Festive greetings from all those involved with Emergency5 – all the artists, the staff of aspex and those unattributed (you know who you are). May the coming New Year bring you some joy, and bring one of the Emergency5 exhibitors 500 quid, the People’s Choice.

We don’t get much snow in Portsmouth. It’s something to do with the Isle of Wight sheltering us. Last January started with a blizzard though. Those who managed to get to the gallery (a fifteen minute journey took an hour and a half!), yup, we opened up – the show goes on. After two hours we closed. Nobody needs to look at art when the world’s been redecorated, renewed (momentarily). It’s curious, the wonder people exhibit when nature gilds the everyday with a squeak-weight of frozen h2o. It’s quite mundane, irregular, not revolutionary – snow. If snow were an artwork, it might be akin to a Caravaggio or Van Gogh, something immediate and effective – something agreed on as great (gggrrreat! as Tony the Tiger would have it – and he’s well-familiar with frost[ies]). Nobody, I expect, draws back their curtains of a morning and seeing a whiteout says ‘seen it – repetitive – unoriginal’. Snow is welcome. It’s meanings, factual and mythical, are retold and revised – rituals are enacted – the pros and cons of it lauded (snow-days versus impassable roads) – it’s simple contrast, whites and colour, celebrated. Snow is prayed for. Shouldn’t it be the same when people visit a gallery? They ought to be transported (somewhere) by newness – a newness like that of snow, something well understood changing the ordinary into fresh territory, a playground, a blank sheet.

I’ve had the following conversation with many punters, ‘Is there anything that explains [gestures toward exhibition] all this?’ – ‘yes, there is. we’ve information on the artists and their practice, books and web content relevant to the exhibition…’ – ‘I just don’t get it, and I look at at a lot of art, but, this, I don’t get it, where do I start?’ – ‘with the artwork, does it suggest anything to you? does it in any way chime with anything in your own experience? do you like the way it looks?’ – ‘It’s too [waves a hand in the air], it’s beyond me’. They always suggest they lack the ‘training’ to understand, as if you learn the formulae at Art College. You do, but you don’t. Contemporary Art is closer to academia than it is to the domestic – it deals in abstracts (not Cubism, or that), in philosophical and metaphysical notions, in semantics and science. It doesn’t do pictures to hang above the mantelpiece. But, it does. It does all things. Contemporary Art deals in the concrete of thought. The weight and quality of that though varies from individual artist to individual artwork. The skill sets have changed. A poor draftsman can still articulate great things through drawing. Just as a naturally gifted painter might have nothing worthwhile to say. The material of making art has opened out to include everything – that’s why few arts degrees are broken up into the old streams of Painting, Sculpture and Printmaking. There might once have been some sniping between the new and old, like that between Alternative Comedians and Jimmy Tarbuck-like comedians. But, that all ended in a truce years and years ago. Is it the public that’s not kept up or did we leave them behind? I think we’ve left them confused!

Contemporary Art exists in a number of parallel ribbons. There’s the commercial, the stuff that sells for silly money that they lambast in tabloids – or the certified art (being as how it’s antique) that is sold for record silly money, which we ought to save from export. There’s the grant-maintained, the art the Arts Council sanctions, that relies on the patronage of wealth, that shelters under the canopy of charity. There’s the so-called ‘local artists’ – those who do art, some with degrees in art, nearly all amateur, who are the angriest, most indignant of all. There’s the academic, that shines narrow beams of torchlight into deeper and deeper caverns of thought. Then, then there’s the failing, flailing artists – who life steers further and further from their calling, into jobs that might pay for art but leave no space or time for art – an experience not unique to artists – these are the everyman artists, because life dictates what they become, not inclination.

These are all pretty distinct groups. The commercial is the richest, but the smallest sphere. The largest is the failing, flailing artist – there’s one under every stone. The world of ACE is hermetic. Bands of ‘local artists’ do not wander the country, which is the point, they occupy towns and cities, progressing like sloths, not because they’re lazy or useless but because they are sloths doing as sloths do. Academia is a secret society, or a sanctuary, a monastery. There’s really little crossover – if you recognise the segregation. To the punter, and his mouthpieces, Contemporary Art is just a bunch of…

And that’s what’s happened, instead of a snowy newness, there exists a bullshittiness between the art and its latent audience. It’s a hard rain we require. Or we accept the art is not egalitarian or necessary – that it’s a minority occupation producing for a minority.

Hey. Merry Christmas. Happy New Year. And,


Where Next?

It might be the People’s Prize that is most coveted by the Emergency5 artists. Not only because it represents the opinion of a greater audience than a panel of judges, but, with economies collapsing, the 500 quid might see them through Christmas. Being an ‘Artist’ isn’t usually a career in itself. Most successful artists do some teaching, lecturing or tutoring at one or more universities. Art colleges like to employ practitioners, which is useful. When budgets are cut, it is often the Arts that take a brutal hit. All jobs are at risk nowadays, jobs in the Arts are just riskier. The recent graduates among our Emergency5 exhibitors will struggle to finance the continuation of their practice – though inclusion in this show and others akin to it help attract what funding there is. You can be creative on the cheap, I was always reminded ‘all it takes is a pencil and paper’ – yet, realistically, to achieve success you need to invest in your own practice. It might be the rent on a studio, on purchasing the best materials you can, or buying time – time is essential and it’s expensive. Employment eats away at time, but everyone must eat. Poverty eats into time, stability and well-being are necessities.

