Art Made By All or Art in the Public Realm?

Wayne Burrows

“The enrichment of life calls inexorably for the analysis of the new forms taken by poverty and the perfection of the old weapons of refusal…” 

Raoul VaneigemThe Revolution of Everyday Life (1967)

“I tried to map a space where the everyday was the focus. An everyday that is at one level a source of massive oppression; but which we know can be transformed, into something liberating, poetic, savage and beautiful – even if we know that this has happened very rarely and very briefly; an everyday in which perception is no longer on ‘automatic’...”

Ron Hunt: ‘Icteric’ and ‘Poetry must be made by all / Transform the World’: A note on a lost and suppressed avant-garde and exhibition (Papers in Art & Education, 2010)

The driving force of English Vorticism, Wyndham Lewis, wrote in his 1914 statement Long Live The Vortex! that “we are against the glorification of ‘The People’ as we are against snobbery.” The relationship of art to a wider public is often felt to fluctuate between these poles: art’s history of aristocratic and Church patronage, alongside artists’ economic and social entanglements with the machinery of power – creating vehicles for Church propaganda and laundering the public image of the Medici family, for example – means that art expressly made by professionals for ‘the people’ constitutes a significant and recent reversal in the artist’s traditional public role.

From the earliest kunstverein and municipal galleries of the nineteenth century, by way of the establishment of funding bodies like The Arts Council in the immediate post-war years, to such influential and still-current ideas as Nicolas Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics (2002), the general trajectory has appeared progressive: art becomes ever more connected to, and is increasingly made in collaboration with, its audiences. Yet Claire Bishop, writing in the US journal October in 2004, asks with particular reference to Bourriaud’s influential idea, “if relational art produces human relations, the next logical question to ask is what types of relations are being produced, for whom, and why?”

Bishop’s critique suggests that such ‘relations’ benefit the institutions initiating them rather than the communities and artists at their notional core, an observation that implies public art’s role has begun to turn full circle. The medieval Church, after all, had been instrumental in enabling quasi-relational activities like the site specific Mystery Plays performed by craft guilds in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. If contemporary art institutions and commissioning bodies now play similar roles, it’s arguable that relational art is not, as Bishop notes, quite as “intrinsically democratic” as Bourriaud and the artists he cites in support of his theory – Rirkrit Tiravanija, Carsten Höller, Pierre Huyghe, Philippe Parreno – have tended to assume.

If art in the first decade of the twenty-first century has begun to retreat to its historical role of furthering the interests of institutions, the question of whether the institution in question is a Church, the academy, a municipality or corporation, is less important than the way in which what is generally known as ‘public art’ or ‘art in the public realm’ has been heavily, if usually unwillingly, implicated in the shift. The old-style public art of bronze statues and stone monuments dedicated to monarchs, industrialists and military heroes that litter Victorian cities, or the celebrities who have joined them in contemporary town squares, are plain enough in their intended political function to require little discussion here.

But it’s clear that the more radical strain of art that began to leave the museums and enter the public realm in order to implement direct social change after 1968 has found itself in a strangely contradictory position. In 2006, when John Fox dissolved Welfare State International, the pioneering cross-disciplinary arts collective he’d been instrumental in establishing in 1968 as a British equivalent to such US-based outfits as Bread and Puppet Theatre, his stated reasons for calling an end to the group’s activities highlighted deep changes in such art’s perceived social and political function during Welfare State’s 38 years of activity:

“We set out to be Guardians of the Unpredictable, travelling the world, creating site-specific celebratory theatre,” Fox wrote. “We wanted eyes on stalks, not bums on seats. But we realised that making such transient spectacles was like busking in airports. When we flew home, property developers moved in. The dominant culture claimed economic regeneration but missed the inspiration and the community. We wanted to make playful art outside the ghetto, not work three years ahead in a goal-orientated corporate institution where matched funding and value-added output boxes destroyed imaginative excess. The arts tightrope between look-at-me celebrity and surrogate social work became untenable.” 

Welfare State’s vision of achieving the old avant-garde objective of convergence between art and life had found its way to this point by way of many factors, one being the increasing commercialisation of the kind of event they set out to deliver as an alternative in 1968: what price a radical ‘site-specific celebratory theatre’ when similar spectacles were the preserve of Cirque du Soleil’s blockbuster marketing campaigns? Identity politics and alternative cultures had been neutered into vehicles for niche marketing, while the instrumentalism of Tony Blair’s ‘Third Way’ after 1997 divided art’s cultural functions into two key sectors: the profitable exports of the Creative Industries, drawn from entertainment, design, fashion and their prestige counterparts; then a whole range of locally responsive practices working to deliver the new government priorities of Social Inclusion and Community Cohesion.

These activities were grounded in the successes of earlier, politically radical models of culture as a tool for initiating social change, making improvements in access and opportunity for communities beyond the reach of more orthodox State provision: prisoners, the elderly, rural communities, young people, refugees. Now it transpired that the artists concerned to widen the remit of art, leave the galleries and strike root in everyday life, were deployed as surrogate social workers, teachers and agents for regeneration. They were asked, in short, to deliver work whose objectives were a marginal amelioration of social, ecological and economic conditions rather than a radical transformation of the society that had created these conditions. The tools were workshops, educational projects and participatory events.

The convergence of art and life sought by the early twentieth century avant-gardes had come to pass but on terms that were entirely at odds with its original objectives. As John Fox explains, “all our intentions of 1968 – access, disability awareness, multi-generational and multi-cultural participation – are established. Now, though, they come before the art.” With this shift had also come an increasingly prescriptive demand for risk assessments and measurable outcomes. As Fox put it in 2006, “the final straw was the day we were told we needed a ‘hot work’ permit for a bonfire in a field. Had we swept the floor and were the overhead sprinklers working?”

The dissolution of the border separating art from life was an objective pursued by almost every avant-garde grouping of the early twentieth century, with Dada and Constructivism, the Bauhaus, De Stijl and Surrealism, all concerned to stake out a central role for artists, writers and film-makers within the more orthodox revolutionary political and social movements of the 1920s and 30s: Marxism and Anarchism, but in some cases (as with the former Vorticists, Wyndham Lewis and Ezra Pound) certain shades of Fascism. In the post-war era the interest continued, reaching a kind of apex with the playful rigours of the Situationist International but was visible, too, in the activities of Beat affiliated artists like Ed Keinholz and Bruce Conner, in Allan Kaprow and Carolee Schneemann’s Happenings, in Neo-Dada, Fluxus, Underground Cinema, Arte Povera, Conceptualism and Land Art.

As Claes Oldenburg put it in his 1967 Store Days manifesto, “I am for an art that is political-erotical-mystical, that does something other than sit on its ass in a museum. I am for an art that embroils itself with the everyday crap & still comes out on top. I am for an art that helps old ladies across the street.” Adrian Henri points out in his influential 1974 survey, Total Art: Environments, Happenings and Performance, that it’s often a category error to regard some of the last century’s wider-ranging cultural manifestations as ‘art movements’ in any conventional sense:

“Surrealism shares with Constructivism the consistent misinterpretation of critics and historians who see only formal and aesthetic end-products in a movement which was aiming at political and social revolution,” writes Henri. “The artefacts left behind tell us only as much about the lives of their creators as do, say, the potsherds we dig out of prehistoric villages.”

With this in mind, it’s clear that the familiar Suprematist paintings of Malevich, the posters of Rodchenko and Mayakovsky, the maquettes and sketches for an unrealised Monument to the Third International of Vladimir Tatlin, tell only one part of the story of a broad-based movement like Constructivism. Perhaps it’s significant that it tends to be the part containable within a specialist discourse of art, the history of images and objects whose makers are assumed to have been above all else engaged with the formal and aesthetic possibilities of their chosen mediums.

Constructivism’s social concerns were more than merely symbolic. Representative of the movement’s wider political objectives is Arseny Avraamov’s Symphony Of Factory Sirens, a sound-work composed not for orchestra but the entire industrial, naval and transport resources of the city of Baku, a port city that in 1922 was the capital of the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan. Performed twice, the second time in Moscow, to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the 1917 Revolution, Avraamov’s score marshalled all the sonic possibilities of its location into a prototype musique concrete spectacle involving thousands of people. The end result might be read as authoritarian, with individual performers submerged in the whole, but it might also be seen as a practical demonstration of the potential that could be realised through collaboration on a mass scale.

Avraamov’s absorption of individuals, even whole regiments and shipping fleets, into his singular vision may seem at odds with the collaborative and carnivalesque ventures proposed by Welfare State International in the decades after 1968, but it’s arguable that a more current mass spectacle like Danny Boyle’s London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony can best be understood as a merger between the disciplined choreography of Avraamov in 1922 and the more democratic ideals of John Fox, with both models co-opted into the service of an instrumentalism that demands a range of contradictory results: a unifying national story and a celebration of individualism; a showcase for British export industry to run in parallel with a self-justifying carnival; an inclusive participatory event and a corporate media spectacle.

 Albert Speer. Lichtdom, 1936 Olympics

Boyle’s opening ceremony returns us to the question that Claire Bishop asks of Bourriaudand Relational Aesthetics: what types of relations are being produced by public artworks? Any tendency to assume that the relations created by participatory works are intrinsically democratic is debatable, especially in the very literal shadows cast by Albert Speer’s Lichtdom, or Cathedral of Light, an undeniably participatory construct that arrayed anti-aircraft searchlights at the edges of a Nuremberg stadium to cast a magical aura around the Nazi rally it accompanied. The impressive effect is recorded for posterity in Hans Weidemann’s 1937 propaganda documentary Festliches Nürnberg, yet Speer’s rally shares many aesthetic qualities with both the more bombastic sections of Boyle’s opening ceremony and such media spectacles as the mass-choreographed nude bodies of photographer Spencer Tunick.   

If Bourriaud’s intention is to resist this kind of orchestration of human materials, arguing for the destabilisation of the standard institutions and autonomous processes of art by opening them to new dialogues, then relational aesthetics can be viewed as a calculated unsettling of artists’ traditional relationships with audiences. Even so, while participants in relational works are rarely allowed to remain entirely passive, relational work tends to operate through staged encounters between artist, situation and audience: less an open and equal dialogue than a set of laboratory conditions designed to elicit responses within a controlled range.

This can be powerful on its own terms and in a work like Artur Zmijewski’s Them(2007), in which the artist brings together a number of often violently opposed groups to discuss the things that divide them in post-Communist Poland, the encounters staged are both revealing and capable of navigating dangerously volatile situations and issues in unpredictable ways. Yet there’s also little doubt that however high the level of risk in the situations documented, the end-result of a project like Them (in Zmijewski’s case, usually a video work designed for gallery screening) is easily recuperated into standard academic, curatorial and institutional contexts; an object for discussion, critique and viewing within the white cube. The transformative effect of Zmijewski’s encounters on the institutional framework is absent.

This probably reflects the widespread absorption into the academies of radical political discourses in the years since 1968, where they were destined to be endlessly debated and critiqued but not, in any meaningful way, implemented or acted upon. It’s certainly the case that works by the early twentieth century avant-gardes, the precursors of those ideas, are now undermined by the mere fact that while they successfully bring their social concerns and fascination with everyday life into the institutions of art, only rarely are the transformative qualities of art brought into play in life outside those contexts. As Raoul Vaneigem, author of the 1967 Situationist text The Revolution of Everyday Life notes, “people who talk about revolution without referring explicitly to everyday life, without understanding what is subversive about love and what is positive in the refusal of constraints; such people have a corpse in their mouth.” 

Vaneigem’s line was written on walls in Paris during the events of May 1968, the year John Fox established Welfare State International and many other artists abandoned the making of objects to show in museums, choosing to work instead alongside activists, organisers and a range of communities. More than 40 years on from that historical moment the merging of art and life occurs, but art too often succumbs to a social and educational instrumentalism, the imaginative and transformative qualities that constitute its distinctive functions shorn from the engagement with everyday life. The social, ecological and critical discourses so many artists moved to embrace after 1968 become a body of material, theoretical formalism and documentary naturalism the work’s primary modes of presentation and interpretation.

Contemporary public art of this kind becomes a genre as potentially complicit in maintaining a status quo as any bronze statue, and the convergence of art and life on terms as yet unknown, each transformed by the other, as sought by the last century’s disparate avant-gardes, seems to have been abandoned as a viable project, leaving much of the art that shares these concerns in a relationship to its audience that largely echoes and serves existing economic and institutional models. If artists create work from audiences who remain only the spectators of their own participation, or engage in dialogues that are then used to make works over which institutions and curators retain control, the results might productively engage with key issues and problems but they also leave the more potent radical potential recognised by the early avant-gardes only, at best, very partially realised.

