Artist Talk: Barbara Walker

Barbara Walker presented in our final artist talk of the year with her fluid work, responding to the world around her. This technique gives her a unique way into the painting and drawing that looks at the social and political.

One of the first works that was shown looked at disabled bomb experts and those who have fought in wars. Walker attempts to look at the ‘true’ perspective, with prompts from conversations, media and daily life. For this, the prompt came from a conversation that asked whether black soldiers can fight on behalf of Britain in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

Walker’s collection of works and style looks at the chronology of the past 100 years of war. She doesn’t really like wars, but this was the premise to have a conversation through the artwork. She also finds that she has one foot in history and the other in a contemporary practice. Walker is regarded as a research-based artist (80% research, 20% making), to try and unpick, learn and have a foundation to build and make from.

Not only does Walker look at the past, but she also takes a look at contemporary soldiers. This is a difficult subject and it is touch-and-go when trying to have a conversation about this. Because it is a difficult conversation to have by many, she decided to put that idea aside and look more at the historical aspect, especially of her own, Caribbean, history. Immediately there was a need to know where these people came from, bringing images to the surface and using them, scavenging them from archives. Walkers’ work plays and disrupts the photographs and images that she finds in these archives. She identifies the photograph, buys the file, enlarges through certain formats and then works from these.

Charcoal is one of the preferred mediums for Walker, a medium that she is comfortable with, thus she is able to make a statement and a metaphor because of her interest in the hierarchy of constructs (those she draws are lower in the hierarchy, and charcoal is often considered ‘behind’ painting). Her works look at the individuals claiming the space again, giving rebirth and celebration, but also critically looking at images and re-framing them. You always have to disrupt to make a new, or continue an old commentary.

In some pieces, Walker drew with charcoal directly on the wall, which she has to wash away. In other pieces, she has taken an eraser or white chalk to an area of the piece. Both methods are somewhat aggressive, and make an impactful statement. If things become too familiar, she moves on, to bring challenges to her work and move forward.

Walker also looks at the female contribution as a challenge to her own work and uses the same processes as before. In one image, she may emboss one woman and drew the other two. In others, she will cut out an image which is severe, but also subtle, placing the drawing, or part of the photograph in a different place. These different techniques come together to create powerful pieces of work. A last medium that Walker has demonstrated her skills in is installation, commenting that wars should not be drawn on pieces of paper, but also on the walls in the pavilion where many of these soldiers were stationed. It brings some humanity back to such an ugly word. Walker makes a stand that these people were spoken about but not commemorated, bringing their lives to the surface in a provocative manner – ‘hitting the audience with a sledge hammer’.

Artist Talk: John Russell

John Russell is a lecturer here at the University of Reading and talked to us about his practice in our weekly Wednesday artist talks. His practice grew straight after art school with a group that he was involved with; Bank. They pretended to be in shows with famous people to which they would send terrible colour photocopies of invitations to those in a large gallery mailing list. The galleries that they were advertising to be a part of started to get people to turning up to these exhibitions, despite them never existing.

It fuelled Russell and Bank’s interest in the pitching of an exhibition, when Damien Hurst caught their eye as the pitching of this particular exhibition in a warehouse was one of a kind. This inspired Bank to create their own, real, exhibition in a disused bank. This was almost like an organised party but you had to leave the work up for four weeks afterwards. Here, Russell and Bank continued to spend a lot of time and effort on the invitations because they were up against big name galleries, and this is the one thing that would be used to attract people’s attention toward the exhibition. They were able to do a whole series of exhibitions in disused buildings that were available in the middle of London, and used everything from oversized foam to fluorescent paper for the invites.

Zombie Golf was then born as it looked at the seriousness of the galleries, playing on it. They spent the summer making a golf course, using cast faces of Bank artists and members to put on the zombies. When artists were asked to exhibit, the golf course was already there so they worked around it. Some put up paintings, others allowed their piece to interact and bounce off of the golf game, as this was a working golf course. Some of the paintings were golf courses, specifically painted for this exhibition by Peter Doig, that have recently been sold for over a million pounds. It was at this point that they truly realised they were great at attracting people to their shows, but not at selling their artwork.