It’s said that Art survives and is strengthened by economic disaster. That might be so. You can easily appreciate the excesses of artists over the last decade cannot be continued, financially or morally – jewel encrusted skulls, figures cast in gold. The Age of Spectacle is truly done. Or, its practitioners are running on silent, until… Does money make ‘art’ easier?

It’s obvious that having enough dosh to live and focus on your art must be of benefit – the edge given by hunger is pretty blunt, really. But, having the money to spend on making, on fine construction and materials, doesn’t that often disguise impoverished thought or ideas. The ‘wow’ of rich fabric, immense scale or outrageous folly, is it enough? Art and money have always moved forward hand in hand. In the Twentieth Century, few renowned artists came from poor or working class background – there are exceptions, but most exponents of visual art had some stable income (or recourse to someone’s wealth). Visual art is probably still a largely Upper Middle Class occupation. But, the economic reasons for this imbalance are no longer as assured – as the gap between rich and poor grows wider.

With the eventual birth of new economies will we get new modes of art, as yet unperceived of? It’s to be hoped.


The following is a blah – meaning it isn’t an essay, it’s a riff – I mean all of it, but that doesn’t mean its definitive – it’s really chasing a bee, one idea, to see if it has legs – it is in no terms a critical appraisal of the art or artists in the Emergency5 exhibition – it is a mode of thinking – it is a leg in a journey of appreciation and understanding of the art in the show – this is a single facet of a many-many sided form

Zeitgeist. Processing the hundreds of applications to Emergency is a whizz through a burgeoning scene. It doesn’t signify ‘now’ – because the applicants we attract consider themselves emerging [hey! now you get the title], meaning they’re recent graduates, post-graduates or inside that bubble before a significant solo show. ‘Now’ is the domain of the broken through (that become the broken, as horses are broken – that leads them into the knacker’s yard, of some celebrity, perhaps, where they are glue). It’s a cynical allusion, but the Arts are a stampede, an endless ongoing. In fact, ‘now’ is only a photo of a blur of motion. Our minds will stillness, an explicable frame of events. Zeitgeist. Emergency 5 is a polaroid of what might be/is happen/ing next. To be fair, to those who weren’t selected, there could’ve been three or more versions of the exhibition, each with different artists – and those shows would’ve demonstrated an alternative facet of… of just about to… So, getting to the point, what does this actual Emergency5 lay bare?

Empiricism? I think so. Empiricism is the usual impetus of untutored artists (born of childhood, of touchy-feelie reaction to stuff, to believing what we feel – physically and emotionally – to be a true and explicit explanation of who, what and where we are). I’m not saying any of the Emergency5 exhibitors are untutored artists, I’m saying it’s because they are both trained and talented that the evident empiricism in most of the work is notable.

It might seem most demonstrable in the ‘stripped’ mirrors  of Dan Coopey – because they’ve a quality of Abstract Expressionism, nodding to Robert Motherwell, and the fact they revel in the material of their making. You might even propose the schismatic views that the mirror grouping reflect analogous with an empiric outlook, but I don’t – not fully. There’s too much of ‘drawing’ in the work – though Dan told me the process of removing the silvering from the mirror back was not overly considered, because of the manner of that removal, painter strippers and 0000 wire wool – Untitled (Stutter) is observational, depicting the occurrence of mirrors in an urban environment. They are the ricochet of viewpoints that bombard you in upmarket shopping centres, nightclubs, and anywhere wanting to earmark ‘glamour’ as its metatag. Recent and various 1980s-centric fashions in music, in graphics, in visual art and in fashion, have used the cheap brilliance and vanity inherent in mirrors (and shiny surfaces) as a cornerstone. Dan’s mirrors are also the vandalised, the derelict, the shabbiness of urban streets – they’re the true leftovers of the 1980s of steel and glass – they’re bus stations, redundant shopping precincts, what cheap glamour becomes, tinfoil. They’re rainwater on asphalt. They are endless compositions of shifting perspectives. Coopey’s work in Emergency5 becomes empiric through our reading, only partly in its making, in Dan’s eye for a visual poem.

Julian Brown’s paintings are an excellent example of this ’empiricism’ I’m debating exists in the show. They seem hybrid-born of British Colour Field (Hoyland), material and process fixated painters like Ian Davenport, of early Soviet Abstract Expressionism, of Philip Guston, and of absolutely loads of that kind of thing. Brown indulges paint in its substance nature – to a degree. He allows – provokes? – dribbles and splutters, letting the material seep free of its bondage in the image -it clearly satisfies Julian, lending the work an aesthetic he desires, one he’s promoting – therefore, its significant. There’s a dirtiness in the surface quality, to the skin of the works – a nicotine-stained, aged varnish, sickliness. The effect is one of salvage, of canvases dishwashed and retouched. Elements within the composition overlay each other or they burst through or they’re clasped into place. The shapes infer (for me) architectural features, roofing tiles, repeat mouldings, brick wall, floor patterns – patterns, the paintings are of patterns that are broken, into, through or isolated. Like Dan Coopey’s mirrors, Brown’s work seems urban – there’s something Rising Damp, something bill board or fly posted, something of scrubbed-at graffiti. The thingness of the work, its object self, is its statement. Ours, the audience, the distanced, ours is an emotive response, we must react to what Brown expresses, it’s not a cipher we can solve – instead, relying on commonality, on a mutual appreciation of a nod in the direction of, – a poem in its function. It walks in and around a garden of sense without latin names, without science, without a narrative or a map or anything, except the paintings and their titles. Buccaneer, Zapora, Tonka. Pirates and treasure, jewels, seas, bravado? Polish for ‘obstacle’? [Polish, as in Polska, and not polish] Hefty, yellow and unbreakable toys for boys? They are useless clues, they signify anything and everything you might conjecture, they lead nowhere via routes of hither and thither. What is there of ‘buccaneer’ in the painting Buccaneer? Whatever Julian’s own machination, we’re left with empiric works – a dialogue to be had between the artist-individual and the viewer-individual and everyone else.

