Thursday, 4 August 2011

E17 Art Trail 2011

The theme of this year's trail is 'On your Marks' which relates to the fact that E17 is in the London Borough of Waltham Forest, one of the five boroughs connected to the 2012 London Olympics. My work looks at the contradictions between the olympian and modern life. Text below is a bit dull because I've just cut and pasted the blurb from the E17 Art Trail website but more details and pics to come soon. ..

Man Machine
The physical fluidity of the Olympic ideal is a sharp contrast to the sedentary and technology- dependent reality of contemporary life. Electronic immersion now begins earlier and increasingly dominates leisure as well as work time.

An unreflective market aggressively drives desire for products that are constantly updated in terms of form, but increasingly less in terms of actual technological substance. While assessed in the broad and usually positive terms of social and political impact, the potential negatives on the level of the individual, both physically and mentally, are largely absent from the discussion.

For this year's Art Trail, I have created an installation called Man Machine, which occupies the entire front room of my house. Featuring paintings, posters, skeletons, text and an interactive wall, it is a disturbing work that explores some of the more damaging dynamics of the contemporary mind-body-machine relationship.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Walthamstow... twinned with Gaza*

It is not often that my somewhat diverse worlds collide but last week they did.

I took part in a local exhibition with my arty community of Walthamstow which was great because it's the first time I've done any art for almost a year. Called The Long Conversation, this exhibition explored the relationships between poetry and art through painting, print, artist books and installation On the opening night I was amazed to discover that it also included work by a guest artist from Gaza - Majed Shala.

Majed Shala is a founding member of the Shababeek (Windows) Artist's Group in Gaza which has consistently tried to promote contemporary Gazan art and provide education and training for young Gazan artists. Shala's work has been exhibited internationally over the years but last week he was here for his first UK solo show at the Arab British Centre in London. This show was organised and coordinated by the Arts Canteen project headed by Aser El Saqqa who just happens to live in Walthamstow. As a consequence he arranged for two of Shala's works to feature in The Long Conversation as well.

Majed Shala uses Arabic text, cut up and arranged in vertical forms on canvases layered with texture and vibrant colour.These distinctive compositions suggest classical Arabic calligraphy while undermining the form at the same time. The arrangement of materials and shapes also creates a strong visual tension between abstraction and the figurative which are contained simultaneously within the image.

The show entitled Breathing the Air consisted of a series of paintings exhibited in the gallery space at the Arab British Centre (ABC) which was also a surprise. The last time I went to the ABC in 2004 it was an  earnestly old fashioned organisation in a completely unmemorable office space. However, in the past few years things have definitely changed! With a small and young team of staff, ABC now focuses much more on culture and, with the help of Off Screen who share the building, it now houses an impressive collection of art by some of the Middle East's most interesting contemporary artists. It also has a great library ... but to be fair it always did. 

* Twinning idea from Aser El Saqqa and Arts Canteen

A conversation with Majed Shala:
Wednesday 1 June, 6 – 8pm
Mangobajito Gallery
107 Kingsgate Rd
Inside the Kingsgate Community Centre
London NW6 2JH
Tel 020 73724144

Monday, 14 March 2011

Jumping on the Gaddafi Bandwagon...

There has been a lot of coverage recently of Saif al Islam al Gaddafi, one of the sons of the (allegedly) dope smoking, finger poking, gun toting, hair dyeing one man circus who claims not to be the president of Libya. What is it with the black hair dye and Arab leaders? Gaddafi, the late Saddam, Mubarak, Ben Ali ... they were all at it. There's probably a bit of facial nip and tuck as well, particularly if you happen to be a good friend of Silvio Berlusconi.

However, my interest here is in the Gaddafi Jnr. who has appeared regularly on both Libyan and international media since the Libyan leg of the regional revolutionary tour kicked off. In Libya he seems to be on TV doing very bad impersonations of his Dad, while his international appearances have consisted of indignation, regime justification and the high drama of embracing the inevitability of a political martyr's death on national soil.

Given Saif al Islam's connection to the UK there has been considerable hand wringing especially about his links to the London School of Economics, which has since disassociated itself from him and his generous donation. This is a little hypocritical given some of their other sources of funding but this is an issue for many UK universities that will no doubt worsen after huge spending cuts to higher education by the current UK government. 

Despite all this coverage and analysis there has been almost no mention of Saif al Islam Gaddafi's former career as an artist. His association with The Desert is Not Silent, a touring exhibition of Libyan antiquities and contemporary art was occasionally mentioned but nobody had picked up on the fact that a substantial number of works in that exhibition were actually painted by Saif al Islam himself.

