Learning from Contemporary Art – Week 5

What about Pleasure?

Pleasure can be problematic in writing about art. On the one hand, everyone acknowledges that pleasure is fundamental to our experience of art. If we like something that’s neither useful nor morally good, then it must be because it gives us pleasure. On the other hand, compared to something like meaning, pleasure seems trivial. Many of the arguments for funding and preserving art rely on the idea that art is serious like a religion or philosophy. As a result, pleasure is disavowed in much art writing. It’s simultaneously acknowledged and dismissed.

Carsten Höller’s ‘Test Site’ is an example of art that provides pleasure. Set up in the Turbine Hall in Tate Modern, Höller’s sculpture is that of a giant slide. I think kids are a good sign for wether art is pleasurable. Kids wouldn’t think twice about sliding down ‘Test Site’, they wouldn’t care if it’s art.

3 Forms of Pleasure:

1. Humour (laughing in a gallery, jokes, stupidity, satire)

2. The Body (sex, physical pleasure, playing)

3. Abstraction (meaningless)


How not to behave in a Gallery:

Woody Allen, scene from ‘Play It Again, Sam’ 1973

  • How should we behave in a gallery? What sort of things should we say about art?
  • The video consisted of a man and a woman looking at a Pollock, instead of him looking at the art, he’s stood there to get a date. Her response to the art is so lengthy and “deep”, that it becomes ridiculous. Both characters are taking the piss of the gallery setting and the way in which people act within the gallery setting.

Jean-Luc Godard, scene from ‘Bande á Part’

  • How are social forces revealed in this scene?
  • The video answers the question, how fast can you get through Le Louvre. Three people can be seen running and laughing through the gallery. There’s a conflict between their action and the stationary-ness of the gallery and art. They are breaking the conventions of the gallery.


1. Humour

Why is it funny when someone falls over? Why do we find human error so funny?

Henri Bergson, Laughter, An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic, 1900

Laughter is:

  • Human – do animals laugh?
  • Indifferent – is it true when we laugh at someone, we don’t care about them? However I think there are degrees if indifference. We feel more sorry for some people than we do others.
  • Social – does laughter reinforce social boundaries?


  • Laughter is triggered when someone acts outside of their allocated role and function, and fails.
  • Laughter is society’s revenge on the individual.
  • In a funny situation, the physicality of the body visibly punctures social pretension. When a model trips on the catwalk, it punctures the elegance and perfection of the catwalk, and normalises it.

Is there an equivalent in art to falling over?

  • The Amateur Fresco Restoration, Spain, 2012 is an example of such. ‘Ecce Homo (Behold the Man)’ by Elias Garcia Martinez had deteriorated due to moisture. An amateur painter took her brush to it to restore it. Her restoration job was so bad you can’t help but laugh and feel sorry for the “restorer”.
Elias Garcia Martinez ‘Ecce Homo (Behold the Man)’, before and after restoration

Is there a wisdom in the dumbness of the body?

  • Gelitin, ‘Nellanutella’, 2001 – deliberately falling into the canals of Venice, henceforth deliberately embarrassing themselves. I think there’s a relief in not having to think. It releases the social pressures of art and the gallery setting.


For Bergson, verbal humour works in a similar way. The set-up leads us in one direction but the punchline trips the listener up mentally and deflates our expectations.

Richard Prince, ‘Joke Painting’, c.2000

We fall for a joke, we can laugh at our own stupidity because it’s disguised and we feel that we are laughing at someone else. Someone who doesn’t get a joke becomes the butt of others’ laughter, thus the social bond is reinforced through inclusion nd exclusion.

  • A news article came out in Norway titled, ‘Bus seats mistaken for burqas by members of anti-immigrant group’. Bergson would suggest that this is funny because of the stupidity of the anti-emigrant group. As we are not members of that group, and have nothing to do with its policies, we can laugh at their stupidity. The things we find funny emphasise the particular social groups in which we find ourselves in any given society.


