Friday, 13 April 2018

Exhibition tour of Ingela Ihrman's 'We Thrive' by Mhairi Abbas

DJCAD Textile Design Graduate Resident Mhairi Abbas reflects on the exhibition tour she co-lead with Cooper Gallery for current DJCAD Textile Design students.

We Thrive
, is a fascinating exhibition of work by Ingela Ihrman at Cooper Gallery. Ihrman is a Swedish contemporary artist with a background in Textile Design. Using her basis in textiles Ihrman has produced a tactile experience, playing with scale and bringing in humour in unexpected ways. Some of the pieces bring a sense of tranquillity while others have a laugh out loud awkwardness.

This exhibition includes performance, physical installations and video, creating a truly immersive experience. I recently co-lead a tour and discussion around the gallery with the aim of helping Textile Design students engage with the show, expand their horizons and to explore how it could inform their own work.

The tour was in two parts, firstly exploring the exhibition as a whole and getting a feel for the artwork, followed by an informal group discussion. The group of fifteen 2nd year Textile Design students were keen to investigate the space, this was the first time any of the students had visited the Cooper Gallery. It was great to see them exploring the space and hearing what they thought of the exhibition.
Textile Design students in workshop devised by Mhairi Abbas. Photo by Mhairi Abbas.
As the artist has a background in Textile Design, it is great to see the work cover unusual ground and utilise a range of mediums. The work by Ingela Ihrman is a charming mix of humour and thought-provoking insight into our relationship with the natural world. The artist also uses materials to great effect, using both organic and manmade items to create her range of work. The students were asked to look at how the artist had applied unusual materials as well as considering how the work was constructed. This was of great interest to the students who are encouraged to use a wide variety of materials in their own textiles practice.

The fascinating thing about Ihrman’s work is that it is only when you look closely that the objects give up the secrets of how they are constructed. The attention to detail in the work is beautiful and the way the artist has chosen to keep elements of the original materials in view gives a sense of honesty and artistry to the work as well as hinting at the creative process.

The group of students had time to experience the exhibition as well as discovering what the Cooper Gallery has to offer. The work is thought provoking and inspired a great discussion from the group. This helped them to expand their horizons in terms of a textile practice, consider a range of mediums and see an artist use and display textiles within their work in a gallery setting.

Ingela Ihrman We Thrive took place at Cooper Gallery between March and April 2018. Find out more about the exhibition here.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Response to Ulay 'So You See Me': by Charis Edward Wells

Student Curatorial Team member and MFA - Art Society and Publics student Charis Edward Wells writes a reflection on her experience of Ulay's exhibition 'So You See Me' at Cooper Gallery

It's a Thursday afternoon in November and I'm sitting in the corner of the Cooper Gallery main exhibition space rubbing my chilly nose to see if it's still there. I've been invigilating the current exhibition for around a month now for three hours a week, camped in the corner with my straight backed chair perpendicular to the unique curved wall. Determined to use the time productively, my aforementioned chilly nose has been stuck in a book or illuminated by the blue light of my laptop screen. I'm alerted from my post intermittently by the sound of a page turning as Ulay's sound piece Aphorisms resonates around the room. The intangible nature of the works which we engage with aurally have been countered with a wooden structure framing twelve A4 prints which show the works written in the original German with accompanying pink English translations orbiting the originals. The individual panels in the structure contain a physical representation of the sound pieces. Each poem is contained in its own frame, suspended by the surrounding air which is full of Ulay's voice. The very air holds the artists intent, the years of experience, the history of the words and the gaps between the two languages.

I force my head down again to submerge myself into the work for my impending assessments trying to allow myself to be lulled into an academic trance by Ulay's voice. He is watching me from the wall to my right, watching me through the lens of his Polaroid from 12 years before I was born. The series of Auto-Polaroids in Elf show a younger Ulay peacocking for the camera alone in the woods. It doesn't feel intimate, more like a display, a performance for everyone in the future looking into these little windows on this wall in Dundee. As if I am a voyeur to a secret performance held many years previously. Does he know I'm watching? The title of the show answers my question:  So You See Me. He is the voyeur, not me: watching me in my intimate moment of solitude in the gallery.

From the adjacent corridor, Ulay dictates his thoughts on Women With Flags, part of his social experiment series where he plays the scientist seeing if he can illicit ethical responses from us, the audience. The accompanying slide show depicts women of various ethnicities proudly parading augmented flags of the countries of their residence. I can see the bright, polymer colours of the flags dancing in the reflections on the doors from my seat. Both colour and voice invading the softness of the main gallery from the dark corridor.