Why are we hesitant to admit to work that is empiric? All artwork is, ultimately – whatever the notions of quasi-science or actual science (paint is chemistry) or the faux formulae involved in the generation of the piece – choosing to reference, utilise or evoke the self-detachment of a scientist is  a mode an artist adopts to best essay ‘experience’, testing the nature of ‘being’, of their being – imbuing the resultant art thing with empiricism.

Whoa. If all visual art is fundamentally empiric, well, how’s Emergency5 signposting anything new? [Good question – words ‘paint’ and ‘corner’ come to mind]

Okay. Lets bump the word ’empiric’ and sustain its relevance using ‘expressionism’ – because that’s an easy arty concept. I’ve made reference to Abstract Expressionism in reference to Julian Brown’s paintings – that was a movement seeking to wrestle individuality free of the remaining strictures of a rigid society – a lot of the Arts in the late 1950s were about it too (in film James Dean and Youth were rebelling, literature was Beating at the walls, jazz went Bee-bop) – artists were shaking off the last trappings of repression they’d thought would *poof* disappear with the end of WW2. Before WW2, Expressionism was narrative, attempting to illustrate the horror, wickedness and corruption of Man, standing witness to the rise of Fascism, the collapse of an old economy and the focusing of power in the hands of the Business/Media. There was some joyful, manic blasts of new freedoms won sounding out of the forming USSR – before Stalin, before the Iron Curtain descended. What connects all modes of ‘Expressionism’ is the animism of materials. Oil paint thickens, loosens, emotes. Materials become extensions of gesture – beyond the inherent gesticulation of brush, of mark-making. Stuff became indicative of emotion, of psyche. In the Fifties, artists adopted modern, classless, disenfranchised stuff/materials to primal scream – to visit themselves on the world. It was loud, fast and savage work, not as thoughtless as it appears – it was expression constructed of ordinariness, of stuff without prestige or critical history. House paint, paint tins, roofing felt, bitumen – yep, pretty blue-collar and domestic, bedsit and Thunderbird wine. Those that became Pop Artists etc in the 60s, they chilled, enjoyed the free affluence of the times, barefoot and righteous, and had little self to express (they protested in unison, as confederates – they were angry about things not just projecting inner turmoil). But, these artists maintained this lexicon of stuff, of emotive material – but the quality of that emotion changed, it diversified, grew subtle. Metals, plastics, new materials and production methods leant greater eloquence to expression, to relating individual-life experience. This revery in material stuff flipped 360 degrees in the late 60s and Seventies – counter-culture deplored ‘material value’, the worship of. Artists began stripping away material, delivering the simplest form of an idea, to meek to make they hung ‘concepts’ like post-it notes, relying on the audience to do the work (hippy slackers).

In the West, there’ve been a few insurgencies into Expressionism, but largely stylistic, or nostalgic, or too idiosyncratic to bond a movement (Glasgow School of the 80s, Ken Kiff) – until now (it might seem). The lexicon of material, the material literacy of society has sped up with the momentum of RAM being crammed into a processor, flood through the monsoon saturation of advertising (I’d say ‘Media’, but most Media is now a form of advertising – what a pity that the Arts are now so buddy with Media, Art stops being art when it beds with Media – Art can and must abuse Media, as it does media). Now, in Emergency5, I see the begins, or buds, or iceberg’s tip of a NEW [something – insert defining label] Expressionism. What the artists in the show are expressing are personal accounts of a shattering society, disintegrating economies, the all-powerful minority, the struggling majority (struggling for satisfaction, basic rights, condition, reasons, against impotency). These are people, these artists, who wanting to make sense of being, of life, who can only explore and gesticulate with the stuff they feel literate in, material.

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Now, quickly, bullet-pointing through the other artists – Empiricism (or Expressionism) and:

