Archives for posts with tag: Bill Viola

A short blog on natural and unnatural things.

Helen Sear’s video Company of Trees leads you deep into the forest.

0912 Venice Wales Helen Sear (2)

In the forest the straight line becomes a circle. We are following a girl in a red dress who is glimpsed between the trees, part here part there, never a complete picture, always fading away, and counting. Numbers appear. The title Company of Trees of course makes you think of wolves as does the red dress. We are in a fairy tale, lost in a dreamlike state.

0912 Venice Wales Helen Sear (6)

In other rooms are other images from the countryside, the stacked chopped wood of the woodcutter, small birds and blinding golden fields interwoven with symbols.

0912 Venice Wales Helen Sear (4)

Human presence is here as in the fairy tale it is a human story but how much control do we have even in chopping and harvesting.

0912 Venice Wales Helen Sear (9)

This countryside is not a sentimental place to stray in.

0912 Venice Wales Helen Sear (8)

….the rest is smoke

We gaze down but see the sky. The image ripples but the water stays still.  Helen Sears uses video after effects imaging to create an illusion of movement in an elliptical pool The Beginning and End of Things.  

0912 Venice Wales Helen Sear (5)

Another illusory reflection; Bill Viola’s installation Moving Stillness (Mt. Rainier), 1979 at Blain Southern. Even after 35 years this piece is still captivating in its mystery.

1601 Bill Viola 1

We see a reflection of the mountain in a large pool of water, every so often the water is disturbed and the image dissolves into undulating patterns of light which very slowly restore themselves to equilibrium and the image reappears. The mountain and its reflection do not appear to correspond. 1601 Bill Viola 2

Nothing is hidden from us, through technology we experience the magic of physics which is the magic of nature. Viola’s works open space in this way for a spiritual engagement which is a vital part of his ideology.  To alter materially as we pass in and out of life is something we have no control over but to transform our minds is our challenge. He is an admirer of the philosopher Ananda Coomaraswarmy whose writings  embrace mythology and metaphysics – Art is nothing tangible. We cannot call a painting ‘art’ as the words ‘artifact’ and ‘artificial’ imply. The thing made is a work of art made by art, but not itself art. The art remains in the artist and is the knowledge by which things are made.

Viola produces meditative spaces. Another pioneering early work was presented by Blain Southern and The Vinyl Factory at Brewer Street Car Park.  The Talking Drum an early sound composition  that explores resonance in an empty swimming pool using drums and pipes.

It was an uncanny experience entering the vast shadowy space of the underground car park to what felt like the eerie soundtrack of a noir thriller.

In Venice I had another opportunity to walk through the pulsating glow of Joana Vasconcelas’ Garden of Eden. This fibre optic maze has all the false trappings of the biblical Eden in its hypnotic draw.

I’d never really thought about how concrete was applied to our landscape. At UAL’s Shadow Without Object Symposium Bernd Behr introduced us to the Victorian polymath inventor of sprayed concrete Karl Akeley. Sprayed concrete takes on the shape of what it covers, like a skin.1601 Carl AkeleyAkeley was also a pioneering taxidermist and creator of natural history dioramas, he also devised a motion picture camera to take on location. In his presentation  Akeley in the elephant Skull  Bern Behr makes connections between this liquid concrete film that holds an image of what it covers and photographic emulsion. The desire to reconstruct, to capture and present an accurate representation of reality are questioned. Akeley worked hard to perfect his models as being true to life. 1601 Carl Akeley gorillasHe made many expeditions to Africa to collect his own specimens, make drawings and take photographs so he could transpose the African plains to urban New York. He was of course presenting an idealised view to the awestruck New Yorkers adding to the distorted representation of faraway lands much like the holiday postcard photograph.



