Sep 17, 2009

Day Zero - Political Art on the Trail

There seemed to be quite lot of work exploring political themes on the trail this year. This was particularly evident in three different shows only two of which I saw. The opening show at the Changing Room gallery took the title 'The Art of Politics' and was organized by local campaign group antiscrap. This was a very diverse group show which included collage, sculpture, painting and installation and used materials just as diverse including ceramic, postcards, a map and chocolates! It was this mix that made the show work very well. It was thought provoking on a number of levels without being overly ideological and referenced local, national and global concerns.

Fight the Height had arranged their postcards all over one wall and these were added to by visitors throughout the week. This was a great way of focusing attention on an issue that has a big impact on a local public space but remains unresolved almost 5 years later. It is also a way of encouraging community input and an opportunity taken by many contributors to highlight the absurdity of the situation.

Another locally rooted and fun interactive piece was 'The Walthamstow Pound by Wendy le Ber in which fake but very real looking banknotes adorned with the head of William Morris invited viewers to write what they would most like to spend it on and then peg it on a line strung across the gallery window.

Chandra Mora also used banknotes but his was a large Zimbabwean million dollar note highlighting the dire consequences of political corruption in one place in order to make a wider comment on the global ramifications of greed and megalomania.

Corruption was also the subject of ‘Sweet Temptation’ by Martin Adams which infused the whole of the surrounding area with the smell of chocolate. This installation piece consisted of a box of custom made chocolates each bearing the beautifully iced name of its particular path to moral turpitude.

There were several pieces of work in this show that I had seen before among them Roger Huddle’s paeans to past heroes and David Sullivan’s ‘Oval Office’. It was good to see them again and although the depiction of Bush Jr. is not as well observed as that of Condoleezza Rice in ‘Oval Office’ the painting still packs a punch.

Another punch is definitely given by May Ayres dedication to Joseph Scholes. His deeply troubling story and many others like it are given a lasting memorial in this detailed and emotional sculptural form.  May Ayres other sculpture in this show embodies a wider social and economic environment in which individuals exist at the expense of compassion.

There was a lot more in this show but I think these are the ones that stood out for me. Two of the participating artists also had their own solo shows as part of the Art trail Unfortunately I missed Dave Sullivan’s show at the Rose and Crown but I did catch Alke Schmidt’s show ‘Witness’.

Her depressing reflection of recent events incorporating a critique of global capitalism, police brutality and environmental degradation did rather make me want to go home and slash my wrists! The colour of this show was very grey (and dirty FT pink!) relived only by the appearance of some colourful doilies, a polluted orange sky and some beautifully ripped red painted wallpaper.

The appearance of a few surviving animals cheered me up a bit and I liked the vandalism perpetrated on a couple of Chinese hanging scrolls. These were more subtle than some of the others which made their point with a sledgehammer although that didn't always work! The picture using the Bank of England as a backdrop, actually made me reconsider that period in British architecture rather than the politics of the piece.

The doilies were a huge talking point  and many people were not sure why they were there or even if they were really necessary. Personally I think they provided the show with some balance. They were a playful distraction and also a reminder of some of Alke's earlier work related to William Morris designs and the arts and crafts movement. Also without the doilies I possibly would have gone home and slashed my wrists...

If anyone wants to send in a review of David Sullivan’s show be my guest!!


Judith Amanthis said...

I didn't make it to the Art of Politics group show where Alke was showing. But I did see her Arttrail solo show Witness and was glad I followed her from Hoxton's Signal Gallery to her native (well, nearly) Walthamstow.

One way of looking at Alke's work is that ugliness can be created by people as much as beauty can and if you put the two together, as she does, you get a shock. Unpleasant, I agree, to witness an image of filthy smoke seeping out of a gorgeous delicate Chinese landscape. The hypocrisy of many makers of beauty is indeed ugly. The lovely pink floral and paisley wallpaper looks to me to be weeping for the realities recorded in the pink FT.

The doilies, meanwhile, are a clever inversion of the world order that Alke's work has explored lately - beauty pushed into the background by the foul ugliness and brutality of the current global economic set up. The colour of the doilies, their mobility, variety and playfulness look ready to smother the Bank of England and its defenders - the police earlier this year. I'm not sure why the desire to slash the wrists is (a) relieved by colour (fun perhaps? Like the bread and circuses fun supplied by media bosses?) or (b) is inappropriate in the face of truth. But the truth that Alke creates is more subtle than the media's version. In her art, beauty's seductive quality becomes at the same time filthy and murderous like the world being destroyed - and make no mistake, it is being destroyed - by oil companies, bankers et al, and also a receptacle of hope and optimism, bowling along like those controversial doilies.

E17 Art Trail Blog said...

Thanks a lot for taking the time to comment so substantially Judith!! I wish more people would do it.

Ultimately I think any exhibition in which politics so overtly dominates, risks diminishing the art itself and ultimately hijacking the skill of the artist. I felt this was the case here.

Anonymous said...

I feel the opposite. I think that the strong sense of composition in the work and the sumptuous patterns, layers and skill in the painting techniques attracted me initially to look and consider the work. The political message I thought was subtly integrated especially in the Chinese Tapestries. I thought the work was successful in that I found them to be beautiful despite the content whichsurprised me as it is unusual for art that deals with political messages to also address beauty or be concerned with the aesthetic.

I do not feel it is the responsibility of the artist to craft beautiful objects, that being said I also do not feel that artist should resist the urge to be attracted to beauty which is often a taboo subject when talking about contemporary art.