The bird has landed. A big cock stands proud on 4th plinth


French Hen






Since its use as a location for new art began in 2005, the fourth plinth in Trafalgar square has quietly become one of the most highly-prized places for an artist to exhibit.

And you can see why whenever new work appears in the square. 

This week the German artist Katharina Fritsch unveiled her sumptuous 14ft aqua-marine blue cockrell called Hahn/Cock on this highly sought-after public art plinth. (Hahn being the German word for cock).

What strikes you most is the powdery matt blue of the piece and it’s huge size. It towers over everything in the square, apart from the other statues of  George IV and Victorian generals Henry Havelock and Charles Napier, and noticeably Lord Nelson sitting on high on his column. But where it loses out on height it makes up for with its striking colour and its bold lively form. The other statues are of old men, this is a young healthy cock, in all its finery.

In true conceptual art style it is a play on many levels. Fritsch is known as a feminist artist and has given us something that she explains is about challenging the maleness of the square, not with a female object but with a male animal by a female. A male object called a cock. Sniggery joke or mastersrtoke of feminine fight back? In other interviews she has said it represents male posturing while at the same time representing regeneration, awakening and strength.

Oh the cockiness of it all, and how fitting to have a blue cock what with with the Tories running London and almost running the country too (officially a coalition with the Lib Dems).

Sadly for Fritsch the bird was unveiled by everyone’s favourite boffoon Boris Johnson, who couldn’t find it in him to call a cock a cock unveiling it as a “big blue ……bird.”

Not that we can rely on Boris as a journalist but in his speech he said that Fritsch told him the piece is “all to do with a woman’s rendition of a man.” So now we know.

So does the cock work?

Well, when I went to look there were a score or so members of the public happily taking pictures of it. Women – probably in on the joke – seemed particularly excited about it.

For myself I enjoy its shock value, but it’s fairly tame and no-where near as shocking as Marc Quinn’s Alison Lapper Pregnant statue, which was first to take the spot in 2005.

But it has a farmyard sensiblity to it which is nice to see in the urban jungle that is central London and it has a powdery blue form which you hope the rain will eat into (it won’t of course). So as something new it’s pretty original and nicely made, if somewhat easy to forget.

Students of the fourth plinth will remember Mark Wallinger’s Ecce Homo a wonderful Christ-like figure taking the spot in 2007. In this video Wallinger says that it was wonderful to “have work seen by the public that was not mediated by an art institution.” He also says that for an artist it is a painful process to see the work come down months later: “I was mentally preparing myself for that unpleasant process.”

Tube Art: Did you see him?


By Herbert Wright 

Eye-contact on the Tube is a total no-no, unless you’re a looney or a foolish chancer fishing for love. So when a bloke with a moustache on the Bakerloo southbound platform, Oxford Circus, looked at me and held my gaze for more than the standard microsecond, it was odd. Of course, in London, you just pretend these things don’t happen, and you certainly don’t break step. Maybe he was a lost Mexican revolutionary dreaming of a tortilla (he sort of looked that way). Hurrying past him towards the Victoria Line, I notice a big photo poster of a man standing at Oxford Circus. Which is here. Hold on, he’s got a moustache… I know this guy!

I take a few steps back to the Bakerloo. Yes, that’s him, even wearing the same blue shirt. Er… so, what’s it all about? Michael Crowe, himself a man of letters, explains- he’s an art event, Oxford Circle by Jon Rubin. He was installed there a fortnight of afternoons up to August 12th. Sometimes no-one clocks him for ages, he reported, sometimes there’s a looney like the man carefully sweeping absolutely nothing with his shoe onto the track. And sometimes nice people just want to tell him they just saw him on the poster.

Talk about Art on the Underground- this wasn’t one of the sometimes-exceptional graphic works that program offers those not absorbed in a mobile screen or newspaper. This was the reality of the underground- a fleeting real-life event that addressed the old paradox of alone in the crowd, nowhere more prevalent than in London’s teeming subterranean labyrinth. It tackled head-on the urban aversion to contact. Not many may have got it, but if you did, it stopped you in your tracks, and amidst the madding crowd, made you re-assess. Art should make you re-assess, at least on first encounter. ‘A good service is running on all lines’ says the familiar voice in the Underground- pity this particular one has left the platform. (First published August 24th 2013)











Herbert Wright writes about architecture, cities and art. He is contributing editor at Blueprint magazine, and a contributor to the Royal Institute of British Architects Journal.