  • David Shrigley ‘Untitled (I Hate Wood)’, 2013 – can it be explained with Bergson’s theory? It parallels the previous point about immigrants but with absurdity. No one really hates wood, It has the structure that Bergson identifies but there is no real target unlike with the immigrants. Anti-immigrant members are stupid whereas wood-haters are silly.
  • David Shrigley ‘Untitled (Fuck off I am a Painter) – I really loved this painting/drawing as I can sympathise with the predicament and find it relatable. I become a member of a social group with the painting and everyone else that doesn’t agree with the painting becomes the butt of the joke. Although it is funny overall, is the drawing funny in itself? Is it stylistically coherent? The amateur-ness of the drawing I think emphasises the point of the text so is ironically funny. Is the text funny itself? I think Shrigley purposely put the spelling mistake in the text, if it was removed it would be less funny. Additionally, if you took the “fuck off’ out of the text it wouldn’t be as powerful and therefore would be less funny. The blatancy of the language is what is funny and I think we like to hear people using it.
David Shrigley ‘Untitled (Fuck off I am a Painter)’

Freud, Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious, 1905

How jokes are formed:

1) Aimless play with words, concepts, things etc. ——> 2) Lifting of inhibitions, suspension of critical judgement. ——> 3) Expression of repressed ideas.

  • For Freud, jokes are always obscene and come from repression. Therefore, the most repressive societies will have the most (and the funniest) jokes.



  • For Roelstraete, the function of pleasure in a gallery is to ‘unnerve, rattle and destabilise’. Roelstraete therefore suggests that pleasure is a form of irritant.
  • Paul McCarthy’s ‘Tree’ is an example of an irritant. At first glance the green from resembles that of a Christmas tree, however, it is actually in the shape of a butt plug. People didn’t realise at first but once they did they knifed the sculpture, causing it to collapse as it was inflatable. This raises the question of whether the vandalism destroyed the work or vindicated it.

2 main reasons why pleasure is disapproved of within art:

  1. Pleasure is disapproved as it’s seen as unimportant (compared to the pressing issues we currently face).
  2. Pleasure is disapproved of as it’s unthinking, therefore any pleasure is easily characterised as escapist. There’s a deep anxiety, Roelstraete claims, that artworks and exhibitions shouldn’t appear to be forms of entertainment. For example, video games are characterised as entertainment when some of their makers intend them to be works of art. This suggests we shouldn’t enjoy art.


2) The Body

The body becomes the object of our interest. The mind is the subject of experience.

  • Disney’s Inside Out: If this is what goes on inside Riley’s head, then what goes on inside Joy’s head?

Jordan Wolfson ‘Female Figure’

  • Wolfson’s ‘Female Figure’ presents the horror of the unthinking body. A robot dancing, faces away from you but locks eye contact with you whilst talking. It is an incredibly uncomfortable piece of work to look at, especially because it stares back at you. Being seen/ looked at by a machine is a weird concept. Although you are fully aware that it has no thought processes, you can’t hep but think about what’s going on in its mind.

Playing VS Contemplation

Ernesto Neto ‘The Bird Island’

  • With Neto’s sculptures, children automatically want to interact with the sculptures, exploring the work physically and having fun, whereas adults tend to stand a safe distance away and contemplate the work without touching it. Children’s first form of interaction is to play if they’re allowed, whereas adults have to be encouraged. The unspoken assumption is that playing and pleasure are bodily and therefore the opposite of thinking and intelligence. This reminds me of when I went to the Venice Bienalle. There was a sculptural piece of work that was made to be sat inside, even though I knew it was allowed, I still chose not to go inside the sculpture and just stood next to it, contemplating and drawing. I do wonder why we as adults have this idea imbedded within us that it is socially unacceptable to have fun with art. It seems that everything has to be serious for the art to be a success. This is a concept I want to look at within my own practice. I want to think about the different ways in which you can enjoy art apart from the conventional, stand back and look at it. I don’t think we always have to take work so seriously in order for us to fully understand it.