This was then the Bank group set up a newspaper as though they were the ‘art world tabloid newspaper’. They were able to pick on people in a funny way, which became relatively successful. This mockery quickly led onto FaxBak as Bank were receiving a lot of press releases from other galleries. Press releases are often nonsense that people think is the effective way of describing art, but Bank would then correct their press releases and give them a mark out of ten before faxing them back from where they came from. Bank even had their own stamp that they would use before sending them back. These were displayed in a pretend gallery in their exhibition space, framed and lined up. FaxBak was also done for New York exhibitions, where the group would receive threats and aggressive replies on answer machines. These answer machine messages were then played in the background of the show in New York, adding to the exhibition. These pieces are now part of the Tate Britain permanent collection.

Russell left Bank not so long ago and moved on to performance and digital work with a concentration on digital painting. He described his work as ‘a Jackson Pollock but made out of meat’. Russell was interested in the way that you can only see a tiny bit of the thing you’re working on when it is digital, with a constant motion of zooming in and out to see the whole. These are printed on large-scale vinyl for impact. Russell realised that he kind of hated them and when he finally sees them printed, they are crude and cumbersome in an inelegant fashion. The work that he produces flicks between heavy handed and spectacular but this intrigues him, and continues to do so as he makes his work today.

Richard Galpin

Richard Galpin strips photographs to reveal a fragmented set of forms in spatial compositions. His work began with scaffolding, scouring and peeling away the surface emulsion in specific areas to leave only the scaffolding part. This transformed through to rollercoasters, cities and into futuristic spaces. Galpin engages with modernist abstraction, constructivism and futurism, as well as the formality of the photography process. Through this profess, there is a reconfiguration of space where new forms emerge. It is not quite a representation of negative versus positive space, but it certainly leaves you to think.

Lindsay Seers

Lindsay Seers is often known for her use of internalising the camera where she used her mouth as a camera, and her lips as the aperture and shutter. The images that were produced as a result of being in her mouth would be framed by her teeth, stained with saliva and tinged red with blood from her cheeks.

In a visit to Stockholm, Seers photographed anything that was associated with her step-sister through streams of associations and connections. There was an attempt to reconstruct the past through moving history. This leads onto Seers work of highly personal narratives while interweaving concepts of science, philosophy and photographic theory. These works help the investigation into how cinematic and photographic technologies shape us. The personal narratives include plot devices that ‘mimic the rupture at the heart of image production, creating a dramatisation of selfhood in all its melancholy and failure’ (Matt’s Gallery). The photography Seers uses is an act that creates experiences rather than records them, extending the boundaries of photography.

Artist Talk: Sandra Sterle

Sandra Sterle introduced a series of work that occurs even seven years; running around a tree. This started as a CD Rom and the development of characters over years. As Sterle travelled, she had the feeling that she herself was different in different places and relates this to the characters and fiction that is created in the CDs. It starred as an ironic gesture that related to the thought that you have to fit into something that you don’t necessarily know how to define. The clothes that she wears during these performances help her to get into the mindset of the characters. This changes as she gets older through her mentality, questioning the simplicity but multilayered structure, entering into the role of the peasant.

Sterle uses a series of postcards that also corresponds to the idea of moving to a smaller country and connecting to the element of rural life. Again, this is similar to that of the CD Rom.

The videos created are an endless run around a tree. The first was created using HI8 video recording and made Sterle question about how she is preserving the method of recording. She also designed posters of the HI8 system and this is included in the exhibition. Seven years later, Sterle repeats this process of running around a tree. On purpose, she has changed the central circulation, however the age of the woman is not something that could be controlled. Because her age has changed, she now runs slower, but the recording device is now better.

There is an element of allowing herself to play while making these videos, showing off that they are all unique. It is not about the purity of the space but rather a performative gesture relating to the space. There are also elements that are being added to her works but she does not know where they will end up, only that they will be repeated in the video and performance every seven years. A sense of deformed recycling and challenging new ideas.