Wasteland Twinning Update

Beth Bramich

In Sneinton a site known locally as ‘The Island’ has been the subject of numerous redevelopment plans aiming to regenerate the area, from new offices to the largest supermarket in the Midlands. For more than twenty years the ex-industrial site has remained derelict, all schemes unrealised. While the definition of a ‘wasteland’ can be slippery, this inner-city space, with its long grass, crumbling buildings and occasional nefarious goings-on seems to fit the bill.

Wasteland Twinning is an international network exploring the function of these spaces, with The Island one of 14 sites across Europe, Asia, USA and Australia. The project hijacks the concept of ‘City Twinning’, connecting these urban sites of potentially questionable value, to form a global community of artists, researchers, cultural geographers, sociologists and anthropologists.

 Nottingham Visual ArtsJulian Hughes

The Nottingham Wasteland Twinning collective (WTN), which formed in 2011, consists of Rebecca Beinart (artist and educator), Mathew Trivett (artist and producer) and David Bell (writer and utopian theorist). Their activity attempts to create an historical understanding of The Island through the recording or users’ experiences and by working with local archives. It also looks to the future, both in those unrealised redevelopment plans, and in alternative visions for the site.

There are a number of political issues that are raised by the project, including questioning the role of art in public planning and gentrification initiatives. The gap between the imagined futures for The Island and its current function as an unofficial commons, a space within Nottingham that is currently used for many purposes by a community of people living around it, is central to their research.

Last year WTN launched a public programme, with events ranging from performances of music using improvised instruments made on-site and a ‘wasteland-rules’ rounders tournament to an in-depth walking historical tour. They also travelled to the Wasteland Twinning Network Forum in Berlin where a ceremony was performed to twin The Island with Ledok Timoho, a wasteland in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, with further events planned this year to cement the relationship.


To kick off 2013 WTN took part in a residency at Sneinton Library, collaborating with Nottingham Contemporary to convene a series of public conversations and commissioning new works for an exhibition later this year. With on-going public activity and actions, plus renewed local interest in The Island as a potential part of the new Creative Quarter, this year looks to be their busiest yet and NVA was keen to let you know how you can get involved in the projects over the next few months.

As part of their research the collective are making audio recordings of peoples’ experiences of The Island. They are interested to hear about how you use the site, your memories and historical stories. They are also looking for your opinions about what you would like to see the site used for and if you have any reactions or fears about potential development. The audio recordings will be used to make a new sound work for an exhibition later in the year. If you would like to take part  email to find out more.

Artist Impression
Planned for Late Spring – Early Summer

A public event planned for late Spring to early Summer, WTN will be staging a re-enactment of an unrealised vision for the redevelopment of The Island.  The project references the Artists’ Impressions produced to market new build projects. You are most likely to have encountered these images, populated by couples holding hands and people looking out of balconies, on the awnings of construction sites.  

Staged as a crowd scene for a film shoot, there will be an open casting call for people to take part in the re-enactment.  If you are interested in being involved, head to Sneinton Library on 6th or 13th March to sign up to receive more information or email

For more information about Wasteland Twinning Nottingham visit:, follow WTN on Twitter @WTNottingham or get in touch via

In Conflict: Reflections on the Constant War in Iraq

Jennifer Gleadell

On the 17th of January, 1991, the Allied Forces began what is now known as Operation Desert Storm, as a result of Iraq’s refusal to withdraw troops from the Kuwait, sending hundreds of planes on bombing raids of the nation. Twenty two years later, on Thursday 17th January, 2013, NVA intern Jennifer Gleadell met Iraqi born artist, Satta Hashem, in Nottingham’s New Art Exchange to show her around his new exhibition, ‘In Conflict: Reflections on the Constant War in Iraq’.  

Before we begin the tour, Satta Hashem was eager to explain to me the relevance of this date, as a vital turning point in Iraqi history, and a milestone for the artist himself. Twenty two years ago to this very day, as a result of the violent occurrences in Iraq and worried about his estranged family members, Hashem began recording his daily anxieties and responses in his diary. The story of this fascinating exhibition starts here.

‘In Conflict: Reflections on the Constant War in Iraq’ is Hashem’s first solo exhibition on such a large scale, awarded to him as part of the Nottingham Castle Open prize in 2011. This style of exhibiting is a distinct move away from his previous five part series considering colour science. A potently humanist exhibition, this is an opportunity for Hashem to combine all aspects of his earlier study under one unified theme. Nature, science and art, come together in a powerful and emotive reflection on the state of his homeland. Despite previously describing his status as an ‘exile’, having lived an almost nomadic life inhabiting many different countries, this exhibition does not seem to emphasise Hashem’s identity as an ‘outsider’, nor his political beliefs or his cultural allegiances through travels. Instead this is a purely human response to the trauma in Iraq. His life experiences are so exceptional (he shows to me the scars created by cigarette torture from his time in prison in Iraq) this exhibition reaches out to everyone. Even if you had lived under a rock for the last century, with no communication with the outside world, the message of these works of art ring clear; ultimate sadness at the state of humanity.

We begin at the bottom of the stairs. Images of widows, prisoners of war, suicide bombers and mass graves line the walls of the Central Gallery. This is just a tiny portion of his entire collection, comprising more than 1000 of these drawings along some six similar themes. The images are mainly monochrome; strong intricate black lines drawn onto white paper. A few are highlighted with coloured ink or paint. Think of the automatic drawings of early surrealist Andre Masson, some overlaid with intricate motifs referencing Russian and Iraqi visual styles, yet others with disturbing scenes similar to the work of Francisco Goya. Horrific images and elegant symbols contrast with the scrawl, giving the viewer an impression of complete artistic spontaneity.

These images are quickly captured responses to the disturbing images he has seen on the television, stories he has heard on the radio, reports he has found on the news. Some pieces are more worked on, for example, his drawings of the widows and father-less families created by the war are much more intricately rendered than his confusing whirl of black and red called Mass Grave. Hashem explains this. He states that the artist is not a machine; the artist cannot function as a camera. It is difficult to balance the two urges, one side attempting to show the situation as it is, but the other, at the same time, trying not to lose the depth and the sympathy with the victims as a human. These drawings control this necessary duality by developing from a human response into something deeper, more steadied and laboured.

 On closer inspection, some of these ‘steadier’ ways of expression become clear. It is clear that in order to fully express his emotions Hashem has had to develop an eloquent semiotic language. Images of wild and domestic animals are a frequent addition. Ancient Mesopotamian artists and craftsmen used images of wild and tame animal figures to represent their creation beliefs. Hashem echoes this technique in his own work, claiming the animal figures emerging from his drawings to be tools he uses to express his response. He admires not the pedagogical metaphor in the artefacts of Ancient Mesopotamia, but instead the lucid semiotics formed by the artists.

In the main room of the exhibition, the Mezzanine Gallery, further discoveries await. A pair of huge drawings depicting groups of mourning, yet undeniably elegant women hang from the ceiling to the floor, immediately to the right of the entrance. These drawings seem almost romantic; the women resemble tragic Pre-Raphaelite beauties –  Hashem choses to portray them in this way to clearly express his highly emotive message. Iraq has the largest number of war widows in the world (according to Hashem, nearly 1.5 million widows, with nearly 6 million children with only one parent or none). The impact of this huge loss of life, similar to the situation in Britain after the First World War, will be felt for decades to come. In these images, the artist’s pain and regret at this situation is tangible.

The rest of the gallery is occupied by dramatic paintings blending an abstract style with figurative hints in strong splashes of colour. On one canvas, waves of blues and violets merge together forming a loosely depicted human head. On another, Hashem’s vibrant palette builds an image of a standing couple. The artist describes his painting process as more stable, premeditated and planned than his drawings. This does not subtract from the strength of feeling in the work. Somehow, used in this way, these vibrant and aesthetically pleasing canvases that would normally evoke feelings of elation or calm create tragic, thought-provoking paintings. These paintings will intrigue and engage any viewer, even without my privilege of Hashem’s enigmatic explanations. An element that pushes the viewer into a more clinical, objective realm is the inclusion of screen prints in this exhibition. Blown-up and abstracted views of elements such as Thulium and Gold are presented in an objective fashion. Hashem explains to me the relevance of his screen print of Thulium, as this element was used during Saddam times to kill prisoners of war.

Art can communicate emotion and feeling at times when other methods of human articulation fail us. Art can of course be political: think of George Grosz, Diego Rivera, Ai Weiwei… The list is goes on. Paradoxically, Satta Hashem is insistent that his is not of that ilk. His is a human response to trauma. His is a method of coming to terms with the disastrous happenings in Iraq.

Visually, the exhibition makes a big impact: the large abstracted paintings work harmoniously with the automatic drawings rich in semiotics, and the pencil sketches hint at an exciting artistic future, (he tells me his drawings of widows will make up a large part of his next exhibition.) However, the element key to the success and unique identity of this exhibition is the powerful and true human emotion that fuels it.  I would not describe him as an activist - he is not attempting to change the course of events, and there are no alternatives suggested in this work. Instead, I see real feelings of sorrow, fear and regret which emanate from his paintings and drawings like ripples in a pond. Like his great colour-manipulating expressionist heroes, Rothko and Kandinsky, Hashem’s work uses pure strength of emotion to force a direct and unyielding engagement with the viewer.

New Art Exchange

In September 2003 the New Art Exchange was formed as a new organisation to steer and manage the development of Nottingham’s first dedicated cultural facility for Black contemporary arts. The New Art Exchange was formed as a partnership between APNA Arts and EMACA Visual Arts. APNA Arts focused on South Asian arts and played a key role in the development of the Nottingham Mela.
EMACA Visual Arts supported the development of artists of African/Caribbean origin. From April 2006, Arts Council England revenue funding for these two organisations ceased and was replaced by a consolidated grant to the New Art Exchange. The board of the New Art Exchange were successfully awarded capital funding to create a new dedicated centre for contemporary arts on the site of the former Art Exchange, in the centre of Hyson Green in Nottingham. The award-winning London-based architects Hawkins Brown designed the New Art Exchange.

Normal Opening Times:

Monday to Friday 10am – 7pm
Saturday  10am – 5pm
Sunday  11am – 4pm

For Christmas opening hours, NVA recommends that you visit the New Art Exchange's website.
New Art Exchange
39-41 Gregory Boulevard
United Kingdom

Public Anti Art

Simon Raven

 Regular NVA contributor, Simon Raven would like to attempt to coin a new phrase: Public Anti-Art. After attending two compelling discussions about 'Anti Psychiatry & it's Legacies' and having seen the current exhibitions at Nottingham Contemporary: Piero Gilardi and John Newling – this article takes a look at Nottingham’s Anti-heroes, its appropriated statues and the publicly subversive work of the all female Rawiya Group, currently at The New Art Exchange.

Public Anti-Art might be used to describe a certain type of maddening creative activity, characterised by a knowing subversion of normative or socially regressive behaviour, incorporating an element of cartoon violence, mutability and political engagement. I would include under this banner: creative activity which sets out to publicly challenge social and institutional rectitude, humorous and auto-destructive protest, graffiti/defilement of adverts and political campaign posters, stage invasions, and the alteration of public monuments and statues.

Public Anti-Art might have a particular relevance in Nottingham, which can be celebrated for its rich history of protest and rebellion. To re-cap, our cultural heritage includes Robin Hood, exiled poet and revolutionary Lord Byron, The Nottingham Lambs, Luddites and Frame Breakers (who burnt our former Castle down) boxing legend and preacher Bendigo, and more recently Alan Sillitoe, who wrote 'Saturday Night, Sunday Morning', among other anti-hero fuelled novels. The existence and popularity of The New Art Exchange, as the only major arts institution in the UK (outside London) dedicated to showing art from the African and South East Asian diaspora, can also be seen in this ground-breaking, progressive light. Having banged on about this for the past few years, I am excited to report that new development plans for Nottingham Castle include 'Exploring the castle site as a symbol of Nottingham's importance nationally within social protest and rebellion through the ages'.

A recent example of Public Anti-Art then: On the day the same-sex marriage bill was passed in England and Wales, a poignant tribute appeared in Nottingham City Centre. The lips of the large bronze statue of foot-balling legend Brian Clough were painted a bright, Nottingham Forest FC strip, blood-red.

This economical act briefly transformed Clough's image (his arms held aloft in an endless gesture of sporting triumph) into a symbol of gay pride; an articulate irony, given that in addition to having been a brilliant football manager, Brian Clough is also known to have been a homophobe, who famously ostracised Justin Fashanu (the only top-level English football player to have openly declared his homosexuality) by refusing to allow him to train with the rest of his team. Indeed, Fashanu's courageous choice to publicly 'come out', in 1990, spelt the end of his foot-balling career. His brother publicly disowned him, and Justin Fashanu committed suicide under tragic circumstances in 1998.

The simple alteration of Clough's statue might be understood in historical terms as a public, contemporary version of an anti-art gesture, in the same vein as Marcel Duchamp's postcard alteration of the Mona Lisa, 'L.H.O.O.Q' (1919) By painting a beard and moustache onto a reproduction of the Mona Lisa, Duchamp inverted a gender-determined paradigm of beauty in Western Art. The title, which might suggest a deliberately obtuse or mysterious institution, is a phonetic French pun that translates, 'She's got a great arse!'

