Look Up!

So, sometimes it’s impossible to shake off an idea. An idea for a piece of work just stays in your head, often goes through various changes as time and thoughts progress, but the concept remains the same and stays with you.

Well, I’ve had a yellow disc dangling from the ceiling in three different studios now, a blue sheet draped in the air, and a kaleidoscope tacked to a window. They relate to a series of three sculptural works all inspired by the perspective offered by time spent in the great outdoors.

The Sun Never Stops Shining is a bright yellow transparent disc that towers overhead offering shelter, and a space for reflection. Through the grey days, life’s difficulties, and hard times some things remain constant, wether one’s aware of them or not – the sun never stops shining. Get out, soak up some essential vitamin d, feel the breeze on your face!

Similarly, Look Up! offersa place to shelter, to gather, to chew the fat, and contemplate. A place to look up from one’s smart phone, to interact with real people, real environments, in real time.

The kaleidoscope idea (working title, Chasing Rainbows) is far from being fully resolved, but it won’t go away. I just know that I want to create a piece of sculptural work that uses prisms to catch and reflect light. A piece that can be approached from any angle, and reveals the “magic” of daylight – the beauty that exists in the simplest things – the beauty that exists in nature!

Hyper-real Landscapes

I was just discussing how invisible my large pregnancy bump appears to be to the vast majority of the population. This led to a conversation about whether modern day society is made up of people lacking in good manners (I sound so old), or if modern day society is made up of people so consumed by themselves and their man-made distractions, namely their phones (she says, writing this from a smart phone), that they are simply blind to the world around them.

Either way, it was interesting to consider the thick blanket of fog that covered pretty much the entire UK this morning. A friend took this fabulous photo looking east off London Bridge this morning…


I love that, in such a dense urban environment, so much ‘everything’ is shrouded by nature presenting us with so much ‘nothing’.

It made me consider hyper-real environments, what we need to do to make that modern day society sit up and smell the coffee; that is, become alert to the wonders that surround them on a daily basis. Then another friend posted this image on Facebook…


Perhaps we’re all thinking the same thing!?

Hannah Rickards and Roelof Louw at Modern Art Oxford

To enable me to fix my attention on any one of these symbols I was to imagine that I was looking at the colours as I might see them on a  moving picture screen.

What prompts someone to go to see an exhibition by an artist who’s unknown to them? Is it the reputation of the curator or the organisation(s) promoting / hosting the exhibition? Is it visual intrigue, perhaps an image, or a poster? Is it a layered decision… appetite whetted as one reads on, and then makes a decision? I guess it probably depends on the individual, and the power of the ‘prompting’ stimulus/stimuli.

I hadn’t heard of Hannah Rickards before, but I was intrigued as I’d met Paul Hobson who’d told me that this insertion into the programme was his doing, and he’d worked with her before. I was surprised by the relatively ‘last minute’ nature of this show by curatorial standards (knowing that so many exhibitions can be about three years in the making). So who is this Hannah Rickards, and why has Hobson so confidently nailed her colours to the Modern Art Oxford mast?

When I saw this ‘promo image’ of Rickards’ work, I was vaguely intrigued, but I wasn’t moved…

Hannah Rickards

Hannah Rickards

However, when I read on the Modern Art Oxford website that Hannah Rickards  is drawn to natural phenomena such as birdsong, thunder, mirage and the aurora borealis, which she examines through spatial works that take the form of moving image and sound I realised that there had to be more to this show than two dimensions, more than monochrome lines and text – there had to be colour, sound, movement, physicality of some description, there had to be leaps of imagination… I was intrigued, I was there, and I left sold.

It seems that Hobson and Rickards share common ground in their approach to life, both individuals with one eye on the bigger picture and all that it might entail whilst simultaneously delving deep into the microscopic detail of specific subjects. The Modern Art Oxford website explain that,
“Rickards’ scrupulous and investigative methodology involves the detailed deconstruction of her chosen subject. Breaking sounds or physiological occurrences down into minute parts for individual examination, her intense artistic gaze scrutinises each particle of information from a number of angles before reconstruction and eventual presentation.”