Artist Talk: Patricia L. Boyd

Patricia L. Boyd spent this weeks artist talk discussing the past three years body of work that she has produced around the world. This started in San Francisco where she studied the environment around her and ended up at a liquidation auction of a media tech company ‘Post Intelligence’ (who were bought outright by Uber). She also became interested in the service of grease recycling to solve the problem of blocked drains. The city would collect the grease for free and develop it into bio diesel.

Boyd responded to the auction and bought an office chair and turntable. She stripped the items down to their core components, making moulds from them. These were negative casts made from a mix of wax and grease that glisten and shine when they get warm. These were embedded into the wall of the gallery so that the surface of the cast was flush with the wall. Through this, Boyd looked at parts that had similar functions to do with posture. The exhibition moved from its original gallery and were now a series of casts of the same object to show the lack of stability in the materials used.

In LA, Boyd had a solo show in ‘Potts’ that consisted of casts and videos. The video was a block aid when trying to enter the website, showing a camera being pushed down the drain from a rooftop into the citys’ sewer and all the way back again. The gallery itself used to be a plumbing shop, and as many shops in LA, it was built so that you could see everything as you drove by. Those who used to own the business were also musicians who used the items that they sold. Behind the wall that Boyd exhibited on was their studio. This lead to Boyd being interested in how the front space, the gallery, was so hygienic and a complete contrast to the back space.

There would often be a tense relationship between Boyd and the galleries as the walls that she displayed in were their boundaries. However, through the installation of her works, she was able to stretch those boundaries for the galleries.

Videos that Boyd made include looking at good and bad examples of grammar. The example sentences that you find in grammar guides builds a world for you, informs you and determines a reality for you. Boyd also made a video last year that was commissioned as an advert on TV. She then recorded when her piece was on TV and included some of the surrounding programmes and adverts. The video itself happened somewhat by accident and Boyd became captivated with Carl, the stage hand who built an engine and then took it apart again. The creation of the engine itself was fast and performance lie to demonstrate his skills, but this was cut up further to fit in the space of an advert creating a piece even more frantic than the performance.

In one of the previous exhibitions, Boyd asked for a piece of the wall along with her artwork, which is now displayed as an entirely new piece that is hung on the wall. Boyd also moved onto photograms from windows in shops in San Francisco. The graffiti has scarred the window due to acid, giving a different opaqueness to the window. There was a similar exhibition in Melbourne, Australia held in a trade unions building where it was purposefully not a gallery space and life went on. Here, Boyd displayed a photogram of a bus shelter where the glass encasing displayed an area that was not truly public nor private. (Boyd has since learned that a company owns all the bus shelters and makes a profit from them through advertising). The other part of this exhibition was in the back of a graphic designers office.

Much of Boyd’s work responds to the environment and the space around her, while also stretching the boundaries of standard display and installation.

Francis Bacon (1910-1992) Interview with David Sylvester

“It does, but now I hope it will arrive more positively. Now I feel that I want to do very, very specific objects, though made out of something which is completely irrational from the point of view of being an illustration. I want to do very specific things like portraits, and they will be portraits of the people, but, when you come to analyse them, you just won’t know – or it would be very hard to see – how the image is made up at all. And this is why in a way it is very wearing; because it is really a complete accident…

…the situation has become much more involved and much more difficult, for very many reasons. And one of them, of course, which has never actually been worked out, is why photography has altered completely this whole thing of figurative painting, and totally altered it…

…You see, all art has now become completely a game by which man distracts himself; and you may say it has always been like that, but now it’s entirely a game. And I think that that is the way things have changed, and what is fascinating now is that it’s going to become much more difficult for the artist, because he must really deepen the game to be any good at all.”

Harrison, Charles, and Paul Wood. Art In Theory, 1900-1990. Blackwell, 2001, pp. 626-9.

