Born in Flames

Today we watched “Born in Flames” by Lizzie Borden a documentary style film which tackled themes such as racism and sexism in an alternative United States socialist democracy in 1983.

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The plot concerns two feminist groups, each based in New York, speaking their concerns to the public through illegal radio stations. One is led by an outspoken white lesbian named Isabel (operating radio Ragazza) and the other group is led by Honey, an African American (operating Phoenix radio). Once a well-known political activist called Adelaide Norris is arrested and consequently dies under suspicious circumstances the community is drawn to action. At the same time, The Women’s Army led by Hilary Hurst are under investigation by the FBI following their feminist actions regarding protest due to lack of work, and ultimately respect, in society.

As a whole, the story involves the perspectives of several other women coming together and choosing to work separately in the face of extreme sexism. The main focus appears to be that action is key rather then discussion and hesitation. Additionally, the unity of women is stressed throughout in the hope of a cohesive moment inevitably toppling the sexism that so prominently exists around them.

The women come to realise that the weight of change rests solely on their shoulders as it becomes clear the government will do nothing to help. This form of unity is gradually referred to as terrorism yet is still undercut by sexist comments despite this label. For example, a news reporter hints that perhaps the police are searching for their phone numbers in an unprofessional manner.

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Ultimately, both radio stations are burned down (again in suspicious circumstances) and the two stations (Ragazza and Phoenix) collaborate as one radio broadcasting station operating from moving vans. They also join The Women’s Army which send a group of Feminist Terrorists to interrupt a broadcast of the President proposing woman should be paid in their completion of housework. This is followed by bombing the antenna of the World Trade Center as a preventative method to stop such other destructive messaged being relayed to the public.

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I found this film very empowering especially considering the strength possessed by these women to fight for their cause. One scene I felt was especially powerful was when a woman was being harassed on the street by two men to the point she was struggling on the floor and a large group of The Women’s Army came to her rescue on bikes blowing on whistles. What was especially interesting to me was the scream the woman was making echoed the sound of the whistles themselves. This could perhaps refer to the fact that in the yes of the film, it is truly up to women to rescue themselves from complete subservience. Although this film was produced in 1983 it is interesting, and also horrendous, that it holds so much relevancy to today.

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Deirdre O’Mahony

Deirdre O’Mahony’s research and art practice is revolves around communities and an engagement with landscape. She began by talking about the associated life in Ireland having a stifling backwardness where she found it difficult to cope with influence Catholic church. Therefore she Retreated to London which was a well trodden path for artists at the time. The main focus of her work at this point was the idea of landscape as a potent force and the representation of Ireland as other.

The culture shock of moving to London helped O’Mahoney forge a sense of self in a foreign location.  Despite the Desperation she felt to shed her Irish identity she surrounded herself with other people who embraced their Irishness. She was unpacking what meant to be other or authentically Irish today and that is what has shaped her artistic practice. Once she had her child she instinctively moved back to Ireland. This is an area of extraordinary landscape formed by glaciation and farming. Here she was determined never to make paintings about landscape.

In her practice, she was trying to figure out the public complexities and desire of landscapes. She discovered that the botanical diversity around the area of  the Burren was produced by farmers and this method of farming was not recognised until a decade ago.

Some of her work is listed below:

SPUD – 2009

 

 

 

“The potato is a potent image to evoke in relation to food and food security in Ireland, exposing, as it does, conscious and unconscious attitudes to land and alterity within and beyond the nation state. SPUD was initiated in order to present a more nuanced understanding of the potato’s role in Irish culture, in relation to food security and globalised food production.”

“SPUD research follows four strands; indicating unconscious attitudes towards rurality, the land, identity and otherness in Ireland; re-imagining the relevance and use-value of tacit agricultural knowledge to food production today; tracing the potatoes’ importance to global food security; reflecting on new seed developments, seed diversity, seed sovereignty and cultural rights. By looking back to the Irish Famine, further back to the colonial violence that brought the potato to Europe, and connecting it to migration, famine and food security today, SPUD makes use of the potato to map controversies around these threads, providing an understandable and accessible entry point for a public discourse on sustainability, food security and tacit cultivation knowledge.”