3) Abstraction

  • Abstract contemporary art has no identifiable objects, so it’s not about anything.
  • We looked at the work of Karen Davie, in particular, ‘Seeing Spots no.7’ and ‘Symptomania’. Her work is more about gesture and form, and colour relation. Colour relation is a topic I am currently looking at in my own practice. Davie works by layering up different colours using different gestures. The colours beneath should appear behind, however they are so bright in comparison to the top colour of paint that they create a flat surface and look level to the other colour. This and many other abstract works raise the question of whether once you’ve got the idea, is there anything else to look at. I think there is plenty to look at, just in the mark making alone. I get caught up in the ideas about rhythms and find pleasure in exploring how tone and balance changes. The idea behind the work is less so important than the work itself.


  • Charline Von Heyl ‘Jakealoo’ – with an abstract painting like ‘Jakealoo’, you get no help from the title of the work, therefore the only thing to do is break it down into components, i.e. marks, colours etc, and make associations to it with you’re own ideas. You try and identify things in the work that make sense in your mind.

My child could do that…

In constellation we discussed the idea of “my child could do that”. I am constantly hearing from my parents “I could do that” when they are looking at abstract work. I am constantly trying to explain that although it looks simple, there is often a lot of thinking and skill behind the work. We discussed this concept in constellation and Jon tested us with a couple of examples. First we were shown two abstract paintings, one done by a master painter and the other done by a 4 year old child. I could instantly tell that the painting on the right was done by the painter. You could see more a process behind the painting and the thought processes behind the colours and forms used. Next we were shown two paintings, one done by a master painter and the other done by a chimpanzee. Although I actually preferred the painting done by the chimpanzee, I could still tell that the painting on the left was completed by the master painter. This and the multiple tests that reached the same conclusion, that the majority of people were able to identify a painting done by a painter and that done by a child, show that “my child could have done that” isn’t true.


Another study that I find interesting showed that eye-tracking patterns changed substantially when a Mondrian painting was rotated, indicating a decrease in interest. Additionally, when a small block of colour was either added or removed, viewers reported a less pleasurable reaction. This shows that a minute change to a painting can completely alter the reaction from the audience and success of a piece of art. It also shows that Mondrian was a master and that his paintings couldn’t have been done by anyone. I find this concept really interesting and want to further look into it.










Life Drawing Class 2

This is my second class of life drawing this year. I don’t see any drastic changes in my ability compared to my first class, but will carry on attending life drawing in the hope to improve. I also think I need to scale up my drawings as it is hard to get all the details in at the size I am working at now.

Formative Assessment

Personal Statement

I want to focus my work this year on my responses to the places I have visited and will visit. My chosen artwork to base all of my ideas off of is Teresa Lanceta’s ‘Rosas Blancas’, which ties in well with my focus. Lanceta draws inspiration from her textile discoveries in Morocco. Her tapestries use different patterns combined together and analyse repeating motifs. The concept of repeat patterns is incredibly interesting to me in design as well as what using patterns can achieve. I plan on working with repeat patterns and colours closely, using a range of materials.

I decided to go down this route of patterns as I have always struggled with moving away from accuracy. As much as I like my photo-accurate work, I don’t find it challenging or stimulating; once I complete a painting I see no room for development. Consequently, focusing on repeating motifs I am able to think about what effect a place has really had on me and challenges me to create new ways to represent it.

I have already begun by working with a pattern I created from window architecture from Venice buildings, and laying it over the top of materials I gathered from Venice. Although it is personal to me and shows no obvious links with Venice (beside the collage), I think there is huge room for development. For example, the colours I have used aren’t personal to me, they are pre-mixed colours directly from a tube.

I want to further develop the patterns and colours and move into working with a variety of techniques including screen printing and ceramics. In a couple of weeks I begin my first Field project titled Home Truths. This project focuses on ceramic surface decoration. I am really excited to start this projects as I think it is really going to help me develop my practice and experiment with different ways of conveying across my experiences and thoughts on places I visit.