London on camera


London Poem: The Summer of ’13

‘Twas the summer of 2013

A winter with brass balls hardened every soul in expectation of an unremarkable summer.

We knew we would have good days, but only dared hope for one or three in July and August perhaps.

But mid-July came and an explosion of sunshine befell the good souls of London, who never tire of life, but often tire of limp wet summers.

Hot days became hotter days, and then became hottest days for a decade plus a few more.

But what was most agreeable was that even when the rain came the hotness dropped but only a little, and rain, far from being a miserable wetness, was a welcome respite which only spat on the hotcake that was our balmy days of mid-July and early August.

At last, we thought, global warming is having the upside we all dreamt of. ‘Hey it’s as hot as the South of France, we are as cool as French pastis,’ we excitedly told our friends, ‘and even parts of North Africa. And who wants to go there anyway? It’s not even summer there, just perpetual Arab Spring,” we added with jaunty refrain.

Suddenly sadness was knowing you were going away on holiday to a place just as hot or maybe less hot. Londoners staying at home were smug and happy. And sometimes, just sometimes, that is how it should be.

If the forecasters are right we will get even more of this. In that case the summer of ’13 will be one we might remember for a long long time. But as Londoners it will be forgotten as soon as the chill winds of September remind us once again of the winter to come.

Soak your bones people, and for now, bask in the glorious big sun as if it were ours and ours alone.


Art Everywhere must happen every year


Did you spot the work?

During August an audacious plan to put artwork onto thousands of billboards finally came to fruition.

Showcasing great British art across the UK, Art Everywhere was the largest exhibition of its kind in the world. From the 12–25 August 2013 some of the nation’s greatest art was on display across 22,000 poster sites and billboards up and down the country. Artists, curators, media owners and entrepreneurs joined by a love of art have fuelled this massive charitable celebration, and the general public crowd-funded over £35,000 to help make it happen.

Here’s one I saw on the underground somewhere central, I think perhaps Green Park.

Art Everywhere is the brainchild of Richard Reed, co-founder of Innocent Drinks. You have to hand it to him for taking a great idea and actually making it happen. Here he is talking about it when he was seeking to raise the funding for printing the posters. Amazingly he only needed to raise £35,000. The rest was all about talking to the ad industry and getting people to help for free. Fantastic.


And here is a video from Euronews showing what people said on the day of the launch on 13th August. Sadly the works only appeared for two weeks, but in some locations that may be longer.

The project was supported and produced by Richard Reed, the Art Fund, Tate, Posterscope, Vizeum, 101 Creative Agency, Easyart, Blippar and ArtsMediaPeople.

ICA Off-Site: A Journey through London Subculture


If you were living in London anytime during 1980 until today you will remember your favourite bits of the weird and wonderful subcultures bubbling beneath the mainstream.

Some achieved mainstream recognition, others were known only to a close band of acolytes. All are celebrated equally in this ‘project’, as the ICA prefers to call it.

The idea behind this project is simple. Invite those involved in the many scenes of the past to exhibit in ‘vitrines’ on the huge space of what used to be part of Selfridges hotel.

The result is about 30 vitrines full of stuff representative of this or that club, movement, fashion collective.

Some of those chosen are predictable: YBA, Frieze, Chisenhale Gallery, Leigh Bowery. Others more exotic: Kinky Gerlinky, Delirium, Big Bottom, Michael Clark and Co.

The vitrines – about 5x2x1 foot boxes raised off the floor for easy viewing of objects, tickets, flyers, notes, photos and all manner of stuff, giving you the chance to immerse in the zeitgeist and micro-culture of each scene.

The vitrines are laid out in a phycical timeline of sorts so it is also possible to put what you are seeing into a historical context and to see – to an extent – how each scene fed off or influenced the others.

The first thing that strikes you is the close melding that seems to have occurred between artists, musicians, designers, organisers, and party people.
By its very nature a subculture pushes at the traditional edges of what is acceptable or viewed as normal in fashion, sexuality, attitudes.