Perishable Picnic

“The Perishable Picnic was the outcome of Deirdre O’Mahony’s residency in Lynders’ Mobile Home Park, Portrane County Dublin, part of Fingal Arts Office’s Resort Residency programme.  The picnic celebrated the history of fruit growing in North County Dublin. A giant ceramic, strawberry jam pot made by Glasgow-based artist Garnet McCulloch was the centrepiece for a feast of strawberry foods, drinks, and conversation.”

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A local post office closed down and O’Mahoney managed to turn the space into a place where the community could come together. She was able to make a temporary archive of stories that have been previously overlooked that will then hold some relevance to the people that learn about them. O’Mahoney stated that the hyphen in the title encapsulates her whole working practice, she is bringing two things together and creating a space in which they are united.

 

 

Links: http://www.deirdre-omahony.ie/

Cedar Lewisohn

Lewisohn describes himself as an Artist, curator and writer and works in various institutions. Because Lewisohn feels like he inhabits many roles in his practice he finds it difficult to define his profession when asked. He introduced us to his work in Norway called “The cult of Ramm_Ell_Zee” renegade workshop which was a performance art piece surrounding break-dancing and spray painting. The premise was that people from the future come back to earth find trash and they don’t know how to use it, so they use it in their own way. Curating this street art transported the work to a different realm.

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During college Lewisohn said that he was obsessed with the art world and wanted to be Jeff Koons but it didn’t really happen that way.  He was also interested in Art Magazines and he believed that if you were in an art magazine you had made it. For his Final Degree Show  he took out an ad in Frieze Magazine with an image of his mum with no other content with the caption: “Isn’t my mum the greatest”. He stated that he had never seen a black woman in magazine but he also realised that this ad was also perhaps a dumb statement this magazine is all that he displayed in his degree show. His dissertation subject was a 10 step guide to success art world and this process of writing.

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In the late 1990’s Lewisohn took part in lots of shows. He discovered that you don’t need to be artist to also be a writer. A man he was interviewing at the time that was working ona project called “Lost in Space” gave him this idea and that he should start writing in art magazines.
a magazine he started writing for was called ‘Flash Art’. He didn’t want to just do straight writing, but to respond or subvert to art pieces or things he found interesting.  He was especially interested in inserting fiction or lies into his writing in order for this to come across. Someone dubbed this ‘Gonzo Art Criticism’.

His first cover feature was an interview with Tim and Sue Webster in 1999/2000 he used fiction as way to explain the artwork better. He stated that he got into fight in the interview so that people may or may not have believed him creating an ambiguity.

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Around the same time, Lewisohn got involved with a project where music and sound was involved from various artists from hanging around artist spaces. He said that a lot of curators currently are very precious as to who and what is included in a show, but the project he was involved in was very relaxed. This ‘Open House’ method was very interesting to him. 2001 he used his previous interest in graffiti as a teenager as a driver for his work. After graduating he saw how a new hybrid form graffiti was surafcing in east London street art at time and that fine art galleries were working with various forms of graffitism. He later met an editor for a graffiti magazine and began writng for them for a brief while.

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Eventually Lewisohn got a call from the Tate Liverpool who asked him to write a text on an exhibition called “Remix” about Contemporary Art and Pop (2002) . He wrote the standard piece about the exhibition and also created a fictional interview with Puff Daddy. This was a particular turning point for him as he was asked to write something for a highly regarded art institution. Lewisohn said that he quickly became broke and due to the fact he wasn’t making enough money, he moved to Glasgow working crappy jobs at a theatre and multiple bars. At the same time he was writing for magazines and looking at articles as exhibitions in themselves. He found that writing articles were very much like curating. Lewisohn was interested in bridging the gap between London and Glasgow and organised half a show called “Old Money”. Additionally, he edited a section of the third edition of “Frozen Tears”. In 2005 with little hope, he had a interview at the Tate for a curatorial training scheme for minorities, although he didn’t initially like it as a concept he nonetheless applied. During the interview he proposed a graffiti project for their Turbine Hall, though he didn’t think he would be offered the job he received as call the same day.