At a stretch, we might consider same-sex marriage in terms of Public Anti-Art. Here is a new ritual that reclaims, and historically subverts, a socially divisive tradition, whilst radically adopting its own image. Fox News in America recently made a telling gaffe with this regard. A stock photograph of two newly-weds, Alaskan same-sex couple Stephanie Figarelle and Lela McArthur, - exchanging a kiss on top of the Empire State Building, accidentally accompanied a news column about traditional gender roles in marriage.

Works on display at The New Art Exchange, by the Rawiya Group (the first all-female art group from the Middle East) adopt similar strategies of progressive public subversion. Traditionally macho, Middle Eastern men are sensitively depicted in states of vulnerability, undress and collapse. Images of transvestites clubbing in Jerusalem might seem transgressive by their very existence. Poignant photographs of mothers holding faded images of their sons, killed in war, exemplify both a living history of conflict, and the unique ability of photography to stare at us across time. Repressive constraints on female expression are doubled by a muted video, featuring Middle Eastern Women breaking the law by singing popular songs.

Piero Gilardi's creative activity, a retrospective first-gathering of which is currently on show at Nottingham Contemporary, is comprised of prop objects and outfits intended for use in domestic interiors, or as part of group political demonstrations. Made from spongy material, his colourfully painted, out-sized 'Nature Carpets', and political caricatures, recall the puppets from 1980's TV show 'Spitting Image', Jim Henson's 'Muppets', and the vivid cartoons of 18th Century satirist James Gillray (an impressive collection of which was exhibited in the same space at Nottingham Contemporary last year.)

Gilardi's objects seem, by their unusual nature, to resist static presentation in an art gallery, straining to a different social purpose. This is revealed by a row of videos installed nearby. A large foam boulder, with the word 'Crisi' mock-carved into its surface, sits rather forlornly under forensic gallery lights, appearing to me, on first glance, like a giant mouldy lemon in an outsized fridge. Far more compelling is a film in which the same sponge boulder is animatedly rolled through the streets of Turin during a recent May Day 'anti austerity' march. Viewed cartoon-crashing through public space, pushed by energised crowds of demonstrators, the 'boulder of crisis' lends illusory weight to a charged and humorous procession. Repetitive political hyperbole regarding the 'financial crisis' is effectively reclaimed, and translated into a Sysiphian farce, underscored by the nightmarish totem of being chased by a rock. Members of public are forced to comically leap from the path of the 'crisis boulder', whipped along by caricature politicians, enacting a fitting response, perhaps, to the violent language of 'unavoidable austerity measures'. Having encountered quite a number of similarly absurd situations whilst working as a gallery technician, I couldn't help imagining the boulder being rolled in a loop through Nottingham Contemporary, bowling down the stairs and up into the galleries in its goods lift, parodying a curatorial crisis of confidence in deciding where to place an object.

John Newling's practice is similarly inspired by questions of cultural value and ritual power. From sculpturally laundering money to crafting shimmering collages, which seem to chart the production of a fictive currency, his earthy work has the strange appeal of science fiction/fantasy. A wall of images made from individually ironed cabbage leaves, and gold leaf, with coin and bank-note sized sections cut away, combine to form a conceptual forest. These enchanted miniature oaks mirror the green and gold architecture of Nottingham Contemporary, and pooled in evening light provoke a reinterpretation of the biblical book of Genesis. Instead of an apple being plucked from the 'Tree of Knowledge', here we envision coins and notes being carved from nature for consumption. The mythic conflation of female seduction with social inferiority, engendered by the story of Adam and Eve, might be viewed as a reason for the continued disparity in earnings between men and women in the UK. Newling's use of the negative circular spaces left by sheets of consecration wafers is also suggestive of coinage, and I am reminded of both Damien Hirst's 'Spot Paintings', once celebrated for their conceptual indifference to artistic commodification, originality, and psychotropic medicine, and Hieronymus Bosch's images of priests defecating money, in the 'hell' panel of 'The Garden of Earthly Delights'.

To accompany his exhibition, Newling also organised a day-long public performance in the Broadmarsh Shopping Centre. An anamorphic copy of 'The Riddler's' outfit from Batman (a gold suit embroidered with question marks) hung from the ceiling of the busy Broadmarsh concourse, in an extruded train down to the floor. An effective illusion of a cartoon villain swooping up into the air was created. Teams of staff from Nottingham Contemporary were filmed in their work clothes (emblazoned with the gallery logo) asking passing shoppers what they valued most. Herein lay the riddle; 'value' has two meanings. This might have seemed lost on a number of participants, who immediately named their favourite computer console. Thinking about it though, given our cultural addiction to illusion, any device which makes the pressure of living under a code of abstract values (familial, religious, educational, political etc) temporarily bearable, be it a violent game, designer clothes, saucy novel, intrusive magazine or other, quite probably really is most valuable. Art operates in the same way.

I imagine that it would be difficult to commodify what I think of as Public Anti-Art. I'm tempted to have a go by producing drawings or postcards of Brian Clough, touched with red lipstick, titled 'He's got a Great Arse' and see if any local art galleries will have them.

Michelle Stuart: Drawn from Nature

Anna Lovatt

 In summer 1975, the American artist Michelle Stuart produced what has to be one of the largest drawings ever made. Along with a number of other artists, Stuart was invited to install a site-specific work at the Lewiston Artpark, a public park in the state of New York dedicated to the arts. During the early 1970s Stuart had become known for her monumental scrolls, where rolls of paper five foot wide by twelve foot long were unfurled outdoors and smashed with rocks, stroked with earth or rubbed with graphite, until the characteristics of a given site became ingrained in their surfaces. At the Lewiston Artpark these processes were executed on a vast scale, as Stuart, her assistants and members of the public imbued a four hundred and twenty foot long roll of paper with earth from the site. Three of Stuart’s expansive scrolls and a video of the Lewiston piece, Niagara Gorge Path Relocated (1975), are currently on view at the Djanogly Art Gallery, Lakeside Arts Centre, University of Nottingham, in the exhibition Michelle Stuart: Drawn from Nature.

Surveying Stuart’s career from the late 1960s to the present, the exhibition also challenges our preconceptions of the medium of drawing. Often associated with small-scale works on paper, drawing in Stuart’s practice is reconceived as monumental, dynamic and frameless—her voluminous scrolls cascading from the gallery walls and onto the floor.  Moreover, these works depart from traditional notions of the drawn line as expressive of the artist’s personality, by using “automatic” techniques such as frottage, where paper is laid over a surface and rubbed with graphite so that the underlying texture becomes imprinted upon it.  Stuart’s scrolls are “drawn from nature” not in any conventional, representational sense, but as impressions pulled or lifted from the surfaces of the natural world.

Her emphasis on the externally generated mark enabled Stuart to move beyond the hermetic systems favoured by many artists in the 1960s and 70s, to explore processes of geological stratification, historical change, and “the overlay and the imprinting of one culture upon another.”[1] Niagara Gorge Path Relocated was unfurled in the gorge where the Niagara Falls had once flowed, now situated on the Lewiston Artpark campus. By reinstating a ghostly trace of the Falls at their original location, Stuart excavated the rich history of the site, which had also served as a gateway to Canada and a Native American burial ground. In an accompanying statement, she suggested that by breaking rocks and rubbing earth into the paper, the participants “could feel the earth from strata on the escarpment and feel the layers of time that were being uncovered.”[2] The paper overlay physically covered the site in order to uncover its history, revealing it to be a dense palimpsest of geological, historical, and cultural traces.

Emphatically site-specific, Niagara Gorge Path Relocated was nevertheless far less intrusive than most works of American Land Art. The amount of earth taken from the site was negligible, and the paper scroll into which it was rubbed was fragile and ephemeral. Stuart embraced this transience, suggesting that: “as the disintegration of the piece occurred, its union with the land once again evoked the perception of time and, with it, awareness of the continual flow of nature’s processes.” While artists such as Robert Smithson and Michael Heizer shaped the earth into gargantuan, permanent monuments, Stuart’s scroll was a receptive, dynamic surface conditioned by its encounter with the site.

During the early 1980s Stuart traveled in the UK, producing a series of works also on display at the Djanogly. The Avebury works pair photographs of named sites with earth rubbed into rag paper, cut to the dimensions of a photograph. The juxtaposed units offer alternative ways of capturing the essence of a particular place, continually switching from bird’s-eye to worm’s-eye view. These spatial displacements are accompanied by dramatic shifts in scale, from the diminutive images to the expansive plains they represent. The photographs often capture vast inscriptions on the land, such as the Uffington White Horse, or the parallel lines left by a combine harvester in a field near Stonehenge. In fact, geoglyphs and petroglyphs populate Stuart’s practice, from Petroglyph, New Mexico (1978), to the constellation of works based on the Nazca Lines (1981–82). Eliding the modern obsession with the individual author, these found drawings constitute a more collective, ritualistic mode of inscription.

In an essay titled “Aligned with Nazca,” (1975), the artist Robert Morris proposed that the Nazca Lines had assumed new relevance for artists working in the 1970s, since they predated “the phenomenological dichotomy between flat and three dimensional, marking and making, painting and sculpture” then being challenged in contemporary art.[3] In a vivid account of his visit to the Lines, Morris noted that from the ground, the vast inscriptions ran underfoot before rising to eye level at the horizon, so that “the horizontal becomes vertical by extension.”[4] From the air, the lines could be viewed or photographed perpendicularly, from a more familiar viewpoint akin to viewing a drawing on a page. At the Djanogly, these shifting perspectives are conveyed in Stuart’s Nazca Lines Chart Book (1981-82), which depicts the lines alongside constellations of stars. Likewise, Stuart’s scrolls confound the opposition between flatness and three-dimensionality, imbuing their paper supports with voluptuous, sculptural qualities.

Although she was not one of the artists discussed in Morris’s essay, his account of the Lines might be applied to Stuart’s practice: “They do not impress by indicating superhuman efforts or staggering feats of engineering. Rather it is the maker’s care and economy and insight into the nature of a particular landscape that impresses.”[5] Instead of sculpting the landscape or erecting architectural structures upon it, Stuart’s outdoor works can be understood to constitute a kind of drawing in the expanded field, casting their intrepid lines far beyond the page.

Image Credit:

Courtesy of Michelle Stuart and Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Project, New York

[1] Kate Horsfield, “On Art and Artists: Michelle Stuart” (interview), Profile 3. 3, (May 1983) p. 8.

[2] Stuart, “Niagara Gorge Path Relocated” in Michelle Stuart Sculptural Objects: Journeys In and Out of the Studio, (Milan, 2010), p. 27.

[3] Robert Morris, “Aligned with Nazca,” Artforum (October 1975), reprinted in Morris, Continuous Project Altered Daily: The Writings of Robert Morris (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England, 1995), p. 158.

[4] Morris, p. 154.

[5] Morris, pp. 171-172.

Lakeside Arts Centre

Lakeside Arts Centre presents a mixture of different art forms including dance, theatre, music and family events alongside a varied visual arts programme. Art at Lakeside is presented in different venues througout the site and ranges from historical retrospectives, group exhibitions and touring shows to innovative new commissions by emerging and known artists alike.

The Djanogly Art Gallery, which is ajacent to the University's History Of Art Department, has presented a varied selection in recent years ranging from the informative survey show to fascinating shows of internationally important works. This venue also has Craft Cabinets well stocked with affordable applied arts, jewellery and ceramics for sale.

A short walk across the part to The DH Lawrence Pavillion is recommended where one can find the Wallner Gallery which is a platform for the work of local and regional artists and also the venue for informal lunchtime talks, preview nights and special Lakeside events. Next to this is the Weston Gallery which is a public showcase for the University of Nottingham’s prized and unique manuscripts collections. The Visual Arts Workshop is a brand new space situated upstairs in the DH Lawrence Pavilion where an extensive range of workshops for all ages take place.

Djanogly Art Gallery
Monday - Saturday 11:00am - 5:00pm
Sun/Bank Holidays 12:00pm - 4:00pm

Weston Gallery
Monday - Friday 11.00am - 4:00pm
Sat/Sun/Bank Holidays 12:00pm - 4:00pm

Wallner Gallery
Monday - Saturday 10:00am - 5:00pm (until 11:00pm on performance evenings)
Sun/Bank Holidays 12:00pm - 4:00pm

Box Office
Lakeside Arts Centre
University Park
United Kingdom

The Dancing Plague of 1518

Hannah Roast

Reactor Halls, Nottingham
14 - 15 December 2012

Winner of the Jack Vickers Prize

It might be hard to imagine that a performance piece about a rare 16th century plague could be spontaneous and fun, but Nicholas MacArthur and Robert Vaughan pull it off with gusto.