It becomes increasingly difficult to focus on anything else in the space due to the heavy presence of the artist. I give up and close my laptop to walk around the space and view the works. Ulay’s presence is almost tangible. I can feel him looking at me, but it is not me, he is looking at the audience and demanding attention. From his demure reflections on his lover in Pa’Ulay (1973-74) to the extensive documentation of There’s a Criminal Touch To Art (1976) where he brazenly steals Carl Spitzwegs The Poor Poet and hangs it in a Turkish immigrant household to draw attention to the treatment of migrants in Germany. The entrance to the gallery is plastered from floor to ceiling of the newspaper articles and ephemera associated with this ‘Action in 14 premeditated sequences.’ It is an action that ignited debate in both the art world, the public, and the marginalised communities he drew attention to. The work was/is audacious, incendiary, and paved the way for misdemeanours as an art practice.

Ulay’s work is confrontational, invasive and captivating. He steals your attention as if it was a beloved painting in a national gallery. He has asked questions of us, the audience, since before we could even answer them. Am I a participant in your social experiment? Am I the audience? Who is looking at whom? It is you who is looking at me, Ulay, and you are demanding I look back.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Urgency and Possibility: Counter-Cinema in the 70s and 80s /// Laura Mulvey suggested reading

To coincide with the screening programme of the collaborative works by influential feminist film theorists and filmmakers Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen, Cooper Gallery asked Laura Mulvey to select further reading to locate and expand upon the films concerns.

Laura Mulvey talking at Cooper Gallery on the opening of the Screening Programme

Laura Mulvey suggested reading:

Sophie Mayer, 'A narrative of what wishes': Laura Mulvey's and Peter Wollen's adventures in the essay film, 2013 (BFI, London)
Sophie Mayer, Listening to Women, in: Other Cinemas:Politics Culture and Experimental Film in the 1970s; eds S.Clayton and L.Mulvey, 2017 (I.B. Tauris, London)

Esther Leslie, AMY!/Crystal Gazing (available here)
Volker Pantenburg, The Third Avantgarde. Laura Mulvey, Peter Wollen, and the Theory-Film, in: Beyond the Scorched Earth of Counter-Cinema. The Films of Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen; ed. O. Fuke, 2016 (Texte Und Töne, New York)

Laura Mulvey, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, 1975 (Screen, Oxford University Press)
Laura Mulvey, The Spectacle is Vulnerable: Miss World 1970 in: Laura Mulvey, Visual And Other Pleasures, 1989 (PALGRAVE, New York)

Peter Wollen, Godard and Counter Cinema: Vent d'Est in: Readings and Writings: Semiotic Counter-strategies, 1982 (Verso Books, London)
Peter Wollen, The Two Avant-Gardes, 1975 (Studio International, New York)

See more about the screening programme here

Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen
Urgency and Possibility: Counter-Cinema in the 70s and 80s
ran from 29 September 2017 - 7 October 2017 at Cooper Gallery

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Artist in Residence: Ross Sinclair /// CURRENT: Contemporary Art from Scotland, Phase Three /// Shanghai Himalayas Museum

Ross Sinclair reflects on installing his exhibition, Real Life is Dead/Long Live Real Life, at Shanghai Himalayas Museum...

"Ok it’s midnight on Wed 20 September. The show opens not tomorrow, but the next day. It’s hectic, to say the least. I feel like I’ve been here in Shanghai for 3 months although it’s really only been 3 weeks. It seems simply insufficient to say that every day has been a retina-mashing blur of eye opening, stimulating images, experiences, people and places.

I’ve been staying in an apartment rather than a hotel and this has allowed a very different way of understanding the city, very much recommended. It’s a 45 minute walk from the accommodation to the Himalayas Museum and this has allowed great scope for exploration of the many different aspects of Shanghainese culture, amongst the various local neighbourhoods, including some interesting moments in informal shops trying to buy some install materials, for example attempting to explain what ‘wallpaper paste’ might be and what I might want to use it for. (not its stated use predictably) In the eyes of the wary Shanghai shop owner I think I sounded quite odd, even with a translation app, maybe especially with a translation app. I mean, wallpaper paste? Think about it, say it out loud - it barely makes sense in English. What was I thinking?