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For Lewisohn, this new job was a completely different curatorial experience for him as he was working with two other people. This show was called “Irritable Force” and centered around the economy. He couldn’t agree with his collaborators so he asked instead to be given his share of the money so he could produce publication which could be given out as part of the show. With the job at the Tate it was difficult to continue making his own art. He produced a self published book but he was unhappy with the quality of the print. Only ten copies were made of this publication.

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As part of his job Lewisohn had to “author” his own project which meant he had to organise his own exhibition. Due to his love of writing and publishing he decided to create a book. One of his main ideas was creating a book about graffiti and street art. In total, the word count reached between 60/70,000. The main concept behind the book was to situate it within a historical art context. Whilst there are publication produced exploring these topics, there seemed to be little to none that spoke about them in a historical setting. He focused on artists that made and produced their art illegally. In total it took 18 months to compile and write. As part of the graffiti project at the Tate, Lewisohn suggested that the exhibition take place on the outside of the building itself meaning that the usual 3-5 waiting period for the exhibition wouldn’t matter. So many people within the art world are opposed to street art and graffiti Lewisohn finds this internal opposition interesting. A large portion of his career revolves around organising street art in various ways. This work ethos carries on after the exhibition. After his curatorial training fellowship ended he stayed on six months as he was offered a job within the department. He consequently moved to Tate Britain but they didn’t know what to do with him. He noted how working within this institution was sometimes really political as at the time the current director had just left leaving a void that needed to be filled.

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Lewisohn mentioned that he is dyslexic so he is particularly proud that writing is a major part of his practice. His career now focuses on organising and curating street art and graffiti projects. Throughout his career he has published many books and other pieces based on text, curating others work and conducting interviews.

 

Artist Site: http://www.cedarlewisohn.com/

Caroline Achaintre

Caroline Achaintre (born Toulouse, 1969) spent her formative years in Germany studying Fine Art at Kunsthochschule in Halle/Saale (1996-98), with her postgraduate Studies in Fine Art and Combined Media at Chelsea College of Art & Design, London (1998-2000) and a MA in Fine Art at Goldsmiths College, London (2001-03). She trained as a blacksmith before coming to London, where she now lives and works. Recent solo exhibitions include those at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, UK (2016); TATE Britain, London (2015-15); Castello di Rivoli, Turin, IT (2015-16) and currently at FRAC Champagne-Ardenne, Riems, FR until April 2017. Her works were also part of the recent British Art Show (2015-17). 

Achaintre spoke to us primarily regarding her work rather than a biography and began explaining the general themes behind some of her work. She began by sketching and drawing patterns that explored a form of teenage angst. This tension was expressed and enhanced by the use of ink imitating that of a Rorschach ink blot test. Along the lines of this psychological field, Achaintre wanted to operate on a larger and explore the tension of a physical presence though domestic material.

This pursuit of a domestic material to work with translated into the making of carpets. 2003 was the year of the first development of her practice that followed the use of wool in carpet making. Achaintre liked the intensity of an image consisting of individual fibres. In her words there is a “non-neutrality to the material” as well as an inner tension and torsion in the manipulation of the threads of the carpet as well as the liminal display of object and subject.

In her piece “Insider” the work inhabits both object and painting as both the mask and figure are looking in retrospectively and outward towards the world itself. For me there is a question as to whether the mask itself counts as expression of a person, or is simply a painted persona, as Achaintre mentions: a “performative character”.  There is a distinct interest in shamanism and animism as the carpets themselves often contain elements of faces or figures that walk a tight rope between living and inanimate. This is aided by the hairy and shaggy qualities to the carpet which can be seen as seductive, inviting and playful.

