We spent four days clearing and preparing the Richard Hamilton Building for the exhibition. There has already been a degree show here so it was already pretty clean, but there was still the usual list of jobs. These were painting walls white, filling walls, removing screws and nails, and painting plinths. There was also a bit of sweeping. For my own space there wasn’t much to be done because it is a darkened room. However I did sweep the floor and have a plinth cut down to the right size for the projector to sit on.
I went to London twice to shoot the footage for my film, which was fairly straightforward. I used a small digital camera, the trusty Olympus OM-D, which was great as it takes very high quality video but is also really small and light. I experimented with very static shots as well as taking very long handheld tracking shots through long tunnels. This will all be clearer in the finished film.
While I was there I visited some current exhibitions. First I went to see Eduardo Paolozzi at the Whitechapel Gallery. This was really great, I particularly liked his series of screenprints inspired by the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. They are really dense and colourful, I would love to know how on earth he created the designs.
Eduardo Paolozzi – Wittgenstein in New York
Another really interesting exhibition was by an artist from Ghana, Ibrahim Mahama. I think it is important to find out about artists who aren’t from the West so this was really fun. His work is mostly made up of found materials, he is sort of like the Rauschenberg of Ghana. My favourite piece I saw in London was this work by him called Non Orientable Nkansa, which is made out of boxes used by shoeshine guys on the streets in Ghana. They store all their stuff inside and also use them as a drum to attract more customers. There was so much hidden detail in the work you could look at it for hours, things like pictures of George W Bush pasted on to the boxes. Also the scale of it was pretty overwhelming.
Finally I also saw the Deutsche Boerse Prize at the Photographer’s Gallery, which is sort of like the Turner Prize of photography. One entry I really liked was the series Imperial Courts by Dana Lixenberg, who photographed people in LA 25 years after the riots.
My favourite however was the work by the duo Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs. Their work is based on road trips they take as a pair. They have already been to America so they decided to a road trip through a little-seen part of the world, Eurasia, in places like Kazakhstan and Mongolia. The things they found are completely surreal and have made amazing photographs. They show these as slides which I really liked, alongside 16mm films which are very beautiful.
Zaha by Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs (2013)
Raymond Hains was a French artist operating in Paris during the mid twentieth century. His first works were surrealist photographs using special lenses that multiplied and abstracted the subject.
He is most famous for probably inventing the torn poster decollage technique, which was used heavily by him and his collaborator Jacques Villegle. I am very influenced by this process, which was simply to tear the accumulations of posters off Parisian walls and fix them to canvas, thus bringing a part of the street into the gallery space.
One of the first decollages, the ambitious “Ach Alma Manetro”, made with Villegle.
Travailleurs Communistes by Raymond Hains. His new technique was also used for political purposes, for instance in a later exhibition criticising French activity in Algeria.
At this point Hains became involved with the Nouveau Realisme movement, which was founded in 1960 in the apartment of the artist Yves Klein. The other artists included Arman, Villegle, Niki de Saint Phalle, the young Christo and Jean Tinguely. The Nouveau Realisme movement has also influenced me a lot, and I think it is one of the best jumping off points for new artists. They believed that abstract art was too cut off from the world, while figurative painting had been hijacked by Stalin or the petit bourgeois. Thus they decided to bring art and life closer together, directly appropriating material from the outside world, for instance in Arman’s accumulations of trash. This made the movement in some ways similar to Pop Art.
The original Nouveau Realisme manifesto, which was signed by all the artists.
Later Hains’ adventures included helping the artist Daniel Spoerri turn a gallery into a restaurant for 11 days, and building a giant box of matches, which caused the gallery owner Iris Clert to hire two firemen. He also was an artist obsessed with not repeating himself, often burning all his previous work. After a long career he died in 2005.
In my own project I have incorporated some ideas of Hains and the Nouveau Realists. For instance the large collage I have made is constructed partly from street ephemera like receipts and pieces of cardboard. Also my film is really dedicated to the street and the outside world, finding the amazing features of the underground world.
As a form of slightly more in depth research I have decided to make a few posts concerning the key artists who have influenced this project. I have decided first to look at this artist:
Christopher Doyle is an Australian born cinematographer. He lives in Hong Kong and is fluent in both Mandarin and Cantonese. This has led to his work, and great success within the Hong Kong film industry. In particular he has worked with the much heralded director Wong Kar Wai on such landmark films as Chungking Express (1994) and In the Mood for Love (2000).
I have been really influenced on this project by the light in much of Doyle’s early cinematography. He created a very modern aesthetic via the use of strip lights and artificial light, particularly in Chungking Express.
The results are spectacular. In In the Mood for Love this aesthetic took on a grander quality as it was used in the service of a 1960s set period piece.
I am also very interested in Doyle’s use of space. In the interview below Doyle talks about how he would find spaces that matched the overall tone of the film, and then use those as the basis of a scene. A street in Bangkok becomes part of the overall idea of loneliness in In the Mood for Love. This fascination with architecture in cinema is a hallmark of some of the best filmmakers of the 20th century.
When filming underground I was also particularly preoccupied with the harsh white strip lighting; the beautiful visual quality of it, and also the tendency of it to change the space, making it sometimes more sinister, casting strange shadows and illuminating the faces of strangers in a bizarre clinical way.