This is a delicious project by virtue of giving the visitor a window on so many creative energies and mini movements of the last 30 years, and with so many invited to take part there is much to see and linger over.

Perhaps most enjoyable and intriguing are the vitrines relating to club culture. Clubs that took place in snapshot in time but made their mark on culture, fashion and music. We may never get a chance to see such arrangements again (certainly not so many in one space). It represents thousands of hours of effort and attention all distilled into 30 or so boxes of stuff.

The punk ethic of this period in history is what stands out. It was a suck-it-and-see, go-for-it kind of culture that pre-dated the modern obsession with branding and super-super tidy approach to things now expected. Amateurish, yes, but judging by the faces in the innocent photobooth photos, a whole lotta fun. For some it was clearly the best time of their lives. You look at it all wondering where you were when ‘that’ was going on?

Of course what is also intriguing is who came out of all this in one piece, who used it all as a stepping stone to more and better stuff? Most of the YBAs of course, and Frieze magazine very much so. No doubt most of them lament that the world they inhabit now is a lot more serious and accusations of selling out are never far away. Subculture has the luxury of being so on trend such concerns are never uppermost, and looking at this all-in-a-box show you can see why. Oscar Wilde may have said that youth is too precious a thing to be given to the young, but he could have equally said artistic freedom is too precious a thing to be giving to the subculture.

Bouncers on the door at Selfridges Oxford Street. Must be an art project somewhere.

At the end of the show you are left wondering whether such a vibrant ‘scene’ is evident now and whether we are looking back with rose-tinted glasses at such a large stretch of time that it makes it look more concentrated and vital than it really was. The past has a habit of looking more organised and seminal than it was, but hindsight also tells us that without that we wouldn’t have what we have now – whatever that is.

No doubt in 30 years time we will be gazing into vitrines showing us how fascinating the 2010 – 2040 period was. Maybe there will be a vitrine with lots of small vitrines in it recalling how seminal this project was.

Film review: 12 Years a Slave


The most remarkable film of 2014?

Most probably.

There’s a lot of buzz about this film, and it’s not difficult to see why.


– It shines yet more light on a dark and largely unspoken area of history.


– It is yet another sign that Steve McQueen is blurring the lines between being an artist and a film maker.
– It is one of the most moving, disturbing films you will ever see.
Those reasons alone will make nearly everyone want to see it, and nearly all will ‘enjoy’ it.
In a nutshell, it’s the story of an educated, ‘free’, black man living in Saratota Springs, New York, in the 1840s. He has a family, a nice home and is an accomplished musician. He is lured to work in another town, kidnapped and taken to be sold into slavery in New Orleans. His captors rename him, pretending he is a missing slave – a shocking practice that was not uncommon at the time. What follows is predictable on a general level in that your know it isn’t going to be a walk in the park, and you know from the title how long this entrapment is gong to last. What you don’t know is the depths he has to go to to survive and the levels to which his new masters sink in the mistaken belief (mainly based on personal profit but also wrapped in misplaced religious beliefs) that they can treat other men as their inferiors.


So far so bad.

Review: Martin Creed, Hayward Gallery


The man who put  the on/off switch into art

A show titled ‘What’s the point of it?’ puts the boot into the critics before they’ve even started. Never a bad idea, and perhaps a sign that arch ‘minimalist’ Creed is keen to ask visitors to decide for themselves what it’s all about before looking for explanations from critics and catalogues.

Creed is one of those artists that divides opinion fairly consistently. The cheeky Englishman-cum-Scotsman, 45, is perhaps best-known for winning the 2001 Turner Prize for Work no. 227: the lights going on and off. It consisted of a large gallery room where, guess what, the lights simply went on and off, alternating every thirty seconds.
It was the sort of work that most people hate because it falls into the ‘I could have done that’ category. Ah, well yes, minimalism – don’t you hate it? Those who loved it – me included – had the difficult task of defending it from the haters. Needless to say the tabloid press had a field day – and Creed’s future was assured.
But the truth is Creed pulled it off, and he continues to do so. So suck it up folks.
The Hayward clearly likes Wakefield-born Martin Creed.They have given him the whole gallery to do just what he wants. So it is not a retrospective exactly, although there are many works that have appeared before, including a version of The Lights.
Here we see Creed in all his glory. Works that look simple yet are hard to interpret; works with numerical titles that are merely a serial count of his work, and titles that are deadpan and descriptive. There are paintings; mechanical works that are devilishly clever; and musical work that is playful and original.
You enter the exhibition through a doorway that is part blocked by a second-hand sofa, after which you are greeted by a huge 6ft neon sign rotating on an iron beam which spells ‘MOTHERS’. It stands at 6ft 6inches and swirls menacingly close to your head. Naturally it has been interpreted as a metaphor for mother figures….you do the math.