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“Insider”

Achaintre is interested in German expressionism and also masks and the process and performative qualities of masquerade. Often her work are attached to metal stilts, which although are polite and modernist still create their own context when introduced to masks. These masks can be considered as ceramic like carpets and, like the carpets, are something that she has never done. In terms of process Archaintre enjoys starting from something flat and trying to make it 3D with a presence and a voice.

One of her works feature a mask with a ceramic feature attached onto the mask itself. Here, there is a fetish-like element to the piece that, once the ceramic is displayed with the mask, becomes a character. There is also a keen interest in Anthropomorphy and the perception of humanity in animate objects. Achaintre claims to see human features in handbags all the time.  this habit creates and animistic habit in which objects and people co-exist and live and communicate together. This can be traced in her clay workings from which a slab of malleable clay can appear to change shape once looked away from for a brief moment.

Birdsssss is the only piece by Achaintre that is suspended and she states that it probably the only piece that ever will be. There is a definite Animist feature to the work due to the  tension and ambiguity of deducing if the bird is rising or landing. this tension is especially poignant to me as the bird itself is caught in suspended animation which is further highlighted by the object/subject debate related to the material itself. This idea of tension in material, form and perception is very intriguing as I do feel her pieces are full of vibrancy and life despite the fact that on face value they are carpets.

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“Birdsssss”

Camp Coo is described as a post modern annex by Achaintre, where plinths to display here ceramic pieces slot together like Tetris. There is another dialogue between these characters and the hollowness and fullness with their combination with the space.  In terms of process, Achaintres carpets are not woven but tufted: the canvas is stretched and shoots of wool are “tufted” back to front from the canvas. Archaintre calls this, painting with wool which I feel is a great description of her practice; merging both disciplines of traditional art and skilled crafting into a very unique and inclusive practice. Nevertheless, Achaintre always sees herself as an artist and tries not to define herself  in general.

Achaintre’s work is often described as both ancient and modern at the same time having an archaic, distressed presence. There is something quite humorous yet apt to her work that often when thinking about the future it can be imagined that humanity has “advanced” yet potentially could also “revert” back to a primitive state. The use of tensions such as these encapsulate the environment of her work exceedingly well. Achaintre never ceases to be surprised by how display changes her pieces this is especially true when her pieces get transferred into photographs. She describes them as “flattened” and I believe that only in full presence of the work is the real character is able to be experienced and introduced (although it is undeniable that traces of these characters can be met in the pictures).

When asked about sourcing materials, Achaintre explained to us that she doesn’t dye the wool herself but that she likes to work within certain limitations so that some of the choices when it comes to her process are taken away from her. Early on to the development of her carpet pieces she decided that irregular shapes, instead of symmetrical pieces, were going to act as the base to her work as symmetry is boring and with such vibrancy and diversity to her pieces, they must be considered anything but that.

Website address: http://carolineachaintre.com/

Caspar Heinemann

“Caspar Heinemann is an artist, poet and twinky butch anarcho-communist mystic based in Berlin. Their interests include critical occultism, gay biosemiotics, and countercultural mythology. Recent events include readings at the Baltic Triennial, Serpentine Miracle Marathon, Basis voor Actuele Kunst, Utrecht, and the ICA, London. They have recently exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, David Roberts Art Foundation, London, and Outpost Gallery, Norwich.”

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Caspar Heinemann

Caspar introduces the talk by stating that they are in the midst of a mental breakdown. Although this has not been clinically diagnosed their current mental health, travel, the state of the world and a recent health scare take part in their current work.  They wish to talk about how their art operates in the art world in a setting they think, personally, should not exist. What resonated with me was how Heinemann explained that in order to pursue art there is a real focus on production; where their work itself is transient, untethered and – often – not physical. Heinemann states that their personal biography is not relevant to their own practice at this current moment and would rather like to discuss their current influences and spoken/poetry pieces within the current art world setting.

