Bilbao; 26/08/15 – 02/09/15 ( I )

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After applying for the Dulcie Mayne Painting award, I was lucky enough to receive a travel bursary in order to let me go on a study trip abroad. As I have been focusing on minimalism; more specifically minimalist artworks that hold a certain transcendental quality. It seemed obvious, therefore, to visit Bilbao, in order to see the permanent installation of Richard Serra’s ‘The Passage of Time’, within the Guggenheim. Luckily, my partner, Sarah, was also able to get the same bursary to the same place, and we were able to go together. I had never booked my own holiday before, and it was definitely an exciting new experience, but one that was fantastic. It was amazing to be able to visit another culture, as I have been travelling around Europe over the past few years, and experiencing different cultures, as well as ones heavily influenced by religion.

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One of the first stops on our trip was to the Basilica De Begona, inspired by religious art and architecture within my own work, I often like to take any chance to visit places of worship. Mainly because I feel a serene calm wash over me when I enter such sacred places, allowing me to forget about the more stressful parts of life. Despite not following religion, I find respite in buildings such as these. The large interior of the buildings reminding me of a protective womb, a place where one can find serenity and comfort. There is something very interesting about churches that I have realised as of late; the fact that they are lit by artificial, electrical lights, diminishes the power of the religious effigies somewhat. In years gone by, Churches would be lit by nothing more than candles, one would look upon the statues of religious idols, and they would seem to move and flicker with the flickering flames of the candles. Surely, this would have heightened the religious experience of the punters within the church, and would make them feel a more real, possibly more physical, presence of a deity. This idea of a darker lighting scheme is interesting, and I have been thinking about utilising it for an upcoming exhibition.

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Religious art has always been an influence on me and my artwork, and the quality of the paintings are what amaze me the most. I am not a regular painter. However, a few of my friends are, and this allows me to appreciate the level of commitment and skill that a large scale painting such as this takes. It’s actually quite amazing, there is a real sense of community within the basilica, despite it being in a rather run down area of the city. Bilbao is somewhat gritty; which I enjoy a lot. The area we stayed in, Casco viejo (old town), was a lot like Rome, ie. steeped in history and ruins, but the rest of the city was delightfully urban. At times, we even travelled down to the docks in order to see the truly industrial side of the city, which was something to behold. The area surrounding the Basilica was quiet, and quite eerie at times, especially during the duration of the ‘Siesta’, which involves the Spanish people having an hour or two break during the hottest part of the day, and at this time, the streets are deserted. Its really quite something to behold, an entire city, empty.

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One of the streets in Casco Viejo

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An Empty Street during Siesta

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There is a large presence of graffiti within Bilbao, especially on the doors in Old Town. The graffiti, however, is more akin to art.

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one of the areas down by the port at the end of the river

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On the second day, we went down to the port at the end of the river in Bilbao, leading out to the ocean, and visited an architectural marvel of the city; The Viscaya Bridge. Built as a means to ferry workers and materials across the river, whilst still allowing the high masts of incoming and outgoing ships to pass up the river (a normal bridge would not allow such ships to pass to and fro). It is the first bridge of it’s type, utilising a hanging gondola to traverse the river’s expanse, and was built over 120 years ago. A marvel to behold, when I travelled up onto the walkway on the top, I began to feel a repressed fear of heights (being accentuated when the gondola passed underneath the bridge, violently shaking the entirety of the walkway and making me believe that it could have fallen apart at any moment). Although, the bridge really was a beautiful feat of engineering; the way that the pipes and beams crossed and merged into a 3 dimensional drawing; as if a cat had scratched at a spot on the wall over and over, until it resembles the lines of radiation pushing out from a star. It also baffles me to think that human hands created something like this, and it inspires me to create work that could rival something like this.

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Blurred Fireworks in the sky seem to resemble flowers, this slight removal of distinction and recognisability makes them appear almost, more beautiful

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During our stay, up until the 31st August the ‘Auste Nagusia’ festival was taking place, an annual festival taking place at the end of August within Bilbao, consisting of theater in the streets, stalls, live music, and firework displays every night; culminating in the burning of the mascot of the festival, the ‘Marajaia’, a blonde woman with her arms thrust upwards, both in jubilation, and in knowledge of her eventual Immolation.

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A large scale mural opposite the Guggenheim, under the bridge leading past the museum.

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The view from the bridge

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The inside of the tower that lies at the End of the hall that houses Serra’s ‘Matter of Time’, which serves to envelop the bridge into the overall architecture of the museum, drawing it within. Much like the top of the Viscaya Bridge, the industrial struts holding the entire together have a sort of organised chaos to them; I have been experimenting with string and line sculptures recently that sort of resembles this ‘organised chaos’, which a lot of my past installations have held a certain regard for; being ‘conscious manifestations’, the works are a means of putting forth an idea, as well as the context and memories held within, into a piece of artwork.

