All posts by Amy Prcevich

WORKING CLASS HERO (A PORTRAIT OF JOHN LENNON)

Candice Breitz- WORKING CLASS HERO (A PORTRAIT OF JOHN LENNON), 2006 25-CHANNEL INSTALLATION 25SYNCHRONIZABLE HARD DRIVES
Candice Breitz- WORKING CLASS HERO (A PORTRAIT OF JOHN LENNON), 2006 25- Channel Installation 25 Synchronizable Hard Drives

Walking to the entrance of Candice Breitz’s current exhibition Working Class Hero (a portrait of John Lennon) is an overpowering experience. The brazen, or the overtly intrepid, may think nothing of wandering straight amongst the 25 channel video installation of Lennon fans singing his 1970 release Plastic Ono Band in a cappella. This viewer however approached the scene with something approaching trepidation, almost feeling as though stepping any further than the doorway would be in the same realm as barging unannounced into a performance of a community choir.

As an introduction to the exhibition,- Breitz placed an advertisement in a paper in Newcastle, England calling forth a legion of John Lennon fans willing to be recorded singing Plastic Ono Band in full. After a rigorous selection process 25 were chosen and Working class hero is the culmination of the project. Exhibited in a variety of contexts, this installation is perhaps one of the most egalitarian with each video evenly spaced around the room, not affording privilege to any individual’s rendition of the album.

Die hard fans these diverse, expressive faces may be; crazed fans they are not. Breitz’s work is a respectful and sensitive exploration of fandom and the myriad of ways one can be a fan. In the words of the artist, each “performer” is idiosyncratically responding to the same set of parameters, and the storytelling of the piece takes place in the choices made by each individual. Some charmingly, endearingly mumble the lyrics under their breath while others are more performative and boisterous. Bashful faces turn to earnest storytellers as the track list rolls on and alongside the Lennon-esque gold-rimmed glasses and fan t-shirts we gain an understanding of the subjects as we witness the water, coffee or beer the subjects sip for stamina throughout their recording.

Just as the performers grow more comfortable as each song rolls on, so too does the audience. After tentatively hanging on the edge of the ‘stage’, for one tune, maybe two, the viewer’s response begins to be ignited as much by the subjects as by the songs. A walk around the room gives the sense of artwork and audience gravitating towards a common ground, both approaching a pinnacle of inner reflectivity.

In a curious paradox, the subjects themselves are completely disconnected from the audience. Aside from a flicker of awareness of being documented they are completely absorbed by the emotion of Lennon’s recording – the songs being fed to them via earpiece. Conversely, the audience cannot hear the music and is absolutely lost in the role of voyeuristic observer. These homage-like performances have strength of emotion so deep-seated that what in another setting could have been labelled karaoke now transcends the sing-a-long and ignites a sense of the rawness of human emotion.

Yes, this work is a portrait of Lennon – part of him being superimposed in the faces of the 25 people involved – but it is much more than that. It is also a portrait of the viewer, the performer, the music appreciator. It is a portrait of England and its inhabitants. It is about a collective experience; a shared sense of humanity and the act of making the every man the every day hero.

You may intend to stay for a few songs and be on your way, but more than likely you will find yourself hooked in for the full 39 minute loop and then some. Leaving early would seem akin to taking the back door halfway through a concert, out staying the entire loop equating to a personal encore.

Working Class Hero (a portrait of John Lennon) is on show at Anna Schwarz Gallery, 245 Wilson Street, Darlington (Carriageworks), until 28 September, 2013.

NATURE/HUMAN/NATURE

Between Crystal and Smoke (detail), 2013, Phil Aston Williams
Between Crystal and Smoke (detail), 2013, Phil Aston Williams

Painterly without being about paint; colour saturated without being self-indulgent, Phil Aston Williams’ latest solo show nature / human / nature at Salerno Gallery is an enigmatic depiction of the spaces and actions which are untouched by culture.

Masses of luscious paintwork fly across Williams’ canvas making the works at once conversational and lyrical. Figures and faces emerge from strokes of colour; collaged palm trees in pastel hint at being on the road to a never-ending holiday; outstretched hands grip desperately to lines of dripping paint. The dance between artist and artwork is hinted at in the strong sweeping strokes, and as a viewer we are joyously pulled back from the intuitive qualities of the work into the concrete concepts behind the brush.

Diamond shapes are cut from layers of paint giving intonations of celebration and preservation. The cut-out images inviting the viewer to both step back and step into the work and to consider the ephemeral and spontaneous nature of created forms and spaces – not just within the artwork but within our built environments.

