Monday, 28 December 2015

SAFE - exhibition at HOME, Manchester

“Are you allergic to the 21st century?” 

'Imagine becoming allergic to everything you enjoy...

This group exhibition takes Todd Haynes’ film, Safe (1995), as a starting point for a series of new commissions in moving image, sculpture, print, writing and performance from artists Claire Makhlouf Carter, Chris Paul Daniels, Camilla Wills, Yoshua Okon and 2014 Turner Prize nominee James Richards alongside existing work by Michael Dean, Sunil Gupta, Laura Morrison and Jala Wahid.

Haynes’ film stars Julianne Moore as Carol White, a 1980s Californian housewife who becomes increasingly allergic to everyday domestic products and routine activities, eventually moving to an enclosed community in New Mexico. It can be read as a reflection on environmental issues, sexual politics, the AIDS epidemic and suburban disillusionment. At first her illness appears to empower her - to offer an escape from her stifling life. But eventually White is left frail and alone in a porcelain cabin in the desert, with the dubious promise of self-love to console her. White appears trapped, either incapable or unwilling to reconcile the psychological and the physical.'

Initially I found Jala Wahid's photographic images of bodily materials such as food and cosmetics to be seductive, but they also verge on the unpleasant as the materials begin to deteriorate from their original form, to curdle, crack or separate.

My highlight of the exhibition was the new commission, Fridge-Freezer (2015) by Yoshua Okon. Separated from the other exhibits by a curtain, one enters a comfortable home- cinema type setup, with luxurious carpeted flooring and a sofa in order to view the 2 channeled video installation by Yoshua Okon. Fridge-Freezer was filmed at show homes in the suburbs of Manchester and features well-groomed female estate agents selling the supposedly stylish properties, focusing on the safety features such as high windows to prevent children from tampering, and a front door with a security viewing device (peephole). My gut reaction was to laugh; the artificiality and sterile nature of the properties and the overly enthusiastic estate agents emphasise the ridiculousness that is how we believe that this is the kind of environment that we should aspire to live in, and the isolated lifestyles that we should lead.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Beware of the 'Effort Trap'

As the January deadline for my dissertation looms, I find myself feeling guilty and worried because over the festive period I won't be spending lots of time working on my paper. Despite the many rational reasons for making family and friends my priority, I feel pressure, both from myself and society at large, to be productive. 

The following article has helped me realise that there is a difference between being productive and spending lots of time working, and provides some useful tips to become more productive without tiring yourself out.

All the more reason for some quality time off!

Nobody Cares How Hard You Work

by Oliver Burkeman

"As you sink into the couch, or slide onto the barstool, at the end of an exhausting workday, it’s hard not to experience the warm glow of self-congratulation. After all, you put in the hours, cranked through the to-do list; you invested the effort, and got things done. Surely you’re entitled to a little smugness?

Sorry, but at the risk of ruining that martini: maybe not. We chronically confuse the feeling of effort with the reality of results—and for anyone working in a creative field, that means the constant risk of frittering time and energy on busywork, instead of the work that counts.

Psychologists have long noticed what’s sometimes been called the “labor illusion:” when it comes to judging other people’s work, we might say we’re focused only on whether they did the job quickly and well—but really we want to feel they wore themselves out for us.

The behavioral economist Dan Ariely tells the story of a locksmith, who, as he got better at his work, started getting fewer tips, and more complaints about his prices.Each job took him so little time or effort that customers felt cheated—even though, pretty obviously, being super-fast is an asset in a locksmith, not a fault.

In 2011, a study by the Harvard Business School researchers Ryan Buell and Michael Norton found that people using a flight-search website actually preferred to wait longer for search results—provided they could watch a detailed progress display to see the site “working hard” to canvas each airline’s database.

This would be no more than an intriguing quirk of consumer behavior—if it weren’t for the fact that we apply the same twisted standards to ourselves. Call it the “Effort Trap:” it’s dangerously easy to feel as though a 10-hour day spent plowing through your inbox, or catching up on calls, was much more worthwhile than two hours spent in deep concentration on hard thinking, followed by a leisurely afternoon off.Yet any writer, designer or web developer will tell you it’s the two focused hours that pay most—both in terms of money and fulfillment. (In Mason Currey’s 2013 book Daily Rituals, a compendium of artists’ and authors’ work routines, almost nobody reports spending more than four or five hours a day on their primary creative tasks.) Indeed, meaningful work doesn’t always lead to exhaustion at all: a few hours of absorption in it can be actively energizing—so if you’re judging your output by your tiredness, you’re sure to be misled.