"In July 1518 a woman named Frau Troffea, began to dance obsessively in a street in Strasbourg. Her relentless dance lasted for six days. Within that time 34 others had joined her and within a month, there were around 400 dancers. Many of these people eventually died fromheart attacks, strokes, or exhaustion. It is not known why these people danced to their deaths, nor is it clear that they were dancing wilfully... "[1]

On a December night, in a street outside Primary's newest event space, Reactor Halls, two men in their 20s, faces and bodies painted with grime, wearing filthy peasant's clothes, stand facing each other in the middle of the road, amidst a circle of expectant spectators. The audience does not know it, but they are about witness a re-enactment this mysterious aforementioned phenomenon. After a brief wait while they resolve "technical difficulties", an amp (attached to a child's buggy with gaffer tape and twigs) bursts into life. At the same time, the pair raises their hands, shouting in unison: "WE ARE THE DANCING PLAGUE 1508 AND NOW IS THE MOMENT OF OUR SALVATION!"

The next 15 minutes pass in a blur of limbs, laughter, and body paint, as the pair writhe, wriggle and lurch through a variety of pounding music (Techno duo Justice, and The Human League to name a few). The dance itself is preceded by a short introduction, during which the two performers, already in character, explain that the same plague which struck down Frau Troffea has laid dormant inside them for hundreds of years, and invite us to join them. To the plague bearers, it is not their disease but the "routine of our everyday lives" during which they must supress their infections that is the true source of their pain and "debasement".

Floodlights pouring from the windows of Reactor light the pair, and mark an area of the street as the performance area. The scene is almost apocalyptic: two survivors in deteriorating condition, battling it out on a freezing night under the lamp light. It seems unclear if they have any degree of control over their flailing, stamping, shaking and raving, and as suggested in their introductory speech, we are left questioning whether these characters are really enjoying themselves. Sometimes their movements more closely resemble seizures than choreographed dance. They commit to the dance completely, clinging to one other with an exhaustion which must be genuine, before lashing out again with furious energy. "We're still alive!" picking their selves up the floor, and yet their tone is hard to pinpoint: are they triumphant, or despairing? Do they wish to be released from the dance? Or perhaps, in their continuing to live, they are failing their beloved Frau Troffea, who the characters have elevated to a near saintly status?

Throughout all this they move with the kind of unselfconscious abandon usually reserved for the privacy of bedroom dancing or drug taking. They're shameless. It's great. It lends the whole scene an intimacy which seems out of place in a large group of relative strangers on a street at night. More than twice I find myself looking around to see if anyone else is keen enough to want to join in. Some are rooted to the spot, while others bob up and down enthusiastically. Sadly, despite the crowd's obvious enjoyment, it seems spontaneous group participation is not an option this evening. 

However, the plague bearers seem unafraid of a little audience interaction as they career blindly in and out of the crowd, grabbing at our arms, holding on for support, reaching out desperate grubby hands.  Some respond by retreat politely, while others hug them. Cheering and giggling at every opportunity, and there are many, the mood amongst the crowd fluctuates between whole-hearted encouragement and that awkward, shifty amusement typical of an audience who has left the safe confines of a conventional theatrical performance, and are left unsure what to do with themselves. 

The hesitant approach of cars, which threaten to rudely interrupt the fantasy being played out, are tackled with perfect comedy timing as the duo step aside to let aside the confused drivers, staring them down with bemused, watchful eyes. There is an equally hilarious and peculiarly intimate moment between the two as they stand toe-to-toe, eyes locked, passionately mouthing along the words to 'Seconds' by the Human League. Cleaning products are also incorporated into the chaos - sprayed and smattered in patterns about the street, like some modern re-enactment of a cleansing ritual gone horribly awry. Finally they collapse, and the music dies out. From the ground, one of the performers mumbles "Right. That's it.", and with that, the show is over. After much whooping and applause, the crowd huddles inside for hot punch and music.

If you were to happen across this performance in the street, you would seem to be witnessing a raucous medieval dance show-down - and though highly entertaining and frequently funny, you might miss the complex network of associations the piece draws on, as laid out in the introductory speech. The final section of that speech puts the performance in a broader context of capitalism, declaring: "We are products of a world that champions consumption and the fulfilment of individuals desire over human virtue, and so we will end with a testimonial to this ideology... by consuming our self, in the best way we know how, though total complicity to our disease and we invite all of you to get infected. Join us..." In between the giddy glee of the dance, we glimpse a darker side of the dance, noting the overlaps between trance states, ecstatic religious worship, rave culture, losing control, losing inhibitions, and perhaps losing grip on sanity.

As part of the 'inaugural event' for Reactors new art space, I think Reactor Halls is off to a bloody good start.

(Documentation can be found at:


Words between Contours: Alison Lloyd

Elizabeth Hawley & Alison Lloyd

All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.
Friedrich Nietzsche

Elizabeth Hawley of EMVAN Talks to Alison Lloyd, creator of Contemporary Art of Walking about practice, research, inspirations and, of course, walking.

Where did this all start?

I had left Arts Council where I’d worked for ten years and I started to think about how to bring together my arts experience and my life long interest in hill walking, and I envisaged doing that by being the curator or mediator of walks that brought together other walkers and contemporary artists. 

I realised, though, during a number of discussions with Plas y Brenin (, where I was doing a mountain leadership course, that there can be a tension between these two worlds and that walkers, who love the mountainous terrain, might ask themselves why they would go on an ‘art’ walk which may not be challenging in a physical sense, and that equally many artists might wonder why on earth they would go out walking in the hills.

However, being clear about my motivation, I had initial conversations with artists who walked for pleasure, and might be persuaded to make new work in collaboration with an ‘outdoors’ world.  I was also aware of artists and writers who walk or climb and camp, and who have chosen to make their art work through these pursuits. 

I realised that through the act of walking I could develop a practice that was situated within a wider context already well established by artists like Richard Long, Hamish Fulton, to some extent Marina Abramovic, Alec Finlay, Thomson & Craighead, Simon Pope, Neal Beggs and Dan Shipsides, Clare Qualmann, and academics such as Dee Heddon and Hayden Lorrimer.

Why did you call your practice and research project, Contemporary Art of Walking?

It was really basic, I was coming from being a policy maker/strategist working in the world of management and during the month before I left the Arts Council I was assigned an absolutely brilliant business mentor who I used to visit regularly in London and one day we talked about what the name of my business would be and he asked me what the business was about, what it would involve. I answered that it was about art and about walking and absolutely had to be about the contemporary and as he played this back to me a light bulb came on as he uttered the words contemporary art of walking.  He was a London-based non arts professional for whom this moniker made sense of what I wanted to do.

You’ve mentioned the phrase ‘art walk’, what makes a walk an ‘art walk’?

Actually that’s a really good question and one that I’m still trying to find out the answer to myself, which is partly why I am now doing a PhD at Loughborough University.  One interpretation of this is that the shared experience of walking can change people’s perceptions of their place in a landscape, be it rural or urban.  Or indeed their place in the world.  There is also something about the documentation of the walk, whether a blog post, a photograph or a piece of text, which not only exists as a record of the activity, but also is intrinsic to the work.  My encounters with people on my walks and indeed through social media have also become edited forms of art works, an unintended collaboration. Another way of looking at this question, would be to use the example of a night walk I had done with Luke Allan whilst participating on a field trip led by Alec Finlay on the Isle of Skye. It was a pivotal moment for me when I realised that I could re-enact this walk contouring a roundabout in Lenton, Nottingham outside the Cotswold Outdoor Shop.  This led to an interest in using the language of navigation, which is usually associated with a very factual method of route finding, such as from A to B, to explore less conventional routes and locations.   

What can people expect when they join you for a walk?

At its most basic level they can expect an encounter; with me as the leader of the walk, with their fellow walkers, or in a more esoteric form with a specific location.  For example members of the Lyke Wake Walking Club based near Hutton le - hole were invited to ‘mark the contours’ at Spaunton Knoll, during a day long walk across the North York Moors.

Another example was my commission by Dan Simpkins and Penny Whitehead from The International Center of Cultural Exchange and Diplomatic Friendship (ICCEDF) to make a walk in Liverpool in collaboration with Alain Ayers on the subject of his Kissing Gate (commissioned in 1984 for the Liverpool Garden Festival). The artwork resulting from this is a series of reflections, day dreams and images gathered over the period of the walk and includes a record of where in the city I performed the act of kissing each of the members of the Liverpool Free University. 

Who has been an inspiration to you?

I met the artist Alec Finlay, and through him I found other artists, whose practice involved aspects of walking and/or climbing in the Scottish mountains partly through reading, The Way to Cold Mountain a Scottish mountains anthology edited by Alec Finlay and pocketbooks, Morning Star Publications.  Additionally, in the early stages of considering a PhD, and because I was particularly interested in women like myself who were walking on their own in mountainous areas, it was suggested that I looked at Nan Shepherd’s, The Living Mountain, a book written in the 1940s about her experiences of walking in the Cairngorms over a period of several decades.  For several of my walks alone I have replaced the Cairngorm’s Plateau for a series of ‘ring contours’ south of Bleaklow in Derbyshire’s Dark Peak.

I also read, A Book of Silence by Sarah Maitland, and, How to be Alone by Jonathan Franzen because of my interest in going out alone and walking solo in remote places.  I was inspired by the idea of ‘wildness’, so well described by Jay Griffiths in her book, Wild an elemental journey,  “I was looking for a quality of wildness, which, like art, sex, love and all the other intoxicants, has a rising swing ringing through it. A drinker of wildness, I was tipsy with it before I began and roaring drunk by the end.”

What are you working on at the moment? Do you have any walks coming up?

Recent walks have included a series of Netwalks for EMVAN (East Midlands Visual Arts Network) and Mostyn in Llandudno where walkers re enacted, ‘marked the contours’ on waste ground in the town, as well as walking to viewing points looking towards Snowdonia. 

Forthcoming work includes a commission to make walks for Dukes Wood, Nottinghamshire for, Ordinary Culture.

A series of walks for the Post Methodists between their two Chapels in Lincolnshire with artist Andrew Brown.

A one week residency at Outlandia in Glen Nevis in June.  Outlandia is an Outlandia is an off-grid, treehouse observatory imagined by artists London Fieldworks and designed by award-winning Malcolm Fraser Architects. Inspired by childhood dens, wildlife hides and bothies, by forest outlaws and Japanese poetry platforms. 

Contemporary Art of Walking

Ordinary Culture

The Post Methodists

London Fieldworks, Outlandia


NVA & Backlit

Sneinton studio collective and artists group, Backlit  is hoping to bring a well-known contemporary artist, Mat Collishaw who originally hails from Nottingham back to the city by winning enough votes from the public in a national competition.

Backlit,  is one of four venues in with a chance of a visit from Collishaw as part of the hotly-contested Connect10 competition.  This will see a total of 38 venues going head-to-head to host one of 10 successful artists over Museums at Night 2013.

Mat Collishaw is a critically acclaimed artist working predominantly in photography and is one of the Young British Artists – a group of artists including Tracy Emin and Damien Hurst. He was born in Nottingham and attended Trent Polytechnic, now Nottingham Trent University, between 1985 and 1986, before he graduated with a BA in Fine Art from Goldsmiths College London in 1989.

Matthew Chesney, founder and director of Backlit, said: “I  am thrilled that Backlit has been shortlisted as one of the venues to host Mat Collishaw. He is one of the most successful contemporary artists to have come out of Nottingham and it would be an honour for us to have him here. Not only would the visit help raise our profile but it would be great for the whole city to have Mat come to Nottingham again, as he has never exhibited in his home city as far as I know.

“Collishaw is one of the Young British Artists that emerged from Goldsmiths in the 1980s, but he has tended to be overshadowed by contemporaries such as Damien Hurst, Tracy Emin and Gillian Wearing. However he’s had a string of successful international shows in the last few years and really seems to be really hitting his stride.

“As a part of his visit to the winning venue, Mat wants to get the public to help him with one of his current art projects and this would be an absolutely fantastic opportunity for local art lovers.”

Backlit is a small contemporary art gallery that also offers studio space to local artists and art students at Nottingham Trent University’s School of Art and Design. It is competing against the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool, Northern Print in Newcastle and Landhydrock House in Bodmin. In order to bring Mat back to Nottingham, Backlit must achieve the most online votes from members of the public.

Matthew is urging the people of Nottingham to join the campaign to bring back Mat. He said: “The vote is open to anyone, and I’m asking all art lovers and culture vultures to go to Culture24’s website and cast a vote to bring Matt back home.”

Other venues competing for a chance to host an artist are Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Manchester Art Gallery and the Museum of London. Backlit is the only venue in Nottingham in the competition.

To help to bring back Mat to Nottingham, cast your vote for Backlit at Voting closes on 5 March and the winner will be announced on 7 March.

Museums at Night's Connect10 competition is organised by Culture 24, a Brighton-based, non-profit, digital cultural publishing organisation.