But Creed is possibly too playful for such simple metaphors. Perhaps we should also bear in mind that the word is also an expletive, or that it is the first word in the name of the former jazz rock band Mothers of Invention, headed up by Frank Zappa, a man who would be a natural ally of Creed, one thinks. The work is accompanied by a line of metronomes along two walls, all beating out a different timing, clattering intriguingly away.

In some ways, Creed seems to be a people’s artists in the same mould as Jeremy Deller – he of the Stonehenge bouncy castle much loved by families on a day out. The best example of this is Work no. 200, half of the air in a given space. Essentially this consists of a room half full of white balloons. You enter the room through turnstiles that ensure that balloons can’t escape, after which you enjoy the experience of being covered in balloons wherever you walk.


I guess you could pop a few if you wanted but of course no one does – art folk are ever fearful of doing the wrong thing on the few occasions that they are actually allowed to touch work.



But being surrounded by balloons can also be claustrophobic so perhaps Creed wants you to enjoy the fine line between fun and fear in such a work. Clearly he likes it because it was first shown in 1998 and he has seen fit to give it another wirl. It is a natural photo opportunity for the media so perhaps Creed is also a natural self-publicist. Anyone who has the balls to put Blu-tack on the wall and call it art, must be something of an attention seeker (as inWork no. 79: some Blu-tack kneaded, rolled into a ball and depressed against a wall (1993)).


Out on one of the rooftops Creed has placed Britain’s most ordinary/popular car, a silver Ford Focus 1.1litre. At first the car is still but every now and again it springs into life activating all its moving bits simultaneously. So all the bits that can open flip open, the wipers wipe, the radio goes on, the lights go on and off (well of course they do), and perhaps some other things you can’t see are moving too. It’s redolent of cars in movies which drive themselves (Herbie etc.) but because it’s unique you can’t take your eyes off it. Creed’s cheek in dropping a car in a place it shouldn’t be is also good value. Who doesn’t love an artist who puts stuff where it shouldn’t be?


Elsewhere, in the same vein, there is a piano which opens and closes itself. A work that will clearly bring joy to any child or adult with a sense of fun. It raises the question: Why do we love it when things mysteriously work themselves? After all, we are surrounded by robotics of one sort or another, but as soon as that aesthetic is applied to ordinary objects we go ga ga.


So Creed is master of the ordinary. He makes the ordinary fun, intriguing and something of an art puzzle. He struggles to be truly original when it comes to videos of bodily parts (a penis growing and diminishing), a woman trying to shit, but who cares? It’s arresting and challenging and can’t just be dismissed as shock tactics, even if its been done before.

So what are we to make of all this? Creed doesn’t help much. In interviews he says that he doesn’t know what art is, which is either refreshing or trite depending on your view. He has also said “I wouldn’t call myself an artist’. OK so Creed is reducing art to just doing stuff and not calling it art. Possibly that is what is required for us to get new meaning from art and for us to look at the world in new ways.


According to Wikipedia has also said that he stopped making paintings because he ‘never liked having to decide what to paint’. We’ve all been there haven’t we? What he goes on to say is that all he knows is that he likes to make things. Which goes some way to explaining his work. He goes on: ‘I make things because I want to communicate with people, because I want to be loved, because I want to express myself.’ He describes himself as an ‘expressionist’.


So far so good. Creed as everyman.
But can everyman ‘get’ his communications? Probably not. That would be too easy, and that would betray his need to be true to himself. Isn’t that the ultimate attraction of art?


The fact is you see some art and you don’t particularly want to meet the artist; but there is other art – such as Creed’s where you most definitely do. Creed is too minimal for some, but who cares, his work is fresh, fun and some very memorable. Long may he want to turn things on and off.