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The Guggenheim, small from a distance, but powerful and towering when up close

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One of the pieces that I was excited to see in the flesh was one of the copies of Louise Bourgeoise’s ‘Maman’, situated outside of the Guggenheim, as I have been interested in Bourgeoise’s work for a fair few years now. The piece is immediately striking, despite not being the biggest piece outside of the museum. The iridescent sheen of the bronze causes the sculpture to shine to in the sun, drawing attention to it in the bright sun, over the other, more subtle sculptures. I feel like it would have been a completely different experience to view the piece within a gallery, or in some sort of darkened room, but this would have defeated the purpose of the work. As a homage and tribute to her mother, ‘Maman’ is quite obviously a spider, but Bourgeoise does not find such creatures disgusting, and instead sees them as weavers of homes, and carers for their young; a common image of her mother portrayed within her work, as well as the obvious allusion to certain spiders not caring for their male counterparts, much like how her father was regarded as a disgusting creature by the females within the home.

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A surprisingly powerful artwork that I saw whilst outside the Guggenheim was Fujiko Nakaya’s ‘Fog Sculpture #08025 (F.O.G)’ a constantly shifting and morphing artwork, that is concerned with a very spiritual and ethereal phenomenon; Fog. Nakaya has stated that she is fascinated by natural phenomena that ‘appear and dissolve’ out of existence, and is interested in ideas of decay and loss. Fog is an apt medium to work in then, as the sculpture billows out a white cloud every 15 minutes, and allows it to spread over the Guggenheim’s pool, and eventually dissipate into nothing. This is a beautiful sight to behold, as the fog creeps up over the surface of the lake, and then over onto the walkway, enveloping those who stand close to the water’s edge to be lightly enveloped within it’s soft, white embrace. There is also an element of cleaning that is associated with this fog; much like one thinks of steam and hot water when one is cleaning, we feel a relation to the act of whitewashing; the fog envelops the pool in white, and it becomes pure and clean once more, before dissolving and returning the appearance of the objects.

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The main reason for going to the Guggenheim, and in fact, Bilbao, was to see the permanent installation of Richard Serra’s work the ‘Passage of Time’, which has been something I have wanted to see in the flesh for years now, and has become a big part of my dissertation. The series of works inhabit the large hall within the Guggenheim that end with the aforementioned ‘tower’, and is a massive series of works. I have spoken about Serra’s works before, in a previous post here; https://ethangrantdodd.wordpress.com/2015/02/20/the-gagosian-richard-serra/, and how the large, curved steel sheets create a strange sense of nostalgia and self awareness within the viewer as they experience them. The way that they bend and flex, and seem to defy gravity almost, makes them as much of a technical marvel as a meditative one. The form defies function, as it defies gravity.

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The light pours into the ravines crafted by the work

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As the viewer beings to walk into the ‘wombs’, one can experience the walls closing in, and falling away from them, prompting acute changes in perception and balance, as well as reminiscence. As they close in, the walkways become dark and foreboding, almost crushing, their weight descending upon the viewer. Whereas, when they fall away they open up and light pours in, causing the viewer to feel a great relief, and prompting them to breathe a lot easier; as if escaping the bunker during a war, and realising that peace has come. You wander through the work; curious, and induced with a strange sense of vertigo (you feel like you could fall over at any time), and then appear in an open space within the centre; a space in which one can find comfort. I describe them as almost like flesh and skin, resembling bodies, or wombs (as well as churches, in which those who are troubled may find respite within the bosom of the faith). Sarah, however, describes them to be much like nests; a place built by a human, in order to comfort and nurture those who desire a hiatus. I like this description, and it is an apt one;reminding me of a passage within ‘The Poetics of Space’ by Gaston Bachelard, in which he describes a robin building it’s nest. The robin pushes it’s breast against the walls of the shelter, as a means of imbuing i with a piece of it’s own heart. Utilising such an important, and romantic part of itself, in order to craft its home for respite.

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A small model for the final piece

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A series of images of works by Serra, black and white, heightening and enhancing the materiality of the objects

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A really interesting piece within the collection of images of works was this one; of a series of large, dark monoliths placed upright on a seemingly uninhabitated spot in spain. The contrast of the rocky, organically formed landscape and the stark, black blocks, is something that I love to see with land art. Each object, both the artwork and the environment surrounding it, compliment each other greatly. There’s something about monoliths within nature that I hold a great liking for, and have tried to work into my art in the past.

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Another pleasant surprise was an exhibition of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work, which I had recently gotten into at the beginning of the summer; as I have gained a newfound interest in Primitivism, and especially when concerning the idea of manifesting a state of being within an artwork. Basquiat, of course, focused on both of these themes within his work, as well as the concepts of heroes and of tragedy. His work is fascinating to behold, and is a classic example of an artist that someone can call ‘childlike’ in execution, but under closer scrutiny and reflection, one can discover the true extent of genius within the work. Basquiat drew from his life, his aspirations, his dreams and his lineage; he considered carefully what being a black artist in New York within the 80’s, and his strange racial standing within the sprawling city. He was invited to  the most prestigious art openings within the city, and was the most prominent artist at the time in the scene; yet, he could not hail a cab, and some people would look at him in disgust as he wandered the streets. America was still inherently racist, but Basquiat was a poet, and he used his words and imagery as a message. I could not get many photos from within the gallery, as unfortunately, there was very strict security on the exhibition. However, I did manage to get a few cheeky snaps.

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