Museums at Night 2013 takes place in hundreds of museums, galleries and heritage sites across the UK during the evenings of Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 16-18.

The online public vote, hosted by Culture24, will also offer voters the chance to win tickets to the events during the weekend of May 16 - 18.  

The Connect10 competition is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

For more information visit


Backlit was formed by a group of Nottingham Trent University graduates in 2008.

Backlit was formed by a group of Nottingham Trent University graduates in 2008. Backlit promote experimental work and support the cross-pollination of artistic practices.

Backlit describe themselves as champions of the new:

We are a laboratory for the unformed idea; dedicated to experimentation both visual, theoretical and critical.

The studios are home to the following artists Michelle Arieu, Leila Al-Yousuf, Duncan Allen, Jackie Berridge, Pete Bradley, Jenna Chell, Matthew Chesney, Andy Fagan, John Gray, Jennifer Hackett, Aylwin Lambert, Martin Lewis, Daniel Newnham, Rachel Parry, Jon Pask, Charlotte Pratley, Lewis Raoufi, Simon Raven, Antonietta Sacco, Beth Shapeero, John Valyrokis, Aimee Walker, Alison Whitmore. 

Shows open thu-sun 12-6pm
Backlit Studios
First Floor, Alfred House
Ashley Street
United Kingdom


Holger Schnadelbach

The Screens in the Wild (SITW) project investigates how media screens located in urban space can be designed to benefit public life. The network consists of four interactive screens in public places (one at Broadway Cinema, Nottingham; one at New Art Exchange, Nottingham; one at Leytonstone Library, London and one at the The Mill, Walthamstow, London). The screens are networked and currently run a schedule of interactive experiences (e.g. to co-create musical patterns or to share images via Instagram). Please pick a location close to you to check out what the screens have to offer in terms of technology and interactivity.

  • We are looking for individuals or small teams (of digital artists, interaction designers and/or creative programmers) to engage with the SITW development team to develop an interactive experience. We are looking for those with a track record of delivering interactivity and proposals that take into account more than one screen, but ideally all four screens.
  • We will evaluate how much consideration a proposal gives to the multiple local communities, the community enabled by the screen network, the venues hosting the screen, the technical feasibility. We will also consider the potential life span of the proposed experience.
  • We are anticipating that the successful award holder will be available to regularly visit the screen locations in Nottingham during the project, assisting with installation, presenting it to the community and to venue staff.
  • We will explain the background of the project, the technology platform, the current experiences, the format of the competition and the judging criteria at the workshop. There will be refreshments and plenty of time for questions and answers.

(The final submission requirements and the appropriate form will also be made available on this page on the 28th February 2013, the date of the workshop.)

We are offering one 1st prize of £2500 and public exhibition of the work

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This award is expected to pay for approximately 10 working days of input from the award holder, who will work with a team of researchers to realize the project. In addition we are offering up to two discretionary additional prizes that consist of in-kind support for those who want to seek external funding to develop work for the network (for example via kickstarter). In either case, we are expecting close collaboration with our development team who will be supporting the production of the piece(s). Access to their time and to the network infrastructure is part of the awards. The developed pieces will need to undergo review by the venues and general quality control before being displayed for at least 3 weeks on the network. The award holders will be advertised on the SITW web site and other appropriate channels.

 Submission of completed submission entry:  12 March (full submission requirements will be available during the workshop and on this web page from the 28th Februrary)

Key Dates

Announcement of winner: 18 March

Completion of experience: 18 April

The competition will be fully explained at a workshop on 28 February 2013 from 3pm-5pm at Broadway Media Centre, Broad Street, NG1 3AL Nottingham

Participating in the workshop is the best way to engage with this commission. Please book your place on the workshop by email:

FOUR PAINTERS: Part 3 Yelena Popova

Jennie Syson

Yelena Popova

Are you exclusively a painter? (If not, what other work do you make and does this inform your painting practice?)

I don't consider myself to be only a painter and I don't make single paintings. Painting practice provides me with discipline and a close connection to art history. For me there is an exciting difference between working on a project, which has a start and finishing point, and maintaining my daily studio practice at the same time. Also, I’ve noticed as a viewer I am personally more receptive to painting.

What was the last painting show that you saw?

Ayan Farah's beautiful solo show at Vigo Gallery in London. Ayan studied a year below me at the RCA and I relate to her work, so it was important for me to see it.  I also saw the Bigger Splash at Tate, did not enjoy it that much, as it was mostly a retrospective show full of archival materials, which looked slightly dead and dusted.

Where is the best place to view your paintings?

In a beautiful modernist or contemporary space with clean lines, natural light and well designed furniture. A perfect architectural space that could look flat or dull without my paintings, with them there, there would be sense of fluid movement and life. 

Is it important to sell paintings?

I never hold on to any of my work. It is more important for me to have free space (mental and physical) to produce new work in. Sales are not important but of course they do help - part of the money goes back into the making of new (better) work and also buys you (free) studio time.

Does where you live influence your work?

Yes, surely it does. Our flat has big windows with a great view overlooking trees. It is very light. I really like the expanded space and its light airy quality. Also, I love moving around Nottingham by bike, keeping balance on the move. This quality is also present in my work.

What are the fundamental beliefs that drive your work?

'I can do even better than this'. 

Do you want the viewer to go away from your work with a particular message?

For me, painting with a message is a propaganda poster. However I wish the audience can get the 'vibe' or the 'aura' of the work, which in itself is a physical experience and can communicate many things, like the silent presence of a human being.

What music, radio or noise do you listen to when you paint?

BBC Radio 4 - I find listening to music too destructive. I believe that the spoken word keeps occupied the other part of my brain, which is not so involved in painting. Otherwise, there is a danger that it will be under used. I also believe my daily ration of Radio 4 keeps my English language in order. I have thought of starting to listen to some online tutorials, but this requires some research into what's available. TED talks or podcasts are also a great studio listen but you have to keep selecting what to listen to. I'm rather lazy about this, when I enter my studio in the morning it's much easier to switch the radio on. 

Lines of Indistinction: Kafou: Haiti, Art & Vodou

Becky Ayre

Kafou is the Creole word for “crossroads”, explains Alex Farquharson in his video tour to Kafou: Haiti, Art & Vodou. It is an important term in African and Haitian belief systems, symbolizing a meeting place between the vertical realm of the spirits and the horizontal realm of humans. It is at this threshold that the boundaries of life and death, visible and invisible become hazy.

“Kafou” in the context of the exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary has another meaning. The story begins, as we are told, in 1940, with the establishment of the Centre’ D’art in Port-au-Prince: the meeting of modern art with Haitian art practice. Kafou: Haiti, Art and Vodou documents the mutual influence of modern art from Europe and Haitian culture. It also marks the moment Haitian culture met the modern art gallery. The nature of this particular crossroads, and what happened there, is what comes into focus in this exhibition.

In 1976 Brian O’Doherty presented an essay, Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space, that was the first known attempt to verbalize the developing affects of the modern art gallery space on the production and reception of art. While this endows the object with a sense of worth or value, the art “exists in a kind of eternity of display, and though there is lots of ‘period’ (late modern) there is no time. This eternity gives the gallery a limbolike status; one has to have died already to be there.” This is true, he said, both for the art and the spectators.

A house of the living dead is something you might rather relate to vodou temples than the modern art gallery. The two may be more similar than previously considered. O’Doherty was possibly the first to trace the modern method of display back to ancient histories of religion and the establishment of ritual “ultra-spaces” that facilitated a symbolic connection between heaven and earth through an engagement with objects. Speaking earlier this year, Marina Warner recalled this connection. “Tempus and temple,” she explained, share the same root …They function socially in comparable ways (‘temples for atheists’), providing an occasion for assembly, for communal experiences, for finding meanings.”

In the modern art gallery, as in a church or temple, the space itself is primary in the process of establishing meaning. O’Doherty believed that the insistent construction of an apparently unchangeable space was an attempt to impose meaning and identity, both in terms of social values and aesthetic. In its over-definition of itself, and resistance to change, modernism purposefully neglects difference. Its rigorous laws separate inside from outside, the eye from the body. With this, “Modernism’s transposition of perception from life to formal values is complete.”

As the years have progressed since the 1970s, the certain distinctions between subject and object have become less tenable. Postmodern criticism was among other interested parties to compromise hierarchies of space/ power/ knowledge. “It would appear”, wrote Harry Garuba in a recent article for E-Flux, that the boundary between Nature and Society, the world of objects and subjects, the material world and that of agency and symbolic meanings, is less certain than the modernist project had decreed.” However these challenges to modernism, in opposing its formalist ideologies, still assumed its knowledge systems to be somewhat unmovable. O’Doherty’s essay was a significant attempt to reflect critically on art-making at the time that manipulated the picture plane and the white cube to varying degrees. But postmodernism’s reactionary tactics tended to assume a dominance in modernism’s strategies. “Contesting its authority is a fine thing,” writes Garuba, in his assay “On Animism, Modernity/ Colonialism and the African Order of Knowledge: Provisional Refelctions,” “but it is much more difficult to overturn its legacies.”

What these commentaries also rather problematically assume is that those who are colonized by modernity are then drawn wholly and inevitably into its regime of knowledge/power. What if the lines are less distinct? Garuba supposes another angle of enquiry: “What are the epistemic legacies of this regime of knowledge, especially in areas of the world … seen as outside of the modern? Have they been largely untouched by the dualist episteme of modernity or have they been captured by it?” This historic survey of visual art from modern Haiti may be an opportunity to consider such negotiations with modernity. Haiti is, after all, the only independent republic to have been formed by a successful slave revolt. 

Much of the text that accompanies the art works in the exhibition is from essays written by modern or contemporary American or European commentators, all of which express a great admiration for both the art and the artists. Two great quotes appear together next to one painting, Les Generaux (1988) by Madsen Monpriemier. The first from Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 reads, “Rid me of those gilded Africans, and we shall have nothing more to wish.” The second, from André Breton, written in the visitor’s book of Centre D’Art in 1948, reads, “Haitian painting will drink the blood of the phoenix. And, with the epaulets of Dessalines, it will ventilate the world.” Placed side by side like this, these quotes represent the kind of mutual fear and awe felt by foreign observers of Haiti’s vodou culture. Vodou had a defining role in Napoleon’s defeat, the independence of slaves and the establishment of Haiti. For Breton, as a founding member of the surrealist movement, Haitian art quite possibly represented radical forms of artistic expression.

Truman Capote found the Haitian painter and vodou priest Hector Hippolyte admirable for its unwillingness to compromise, “there is nothing in his art that had been slyly transposed, he is using what lives within himself, and that is his country’s spiritual history”. It would seem that the transposing quality of Modernism described by O’Doherty was not a complete process when crossed with Haitian art, but its influence is still felt, albeit very selectively. As I walked around this show I could not fully distinguish what might have been a surrealist influence on the Haitian artist, or the signs of an influence upon surrealism. Farquharson himself also makes reference to Matisse in describing one of Hippolyte’s paintings, and the comparison is very clear. Hippolyte painted on pieces of board with enamel paint. His paintings, along with the others that are on display in this room, combine a kind of narrative history painting with the presence of vodou mysticism, in what appears to be a unique collection of spiritual history painting.

The paintings of Préfète Duffaut in Gallery 2 adopt a curious negotiation with another modernist pictorial technique. He brings a unique geometric form and symmetry to his symbolic depictions of vodou lwa, with bright colours. I am left thinking that, in response to Harry Garuba’s enquiry—whether cultures considered non-modern have been untouched by modernity or captured by it—when it comes to Haitian art there is no straight answer either way.  

O’Doherty identified an established tendency in the modern art of Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to isolate works, excising them from their context, the living world and beyond. Reality, however, does not always conform to rules of etiquette. Meanwhile, the vernacular art practices of the time were surpassing themselves and transgressing their established habitats. Memento mori photographs incorporating symbolic gestures of hair or jewels, predated Symbolism and Surrealism, and ultimately caught the eye of these movements. Similar magical, symbolic gestures in Haitian art similarly inspired them.

While many scholars have considered art as a matter of representation and communication, the anthropologist Alfred Gell saw visual art as a form of instrumental action: the making of things as a means of influencing the thoughts and actions of others, intended to make an impact upon social life. Artworks are social agents that perform a social role. Gell also recommended that anthropological understandings of art from countries other than their own should be applied to the contemporary art of anthropologists’ home countries.

Marina Warner considered the work of Damien Hirst in this manner in an essay for the London Review of Books. Speaking of his recent piece “For the Love of God”—a diamond-encrusted skull—, Hirst declared “I just want to celebrate life by saying to hell with death.” Warner concedes that Hirst’s “limitations as an artist are bound up with the transparency – you could say the obviousness – of his symbolism.” Apart from this obviousness, she also attributes this short-falling to Hirst’s individualism as an artist, the influences of the modern gallery space and the financial markets on his production.