  • Tom Iriks: compositions, they’re photographs with the weight of the History of Painting behind them – in the shifts of textures (of light on surface) we experience an actuality that represents a greater actuality (the architecture of Antwerp’s subway stations). They are images that emote (as the high contrast B&W of Film Noir emotes). We are invited to occupy the emptiness of the scenes, to join the artist there, to complete and so share the moment, to feel what Tom proffers – what he felt? What he ordains? They deny narrative, they are immediate, you aren’t led anywhere, you are there or you are not – expressionistic in the manner of German Expressionism of the 1920-30s, perhaps, as much an exposé of Society…
  • Kit Craig: The Bracketed Space feels cryptic – there must be some fathomable explanation. The space, the precise arrangement, the overall mode of exactness suggests the esoteric sci-fi of the late 1960s-70s (2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris, Clockwork Orange). It is definitely a Kubrick-ian quality. It seems to deny all emotion, lauding its own internal logic – ideal art for Vulcans. But, it’s the internal logic of things that is the stuff of empiricism. Pollack’s action paintings demonstrate the same expression, as if, in attempting to deny emotion, or thought, both, we are drawn into, drowned in, the devastating inner-monologue that artists is mouthing (hapless, helpless, tongue movements of paint).
  • Amanda Loomes: I’d like say that collaging of one moving image within another is an archetypal technique of Expressionist Cinema, I don’t think it is. I ought to be, isn’t it just another way to abut light and shadow, black and white, one thing with another? There is something of British Expressionist Cinema, which includes a lot of film made for the GPO film unit – gritty, absolute and concerning the nature of human enterprise (The Night Train, The Islanders, Spare Time). Loome’s Equivalents sounds Fine Arty, it’s comes chaptered with Roman numerals – unseen, I’d have guessed it an artwork involving bronze and alabaster. It’s a video. A video about houses and housing. It not some essay on architecture and Society, it’s concerns are human, routine and domestic – a lifetime of employment used to be consolidated in bricks and mortar, a house, a home, which consolidated experience (individual, family and social) in upbringing – effecting outlooks and interaction with the wider world – consolidated in a community. In the parts we’re presented, there’s an elegiac feel, this is a presentation of lost, damaged and murdered expectations: doesn’t that make it a Film Noir, expressionistic?
  • Hania Stella-Sawika: I refer you, dear reader, to my previous arguments, those for Dan Coopey, Kit Craig [I’m aware this post is already epic – sorry to ‘ditto’].
  • Blue Curry: things to be enjoyed and thought about for what they are, objects – yeah, there’re cultural references on the tip of the artworks’ tongues, but, Blue is about the fullest quality of a thing being, or ultimate thingness – Blue is an empiricist.
  • Duncan Swann: he lives in Munich – expressionist! Okay, it doesn’t mean he’s an expressionist (can he speak German, even?). But the images are expressionistic, they’ve a Otto Dix, Lasar Segall, Dresden quality. Again, referencing the parallel states of NOW and 1920s Germany, the most marked difference being the plurality of our state – German’s collapsing economy is our collapsing economies, etc. These are images of violent absence – a figure lounges minus an armchair, a relaxed stance is disturbed by the distortion caused by the missing form – they are delicate and brutal paintings.
  • Scott Mason: watch as text is beaten up by its own continuation, its own distribution, redistribution and appropriation – if this is empiric, it is the emotional and inner experience of being text that is being expressed.
  • Christine Sullivan & Rob Flint: I’ve no argument that can eek a cockle of Expressionism or empiricism from this work – partly because it isn’t the ‘work’ but a proposition for an artwork. It is impressionistic, obviously. Maybe, in the plaintive, increasingly desperate refrain ‘where are you, Bob?’, there’s some expression of a soul in anguish. Or not.

That’s all, folks. Please, don’t take this as meaningful, it’s running water, sometimes clear and refreshing, other times it’s piss.

Yep. I missed out Charlie Tweed, or Charlie Tweed missed out on me. Sorry. I’ve included an image of the video work that looks Film Noir-ish, let that be it – enough of this nonsense.


Again, I could’ve spilled these beans from the can of any angle of Art Theory – that’s always the issue, what makes most art writing unconvincing – what it does help with is prodding and poking an artwork for your own reaction – in a non-blog world, I’d return to fragments of this, fragments of other approaches, and construct some actuality of what I think and experience when looking at certain art –

Listing to WU LYF

The Stuff of the Art Stuff

It’s a shabby, overcast and spittle afternoon in Portsmouth. We’ve had slow traffic through the doors. A few bodies sit, shrugged over hot chocolates, sniffling, in the café. Gallery 1 is all stillness and video flicker and ‘where are you, Bill?’ (an empty question asked to an empty room). Today is one of those days that have no use of art. Perhaps they are too compelling, visually, to need an artist’s enhanced focus. Rainy, dreary streets are the stuff of emotive drama, a cipher for thoughtfulness, alienation and unrest. We are all lonely when it rains, staring out of rain-shattered windows. Artists are the professional lonely, they become expert in sustaining a dialogue with themselves (it is make-believe that they are ever talking to us, just because the eyes of an artwork follow us about doesn’t infer a conversation is being had). On such miserable days as this, we’re all artists, we don’t need other people’s art. Or do we?

My own reasons for engaging with other’s art are always in flux. I used to aspire to the sheer audacity of being I felt imbued the exhibited work of artists. That still occurs, but nowadays I’m essaying the means, mode, the weight and concerns of artwork more. I recall the grievous shock I had on discovering not all artists are socialist. Not all artists are nice, some aren’t even creative. I always look to be moved by artwork (a plastic expectation – if the work in and of itself doesn’t effect me, the sheer material of it might). So, what if I stumbled into aspex today – what might I make of Emergency 5?

Taking a joy in material is not artistic in itself. We all know what we like. While some go for the sheer-lines and gloss of sports cars, others collect the biscuit-brutality of Troika. There are certain people who like to get sweaty in PVC, because it alters them, it confers a pleasurable difference on them. The material of objects has be important to us, we’re experience-educated, we’re brought-up touchy-feelie. So, let’s visit the Emergency 5 exhibition on a tactile, surface quality, material jaunt – see what delights the ‘stuff’ of the artworks offer up.

Okay, just to be clear, I’m not saying ‘touch the art’ – please, don’t touch the art – eyes are amazing things, they can speak to your fingertips, they’ll tell you what it would be like to physically touch – artists draw on this common lexicon of learned textures to compose their work – so, TOUCH WITH YOUR EYES

Kit Craig’s The Bracketed Space is quite the bi-polar bear of material substance – the rasp grey concrete discs contrasting hard with the brilliant white egg-shell blank of the flat surfaces. Especially in the context of the gallery’s white rectangle, the painted planes suggest walls, walls mapping spaces, space like unfinished rooms. The materials refer to construction, to building, to architecture, to Modernist aesthetics, implying a reference to Brutalism (visit the Hayward Gallery for an understanding of the term). Simply put, they are the stuff of a modern apartment, of those boxy Grand Designs self-builds. They are materials that speak of clean, empty space. And that’s there in the work’s title –The Bracketed Space. Enclosing, surrounding space. It’s not domestic, it got none of the paint-bruising, furniture-ravished dustiness of an emptied bedroom – it’s an organisational space, a modern institutional space. Like any emptiness, it elaborates on arrangement, on composition. The introduction of the framed image into the piece draws the gallery wall into the composition, into playing the role of a wall in the ‘bracketed space’. I can reveal, there’s a precise relationship between the pencil ‘x’ in the image and one of the two low walls above the sphere (the adjunct form). Again, a material reference to modern gallery environments, white walls, concrete and frame.