So what do the critics think?

Adrian Searle, The Guardian calls it ‘more a glorious tour of his (Creed’s) mind’ and ‘one of the best solo show’s I have seen at the gallery…an exhibition of extremes and contrasts from the very big to the very small, from the most offhand gesture to the most laboriously executed. It feels as much portrait as exhibition – of conflicting appetites and contrary desires, of doubts and certainties, of whims and convictions.
He goes on: ‘Creed has a thing about things. His art is a repeated exercise in object relations. There is no hierarchy of materials or genres. Everywhere there are things on top of other things: tables, chairs, diminishing lengths of I-beam steel, brushstrokes, cardboard boxes….His art is marked by lightness and a kind of bravery. It is all a matter of timing, placement and contrast.

Tim Adams, The Observer, is somewhat less impressed: ‘Each piece, from the lump of Blu-Tack on a wall (Work No 79) to the blind paintings (eg Work No 1363), you imagine, seemed like a good idea at the time, got the artist’s blood briefly up, but what you are often left looking at is the limp memory of that creative moment. Maybe that’s how inspiration and its aftermath always feels.

And despite Creed saying he is not an artist, Adams sees an attempt to explain art: ‘The vague argument of this retrospective is that art, like life, is essentially an involuntary act: the rising and falling penis apparently has a mind of its own, biology is its own imperative. If you hadn’t got that particular point, Creed dramatises it with video of a woman squatting to leave a turd on a gallery floor and a Technicolor film of a man vomiting in a similarly whitewashed room.’

Adams concludes with a slight put-down: ‘The opening room…might raise a sort of smile, but beyond that and losing yourself in the balloons, split sides are not guaranteed.’

Adrian Hamilton, The Independent, starts off by putting Creed in context: ‘Creed is the artist of irresolution in which he devotes himself to an idea but can then never quite complete it without wondering whether it isn’t all a nonsense.’
Despite Creed’s comments on not being an artist, Hamilton is impressed with his paintwork: ‘The major revelation of this show to me was just how much painting he has chosen to be included, figurative as well as abstract, and just what a good colourist he is. In the past few years in particular he has taken to canvas and paper to brush bright colours in acrylic, watercolour, enamel and oils in emphatic lines and squiggles with striking effect.
He concludes that the show is a ‘tribute to a polymath’ by virtue of the range of kinds of work on show, and encourages visitors to just enjoy the show: ‘Go and enjoy. You will find plenty to surprise, attract and exasperate you without worrying about the deeper philosophical meaning.’I couldn’t agree more.

Review: Marvin Gaye Chetwynd & Tala Madini, Nottingham Contemporary


Just a hop and a skip from Nottingham town centre is the city’s vibrant Contemporary art gallery, with its welcoming foyer, cafe and large gallery spaces.

Two shows are currently running: The performance artist Marvin Gaye Chetwynd (formerly Spartacus Chetwynd), and Los Angeles-based Iranian Tala Madini. Chetwynd is best-known for being a finalist in the 2012 Turner Prize, and Madini for her somewhat disturbing depictions of male authority and machismo.

Lets’s look at the wonderful world of Chetwynd first.

A word of warning. This work is not for the art purists. It is deliberately scatalogical and anarchic.

This is the first ever solo exhibition of Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, consisting of selection of recent works around two large scale ‘performative’ sculptures: a tent-sized Brainbug, leader of the bug colony in the film Starship Troopers. This is accompanied by a series of scaled-down dioramas of film sets, and the grinning Catbus from the 1988 Japanese animated film My Neighbour Totoro. The Catbus converts into a video lounge that visitors can enter and use.
There is also a selection of paintings from Chetwynd’s Bat Opera series featuring portraits of individual bats in a heroic 18th century manner. Others are Romantic landscapes of swarms of bats rising from caves and ruins.
The extraordinarily hairy Cousin Itt, of Addams Family fame – essentially a woman with hair down to her calves – hosts the exhibition, making rapid, indecipherable bleeps, and hovering around visitors in a friendly but but unnerving manner.