For effective communication and personal expression though symbols, she argues, there is a need for mutual exchange between the art and its community. A mutual exchange is necessarily a dialogue. The agency enacted by an artist is rarely self-sufficient; it is not simply a 'product' or end-point of an action, but rather an extension of the artist received by others. Rather than being too literal, anticipating their own redundancy in the process, artworks should tantalize, even frustrate the viewer for dialogue to occur. The most oblique, perhaps most exciting, paintings in this regard are those made by the Sans Soleil artists, an isolated community living in the mountains of Port-au-Prince, who were both guided by avant garde principles and yet protected from the market value buzzing around the modern art gallery. In their work contorted and obscure figures swirl around in abstract space. They are somehow neither directly representative nor symbolic of anything in particular.

In his books Art and Agency, Gell argued that aesthetic appreciation alone is insufficient for understanding art, as he believed it failed to engage with the specificity of art objects themselves. But you don’t have to become an anthropologist in order to engage with art in this way. Kafou’s co-curator Leah Gordon was quick to explain in a recent gallery talk that she is not an anthropologist, that she offers no definitive explanations to the practices of Haitian vodou, and that her engagement with the vodou art of Haiti comes from her point of view as an artist. Yet her excellent film in the final gallery space of this exhibition adopts an anthropological approach that follows Haitian art practice to its place of production, predominantly the ghettoes in the cities of Haiti. The sculptures seen in this context seem to possess a liveliness and vitality that is somehow missing here in the gallery. Here again we see the lines of distinction between disciplines productively blurred.

In her film, Gordon visits an art gallery in the heart of one of Haiti’s ghettoes. The man who owns this gallery remarks on the importance of this space to his community. Spaces for art, after all, are still desirable, but what defines them is more open to question; who uses them and how is crucial. Garuba observes Marx’s idea of the commodity as both a material object and a “mysterious thing” simultaneously. He then remarks that, instead of opposing one, or defending one against the other, this co-presence must be recognized for the possibility of a genuinely alternative order of knowledge to emerge; understanding the world not as if it were already a dead object for analysis, but as something vital and alive.

There is one particular painting in this exhibition by Wilson Bigaud from 1952 that depicts a beach scene. The vodou lwa Larisen is advancing from the sea towards the beach. The intensity of this presence is causing bathers to flee in panic. One figure remains kneeling on the sand, facing the lwa, with an easel in his lap and a brush in hand. Not only does this seem to suggest how difficult the task of pictorially representing vodou is, but also how brave and bold an effort it is to attempt to do so. It is this painting that therefore seems paradigmatic of this exhibition as a whole. There is a risk at the crossroads: you cannot know for sure whether the kafou will let through good or bad spirits. Even if it inevitably upholds certain epistemic structures of modern knowledge production (in the white cube), this exhibition is a bold move, and very compelling.

Vodou is “The one thing foreigners don’t know about,” proclaims the Haitian artist in his interview for Gordon’s film. If they did, he continues, then Haiti would have fallen long ago. While this may well be the case, Kafou: Haiti, Art & Vodou is testament to a moment when foreign artists came to Haiti and were enchanted.

Education: Not Knowing. The Artist Placement Group at Raven Row

Fay Nicolson

The Artist Placement Group, or APG, was conceived by Barbara Steveni in 1965 and established a year later by Steveni and John Latham along with Barry Flanagan, David Hall, Anna Ridley and Jeffrey Shaw, among others.

Between 1966 and the turn of the 1980s, APG negotiated approximately fifteen placements for artists lasting from a few weeks to several years; first within industries (often large corporations such as British Steel and ICI) and later within UK government departments such as the Department of the Environment and the Scottish Office.[1]

Running late as usual, I traverse the corporate sheen of Bishopsgate to navigate a gentrified network of Victorian passages at speed. I push through the doors of Raven Row and approach the reception desk.

 ‘I’m here for the talk – do I have to sign in?’

I give my name and grab a booklet on the current exhibition The Individual and the Organisation: Artist Placement Group 1966-79. At this point I suspect that, unlike many recent events I have attended, this one does not demand that I assume the role of passive viewer. The apparatus and architecture of the lecture are missing, what appears in its absence is a crowd. The noise of this unorganised group is disorientating. I make my way into the heart of the gallery and am absorbed by the hum of greetings and curiosity.

The exhibition documenting APG’s work is punctuated by a series of tables. Extruded metal legs and melamine veneer form the familiar furniture of the school or organisation. On each cluster of tables sits a microphone, a large pad of paper, some markers and a sign displaying one word. These props suggest collaboration, mind mapping and idea generation. As signifiers of Think Tank culture this environment reminds me of staff away-days or episodes of The Apprentice. Skimming the room I see the headings on each table are Education, The Gallery, Not Knowing, Placement and The Contract.

From the stairs, Neil Cummings silences the crowd to introduce the event. A Think Tank has been meeting at Chelsea College of Art and Design to convene a Sculpture.[2] In today’s event members of the think tank will initiate five discussions happening simultaneously around the gallery. As members of the audience we are free to join any of the discussions. At the end of the afternoon each table will share its conclusions with the whole group. I acknowledge the dual state of excitement and dread at the prospect of being able to take part: a response to the potential of being dragged from the comfortable invisibility and social slumber of the audience.

The term sculpture operates as part of APG’s specialised vocabulary. The text written by Antony Hudek and Alex Sainsbury to accompany the exhibition states that ‘APG was fundamentally a discursive project and aural production’. When discussing two exhibitions APG participated in during 1971 they mention that ‘APG experimented with a debate-based exhibition format: the main exhibit was a board room table entitled The Sculpture, where APG hosted live discussions between artists, industrialists and government representatives.’ In this context, The Sculpture we form through joining the ‘board room’ exists between the heavy legacy of Modernist objecthood and the dematerialised exchange of contemporary discourse.

 Artist Placement Group, 1966-79.

The margin between industrial production and immaterial labour is one grounding context for the whole exhibition. Retuning to Hudek and Sainsbury’s text: ‘APG may have been the harbinger of the artist as consultant, harnessed to free market imperatives, but it also promoted artists as agents of wider change, pioneering the shift in art practice from studio and gallery to process-based forms of social engagement.’

At this current moment; of economic crisis; austerity; shifts towards privatisation; and the apparent freedom of networked digital culture, we are re-examining the models by which we should and can operate as ‘artists’. Many recent exhibitions, symposiums and texts have sought to explore art’s relationship to economics, (im)material labour, and the world wide web. As the conditions determining work and value have undoubtedly changed in the 45 years since APG’s inception it’s interesting to consider whether APG’s models provide a valid framework for artists to use today. And following that, to consider how this event differs from other academic gatherings that seek to critique art’s relationship to work whilst partaking in the immaterial exchange of knowledge they wish to deconstruct.

I join the Education table. Once seated and facing the array of contributors it strikes me that before we can engage in a productive debate we will have to negotiate the terms of our discussion; not only our individual positions, or definitions of what education can be, but how our discussion may take place. By removing the speaker / listenerdichotomy, the one-way system of knowledge transferral is dissolved, and our roles as participants are potentially equal and as yet, unknown.

The online description of Education: Not Knowing states that ‘Given the drive to instrumentalise all aspects of creative education, the possibility of ‘not knowing’ (inherent in APG’s formulation of the ‘Open Brief’) seems increasingly radical, subversive and productive’. In this statement, not knowing could be interpreted as a refusal to participate in the ‘knowledge economy’, an act of resistance that slows the flow of exchange or communication. I am intrigued by this (incongruous) relation between refusal and productivity, and how this may emerge both theoretically and practically in the sphere of education.

David Cross begins by introducing himself and his position with clarity. In light of Higher Education’s shifts towards privatisation how can we connect philosophically to a plan of action? Also present are Felicity Allen, Dean Kenning, Alberto Duman, David Harding, John Hill and several other artists, students and teachers, including myself. Despite David’s call for a plan of action, the discussion that ensues is engrossing but full of conflict. Through craving consensus we highlight issues and hint at strategies but the discussion ultimately resists consolidation. We want to talk about education, yet its very edifice is in a process of reconfiguration beneath our feet. The conversation is rich, varied and long. In summary, these are the points that reside in my mind.

APG and its treatment of management (as empowering process and aesthetic trope) is discussed. Are there organisations that mediate on behalf of artists in the same way today? How have the relationships between artists and industry shifted? APG organised placements at companies like the British Steel Corporation at a time when industrial production centred on engineering and the sourcing or processing of raw materials. Today, ‘Production in the first world has come to be based on semiotic content centring on cognitive production like marketing and branding, placing creativity at the core of the actual economic system’[3]. Through the corporate absorption of artistic strategies has APG achieved its aims, or has creativity been evacuated of all non-commercial promise? Inversely, John Hill suggested that through artists adopting managerial strategies they can self-institutionalise in order to have a more equal position in relationships with large institutions, whether they be businesses, funding bodies of universities.

We discussed assessment. As the visible symptom of management encroaching on the creative process, assessment is a source of anguish for many people in the discussion. As something that has pushed to homogenize the creative output of compulsory education for over 15 years, it seems depressingly unavoidable that shifts towards parity in Higher Education have dragged Universities into the pit of quantitative accountability. In 1995 Douglas Boughton wrote that ‘Any attempt to use written statements intended to describe the range of complex and subtle characteristics of visual expressive work at any level of schooling will be less than adequate... The qualitative nature of the arts... cannot be effectively captured in words alone.’[4] It is a shame that pre-emptive statements such as this have not been digested and acted upon.

Many people in the group discuss ways artists and students can counter these educational shifts through self-organisation or working outside of the ‘art school’. David Harding discusses the value of working beyond the studio and the placement projects he initiated whilst former Head of the Department of Sculpture/Environmental Art at Glasgow School of Art. David Cross, Dean Kenning and others call for student initiatives that intervene in University orthodoxy. I mention Department 21, a student lead project I was involved with whilst studying at the Royal College of Art. Initiated by (then RCA students) Bianca Elzenbaumer and Fabio Franz of Brave New Alps, Department 21 began in 2010 as a student-led, cross-disciplinary department. Alongside student organised workshops and events, we spent a long time discussing the purpose and structures of art school, and what education could and should be. Alongside its successes, Department 21 could also be accused of having flaws. Firstly, cohorts are temporary and students pass through institutions, unable to alter their surrounding structures. And secondly, due to this transience, Department 21 was soon co-opted as part of the RCA’s official wider programme.

We discuss alternatives, for example, if fees for university courses are extortionate, facilities sparse and teaching methods inappropriate for creative subjects, why don’t we consider working outside of these frameworks, like Islington Mill Academy in Manchester? Dean Kenning states that alternatives are also not viable, that moving art outside of the mainstream structure of higher education is exactly what the government wants. Dean put forward the necessity of negotiating existing university models.

David Harding suggests that as art schools have moved towards being businesses, why don’t all art students have a placement within their own university, exploring, reflecting upon and intervening in the corporation that is the contemporary university. I thought that although this idea is interesting it risks forcing every art student into the mode of institutional critique, or creating a state of inertia where it’s the art student’s duty to deconstruct the systems it inhabits as the act of study itself. At this point I have to ask what the point of art education is at all, and what form and value can ‘learning’ in art and design assume, with or without the institution?[5]

We discuss students as consumers, and how this renders them powerless. Dean Kenning mentions a project undertaken by David Cross’ collaborator Matthew Cornford and fellow artist John Beck that traces the disappearance of regional art schools. As Universities merger like business; pooling resources, streamlining and forming art educational monopolies, is there a need to reconsider the small and independent model of the regional art school?

Having attended a talk by Cornford and Beck in May[6] I make a mental connection between art students as consumers and the disappearance of the regional art school. In their talk ‘The Lost World of the Local Art School’ Cornford and Beck place the decline of regional art colleges in opposition to the rise of regional art galleries. Local art schools acted as a gateway for young people from regional (and often working class) backgrounds to enter into the art world. Whereas they posit regional galleries as forcing people to become consumers rather than producers of art, criticising the development of many regional galleries (Nottingham Contemporary and QUAD in Derby included). Having grown up in these two cities I strongly disagree that the presence of regional galleries is in any way negative for young visitors. However, they make a valid point about the cultural shift of the student from producer to consumer that seems to taken place.

Back to Education: Not Knowing, we appear to have ran out of time. We have only just begun to outline the conditions in which our discussion might proceed and loosely circle the focus of our shared aims. At the close of our discussion, for me the term ‘education’ hovers in between notions of public and private, management and organisation, production and consumption. Yet I am unable to move past this vague diagram to suggest any sort of praxis or direction.

Reconvening with the other groups we share our findings, or trace the cognitive form of our sculptures. Whilst the other discussions on the Gallery, Contract, Placement and Not Knowing seem fascinating, it is impossible for me to convey the ways these discussions developed, their tensions and future potential, due to my absence. Using this as a cue, I have to admit the partiality of this entire review. Full participation in this event demanded subjectivity, coaxing everyone involved to carve a discourse between their positions, opinions and experiences.

