Olympic Sounds – London 2012

Unsurprisingly, I am more interested in the Cultural Olympiad surrounding the London 2012 Olympic Games, although I have found myself being caught up in a bit of Olympic Games fever as London are hosting them! I’m pleased that sound art has played its part and here are a few examples that I’ve enjoyed.

All The Bells – Martin Creed

Artist Martin Creed (who won the Turner Prize in 2001 for Work No. 227: the lights going on and off) created a nationwide sound piece for the morning of the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Work No. 1197 involved ‘all the bells in a country rung as quickly and as loudly as possible for three minutes’ according to the website for All The Bells. I took part myself at the designated moment of 8.12am, ringing not a real bell as I couldn’t find one, but instead shaking my mobile phone as I had downloaded a mobile phone bell application which turned my phone into a ringing bell. I really liked the inclusive, celebratory nature of this mass performance piece so that All The Bells really did mean any bell, anyone, anywhere.

Hopefully not too many people were as extra enthusiastic as UK Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt whose bell fell apart as he was ringing it!


Tales From The Bridge – Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir

Eric Whitacre has become an extremely popular composer of contemporary classical music, particularly choral. Whitacre uses social media to build his huge and growing fanbase (which I include myself as part of) and his work became even more well known after a TED talk allowed him to discuss his Virtual Choir project. Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir brings together singers from across the world, virtually. Singers sign up on line and can rehearse the chosen score and join forums online to get tips for working on the piece for the virtual choir. Then when they are ready, singers sing along to Whitacre’s conductor video, recording their voice. The piece is then edited and visuals are also inserted to create a sound art piece. Virtual Choir 3 (below) which I sung in too, included 3746 videos from 73 countries. Again,what draws me to Whitacre’s Virtual Choir project is the way in which music and singing (thanks to the power of technology) is used to unite people as a common language across the world.

Whitacre’s Virtual Choir 3 sound piece, Water Night, was seen and heard in Titanic Belfast: Following the celebrations around the opening of the new building and marking 100 years since the loss of Titanic, the projection of Virtual Choir 3 in the atrium of Titanic Belfast provided a moment of contemplation for the lost souls.

Currently, Water Night by Whitacre’s Virtual Choir 3 can be experienced as part of the world’s largest 3D soundscape in an Olympics installation on Millennium Bridge, called Tales From The Bridge.

Here is an amateur video of the Water Night experience on Millennium Bridge, London from a Virtual Choir 3 participant.

Anthem – Scanner

I have been interested in the work that electronic musician Scanner (real name Robin Rimbaud) creates, for some time. He is called Scanner because of his use of cell phone and police scanners in live performance. I really enjoy the variety of types of music that Scanner makes and the range of opportunities he takes up.

The UK’s top designers and artists were invited to contribute to delivering a world class creative showcase that will play host to some of the most globally influential business leaders during the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics Games at the British Business Embassy. Scanner was commissioned for the only sound work in Lancaster House, on the Mall in central London which is used extensively for government hospitality.

Lancaster House, London where Scanner’s Anthem will be played

He presented Anthem, a sonic work that expands upon the British National Anthem, now a choral work of ten minutes duration and situated in the lavatories of the building, the only guaranteed room that every delegate and visitor will visit!

Anthem takes the UK National Anthem, God Save The Queen, into a slow moving choral work, filled with empty spaces.

You can hear Anthem by Scanner here

There was also plenty of sound and music featured in the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games including favourite patriotic numbers by Elgar and a musical race through the decades of the best of British music. I thought the Isles of Wonder theme used by Danny Boyle made a fantastic opening ceremony spectacle. Here is a reminder of those beautifully musical lines from Shakespeare’s The Tempest

Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again; and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked,
I cried to dream again.

Finally, here’s a picture of my Olympic rings fairy cakes that I made!

Chelsea Salon Series – 2nd salon from me – the Curatorial Associate

A few months ago I introduced the Chelsea Salon Series on this blog and I wrote about the first salon for Chelsea Salon Series that I organised and curated which you can read about here.