“the lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time”

Sir Edward Grey, foreign secretary 1914

Ryoji Ikeda Spectra

Ryoji Ikeda Spectra

Seven days of light piercing the London sky to commemorate the anniversary of WWI

Ryoji Ikeda Spectra

Ryoji Ikeda Spectra

Artangel commission by Ryoji Ikeda acted as the beacon it represented

Ryoji Ikeda Spectra

Ryoji Ikeda Spectra

We are drawn to the light

I have been writing and reading about James Turrell for my dissertation. His use of light as medium for his work is poetic and magical.

James Turrell - Roden Crater

James Turrell – Roden Crater

Light is the materialization of energy. We are naturally eaters of light, our whole body is scattered with stray rods and cones outside of the retinal area which makes our relationship to light very primal.

Our bodies are made from matter fed by the fruits of photosynthesis.

Luckily we don’t suffer instant death like all the moths and flying insects

Ryoji Ikeda Spectra

Ryoji Ikeda Spectra

but it was a chance to think about the brutality of war and those that did suffer a terrible fate

With all that is happening now in Palestine, Iraq, Ukraine and elsewhere those words spoken a hundred years ago resonate, what progress have we made

when will the lamps be lit again

Social adhesion was a topic in our discussions during a workshop run by Sean Lynch at Flat Time House.

Flat Time House was the studio home of John Latham  who died in 2006. Before he died he declared the house a living sculpture, naming it FTHo after his theory of time, ‘Flat Time’.

Flat Time House aims to make a wider audience aware of Latham’s work and ideas, his spirit of discovery, and through his example to understand and appreciate the crucial role of art and the artist in society.

Starting from a series of photographs of Bellenden Road taken by John Latham in 1986 a weekend workshop led by the generous and entertaining artist Sean Lynch aimed to speculate about how urban space and environment is constructed, and what allegories and associations we can draw from it. It was purely about discussion of ideas and sharing stories. Sean’s own work is about urban environments and interventions, looking at the crafts people involved in construction as well as how art is received within a community. He has extensive knowledge of the O’Shea brothers who were stone carvers in Oxford revered at one moment and shunned the next. Details of his exhibition on the subject at Modern Art Oxford here

Sean is brimming with idiosyncratic stories gleaned from newspapers or local characters telling of encounters with faeries and magic bushes or pub crawls as performance art.

1409 vandals

Sean also talked about Robert Smithson who went to Mexico and was captivated by the delapidation of his hotel rather than the Mayan Ruins that most people would expect to be the focus of such an expedition.

Read the enigmatic essay ‘Yucatan is Elsewhere’ at this link – essay

Reminded me of visiting the ruins of a hotel on the Azores earlier this year

1409 Azores

For the workshop we were asked to bring along our own thoughts on public space.

I read a section from my in progress dissertation about my visit to Paradise Industrial Estate.

1409 paradise

We went for a couple of walks around Peckham looking at the local architecture and the council interventions.

1409 Bellenden Road

We were joined on one walk by vocal local campaigner Eileen Conn who has a dream for a new society based on community and gave us the low down on the Bellenden Road area make over.

John Latham’s wife Barbara turned up too with more stories.

1409 Peckham Mural (2)

We walked down to the green to look at where in the 1760’s William Blake had his vision of shining angels in the tree.

For a local community project Artist, The Guy – created a mural on the side of a house for the Dulwich Festival 1993 with the help of local volunteers.

 1409 Peckham Mural (1)

Great news –  Sean Lynch will be representing Ireland at the 2015 Venice Biennale.

Also interested in how the values of society are articulated in public spaces is 2014 RCA graduate James Seow.

His beautiful inked etching plates on show at Anise Gallery depict iconic public squares such as 9/11 Memorial Plaza, Tiananmen Square and Paternoster Square in extruded structural form giving them the aura of sacred space.

James Seow  Always Feel Safe

James Seow Always feel safe…

The gallery exhibits chosen artists that capture architecture through a variety of architectural forms.

1409 neoprintprize

Delighted to have work selected by Gordon Cheung, Paul Coldwell, David Cleaton-Roberts and Eileen Cooper for the neo:print prize in Bolton.

Paradise Road SW4

Paradise Road SW4

A great team of selectors so feel really proud.