It is perhaps fair to say that, following from the event’s title and fundamental premise, many of us left in a hazy state of not knowing, or at least with an unresolvedagenda. However, I did leave Raven Row feeling energised and fully invested in the exchange that had taken place; thirsty for future meetings, debate and perhaps action. We shared our email addresses, perhaps we will meet again? And if so, this discussion may move towards a productive state of self-organisation for the sake of art education - rather than become the re-enactment of a utopian[7] spirit, on loan from the archive along with the rest of APG’s associated material.

[1] Taken from:

[2] For a full description of the event  go to:

[3] Irmgard Emmelhainz, ‘Art Under the New World Order’, in Art & Education:

[4] Douglas Boughton, ‘Six Myths of National Arts Curriculum Reform’, Journal of Art and Design Education, Vol 14 No 2, 1995.           

[5] Since this event I have visited Central Saint Martins’ new campus in Kings Cross. As a former student and current occasional employee I was shocked at the transformation. After being sent to five different rooms in search of the correct finance office; witnessing staff blocked from accessing floors via the lift according to permissions on their passes; and gazing upon a vista of security, barriers, poured concrete, and brushed steal from a glass lift I think I agree with David Harding!

[6] At Prospectus, Chelsea College of Art, 21 – 30 May 2012,

[7] I use ‘utopian’ as this term was used throughout our discussion, mainly by David Cross, who made frequent calls to develop strategies of action, but would often counter this by asking, ‘Am I being too utopian?’

FOUR PAINTERS: Part 2 Steven Ingman

Jennie Syson

NVA Editor Jennie Syson interviews four of the painters in the current Nottingham Painting Now exhibition at Nottingham Castle about what inspires them, what influences them, and general views on painting as their chosen medium.

Your work often depicts voids, empty or disused spaces or places - are they real or imagined?

My work at present is all based on real places. Many have been past and present living environments - places I have been to, journeys I have made, and situations that I remember.  I am influenced and often reflect on my memories and imagination in the painting process, for example Tanker 2011 is old farm silage equipment situated in a deserted quarry close to where I grew up. This place offered to me and a group of my friends an endless supply of fun. Yet on returning many years later the tanker had much more of an eerie and abandoned feel, something I wanted to capture in my composition.

My latest work is based on voids or empty shops. They are a constant visual reminder as I wander the city centre. It is difficult to really escape the depressing reality, reflecting on the current economic climate.

 What was the last painting show that you saw?

I recently visited the Kafou exhibition at the Nottingham Contemporary. This was work based on art and vodou from Haiti.  I was especially interested in the works by the painter Prosper Pierre-Louis. This was a real eye-catcher for me, mainly for his use of clashing colour which really brought the room to life.

But two painting shows that I have seen recently that I feel I must mention are Richter at the Tate Modern, a man I believe to be a genius, and the John Martin show ‘Apocalypse’. It was the first time I had seen the 'Last Judgement' triptych, which was a true spectacle.

Do you work from photographs or preparatory sketches? Or a bit of both?

I mainly work from photographs but on occasions I do make quick preparatory sketches.  The camera is an important part in the documentation process of my chosen subject.  I work with both digital and 35 mm. I still prefer 35mm. I know its old-fashioned but it provides an uncertainty. I also find myself being far more selective of what I take.

 Overall, the photograph gives me an accurate account that I can take back into the studio and further develop. I utilise certain properties inherent in the photograph, such as long exposure. I like the confinements provided by the photograph in visual reference. It provides rules and boundaries that I try to discover, interpret, and then break by the activity and process of making a painting.

 As a painter I have always been interested in the contemporary debate surrounding painting and photography.

What are the fundamental beliefs that drive your work?

I am driven to capture a representational sense of select environments through paint that are personally distorted both physically and mentally. I use paint as a vehicle to express my feelings.  Paintings for me capture feelings, emotions and memories.  My influences come from day-to-day experiences. Something that catches my eye, or I find interesting may just jog a memory. This normally happens during one of my rambles in the country or wandering around the city. Through walking you have longer to really appreciate your surroundings.

Within my work I play on ideas created by my childhood upbringing. I grew up in a small farming village for 20 years before moving away to study. I do find myself debating emotional ties and the ideas of “home” and its surroundings. I would not say that I am home sick, quite the opposite. City life has much more to offer me and I do think about the contrasts in ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ living.

Lastly as a painter I have a drive to build a greater understanding of the language of paint, both practically and conceptually, something that I know will take a lifetime to achieve.

Mad Dogs & Englishmen: Andrew Bracey talks to Tristram Aver

Andrew Bracey

Andrew  Bracey - When I was on my MA the exhibition, Hybrids, at Tate Liverpool was pivotal for me, in terms of the artists in the show and the idea of a painting practice merging with other mediums. David Ryan wrote in the catalogue essay about the ‘cut and paste’ aesthetic of contemporary painters, such as Fabien Marcaccio, Fiona Rae and Franz Ackermann. He said how painters can “traverse media temporarily and location, objects are no longer reducible or readable in relation to their ‘pure’ basic components. The whole question of ‘pure’ forms or ‘origins’ now seems misplaced.”[1] Do you see your paintings as coming more from an approach of collage, painting or this hybrid approach?

Tristram Aver - I had almost forgotten about that show until you just mentioned it, and yet it is one of the most influential shows upon my practice. I did not quite realise how that statement of David Ryan’s is embedded in me now; it was exactly what I am doing and what I want to achieve.  There is a sense of subverting or hybridising imagery [in my work], so that there could be a meagre pixel mark, bitmap image or pictorial ‘nod’ of something, offering a clue or reference to the ‘real world’ source. I use an erratic approach to gathering imagery and I play about with them on Photoshop to make it part of something else - a form of digital collage.  I look at the mass of visual data that is being distributed daily through the internet, and conglomerating it into something new, sometimes implausible or silly, something new or abstract; a true hybrid of source material. This is then used as a base or a sketch to work from which is then realised in paint.

AB - You have talked about the idea of ‘sampling’ in your practice and you can see this a lot in your paintings. The idea of sampling is interesting as it comes from other disciplines really and has several nuanced meanings, such as the textile sample or it’s use within music. Within visual art it does seem to come back to collage in approach and artists always have taken from what is there or has gone before...

TA – It’s not new is it, this idea of ‘sampling’? But I do try to find a different way of approaching that word.  In my own work there is an element of ‘cultural sampling’ mostly dictated by how information is represented on the web.  Currently, there is certainly an element of ‘Britishness’ to my work, but many Global (and Globalisation) references have been adopted and appropriated - and yet even though I know the source, I wonder whether a ‘universal’ visual language, ambiguous of location or country, can be achieved.  Travel or personal journeys, whether international or more locally, was influencing my colour palette and image choices.   I realised that I was sampling stuff from the whole of my life, and yet in many ways, still being arbitrary about how I pick things.

AB - So your work could be seen as a portrait or self-portrait? I am interested in this tension between something being very integral and important to you and also being arbitrary. It makes me wonder how you process subject(s) and imagery. What is off limits for you, or by its nature is your practice truly open in this regard?

TA - There probably is a limit to what I might do, but I am reluctant to answer as I don’t know where my work may go.  I am at a really important transition stage where things that are unexpected can happen, such as by subtle manipulation, I changed images of fighting dogs from Afghanistan into dancing dogs in a painting that has a composition based upon Botticelli’s ‘Primevera’; a weird allegory where an attack stance became a Foxtrot or a Tango, a different kind of tete-a-tete.  This image provoked a really strong, negative reaction in someone I spoke to, as they saw it as an animal rights issue and I was glorifying it.  I may paint politically charged images, but do not see myself as a political painter.

AB - But you deal with political issues, they are there in your work and you cannot control that sort of reaction. You only have control of what you show and maybe with the recent work you are being more deliberate with the images you are putting into the paintings?

TA – Well, maybe the new work is more intentional and fuelled, whereas in the past it was a formal exercise [of selecting images].  For the Cornerhouse commission I had a strong starting point that drew upon the news and current affairs, so I included imagery from Iraq and Gaza alongside scenes from Foxhunting and the Badger cull, as a response to what was in the public psyche.

There is something quite ludicrous about having a Pitbull Terrier sticking his head out of a bomb cloud, but that somehow reflects the way news is represented, and how it is absorbed. I have talked before how the mushroom cloud outline is aligned to something more romantic; an image of an explosion from the Gaza Strip on a flat baron plane ha similar composition to grand oak tree sitting in field. It is a weird way of looking at it, but I was researching 17th and 18th century British Romantic portraiture and pastoral landscapes and started to think that there was a striking, ironic similarity.  I like this way of displacing imagery, of drawing parallels between disparate things and how this can start a larger discussion. I have been wary of making political statements in the past, but maybe with this work I am finding ways of dealing with this.

AB - We might as well talk about your new series of work for Cornerhouse?  I was interested in you picking out two paintings by Robson and Ansdell from the Manchester Art Gallery collection. Why did you pick those paintings and how do these relate to all the other images, how direct is this relationship?

TA – I started looking at animal portraiture or rather the ways animals are represented in painting, mainly because they are common, and so, overlooked.  Walking through collections in Public Museums there are certain kinds of paintings that were commissioned and, in a way, are a kind of propaganda or false, idealised, fabricated view of the World. I started to think how this could be used in a new way, that was different to how someone like Ged Quinn has dealt with re-appropriating painting. I selected the Ansdells ‘The Chase’ because of the aggressive representation of the hunting dogs and how the ‘Hunt’ was captured, and saw many applications to my recent work using Staffordshire terriers or roaring dogs.  I find Staffys interesting because of the way they can be perceived as a status symbol, aggressive or trained to fight.  I was interested in how this breed of dog might represent modern day Britain.  ‘The Chase’ shows the killing of a stag for either food or as an aristocratic pastime.  I began to look how hunting is still practiced today, and how is it defines the Countryside, but for very different reasons.  Maybe I was thinking more about how the British landscape is seen by a foreigner as something lush, green and idyllic, whereas in parts, it is actually something struggling, polluted by industry and extensive farming, or driven by class.  The Robson painting was a perfect example of the Oak tree/explosion simile we spoke about before. 

AB - There is something in this imagery being double layered in terms of issues such as class and when it is within your paintings could be taken or read in multiple ways. So the elephant in the room here is to ask you why you paint at all? You talk a lot about the digital and use this to construct compositions, so why do they make sense as paintings? What does painting add?

TA - Well they are always in my head as paintings. I can see limits in digital media and even though it is phenomenally exciting in its possibilities, it cannot replicate paintings unique language. Even though the computer is an important planning tool, my work is not a solely digital exercise.  It is important the work has that physical (human) element - the presence of the artist’s hand, the (good or bad, intentional and unintentional) paint application or the controlled drip, really help with the work, emphasising it is a painting and that is painted.

AB - I wanted to ask about finishing, there is a sense of overload and opulence in your work. So is the finishing point set out in the Photoshop composition?

TA - I am not dictated to by my plans, so things change.

AB - That is a reason for making them I suppose?

TA - Yes, and there is an element of editing, selection and de-selection and removal when things are worked up from the screen, which is a very different surface than the canvas.

AB - I guess if it wasn’t something this physical then this form of collaging imagery would merge with the layers below, so in someway it makes your choice to do this to the image very deliberate, this sense of it being from somewhere else. Going back to your process, there is a methodical way in which you plan your compositions, and even when you are painting then things such as the drips are deliberate not spontaneous. We are here in your studio and this also feels methodically planned out into zones. How much of this is deliberate and in keeping with the way you approach each painting?

TA - Yes that is a good observation.  There is an alchemical side of the painting that you just cannot get with digital. I tend to work on 4 to 6 canvases at once and move between them on different walls. They all start in the same way, with a colour ground, then a pattern in spray paint and then I obliterate the surface and build up the painting. In some ways the process is like a production line, which is a term I don’t like to use.

AB - I think it is ok to think of studios like this, like a factory. Not in the Warhol sense, but as a place of work, which can often be quite repetitive.  So how far is too far? How do you know when something is truly finished?

TA - Well that is the million dollar question. I don’t think I ever really know when something is finished. I have cut up paintings that are 6 years old [to reuse again] that I thought were finished, so in my head there is always that idea of recycling and reusing imagery, but physically.  I quite often take a painting too far and that is why a lot of paintings don’t make it and get cut up.  But maybe that’s still an important part of my practice and how my paintings are created.

AB - You asked a question to Geoff Diego Litherland in an interview with him, which I would like to ask you, “Painter Mary Heilmann wrote, ‘Each of my paintings can be seen as an autobiographical marker, a cue, by which I evoke a moment in my past, or my projected future, each a charm to conjure a mental reality and to give it physical form.’[2] Do you think your image choosing process is a similar activity to citing memory or cataloguing the past/present, or is this something more ephemeral?”[3], so same question to you.