Wong Kar Wai, Doyle’s collaborator, is also an influence. In an interview from the late 1990s, Wong spoke about how the film Chungking Express isn’t really about any of the characters; the main character is the city of Hong Kong itself, and the relationship between it and the people living there. It seems clear why the two filmmakers worked so well together.
After doing the proposal I started to compile research. I made four banks of research images, of montage art, subway art, relevant art seen in Copenhagen and the artists suggested from the presentation.
Zoe Leonard – Analogue (2007)
Jean Luc-Godard / Raoul Coutard – Masculin Feminin (1966)
Robert Rauschenberg – Tideline (1963)
Chantal Akerman – Maniac Shadows (2013)
As part of the course we went to Copenhagen for five days. It was a really useful trip, especially for the FMP, as I saw loads of art that ties in with my own ideas. It was also nice to go to a great city. Here, in no particular order, is my five works of art that I liked the best.
Bruce Nauman’s creepy dead animal mobile in the Copenhagen Contemporary gallery. Initially I wasn’t particularly impressed, but then found I couldn’t stop watching the weird dead animal casts spinning around. The lighting was really atmospheric. What I liked most was standing in the middle and having the objects float around me; this meant the viewer could literally be inside the work of art.
Celeste Boursier Mougenot’s From Here to Ear. In this installation there is a very tranquil room full of amped up electric guitars. Lots of zebra finches live in the room and land on the guitars. When they fly off again the guitar strings are plucked. The strings are all tuned into harmony. Again the viewer is physically immersed in the piece. It was such a calming environment and the music the birds played was actually great. I also thought initially from the description that the piece would be completely ridiculous, then sat in the room for half an hour.
William Kentridge’s installations (these were probably my favourite). I love his drawing style and immersive approach. In the Refusal of Time sound and vision are all around the viewer. There are five different projections which fit together creating a beautiful montage. He is also adept at recreating the effect of early silent films. He has really great themes in his work too. Another great piece was a room mocked up to look like a study in 1912. I also really like the weird melancholic/determined atmosphere of all his work. I was amazed by the Louisiana Museum where his work was being shown.
Playground by Zhang Yunfeng in the GL Strand museum which consists of loads of screens including televisions, ipads and laptops, which show very short films of him and his friend carrying out bizarre tasks. I loved the montage presentation which shows multiple films, the viewer doesn’t know where to look but eventually adjusts, and then from all the different material a greater picture emerges. The films are also a really weirdly charming evocation of friendship.
Matisse’s paintings in the National Gallery of Denmark. Matisse I think was probably a better painter than Picasso. In a painting like the Green Stripe the handling of the paint is unmatched today, it is so thick but perfectly juts off the plane and creates this brilliant object that can’t be reproduced photographically, and despite what one would think of as unnatural colours, more or less perfectly evokes the idea of flesh. I also find with Matisse and other French painters from that era I can spend longer looking at one painting than any other work.
I spent four or five days in Berlin. I saw lots of good stuff.
The Hamburger Bahnhof is probably my favourite of the Berlin Museums. They have a really good permanent collection of post-1960s art, like they have cherrypicked all the best stuff. Of particular note are the giant Anselm Kiefer pictures, though I was not such a fan of the works by Joseph Beuys. I also liked seeing some vintage Rauschenberg and surprisingly the 1972 giant Mao painting by Andy Warhol; I usually think most of the work he made after being shot was pretty terrible, but this one had an interesting scale if you look directly up at it.
The Hamburger Bahnhof.
There was also a fantastic temporary exhibition by the lunatic expressionist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Coming out I am convinced Kirchner is the best of the true German Expressionist gang, he was a true nutcase. Photographs of his house, which he heavily decorated with mock African furniture of his own construction, was a particular highlight.
Ernst hanging out in his weird house accompanied by friend with a wicked haircut.
Elsewhere at the excellent Bauhaus Museum I saw a really cool small exhibition by the great photographer Lucia Moholy. It turns out she was also the author of a really good early history of photography. The Bauhaus Museum collection is also amazing, a real greatest hits, and it’s a really fun place to hang around.
Portrait of Florence Henri, 1930 by Lucia Moholy.
At the Berlinische Galerie I saw an interesting early work by Hannah Hoch, unusually not a collage but a painting. The influence of collage however is still really evident. Hoch had really great painting skills which was interesting to see.
The Journalists by Hannah Hoch.
A good accompaniment to these grotesques was the installation of the great Ed Kienholz’s immersive sculpture The Art Show. I really loved seeing this, it really was impossible to tell real people apart from the rather disgusting sculptures, and there were so many tiny details to explore as the viewer. I would love to make a piece of work with this immersive quality.
The Art Show, 1963-77 by Ed Kienholz.
Finally at the Helmut Newton Foundation, possibly the best photography museum in Berlin, I saw pictures by the photographer Alice Springs. My favourites by far were her fantastic pictures of street weirdness in Los Angeles, the bulk of which unfortunately appear not to be on the internet.
Pictures by Alice Springs.
What I was most enamoured with in Berlin was the city itself. The streets are constantly interesting, there is so much variety and life, and regular people still live in the very centre of town. The atmosphere, especially at night, is fantastic, streetlights seem to stretch off infinitely into the distance and everything is bathed in weird white light. I was also really drawn to the subway, which for long periods travels above ground, and is full of really interesting people.