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There’s some conjuring with material expectation in The Bracketed Space, the concrete elements were cast from polystyrene, this makes them look light, a quality heightened by their hovering atop rods. These ‘mushroom’ forms remind me of the mildewy corner of a room I rented, weedy fungi started to grow from the muck-carpet – Kit’s are sterile fungi for Modernist corners (that’s just a trigger they’ve pulled inside my head, don’t go looking for this in the work – such thoughts are the bonus tracks).

Hania Stella-Sawicka’s Table of Practice is about construction too. The materials are planed wood, paint-coated metal, MDF, leather, plastic and avocado stones. The benches reference changing rooms: immaculate, unused changing rooms. With the ‘tool’-like elements about, the benches refer to IKEA, to a process of ‘putting together’ – the bespoke nature of the tool forms might represent the bits and bobs IKEA include, without which the furniture cannot be made. The leather of the pouches gives these MDF tools an air of authority, of fetishism. They might be the instruments of a highly-skilled professional, or the prized boy’s-toys of a DIY enthusiast. Then, like in Kit’s work, there’s the conjuring with materials: the precise, worked finish of the benches seems at odds with the MDF tools that it’s suggested made them. What is Hania saying about ‘practice’ – a word that’s been adopted by most in the art world as a means of professionalising artists (it avoids the need for ‘I do this, I do that’, it becomes ‘in my practice’)? Is there an answer to illicit from the curvy stacks and avocado stones? They say ‘vase’ to me, they’ve a candlestick form, a suggestion of a barley twist – they’re practical, it seems, they hold the avocado seeds in place to grow, they hold water. One holds a cream, an avocado cream, I think. The forms are a mechanism in the making of this cream, an engine perhaps. Looking carefully at Table of Practice, there’s sawdust and calibrating tools left underneath, suggesting adjustment or an unfinished state, or to signify the non-pristine nature of making – there’s a smear of something on one leg, it might’ve been applied on purpose (a tool is coated in the same goo) or it’s an accident, a missed issue, a clumsiness in the making amplified by the fine quality of the rest of it.

I’ll need to think about both works beyond the material, but I feel launched on the right ocean. I’m not suggesting the works are a conundrum to be resolved – looking and seeing don’t function in finites, they collaborate in making sense of things (sense isn’t a resolution – it’s at best an estimation or empirical guess). Sometimes, the work is all about the material.

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Dan Coopey’s Untitled (Stutter) are material as medium. They are drawings. They’re always site specific, regardless of where they’re placed. There are three shaped mirrors to each arrangement. Each mirror has had its silvered backing erased, so the planes are both reflective and transparent. The planes are overlaid. They were ‘drawn’ into position by Dan, they are very precise drawings too. Mirrors always discuss ‘us’ – you – the Janus viewer, looking into and out of. Transparency is a monologue, it shows us what we could already see. Here, the material conjures – the actual gallery is multiplied, tilted askew, and denied. You might not appear in the reflection, though you’re stood facing the work – instead you have become a hanging rope of gloss black orbs, or a tv. Polished mirror, heck, polished glass is always futuristic, classic and cheap ( as in Disco cheap, tacky-exotic) – it’s nightclubs, skyscrapers and nightmares. It’s silver, it’s jewels. We can share in Dan’s delight, in his revery with the substance of glass, mirrored or not, or we just shrug and move on. It has an effect on you, or it doesn’t.

There will still be chains of thought that’ll run barefoot through your mind after seeing Dan’s work, all manner of contextual, incongruous and perverse thoughts will pop into your head. It is inevitable. Immediacy doesn’t mean slightness.

Blue Curry’s two works are immediate. They’re uncomplicated, I think. The tyres sequinned with aduki beans, they’re such tactile objects – DON”T TOUCH – they’re so satisfying. They might not require any greater sense than existing (the way jewellery, or ceramics, or designer stuff doesn’t) – but the tyres have been Africian-ised. Africa and tyres. South Africa and tyres. In the 80’s vigilante’s in South African townships, often in the name of the ANC, used ‘necklacing’ as a form of lynching. They’d place a tyre over the head and shoulders of the victim and set it alight. Gruesome. Consider Blue’s work again. There’s that conjuring, the distraction of the material disguising the darker narrative. I might be wrong (but I don’t care – if you ask the artist, they could or could try and explain away a work, only that’s negating their raison d’état – if you’re to enjoy Visual Art, you must always ask the artwork your questions.