Ideas Lab

Initial Ideas from Chosen Artwork 

Initial Material Responses to Chosen Artwork

The Development of my Work

Blue and Orange 



Key Concepts

The Pattern and Decoration Movement

Contextual Reference from a Gallery Visit

The Function of Studios

Venice – 5 Artists that Interested Me

Pattern and Decoration Movement of 1970’s

After seeing Teresa Lanceta’s ‘Rosas Blancas’ in the Venice biennale and starting to think about using fabric to convey across a sense of place, I checked out a book in the library called ‘Contemporary textiles’. Within it I came across the pattern and decoration movement of the 1970’s in which artists played with textiles, patterned fabrics and decorative techniques such as collage, embroidery, sewing and weaving in their paintings. Artists were able to play around with decorative possibilities that were once disapproved on in art institutions and academies. The movement unleashed the possibilities for the co-existence of fine art and craft. They explored a variety of materials including fabric, carpet, wallpaper, pattern and ceramics. This wide range in materials used in the pattern and decorative movement is really inspiring to me. I have only just begun to research into this movement but have already come across a plethora of artists who’s work interests me and is inspiring to my own practice. I will definitely be exploring further into this movement as it seems to be directly linked to my own concept behind my work.

Some artists that I have come across:

Kim MacConnel ‘Sketchbook 1975’
Valerie Jaudon
Jo Bruton ‘Unframed’
Stephanie Burgman
Richard Smith ‘Three Square 2’





Jasper Johns

Jasper Johns’ work from various years showed similarities to some techniques and concepts I am using, and want to use in my own practice. What I liked about Johns’ work were the generic forms and use of repetition to create images, on top of drawing attention to things so familiar that they were ‘seen but not looked at, not examined’.

Additionally I like Johns’ choice of encaustic. I’m very similar in the sense that I am impatient with my work and want the paint to dry straight away, that’s why I tend to stay away from oils. Johns’ use of encaustic (hot wax mixed with colour pigments) meant that he could continuously work and at the same time also meant he was able to build a textured surface to his work. Bringing texture into my work is something I want to experiment with.

Jasper Johns’ work with cross hatching interested me the most as it relates to my practice closely. For Johns, it creates a ‘hypnotic search for visual coherence’. For me, the idea of repeat patterns is a way of representing place and landscape. ‘Between the Clock and the Bed’ and ‘Something Resembling Truth’ have made me think about different ways of creating repeat patterns. Although its not, visually these paintings look like the lines have been scratched into the surface. This technique of sgraffito is something that may translate well across into my practice and give my work more depth. Additionally, Johns’ use of bold colours in fairly blocked sections interests me as I want to work with solid areas of colour this year.

Jasper Johns ‘Between the Clock and the Bed’
Jasper Johns ‘Something Resembling Truth’


See original post:


Blue and Orange

As a separate side project I have been looking solely at the colours blue and orange. When I visited London for the Jasper Johns exhibition, I also went to the Saatchi and saw the ‘Calder on Paper’ exhibition. Although I liked the artwork I didn’t find it inspiring. Instead, on the title wall for the exhibition, the whole wall was painted a deep blue with bright orange writing on top. I know that the two colours are complimentary but there was something that I especially loved about this combination unlike other complimentary colour sets. Since London I have been keeping a sketchbook of various ways I have worked with blue and orange. The responses I have been doing are fairly quick and aren’t serious at all, but this is what I love about them. I don’t feel any pressure in this sketchbook, I just play around with the colours and don’t care if the outcome is a success and failure. Blue and orange are two colours together I want to carry on working with throughout the year. I’m not sure yet whether I will be able to combine them in with the work I am creating in response to Teresa Lancets’s ‘Rosas Blancas’ but either way I will carry on using them.

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Research into Ceramic Print Artists

I am in the Home Truth group for field this term. I will be looking into ceramic surface design and patterns. I am really excited to start Home Truths as I think it’s going to be really beneficial to my work as I am heavily focusing around patterns.

I have started doing some research on ceramic print artists just so I can start to gather an idea on the sort of decoration I hope to achieve in my own work.


