Category Archives: Gallery

Speeding up to slow

Just last week I read an article about how over-used the word ‘busy’ has become to describe how we are to anyone who might ask. Should you be the type of person to use it frequently, it simply points to the fact you are not managing your time correctly. Whilst there is always room for improvement I always think a better question might be “are you making time to consider how you feel?” The reality is, as we know, every one is in such a constant state of rushing and with attention spans akin to a bolt of lightening, that we rarely stop to consider anything. We just ‘do’, constantly seeking the next experience.

“do-its” by Rose Finn-Kelcey. Electronic LED display sign with green fast scrolling two word phrases in green 2002. Owned by The Collective.

The Slow Art movement is not new and always strikes me as rather counter-intuitive to what the big museums and art galleries actually desire in numbers. If everyone slowed down to absorb more of each art work for a lengthened period of time how would queues be managed? How would art institutions raise the funds they need through entrance fees (where applicable) as fewer people might be admitted per day? Having spent an hour queueing to get in to the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris recently just to get through security, followed by a further queue to get a ticket, and then another to leave your bag, the very idea of ‘slow appreciation’ was hampered by the fact we had no time left to make the most of the great art works in front of us. It felt like a visitor production line and with little seating it was not conducive to slow appreciation. In fact the whole experience made me want to speed through the gallery rooms and make a rapid escape from the fifth floor.

But one experience should not put a shadow on other visits where standing in front of an artwork and observing the brush strokes and lines that make up the work set your heart racing in appreciation. Or watching attentive groups of visitors being guided round by experts who help to share all the things you might have missed. Is it a ‘style of looking‘ reserved for the more elite that requires the ability to listen and to pay attention to the minutia (or the obvious) of what is being pointed out?

Or is “Slow Art” simply ‘a way of describing the modern experience of art itself. ….. which rewards lingering, “slow” attention and thought.’

In 2001 a study by two scientists in empirical aesthetics examined visitors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, measuring time spent by 150 visitors looking at seven art works. The mean time recorded was 27.2 seconds per art work. In all likelihood this has not changed very much or even decreased, with Arden Reed quoting a much lower figure for US museum-goers in his more recent book.

But does it matter to the average museum-goer if what they get from those 27.2 seconds (or less) is the reward they seek? If it creates a moment in time where visual gratification combines with evoking the right emotion and understanding for the viewer, surely it doesn’t matter to the non-expert how long they spend in front of each art work? However, offering the opportunity to see it through the lens of an expert should always be a consideration should you wish to learn and understand with a more critical and knowledgable eye.  Do people visit galleries to receive visual pleasure or heightened appreciation for a world seen so differently to their own?.  Or do they visit art galleries to gain knowledge and think differently?

In his book ‘Slow Art‘ Arden Reed argues that 250 years ago there was no slow art – because ‘life was just slow in general’ whilst in today’s modern experience “Slow Art can give us the kind of consolation that everyone is looking for.” The artworks “need us to bring them to life with our attention…” or rather our slow appreciation.

But if we suppose that today’s art experience might be based more on instant gratification and a quest for continuous new experiences, perhaps the 27.2 seconds is sufficient and what’s required is more art and more innovative experiences with art? Does it need to be slow to appreciate it?  It certainly needs to be slow-er to learn more about the artist and understand the detail and circumstance.

The concept of Slow Art has been an unacknowledged concept for The Collective ever since it was first set up. But not in the sense of an hour spent per art work in a gallery, but in six months spent living with an art work.  Isn’t this slow art in the extreme

It is not the first time I have mentioned the appreciation that comes with living with art.  You see it in morning light.  You see it at night, or when a visitor asks you about it on a weekend afternoon.  You see it through a range of different emotions, through the peaks and troughs of your daily life and through the different seasons. You may have participated in its purchase, or selected it during an exchange. You may have visited the artist’s studio and understood a wealth of knowledge that brings a fresh perspective.  You may have disliked it, but found it grew on you with time.  Either way you get to immerse yourself in a way that makes the current concept of ‘slow art’ seem more akin to a flash in the pan.  And just when the works have started to become invisible through familiarity, we have an exchange that sees a whole new landscape spread across our homes. Is this the Collective way of endorsing Reed’s words when he says “artworks need us to bring them to life with our attention…. But it is also good for the observer”.  In our case a Collective good.  

