Puzzling out Contemporary Art – Jon Clarkson, 17/10/14

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Finally, some art theory. Constellation has already disappointed me this year because of the seemingly flawed systems they utilise online; not showing up until 12:03 for me at my home, and therefore forcing me to be put into my third choice (one which I did not really want to be in at all). Luckily, I was able to find someone that would allow me to swap into Jonathan Clarkson’s class, one that I was extremely excited for overall, and it certainly paid off. I’m a big fan of Jonathan Clarkson’s lectures, as they inform and redefine how I perceive contemporary artworks. We started this lecture discussing the piece of artwork above; ‘Leonardo’s Cat’, by Isa Genzken, which at first glance seems to resemble nothing more than a pile of rubbish. It’s interesting, as I found myself wanting to understand the piece, but as we delved further and further into the actual artwork, I began to notice that it was more about the reaction the piece evoked in the viewer, than the materials and symbols utilised. Of course, this is a very fascinating concept in itself, as the audience can, and has been, utilised as a vehicle in order to demonstrate a concept. However, this started to infuriate me, as I felt it did not hold much weight in the real sense of artistic purpose. Sure, it created a lasting impression on the viewer, but nothing more, and this shows how shallow a piece of artwork it actually is.


‘Moonwalk’, Julia Dault, 2012
(Image taken from; http://www.devtest.canadianart.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/julia-dault-jessica-bradley-untitled27.jpg)

Then, an interesting question was raised; ‘Does it have to be about anything?’ There is definitely a decline in conceptualism right now, and I feel that this is an issue within itself, but it also opens up new possibilities for us, as artists. The concept of a piece not even needing a meaning,r harkens back to more traditional art forms, where art was utilised to express perception, rather than to say something about the world. Hearkening back to works like Richard Morris’ ‘untitled’, which was a sheet of felt cut into strips and hung upon a nail, this idea of a work having intrinsic value because of it’s placement within a gallery, or that it should be appreciated for it’s acknowledgement of how the material reacts to the world surrounding itself (nature taking control), is very intriguing indeed. The world is completely saturated with information, art has lost it’s specificity in favour of it becoming an image that is free to be shared and exchanged around the world. It’s quite scary to think about, and therefore, intimidates a lot of artist who hope to carve out a career within this world that they find themselves in.

But enough about my fears for the future, let us look to those who fought against it;


‘A Thousand Years’, Damien Hirst, 1990

(Image taken from; http://www.damienhirst.com/images/hirstimage/DHS1814_771_0.jpg)

One of my favourite piece of all time, Hirst’s ‘A Thousand Years’ is as stunning as it is poignant; A simple piece in execution, but in concept, monumental. Hirst is one of the visionaries of Modern Art, and is classed by many to be one of the greatest of our time; his works are both humorous and dark, and invite us to reflect upon our own mortality. A thousand years is visually stunning, and the use of flies that are born, feed, mate and die, is a perfect analogy for our own existence. I feel like this inspired me to move down the road I currently wander down, and it still inspires me now, 7 years on from discovering it online. Hirst’s penchant for narrative is something that i’ve been interested in for a great while, and will continue to pursue in order to push my own work on. I am also a great fan of his ‘Natural History’ series of works, as they really push this point of morality home; as in ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the mind of someone living’, 1991, prompts us to watch as this creature, one that would readily kill us if it was capable, slowly deteriorate within this tank. It’s macabre, but also beautiful at the same time; forcing us to take into account the monumental concept of death, one which our brains don’t even have the computing power to fully understand. Sure, we can think ‘One day, I shall die, and I will be no more.’ But, we cannot even begin to express the gravity of such a situation, for the light in our mind to slowly flicker and fade away; it is terrifying.


‘I Want to Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One, Always, Forever, Now’, Damien Hirst, 1991

(Image taken from; http://www.damienhirst.com/i-want-to-spend-the-rest-of-my)

In contrast to his other works, Hirst also appreciates ‘lightness’. in the sense of works that are not so terrific, but are equally powerful. ‘I want to spend my life’ is one such piece, consisting of a small air pump attached to two panes of glass; the flow from the pump being acute enough to keep the ball floating in the same place; exhibiting a sort of flight, or hovering, which is out of our reach (as human beings). As I have discussed before, many people long to fly, and this piece brings to light this need once more. It’s lovely, and it lifts the mood as one watches it. There is, however, a tension here; the sharp edges of the glass lie below, and the ping pong ball’s ‘existence’ relies on this singular stream of air. Despite this, it still maintains an ‘air’ (excuse the pun) of delicacy, which I really appreciate. this juxtaposition of heavy and light truly showcases Hirst’s skill as an artist.

preserve 'beauty' 1991-2003 by Anya Gallaccio born 1963

‘Preserve Beauty’, Anya Gallaccio, 1991-2003

(Image taken from; http://www.tate.org.uk/art/images/work/T/T11/T11829_298658_10.jpg)

preserve 'beauty' 1991-2003 by Anya Gallaccio born 1963

‘Preserve Beauty’, at a later stage of Decomposition

(Image taken from; http://www.tate.org.uk/art/images/work/T/T11/T11829_298661_10.jpg)

Another YBA which is less commonly known, but almost parallel in skill to Hirst, is Anya Gallaccio. Fascinated by the differing states of matter, she focuses work on elements that shift from one form to another, as well as the effects decomposition have on living organisms. This work, ‘Preserve Beauty’, focuses on this level of decomposition in a beautiful, engaging way. 2000 Gerberas flowers are sandwiched between massive panes of glass, which then decompose over time. The mould then becomes part of the artwork, creating deep, rich colours and physical changes within the work. It’s somewhat beautiful, and somewhat vile; an interesting juxtaposition. It explores the beauty inherent in the cycle of life, much like Hirst’s work, and this ends up creating a very interesting response within the viewer.


‘That Open Space Within’, Anya Gallaccio, 2008

(Image Taken from; http://www.camdenartscentre.org/images/made/assets/whats-on/03a_800_535_80_c1.jpg)


‘That Open Space Within’, Detail

(Image taken from; https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3242/2671771611_6276a700d4.jpg)

Another fascinating piece by Gallaccio is ‘That Open Space Within’, a tree that has been sliced halfway up the trunk, and then cut at the 3/4 mark, in order to fit in a specific space within the gallery. At once, the tree has changed from a state of living matter, to a state of dead matter, and therefore has become a symbol of change. the interesting thing about the piece, is not the actually composition of the tree within the gallery, but of the way that the tree has been reformed; the screws and cable ties are still visible, and we are at once aware of the fact that this tree has simply been dismantled and reassembled in another space. What is most intriguing about the piece, is that it at once becomes a symbol of human intervention; normally, artists focus on the tree being pristine, ‘The tree is pure, it has been moved within the gallery and has still retained it’s shape!’ This is not what Gallaccio is interested in, she is far more interested in how we perceive this change in matter; in this change in substance. How fascinating it is to watch a tree become wood, which is nothing more than an object; dead, and lifeless.


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