An extra bonus was to win an award sponsored by Hawthorn Printmaker Supplies for my etching ‘Forest of Eden’

Forest of Eden

Forest of Eden

Rei Matsushima who has just graduated from the RCA also won a prize for her wonderful print ‘Mentaiko (cod roe)’

Rei Matsushima

Rei Matsushima

A series of events were held as a celebration of ‘Myth’ at the Royal Opera House.

The ‘breath of life’ and ‘the sacred fire within’ could be experienced through yoga in the great hall

1409 ROH

A screening of the stunning film interpretation of Leda and the Swan featuring Eric Underwood and Claire Calvert dancing in Richmond Park

Leda and The  Swan

The Indifferent Beak

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still

Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed

By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill, He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.


How can those terrified vague fingers push

The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?

And how can body, laid in that white rush,

But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?


A shudder in the loins engenders there

The broken wall, the burning roof and tower

And Agamemnon dead.

Being so caught up,

So mastered by the brute blood of the air,

Did she put on his knowledge with his power

Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?


Inspired by Yeats 1923 poem, choreographer Charlotte Edmonds wanted to convey the entwining bodies and passion of the encounter

Leda and the Swan

The Indifferent Beak

Matt Collishaw also sought to convey burning passions

Matt Collishaw

Matt Collishaw

The dangers of desire.

Bill Viola gave us suffering for transcendence.

Bill Viola - Fire Martyr

Bill Viola – Fire Martyr

Andrea Büttner is interested in ideas of spirituality on a quieter scale.

The ‘Little Works’  of the Carmelite nuns of Notting Hill, ‘The Little Way’ of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, a carmelite saint which influenced the delicate drawings of Gwen John.

Noticing the small and lowly she makes connections between the humility of the nuns with the unobtrusive yet persistent spreading of moss.

Lives lived in the background.

She discussed her ideas with insightful curator Chus Martinez, Head of the Art Institute, Basel at Tate Britain. She was launching her book Hidden Marriages which draws inspiration from the National Museum of Wales collection of drawings by Gwen John (1876–1939) and the extensive collection of mosses preserved in its herbarium.

Much of her work makes connections between art history and social or ethical issues, with a particular interest in notions of poverty, shame, vulnerability and sexuality, and the belief systems that underpin them. Although working a hundred years apart, Gwen John and Andrea Büttner share an interest in the spiritual, social and aesthetic notions of ‘littleness.’

Mosses fall under the term cryptogam (meaning hidden sexuality). Moss is also described as a ‘lower plant’— implying a lesser, or more primitive, evolutionary development than flowering or ‘higher plants.’ Hidden Marriages: Gwen John and Moss draws these two seemingly unconnected collection areas together, making links between the reproductive processes of ‘lower plants’ and the contested sexuality of Gwen John; between littleness as an aesthetic, biological, and social discourse; between the scientific ordering of the Museum and the harmony and beauty that John sought in her work; and, ultimately, the way institutions ascribe relative importance to objects, ideas and people.

Büttner makes large woodcuts about lowly things like tents.

Andrea Buttner Tent

Andrea Büttner Tent

She said she views her woodcuts almost as brochures or advertisements to her videos.

Andrea Büttner Piano

Andrea Büttner Piano

She had some great duo scope images on slides and in her book of moss collectors intently surveying the ground, heads down, eyes lowered, kneeling as though in prayer

1306 Moss


Dissertation sickness. Gaining knowledge should be enriching – Bill Viola talks about a pollution of the mind from too much information, he means a flooding from advertising and media and such like that has a negative impact on our well being. Walter Benjamin was also concerned that post industrial life was overwhelming our senses in such a way that we couldn’t process the volume of experiences we had in order to gain any knowledge or understanding. I think I may be overloading my mind with too many books – too many threads to follow – so that I can no longer process meaningfully.
Nostalgia – the wounds of returning.
Ruin Lust at Tate Britain was a chance to revel in the beauty of decay – to feed desire for the lost idyll. Desire is such that it is eternal.

