Monday, 18 May 2009

Mona Hatoum

Other works of interest

Pull (1995)

I particularly liked this piece which has been arranged so that the pony tail that is displayed in the box is actually Mona Hatoum's own and she is in fact lying down with a camera directed at her face, which is being displayed on the monitor. When you pull the hair you get an instant reaction, but the difference between actually knowing she is just behind the wall and just seeing her face on a screen would drastically change your perception of the piece.

Similar Works

Làslò Moholy Nagy

Light, Space Modulator (1930)

Mona Hatoum

Light Sentence (1992)

"I grew up in Beirut in a family that had suffered a tremendous loss and existed with a sense of dislocation. When I went to London in 1975 for what was meant to be a brief visit, I got stranded there because the war broke out in Lebanon, and that created another kind of dislocation. How that manifests itself in my work is as a sense of disjunction. For instance, in a work like Light Sentence, the movement of the light bulb causes the shadows of the wire mesh lockers to be in perpetual motion, which creates a very unsettling feeling. When you enter the space you have the impression that the whole room is swaying and you have the disturbing feeling that the ground is shifting under your feet. This is an environment in constant flux—no single point of view, no solid frame of reference. There is a sense of instability and restlessness in the work. This is the way in which the work is informed by my background." Mona Hatoum in an interview by Janine Antoni (BOMB Magazine, Issue 63, Spring 1998)

Self-Initiated Project

Conrad Shawcross at Siobhan Davies Studios
shown as part of 'The Collection'
7th April 2009

Slow Arc inside a Cube (2008)

I was completely mesmerised by this piece of work which had been installed in the top floor of Siobhan Davies studios I managed to sit around for almost an hour filming it from various viewpoints. The effect of the intensely bright light coming from such a small source meant that the shadows cast on the walls of the studio shifted from feeling like a cage was being lifted off of you to then feeling entrapped again. I was very interested in this idea of an image being able to have such a tangible quality so much so that it almost feels physical.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Interpretation & Reflection


I decided to choose oobleck for it's enigmatic qualities and it's reluctance to conform to classification as any one state of being and could be a metaphor for creative ability.

The random scattering of words on the satellite is a reference to Hugo Ball's 'word salad' form of poetry, breaking down the structures of language.

The satellite dish is a symbol for the repressive powers who manage to filter out some of the work being produced by artists but the majority of it carries on regardless.

The briefcase has an obvious reference to travel and how many people had been exiled, abroad or to concentration camps. However in this case it is a point of collection which is then focused down through the opening and along the gutter.

The vinyl is then not only a means of expression through music but is a further means of creating something new and unpredictable by spattering the mixture around again.


Although initiated by myself the work then left to become very much in the realm of the audience. Their reaction on the opening night was one of curiosity, because of the viscosity of the mixture the process was quite drawn out and the audience feel quite for the good part of ten minutes almost expecting something spectacular to happen. It seemed like it was a nice focal point for people to talk about or even just to talk about something completely unrelated whilst still observing the unravelling of the piece.

Exhibition Piece

The composition of the final piece consisted of a Milk trolley frame to which various found objects were attached with cable ties or slotted into different levels. At the top we have a:
  • bucket which is attached to a vacuum cleaner tube
  • funnel slotted into the white plastic pipe
  • smaller funnel inserted into a shower hose
A mixture of cornflour and water (oobleck) is then poured into these containers which then slowly dispense it into the satellite dish which acts as a sieve, however the mixture just passes through the holes.

It is then collected in one half of a briefcase which has been tilted at an angle so that the mixture runs down to one end where a hole has been drilled into one of the corners.

From here it is funneled down a piece of black guttering where it eventually drops into a vinyl which has been melted around a glass bowl to form a container.

At this point the vinyl in spinning and consequently the centrifugal force causes the mixture to be flung out causing a random accumulation of the mixture on the surface of the player which then soon dries out.

Cornstarch (Oobleck)

I noticed this video posted on the SEA blog which shows a mixture of cornflour and water, called oobleck, which is then placed in a tray or sometimes directly inside the speaker cone and then different frequencies played through it. When a standing wave is achieved at a certain frequency a hole is then blown with a straw and the resulting effects are remarkable! Have a look for yourself:

I thought this would be a very suitable material to use in my project as it has very ambiguous characteristics and is therefore escapes the boundaries of classification, is it a liquid or a solid?

