Thursday, July 29, 2010

'O Land of Our Birth - Cultural Identity within a Global Age'

''I regrettably missed the ‘opening night’ of ‘O Land of Our Birth’… ‘’

This is what I imagined myself saying as I optimistically made my way towards the current exhibition at the Sayle Gallery. I came away, however, torn between thinking that I did in fact not miss anything at all, or that whatever I did miss; I am glad I did. I understand it involved some kind of ‘performance spectacle’, and can only envisage more garish Manx tartan, an amateur dramatics production, and Celtic music fused with MC Hammer and Flashdance. Or some other irrelevant, immature display in attempts to embody the accompanying exhibition that remains.

Dimly lit, with claims of offering a juxtaposition of (Manx) heritage and popular culture; pieces include Celtic designs of corporate logos (that according to the written accompaniment we ‘consume’ on a regular basis) such as Nike, Chanel, Mercedes, and Playboy. The most affecting works are cross-stitched lyrics, combining quaintness and intrusion – the permeation of the media into the lives of everyone; young or old. ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ may widen certain eyes, but we can thank The Prodigy their lyrical prowess, (likewise Britney, Beyonce…) the medium used adds very little; a vague attempt at inciting a reaction from the suggestive stark contrast of modern affront and apparent naivety of times-gone-by. Two obscure photos appear to be an attempt at demonstrating a growing link between youth and sexuality, but are poorly conceived, reveal little and provoke nothing.

The ‘installation’; a close-up video of lips with Manx tartan lipstick design goes through an irritating assembly of nursery rhymes, Gaelic verse and again, the familiar ‘controversial’ lyrics about sex and so forth. As one guest noted, it does nothing more than get even more annoying when trying to view other pieces in the gallery.

The exhibition literature is littered with assertions of juxtaposition, perspective, popular culture, and identity. Unfortunately it falls short of addressing such issues. Granted, there is a suggestive union in almost all the works on display, but in no work here asks anything of the viewer in terms considering the individual or collective identity, or revealing some unknown perspective on the combination of popular culture and heritage.

The photos could be ignored, the installation is tiresome, the logos reminiscent of a high school art project, and the cross-stitch is linear and obvious. One final piece follows the trend, children’s stories, cartoon characters, smutty song lyrics; mildly amusing, nothing more. I noticed it on my way out of the darkened area to look at some art that was illuminating in more ways than one.

Thankfully on leaving I realized I had saved up enough stubs for a free coffee on my way back to work, thus meaning my lunch hour was not a complete waste.

'O Land of Our Birth - Cultural Identity within a Global Age' is on display at The Sayle Gallery, Villa Marina Colonnade, 1-3 Harris Promenade, Douglas, Isle of Man until August 8th.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

''Natural Abstractions'' (A celebration of the natural world in wood and ceramic)

Win Norton

On initially encountering the work of Win Norton, there is a lot to be said for how powerfully unique each piece is. As part of an exhibition, the work in general is similar in style and conception, but the individual significance of each crafted piece comes in the story, the title, the visualisation of the whole and the sum of its parts.

The dichotomy, even ‘conundrum’, that is presented by a work of art and the title it carries, can cause some controversy; echoing a chicken/egg argument. Was the piece based on a pre-conceived idea of crafting a perspicacious title? Does the naming of a piece add to it if it somehow provokes further thought, even infinite analysis, and the suggestion of another (‘higher’) level of creativity?

The ‘nature’ of the exhibition showcasing the work of Win Norton lends itself to either side. Some pieces (‘Fragments Falling’/’Fragmented’) lean towards being essentially abstract in both conception and creation and have been given life at an unknown stage in the artist’s individual quest for inspiration. The aforementioned, one arguably takes at face value, and attempts to connect with a hidden agenda in the indifferent, matter of fact ceramic shards that can be seen, arguably falling, but falling where, falling why, falling how?

Other such playfully emblematic pieces are bizarre in their seeming abstract rationality. ‘Icelandic Ash Cloud Coming Your Way’ is fantastic in encompassing humour, terror, beauty, science and nature, and will unearth personal emotions; thus giving abstraction a degree of clarity and logic.

Norton’s background in science and Biology is identifiable in further pieces resembling ceramic microcosms, and it is this cross-over in the exhibition that dictates the obvious combination of her work and the following artist.

Gavin Carter

Though figuratively the work of Gavin Carter is ‘alongside’ that of Win Norton, it is exhibited in such a way as to fill the middle of the gallery, where sharp, vertical sculptures stand proud on plinths and force the viewer to either circle or weave (or both) to gain premium vantage for closer inspection and deeper appreciation. For although the work is stark and abrasive, especially when viewed as a whole, each piece is precise, refined, accurate and detailed.

Motive and motivation also lies in the artist’s scientific background, merging molecular biology, biotechnology, but also nature – ecosystems, formations and content ranging from landscapes to the microscopic.

At the back of the gallery a large-spiked, claw-like sculpture ('Raven's Wing')unintentionally impacts due to the smell of paint and lacquer from the artist in residence’s studio area. The strong scent makes the already striking piece stand out further with it arguably being the only piece in the exhibition that looks capable of producing such an aroma, lending a ‘freshness’ to its appeal; as if being newly completed that morning, or indeed that furthermore it is a living entity, a biological phenomenon that requires continuous nurture.

