Introducing…Dan Coopey

Dotted around Gallery 1, Dan Coopey’s submission, Untitled (Tiffany) adds a slightly different element to EMERGENCY5.

Dan’s work uses mirrors which have been modified, their surfaces altered to reveal what it takes to change a piece of glass into a reflective object, how an everyday material is elevated by the addition of layers of metallic paint. In this way Untitled (Tiffany) allows the viewer to encounter ‘a manipulation of their image and immediate space.’

In Dan’s words ‘The dual reflective-transparent surfaces of the angled panes creates a distortion and sense of displacement; a disorientation of a material manufactured specifically to mimic and frame our sense of place.’

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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.

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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.

ARC Emergency5 Symposium: ‘Winners and Losers’

Earlier today ARC hosted the Emergency5 Symposium – which is held on the exhibition’s preview day to allow applicants, artists and arts professionals an opportunity to meet the selectors and debate the nature of competition in the Arts, and see the show. This year, we were short on selectors, all but Jo, our director, was on hand – the panel was supplemented by including Lettie Clarke (attended the selection panel) and Rachel Thorlby  (artist), and the event led by Jonathan Parsons (ARC lead practitioner). This was the gist of the discussion:

What have you got to lose when entering an open submission and what does it mean to win? This event will provide an insight into what really happens during the selection process, with guest selectors, previous competition winners and reports from assistants behind the scenes. 

The symposium was recorded, this is an unedited version – the finished version will be available soon on the aspex website.

Introducing…Hania Stella-Sawicka

The second sculptor to take her place amongst the artists selected for EMERGENCY5, Hania’s work ‘Table of practice’, alludes to a site of organised leisure and sport, but also to a place of material production. Accoding to Hania, ‘Lifestyle is discussed within my practice as a material display of identity, an ambient structure or thematic where lifestyle patterns are accumulated, and reinforced through repetition.’

Hania Stella-Sawicka, Table of Practice

I see the intentioned but variable placement of objects within the installation as parallel to the placement of objects in our own taxonomies. The definitions of the objects with which we surround ourselves fluctuate. Tool to possession. Utensil to ornament or accessory. Ambiguity of function provides potential alternative value systems.’                                                                                  

Hania's work installed in Gallery 1

Introducing…Tom Iriks

The only photographer whose work will be shown at EMERGENCY5, Tom hails from Antwerp, Belgium. His sumission for the show consists of images taken in the subway in Brussels.

Tom Iriks

Tom’s work highlights a space that rarely receives much attention, due to its nature as a place that is just a trajectory, a part of a line connecting one place with another in the urbanized world.

Tom Iriks

Tom Iriks

To see more of Tom’s stunning images take a look at his blog.

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!

The show is almost ready…

It’s been a brilliant week, meeting a number of the artists as they have arrived to install their work, and seeing the exhibition take shape. Its no easy task fitting the work of 11 artists into a relatively small and perfectly odd gallery space so there has been a fair amount of discussion between Clive, Markus, the artists and I about how to display everything to best effect, within limited parameters.

When we select Emergency, we are never looking to make a show, but always making decisions based on the merits of individual works submitted. Towards the end of the process, when we are firming up the selection and drawing the short list down to 8-12 artists, inevitably some artists don’t make the final grouping because their work really jars with everything else, but this is pretty rare. It never ceases to amaze me, after 5 goes at this, that a fairly convincing exhibition emerges every time. Well, it’s convincing to me (but I’m selecting), so I’d be interested to hear what our audience feels about that!

So now the really difficult task comes… working with the rest of the selection panel (Julia Alverez, Margot Heller & Ivan Morison) to decide on a winner of a prize of a solo exhibition at aspex in 2013. As the work has started to come in and I’ve had the opportunity to see it in the flesh I thought this decision might get easier, but no, it’s all great, in very different ways and the task has seemed to weigh very heavily. To give a sense of this, at one point earlier this week, there were still 9 out of 11 artists in the running! The short list is getting smaller… so come along to the preview tomorrow (6-8pm) or watch this space to find out who wins the prize!

And if you think we’ve made the wrong decision, cast your vote in the ‘People’s Choice’ to help your favourite/friend/family member win £500!

Joanne Bushnell, Director, aspex