TA - I asked him that question because it was something I was thinking about and researching myself.  You would like to think it was something more ephemeral, but this stuff is probably driven more by the Self, and so, is a marker of my life, but more of a documentation of the World during my lifetime; how I can see it, or how it can be seen.

AB - OK, so a really hard question, what makes a good painting for you?

TA - Well it has to have an impact, there is no way these are quiet paintings and I want them to scream.

AB - I guess that is to do with spectacle, and where you draw your imagery from.  So do you ever have a great potential painting at the Photoshop stage that goes not turn out well on canvas or in the studio, or vice versa?

TA - Well there are loads of examples of failed paintings or ones I just have to leave partway through, I guess it is just an instinct to know it is right.

AB - I guess that is what is good about successful paintings, they are better than words that can describe or explain them, the painting is good when it can transcend language.  So, can you explain how the deer head ornaments fit in with your paintings?

TA – In 2009 I was in India and visited the studio of Jitish Kallat and he had these gargoyles hanging in there, which made me think of an interesting possibility for showing painting.  I had been looking for a different way to “mount” my work so I thought of the stag heads as a possibility for the paintings hanging on or off them, as an additional reference to stately homes taxidermy.  The paintings also have a frame made from Neon light. A freshly gilded frame is so gaudy and perfect, almost ludacrous, nothing like the tarnished ones we are used to seeing. I recently saw a restored frame around a famous painting and it was the most distracting thing. I thought you couldn’t get something more opulent and distracting than a freshly gilded frame...

AB - …unless you get…

TA - …an eighties ‘glamour’ neon frame! This also references advertising of the high-street and the back-light of a laptop screen. The neon only lights the edges of the canvas, bleeding light onto the walls. It offers up a slightly sculptural way of looking at a painting.  I am really interested in this and I am not quite sure where it is going to go in the future, which makes it even more exciting.

[1] David Ryan, Hybrids, Tate Publishing, 2000

[2] Mary Heilmann, Little 9 X 9 (1973) / Blue Room (1997) Kunstverein St. Gallen Kunstuseum / Sammlung Hauser and Wirth Oktagon Verlag, Koln, 2000

[3] Tristram Aver & Geoff Diego Litherland, Conjuntos, Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery, Nottingham, 2009

The persistence of coloured Mud

Wayne Burrows

Or, the multiple and much exaggerated deaths of painting (1830 – 2012)


In debates about art, it often seems as though the only thing to be reported more regularly than the death of painting is its miraculous recovery and re-emergence from its latest grave. Despite the many technological, political and aesthetic challenges to its centrality and relevance, the expressive form once described by Robert Hughes as “the act of pushing coloured mud around on a piece of cloth or board, using a stick with hairs on the end” is yet to be dislodged from its central place in the art markets or working artists' own studios.

The regular complaint that painting has been displaced by performance, installation, video and photography in art schools and galleries omits to note that painters like Peter Doig and Elizabeth Peyton are among the biggest names around, while few exhibitions are without a substantial gathering of stretched canvases smeared with that ‘coloured mud’ it seems nothing can quite erase. Even in Sensation, the 1997 Royal Academy exhibition that consolidated Damien Hirst’s superstar status and anointed him as the emblematic artist of the YBA generation, around half the works were variously traditional easel paintings by Jenny Saville, Fiona Rae, Chris Ofili, Glenn Brown, Marcus Harvey and Gary Hume.

The stars of Sensation have fairly continuously found themselves drawn to painting. Tracey Emin’s intimately pale slathers showing nudes on beds were well represented at her Hayward Gallery retrospective in 2011, while Hirst’s decision to show No Love Lost: Blue Paintings at the Wallace Collection in 2010 was a notable example of one of the world’s most financially successful artists feeling a desperate need to prove himself in the very medium his own career might have suggested was now irrelevant. Hirst’s insistence on making the paintings himself and his obvious infatuation with Francis Bacon and Ross Bleckner exposed the great market manipulator as a besotted, slightly clumsy student at heart.

But perhaps it’s precisely because painting is antiquated that it possesses this degree of resilience. Quite apart from the immediate –  even primal – gratification of handling and manipulating paint, with only a minimal distance between the artist’s hand and the end result, painting retains the kind of magic inherent in any act that generates concrete results from almost nothing: the instinctive thrill we experience when making brightly coloured splurges on paper as children. There’s also the fact that simply by picking up a brush and a pot of paint an artist stands, consciously or otherwise, in a direct line of descent from the first human to smudge out a bison’s outline on a Lascaux cave wall.


“From today, painting is dead.” The artist Paul Delaroche is supposed to have exclaimed these words on seeing a Daguerreotype for the first time in the 1830s, but while it’s been suggested that he was being sarcastic, whether he saw in the infant technology of photography an augury of his own profession’s demise or an object of bemusement is almost irrelevant given the resonance of the question his response addressed. The contrast between the tiny grey image he was almost certainly looking at and the great traditions of Titian, David and Delacroix must have seemed comically stark, so perhaps an ironic inflection and a dismissive wave of the hand could well have accompanied his famous pronouncement.

The emergence of a method for transcribing images from nature using lenses and chemicals didn’t spell the end for painting, then, but it had thrown down a serious challenge to its traditional role and function. For Gustave Courbet, the textures of stone and imperfections of skin would now take on a grandeur previously reserved for religious, mythological and historical subjects, as though casting his own gauntlet at the feet of this upstart medium. In The Origin of the World (1866), commissioned by the Turkish Egyptian diplomat Kahlil-Bey, Courbet painted a female torso with parted thighs, the genitalia and pubic hair precisely delineated: an image of intimacy and raw psychological power that photography would not match for decades.

At a time when photographers still required long exposures and studio lighting to create legible images, the Impressionists had begun to develop interests in fleeting light effects and scenes from contemporary life, often rendered in a manner akin to snapshots. Manet and the Impressionists consolidated a shift to the artist working en plein air, transforming the Salon's posed theatrical scenes, full of carefully frozen implied movement, into the ‘painting of modern life’, quick-handed observation of city streets, nightclub interiors and the factory-studded suburbs of an emergent modernity. Perhaps it’s no accident that when photography did catch up, camera tripods had come to bear a more than passing resemblance to easels.


Parallel to these responses was the widespread adoption of subjects that defied photography simply by not existing in the world in the first place: the domain of what would become Symbolism. Artists like Gustave Moreau, Odilon Redon and James Ensor conjured phantasmagorias, chimeras, dream-like, grotesque and fantastical scenes, sometimes grounded in shared mythologies – the Cyclops and Medusa, the universal Death-symbol of the animated skeleton – at others, conjurations of hermetically personal subjectivities in anticipation of the Freudian and Surrealist tendencies that would grow in centrality during the first half of the twentieth century.  

Another source of reinvention was Thought Forms (1901), a publication by the English Theosophists Annie Besant and Charles W. Leadbeater that unwittingly provided a template for abstraction in its watercolour illustrations. These claimed to show the shapes and colours generated by subjective emotions on the astral level, as perceived by spirit mediums. Thought Forms also visualised music in space, echoing the painted sonatas of the Lithuanian composer M.K. Ciurlionis, whose works, while clearly emerging from a Symbolist context, seem to offer an anticipation of stylistic approaches that would become more commonplace in the twenty-first century than they seemed in his own time.

M.K. Ciurlionis. Zabai, 1909

Theosophy’s desire for scientific credibility led to experiments with photography to catch the phenomena described by Thought Forms on film. The best known photographs to emerge from this territory remain those developed using a high voltage process discovered by Semyon and Valentine Kirilian in the Soviet Union during the 1930s and 40s. Yet even before Kirilian’s earliest experiments with electrical discharge photography, themselves sparked by attendance at lectures and demonstrations given by Nicholas Tesla just before the 1917 Revolution, painters like Wasily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian were using Thought Forms as the founding vocabulary of a new visual language with hermetic but, to initiates, precisely legible meanings: abstraction enters the twentieth century intent on the transformation of human consciousness.


Walter Benjamin wrote his short Marxist treatise on the replication of images, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, in 1936 when the possibility of making unlimited numbers of copies of previously unique artworks was already a reality. Benjamin himself proposed that the availability of reproductions would only increase the value of their originals, concentrating rather than dissipating the ‘aura’ that came to surround them, but while his hypothesis proved largely correct, the mass distribution of images was also the cause of another widespread shift in the perception of what the role of painting might be.

On one level, the celebrity of artists like Picasso, Dali and Matisse was clearly enhanced after the 1940s by the availability of posters, books and magazines where paintings, otherwise widely dispersed, could be viewed together, and even tangentially owned, for the price of a paperback. Andre Malraux had suggested that such reproductions comprised a new kind of ‘museum without walls’ where the entire history of art and all its artefacts would be easily available to all. Malraux saw Benjamin’s Age of Mechanical Reproduction as the opportunity for an unprecedented humanist democratisation of access to art.

Picasso had begun to exploit the potential for addressing wider audiences than those inside the venues where his works were displayed when he conceived Guernica for the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris World’s Fair in 1937. By using monochrome tones to echo the feel of the print media and news-reel footage he’d taken his subject matter from, he also ensured that Guernica itself would reproduce clearly when it inevitably reappeared in those same media. It was only ever a short step from Picasso’s consideration of reproduction in his working process to arrive at Andy Warhol’s detachment from making the work that carried his name.

Warhol had announced in a 1963 interview: “Paintings are too hard. The things I want to show are mechanical. Machines have less problems. I'd like to be a machine…” But as Benjamin had noted in 1936: “Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.” However impersonal the process involved in making his paintings became, Warhol’s works had the status of originals. His legacy suggests that the unique status of the painting overrides the stated intentions of even an artist intent on erasing all distinction between a real work and its reproduction.


Udo Kultermann’s The New Painting (1969) is an international survey of new directions in painting that spans Abstract Expressionism, Colour Field, Op Art, Pop, Minimalism, the beginnings of Conceptualism and many other forgotten eruptions and groupings: Arte Nucleare, Nouvelle Narrative and Monochromism. Kultermann argues, traditionally enough, that “painting is the conversion of reality into pictorial form” but notes that “the artist of today is influenced by every aspect of contemporary life – be it science, technology, fashion, publicity, the history of art, traffic in the streets or between planets. These widely ranging impressions find expression, often in newly-combined and transformed graphic media”.

The 400 illustrations, mainly dating from the 1960s, are instructive in showing how the infiltration of these themes, mediated through mass communications, had reshaped the medium and its chosen subjects at this point. There are few betrayals of the artist’s hand among Kultermann’s chosen examples and in place of personal visions are endlessly inventive variations on photographic, cinematic and advertising imagery, diverse arrays of hard-edged abstraction, optical illusion, minimalist surface and day-glo patterning. From Oyvind Fahlstrom’s ESSO-LSD (1967) to Carla Accardi’s Pittura (1963) a kind of freewheeling impersonality dominates. The New Painting of 1969 still feels like familiar territory in the galleries of 2012.

Carla Accardi. Pittura, 1963

This impersonality would be spectacularly, though temporarily, reversed with the next wave, as various forms of Neo-Expressionism, painterly abstraction and mythic figuration made their impacts during the years of recession a decade later. Economists have long tracked a correlation between hemlines and financial conditions, as skirts and coats lengthen during downturns and shorten in periods of prosperity. There seems to be a comparable correlation between recession and resurgences of painterliness, as though the swagger required to confront the public with bold statements of the capitalised ‘New’ requires affluence and is replaced by an assertion of the unique hand of the artist and a restatement of first principles whenever the climate cools.

The 1980s had begun with shows like Norman Rosenthal’s Zeitgeist and A New Spirit In Painting, the mainstreaming of Georg Baselitz and Anselm Kiefer, the hype surrounding Jean Michel Basquiat and Julian Schnabel, the emergence of the ‘New Glasgow Boys’ grouped around Stephen Campbell, Peter Howson and Adrian Wisniewski. Alongside reassessments of older generation one-offs like Cecil Collins, Ken Kiff and Winifred Nicholson, painting’s resurgence seemed briefly to erase much that had been cited in Kultermann’s survey. It’s striking to look at Kultermann’s 1980s equivalent, Klaus Honnef’s Contemporary Art (1988), and note how the two books show so little overlap in personnel or stylistic interests across even a relatively brief time-span.

Since the financial crisis of 2008 another return to painting seems to be quietly underway. Digital evangelists might consider the original work of little relevance when mechanical reproduction now extends to the near infinite full-colour catalogue of the internet, but this has, paradoxically, driven a resurgence of the hand-made and limited, clearly a signal that painting may have found its digital niche. It’s also likely that the relatively low cost of paint and canvas, compared to the advance finance required for installations, video projects or long-term relational interventions, will itself nudge artists back to the studio, where the hand can test itself once more against the technically obsolete – but evidently indestructible – materials of painting.