It’s doubly hard to avoid the Effort Trap because our culture so strongly reinforces its deceptive message: Hard work is ultimately what matters. From childhood, parents and teachers drum into us the moral virtue of effort, and the importance of “doing your best”. Numerous approaches to productivity—even the best ones, like David Allen’s Getting Things Done—encourage a “cross-it-off-the-list” mindset:They’re so preoccupied with clarifying and keeping track of your to-dos, you forget to ask if they’re the right tasks to begin with.

And too many workplaces still subtly communicate to employees the idea that intense effort, usually in the form of long hours, is the best route to a promotion. In fact, though, if you can do your job brilliantly and still leave at 3 p.m. each day, a really good boss shouldn’t object. And by the same token, you shouldn’t cite all the effort you put in when making your case for a raise. Why should a results-focused boss even care?

In America and northern Europe, the roots of the Effort Trap may well lie in the “Protestant work ethic,” the old Calvinist idea that being a hard worker was evidence that you’d been pre-selected for Heaven. To reach creativity heaven, though, you’ll need a different approach—one that prioritizes doing the right things, not just lots of things.

The well-known advice to do the most important tasks first in the day is probably still the best; that way, even if you do lapse into busywork, you won’t be wasting your best energies on it. And if your work situation permits it, experiment with radically limiting your working hours: The added constraint tends to push the most vital work to center-stage. You could set electronic reminders through the day, as a prompt to ask if you need to change your focus.

But above all, remember that tiring yourself out—or scheduling every minute of your day with work—isn’t a reliable indicator of a day well spent. Or to put it more cheerfully: The path to creative fulfillment might take a lot less effort than you think."

Monday, 21 December 2015

Artist makes a cutting statement on ‘poisonous’ HMRC

Artist makes a cutting statement on ‘poisonous’ HMRC

19 December 2015 

A Dundee-born artist has staged a creative protest against a decision to stop her working tax credits.
Boo Paterson, 44, has made a paper-cut artwork out of the benefit rejection letters which arrived after HMRC deemed her freelance art business “non-commercial”.
The piece shows two vultures gorging on one of her much-publicised artworks, a paper-cut depiction of the Glasgow School of Art’s Rennie Mackintosh building, which was devastated by a fire in May 2014.
Boo explained that this represents the government “destroying freelancers and small businesses”.
She said: “HMRC decided to stop my Working Tax Credit, based on an audit of three random months they chose in the year, claiming my business was ‘not commercial’.
“But they gave no reasons as to how they reached that decision, making it impossible to appeal.
“I really relied on working tax credit to allow me to buy food and heat my home while I establish my art business, which is only in its first year.
“But HMRC seems to despise artists unless they’re multi-millionaires.
“I wanted to turn this poisonous decision and the paper it was written on into something creative.
“It makes me feel slightly better about not being able to afford food any more.
Boo Paterson now lives between Edinburgh and New York but visits Dundee regularly to catch up with old friends.
Her work is currently being exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy Open Exhibition.
An HMRC spokesman said: “We do not comment on identifiable tax credits applications.

Lygia Clark at MoMA review – playing cat's cradle at the edge of art

Knowing that I am in the process of writing my dissertation, (its working title is An exploration of play in contemporary art), I was sent a link to Adrian Searle's review of the Lygia Clark retrospective at MoMA in The Guardian

It mentions some of the things that are included in my dissertation such as the relationship between audience interaction/participation and play

Lygia Clark at MoMA review – playing cat's cradle at the edge of art

"The Brazilian artist, who died in 1988, was a complex figure, and her life and art followed a convoluted trajectory. It took her from being a painter and leading figure in the Brazilian neo-concretist movement, an offshoot of European constructivism, to becoming a maker of abstract sculptures that were as much propositions as fixed objects. These wonderful plays between the organic and the geometric, between form and formlessness eventually led her away from art altogether, and towards what she came to regard as a kind of therapy, in which objects took the place of speech and gesture.

At various points in the exhibition you can play with replicas of her Bichos (Creatures) which mimic how her larger sculptures were made. As you play with them these small hinged forms flip-flop and fold this way and that. They have a nice weight, and handling them feels a bit like doing card tricks. However, as you turn the articulated metal planes the results always have a jazzy, spiky sort of life. Unlike a card-sharp's sleight of hand, there are no wrong moves here. Putting her art in the hands of her audience, Clark allows us to play out their variations in unpredictable ways.

