The New Décor

Created on Thursday 15 July 2010 | London Life

I’ve talked about the Hayward gallery a lot in this blog — whether you love or hate it, it’s always makes for a good talking point. I’ve seen exhibitions here which have brought me almost to tears in their beauty (Rebecca Horn for instance), and others which have surprised me in their banality. Many artists have taken up the challenge of filling its unique walls, bringing their own take on this amazing space. It’s closure late last year, for refurbishment, left a gap in my world which was hard to fill. It’s now reopened with two main exhibitions, The New Décor on the ground floor and Ernesto Neto’s “The Edges of the World” on the first floor.

Hayward Gallery

The New Décor, a group themed show around the notion of interior design, is spread leisurely around the ground floor. I always have mixed feelings about themed group shows, and this is no exception — the overall effect can be very disparate and you often leave feeling a little disappointed. I tried to like The New Décor, but it just didn’t excite me. Much of the work, like the interior décor it mimics, feels hollow and devoid of emotion. Interior design feels like a rather staid subject for an exhibition, particularly in a venue like the Hayward. I felt like I was walking through an alternate universe IKEA, but not in a particularly positive way.

There were some exceptions of course — Jin Shi’s “1/2 Life” is beautiful and tragic at the same time, provoking mixed feelings of wonder and sadness as you imagine a human living in his 0.5 scale living quarters. Meticulously executed, almost doll-house like, you can only imagine what life must be like at its true human scale.

Tatiana Trouvé

Tatiana Trouvé’s troubled domestic environment suggests events beyond the life of the installation. Clinically clean surfaces and fittings are, on closer inspection, disturbed and disrupted by burn marks of unknown origin. There is a narrative here, and one for our making. Not quite the domestic bliss of our first encounter with this piece. Intriguing.

I loved Jimmie Durham’s “Imbissstammtisch” if only for its playfulness — you’ll wait for the punchline and then move on. His piece “Close it” is similarly amusing, holding the viewer close to the cabinet door as they attempt to work out whether something or someone is either hiding inside, or is being deliberately incarcerated.

Other pieces, such as the chandeliers, are pleasing as objects, ironically overachieving as works of interior décor. It’s an interesting show, but I can’t help but feel that the re-opening of the Hayward deserved something a little more exciting. Perhaps a walk up those lovely concrete stairs…

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Created on Friday 19 February 2010 | Design, Internet, Photography

I would be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t use this site to shamelessly plug my new photography blog, photogr.aphyx. I’ve been developing it for some time now — I tried a number of different photoblog CMSs before returning to the familiarity of WordPress with an excellent theme, Grace Photoblog, designed by 7879 Designs here in the UK.

I’ve done a full re-skin on it, and tinkered with the workings a little, but the well-built theme worked like a dream from the start. With its rotating front-page gallery and simple navigation, it does exactly what you need a photoblog to do, but without being overly complicated or unnecessarily detailed.


I like the way I can use it on a “project” basis, uploading anything from one image to an entire set, and it suits a more “ad-hoc” approach to content. This works well with the way I take photographs, and the way in which approach projects. I’m keen to get not just photography, but also words, thoughts and finds up on the site as well — making it a proper creative repository for my ideas.

I’ve gone for a very muted palette, some dark greys and white, to allow the photography to shine through unfettered. So far so good, I’ve been updating the site with an uncharacteristic regularity — I’m keeping only the best work for photogr.aphyx, and I find myself taking photos specifically to upload to the site. It’s got me inspired.

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South London ‘roids

Created on Thursday 18 February 2010 | London Life, Photography

The first thing that I should get out of the way is this — I love my iPhone. It may have many faults, and I find myself cursing Apple frequently for their lack of trust in their own users, but fundamentally the iPhone is a cool piece of kit. What is not cool, though, is the camera. When the 3GS was launched the camera was lauded as “revolutionary” by some pundits. Ridiculous — it’s a low quality camera which benefits from being utilised by very good applications — and this is where its strength lies.

So in the spirit of experimentation I’ve been playing to these strengths, and my favourite application by far is ShakeItPhoto, an instant photo application which does a pretty good job of getting it right, right down to the sound of the photo being ejected from the camera. Here are some examples, all taken as I wander around south London.






I’ve become a little addicted to taking ‘roids with my iPhone, and when I’m not using my Lumix LX3 for “serious” images, I take a break and have some fun with the iPhone. I love the square format, the over-saturated colours and the lack of sophistication, perfect for these kinds of photographs. Great fun.

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This Not That

Created on Wednesday 10 February 2010 | Art, Exhibition, Film

Conceptual art intrigues me, it always has done — of all the art sub-genres, conceptual art is probably the most controversial, and comes in for the most criticism by far. No other art form inspires such incredulous public outrage, and the many newspaper headlines regarding the purchase of conceptual pieces by public bodies could make a very interesting collection of work in themselves.

Duchamp, the father of conceptual art, Broodthaers, Meireles, Michael Craig Martin and his seminal “An Oak Tree”, Richard Long, and the amazing Louise Bourgeois — between them have produced an incredible and enduring body of experimental and boundary-pushing works of art. The argument still rages, of course, regarding our definition of art and whether these pieces should fit within those pre-defined boundaries. To me there is no argument, and the intense feelings of fascination and intrigue, the urge to delve further and deeper, are paramount — when I stand before these works there is no question of their creative integrity.