Chetwynd’s world is made up of amateurish objects relating to and embellishing on characters and objects in sic-fi B movies. She creates a world of strange creatures and peoples it with participants dressed in B movie chic attire of increasingly weird design. But there is always a purpose to all this creation as everything that is on show is used multiple times in performances that entrance and involve the public. Cyhetwynd’s world is that of the kind of performance art that has been until recently shunned by most mainstream galleries.

But times are a-changing, and performance artists are now known simply as artists and Chetwynd has the distinction of being the first such artist to be nominated for the Turner Prize, a considerable achievement.

What is clear is that if you can suspend your art pretensions there is a lot to enjoy in the work, or in the performances (judging by the videos on show).

The media pack sums up the approach to the work well:

“Chetwynd’s sculptures and installations often start as handmade props, costumes and sets for her joyful, anarchic performances. They acquire an afterlife in exhibition spaces, occasionally animated by amateur actors and professional dancers. Sometimes they are free to scream and squeal as if partaking in a group therapy session.

“Chetwynd is influenced by popular performing traditions such as medieval mummer plays, carnivals, communes, drag acts and political demonstrations, as well as the history of performance in avant-garde art. She is at home with the classics and with popular culture – and she uses one to give new meaning to the other. Her performances have referred to the ideas, images and storylines of Giotto, John Milton, Charles Dickens, Karl Marx and Dante, for example, but also Meatloaf, The Addams Family, Star Wars and Starship Troopers.”

So Chetwynd’s work is a wonderful mix of am-dram schlock and art world pretention, blended with a healthy measure hippy-trippy sensibility, that verges on a campaign to bring back the late 1960s. You can’t be a hippy anymore but you can volunteer to be a performer in a Chetwynd production, nudity optional. Happy days!

Not surprisingly kids visiting the show seem enchanted on the whole, even if some of the objects would give Freud a field day. An art insider informed me that such performance work is much in demand by galleries nowadays as it attracts kids and their parents swelling visitor numbers beyond levels achieved by more run of the mill work.

So what about the performances? Based on seeing one during the Turner Prize, and a few others on video at this exhibition and on YouTube, they are characterised by ‘happenings’ where faux ritualistic activity occurs in various areas of the space in which onlookers intermingle with performers while attempting to interpret some narrative or meaning. Performers typically move slowly and purposely but the activity, though often collective and rehearsed is often ultimately obscure.

It might be seen as boring but there is enough weirdness and sincerity in the performances individually and collectively to entrance most onlookers. A slash of nudity her and there keeps pulses racing every now and again too. Themes touched on include state of democracy, gender politics and personal debt.

Western society probably needs more Chetwynds, but in a post-post-modern age, silliness and fun are seen as the preserve of teens and immature dope smokers. More’s the pity. The work is also wonderfully uncommercial – somewhat refreshing in a week when a Francis Bacon’s ‘George Dyer Talking’ painting sold for a ridiculous £42 million. I’m sure a Mayfair dealer is dreaming of ways of commoditising Chetwynd’s work right now, but it sure won’t be as easy as getting DHL to take a Bacon original down to Christies for the day’s auction. On the other hand, if he can get the V&A to run an exhibition of performance art costumery…….

On the downside critics make the serious claim that Chetwynd’s work is plagiaristic. The Catbus for example is someone else’s copyright as are the characters from Starship Troopers. Taxi to the lawyers for Chetwynd!

Hopefully such niceties will not put an intergalactic spanner in the works of the wonderful world of MGC.

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd was born in London in 1973 and now lives in Glasgow. Last year she was known as Spartacus Chetwynd. What’s in a name anyway?

Tala Madini

Despite Chetwynds work being very child-friendly (sort of), the work in the next gallery carries a health warning given on a sign that says that some of the images may be disturbing etc. At times like this you feel for the parents who wonder in unthinkingly and have to answer the natural questions as in “what’s that Mummy?”. The correct answer may be “Er….I think it’s shit/vomit/some form of torture.”

Madini’s work is not for the faint-hearted that’s for sure.

Tehran-born Tala Madini, 32, makes large and small paintings and animations that are figurative and symbolic in nature. Her subjects of interest are masculinity, group dynamics, sexuality and power play. There is an aggression and a degree of depravity in the work in that bodily functions are a constant theme. The colours are subdued yet carefully chosen to contrast subject and background.