Urinal, Bricks Or Half A Cow (Stuff Happens)

Okay, stuff happens. On Saturday, the opening day of Emergency5, Hania Stella-Sawicka’s exhibit was damaged by a distracted punter. This kind of stuff happens, it’s rare, but it occurs. Why? Well, curiosity is a factor – people want to experience stuff fully, so they go ahead and touch surfaces if they’re attracted. Fine? That depends. Bronzes, the stuff of classical sculpture, they erode, effected by the dirty acid off fingerprints – so, we’re encouraged not to finger them, or they’re placed behind glass or ropes. But, take the stuff of Emergency5, what effect has ‘feeling’ on them – foremost, they can be broken. One of the joys of a Contemporary gallery like aspex is, the art isn’t ‘museum-ified’ – we try not to barricade the artwork, because the viewer is as important as the art (it’s about a dialogue). This seeming casual approach does rely on certain formalities – most of which are basic social graces: respect the artwork (other people’s property), if you’re curious ask and don’t assume (everyone has entitlement issues nowadays), and never assume something is valueless simply because you don’t value it (I’m talking both critically and insurance-ly). And, considering the great number of ‘Contemporary gallery-illiterate’ folk that visit aspex, those stumbling on us during a Gunwharf shopping trip, we’ve suffered very little from ‘damage by audience’.

Crowds are the biggest issue, when it comes to damage to artworks. Private Views are a prime time for accidents (all those people, drinking, nattering, coats over arms, bags over shoulders) – any well attended event is a risk. We do attempt to minimise the risk, allowing work enough space, offering clear sight-lines and giving obvious indictions of its being art (like, Hania’s work might incorporate benches but they aren’t benches, they’re sculpture! – SO PLEASE DON”T SIT ON THEM). Phew, this brings us to a real issue, not just of display but of Contemporary art (all visual art since Duchamp’s Fountain) – ‘when is a [bench] not a [bench] but art’ (insert whatever, be it urinal, bricks or half a cow). If someone cannot tolerate the notion, or even conceive of it, that a ‘bench’ is no longer functioning as a place to park one’s backside, that it is an element (akin to a brushstroke, a colour or form) in an artwork, what can you do? For such people, the art simply doesn’t exist – it’s just stuff, meaningless and inadequate stuff, and they do (sometimes) treat it with disdain. This is why we rely on common decency – you don’t go kicking the refuse sacks put out for the bin-men about, spreading curry slops and domestic yuck all over the streets. Or maybe you do? Yet, the most ‘Kirstie Allsop’ of people will feel entitled to move elements of a sculptural work about, to pick artworks up, to walk over ‘dust’ drawings etc. They mean no harm, mostly – but, often, it is clear (in the material, the arrangement, the large signs) that their actions will cause damage or effect the art.

A lot of people seem to feel, not alienated, but ‘made fun of’ by Contemporary art, as if us insiders are having a great joke at their expense. It’s absolute nonsense, mostly (the idiots). We’ve started to explain ‘taste’ (which is easier to prescribe than telling them to ‘think’ – because thinking is too elitist for today’s X Factor world), ‘taste’ in terms of music: just because your taste is for Jazz doesn’t negate the need for Radio One – we’re Jazz, we’re Freeform Jazz, we’re Glitch Freeform Jazz with a side order of Chicago House and a piquant sauce of Shangaan electro. If you don’t like the tunes I like, don’t just stamp on my iPod, ta.

We must accept ‘risk’ as wholesome. Otherwise we’re done for. It’s far better to accept the rare occasions of damage than barricade the work. This isn’t an approach to business or life encouraged nowadays, with Insurance Companies enslaving us with Health & Safety (because they don’t want to pay out anything to anyone – Health & Safety is another form of small print to catch us up on). ‘Risk’ is a positive energy, isn’t it – it breathes vitality into things, into stuff, into art. It’s like the weather is risk, too dry and stuff desiccates, too wet and it rots – a balance has to be struck. And you have to accept, stuff happens.

Above, evidence of the damage to Hania’s work – and, shush, evidence of damage to Duncan Swann’s. The injury inflicted on Duncan’s grey card mount was Actus Dei Nemini Facit Injuriam – an Act of God. The mounts are affixed to the walls with Velcro – which is fine 85% of the time, but wayward the other 15% – it’s not the hooks grasping the loops, it’s the self adhesive not adhering. Duncan’s work sprung from the wall overnight. It’s wise to allow paper work to acclimatize to the gallery conditions (when you’ve a chance to) – the fibres can clench and swell and wrestle themselves to a median. One large Conte drawing an artist and I hung, using ample pins, shrank so vigorously it leapt off the wall. The heavy cartridge paper had contracted by over half an inch. In both that drawing and Duncan’s case, I was able to iron out the creases, gum the fan-tailed corners and reinforce them – there was no damage to the substance of the image. In Hania’s case, broken elements require repair, and the shifted elements replaced (by me, the technician, or, more appropriately, the artist). Another post might reflect on the hand of the Technician in an artwork… All technician’s will experience breakage, it happens, it’s almost inevitable – a large part of the job is pre-emptive. Let expertise and/or commonsense prevail!

Hey! What about the artist? Aren’t they responsible for the sustenance and maintenance of their own works? Isn’t there some contractual obligation, like a Plumber guaranteeing installation of a new boiler? But that’s for another day.