I was luck enough to be given “This Not That” for Christmas, a DVD of John Baldessari and his conceptual work since the 1960s. I visited his 2009 exhibition at the Tate Modern quite a few times, it kept just pulling me back. His earlier work, in particular the experimental work of the 60s and 70s, stands tall in the conceptual world. Every piece made me want to rush out with my camera and my brushes and play, just to try out a fraction of the ideas he pushes around canvas, film and paper.

The DVD is a fascinating portrait of the man, filmed in 2006, presented as a long interview with the artist and his friends — he takes us around National City to the places where he took the photos which formed the body of work of the same name. We see him in his studio  producing work, teaching his students, and supervising the installation of works. We even get to see archive footage of him destroying his older works in 1970. Relatively humble, Baldessari comes across as a normal everyday man, an artist for the people.


The concept which appeals to me most, the overriding theme which carries his work beyond the crowd, is the elevation of the ordinary to the extraordinary. I identify with this theme on all levels, and it’s something I have developed in my creative, photographic and written work since the 1990s, and it’s what my work has always aspired to. I hope I can do the concept justice.

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Open See

Created on Wednesday 2 December 2009 | Art, Exhibition, London Life, Photography

Jim Goldberg’s Open See, the latest exhibition at the Photographer’s Gallery comes as a great surprise. After a couple of decidedly average exhibitions I wasn’t sure what to expect of Goldberg’s work, although the Magnum connection got me interested. I’ve been a fan of their group of photographers for many years and the draw of the name was enough to get me over to Soho for a visit and a coffee in their excellent café.


If you’re passion is documentary and reportage photography then this is an exhibition you should see — Goldberg’s Open See explores the lives of some of Europe, Asia and Africa’s millions of displaced people and migrant communities. From Bangladesh to Ukraine and India, his eclectic mix of large-format photography, video pieces and Polaroid images brings to the fore the daily struggles of the men, women and children of countries who seem to have been forgotten by the western world.

Distressing in places, uplifting in others, the mix of media, words and image plays beautifully with the tempered calm of the Photographer’s Gallery. It’s a disquieting feeling drinking your decaf latté as you ponder the words of 12 year-old girls trafficked into prostitution, of men tortured by the Taliban, and of countless other stories of bodies and minds taken to places beyond our worst nightmares.

Goldberg’s photography and image-making is excellent, and you can’t help but wonder at his composition and timing — the formats chosen are prefect for their subjects, and allow them to speak loudly and colourfully of their hopes and dreams, whatever they have endured. Excellent.

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The Long way round

Created on Tuesday 9 June 2009 | Art, Exhibition, London Life

Alcohol and art — a perfect match. On Friday we found ourselves at the Tate Britain for Late, a long running monthly evening of drinking, entertainment and art. This month’s theme was “The Story of London” — represented in movies, cabaret and archive material from the Tate collection. What got us really excited though, apart from some very tasty free Courvoisiers, was the Richard Long exhibit which has just opened.

Berlin Circle, 1996

In his first major UK exhibition for 18 years we are taken gently through his body of work since his first piece in 1967. The black and white photographs with beautifully hand-rendered type, the carefully annotated maps detailing geometric journeys crossing contours made real, and the centrepiece stone works set out in the large central space. For the typographical fetishists, of which I include myself here, there is type everywhere, from the minute hand-rendered lettering of the earlier pieces to the giant site-specific wording of the more contemporary pieces. Gill Sans dominates and evokes thoughts of classic information design of the 30s and 40s, of wartime posters and pamphlets — “Heaven and Earth” is a well travelled exhibit, but has a distinctly British flavour to it. New site-specific pieces are sewn throughout, bringing the outside in and involving the very fabric of the Tate.

Long’s work reminds me of a simpler time when I dreamed of art that connected directly to the world around us — you can’t help but feel that fantastic 60’s optimism in almost everything that he produces. It transports me back to those yellowed book pages full of black and white images of work by Smithson and Oppenheim, which I pored over for hours in the art college library. Maybe this is why he comes in for so much criticism — his work sits somewhat uncomfortably in these cynical days of production line pieces and an English art market so dependent on the chequebooks of a few London dealers. His refusal to join the auction-led frenzy cannot have made him many contemporary friends, evidenced by some rather bitter reviews of this show, but his core audience is still with him.

One thing leads to another, 2007

Is his work too comfortable? Possibly. Has he trodden the same literal path for the majority of his career? Undoubtedly. An idealist? Of course, and he’s a better artist for it. Long sees the world around us in a beautifully uncomplicated manner, and in this increasingly volatile world his work will only achieve greater relevance to anyone looking to understand how we can reconnect with it. He might just become a man of our times after all.

Ultimately I find his work just so satisfying, I don’t want him to change for anyone. I can’t imagine for a minute that he wants to either.

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Me — trying to make sense of it all…

Why a blog? I guess it’s an attempt to gather the suffocating mountain of digital accumulations into one place. Or just an excuse to mouth off about things, you decide. No marks for originality, I think pretty much everyone in the digital universe has one now. But mine will be different, honest…


All content © Martin Cleave / 2013