If the impact of ‘slow art’ is cumulative, as Reed suggests, living with art can only help teach us more about ‘how to look‘ and ‘how to be generous with other objects’ . Ultimately it will help teach us how to enjoy individual works more fully and satisfy what we are really seeking by looking at art in the first place. Pleasure, insight and knowledge.

  Thanks 

What is it that gets you going?

It’s not always easy to explain to people why you are passionate about a subject, or why you decide to create a concept that takes you down a defined and creative path.  Yet, as members of ‘The Collective’ we are often asked  “what inspired you?’ , ‘What brought you together to where you are now?’

Members of the Collective come together for a meeting

The fact is, we’ve reached an interesting hiatus where physical space has started to constrain how much more art we can accommodate in our homes.  At the same time this has been met with a collective desire to evolve and adapt. As society and the world at large is in a state of constant and rapid change, this is no surprise. The whole idea of exploring new experiences should be a pre-requisite to preserving the concept of ‘The Collective’ for the future. 

As we talk to curators and artists we receive a lot of affirmation and encouragement for what we do now, but less for a move in a different direction.  The appeal is the co-operative process, the domestic context we operate in, the introduction to new audiences and the love the artists have that their work is constantly ‘seen’ in different homes and environments across the Collective.  It is not only enjoyed – but a focus for discussion.  The art assumes a life of its own.

So is the The Collective evolving or transitioning? ‘Transition’ is a very over used term these days and means multiple things in different circumstances. 

Many artists use transition techniques to draw the eye across a canvas and help tell a story or evoke an emotion in a particular way.  In business we associate it with strategy, goals and planning in order to realise a smooth change with more profitable outcomes.  It has meaning in music, in physics, in nature, in child birth and many more aspects of life besides. There are limitless ways to describe ‘transition’ and what it offers.

The English Oxford dictionary defines it as


“The process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another. 

So are we, The Collective,  experiencing a period of change which will ultimately alter our story?  – or are we simply exploring new avenues to what we do whilst keeping our original objectives and ‘state’ in tact? Put more simply are we going through a new period of development in our evolution?  The problem is there is not another model quite like it to use as a comparison. 

For those of you who follow this blog you will remember that ‘In the beginning’ 

The idea was straight forward: we would buy art “collectively” and share it by meeting up on a regular basis and “exchanging it” between households.

We’ve evolved a lot since then: growing other groups nationally, sharing performance experiences, visits to art fairs and artist studios, giving talks, and having the opportunity to exhibit as we did most recently at Work Place Gallery, Gateshead.

But the story doesn’t end there.  Next year will see the beginning of a new adventure, a journey down a different path that will still keep close to our founding ideas but perhaps explore ‘experience’ further, rather than focus on acquisition.  Though that might still be the final collective outcome.

Until then I’d like to wish everyone a very happy and peaceful festive season

What will get you going for 2019?


Visiting Jemima Brown

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Collective members enjoying the seafront at Margate

A day trip to Margate on a bright autumn afternoon had its own appeal. A walk by the sea, a visit to the Turner Contemporary and even an unexpected sighting of a grounded cargo ship narrowly missing an Anthony Gormley iron man!

But a studio visit to artist, Jemima Brown in neighbouring Broadstairs was surely the cream topping to the whole day!   Jemima is well-known to The Collective with our acquisition of both photographic works and her ever provocative sculptures which have surprised friends and tradespeople alike who happened to be visiting our homes.

A multi-disciplinary and award winning artist, Jemima produces works with different cultural and (increasingly) political narratives, often focussing on women’s own exploration of self-identity expressed through different lifestyles.  From her own self-image, Dolly, London hipsters, political wives or Greenham Common protesters Jemima explores the various identities via different mediums.  The Collective is home to two of her large (nearly life-size) sculptures, Headless Woman and Beigelbird, constructed via a complex series of processes from 3D imaging and processing to casting, modelling and adding discarded clothing.  Assuming a life of their own the “sculptural assemblages” are quite distinct in character and evoke quite different emotions, some of which I have described in a previous blog

The Collective own just one of the sculptures. The second is on loan to us as we make a decision which one to keep. Unusually it has split the Collective down the middle.  We have discussed at length the merits of both, or either, and voted on the one to keep, not once, but twice. But no resolution has so far been reached.  We hoped to draw inspiration from our visit to see Jemima and find out if she could help us reach a conclusion.  Instead our eyes and minds were swept away by some of Jemima’s newer works

Moving out to Broadstairs has changed the balance in Jemima’s working life.  Frustrated by the sometimes dysfunctional nature of life in London (and much less studio time than she needed) moving out and creating a studio in her own home has allowed her to enter a more reflective period, where she has a real chance to develop different directions and ideas.