Other sculptures are more like architectural models for imaginary dwellings. Even when she worked with nothing more than matchboxes – open, closed, piled up, painted – she worked through their repertoire of possibilities. 

Gallery attendants are showing visitors the correct way to handle more of Clark's later objects: mirrored spectacles to be worn by two people; clear plastic envelopes containing water and shells, or air and ping-pong balls. Play doesn't always need to have a purpose. Yet there is something here that has a lot to do with sculpture, with touch, balance and physical coordination. A whole world seems to be here, caught between the density of the stone and the weightlessness of the bag.

Why not make cat's cradles and webs of knotted rubber bands, to get yourself into a tangle? Elsewhere children are gluing paper into Möbius strips, which they twist around their wrists, and manipulating flexible discs of industrial rubber that have been cut to resemble spirals of thick, black orange peel. This is sculpture you can drape over your shoulder, or which can flop over a plinth or hang on the wall like the sloughed skin of some bizarre cold-blooded creature. What curious and compelling forms they are.

Whether this sort of thing actually takes us from passive spectators to active participants is moot. But we do get a feeling that the artist is following the consequences of her work to its limit, and beyond. The limit, for Clark, and for this exhibition, is the abandonment of art altogether, in favour of collective activity and ritualised interactions. We are no longer in a world of spectators and artworks, but in a place where the object – a plastic bag or length of hose – becomes a therapeutic tool, with a function and a use, however obscure it may be."

Courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd

To read the full review, visit:

Friday, 18 December 2015

Der Lauf der Dinge: The Way Things Go by Peter Fischli and David Weiss

The final Fine Art screening of 2015 went with a big bang - a welcome showing of the 1987 art film, Der Lauf der Dinge (The Way Things Go), by the Swiss artist duo Peter Fischli and David Weiss.

"Inside a warehouse, a precarious 70-100 feet long structure has been constructed using various items. When this is set in motion, a chain reaction ensues.

Fire, water, law of gravity as well as chemistry determine the life-cycle of objects - of things. It brings about a story concerning cause and effect, mechanism and art, improbability and precision."

I have watched it a number of times before, but it is one of those gems that does not lose any of its charm with multiple viewings.

"The film embodies many of the qualities that make Fischli and Weiss's work among the most captivating in the world today: slapstick humour and profound insight; a forensic attention to detail; a sense of illusion and transformation; and the dynamic exchange between states of order and chaos. As everyday objects crash, scrape, slide or fly into one another with devastating, impossible and persuasive effect, viewers find themselves witnessing a spectacle that seems at once prehistoric and post-apocalyptic."

Fischli and Weiss are masters at creating suspense and tension: there are times in the film when it seems that motion has come to a stand still, but a sudden burst sparks the action again. Such changes in pace are an excellent way to sustain the attention of the audience.

This is a work that thoroughly deserves your undivided attention, so sit back, be prepared to be amazed, and enjoy!

The Way Things Go by racedaily

The Way Things Go by race daily

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Paint used as glue

Within my dissertation I discuss three ways in which play exists within art; namely, the form of the artwork; the process of making the artwork, and the way in which the audience experience the artwork. Chapter 1 seeks to examine how Phyllida Barlow (1944-) makes work in a playful manner. Within this, I explore the notion of intuition and spontaneity; how she deals with scale; her use and application of colour, and her choice of, and engagement with, materials. 

Action is implicit in Barlow’s sculptures. The manner in which she applies paint to a surface is intuitive and physical. Paint is smeared onto a surface in an uncontrolled fashion, covering part of the structure unevenly, and leaving other areas exposed. Tidily and seamlessly are two words not associated with how Barlow works.  Paint is used not just for its colour, but for its structural function as a means of sticking things together. 

This prompted me to use paint as a form of glue, attaching individual Cheerios to one another. The size of the Cheerios limits the extent to which I can apply the paint in a gestural manner, but the paint has been able to stick the hoops together.

Surface of Cheerios

I recently purchased a glue gun along with a supply of coloured glue sticks. My urge to use the gold glue stick led me to creating a surface consisting of Cheerios and Cocoa Cheerios.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Visiting Artist - Melanie Manchot

This week's visiting artist was London based Melanie Manchot who works with photography, film, video and installation as part of a performative and participatory practice.