Bringing together Rickards’ important works to date in an interwoven configuration that spans all of the first floor galleries the exhibition is like taking a walk in the countryside in that it’s a personal exploration, the route isn’t dictated, but there are paths and physical markers to negotiate, and what you see and hear will entirely depend on what you’re open to seeing and hearing.

I didn’t find all of the work captivating, but I did find most of the work captivating, and the transporative experience of visiting the exhibition was, in itself, a truly fabulous one – meditative, reflective, a journey of heightened, transitory sensory experiences. If I could have thrown my arms around this show and licked it, I would have done… but it’s just too big; conceptually bursting out beyond the walls, floor and ceiling of the gallery spaces – it’s enormous, a truly immersive experience!

The light changes as one climbs up into the first floor galleries. Rickards has installed coloured gels in the space adding a heightened sense of dynamism to the light and visitor experience. I found myself questioning, doubting my own perceptions as my pace slowed, and I found myself moving cautiously around a room that was behaving in a way that I had never noticed before, yet it didn’t appear to have fallen pray to significant interventions, not to the scale by which I was being moved, anyway. Like land art, but inside.

Rickards comments on this phenomenon of articulating (or not) experience that she explores,
“Everything within this exhibition is to do with an uncertainty in language and how we might try to articulate a relationship to something beyond us in the world: musically, verbally, gesturally.”

Hannah Rickards - installation shot

Hannah Rickards – installation shot

Her new work, Right here and then nothing anywhere else.  (2014), is a great example of this. Merely a descriptive tick chart. It reminded me of my English Literature teacher at school, Dr Foster. I recalled him discussing imagination and compartmentalisation with us. The way in which adults feel more comfortable (and therefore strive to) pigeon hole, whereas children haven’t developed a system to do this, and as it doesn’t really seem natural, as very few things in life fit neatly in their place, it seems like a ludicrous exercise, yet it’s one that we increasingly find ourselves being asked to conform to through life.

Putting their subjects into sharp focus, each of Rickards’ works breaks down the auditory, visual, or spatial relationships of its subject into minute parts for individual examination.  And this amused me, in a giddy way (giddy in the case of Thunder, a musical transcription and performance), the experience becomes so heightened, so intense that it’s thrilling; then one returns to the act of pigeon holing – how can one pigeon hole a sensory experience… or something!?

Visitors will encounter a piece of work with an incredibly long title, The sound I think it makes is, is that whispering sound, to me it sounds, it sounds almost, um, uh, what’s the word I’m thinking? Um, like historic, not historic, but, um, oh: a legend, it sounds like a legend, you know, when you think of a legend or something way back in the past you get that, that, it sounds like that to me, like this legend or somebody’s, this whispering sound: it’s a legend. The work is as much a three-dimensional object, a sculptural intervention and a light prism as it is a three-channel audio and video installation. As alluded to in the title, it can be virtually impossible to eloquently describe an experience sufficiently… it comes easier to poets, yet is the exact opposite to what lawyers do in a world where there is no room for nuance.

Yet, sometimes nuance is everything, you’ve just got to open yourself up to the intangible possibilities of it, and free yourself to wallow in it. This is an exhibition that deserves time, repeat visits in different weather conditions, repeats visits when you’re in a rush, and when you have all the time in the world. And isn’t that the wonderful thing about publicly funded exhibitions in the UK – the efforts of a team of radical gallery staff enable us to make these repeat visits FOR FREE!

Hannah Rickards - installation shot

Hannah Rickards – installation shot

… and as Modern Art Oxford approaches its 50th anniversary on Pembroke Street, we are reminded that this is exactly what the gallery has been doing for half a century. Step back in time to 1969 when conceptual artist Roelof Louw created his seminal installation Location, a continuous black rubber band stretching horizontally around the four walls of the Upper Gallery at Modern Art Oxford.