“It’s much more productive” says Jemima “but there are compromises to be made

IMG_0872Having a studio at home and balancing family life her environment is much more “domestic” all round – ” but you have to see it as an asset rather than a liability”.

She continues to weave in found objects to her figurative explorations  (this time more domestic in nature).

The biggest conundrum for Jemima is the lack of  gallery representation, having proactively walked away twice from such relationships .

Now, what I gain in extra time and reflection for my work I lose in opportunity provided by gallery representation.  Institutions are not interested in invisible artists” .

But Jemima continues to keep her links in London, working there twice a week and so keeping pace with what’s happening. Jemima is currently showing in Collateral Drawing 5 in Folkestone with her intriguing wallpaper designs where she used her “doll” sculptures as models for the drawings in her designs.

The increased impact of politics is evident in some of the newer works we saw in her studio. Never missing an opportunity to comment on the people who live in her broader community she invites a more local and involved view around some key events.

 

There is something unexpected and yet entirely natural about Jemima’s work and the more you look, the more you see and ruminate on the questions being asked by those cultural and political contexts she creates for the viewer.  It’s all in the detail.

Are we any closer to making a choice between Beigelbird and Headless Woman?

 

Workplace Gallery: The Collective goes public

 

The Old Post Office in Gateshead, a 19th century grade 2 listed building that is now home to WorkPlace Gallery, was appropriately built on the site of the studio of the 18th century British artist and naturalist Thomas Bewick, so maintaining the location’s dedication to art.  Founded in 2002 to promote artists in the north-east, Workplace Gallery has now become an established part of the British cultural art scene with an additional gallery in Mayfair London opened in 2013.   For The Collective, founded in the same year as Workplace, it was a unique opportunity to open up a part of our collection to the public and introduce the idea of collective buying and sharing of contemporary art for domestic spaces to new audiences in the north-east of England.

As we entered the Gateshead gallery on a brilliant sunny afternoon in May, the first thing that struck me was the effect of seeing the works in a gallery space, rather than surrounded by the trappings of our various domestic existences.   Suddenly the diversity of our collection seemed all the more pronounced and intriguing with Gallery directors Paul Moss and Miles Thurlow quizzing us on possible themes within the collection.  This is usually difficult to determine as most works are bought on an individual basis by different buying panels within the Collective and the works then spread across six households.

Given this exhibition represented only half of the Founding Collective’s collection it was an eye-opener to see how far we had come with a limited monthly investment over the last 15 years. Artist names, once less known – now well-known!

As I looked at the works on the gallery wall what I began to see more vividly than before was the different acquisition “stories” behind each one, the different Collective members, the research, the learning, the gallery and studio visits with the artists.  Was it possible to determine, not themes, but the characters and influences of different Collective members over the choice of certain artists and works?  And then there were the memories of reactions to the art works within our households and the history of anecdotes that go with many of them.  Each work seemed to have a life of its own, now brought together in a single gallery space to an unsuspecting exhibition audience.

Workspace Gallery talkThe opening was preceded by an informal discussion chaired by the Gallery’s Co-Directors about the Collective, how it began, how it worked and expanded, and where we had got to today. Bob Lee and myself spoke about every aspect with contributions from members Tim Eastop and Paul Tanner.  The questions that followed were often focussed on the practicalities of the Collective objectives, the constitution, the insurance, succession, our families – all of them important elements in the success and longevity of such a co-operative way of collecting between households. Investment, however modest will always be a source of anxiety across a diverse group of people.  The individual discussions with participants after the panel discussion were equally illuminating often with very frank remarks about what they would find acceptable in their homes and what they would not!  I didn’t hesitate to remind them that having a work that was not to my taste was often part of the learning curve inherent in being part of a collective  – seeing how my relationship would change by living with the work over a period of months. It usually did.

Over the course of the evening the steady flow of visitors was impressive ranging from those working in the arts, fine art students, curators from Baltic and interested art collectors. This was especially gratifying as the exhibition was not about a represented artist(s) but about a different way of collecting amongst a group of households bound together by an interest in buying and sharing contemporary art at home.

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The Workplace Gallery start to fill up as the evening progresses

Towards the end one of the visitors said to me “I can tell how much you enjoy it from the way you talk about it” .  Fifteen years on that wasn’t a bad place to be!

