Tuesday, 1 March 2011

March Diary Dates

Erasure and Journeymen

The growing popularity of museum apps, guiding visitors around many of the world’s greatest art collections, is the latest response to a thorny question facing curators in today’s image saturated world. How do you retain the attention of a contemporary audience that increasingly demands to be entertained as well as informed? 

Addressing this question raises others of course. Do museums and galleries (particularly in times of austerity) occupy the same competitive cultural space as cinemas and other popular attractions? And if you’re inclined to agree with this question isn’t there a danger that too great an emphasis on accessibility could essentially devalue the museum experience? Ultimately the question may come down to whether or not you believe it’s the role of art to entertain at all.

If these were factors in the planning of Erasure, a new media exhibition currently running at the Potteries Museum, the curators must be congratulated in having succeeded in striking a more or less perfect balance between presenting a show that is not only accessible and entertaining but avoids the traps of either shoehorning work into the theme or trivializing the content.

They are helped in this respect in that new media lends itself to this type of presentation. While there are elements that wouldn’t look out of place at a gaming expo (and this is not meant as a criticism as, here, fun is part of the appeal) the words of Walter Gropius greeting the visitor at the outset clearly set the tone of cutting-edge integration that follows.  Art and Technology – A New Unity.

There’s no doubt there’s a pleasing unity to this show and many reasons to commend it but perhaps the highest praise I can offer is to return to the initial question and say that, above all, it grabs the visitor by the collar and demands attention. Having done so it then provides a friendly pat on the back and says ‘enjoy’ and one of the most enjoyable aspects of Erasure is observing the reaction of the audience itself.

Whether sitting at computer terminals interacting with the generative art of ZenBullets, marvelling at Michael Shaw’s 3D doodles or simply getting to grips with the elusive surface of Toby Ziegler’s acrylic Je t’adore, Baby it’s a pleasure to see both adults and children (who no doubt feel they have a greater understanding than their parents) so clearly engaged with the experience. http://www.erasureexhibition.org.uk/

Similarly engaging is the work of Antti Laitinen and David Blandy featured in Journeymen at AirSpace Gallery.

Laitinen’s work pits the artist against natural elements and materials in a battle in which both he and the landscape are pushed to the limits of endurance. In a video showing on one wall a frozen lake is taken apart by a chainsaw and slowly reconstructed into a monolithic structure of ice blocks.

Another piece shows a block of ice being towed across a lake by a small boat (the same block, the same lake?)  presumably slowly melting and returning to the waters from which it was formed.

Sometimes it’s easy to pass pieces like these and then forget all about them but something about Laitinen’s work lingers in the memory and it’s more than the sound of the chainsaw echoing around the gallery.

Maybe it’s something spiritual. Or maybe it’s something to do with our attachment to the landscape and nature, the knowledge that we’ll never quite master it. The ultimate futility of Laitinen’s quest.

Blandy’s work is very different but in a way involves another kind of quest, this one a search for identity  (or multiple identities) and, he, in particular hands the initiative to the audience with an invitation to join him on his journey.

Playfully appropriating the imagery of geek culture he has created an adolescent environment populated by superheroes and avatars in which his alter ego, the Lone Pilgrim, recurs in posters, action figures and an arcade fighting game offering the visitor a choice of identities.

Further delving into the mythology of popular culture a video piece explores the legend of the Mississippi Delta Blues offering echoes of Robert Johnson and diabolical figures encountered at the crossroads after dark.

Finally, in The Child of the Atom, Blandy’s hyper-real journey concludes by considering the relationship of the Hiroshima Bomb to his own existence in a thought provoking and often moving piece of film and animation that is both personal and universal.

To compliment this exhibition AirSpace Gallery is providing the opportunity to talk informally to Blandy about his work. In Conversation with David Blandy takes place on March 12 () Admission is free. www.airspacegallery.org

Journeymen and Erasure are both organized in conjunction with the Stoke Your Fires festival and continue until March 26 and May 2 respectively.

Elsewhere a mixture of hand and machine stitched pieces from ten contemporary textile artists including the award winning Debbie Smyth opens on March 5 at the Shire Hall Gallery Stafford.  Drawing with Thread continues until May 1.

At the Chancellor’s Building Keele University the Three Counties Open Photography Exhibition continues until March 26 while at Burslem School of Art a collection of watercolours, acrylics and collages from local artist Margaret Wilson can be seen until March 18.

A version of this post originally appeared in the gO supplement of the Sentinel 25.02.11

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