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A phrase that struck with me throughout the talk is that there is a:

“Need [to be] bloody and raw. To know how to be a body.”

specifically that there is a necessity to be uncomfortable in order to experience what it is truly meant to be alive.

I particularly enjoyed a specific spoken word piece that (to paraphrase) included the term: “Reading novels and fucking is the greatest ambition.” There is something wholesome to think that ambition is only important once you feel truly content and fulfilled. Some heights do not need to be reached to complete a purpose and feel stable in oneself.

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Heinemann began to describe how there is a quote that they have pinned upon their desk by Lisa Robertson taken from her piece “The Middle”. The stanza that the line was taken from goes as follows:

Minute perceptions speeding along a dirty surface
will say something else about the way
every pronoun is absurd.
One puts up her hair—
she makes sound
to treasure her body’s
unsynthesizable remnant
then the city can dissolve
in the scale of her accident.
And if I think in these letters
to substitute, to distribute, to fuck
universe of the undiscussed
as in myth and ritual and politics
this is a very old tradition.
Because of the fact of the structure of the human mouth
the festival of idleness is speaking in signs through my body.
I do this because it’s valueless.*

*italics added for emphasis

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As their practice is often based around the spoken word and what seems to be the very private thoughts of the artist, the art itself is not deemed as sell-able. In the same sense, the transience of each piece is what prescribes it value.

Heinemann briefly discussed the practicality of working as an artist. They talked about how they were able so sustain their practice and their living costs. Heinemann takes part in a plethora of activities to enable them to continue working. These involve Poetry readings, transcribing interviews, living in a relatively cheaper city and knowing that they are able to ask for help from their parents if they would ever need to. In revealing this information they hope to start a dialogue regarding the art world and money where there has previously been little transparency.

Heinemann describes how they have an uncompromising aesthetic position when it comes to their work. They enjoy the fact that it is often seen as dirty and often falls apart and so is consequently not sold. They envision a time in which everyone can be considered an artist while simultaneously not being anything like one at all.

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Heinemann has a real focus on the emphasis of desire and consumption rather than production. They hope to adapt and manipulate the functional everyday objects and make them as opulent as they need to be.

A quote by Marx was featured in the talk:

”The less you eat, drink and read books; the less you go to the theatre, the dance hall, the public-house; the less you think, love, theorize, sing, paint, fence, etc., the more you save — the greater becomes your treasure which neither moths nor dust will devour: your capital. The less you are, the more you have. . . .”

It was interesting to consider that (disregarding money) that a person is their most valuable at their basest function.

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An influence and personal friend to Heinemann is C A Conrad whose process included them writing a ritual for himself in which he partakes in the ritual, takes notes during it, then makes it into poems.

A phrase that was spoken in the talk that I found powerful was that “Survival is more than the day to day maintenance of a body.” We must remember to do more than simply sustain ourselves in order live up to our true potential.

There was then a brief discussion of the relationship between Heinemann and their artwork in terms of installation. They state that they are “building many crushable things and decorating them so very well”, embracing the delicate and impermanent nature of their work.

When writing their poetry and other spoken word pieces, Heinemann describes how they carry a notebook and write their thoughts directly. From there, they add and edit from their writing and what remains is the final written product.

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Currently they are interested in ideas of the occult, materiality, and animism. They are particularly focused on the emotional and spiritual effect of these outcomes.

When questioned about the relationship between their spoken pieces and physical installation pieces and how one informs the other, Heinemann explained how object making creates a space outside of writing. It is a symbiotic relationship: they are both integral to each other.