As an organisation we have now clarified our roles in order to better demonstrate the work we are carrying out, to the University and external organisations including galleries and possible funding groups. I am the Curatorial Associate for the Chelsea Salon Series and I have been working on organising the next salon event which will take place on 3rd August

an image from the last salon for Chelsea Salon Series held at the Round Chapel, Hackney

The next salon will take place at Harts Lane Studios and I am working together with MA Fine Art Chelsea College of Art & Design alumni Fiona Whitty and Jenny Gordon (who run Whitty Gordon Projects) to carry out this event.

image from Whitty Gordon Projects, during one of their visits to downtown Kingston, Jamaica

A curatorial decision was taken to create an experimental salon with an emphasis on performance and a full range of art forms. The Round Chapel salon allowed students to show any completed work or works in progress and most students exhibited pieces they were working on or had already finished, in a way staying quite safe in their choices.

This next salon will enable students to be inspired by the experimental way of working that Fiona and Jenny employ, using a variety of interesting and exciting ways to realise their ideas in different art forms including film, video and outreach projects. The Chelsea Salon Series team would like to capture the adventurous and experimental spirit of the Askew events (set up by Fiona Whitty and Jenny Gordon and no longer in action, although the website remains as an archive of the collective’s activities) and first salons held at Chelsea College in the year that they took their course (2009).

Yard (1961) by artist Allan Kaprow.       Performance piece, part of a Happening.

This means that this salon will be open and encouraging. There is no specific theme, but the aim is for students to be experimental, risk taking and daring. We have made clear that this means the work doesn’t have to be pieces that students are working on at the moment. It doesn’t have to be something that is finished and final. We have suggested trying working in a different format or media or with subject matter other than what students usually use. Eg. what about using dance, music, poetry if you don’t usually, or cooking something new you haven’t tried before! We really want to encourage performance and interaction.

We have recommended thinking about those ‘60s and ‘70s ‘happenings’ which embraced the experimental and free thinking zeitgeist… I’ll let you know after the event, how it goes and if we managed to make our very own Chelsea Salon Series happening!

Our salons are open to the public, so you are most welcome to join us. All information is posted on the Chelsea Salon Series blog.


Contemporary Art London Galleries – commercial, artist run and what’s inbetween

Artists, collectors, curators and the public all have their opinions on what type of space they prefer to see contemporary art in. Personally I am much more attracted to more unusual and characterful, perhaps hidden spaces. For example, historic buildings have so much to offer that can add to the work being shown and sometimes the space itself becomes part of the story, as in the case of Dennis Severs’ House (which I am sure I will post about soon, as I recently visited it for the first time and was hooked). I am also drawn to that juxtaposition of the heritage and contemporary.

As well as the physical building itself, the type of gallery is taken into account when considering a suitable choice of space eg. a commercial gallery, artist run space or a hybrid of those.

Taking a look at three gallery spaces I visited the other day, showing contemporary art in London currently…

Firstly, Paradise Row gallery off Oxford Street, in the Fitzrovia area where quite a few galleries are setting up shop. This area is neither hipster East London, nor posh Mayfair. Paradise Row is a ‘white cube’ space, two floor commercial gallery representing 13 artists. I went to see the exhibition Drawings and I felt that the space was quite sterile and soulless. However, that suited the work – much of which was monochrome, on the first floor at least. I went to the exhibition with no previous knowledge regarding the show and this time there was no press release or blurb about the exhibition available. Luckily, a member of staff in the gallery gave an eloquent, detailed and knowledgeable tour around the show, which meant that connections between the ideas behind the works and their making could be easily understood. Without the tour, I would have felt quite lost and uninterested.

However, in the end, I concluded that this was an exhibition that successfully looked at the hugely wide theme of drawing, thankfully narrowing it down by considering the monochromatic, the geometric and drawing and drafting through a variety of media. To me, the interest lies in the different media used to tackle the subject of drawing.  So that for example, a light work, a video piece and a burned imprint into mdf were all used to consider monochrome, geometric shape and the idea of drawing.