Some of my favourite artists:

Amy Chase ‘Interruption’

  • porcelain, terra cotta, reduction fired, cone 10, cone 04, silk-screened underglaze decals.
  • I like the organic abstract forms of Chase’s ‘Interruption’, as well as the colour choices against the patterns.
Amy Chase ‘Interruption’


Mónica Grez ‘Vases’

  • wheel-thrown stoneware, tissue-paper transfer, glaze, electric fired, cone 9.
  • I like the tiny strip sections of patterns, I think it creates depth. It also looks good against the plain white of the rest of the vase.
Mónica Grez ‘Vases’


Steve Howell ‘Square Platter’

  • earthenware clay, multiple fires, cone 03-018, images built up with underglazes in reverse on plaster then transferred to earthenware slabs.
  • I like the contrast of the different patterns and colours sat against each other.
Steve Howell ‘Square Platter’


Sharon Virtue “Three Queenie Tart Trivets”

  • earthenware clay, multiple fires, cone 1 & 07, printed with texture and images, underglazes, translucent glazes.
  • I like the colours, patterns and almost fuzziness in the patterns. I think Virtue’s work could link really well to Morocco and play alongside Morocco as inspiration for my own work.
Sharon Virtue ‘Three Queenie Tart Trivets’


Miranda Howe ‘Fractured Pattern’

  • stoneware, soda fired, cone 10, inlaid and silkscreened underglaze, flashing slip, glaze.
  • I like the layers of different patterns against the ‘broken sculpture’.
Miranda Howe ‘Fractured Pattern’


Barbara L. Frey ‘Offering #5’

  • hand-built porcelain, slips, glazes, cone 6, newspaper-transfer printing with slips.
  • I like the abstract shapes of the sculpture and the patterns against the colours. It’s hard to tell what the sculpture is meant to be or represent but this is what I like about it.
Barbara L. Frey ‘Offering #5’


Loretta Languet ‘Crackle Cups’

  • stoneware, artist-designed stencils and drawing, salt fired, wax resist, crackle slip.
  • I like the neutral and natural colour palette and the crackle effect created by the slip. It reminds me of raku firing.
Loretta Languet ‘Crackle Cups’


Brittany Jo Scroggins ‘Green Wallpaper Bowl’

  • red earthenware, cone 05, painted slip, silk-screened slip, underglaze.
  • I like the patterns and the colours, it could link well with my Morocco trip in January.
  • Although I like the patterns, personally I’m not sure on the bowl, in my own work I am much more interested in creating loose shapes or slabs.
Brittany Jo Scroggins ‘Green Wallpaper Bowl’

Zygote Blum ‘Delta Winds’

  • mid-range fired stoneware, cone 6, cobalt slip, stencilled.
  • I like the crackle of the glaze, it makes it look ages and weathered. I also like that the pattern has been kept simple.
Zygote Blum ‘Delta Winds’


Rachel Lucie Smith ‘Vase and Dish Set’

  • stoneware clay, gold luster, open-stock decals, reduction fired, cone 10, cobalt-oxide mono print.
  • reminds me of Picasso’s portraits and Cubist work.
  • I like the blue against the yellow and the speckled effect of the design.
Rachel Lucie Smith ‘Vase and Dish Set’


Steve Royston Brown ‘Fever Dreams and Earthly Delights’

  • porcelain, fired, underglaze, multi-colour screen-printed, in-mold decoration.
  • I like the bulbous forms alongside the bright patterns. It kind of reminds me of embroidery.
Steve Royston Brown ‘Fever Dreams and Earthly Delights’


Barbara Tipton ‘Built’

  • low-fired, sculpture, laser-printed decals, carved, multiple fired, cone 04.
  • I like how rough the sculpture looks and its colour combinations.
Barbara Tipton ‘Built’



Andrew, Paul Wandless author, ‘500 Prints on Clay: An Inspiring Collection of Image Transfer Work’, New York: Lark Crafts, 2013









Influential Concepts from the Key Concept Lectures


In the participation lecture a key idea we discussed that had the most relevance to me was the idea of keeping the line between art and life fluid. I liked this idea of getting the audience involved in the artwork, whether they are aware of it or not, so the work becomes a collective effort. Andy Warhol did something similar to this with his ‘Do It Yourself Flowers’, only partially completing the painting and getting the buyers of the work to finish it off with colour by numbers. I found this idea interesting as the buyer has to physically get involved in order for the painting to be finished. However, I do wonder if anyone actually did complete the colour by numbers or if they thought it was too precious for them to paint on.