She delivered an excellent presentation, providing a good overview of the development of her work starting with Look At You Loving Me, a series of portraits of her nude mother, and ending with The Gift which is currently being exhibited at Bloomberg SPACE comprising a four-channel video, photography and a set of objects on plinths.

Look At You Loving Me, 2000, Unique Silver Gelatin Prints onto Canvas

Groups + Locations (Moscow)

‘Groups + Locations (Moscow)', is a series of photographs taken at historic sites in and around Moscow. Based on late 19th century group shots, the work refers to a moment when photography played an important role in the Russian people’s comprehension of what their vast lands and its inhabitants looked like.

Neighbours (Berlin), 2006, Six Diptych: Silver Gelatin Print/C-Print

Neighbours (Berlin) is based on a series of six postcards from 1905/06, found in a Berlin antiquarian bookshop when Manchot moved there in 2005. In the original images, a group of people is depicted standing outside the houses where they live and work. On the back of the postcards the exact addresses are given as well as the date of their production. Taking those as instructions for a new set of group portraits Manchot revisited the six locations to see how those sites exist today, one hundred years on, to which extent history has altered the infrastructure and architecture of this city. The artist then invited today’s residents to participate in a new group portrait. The resulting images are a portrait of the changes inscribed in a city, of memory and history as much as of the individuals who have agreed to participate and become part of an image with their neighbours, who most often are strangers to each other as much as to the artist. The work is presented as diptychs of the original postcard and the new photographs.

Celebration (Cyprus Street)

‘Celebration (Cyprus Street)’ is based on the rich history of public street parties in London’s East End. The film takes the viewer along the street in Bethnal Green, with the focal point being the gathering of the community for a group photograph.

Celebration (Cyprus Street)

To make ‘Celebration’, Manchot worked with the residents of Cyprus Street over a period of six months, collaborating on preparations for the party and inviting active participation in the film. The work engages with the East End as a point of arrival to the capital and to Britain. It acknowledges the waves of migration passing through East London over the last centuries and articulates the current make-up of streets as complex multicultural units.


The film tracks the movements of a group of parkour runners as they navigate the route of the Great North Run. The structures and spaces they move through are explored in a physical manner, and a understanding of the architecture and environment is established through their direct interact with it. The film begins and ends with the group of parkourists moving as a swarm, but the main body of the film consists of a number of scenes in which a single parkourist is visible.


Twelve is a multi channel video installation exploring the intimate stories, rituals, repetitions and ruptures of lives spent in addiction and recovery.

Over the last two years Manchot has worked in dialogue with twelve people in recent recovery from substance misuse, in rehabilitation communities in Liverpool, Oxford and London. Twelve is directly informed by their personal written and oral testimonies, creative conceptions, and performances within final works.

Single sequences are shot as continuous takes, referencing iconic scenes from the films of Michael Haneke, Gus Van Sant, Bela Tarr and Chantal Akerman – a ferry journey across the Mersey, a car wash, the cutting of daisies with small scissors, the obsessive cleaning of a floor – providing the framework for reflections on remembered incidents and states of mind.

Melanie spoke of the importance of working closely with the participants in order to develop an understanding and level of trust that was crucial to producing the work. I admire the way that the work does not make a judgement of the people that she works with.

For more information visit

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

The Turner Prize - Tramway, Glasgow

During my recent trip to Glasgow I stopped at Tramway to visit The Turner Prize exhibition. The nominees this year are Assemble, Bonnie Camplin, Janice Kerbel and Nicole Wermers. It was the London-based collective known as Assemble that caught my attention, and I was delighted to hear that they were announced winners last night.

The collective, comprising of 18 members, were nominated for their ongoing collaboration with the local community in the Granby Four Streets area of Liverpool.

"The Granby Four Streets are a cluster of terraced houses in Toxteth, Liverpool that were built around 1900 to house artisan workers. Following the Toxteth riots in 1981, the council acquired many of the houses in the area for demolition and redevelopment. Hundreds of people were moved out the area and houses subsequently fell into disrepair.

Local residents consistently fought plans for demolition and battled to save the houses. Over the past 10 years they have cleaned and planted their streets, painted the empty houses, organized a thriving monthly market, founded a Community Land Trust and shown their area in a different light.


Assemble worked with the Granby Four Streets CLT and Steinbeck Studios to present a sustainable and incremental vision for the area that builds on the hard work already done by local residents and translates it to the refurbishment of housing, public space and the provision of new work and enterprise opportunities."

