From Mill Lane to Cotton Mill – g39 in Leipzig

g39 Portmanteau entrance, Halle 14  Leipzig 2011
I’m just back from my first gig as an embedded journalist – not, I hasten to add, a flak-jacket, helmeted journo reporting from a war zone, but still in the front line of international cultural relations. Cardiff’s g39 were making their presence felt as international guest curators at Halle 14 in the giant ex-cotton mill in Leipzig for the big art weekend Zeit Fuer Kunst. For some reason Ute Volz, manager of  Halle 14 (the title grossly belies what she actually does, but it’s the closest translation I can come up with)  thought it would be a good idea if I came along too.

It all started when the Contemporary Art Society sent g39’s co-director, Chris Brown, on a research visit to Leipzig last autumn (2010). From there he invited Ute Volz and Karsten Schultz of Halle 14 to speak at the On Collecting symposium at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff at the end of last year (some of you might remember me writing about it here). After the formal presentations things became more relaxed as we shared some of Cardiff’s less salubrious watering holes with Volz and ended up pledging to visit Leipzig as soon as possible.

Well these things get said in the afterglow of a lively seminar. So imagine my surprise when an invitation to come for the big event on April 30/ May 01. Halle 14, along with all the other creative enterprises and galleries that make up the Spinnerei, takes the interesting approach of each inviting an international partner to exhibit in their space for the big art weekend and this year g39 was it.

As the logistics of shipping big and complex artworks across Europe would have wiped out a big chunk of this small-but-perfectly-formed gallery’s budget, g39 decided that works should fit into a suitcase, or small crate, and the show Portmanteau began to form. Chris Brown, with curator Michael Cousin selected a show reel of  12 existing moving image works and some works by artists who’d already shown in the gallery. Then they went on to commission three new works by Dawn Woolley, David Cushway and Sam Aldridge – two performance/installations and some very mobile sculptures.

Now this isn’t going to be a formal review of the show – that’s going on Culture Colony (and when it’s up I’ll put in the link), but I hope it’ll provide a glimpse into how this kind of international enterprise works.

Arriving a few days after Brown, Cousin and some of the exhibiting artists (I draw a veil over my accidental diversion on a high-speed train to Hannover), things had already begun to take shape. Helen Sear’s beautiful wall print of a photoshop-manipulated image of stuffed birds in a glass vitrine, first seen at g39 in 2009, had been hung on a wall in a space already twice the size of g39’s diminutive exhibition area; Richard Bevan‘s black vinyl triangles – a deceptively simple rendering of information based on significant times and places in g39’s history – stuck to the wall, facing  Candice Jacobs‘ gold vinyl “Thank You!”, a starkly decontextualised pleasantry glinting in the sun. Anthony Shapland’s film poster (text deleted), hung next to the film projection area, linking it to the film work he was showing – an introduction to a longer project about the life of Raymond C.Cook. In fact several of the exhibiting artists also had moving image work – g39 having been an early pioneering promoter of this kind of work in Wales.

Helen Sear, Display 2008 at Halle 14, LeipzigCandice Jacobs, Thank You, from Too Much 2010, Halle 14, LeipzigRichard Bevan, Untitled, Halle 14 Leipzig 2011Dawn Woolley, Foolish Passion, Halle 14 Leipzig 2011

Away from the yellowing beams of the same sunshine that poured into the vast third floor of Halle 14, Lesley Guy‘s painstaking pen work on images from  a series of a hundred obituaries pages formed a ghostly phalanx around the space that Dawn Woolley was filling with her photographic installation, which would provide a setting for a gruelling performance that she did not once but twice. Halle 14 had provided technical support through the wonderful Denis, who managed to source all sorts of extras to make sure that the show and the performances were presented to g39’s exacting high standards.

David Cushway, Plate Spinner, Halle 14 Leipzig 2011Sam Aldridge, 2 x Safety Helmets, 9 x Safety Cones, Halle 14 Leipzig 2011

As Cousin tweaked the projector for the 12 moving image works and David Cushway set out his plates and poles for his plate-spinning performances, I helped Sam Aldridge assemble his nine cardboard traffic cones. These would be placed in the gallery with instructions in Google-translate German to move them around, wearing hard hats he’d made a couple of years ago.


Dawn Woolley - Foolish Passion, performance, Halle 14 Leipzig 2011

By the end of Friday everything was under control and we could go into VIP mode with the option of Porsches to ferry us about (I opted for Volz’s Peugeot, I’m not really a Porsche kinda gal) to the various events associated with the big art weekend: the Blixa Bargeld/Carsten Nicolai (the latter also showing in the Spinnerei)  concert was a definite highlight for me, as was the enervating trip to Bimbotown, possibly the maddest nightclub ever. I was eaten by a sofa – ’nuff said.

Over the weekend I had a chance to look at what the other galleries  and organisations were offering. The g39 floor was host to Basel Art Academy’s student show – demonstrating what can be achieved with proper resourcing and support – and to put the Welsh offer in context. I know I’m biased but I think we kept our end up, and the 5-7,000 people (the g39 attendance clicker was still in Cardiff) who visited Portmanteau seemed to agree.

The love and respect between g39 and Halle 14 just seemed to grow and grow – possibly because there were no tantrums, no hissy fits and everything was possible and effortlessly dealt with.  At the end of the weekend Halle 14 announced that g39 were to become permanent international partners. And nothing could be more perfect.