Reclaiming roots

Angkor Wat - Cambodia

On the subject of weeds, I witnessed some enormous weed-like trees whilst in Cambodia a couple of years ago, at a Buddhist temple complex in the Middle of the jungle called Angkor Wat. Some of the roots seem so fluid in their motion, as if oozing over the stone creating some extraordinary compositions.

Trees around the fence of Kelvingrove Park

Slightly closer to home, I remember walking past the fence of Kelvingrove park and seeing an area where the trees were growing very close to the fence and had grown between the bars and of the years expanded to encapsulate them. I find this to be a very impressive spectacle, one that may take many years but nonetheless is a fantastic display of determination and defiance.

For me, these trees demonstrate how anything that is suppressed will inevitably escape it's boundaries sooner or later:

i.) In nature, weeds and trees will grow around, up or through most obstacles
ii.) In states where a strict i.e. communist regime has been imposed, artists will still continue to create underground work in response/in spite of this
iii.) Even suppressed thoughts which are imposed by the conforms of society's will be unveiled in your dreams (Freud)

Michael Landy - Break Down (2001)

A recurring theme in most of books and films mentioned earlier is how objects which are prone to being nostalgic and therefore provoke memories and emotions, are removed from society to be left with a very bland environment where people walk around mindlessly, reducing procrastination and increasing the efficiency of the economy.

Break Down involved Michael Landy documenting every item in his possession and then proceeding to destroy them all - a comment on contemporary consumer capitalism. In this case however, it has been his own personal decision and is similar to the lifestyle that a Buddhist monk might live.

Having performed such a theatrical spectacle one would wonder how Landy's next work would respond to this rather traumatic event in his life. His answer was to go back to appreciating very tiny plants, in this case weeds which are completely overlooked on a daily basis. However, his incredibly detailed etchings reveal how fantastically intricate they can be and for him I think the process was very therapeutic.

I think weeds are particularly interesting as they seem so fragile however they manage to grow pretty much everywhere, from the cracks in a wall to the pavement and can exist without very much sustenance.

Books & Films about oppressive regimes

Aldous Huxley - Brave New World (1932)

"Universal happiness keeps the wheels steadily turning; truth and beauty can't."
Aldous Huxley - Brave New World

"I can sympathise with people's pains, but not with their pleasures. There is something curiously boring about somebody else's happiness."
Aldous Huxley

George Orwell - Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)

Equilibrium - Kurt Wimmer (2002)

The Pianist - Roman Polanski (2002)

The Lives of Others - Florian Henckel von Donnersmark (2006)

Trip to Sharmanka Studios (01.02.09)

Russian Kinetic Sculpture Studios - 64 Osborne Street, Glasgow

SHARMANKA (Russian for hurdy-gurdy) was founded by sculptor-mechanic Eduard Bersudsky and theatre director Tatyana Jakovskaya in St.Petersburg (Russia) in 1989. Audiences in many countries have been fascinated by its magic, and based in Glasgow since 1996 it has gained a reputation as one of the city’s hidden treasures.

In 1961 it was the time of the Khrushchev "thaw". People started to write and paint in private without joining the official Union of Soviet Artists and Writers. An 'underground' culture spread through people's flats , too widely dispersed for the KGB to control. In 1975 thousands of people queued for hours to get into an exhibition put on at Constantine Kuzminsky's flat.

A few days after closing, all participants were called to the City Department of Culture and told that nothing like that would be tolerated again and many of his friends were forced to leave the country, were arrested or just disappeared altogether. Eduard didn't actively oppose the regime. Like countless others he chose to resist passively. He was one of those known as 'internal emigrants' who left the Soviet Union Psychologically though not physically.