Location by Roelof Louw

Location by Roelof Louw

The exhibition opened to mixed reviews in ’69. Whilst conceptual art, performance art, and work of this interactive nature was becoming increasingly common-place in major cities in the Western world, it was quite a radical move for a regional art gallery, and apparently not everyone in Oxford was ready for it – hopefully this isn’t still the case!

Yet Louw’s critically acclaimed early work became renowned for its complex relationship between physical space, sculpture and viewer, as seen in Pyramid (Soul City), a carefully constructed pyramid of 6,000 oranges which gradually disappears as visitors help themselves to fruit (go on, take one of your five a day!) re-installed (with fresh oranges) in MAO’s Project Space.

This Roelof Louw archival exhibition was unearthed by PhD student, Hilary Floe, upon the revelation that Hannah Rickards’ work was going to be on show, and the two bodies of work chime perfectly. The Roelof Louw work forms part of a review of the history of exhibitions at Modern Art Oxford that will lead up to the 2016 anniversary.

Me helping myself to one of my five a day

Me helping myself to one of my five a day

I went to see this exhibition on a cold, grey day feeling a bit miserable, and sorry for myself – I left elated, with a spring in my step, loving life, nature, art, and the fact that this gift is free.

The Hannah Rickards exhibition continues until 20 April 2014
The Roelof Louw exhibition continues until 6 April 2014

Wide open spaces

Looking back at the artists whose works caught my eye at the London Art Fair, I can only think that I was hankering after a bit of time in some wide open spaces. For me, there certainly is no place like home – the sights, sounds, smells of the North York Moors. The relative lack of people, and the abundance of natural activity that always leaves me with a clear head, and a healthy dose of heavy-handed perspective. I just love it. Anyway, after starting the year with five days back home, I can only think that my interest in the below listed artists had something to do with how much I enjoyed my time there, and how much I get out of the experience of being alone in wide, open spaces…

Ruben brulat

I hadn’t come across the work of Ruben Brulat (above) before. He’s a young French artist represented in the UK by Lamb Arts, and his large-scale photographic works are simply breathtaking. Such tremendous physicality dwarfed by all-encompassing natural landscapes… and more often than not it is actually him in the photo.

I found some scribbles about his work on thisispaper.com that may be of interest…

“Ruben Brulat’s approach has something romantic to it, romantic in the nineteenth century sense. His work ist that of a lonely, fanatic and mystic person, who’s thrown himself into a quest that confronts him to the limits and that opens the doors to a new apprehension of the world.”

At the other end of the scale I also really enjoyed Gill Rocca‘s miniatures – quietly dramatic experiments in scale.

Probably the work that I enjoyed the most at the fair was that of Leonardo Drew, represented by Vigo Gallery.


This image does his fantastic wall-based sculpture no justice at all – check it out in person if you can.

Again, this image does very little justice to the work, but Andrew Mackenzie’s woodland scenes resonated with me, with their flashes of glaring neon, that I guess either act as warning beacons or lure the viewer in – they made me want to adventure inside them, and clamber through Mackenzie’s invisible yet tangible bracken beds in clarty clay-clad boots.
QUARRY EDGE 3, Oil on panel, 50 x 32 cm, 2010 by Andrew Mackenzie

Have a read of this interview that I found with Andrew Mackenzie here.

Heading to the opposite end of the country to North Yorks I found myself looking out to sea admiring the mystical, painterly work of Cornwall-based Gareth Edwards, and also the late Wilhelmina Barns-Graham and Karl Weshke, two great artists who also made their mark in/on Cornwall.


Experiments for large-scale public-space art installations

Look, the Sky is Blue, It Never Stops Shining, and Let There be Light are ideas for a series of large-scale public-space installations for urban spaces that loom over the viewer given a physical sense of wonder that can be moved around, marveled at, and explored. The intention of the series of sculptures is to reconnect the viewer with nature and their environment by reminding them of the elements, and in an attempt to encourage people to take time out to think, and physically lose themselves in perspective.