We’ve had a couple more rehearsals of the (admittedly rather grandiosely titled) Chinese Scottish Real Life Orchestra, trying to smooth out the complexities of learning the songs Real Life is Dead/Long Live Real Life in variable combinations/ mixtures of Chinese and English. I’ve learned the Chinese of the simple lyrics but I think my pronunciation is terrible. Ok, I know its terrible but I’m giving it a shot. I asked the volunteers how they wanted to arrange the songs, how the balance of the languages should be, and I think it’s sounding pretty interesting. In the ‘Orchestra’ we have a combination of members, from quite young people still at school, philosophy students, interactive designers and even a data analyst at Bank of China, and actually everyone is very youthful, except me. We’ll have another rehearsal on the morning of the opening and then make the performance during the launch of the exhibition with everybody wearing their Long Live Real Life t-shirts, especially painted in China for the performance in Shanghai.

Most of this week predictably enough has been extremely busy with the install of the show. No matter how many times I do it I never fail to get an incredible sense of this is the moment mixed with usual trepidation as the works start coming back from (in this case) the various factories, craftsmen and printers, beautiful coloured vinyl records, plush and grand banners, constructed in a traditional Chinese celebratory style, though in this case adorned with the epithets, Real Life is Dead/Long Live Real Life, alongside thousands of posters with various different texts and images. Mr Wang Lin, senior technician has been marshalling his workers good style, he is one of the good guys, the kind of tech you know really cares about the work and wants the exhibition to be seen by everyone in its best light possible, above and beyond…

But the real revelation of the last week for me has been popping across to the other side of the Museum for a bit of respite from the day to day problems of my own install to see Bruce McLean’s work slowly come into focus as the films and photographs begin to appear on the walls, as his dynamic and energised show takes shape. (many works familiar to me but others new to my eye).

When I was a student at GSA in the ‘80’s my peer group and I felt we had very few ‘senior’ Scottish artists we felt we could look up to, to hold in esteem, to act as a role model perhaps – but in many ways Bruce was one those. Of course his seminal works have been influential in my own as well as everyone else’s sense of performance to camera, of music, of humour and above all a keen sense of engagement with an audience, on many different levels, often all at the same time. It is a very genuine pleasure to see those works again, and to experience some of the others I hadn’t seen before in the flesh, so to speak. No matter how insurmountable and intractable the mundane problems I experience getting my shit together on my side of the museum, a quick 15 minutes over at Bruce’s side sees me return to the fray refreshed, with a spring in my step, and my head and heart just a wee bit full of joy."

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Artist in Residence: Ross Sinclair /// CURRENT: Contemporary Art from Scotland, Phase Three /// Shanghai Himalayas Museum 

Ross Sinclair is currently in residence at Shanghai Himalayas Museum as part of CURRENT: Contemporary Art from Scotland, Phase Three. His solo exhibition Real Life Is Dead/Long Live Real Life will open on 22 September 2017, alongside I Want My Crown by Bruce McLean.

"I’ve been in Shanghai for about a week now, just about starting to acclimatise. Mind you I think you could live here for a decade and never quite get used to the incredible contrasts of life in a city of 26 million people, all living, working and going about their business, from dawn to dusk, every day. If anything it seems even busier than I remember from out first visit for the CURRENT project more than three years ago.

When I arrived there was the usual whirlwind of meetings to discuss the production of works for the exhibition, timetables and the residency which I have been busy working on over this last week and will continue next week and into the week of installation.

For the residency I proposed something called The Chinese-Scottish Real Life Orchestra where the Museum made an open call for people to come and participate in a project where we would rehearse songs I have prepared for the project and learn to play them together, with whatever instruments folk turned up singing in a mixture of Chinese and Scottish.

We will develop this over the next couple of weeks and make a performance at the opening of the exhibition. We had the first meeting on Saturday. It was fantastic. Mainly young people, some guitars, some traditional flute like instruments and singers, all keen to participate and find out about the project. We were together all afternoon and got a structure together for the event and sent videos round afterwards on We Chat, which is the Chinese messaging app that absolutely everyone uses here.

I’ve been working pretty solidly in the studio space they have for me here and can access the Museum anytime, which is handy. I am being helped with everything by Li Lei from the Exhibitions Department, who translates and fields my many, many requests and queries to the wider staff. All the staff are extremely engaged and are supporting the residency from their different departments.

A couple of days ago I went to a banner factory in Shanghai’s industrial area to select dome materials and styles for some banner I’m having made for the show. accompanied by Mr Wang, head technician who has endless patience for my endless questions. This was pretty exciting for me, as the scale of everything was immense and possibilities endless, if not budgets!

As I type this I can hear the unmistakeable sounds of the current exhibition being dismantled, 5m walls crashing to the ground all around, though here in Shanghai they have a couple of people in the Gallery with big carts, taking away all the material to be recycled and re-used which seems much better than the skipfuls of land-fill I’m used to seeing at the end of exhibition change overs."