Self Portrait and monkey

"In the belfry of the millennium clock there was going to be the sort of traditional figures associated with mechanical clocks - figures that reflected the life cycle from birth to death. But then it came clear that something else should be remembered from this millennium, the millions imprisoned, murdered, maimed and vanished. Finally we named it Requiem..." Tatyana Jakovskaya (Eduard Bersudsky's wife)

Millenium Clock Tower

Words don't sit easily on Eduard Bersudsky's works:

"they are re-awakenings of old, half-forgotten myths. They spring from the collective memory of us all. When we see Eduard's work we recognise it; it's as though it's always been. This is the hallmark of great art - the rediscovery of what's lasting." - Julian Spalding

Portrait of Eduard Bersudsky

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Jesse Owen

In 1936 Owens arrived in Berlin to compete for the United States in the Summer Olympics. Adolf Hitler was using the games to show the world a resurgent Nazi Germany. He and other government officials had high hopes German athletes would dominate the games with victories (the German athletes did indeed achieve a top of the table medal haul). Meanwhile, Nazi propaganda promoted concepts of "Aryan racial superiority" and depicted ethnic Africans as inferior. Owens surprised many by winning four gold medals and consequently shattered Hitler's preached values.

This goes to show that some of the most successful methods of breaching oppressive regimes have been through actions rather than words, as is the case with the black liberation movement of Jazz.

It may have been possible for Hitler to limit black people's rights but as is clearly demonstrated here, no matter how many material possessions you might take away, it is not possible to extract a persons skills or memories which are some of the most powerful and invisible weapons of them all.

John Heartfield

John Heartfield was a pioneer of modern photomontage. Working in Germany and Czechoslovakia between the two world wars, he developed a unique method of appropriating and reusing photographs to powerful political effect.

Heartfield devised photo-based symbols for the Communist Party of Germany, allowing the organization to compete with the Nazis' swastika. His images of clenched fists, open palms, and raised arms all implied bold action and determination. In the image above, a disembodied fist becomes a radio antenna for a Communist-affiliated station in Czechoslovakia that broadcast into Fascist Germany.

'The Voice of Freedom'
in the German Night on Radio Wave 29.8, (1937)

Heartfield unleashed his sharpest satire on Hitler's Führerkult (cult of the leader), the basis of German Fascism. These montages parody Hitler's most iconic poses, gestures, and symbols to create the impression that one need only to scratch the thin surface of Fascist propaganda to uncover its absurd reality.

Adolf, the Superman, Swallows Gold and Spouts Tin -
(AIZ (July 17, 1932), vol. 11, no. 29, p. 675)

In this cover for the AIZ, Heartfield used a difference in scale to dramatize Hitler's relationship to Germany's wealthy and financially supportive industrialists. The leader is seen as a puppet whose now-infamous gesture reads as the acceptance of monetary influence.

The Meaning of the Hitler Salute, Little Man Asks for Big Gifts -
(AIZ (October 16, 1932), vol. 11, no. 42, front cover)

Cabaret Voltaire & DADA

Cabaret Voltaire was the name of a nightclub in Zürich, Switzerland. It was founded by Hugo Ball, with his companion Emmy Hennings on February 5, 1916 as a cabaret for artistic and political purposes.

The cabaret featured spoken word, dance and music. The soirees were often raucous events with artists experimenting with new forms of performance, such as sound poetry and simultaneous poetry. Mirroring the maelstrom of World War I raging around it, the art it exhibited was often chaotic and brutal. On at least one occasion, the audience attacked the Cabaret's stage. Though the Cabaret was to be the birthplace of the Dadaist movement, it featured artists from every sector of the avant-garde, including Futurism's Marinetti. The Cabaret exhibited radically experimental artists, many of whom went on to change the face of their artistic disciplines; featured artists included Kandinsky, Paul Klee, de Chirico and Max Ernst.

Dada Manifesto (1916, Hugo Ball)
Read at the first public DADA soiree, Zurich, July 14th (1916)

John Smith - Associations

I remember going to a Friday lecture some time last year to see John Smith, who is a very renowned experimental film maker. This piece in particular raised quite a few issues which seem to be relevant to the area of investigation in which I'm heading.

John Smith - Associations (1975)

Images from magazines and color supplements accompany a spoken text taken from Herbert H. Clark's "Word Associations and Linguistic Theory" (in New Horizons in Linguistics, ed. John Lyons,1970). By using the ambiguities inherent in the English language, Associations sets language against itself. Image and word work together and against each other to destroy and create meaning.

"Associations is a straightforward rebus—a game in which words are replaced by pictures. But the text is so dense with contemporary linguistic theory, and the combination of visual puns so extensive, that a simple, unique reading of the film is impossible."
—A.L. Rees, Unpacking 7 Films (1980)