Site Situation

What I found most interesting about the site situation lecture was the idea of using psychogeography as a way to explore cities and create a new awareness of a landscape. Andre Stitt’s ‘Big Pinko’ really interested me. It was a house on an estate in Australia that was due to be demolished. State and Schwensen painted the whole house pink as well as a bus stop. I think it almost made architecture that normally would be considered quite plain, stand out and become something beautiful.  Although this house was demolished, the bus stop still remains and has become a checkpoint for the village.


Perception was a crucial part to this key concept. Everyone’s perception is different, therefore we would all see an object differently. If two people painted the same object, you would never get exactly the same result. There is a limit in knowledge, we will never fully understand an object as we will never be able to properly see it for what it is. For example, the human eye is unable to see all colours, ultraviolet is invisible to us. Therefore, reality is always just out of reach. I found this concept of never really knowing reality to be really interesting and there is so much development from it.


The exhibition key concept was the most influential for me and my practice. It discussed the importance of exhibitions for creating that relationship between artist and audience, and how different ways of displaying work causes different reactions from the audience. I think this is a key concept I need to consider in my practice, how I display my work and what I hope to achieve from doing so. Exhibitions are a form of theatre as they are all about the movement of the people through the space. The engagement of the art with the audience is crucial. We also looked at how exhibitions are temporary. Although this seems to be quite an obvious point, it also shows that there is never a final word as it can always be revised. Therefore the point you are trying to convey through you work is ever-changing depending on the display of the art. For example, Claude Monet’s ‘Water lilies’ were originally sold as three operate paintings, but now the trio are always displayed together. Sometimes along a long straight wall, sometimes bent round to fully encompass the viewer. This has shown me that there doesn’t have to be one single way for me to display my work and it is always changeable. It has made me think about how I want to display my work and how it completely depends on what I am trying to convey in my work.

Blue and Orange Large Response

After producing lots of trial work in my sketchbook, I decided to scale up and produce a bigger response painting using blue and orange. I used one of the painting collages I had done in my sketchbook. I am quite happy with this response as it is solely focused around blue and orange. It is quite simple in design but I think it is effective. Visually it seems I have taken inspiration from Jasper Johns’ line paintings. I stuck in a large section of blue paper as I wanted to create this idea of disturbing the pattern. I don’t know if this was entirely successful however. I think this is a concept I need to play around with more.


Learning from Contemporary Art – Week 4

What are my responsibilities to the wider world?

Responsibility has 2 meanings:

  1. Duty: as members of society we have a duty towards other members and the wider environment. But what can art do to help improve social conditions and the environment?
  2. Ability to respond: many of the structures of contemporary society tend to numb or dull our response to the world in which we live. For example, if we see to many images of starving children we become unresponsive to it. Our ability to respond is our ability to respond to the world in which we find ourself. It raises the question of what role art (the aesthetic) can play in overcoming the anaesthetic. How can we release art  (the aesthetic) from its narrow market-driven confines and return it to the life of society.

We are used to thinking of contemplation as the natural, or even the only, way of engaging with works of art. Joseph Beuys suggests there is an alternative. Beuys thinks that we need an active, not passive relationship with art. Activity and participation were/are thought to challenge the art world status quo.

Contemplation and activity are not the only ways of engaging with art however.

  • Bidding in an auction for art, competing for sole ownership is a form of engagement with art.
  • Someone kissing the feet of a statue for religious purposes is a form of engagement with art.
  • Koki Tanaka’s ‘Painting to the Public (Open Air)’ and Helen Bur’s ‘The Walking Gallery’ promote a new form of engagement and activity with art. Typically, art is made in the privacy of a studio and is then transferred to the seclusion of the gallery. Challenging this, Tanaka and Bur both came up with the same idea of artists parading their work through public spaces, creating a “walking gallery”. The art therefore becomes about getting people involved, and brings the art to the people. The performance was met with positive attitudes. I really like this idea of removing art from its social structure and releasing it from the strict gallery settings.