Jane and Louise Wilson - Azeville

Jane and Louise Wilson – Azeville

I have just been reading about critic Neil Hertz comments on Gustave Coubet’s La Grotte de la Loue 1864 as an example of the move from the romantic sublime to the post modern sublime.

Gustave Courbet - La Grotte de la Loue

Gustave Courbet – La Grotte de la Loue

The Wilson’s photograph Azeville seems to share the same unnerving dark space where there is no escape into infinity only a reflection back to self meditation.

John Martin the master of the fantastical sublime shows the devastation of Pompeii.

John Martin - The Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum

John Martin – The Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum

With the sublime there is always the possibility of death.

If a dark space of contemplation is post modern sublime what is this …

1405 Pompeii

feels like a brash disrespect for the dead to me.

Finlay Taylor, tutor in printmaking at RCA, brought together an impressive selection of works for an exhibition at Camberwell Space – Against Nature.

In his introductory speech at the symposium held in conjunction with the show he spoke about cause and effect of environmental interventions.

The extinction of the Large Blue Butterfly in Britain as habitat is eroded as land use changes and the introduction of a butterfly from Scandinavia as replacement – a near match.

The high mercury levels at the top of Mount Fuji brought on the winds from China’s expanding coal mining industry.

Dr Joy Sleeman and David Cross, speakers at the symposium, discussed our shift in perception of landscape after the moon landings.

The iconic image earthrise – looking back at earth from space apparently very nearly didn’t happen.

The highly trained military scientists had been instructed to only photograph the surface of the moon with the precious amount of film that they had taken into space with them.

1405 earthrise

However, when they saw the earth as it had never been seen before and it was so beautiful they disobeyed command and pressed the shutter.

Optimum selfie.  It’s been a while now since the reverberations of that image were first felt, it was supposed to unite us as a planet, to position us within the enormity of the universe so that we could appreciate our lives as being part of something amazing and vast.

Our skies, flooded with artificial light means we can no longer see the stars. Our territory has shrunk. James Turrell makes work to try and open up our skies to us again. By creating an enclosure to look out from, a vaulting occurs in our perception, bringing the sky closer, and as the light changes throughout the day and the seasons a myriad range of colours can be observed.

James Turrell - Roden Crater

James Turrell – Roden Crater

His friend and art collector Count Giuseppe Panza di Biumo believes that if everyone could visit The Roden Crater then all violence would stop.

Also we wouldn’t need any hallucinogens.

Crossing the channel to see Bill Viola in Paris. Dissertation research isn’t all sitting in the library.

Bill Viola - Fire Woman

Bill Viola – Fire Woman

Enjoyed some favourite pieces and saw some new ones.

I found ‘Three Women’ very hypnotic and moving. For me it was about cycles of separation.

The mother figure steps out from a grey mist through a wall of water, with all the wetness and rupture of birth, she emerges glistening into full colour.

Bill Viola - Three Women

Bill Viola – Three Women

She reaches back for the older girl and guides her on her journey through the baptism of water to be at her side, the older girl in turn then takes her sister by the hand to join them.

Bill Viola - Three Women

Bill Viola – Three Women

No sooner are they all together than the mother figure steps back through the veil, the older girl soon follows, leaving the young girl suddenly alone.

As she reaches back and takes her older sister’s hand to return from where she came, she turns directly to the viewer, her gaze holds us in a grief of separation.

Bill Viola - Three Women

Bill Viola – Three Women

Who steps over the threshold willingly?

Crossing Oceans – ‘The Stuart Hall Project’ film is a poetic collage of archive footage set to the music of Miles Davis, directed by John Akomfrah. Stuart Hall emigrated from Jamaica to the UK in 1951 to take up a place at Oxford University, and became a founding figure of cultural studies in Britain.

Stuart Hall

I have Jo Stockham (head of printmaking at the RCA) to thank for screening this film of a wonderful man sadly no longer with us.