Jean Baudrillard (b. 1929) ‘The Hyper-realism of Simulation’

“…Reality itself founders in hyperrealism, the meticulous reduplication of the real, preferably through another, reproductive medium, such as photography. From medium to medium, the real is volatilized, becoming an allegory of death. But it is also, in a sense, reinforced through its own destruction. It becomes reality for its own sake, the fetishism of the lost object: no longer the object of representation, but the ecstasy of denial and of its own ritual extermination: the hyperreal.”

Harrison, Charles, and Paul Wood. Art In Theory, 1900-1990. Blackwell, 2001, pp. 1048.

Walter Benjamin (1982-1940) ‘The Author as Producer’

“For greater clarity let me concentrate on photographic reportage. Whatever applies to it is transferable to the literary form. Both owe their extraordinary development to publication techniques – radio and the illustrated press. Let us think back to Dadaism. The revolutionary strength of Dadaism lay in testing art for its authenticity. You made still-lifes out of tickets, spools of cotton, cigarette stubs, and mixed them with pictorial elements. You put a frame round the whole thing. And in this way you said to the public: look, your picture frame destroys time; the smallest authentic fragment of everyday life says more than the painting. Just as a murderer’s bloody fingerprint on a page says more than just the words printed on it. Much of this revolutionary attitude passed into the photomontage. You need only think of the works of John Heartfield, whose technique made the book jacket into a political instrument. But now let us follow the subsequent development of photography. What do we see? It has become more and more subtle, more and more modern, and the result is that it is now incapable of photographing a tenement or a rubbish-heap without transfiguring it. Not to mention a river dam or an electric cable factory: in front of these, photography can now only say, ‘How beautiful.’ The World Is Beautiful – that is the title of the well-known picture book by Renger-Patzsch in which we see New Objectivity photography at its peak. It has succeeded in turning abject poverty itself, by handling it in a modish, technically perfect way, into an object of enjoyment. For if it is an economic function of photography to supply the masses, by modish processing, with matter which previously enabled mass consumption – Spring, famous people, foreign countries – then one of its political functions is to renovate the world as it is from the inside, i.e. by modish techniques.”

Harrison, Charles, and Paul Wood. Art In Theory, 1900-1990. Blackwell, 2001, pp. 486-7.

Artist Talk: Soheila Sokhanvari

Soheila Sokhanvari originally took a biochemistry degree, finding that this was not the route that she wanted to take. Her path took her through to a BA and MA at Goldsmiths. A quote that she felt like resonated with her work and mindset was;

“To understand me, You’ll have to swallow the world”
– Salman Rushie, Midnight Children

Sokhanvari’s works looks at collective trauma and amnesia, the shock of a country as well as the symbolic residue that is left from these. Researching this, it often turns into stories and mythology. She feels like the mythology is linked to her own past of being an Iranian exile, beginning her interest in others who have been exiled and are showing it through their art.

There was a challenge of governmental control and security, which Sokhanvari explored through airlines. This started when looking at the 1953 Iranian coup and the oil money, resulting in a nation going through trauma. She took 500ml of crude oil through an airport and on a flight from Iran. From this, she created drawings from family photographs and photographs in media at that time. The message was in the materiality of the medium, presented in a purple room to present the monarchy. The crude oil paintings asks how a drawing can represent the memory.

The abstractions through egg tempera paintings and fibreglass sculptures look at self portraits, and where the negative space is in the family photographs of where she is supposed to be. A representation of the lack of her presence because she is a political exile. There is also no perspective with the composition with no shadowing or particular layering, creating very flat pieces. Colour was the pop in these pieces, as well as working with 24K gold. The pigments came from Venice, creating a connection with the masters of painting. Vellum that is used in her work comes from calf skin, and finds that it is the symbolism of the sacrifice of self.

Sokhanvari’s ongoing project is that of passports, which she mentioned that she will collect for as long as she can. The passport is an alternative portrait as it has context within your current nationality. She swapped stamps with UK and US advertising slogans. The passports are then visible from both sides as a transportable world.