The form of art in any given society is linked to the forms of production operating in that society or inherited from earlier times. In the West we tend to think of art as either:

  1. Craft-based (handmade): for example, Cezanne creating an intricate painting.
  2. Industrial: for example, Anish Kapoor’s ‘Cloud Gate’ required a multitude of people other than the artist, with specialist skills, working on the art.

The one exception is conceptualism:

  • Conceptual art is an exception, as nothing needs to be made in order for it to exist.
  • Conceptual art is indifferent to production. i.e. Robert Filiou’s ‘Crowd Project’ consists of the artist walking into a crowd of people.
  • The only issue with conceptual art is that if you want to make a living as an artist, it’s hard to sell ideas. Once the person interested in the work has found out about the idea, they know it without them having to pay you.

Digital Economy:

  • Some artist’s media in art is twitter or instagram.
  • Richard Prince blew instagram posts up to a larger scale, hung them on the wall and presented them as paintings.
  • Amalia Ulman’s art consists of Instagram performances. She creates a fake persona, creating the question between fiction and reality. I think this speaks on social media and how people are trying to present their best self.


3 Roots for Socially Engaged Art:

1. Joseph Beuys

  • Joseph Beuys’ ‘7000 Oaks’ consisted of planting 7000 oak trees throughout the city of Kassel, each paired with a Basalt stone. Even if you think that the art is pointless and is not really ‘art’, Beuys still managed to plant 7000 trees in Kassel which is a monumental achievement and ultimately helps the environment.
  • What is social sculpture? The most modern art discipline – social sculpture/social architecture – we will only reach fruition when every living person becomes a creator, a sculptor or architect of the social organism. EVERY HUMAN BEING IS AN ARTIST. This is a Fluxus idea that everyone is an artist. Loads of people doodle but say they can’t draw, a lot of people use art to fill time, they just don’t realise it.

2.Institutional Critique

  • This creates the idea that artwork becomes artwork because it’s in the gallery setting (i.e. a normal toilet may be placed in the middle of a gallery and be classed as a masterpiece because of its surroundings when in actuality it is just a normal toilet).
  • Michael Asher’s ‘Installation at Claire Copley Gallery’ consisted of the actual art space being blank. Instead, Asher removed the wall that hid the gallery office away, so the office and workers are the artwork.
  • Elmgreen and Dragset’s “Dug Down Gallery Powerless Structures’ takes the white cube space, that is ordinarily removed from everyday life, and places it in everyday life. The pristine space is put in the earth in the middle of a field, and although completely pristine to begin with, once the weather changes the white cube will get dirty and lose its mystique.
  • Elmgreen and Dragset’s ‘Reg(u)adding the Guards’ is a room filled with gallery guards. Normally the guards in a gallery protecting the artwork go unnoticed unless you do anything wrong, i.e. get too close to the art. in Elmgreen and Dragset’s work however the room only consists of guards, too many for the one room. It creates the concept of wasted labour, the guards are paid to do a pointless job as there is nothing to protect. I can imagine as the viewer of the art, this installation is quite an uncomfortable setting to walk into and I wouldn’t want to approach the art.

3. Public Art

  • Art out in the open air works in a different way to art in a gallery.
  • Outside The National Museum in Trafalgar Square, Elmgreen and Dragset placed ‘Powerless Structures’ on the fourth podium that is a temporary art exhibition space. ‘Powerless Structures’ is a sculpture of a little boy on a rocking horse. Alone it doesn’t have much meaning but the idea is for the public to make the connect between it and the three other permanent plinths which have noble statues of important figures on horses. When ‘Powerless Structures’ is compared to Francis Chantry’s ‘George IV’ it robs it of its ideological power.
Elmgreen and Dragset ‘Powerless Sculptures’

Clare Bishop – text

  • Bishop argues that instead of thinking about a ‘generalised set of moral precepts’, we should instead focus on ‘the disruptive specificity of a give work’
  • She argues that ethics alone cannot replace aesthetics where art is concerned. Art’s purpose (for her) isn’t therapeutic, it’s not intended to make us feel better about out lives. Instead the value of art lies in its ability to expose injustices and contradictions that everyday life renders invisible and unthinkable.
  • Bishop discusses that aesthetic is a dangerous word. Making art that is purely aesthetic loses its meaning as artwork so instead it should be replaced with ethics.