Listening to Shangaan Electro: New Wave Dance Music From South Africa – just to continue the music that soundtracks the writing

Press the Yes Yes Yes

Previews, Private Views, whatever you call them, are curious affairs. For Commercial Galleries, they’re a means of seducing buyers with a sneak look at the goods, conferring an exclusivity on the patron, further seducing the buyers. Some Public Galleries use the PV for similar ends, to raise donations from patrons who’ve made the guest list. The PV is about cache. But. When the gallery isn’t likely to indulged by the wallets and purses of the so-called ‘great and good’ (the rich and powerful) – when a gallery’s finances are dependent on the Arts Council, Local Government and grant applications – there aren’t the numbers to justify exclusivity, plus grant funders want to see inclusivity, to see the exhibitions visited by the ‘great unwashed’ (the public); so what purpose do PVs serve? As Art Students, the PV is a celebration of achievement (the artists’, the galleries’) – colleagues, friends, family, funders and contacts get together for a get together, a hurrah! There’s plenty of flesh-pressing, hype and introducing going on amid the drinking, nibbling and chattering largesse – yet, really, it’s a celebration of Art, that it continues despite. PVs remind me of the Cheever short story ‘The Swimmer’ – I have read it, as well as watched the movie, starring Burt Lancaster – where the eponymous character decides to swim every pool on his route home – except the pools aren’t headed anywhere, or they lead where they lead, but the route goes on, pool after pool.

Last Friday’s swimmers were the artists exhibited in Emergency 5, and they seemed adept, athletic even at crossing the aspex pool. Because of the competition nature of the show, there must’ve been butterflies in the artists’ bellies – who wouldn’t want to emerge victorious. I know it was the most difficult Emergency there’s been to judge – to select a winner from. All manner of criteria were examined, compared, looking for an advantage. The prize is a solo show, that’s important, potent – it has to be solo, so suggestion of co-winners was dismissed, it would dilute the fairly unique prize aspex offers. So, Charlie Tweed wins. Deservedly. But, it would’ve been a deserved win if any of the others had been chosen the winner. The overall winner must be aspex, to be honest. We get a show from Charlie, and we’ve been introduced to work by ten other artists, all of them worth following. I’m certain we’ll see more of these artists at aspex, funding willing. Then, there’s the People’s Choice. Now, that’ll be interesting. I haven’t had an opportunity to listen through the symposium on ‘Winners and Losers’, I’m hoping it’ll guide me through the difficulties I have with such competitions. As a poet, I refuse to enter the many professional competitions for poetry there are, yet I’ve been nominated for prizes (such as the Forward Prize, by Poetry Wales) – and, every sub to a magazine or publisher is competitive and rewarded. It’s a quandary. It’s not as if I’m not competitive, I right competitive.

Whatever, it is a tight show, full of thought-provoking work. If you’re an Art Student based within reach of Portsmouth, you’ve no excuse not to visit Emergency 5. I don’t understand why Pompey students don’t visit us in numbers – they must know we’re here (a little hidden, but far from unfindable), if they don’t know about aspex then their tutors are letting them down. If you’re a Portsmouth Art Student and you’re not visiting every show, well, I’m going to doubt your commitment. You’ve got to keep looking, reading visual art in the flesh, even the stuff you assume you dislike, disagree with, or dismiss, or you’re isolated (isolation makes for weak art, insubstantial work). And talk to us. We are busy, we’re all doing the job of, at least, two people – but we believe in Art, in the effect it can have in so many ways on people. We’re not public servants (aspex receives grants from Government agency, as well as private ones – but we’re not owned by anyone, we’re independent), so don’t come demanding we listen or for a show: make an appointment, email us, facebook us, ask us what you want to know. We will reply (eventually). Some day, you’ll be applying for Emergency 5, and you’ll kick yourself if you missed out on the opportunity to discover what presses aspex’s yes yes yes buttons.

It ends in stillness…

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It hasn’t been a frantic installation. I’ve experienced a few skin-of-the-teeth installs, many f’ing & blindingly tense installs, but this was a steady affair. The first artist to arrive, Hania Stella-Sawicka, installed her work in an empty gallery on Sunday. Scott Mason was with us on Monday – and we experienced a setback, the Mac Mini I’d set-up to run Scott’s digital work failed. Then, the replacement fell out with the monitor. We ended up switching monitors with Charlie Tweed – phew! Tuesday, three artists rolled in – Blue Curry, Dan Coopey and Kit Craig. They set about installing with minimum fuss, which was cool. We took delivery of Julian Brown and Duncan Swann’s work on Wednesday, and hung it (what else). Finally, Tom Iriks arrived with his photographs today. So, it’s all up. The projection room is finished for Christine Sullivan & Rob Flint’s audio/video piece (hand-painted screen, hand-rollered, using plenty of thin coats of emulsion and three even coats of Off Broadway, this plush light-reflecting paint, sweet). Job’s a good un.

Audio is always tricky. More so when there’re three works with audio tracks. Ours isn’t a large enough gallery to pool audio sources (where the closest sound overrides the rest). We’ve a work that is essentially an audio piece – so that plays open, out loud (though the recording could’ve benefited from a second mic). The other two are videos, they’ll use headphones (TWO pairs of Senneheiser closed cup, two pairs Lindy noise reduction). Yep, it’s a compromise – or is it, when there’s no alternative? Artists need to consider, to take responsibility for, the means of exhibiting artwork – with video, how can it be shown (which isn’t the same as how you’s like it to be shown), can it be projected or screened on a monitor etc. Most galleries have a limited store of tech, if an artist is too prescriptive their work is likely to be dropped, it all comes down to budgets. Still, good galleries will attempt to find the right tech for exhibiting a work. And, when it comes to space, what can a gallery do, it’s cloth is cut – it must remember that fact when organising a show, and so must the artist (don’t scale yourself out of shows). Also, when submitting work for consideration, do include useful dimensions – minimum floor space required, minimum height, not just the physical dimensions.