As the exhibition title suggests, Williams’ purports to question the relationship between humans, nature and the grey space between. Ideas of geology and the hierarchy of existence are alluded to in an enchantingly opened ended manner. The considered ambiguity of Williams’ messaging enhances the thoughtfulness of his compositions and ignites a dialogue about the absolution of ideas versus organic thought processes.

Each individual piece provokes a feeling of obsession and delight, and as a body of work Williams’ selection of paintings is delightfully obsessive. The repetition of form, shape and colour palette throughout the exhibition holds the viewer’s gaze and makes for a somewhat therapeutic experience. It is the kind of obsession that makes ephemeral ideas concrete and fleshes out thoughts that may have been fleeting had they not been constituted and re-constituted throughout each work in the exhibition.

This is a body of work that almost invariable ignites an emotional response alongside the aesthetic relationship between the work and the viewer. From melancholia to pure elation we are driven to ponder the instinctual nature of mark making and the abstract blur of people and places that we refer to as culture.

All things considered, these are works that you will want to spend time with and invest thought with, so be sure to keep some afternoons free for at least two visits to the show!

 nature / human / nature is at Salerno Gallery, 70 Glebe Point Road, Glebe until 25 August.

 

URBANAL/SCHMURBANAL

Paul Gilsenan
Paul Gilsenan

Urbanal/Schmurbanal, the aptly titled exhibition currently on show at 107 projects, hovers between an exploratory meandering through colour and motion, and concrete thoughts about the way we interact with our urban environments.

Paul Gilsenan and Matthew Venables’ collaborative exhibition offers up playful impressions of urban landscapes which make for a considered entry-point into reflections about our daily forays into city centres. These accounts of life from the urban mundane are anything but commonplace. The storytelling capacities of the works pull at the imaginative tendencies of all who have an affinity with the big smoke, and have city dwellers distilling their own city-based experiences.

Paul Gilsenan’s contributions to the exhibition were created as a counteraction to a recent painting commission which was five years in the making. Armed with a desire to create work that was lyrical (and speedy!) Gilsenan’s joy in creating his quick impressions of living cities is almost tangible in the bursts of colour and intuitive drawings on show.

Buildings which take-on friendly Godzilla-like personas, aeroplanes with sea creature-esque qualities and cats leaping through sky-scrapers are all part and parcel of Gilsenan’s commentary about the collision between organic and inorganic environments.  Pages torn from art books, presented behind perspex elevate his playful drawings from the purely intuitive to a vehicle of critical commentary.

The sense of witnessing an idea in formation is eloquently translated to a starting point for considered conversation as we are charmed by the coquettish relationship between the creature and the created. Take it as you will, the images can be appreciated on a purely visual level, the inherent mischievousness of the works being effortlessly easy on the eye, or can prompt questions about infrastructure and accessibility that inhibit and foster our engagement with the playgrounds that are our city centres.

Guessing where in the world these landscape impressions are taken from is a game unto itself, and with names ranging from “Carlingford” to “Postcards from Awesome” being able to pinpoint the exact inspiration of the image can be quite the stab in the dark. The act of deciphering familiar buildings along an impression of a horizon makes for a fruitful game of spot-the-icon as the search for familiarity takes over. Is this home? Or is this a 24-hour plane ride away?

Alongside Gilsenan’s impressions are Matthew Venables’ high gloss still photographs focusing on the grittier side of urban living. Touted as a concept and art photographer Venables has been working on these sets of photographs for four years, and as a founding member of 107 Projects he was keen to have his exhibition in the space.

In juxtaposition to Gilsenan’s whimsy Venables calls it like it is. A bird sprawled across asphalt, presumably from an ill-ending encounter with a car speaks of finality and a corridor flushed with a flood of suspense ridden green light has the image almost throbbing with a sense of music and activity. The most successful of his works are the panoramas of Lyon and Marseille which take on a lego-like quality in their vastness and detail. The birds’ eye view of these metropolises has the viewer exploring the city from above and casting an inspired gaze on the labyrinth of the city streets.

While independently strong, the coupling of the works together in the space can be somewhat distracting with the visual disjuncture between the stark and the lyrical at times being difficult to navigate. As a whole, the exhibition is an exciting, albeit tongue-in-cheek, competition between the nature of painting and the nature of drawing with the imaginative qualities of the works reigning supreme. Contrasting media aside, when focusing on one artist at a time you are left feeling full with the drama and fantasy of city dwelling.

And the winner in the war of the arts? Well, that’s up to you to decide!

Urbanal/Schmurbanal is at 107 Projects, 107 Redfern Street, Redfern until 11 August