My profound thanks go to Halle 14, g39 and all the exhibiting artists for making me so welcome and so proud to see contemporary art from Wales make such a big impression in an international context.

 

Opportunity Alert: Halle 14 is just launching a new residency programme with a May 20 deadline. If you’re an artist who is interested in living and working in Leipzig for three months and can respond to the theme “What Happened to God?” then follow the link asap.

 

Portmanteau featured:

Sam Aldridge, Richard Bevan, David Cushway, Lesley Guy,  Candice Jacobs, Helen Sear, Anthony Shapland, Dawn Woolley (installed works/performances)
Pascal Michel Dubois, Maia Conran,  David Cushway, Candice Jacobs,  Tamara Krikorian, Jennie Savage & James Tyson, Helen Sear, Anthony Shapland, Lisa Stansbie, Dawn Woolley (moving Image)
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Love Art : Art Hate


It’s been a period of enormous activity, set against a background of anxiety about cuts in the arts and a swelling campaign to exert pressure on the Government (in Westminster – everything is disturbingly quiet in Wales).

In the middle of all of this I found myself heading to the one part of London that I thought I’d avoid forever – Cork St. I’ve probably spent too much time away from the commercial art world, but have developed a bit of an allergy to the comodification of art (I lasted an hour at Frieze Art Fair last year). So why go to the dark heart of art commerce?

Artist Billy Childish, aided and abetted by two of his galleries, (L-13 and David Lilford Fine Art) had managed to secure a gallery space for a week to host his latest Art Hate outing, following Art Hate Basildon (or Baseldon) in June.

If you don’t know about Art Hate then you can catch up here, or go for a more traditional approach here. Now I don’t hate art and nor does Childish, he’s still producing paintings along with the sold-by-the inch Art Hate merchandise. But it’s the stuff that goes with the territory that he challenges – the arbiters of good taste in our national institutions, the passing off of less-than-great work for all manner of reasons and, I suspect, the complicated dances with commercial galleries and the repositories of a narrow view of national cultural values that artists have to engage with. And, to be fair, he’s also established the Anti-Art hate movement too.

In any event I enjoyed the context of the night, in the middle of the most established purveyors of art, and the bar (fizzy stuff, wine and Malibu) certainly helped to create a convivial mood of art-hating. The original plan had been to erect the metal sign (see pic) that reads Art Will Make Us Free across the entrance to Cork St and to block off the end of the street  (the eagle-eyed will have spotted the echoes of the Nazi Arbeit Macht Frei sign over the entrance to Auschwitz). Unfortunately the Council and the Police had other ideas.

As the long knives come out for the public sector, I suspect there’ll be more artist-led activity that, unfettered by the constraints of funding and the strings-attached institutional agendas, will create its own momentum and context. But I also hope that those institutions that create the right framework for artists to make responsive work don’t fall victim to an ethos of playing it safe and keeping the metaphorical heads below the parapet to avoid the swinging axe.

Certainly the public funding of the arts looks grim and, for individual practitioners, it’s going to be tough times ahead. But, without wishing to sound too Polyanna-ish about it, the dwindling of resources has never seemed to faze artists, who are so used to working on next-to-nothing. In Wales pretty much all of the funding for artist’s projects and professional development has come via the lottery pot. With pressure mounting on that pot to soak up the activity that has been cut from the Arts Council’s portfolio of revenue funded clients, there’ll be a temptation to turn away would-be applicants and to turn down those who don’t fill in the forms to the letter. For many artists and artists’ groups the form-filling will prove to be too much of an obstacle and they’ll give up, which would be a real shame. I really hope that the future of funding the arts in Wales doesn’t rest on the administrative prowess of applicants, but you can see that this form of self-elimination will provide an element of relief to those trying to cut a cake that’s too small.

On the other hand, squashing projects into someone else’s priorities or agendas is never easy either and going it alone, or inventing new models, offers a level of relief from those pressures. If you want to voice your ideas or concerns, then the Arts Council of Wales annual conference is where you should be. Amongst other speakers Sean Edwards from g39 will be leading a breakout session on how to manage in times of austerity (although at £45 I’m not sure how many artists will be able to afford to go…)

Meanwhile here are my tips for things to see:

Tim Davies – Between a Rock and a Hard Place at Mostyn gallery, Llandudno (to  Saturday  Nov 06)

Condition Report Ffotogallery bring new Czech photographic art to Turner House (to Dec 11)

Bound Within a Hidden Space – Gemma Copp’s solo show at Elysium gallery (to Nov 20)

Pascal-Michel DuboisShow One of Each at g39 (to Nov 27)

And coming up:

Lucent Lines – Simon Fenoulhet’s adventures in light at Oriel Davies (from Nov 13) (featured in previous blog What You see)

Smile – Mission Gallery, Swansea (from Nov 13)

And finally, if you want to find out more about why I’m blogging and my other writing activities, I’ve been asked to give a talk at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery at 1pm this friday (Nov 05). I’ll be plugging the immenent blown issue 2 and thinking out loud about the attitude of the Welsh and national media to contemporary art from/of/in Wales. Come and throw me questions or throw non-staining vegetables (it’s in the Atrium with lots of art around).