Many thanks to Paul Moss and Miles Thurlow for all their hard work in putting together the Collective exhibition (on until the 3rd June) and ensuring its success at the wonderful Workplace Gallery, Gateshead!

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A view across the Tyne that bridges Newcastle with Gateshead

 

 

Things to remember

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“Witness” by Tom Dale. Owned by the Collective.

“So you’ve got a new one up” says my son’s friend as he passes from the kitchen and through the dining room.   “it’s got wheels.. what is it?”  A shrug of shoulders as they disappear out pondering what it brings to mind.  Tom Dale’s work “witness” is an eye-catching work for any audience but placed on a domestic wall it tends to attract more comments than usual. Witness to a mix of people both transitory and permanent as they pass through our house.

Growing up with changing art in our home is something our children have got used to – and their friends too.   Sometimes they just nod in acknowledgement, other times they may ask a question about it, but usually they take a quick moment to have a brief look with little more than an “interesting”! But they don’t forget .  However they remember equally, if not more clearly, what I served up for tea – asking my children years later if they can come back and have that meal again!  Tea and art, art and tea – things to remember as you grow up.

One game that was never part of our children’s repertoire of favourite pastimes or memories was “hangman” – the simple pen and paper game where you guess the letters of your opponents “word” suffering a ‘hanging on paper’ if you don’t make it in the number of guesses given!  I remember as a child the feeling of victory when I hanged my opponent who failed to guess my given word, drawing in that final limb to the picture to signify their demise. Or the feeling of defeat when they escaped the gallows and the endless paper we got through to pass the time on a slow afternoon!   Why on earth did we find it so pleasurable?  Perhaps our children had more sense: “death on paper” the punishment for failure to get the word or the spelling right? Is that the best way to encourage our children to become successful wordsmiths?

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Hangman by Mark Wallinger. Owned by the Collective.

Mark Wallinger’s work “Hangman” illustrates the steps needed for the game to be completed.  A victim hung for failing to guess the very name of the game. Taken from Wikipedia’s text description of a strategy that uses the most frequently occurring letters in the english language, Wallinger illustrates how the victim is not spared his punishment, with his simple drawing.

London-based with an international reputation and winner of the 2007 Turner prize for his exhibition StateBritain, Mark Wallinger is perhaps best known as the first artist to be commissioned to do a work for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square – Ecce Homo

Wallinger is not a stranger to social commentary or political statement. But it’s the combination of the sometimes playful exterior of his works combined with undertones that invite much deeper speculation that make them so memorable.   First seen by members of The Collective on the walls of the Drawing Room Biennial exhibition and auction we were drawn to the simplicity of Hangman and the fact its creator was Mark Wallinger – so we put in our bid.   Safely acquired and looking at it everyday on our wall at home I found myself compelled to find out more about the origins of the game.  Why hangman?

Apparently created in Victorian times when hanging was not only commonplace but a form of established “entertainment” that could draw huge crowds (the more famous, the bigger the crowd) hangman was first referenced in 1894 in Alice Bertha Gomme’Traditional Games of England, Scotland and Ireland .  Entertainment that could clearly be replicated on paper in a simple spelling game format for children!

The strange thing is, is that I had never considered the game in any other way than an easy way to pass the time with pen and paper.  If having seen the work in a gallery we’d left it there, I’m not sure it would have engendered the same reaction. But living with it has become a different experience altogether.   As Hangman sits on our wall it reinforces Wallinger’s suggestion that an art work can have the effect of seeing

how far we can get in to the consciousness of someone or something other…”

It was certainly doing just that.

In his video work “Sleeper” Wallinger appears dressed as a bear in the Neue Nationalgalerie Berlin, alone and late at night running, walking and surprising passers-by chancing upon this unusual spectacle. You can’t help but smile at the vision of this light-hearted “prank” in an empty museum at night! But its actual meaning is intertwined with disguise, espionage, surveillance, the history of Berlin and its physical division before the wall came down.  Wallinger suggests the art work was triggered by a childhood memory of “The Singing Ringing Tree” a story about a prince who was transformed in to a bear which originated in East Germany, but was unknown in West Germany. A symbol of a divided country. So perhaps not the first time haunting childhood themes have played a part in his art.

So for me at least Wallinger’s Hangman has become more of a statement, a piece of history, a symbol of an act that impacted our culture here in Britain until August 1964 when the last hanging took place.  But dressed up as it is as a simple word game for children that I played a long time ago.

Things to remember that are often unexpected.