Anyway, tomorrow, my role in achieving a successful exhibition is done (bar maintainance) – every show for me is a flurry, this tumult that ends in stillness, when everything is still, held in the aspic of the lamp’s light, then, hey do, I’m away, headed to the next bustle. It’s almost impossible to know an exhibition until some weeks after installation, when it’s stripped of personality, issues and over-familiarity. I think this is a strong show, I’m guessing it won’t be devalued once I can really appreciate it – what I can’t even consider (because Emergency 5 is a competition) is the individual merit of the works, which should be deemed a winner. It’s not an aesthetic or even a truly critical judgement that the selectors make in deciding the winner, it’s an assessment of readiness, timeliness and benefit of a solo exhibition for the artist. The year or so between Emergency5 and that solo show is not very much time, it isn’t, the artist will have plenty of other commitments (or the selectors have missed something) – and, yep, there’s life to lead, with rent or mortgages to make, money jobs to be done (studios to be found, paid for – forget storage!). The winner of Emergency5 must be well on the road to sustaining a solo exhibition. I couldn’t select, it would be like slaughtering one turkey for Christmas when you’ve given the all the birds names. Nearly every artwork in Emergency has a face attached, came with a hand I shook, with a decent human being attached. Bloody artists!

Man Without Beard Uses Power Tools. SHOCKER!

Yep, Gallery 1 is white. And, today, it was filled with sunlight. It’s a tranquil space when emptied. The outer walls of the screening room are white, the inside is black. It won’t be pitch dark in there, there isn’t a roof. People shy from blackout spaces, especially when there’s a curtained entrance – they’re unnerved. It’ll be dusky. There will be seats – we aiming to have seating in front of all the video pieces. A few of the video works have sound, this is an issue. The gallery isn’t vast, we cannot isolate the sound from different tvs within the space – which would be the idle. The video showing in the screening room will have open sound, played through stereo speakers – two other works on 47 inch monitors will each have two pairs of headphones attached. It is a compromise, but the surest solution to ensure the works are best presented. With our gallery spaces, there’s always going to be compromise when showing non-site specific work. We’ve high walls, five iron columns along the centre of the space, huge doors into the gallery store, brick walls (under a conservation order) – it demands compromise. The benefits are, light, it avalanches in through the high windows. The film you’ll notice in the windows, like a frosting, is there to protect the exhibits from ultraviolet damage (you’ll have seen it, like a newspaper kept inside a car’s rear window – yellowing, baked).

Tomorrow, I’ll be mounting monitors and a projector, chasing speaker cable to where it is needed. I’ve got to configure two Mac Minis that’ll be playing videos (a film and a flash text). I’ve tested the two DVD videos and I’ll be setting up players for them. Video is increasingly filmed in HD, which the Mac Minis can handle, our DVD players upscale – but, soon, we’ll need to upgrade to Blu-ray or a dedicated pro media-player. Exciting, isn’t it.

Clive arrived this morning minus his beard. He’s lost years. When I shave mine off, I gain years. My beard is a disguise. Anyway, I was feeling a tad folksy today – I played Alasdair Robert’s album Spoils as I painted provoking a mood that celebrated my having a beard. Clive pointed out our rubber mallet is branded ‘Thor’ – I now have my own Mjölnir. I realise now why Clive has shaved off his beard, it chaffed beneath his Spiderman mask.

A big shout out to the chap who poked his head around the gallery door and thumb’s-upped the painted job. Ta.

The first of the Emergency 5 artwork arrives on Sunday. Can’t wait to meet the artists, to see where the works comes from. It’s always intriguing.


The installation team at aspex consists of Clive Caswell and (me) Markus Lloyd. Though I’m designated the ‘Technician’, Clive has just as much experience of the role – thankfully.

We’ve reused the cinema screens from the AFTERIMAGE exhibition by Karin Kihlberg, Reuben Henry – fitting, as they were winners of Emergency 4. These screens were walls during the previous show, WORKING TITLE. Now, the screen/walls form a Viewing Room for the projection of a video in the EMERGENCY5 exhibition. We’re all about the recycling at aspex (plus, we’ve no storage and the cost of shifting waste is extortionate). It has been our intention to cut down on big builds – it seems we’ve just become far more economic.

We’ve managed to stash away all the Working Title artworks the participant artist’s want to keep. Storage is always an issue, it’s an ongoing game of Tetris. We rarely win.

So, where have we got – well, half the walls have been filled and sanded, made good. Tomorrow we’ll finish off, then get a first coat of emulsion on the walls (brilliant white, vinyl matt, Dulux Trade – if you really want to know). All goes well, they get a second, final coat too. The inside of the Viewing Room will be black, and we’ll paint our own screen (using a projection to define the area, three or more coats of white emulsion and two-coats of a high-reflective white paint – used in theatres – to finish).

As we proceed with transforming the gallery back to pristine white cube, we’re considering the best location for particular works. This is easier with the four video pieces, we have the televisions and projector to hand; the other works are nebulous, we’ve rough dimensions only. I’m already figuring out the lighting. We’ve a limited palette of lamps. There are a few reasonably tight spots (halogens – that emphasise colour), some wide, unfocused spots (halides – replicates natural light) and 7 wall-washes (fluorescents – cooling). It’s tough when the show’s all wall-based, but we’ve floor pieces too. It’s just about doable, if no other lamps blow.

Today, breaking up a redundant stud wall, Clive was The Hulk, his preferred method was jumping on the panels, while I was Thor, wielding a hammer (perforating the panels). Tomorrow, one of us will be Spiderman climbing the skyscraper of our scaffold tower, and the other will be Rex Reed, Mr Fantastic, the elastic man, with a telescopic rod and paint roller.

Today, as I sanded (with Makita palm sander), I listened to Belbury Poly’s From an Ancient Star.