The Desert is Not Silent was most recently shown in Moscow in 2010 but was launched in London in 2002. It was a huge, champagne flowing affair in a specially constructed tent (sound familiar?) in Kensington packed with a bizarre and uneasy mix of politicians,.diplomats, academics, spooks, fixers, journalists and a few tokens from the art world.

The exhibition included the work of several contemporary Libyan artists and a collection of antiquities all of which were very interesting. However, because it was essentially Saif al Islam's project and he was present, it was his work which dominated. One of the rumours circulating the big tent was that he hadn't actually painted them himself. Fortunately, spouse knew the security man at the event so I was able to glide easily through the largely psychophantic (sic) crowd and get close enough for a question. I asked him about the technique and material used on one particular highly textured work and he gave me a very enthusiastic and plausible answer. So I believe he did paint them.... or at least the one I asked about!

If only he had stuck to the painting who knows where he could be now? Probably not at the Sharjah Biennial but possibly at Art Dubai. Incidentally, I found an article about him published in The National to coincide with last year's Moscow opening and it is a most informative read!

Unfortunately, The Desert is not Silent website just happens to be down for maintenance so for those of you who were wondering about the work of the Gaddafi 'Prince Formerly Known as Artist', here is a selection from the 2002 catalogue. It probably breaches copyright laws but I couldn't get hold of him to ask for permission and I'm guessing he's too busy to sue right now.

An article written about this exhibition at the time included parts of an interview with Saif al Islam and ends with the line: 
So what of the future? Is there a Gaddafi succession planned? "No," he said. "Not me or anyone else. There will be no succession after my father. There will be a democracy."
All going according to plan then?

  The Challenge

The image above received more attention at the exhibition than any other which was not entirely fair because there were more interesting works. However, Gaddafi Senior looming over earthly proceedings from the sky is a guaranteed attention grabber. Painted in 2000, part of the catalogue text for this read:
Libya was as strong as a rock against which the arrogance of the neo-crusaders was broken. In this tragedy of the new world order the leader becomes the 'unique eagle'.
Only two other images had any political theme or content. War (relating to Kosovo) and Intifada which could easily be a symbol of some more recent revolutions! Most other works reflected themes of bedouin culture, desert landscape, abstract colour and the emergence of art from original cave drawings and paintings. Medium was usually oil or mixed media on canvas.



 The Tent


 Untitled (Oil on Bedouin Fabric)

Untitled (Oil on Bedouin Fabric)

Selection from series The Desert is Not Silent


 Still Life
Endless Colours
Bella Rosa

Monday, 28 February 2011

Happy New Year....

May seem a bit late to be wishing people a happy new year but given the winter I’ve had it is understandable. Besides, spring has always seemed a rather more logical time to celebrate the new year than January but I guess we can blame the Romans for that seasonal anomaly.

Anyway, the reason it only now feels like new year to me is that I have spent the past two months either in bed, at the osteopath, or painfully dragging my sorry ass round the house with much wailing, gnashing of teeth and general bemoanment (?) of my fate.  To cut a long story short, the bonkers workload of one particular project finally took its toll and my back muscles decided they were mad as hell and weren't going to take it any more. Managed to extricate myself from said project at the end of last year and am only now beginning to emerge from the whole experience. Moral of the story: 1) Never do a project you don’t really want to do but feel obliged to do because you have been specifically requested to do it and 2) Never assume that the people you are asked to work with know what they are doing.

I have only had one other experience of a job so stressful and awful that it made me ill  but that was over ten years ago and involved Palestinian negotiating positions so is a very different story! However, talking of the Middle East, I would like to extend a deep personal thank you to Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and Libya for rescuing me from the cultural twilight of UK daytime TV. Despite revisiting a teenage obsession with Sci-Fi by reading the entire 4 volume Rama Cycle by Arthur C. Clarke, I still had a lot of time in bed with nothing but daytime TV for company so thank you also Al Jazeera, the BBC and Sky.

One other thing…. throughout this process I have discovered much more than I ever really wanted to know about the true nature of UK health care, both public and private. Observations suggest that the public sector is hopelessly addicted to drugs while the private sector secures numerous income streams by mercilessly exploiting the low fitness and body awareness levels of Gulfies with more money than sense.

So .. now planning to resume the projects that had to be temporarily abandoned and get fit again  ... ... in the meantime here's a brief summary of what I've recently learned. .