For the Turner Prize exhibition Assemble present a life size replica of one of the houses that they are helping the local residents redevelop. The replica house has become a showroom for the products created at the Granby Workshop. Granby Workshop is a social enterprise in Granby that equips local people with experimental manufacturing skills and enables them to create an appealing range of handmade household features designed to replace those items that were removed from the properties during the demolition. These include door knobs, ceramic tiles, fabrics and furniture.

Seizing the opportunity that the Turner Prize presents, the products on show in the workshop are available to pre-order throughout the exhibition. It is hoped that the proceeds will assist in the launch of the business which will live on after the art prize.

To see the full catalogue of products available visit

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Newcastle University Postcard Auction

The annual Newcastle University Postcard Auction took place on Friday night. The final year undergraduate Fine Art students organise the event as a fundraiser. The students use the proceeds from the postcard auction together with earnings from their other fundraising efforts to support the cost of the students’ final Degree Show installation and catalogue, fees, venue hire and a critique that has become an annual tradition at the end of the academic year.

The quality of artworks up for grabs was as good as ever. Donated work by current students was shown alongside the work of alumni, staff and a range of international contemporary artists.

Here are some of the works that were up for grabs

Sam Ainsley, You ain't goin' anywhere'

Maria Chevska, 'Telepath B'

Sir Quentin Blake

Toby Phips Lloyd, 'Talking Water: notes from a performance or an artist, a philosopher and a psychoanalyst walk into a bar'

Tom Hume, Orange Rainbow

They even got a mention in the Courier newspaper:

One of the auction's organisers, Holly Wheeler, has provided me with some photos from the event.

As you can see, the artwork was displayed in a professional manner and the given the range of artworks available, there was something to suit anyone and everyone.

At the moment the exact amount raised has not been calculated, but I hope that the students are pleased with how the event went, and the proceeds do justice to the amount of effort put into organising the auction and the artworks available. 

Friday, 4 December 2015

Musings on 'A Hypothesis of the Evolution of Art from Play' by Ellen Dissanayake

Over the next few weeks, our weekly MFA seminar programme will involve each of the 2nd year MFA students selecting a text relating to their dissertation, sharing it with the group, and then chairing a discussion about the text.

This week was the first in the series, and I was the person to select the text and chair the discussion.
I chose 'A Hypothesis of the Evolution of Art from Play' by Ellen Dissanayake for a number of reasons. It is one of the few academic papers that I have found to address the relationship between art and play. Most papers address play in relation to children and their development, whereas this takes an alternative, and rather novel approach.

The text gives an overview of the characteristics of play and then considers how these are applicable to both the making and appreciation of art. It provides an ethological explanation for the relationship between play and art. She uses the study of animals to propose that art arose from play. Just as play is a form of social signalling for animals, and a means of members of a species communicating with each other, art is a means of communication, and therefore could be regarded as a civilised form of play.

She acknowledges that aspects of play, such as seeing something as something else, could have led to artistic activity that had a social purpose, but realises that what may have originated as a purposeful action becomes completely disassociated from its original purpose. She therefore accepts that to regard art as existing purely for this purpose would be reductionist. It is through this disassociation that art develops beyond play and becomes something else.

Art stems from an action that is playful.

Play is not an unbound activity. It is often limited by constraints, whether that is as a child only being able to play until a certain time, or in a certain place, or as an artist having to make an artwork in time for an exhibition, or to a set budget.

Dissanayake makes the argument that “By giving artistic form to real or imagined events and objects, man gains perspective on the objective as well as the subjective nature of experience.[1]” The self-awareness or self-consciousness that is allowed to emerge through the artistic process is of high value for humanity.

It is interesting to consider the development of self-consciousness that arises through the artistic process as being both generative, but also a restraint. Playfulness can somehow switch off anxiety, but anxiety can also be useful in forcing us to produce something. Too much anxiety can preclude an artist having the confidence to be able to make something.

The term playful or being in a state of playfulness should not be confused with unthinking or a lack of criticality. For an artist, being playful happens for a period of time, and then there is an important point of reflection and evaluation, where critical decisions are made as to what is working and what needs developing or editing. It is at this point of reflection that the artistic process is no longer playful.

Ive included the text below if you want to read it for yourself. It's quite a challenge, but hopefully you will find it interesting. Let me know your thoughts / interpretations / understanding of it, and ENJOY!
[1] Dissanayake, E. (1974) A hypothesis of the evolution of art from play. Leonardo. 7 (3), 216.