Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Message in a bottle

This gargantuan painting by Peter Doig has just been unveiled at Tate Britain, palm trees must be in vogue! His painting is entitled Ascension and was originally shown at Westminster Cathedral last year, as a backdrop to a performance by pianist Stephen Hough. Today I constructed my own 8ft palm tree out of cardboard tubes and newsprint paper and ventured out into the streets of central London with it, will post the photos of the results soon...

I happened to be at Tate Britain this evening (although too late to see the painting, as the galleries were closed) for a debate on multiculturalism in art, centred around the latest piece of work to be unveiled on the fourth plinth, Yinka Shonibare's "Nelson's Ship in a Bottle". The debate ended up focusing on the way we articulate the notions of ethnic minorites and race relations, and particularly whether positive discrimination is a good thing, raised controversially by the author of this article and sparking heated discussion. I'm yet to see the rather impressive looking sculpture, but the critics seem unanimous in praise for its ambiguous subversion of and/or celebration of empire.

Friday, 21 May 2010


A little tribute to what must have been the hottest day of the year so far. Am off to Manchester tomorrow to enjoy the sunshine with Dulcie, apparently it's even hotter up there!

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Island life

I came across these paintings by Paul Gauguin today in a second-hand book shop, and realised they hold some really relevant themes in relation to my current work. Portraying native Tahitian's in an almost prelapsarian state, they were the work of a man idealising and romanticising a past that had ceased to be, Tahiti long being a French colony by the time he made his visits. His fascination with their 'primitive' nature and an almost mythologised vision of semi-naked women offering forward fruit and reclining in the exotic landscapes are typical of an imperialistic West, and Gauguin was keen to build upon the myth, presenting these images as if they were treasures and truths of an undiscovered land. The curator of the forthcoming retrospective of his work at Tate Modern (the first in 50 years in Britain) has even gone as far as to say the relationship he had with his models was exploitative, forming sensationalist visions of Tahitian life to shock and play up to people's prejudices.

His intentions in leaving Europe for Tahiti were, reportedly to remove himself from European civilisation, with which he had grown increasingly frustrated, mainly due to his lack of recognition. He was in search of a tropical paradise, an escape from what the Western world considered civilised, and these paintings are a product of that very romanticisation.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Parc Central - Hong Kong

This collection of films from cities across the globe provides further evidence of Gonzalez-Foerster's unmistakable sense of urban ambience and tropical melancholia. In a conversation between the artist and Jacques Ranciere published in Art Press, the philosopher, reflecting on the dialogue between East and West in her work, observes, "What is interesting is what they over there have done with what they borrowed from us here. You don't get that here, maybe because we have the idea that there are no more journeys left." That may be the case, but after seeing Gonzalez-Foerster's films I want to go places: Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia, Taipei, and of course Japan, though I'm not sure if her Japan really exists or whether it's a semiotic fantasy after Roland Barthes.

- Daniel Birnbaum, Artforum, 2006

A little inspiration... See the full series of films here.

This western feeling

Photos from Penang, an island off Malaysia, that I took on holiday in 2006.


Short video I made at the Barbican the other day, just a kind of test for some ideas I've been having recently...

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Independently speaking

Last night I went to check out Tate Modern's 10th anniversary festival with a few friends. For the duration of the weekend Tate have invited 70 non for profit art organisations and collectives from around the world to set up shop in the famed Turbine Hall, creating a kind of mass market of stalls, displays and artwork for the public to navigate themselves through. Each participating organisation has been given a small square in which they are free to show what they like, and the displays range from artist's work to manifestos and propaganda to interactive installations. On top of this a programme of talks and film screenings has been put together, running throughout the weekend.

The main idea was to create an environment with no walls, allowing all these organisations to interact and engage with each other in a way that could not be possible anywhere else. Although it was rather manic and hard to really take in individual elements (it took a while to work out where one began and another ended at first) it is certainly an admirable idea for Tate to come up with, and it was really nice to see these tiny collectives and art spaces given a platform to reach out to such a wide audience. Whether or not it was entirely successful is another thing, but it was certainly an experience to wander through it all and see what is on show, and with art spaces from as far afield as Beijing, Morocco and New York it is certainly a great way to get a glimpse of what's happening on an international scale.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Nation and identity

These stills are from Finnish artist Antti Laitinen's 'Voyage', a performance piece from 2008 in which he rowed a home-made island up the River Thames. In this piece, as well as other performances and video works, Laitinen raises questions of nation, identity and belonging, creating a one man state that he inhabits, and in this case rows through the city of London. I wrote about another of his works earlier this year after seeing it in a group show in Nettie Horn Gallery, and just happened to stumble across these images again the other day whilst considering my current work, to which this piece feels quite relevant.

Ironically he was stopped by the police as he reached the Houses of Parliament, which although put an end to the performance in some way allowed for further discussion of the issues he was raising in the first place...

In relation, I visited Peckham today to take more photos for my palm tree project that I'm currently working on, you can see a few pics here.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Seeking the unknown

I've been thinking a lot recently about the 'romanticised other', the way we idealise places foreign to those we know, and the ways in which these places come to be a part of our own lives, be it subconsciously or in other more overt forms, such as the media, or through the imagery we are bombarded with daily. Often we yearn for these places for reasons we can't quite put a finger on, be it a desire for a taste of foreign cultures or an urge to discover the proverbial 'unknown'. These feelings can manifest themselves in different forms; take, for example, the palm tree, planted proudly in many suburban front gardens and around grey, urban environments, they symbolise the distant, the faraway land, injecting that little bit of tropical island paradise into the sometimes dreary reality of British life. The humble palm tree is a symbol of globalisation, of the post-colonial society that we live in, and moreover a symbol of the desire for the unknown, the other.

The palm tree is also a great symbol of that most infamous of American cities, Los Angeles. Like many of the inhabitants of the city the palm tree is not a native, and the first ones were brought to the city around the turn of the twentieth century.

The city holds one of those unexplainable interests over me, something about the legacy left by artists like Ed Ruscha and David Hockney and the way Hollywood filters through into our upbringing despite the fact we live half way around the world from it. Don't get me wrong, nothing about the artificiality and celebrity culture of the past decade interests me greatly, it is more an idealised, I guess you could say, fixation on a city that no longer exists, a distant, romanticised past when modernism was still new and California Girls was first being played on the radio.

To make artwork around the concept of the unknown, the desired other, is an interesting one that can throw up much discussion, and is something that has possessed artists for many centuries. For some, like Hockney, for example, the fixation reaches the point where fulfilment of the longing must take place, there is a need to experience the culture first hand. Alternatively what may be interesting is the very making of work about a culture that has not been experienced first hand, and is merely interpreted, experienced, through the images and media we receive in the comfort of our own home. In either case, we just might learn something about why we are so fixated on these places in the first place.

If you have a spare fifteen minutes, this is worth a watch.

(Photos screendumped from here)

Wednesday, 5 May 2010


Processed some photos in the darkroom today, it never fails to amaze me...

Tuesday, 4 May 2010