with a pop-up invitation the likes of which I'll probably never receive again.

Actually, it started a couple of weeks before that, when we interviewed the Scandinavian duo Elmgreen & Dragset for a film for the website. Thanks to a confluence of art world activities, all sponsored by the same luxury fashion brand (one of them: my job; another one of them: the Fourth Plinth Commission) I found myself in Trafalgar Square nearly a week ago exactly to witness the unveiling of Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset's newest work for the square, Powerless Structures, Fig.101.