Tag Archives: criticism

The First Cut at Manchester Art Gallery

Dozens of peculiar branches stand upright to greet you entering The First Cut exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery which exhibits 30 international artists all ingeniously working with the humble medium of paper. Colourful cobwebs of earthy greens and browns jaunt out from the stems with felt like texture and considerable size. Hanging down from the ceiling each unique tree slowly rotates creating a forest of barely there shapes, forming constantly moving patterns of oversized leaves swaying without a breeze. The large span imitates sizes seen in exotic rain forests but the colours are clearly from the emergence of autumn in Manchester, a marriage of familiar and foreign.

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Nature is a recurring theme at the exhibition, perhaps paper naturally lends itself to the familiar forms of foliage but that shouldn’t mean artists need to keep returning to roses. I enjoyed the alternatives to the usual vintage books cut up into quaint fantasies and fairy tales of shadow puppetry tradition. Instead what really interested me was the paper pieces with heavy statements lurking beneath the surface.

At first glance Tom Gallant’s contribution is a perfectly lovely investigation into the arts and crafts movement with emphasis on Morris inspired wallpaper and feathery birds. Another look, a look with your head pressed against the glass, you’ll begin to spot a hint of smoky glamour girl eyes or red glossy lips and appearing from the birds unsuspecting wing a mans hairy arm is fondling a woman’s breast or perhaps bum, it’s hard to tell. The provocative piece is deceptive and created by the scantily clad bodies of pornography being collaged digitally then textured by cutting to masquerade its real identity. Censorship immediately comes to mind with the revelation of sexual acts hidden behind the decorative facade, the erotic secrets of the 19th Century hidden behind a decorative front.

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Four framed images and text again by Gallant from a shady gentleman’s magazine cut out revealing nothing just the silhouettes of where bodies would be and empty shapes where the words were again examine censorship, or lack of censorship of pornography with it’s minimal appearance. Another politically motivated piece is by Justine Smith is a grenade and gun made from foreign notes, a striking and bold image. Surely the message is simple ‘What cost is War?’ the millions of pounds rather than pounds of flesh lost to war yet the motivation of the deaths are as clear as the dollars formed around the ring pull and trigger. It is simple and effective with the seemingly lightweight objects heavy with the questioning of global greed, conflict and corruption.

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Several stand out amongst the exhibition where many works remain paper thin in substance as well as form. Craftsmanship, patience and skill are in abundance but when it comes down to innovation of ideas and discussing politics through paper, a few really are a cut above.

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Tracey Emin’s She Lay Down Deep Beneath The Sea at The Turner Contemporary in Margate

Walking into the Turner Contemporary, sheltering from the heavy rain covering Margate and colliding with the glass panes which cover the modern building, Rodin’s The Kiss instantly strikes you with its beauty.

Behind the stone sculpture of the two lovers embracing is the North Sea stretching out into the horizon. The rain shatters the surface of the water, soothing when the rain halts as it becomes calm. The sky echoes the water below it once the storm settles as the sky is cloudless and blue. This view plays a part as important as Rodin’s sculpture in creating the powerful environment. The absence of the sound outside is comforting transforming Turner into a silent womb blocking out the sea thrashing against the rocks outside. I stood for minutes captivated by the power and vast size of the sea against the stone lovers, captured in time, captured in their own moment of lust.

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Upstairs is Tracey Emin’s exhibition ‘She Lay Down Deep Beneath The Sea’ aptly named for the location. Margate is where Emin grew up and caused chaos during her youth before heading to London. The exhibition is a homecoming for the artist who has sought national acclaim. Walking up the white stairs the exhibition title glows in a striking blue as one of Emin’s neon signs. The darkness surrounding the stairwell where the sign is place sets the atmosphere for the under the sea. The feeling is heavy and the weight of the sea is pushing down on top of the viewer much in contrast to the ethereal vastness of the sea below us down the stairs.

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The collection of work uses the same tone of blue throughout the many drawings of the same pose of a womans body lying knees up on the floor. The recurrence of the blue body emphasises Emin’s admiration to the sea and lust for the form. Her drawings of the body have become notable and use of words in her work is evident in this collection with phrases such as ‘WHEN I WAS LAST IN LOVE’ wrote inside a love heart. A white sheet canvas has “I didn’t Say I couldn’t Love You’ scrawled above the now familiar image of a naked woman all in the favourable blue ink.

Emin’s stark contrast of black and blue upon the white gallery walls strikes a chord of peace and content. Not as audacious as her previous work she hints at her past but has a different outlook. Perhaps what was anger is now sadness, a melancholy air lingers, the blue is for blues yet the overwhelming light bathing the rooms is hope. The old erotic animalistic Emin has stood down for the rise of the elder, wiser, calmer Emin. She states going through the menopause has been hell “For women, it is the beginning of dying. It is a sign. I’ve got to start using my brain more – I’ve got to be more ethereal and more enlightened.” Her work embraces a new life and cries out for a new love to accompany her in the second half of her life.

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The three rooms feature a range of mediums from sculpture including a abstract clay mould painted white, a stained mattress with a single branch lay on it (Emin’s ‘My Bed’ 1998 infamously caused a stir during the rise of the Young British Artists), an old tin bath, four paint on canvas and a green neon sign which Emin has explored the use of through her work over the years, this time approaching the sign not with text but with abstract lines to form a jaunting landscape.

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Tracey Emin – Sex 1 25-11-07 Sydney – Turner Contemporary

Leaving down the stairs back past the blue sign in the dark reading ‘She Lay down Deep Beneath The Sea’ there is a clearer understanding of the weight. It may be guilt, regret, sadness or shame but it could be simply a hiding place, a way to retreat, under the sea, away from it all. When Emin returns to her roots she returns to the sea. The sea has significance with memories of her eventful youth but also has it’s own impression with it’s vast size and power. Seeing the sea again behind Rodin’s sculpture in the Turner, I thought of lying down deep beneath the sea and I thought what it might mean to Tracey Emin to return home and to begin a new part of her life. I thought of the overbearing weight of the sea, the solitude bliss of lying beneath it and the awe of being above it, looking out to the endless horizon stemming from the grounded shore of Emin’s old stomping ground, Margate.