My favourite piece from the show was Douglas White’s Lichtenberg Figure II, Lichtenberg figure on MDF board.

Douglas White Lichtenberg Figure II, 2010 Lichtenberg figure on MDF board (photograph from http://www.paradiserow.com/exhibitions/67/)

This is because it is a beautiful piece (I’m an aesthete at heart), using an interesting technique (burning onto wood), created with everyday materials. The status of the work is raised through associations made when considering it such as connections to images from nature, brain synapses, the birds eye view of a river…

Next, onto the Charlie Dutton Gallery in Holborn. This is a tiny one and a half room gallery which has been set up in an old shop space. The space is glass fronted and inside, Tudor style (recreated from the Victorian age, echoing the features of the genuine original Tudor building itself) beams decorate the ceiling space. The space feels full of history, character and is homely. It is small but not too squashed and Charlie told us that the white walls for showing work can be moved to alter the space. There is also a fireplace which adds to the sense of being in the front room of a historic house.

According to Charlie,

‘the space aims to combine and promote ideals in contemporary fine art, working directly with artists on the curating, production and management of the shows in the gallery, to create an exciting and cutting edge semi-artist-run and not-for-profit environment.’

It is impressive that Charlie has achieved so much, working alone and it is also refreshing to see a semi-artist-run space in what is basically central London.

I really liked this space and was attracted to the show because of how enthusiastic and genuine Charlie himself was to to talk to as well. He had used a simple curatorial technique in showing the current exhibition Parallel Universe as he asked the artists involved in the exhibition to select one artist each, to also have their work shown.  I will look out for future shows and events at this space, where Saatchi and Tate gallery have already collected from, since it opened a just a few years ago.

Finally, onto the Mesolithic Pop exhibition by The New Primitives which is situated in an underground warehouse space near to Oval underground station, provided by Workspace Group.

I found Mesolithic Pop to be a fun, not too weird and very enjoyable show. I was lucky to meet the three artists who make up The New Primitives and they were extremely articulate and interesting when giving a tour of the show and discussing their work. There are many layers of ideas and themes behind their work and the show, but the main idea concerns the bringing together of three UK based artists who all share an interest in the primal act of art making and the basic nature of creativity. The idea of “pre language” and man’s desire to communicate with whatever material is at hand is paramount to these artists’ practice. Physical contact with the environment and a quest for understanding through making objects is what drives the works in this exhibition to be made. These artists revel in traditional production methods, shunning the digital world.

The space is very large, being an underground warehouse and this was perfect for showcasing big scuptural pieces and photographic prints in the exhibition. I was particularly struck by Francis Thorburn’s performances or ‘drags’.

Francis Thorburn, an example of a 'drag' performance (photograph from http://new-primitives.blogspot.com/)

Illustrated by the image above, Francis orchestrates the dragging of  a huge lump of chalk, by a group of men dressed uniformly and primitively. A line is created and the act of carrying out this pointless task comments on machismo and a sense of togetherness.  For the Mesolithic Pop show, a drag was carried out on the streets of South London. Apart from the themes of masculinity and primitiveness, there is a great deal of humour and fun involved which came across well, as a video of one of the drags is shown on loop in the exhibition.

I also very much liked Joel Gray’s beautiful alabaster sculptures (apologies that I couldn’t find any decent images). Alabaster sculptures of items of modern technology sit on a roughly carved small table and next to the table on the ground, are bones or are they tools… is this a room in a caveman’s dwelling or a shrine or tomb? The viewer is not quite sure, but the way the material is worked, creates a haunting effect.

The artists commissioned an essay for the exhibition which academically bases a fun and beautiful show. The poster for which, has got this group (is it a band? looking at the album cover esque poster that I was given a copy of) noticed.

The New Primitives. Mesolithic Pop (photograph from http://new-primitives.blogspot.com/)