Socially Engaged Art

  1. Artworks that address political issues.
  2. Artworks that perform a function.
  3. Artworks that prompt or enable a (new?) form of sociality: participation.

1. Political Issues/Politics

  • Michael Landy’s ‘Creeping Buttercup’ initially look like intricate and detailed illustrations of plants and weeds. They are intact this but they also have a deeper political meaning that is not obvious from their surface value. The weeds come to stand for life in a large city that exists but has no place, the underclass. We tend to talk about plants in a way that we would never talk about people. We consider a lot of foreign plants to be invasive and dangerous to our natural species. It is a very nonchalant thing to stay that we need to crush and destroy foreign species in terms of plants and weeds but you would never be able to say this about people without public outrage. Mandy’s illustrations hints at racism and xenophobia.
Michael Landy ‘Creeping Buttercup’
  • Richard Moss’ ‘The Enclave’ visually looks like paradise or a wonderland. The pink landscapes look like something from dreams. However as you progress through the exhibition you are presented with videos all shot in the same pink colours. However now the landscapes are filled with young men with guns. Our perception of the work changes. Moss uses extinct infrared military film which turns the natural greens of the landscape pink but camouflage green red. This was a technology used by the military to find hidden soldiers in camouflage. Just learning this about the work completely changes your initial perception of the ‘wonderland’, it creates this happy world and then punctures it.
  • Ai WeiWie’s ‘Straight’ is a piece on the Sichuan earthquake in China. We don’t know how many people were killed in the earthquake as the Chinese government never released the figures. For ‘Straight’ Ai WeiWei tried to find out how many children had died. He took iron rods that were bent from the buildings that had collapsed and straightened them back, returning them to their perfect state. Ai WeiWei doesn’t think ‘Straight’ is either art or not art. The children that dies are more important than the status of the art. ‘Straight’ was the beginning of Ai WeiWei’s bad relationship with the Chinese government.
  • The Beichuan Earthquake Museum in China that was once a place of death and destruction has become a tourist destination. It’s this exploitation of a disaster that I think Liu Xiaodong plays on in ‘Getting out of Beichuan’. The girls in the foreground of the painting don’t look like they belong to the crumbled city of Beichuan and are very calm and nonchalant. I think Xiaodong is playing on this idea of a tourist destination and everyone wanting a selfie with the disaster.
Liu Xiaodong ‘Getting out of Beichuan’ 


2. Function 

a) Practical function: 

  • In Dominique Mazeaud’s ‘The Great Cleansing of the Rio Grand’, Mazeaud removes rubbish continually from the site, creating a physical change.

b) Symbolic function:

  • Ayse Erkmen created ‘Plan B’ which is a water purification machine in Venice which cleans the water from the canal, making it drinkable, and then pumps it back into the canals. There is no real change created by ‘Plan B’ but it makes us think about the environment.


3. Participation

i) invited guests

  • Lucy and Jorge Orta ’70×7 The Meal Act III’ – people were invited to come and eat leftovers.

ii) volunteers

  • Fritz Haeg ‘Edible Estates’ – attack on the American front lawn, turned the grass which takes a lot of upkeep in water into an allotment and relied on volunteers. It plays on the desire of the other, “look the neighbour likes his garden so will we if we change ours too”.

How does socially engaged art function in the gallery space?

  • Last year the artes mundi at the National Museum of Cardiff held work by the Futurefarmers. I don’t think the work of the Futurefarmers fit the gallery space. Their art is of a global concept, exploring seeds. By putting it in the gallery I think it was reduced to petty symbolism. I found it to be very underwhelming in the gallery setting because of the nature of this work, and without a thorough explanation, didn’t see to make sense.