Tuesday, January 11, 2011

V&A, Barbican

Hello Blog,

It’s me, Celine. On Monday we had a tour of the V&A with Glenn Adamson. Spent the day there, and ended it by going to the Barbican center to catch the Damien Ortega show. Stayed at the Barbican for the National Theatre of Scotland's performance of Black Watch.

To start with, I am creepily obsessed with Glenn Adamson's brain. Wanted to ask for his autograph or possibly something he has licked. He had some surprising things to say about craft- here are a couple of quotes.

"Post-disciplinarity is great as long as people remember they still need to know how to make things"
"Artists have complete responsibility of the manner in which their work is made"
Artist who outsource their work are "dealing in the medium of other people's hands"

After the tour, I lurked in the background like an over-caffeinated gollum waiting to pounce on him and ask more questions. Despite my creepy persistence he got away. I wanted to ask him how he felt about the use of the word 'handmade' in contemporary art (and actually, now that I think about it, the use of said word in advertising) and also what he thought about the idea that making is inherently political. This idea is being pushed hard by the DIY movement, and I am becoming increasingly jaded and cynical about the whole mess.

One of my favorite pieces in the V&A was Cornelia Parker's 2001 commission for the museum entitled Breathless. Parker has steamrolled the brass instruments, squeezing the breath from them as one squeezes toothpaste from a tube. The lifeless shells are then "pinned like butterflies" as Glenn put it, in the museum's collection- deflated of their former glory.

The V&A was completely overwhelming; felt like my brain was being put through a juicer. Spent a shameful amount of time thinking about finding a corner I could crawl into and take a nap. Finally found one on the fourth floor in the form of a movie theatre from the 20's playing relaxing ragtime. Thought better of it and decided to take my sickly, sniffy self in hand and go learn something. Ended up in the William Morris area. Noisy wallpaper. Very beautiful wife.

On the first floor was Shadow Catchers: Camera-less Photography, the featured exhibition. I was surprised by how much of the work seemed to have a spiritual bent to it: take the piece to the left (Floris Neusüss, 'Bin Gleich Zurück, (Be Right Back), 1984/87, Gelatin-silver print and wooden chair). Neususs' photogram uses the basics of photography (recording light on light-sensitive paper) in an incredibly direct way; a way that is somehow more direct, visceral, and indicates a respect for/ belief in/ reverence towards the aura of the individual. It is also akin to a mourning piece; who has left the chair? When will they be back? Where have they gone? The chair is a physical object, left behind almost as proof that the shadow recorded on the photosensitive paper came from a real person.

Saw a play in the evening entitled "Black Watch" performed by the National Theatre of Scotland. And yes, they were from Scotland, possibly the sexiest country in the world if you close your eyes. (No offense Scotland, I simply mean that the Scottish accent is delectable. Like pie. A really good pie.) Surprisingly, the troupe broke into song several times, interpreting traditional Scottish folk
songs. Twa Recruitin' Sergeants in particular was completely intoxicating, with soaring harmonies and a haunting piano refrain trailing behind the vocals. Another example can be found here -- the song starts about 2'44" in. But I get ahead of myself. The play recounted the experiences of a group of soldiers from the Black Watch deployed to Afghanistan for their second tour. The setting sways back and forth from Afghanistan to a pub in Scotland several years later where the remaining men are being interviewed by a journalist trying to understand their experiences. It is an all male cast, and the only characters save the civilian journalist are Scottish soldiers. Through the unwinding of their experiences, it becomes obvious that the journalist's questions are naive, basic, and thoroughly inadequate. He is a surrogate for the public, struggling to make sense of the war. This was a touching, brutal, and inspired play. It was particularly revealing to see after attending War Horse, a very different kind of play that detailed a very different kind of war. One of the best scenes can be found on youtube - it has a wonderful folk song followed by a quick history of the Black Watch from the 1700's on.

Also saw Damien Ortega's installation at the Barbican. It was a collection of sculptural works made in response to a news article chosen over the course of one month (September 2010, I believe). One reason I felt so drawn to this show was that each piece became a conversation with the artist- partially because we had access to the source material to which he was responding.

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