No doubt scientific theory is met with the artist’s affinity for the natural world, visibly blending rigour and primality, and creating a tribal feel with vast oak statues that occasionally resemble over-sized, obscure African musical instruments, yet evoke a true sense of humanity, of progress, from the microscopic to the monumental; a three-dimensional slideshow demonstrating infinite possibility.

‘Natural Abstractions’ ran from June 18th through to July 11th.

The work of artist Sally Hogarth is now on display until August 8th at The Sayle Gallery (1-3 Harris Promenade, Villa Marina, Douglas).

Monday, July 5, 2010

''What do people do all day?''

A question I have often asked myself, even going as far as to cogitatively write down following a morning of people-watching. However, if you are Richard Novak in AM Homes’ stunning ‘This Book Will Save Your Life’, on any normal day you wake early, run on the treadmill for an hour while monitoring the stock markets, enjoy a low-carb breakfast as part of a nutritionally planned low-carb diet and read four newspapers – all immersed in complete silence thanks to the latest noise-cancelling headset; a permanent and necessary accessory in achieving total isolation.

Yet it is not until page 315 of this 372 page, dare I say it, (post-) modern masterpiece that this rhetoric emerges, when we are already well-acquainted with Richard, our alluring protagonist; Anhil the donut shop owner, Cecelia the cleaner, Cynthia the weeping ex-housewife, a brother, an ex-wife, a son, environmental officers, fictional celebrities and Bob Dylan; all of whom provide the necessary motivation - amidst blunt phone calls and infinite expenditure - to develop a new perspective on life.

The reader is the serene witness the spectacle of a man letting go and simultaneously reconnecting – and if it takes a subtle donut to be the catalyst, so be it. Even with multiple readings it would seem Homes’ greatest achievement is her ability to keep the reader in the moment, despite the surreal events and transcendental under-current. Each (‘Hollywood’) scene is captivating in its absurdity, but often ‘misplaced in memory’ (not forgotten) as the story unfolds. It is only in later narrative and subsequent recollection that one finds true pleasure in the sequencing of events, the subtle act of referral something Homes’ does impeccably.

Novak’s cynicism, supressed generosity and apparent relative lack of human connection are part-due to his ingrained analytic nature, and increasing penchant for solitude, but in fact demonstrate beautifully the ease in which one can become so removed from the world, even in the most intrusive of landscapes. Both consciously and unconsciously, he has drifted away, but in the same fashion, rebuilds himself with wavering circumstances and welcome digression.

Like Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Everybody’s Free To Wear Sunscreen’ in novel-form (though thankfully delivered more astutely than simply stating; ‘’I will dispense this advice, now…’’) it is nevertheless, Richard Novak’s own meandering experience that provides the ultimate snapshot, or even series of snapshots, making an album to be shelved under ‘pulp fiction’. With the film version supposedly under production, scheduled for release in 2013, Tarantino would be an unlikely visionary, Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road) would get my vote with his ability to recreate Gregory Crewdson-esque production sets. Alternatively, there are definitely moments Noah Baumbach would devour, or perhaps even local legend David Lynch would do justice to this book… and this film… and this man…

‘’He is floating, drifting and he is breathing and watching his breath and watching the sky.’’

Saturday, July 3, 2010

In Praise Of... Alex Tew

In the summer of 2005, I too was embarking on the right of passage that was University. Well, actually, in the summer of 2005 I was replenishing stock and smiling at grunting customers returning ‘un-soiled’ items of clothing at a high street retail store; earning my crust so I could survive my first full year out on my own, leaving the nest and going ‘into the wild’. It gets me down a little that I wasn’t more entrepreneurial, innovative and cash-hungry. I know now that I didn’t give one, solitary thought to coming up with an idea that would make me a millionaire. The fact that I was going to study Sociology and Alex Tew was undertaking his degree in Business Management may go some way to explaining it.

Nevertheless, I have (clearly) been late to the party here. In coming across Alex Tew’s ‘Million Dollar Homepage’ just this week and reading about the man himself; I noticed that part of the agreement in selling the pixels was that he would maintain the website for at least five years, the minimal contract therefore ending on August 26th of this year. (The pixels actually sold out within months of the page being set up due to substantial media coverage and it has not been officially updated since early 2006.) Yet, other than an internet ‘terrorist attack’, (thwarted by the FBI), and the promise of some business ventures, Alex Tew’s activity has been minimal since becoming a self-made internet millionaire, and frankly who can blame him?

I guess my point is that I’d still like to doff my green cap to a man who had an idea and saw it through. But Alex, where are you now? To quote Georgy-Boy; has that money gone on women and booze – or has it been wasted? As I said, I came late to the party, and I may have missed my invite to the reunion, people will no doubt tell me that Alex heads many a successful business; both ethical and profitable. If not, then Alex is no doubt sitting pretty wherever he is. But do get in touch, five years is nearly up, it’s time to start a new sentence…