This film is now part of an exhibition at the Stanley Picker Gallery in Kingston Upon Thames – Your Tongue in My Mouth

1405 Standing on the Frontier (22)

Honoured to be invited to join the artists in Standing on the Frontier, a group show at Unit 24 Gallery curated by Takayuki Hari and Noa Edwards.

“One of the tasks art has assumed is making forays into and taking up positions on the frontiers of consciousness (….) and reporting back what’s there.” –Susan Sontag, ‘The Pornographic Imagination’.

Takayuki Hara with his work

Takayuki Hara with his work

The images presented by the artists in Standing on the Frontier depict views taken on a redefining the frontier between reality and the imagination. On this meandering journey the viewer weaves his or her way across the line that demarcates the boundary between the mundane scenery of familiar places and the surreal landscapes of the individual mind.

Noa Edwards paintings

Noa Edwards paintings

A review can be read here

Susan Eyre - Yellow Sky

Susan Eyre – Yellow Sky

The boundary I was thinking about here was the one between outside and inside a controlled environment.

A dystopian future where all life is sheltered in a sort of Eden project.

Coming up soon –

I have some work in the Ochre Print Studio Summer exhibition

Would 1/2 ve

Would 1/2 ve

Some exhibitions I hope to visit –

Arkipelagos at Beaconsfield

Fleursdumal at Charlie Smith

Suky Best at Danielle Arnoud

Laurence Kavanagh at Marlborough Contemporary

Chris Marker at Whitechapel

TTTT at Jerwood Space

Daniel Malva at ArtEco

and of course Royal College of Art SHOW 2014



Been spending a lot of time in the etching workshop.
It all started with a photo of Paradise Forum shopping mall in Birmingham.
Everyone looked so pissed off – yet if they just looked beyond to the cosmos, wouldn’t they be dazzled.
I thought the two girls on the steps looked like they had their feet dangling in space, that they were sitting on the edge of something, awaiting their escape.

Of course the word Forum conjures up ideas of a Roman Forum, from which I segue to amphitheatre, a place of gathering, like a shopping mall. A sense of history of construction, of public space.
This small exert of life on earth in fadeout – a temporal moment.

Paradise Forum B3

Paradise Forum B3

I listened to Bill Viola being interviewed about his current retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris which I hope to visit shortly. He talks about the brevity of our lives and how it is really important to leave behind some knowledge or some new thing for the next generation, it can be something really simple. Through knowledge we gain transformation. But beware, too much information can become a pollution and we have to separate out the unnecessary bombardment of advertising and media sources from the good stuff that enriches us.

1404 Bill Viola

Also looking at  the work and ideas of James Turrell. His formless landscapes of light with no object, no image and no focus leaves us only with an awareness of ourselves looking and an experience only felt otherwise in dreams, meditation or near death experiences. I can remember my visit to Gagosian a few years back to see Dhatu – staring into a pink misty void, anticipating angels.


JAMES TURRELL  Dhātu, 2010

Dhātu, 2010


In ‘Once Upon a Time’ Steve McQueen presents 116 images from Karl Sagan’s Golden Record which was launched into space in 1977 to enlighten any extraterrestrials about life on earth. McQueen overlays geographical images and scientific diagrams with the sounds of people speaking in tongues. The highly factual with the highly emotional – potentially equally indecipherable to aliens but showing an alternative side to human nature other than the one NASA documented.

Steve McQueen - Once Upon a Time

Steve McQueen – Once Upon a Time

In ‘The Dry Salvages’ Elisabetta Benassi presents 10,000 bricks made from clay taken from the 1951 Polesine flood area (one of the largest natural disasters in Italy) that are printed with the names and codes of the largest space debris orbiting the earth.

1404 Elisabetta Benassi (2)

Elisabetta Benassi – The Dry Salvages

Power of nature, power of nations.

Elisabetta Benassi - The Dry Salvages

Elisabetta Benassi – The Dry Salvages

The regeneration of matter. The impossibility of control.