Monday, 19 March 2012

Richard Wilson 20:50 at the Saatchi Gallery


The smell is what I noticed first. The scent of oil reaches me as I walk on to the viewing balcony of this vast exhibit. The funny thing is that I don't see the oil that my nose detects. I look down, peering over the viewing balcony.There's a floor several metres down from me. I see that it's completely symmetrical and identical to the roof above, the pillars are exactly the same length, each shadow mirrors the other. Everything is the same. Judging by the symmetry of everything, I realise that the floor can't be real. 'It must be a mirror' I think, but why is the reflection so much darker than the real ceiling? Is the mirror waxed? Is it painted? To clear the matter I consult the exhibit's description. It turns out that this parallel world is merely a reflection made by a tank brimming with sump oil.
This is 20:50 by Richard Wilson. This exhibit is the only one in the Saatchi Gallery that is permanent. It's left people baffled, making it one of the world's largest puzzles. After taking minutes trying to work out what the exhibit was, I then examined it. Looking down I could see little puddles where the more inquisitive visitors had tried to spit in it to see if it's liquid. I could see the occasional ball of chewing gum which had been dropped by the daring. Some would call that vandalism, I think it's art. Those pieces of gum and puddles of spit had contributed to the entire piece. I wonder if Wilson expected people to do that, if he wanted them to vandalise his art by dropping their pennies in to it. The huge, dark mass of sump oil has drawn in these people, driven them to such curiosity that they can't resist the temptation to subtly spit at it. The artist has succeeded in luring people in, making them think for minute after minute. He's created a trap; a trap for humans.
A mini-pier stretches out in to the black void, so the vulnerable humans can walk straight in to the trap. It gives you a whole new understanding of the word space. When you realise that it's sump oil, you see that you're actually in quite an intimate room. The ceiling is only three metres above you, and the other side of the room is only seven or eight metres away from you. The presumption that this is an immense, spacious room is a wrong one. Again, Wilson has succeeded. He is trying to make you notice things for what they are, even when they're staring at you in the face. He's asking you to pause and to ponder about what you're seeing. And I wonder if unlike most artists, he's completely fine with you tampering with his work, disturbing it with your chewing gum. He has me and everyone else on tip-toe, peering over a rail to stare at a pool of cheap sump oil. This is modern art at it's best.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

 The Muppets - Movie Review

Video from Muppet Studios

           Mahna mahna. A song where pure silliness has turned in to high culture, now everyone sings it with passion, not just the children. A film which combines heart warming songs, excellent dance, romance and a large dose of absurdity. You'll have to forgive its weak plot, but the Muppets certainly make up for it in raw fun.
           The film begins with a new character. Meet Walter, the latest muppet on the block. He lives in Smalltown, a village in America. Somehow he's part of a human family. A montage of Walter and his brother Gary's heights being measured against a wall appears. As Gary grows up, Walter's height stays the same. He realises that he's different. That's when Walter's life changes, he finds the Muppets. And that's what the film is about, introducing the Muppets to a new generation. I certainly didn't know of them. It's also why this isn't just a kid's film, it's for those nostalgia junkies (a bit like my mum) who grew up on Sesame Street and the Saturday Muppet Show every week. Summed up by Bobo the Bear very nicely, 'I love geriatric humour.'
           There was a certain colour to it, a 'glossyness'. That vibrance was directed and created by James Bobin and written by the star of the show Jason Segel. It's cast was star studded too, a perfect example why you shouldn't write the Muppets off as, 'dead'. Jason Segel played Walter's brother, Gary. Segel executed breathtaking dance sequences matching the quality and scale of those in High School Musical. Amy Adams played Gary's wife, Mary. Adams will be remembered for her songs which were funny and feel-good. Also appearing were Jack Black, playing a kidnapped Jack Black. And there were cameo performances from Micky Rooney, Emily Blunt, Whoopi Goldberg, Selena Gomez, Neil Patrick Harris and Kristen Schaal. But all the credit must go to the songs. 'Man or Muppet' recently won 'Best Original Song' at the Oscars. And rightly so since it was witty and absolutely unmissable.  

Man or Muppet: Oscar Winning: From Muppet Studios

          Once again, the Muppets have found their way in to our hearts and they will stay there as long as they continue to entertain. You'll find Bobo the Bear hilarious, Statler and Waldorf will make you chuckle and the entire affair will charm you to death. Death by schmaltz.                      




Thursday, 1 March 2012

Joy in People - Jeremy Deller at the Hayward Gallery

             This is the first time that anybody has brought together an extensive exhibition of the work of British artist, Jeremy Deller. This is obscure art. I don't think he paints, draws, sculpts, assorts random objects together or anything you would expect to see from an art exhibition. This man is different, he focuses on re-enacting significant historic events. He makes bold statements which define the way we feel about specific things and the way we co-operate to share ideas. He's a psychologist in many ways, an art psychologist. So how do you make an exhibition about somebody whose art can't be hung on a wall or placed on a podium?
             A destroyed car is the feature of a bland room, simply plonked on the floor, picked from a bombsite. It had been been blown up in Iraq. Standing by the car was Esam Pasha, an Iraqi who recently sought refuge in the USA after fleeing the devastation of his homeland. He stood in front of this wreck ready to answer questions about Iraq. I didn't know what to ask, how to approach the man, mainly because I wasn't sure what to feel. But this art installation, entitled, 'It is what it is,' has started thousands of conversations after the tour it took with Deller and others. Deller's idea was excellent. He took an RV and mounted the car in the back, took Pasha and Jonathan Harvey, a former US soldier who served in Iraq. He drove them from New York to Los Angeles. Coast to coast, pit-stopping at random towns to talk to the inhabitants. Pasha and Harvey answered their questions and moved on, spending nights at the towns, inspiring the people and gifting them with a profound insight in to the brutal war that their country was involved in. That's how he operates, Jeremy Deller creates experiences for people to involve them in an event or an emotion.
             But then the exhibition went downhill. I left Iraq and entered Orgreave. A town in South Yorkshire, and the scene of a riot which occurred in 1984 during the miners strike. A vicious battle, which defined the strikes. This was a perfect subject for Deller, but I found it a colossal anti-climax. He had employed hundreds of people, some actual participants of the real riot, to be police and miners. They had a rigorous routine where they attempted to recreate what happened almost thirty years ago. He turned it in to a film, accompanied by pictures and posters. I sat through the film and felt thoroughly disappointed. I had anticipated an edgy, involving and stimulating exhibition which really worked on me, as the car did. But it was pointless. It lacked the bite of 'It is what it is,' the audience participation where you could ask questions from a man with experience.

            At least there was one film which really reached out to me, quite literally; 'Exodus,' a twelve minute three dimensional film which followed a colony of bats soaring into the twilight sky. I, along with the rest of the theatre, was in awe at the bats swarming out of the screen. This was a harmonious pairing of art and digital technology. It was simply beautiful, like being in a wonderful dream, unless of course you have, 'batphobia.' I don't doubt Deller's ability to arrange events and create art, and it must be brilliant to participate in that, but what doesn't work is when he bottles it up in an art gallery. It starts off as Fizzy Pop but turns flat at the Hayward Gallery. The irony was that the exit of, 'Joy in People,'  was a huge black wall with the words,' I love melancholy,' printed on it. Black on black. Crouching against the wall, Deller places a young woman silently reading a book. To be honest I felt like grabbing her by the hand and dragging her upstairs to have a bit of fun at David Shrigley's exhibition.

By Freddie