Although brought up in the USA the work appears to have a strong emphasis on human relations in Iran’s totalitarian regime or a particularly repressive environment. Subjects are almost exclusively middle-aged men sporting the characteric middle-eastern moustache, in various forms of relationship to each other or to their or others excretions of one form or another.

Her entry on Wikipedia states: “Her painting style is loose, incorporating gestural brushstrokes into figurative narrative scenes that often have a bizarre, fetishistic quality to them. The men in her paintings often appear to be ridiculed, clownish, dominated by perfumated space, Brechtian. The loose brushstrokes and flat pictorial space give an almost cartoon quality to her paintings.

What I would add to that is that the work looks like it is executed fairly quickly as if catching a sequence of a dream or when the inspiration arrives. It has elements of the styles of arte povera and naive art. It is almost child-like and intensely emotional by virtue of its rough and ready look.

In a recent interview she describes drawing: “Drawing is very useful in getting what’s in the brain out and the painting is already a bit more mediated with it’s process, simply because there are a few more steps to it. I try to change those steps a bit to make it as immediate as the pencil.

“I try to make the brush behave like the pencil, I make immediate, very flat paintings…they speak to the history of painting before the use of perspective. There is more of a narrative in my smaller works. The large works can’t be heavy, they have nowhere to land, they have to be simmering. The colours can really become a place where you feel safe to enter but then other things creep up to you. Colour can be psychological; it’s your first impression. It should be very intense and welcoming. ”

“In general I try to access a childish access in the colour, kindergarden colours…and then see what comes out. I moved to a studio but I could not stay put in the studio so I started to do something that requires thinking and doing so I tried animation. I didn’t want it to explain too much but I wanted it to show different kind of humour; the animations can go to places the paintings can’t. This was very exciting to me.

“I really laugh when I paint. I see that as a good sign. It’s not always funny laughter, sometimes it’s a burst of energy.”

What is clear is that Tala is a woman haunted by her images of men debasing themselves through forms of mutual entrapment, be they scenes related to institutionalised indignity or in more social competitive settings. She deliberately leaves the narratives opaque perhaps to reach to a deeper level of emotionality within the work. She does not wish the details of a work to obstruct the message of what she feels about what is occurring, and how it is debasing those involved.

Perhaps the strength of the work is this very nightmarish quality that prevents us from putting a finger on what we are experiencing.

The work as a result is disturbing and unpleasant, and not the sort of thing you will see in a doctor’s surgery any time soon.

The gallery blurb details another set of work included which used children’s books as a starting point:

“In addition to such work, a new series of works feature children from a traditional learn to read series, books that reflect the conservative gender roles of the 50s. As a teenager newly arrived in the United States, Madani herself used them to learn English. The children appear alongside Madani’s little men who can be good or evil. The original illustrations of the children’s ordered existence are subverted by their anarchic actions.

“Madani’s work often seems to tell a story. She draws inspiration from the graphic novels of Alan Moore and Robert Crumb. Her work also contains numerous arthistorical references that range from Abstract Expressionism to Minimalism, encompassing in particular Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings and Morris Louis’s poured paint technique.”

Review: United Visual Artists, Momentum, Barbican Curve


Momentum is a new ‘immersive’ installation at the Barbican, London. It is to be found in what is known as The Curve, a 200 yard curving corridor-cum-artist’s-space within the massive, City of London funded, Barbican Centre.

It is the work of United Visual Artists, the London-based masters of the wonderful Light Emitting Diode (LED), the simple technology that is fast transforming the world of electronic art.

The installation consists of a series of sound and light-emitting pendulums dotted at regular intervals all the way through the space. One moment they appear as a circular light hovering above you; on another they emit a sharp beam of light onto the floor.

These light sources are not static but oscillate and hover somewhat menacingly. To view them in pitch darkness is to be thrown into a sci-fi underworld that makes you wonder: friend or foe? But there is also a degree of illusion here too. By presenting the work in darkness they make it near impossible to see the joins, or rather the wires, gantries and electronics controlling these devices.

At one moment menacing, at other times mesmerising and even meditative, this work creates a curious atmosphere. You are aware of a score of other people walking through the space (you enter at one end and leave at the other) and of the sense of wonderment it creates. Your attention switches between viewing the lighting effects near and far, observing others in the half-light, and fixating momentarily on the changing sound track which is adds to the translucency of the atmosphere. But it is perhaps the dance of the 12 light sources oscillating in harmony that grabs you the most, as it is the most visually pleasing and offers the greatest perspective on The Curve’s space itself.