Wendy Mclean

Wendy Mclean specialises in small, quiet paintings. With these paintings she explores how they inhabit a space. The work focuses on the ideas of how intertwining work are articulated differently. She focuses on many paintings at the same time which centers around her daily practice. Shes doesn’t feel pressurised in this space but settled in her surroundings that prompt an exploration of the particular architectural forms in her setting e.g glass in a window, a railing etc.  Her work often explores the tensions of a passage of writing or words. Repetition of her small paintings allows her to slow down and, at once, speed up making. She feels that it is important not to accept the first version  of a piece of work and to exhaust each motif thoroughly.

In terms of process, Mclean often makes an ode to one of her previous works, but not intentionally. She finds that it takes at least 10 minutes to become relaxed enough to actually produce work. She must overtake the thinking in the process of making and live with things for a while. She stated that it takes 10-20 times to get to know something.

She talked about a set of work that tried to give permission and allow for contradictions. A painting could look like one thing and in its next evolution, inhabit what it seems to go against in its initial phase. Mclean also tests paintings against the memory of object – drawing its focus and holding its attention.

Beyond the hand holding this book that I’m reading, I see another hand lying idle and slightly out of focus – my extra hand.”

This is a quote By Lydia Davis that was especially influential for the artist and I enjoy how Davis draws attention to the previously unnoticed, similarly to Mclean’s tender and understated paintings

When starting and finishing a painting, Mclean recognises her habits and strives to break them. The thin cotton casts a shadow of the frame that confirms that the canvas doesn’t want heavy treatment. The wooden panels have very little grain and highlights the subtlety of not only her work, but her materials as well. Additionally, small works are also completed on paper, creating a small, archival library of paintings. These are not subservient to her weightier objects nor is their scale limited by size.

Mclean is also interested in storytelling. One narrative she recounted was of a mother fascinated  by an event out of her window. There is a significance in the barrier that the window provides, whilst being completely transparent.

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Rehana Zaman

is an artist based in London working with moving image and performance. Her work considers the interplay of multiple social dynamics that constitute subjects along particular socio-political formations. These narrative based artworks, often deadpan and neurotic, are frequently generated through conversation and collaboration with others.”

Zaman explains that in the last 3 years quite distinct themes reoccur in her work. She showed us a tenderpixel video piece entitled “TELL ME THE STORY OF ALL THESE THINGS” which was an intimate snapshot into world of Farrah and her aspirations. She was born in Pakistan but lived most of her life in the UK. What was anchored into the piece was appropriated material from educational “prevent” government schemes. CGI animation was also interjected. Zaman explored a woman coded as Muslim and the instability assembling and disassembling with her trying to remain individual and navigate the world.

Zaman later showed us a piece developed in 2015-16 which was initially 22 minutes which she had shortened to a 7 min clip. There was a succession of female narrators which were made up and some scripted. Beauty salon scenes interrupted the video. It took the form of an audition tape where Zaman invited actors to read a text prepared that responded to devised questions. The idea behind this was the testimony and the sharing of accounts. The scripts were a culmination of experiences Zaman had.

Zaman then showed an early show from the first film. GIANTESS is multiscreen work which featured crude fetish animations. The body of the giantess emerges from a mining site and her developing precursor figure appears later. 

3 years ago was a strong turning point in Zaman’s work. A film she devised was ambitious in scale as it was a 6 part video 2004 at the tetley gallery. It tracked the earlier moments in the history of the brewery that explored parallel narratives. The workers narratives acted as a dramatization which explored a working class identity. It also explored themes of Immigration and women’s roles. Conversations of domestic workers  were interjected with drama and initially it was not clear how the immigration groups’ involvement in the film would be. They discussed what needs would be a campaign issue and how to raise awareness. The film sought to put questions on the table. The film emerged from the process of the continued work within the group. What was a running thread within the Melodrama was the character of Sue as everyone gets laid off apart from Sue which Zaman described as her smashing through the glass ceiling. She later becomes pregnant which describes that the moment feminism was achieved, labour is unrecognised in the home and gets outsourced. 

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