According to UVA, their aim is to “mess with your perception of both time and physical space. The work is designed to feel like a natural space. Our interest is in tension between the natural and the synthesised.”

UVA was formed in 2003 by Matthew Clark, Chris Bird and Ash Nehru. It now has a significant track record of delivering commissioned installations at everything from the Serpentine Gallery, and works in London to Mexico and Japan. Perhaps, most significantly, the group cut its teeth by providing the lighting shows for Massive Attack.

Their interest is in using new technologies to simulate nature and to marry our sense of natural and technological in ways that are entrancing and magical. Light has forever been a fascination for artists, but today artists like UVA have technologies and possibilities that could only have been dreamt of just a few years ago.

Verdict: I like what these guys are trying to do with light and space. You get a sense of the potential for new works using lights, mechanics, sound and clever code. The ability to create new environments seems limitless; as if we are on the edge of a new frontier. I also like some of the work they have done with lasers which can be seen in the second video. You get the feeling that artists like this are on the one hand channeling one of the oldest forms of art and drama and yet at the other being part of a tsunami of new art that is crashing onto the beach of artistic convention. UVA are surely ones to watch and with their collaborative approach to creativity it will be fascinating to see what directions they go into in future works.

Full UVA bio here

Youtube videos on UVA here

Barbican Press Release on UVA Momentum

Korean Cultural Centre: Artist Talk Party and Fashion Show


I am constantly surprised by the fact that many Koreans I meet in London don’t know about the excellent and spacious Korean Cultural Centre, KCC, nestled in the middle of Northumberland Avenue, just a stone’s throw from Trafalgar Square.

The KCC does what you would expect for a Korean-government funded operation – host all manner of events that promote Korean culture. The good news is that much of what they promote is by living artists who you can meet and exchange ideas with.

Korea is not a big powerhouse in the arts – yet – which makes it all the more approachable and unassuming. Something of a refreshing change if you are more familiar with attending events at the likes of Saatchi and Christies. With respect, most Europeans don’t know that Korea is already a force to be reckoned with in Asian TV and pop music – its soap operas are watched by scores of millions across Asia and its bubblegum pop, K-POP, is a multi-billion dollar industry which sets teen pulses racing in Japan and China. UK readers will remember well the invasion of Gangnam Style – a K-POP spin-off – in the UK charts just under two years ago.

Last week’s charmingly named ‘Artist Talk Party’ was a bit of a fashion love-in, with a one hour sit-down panel discussion, followed by a mini fashion show amid generous amounts of wine and nibbles. The event was chaired by Samantha Conti, Women’s Wear Daily, and included Korean designers Rejina Pyo, Hyein Seo and Edeline Lee. The discussion looked at aspects of being a Korean designer in the UK, from business to creative issues. (For more details click on the invite above.)

The event was well attended, well run, and an insight into how Korean designers are growing in confidence as the global world of fashion brings Asian and European approaches to fashion ever closer together. Fashion insiders confirmed what everyone suspected: Europe loves Korean designer’s work ethic and East/West sensibilitie. Meanwhile Asian consumers are getting ever more savvy about where and how to buy cheap Western fashions, combining online buying with trips to European shops in big Korean cities and travel and study trips to the UK to stock up on the latest fashions or to buy in bulk for friends and family.

Eat your heart out Paris and Milan. The new Seoul-London fashion axis is alive and kicking and making its mark in hundreds of different ways; from high-level designer clothing to gritty, quirky and fun-loving urban styles.

Never has there been so much Korean creativity on these shores, and long may it continue and grow. It is a perfect example of two cultures that will benefit massively from cross-fertilising their artistic and technical DNA.

Here are a couple of videos of the event – apologies for the bad sound at the beginning of the first, but they give you an idea of the event at least. The first is of the panel discussion and the second is a mere snippet of the wonderful fashion show in the foyer of the KCC.

And here’s a load more videos about the KCC if you want to know more, notably one by Kim Cho Hee about the library at the KCC, which looks like an excellent resource for Korean Wave lovers.