Tag Archives: artist

The head of Kim Jong-un


“Is it really him?, is it Kim Jong-un?” they asked.  Called “Head” there was no certainty provided by the title. “Where is it from?”.   Catapulted to the forefront of recent news events over missile capability, nuclear arms and the potential threat to the US – Kim Jong-un was up there at the top of their minds. But was it him?   Although completely recognisable could this remarkable little drawing be the portrait of someone else?   I needed to find out.

Created by Lisa Wilkens and drawn with Chinese ink on old stock East German paper The Collective purchased this and two other works in 2013 from Sluice Art Fair.  This portrayal of the man, drawn with such precision and to such a small-scale on a very large piece of paper is intriguing.  What is its significance?

Apart from living with the art works day-to-day, The Collective has always sought opportunities to visit artists studios and connect with the artists themselves. More than that – we try to incorporate it as part of how we make purchases.  Every work has a story attached to it whether it is focussed on how we purchased it, the studio visit, or the reactions and conversations to each one from visitors to our homes .  This aspect of how we collect particularly struck me when Workplace Gallery exhibited half of our collection to the public: the stories around each art work and the personalities of Collective members were invisible to the public.

So it happened, that this particular reaction to “Head” from my son and his friends encouraged me to get back in touch with Lisa herself and see if she would be happy to have a chat with me about the works we had  – and to catch up on what she was doing. Was it the head of the North Korean leader (now so topical)?  Why him?, why was the scale of the drawing set within such a large piece of paper?  Why the chosen mediums of old GDR paper and Chinese ink? Lisa responded immediately and agreed to have a call.

After working with Wysing Art Studios and Paper Gallery  Lisa decided it was time to “push herself more” and has joined a post academic 2 year research programme in Gent, Belgium where she has both studio space and access to a wide variety of visiting artists, curators, theorists and visiting lecturers.

I have space to experiment and to test without having to produce works for a specific outcome like an exhibition – whatever idea, interest and concern I have, and then see where these ideas go”

Motivated very much by personal interest and concern in politics and history Lisa created both the “head” and 141_img“drones” during the period after her father died.

It was her father who would encourage political discussion and an interest in history and his passing came at the time of the last North Korean crisis when Kim Jong-un first came to power .

The use of materials from two communist states – ink from China for her detailed drawings (a technique she learnt in a previous scientific illustration degree) and old, yellowing stock paper obtained from an aunt in East Germany, seem to provide the work with a certain cohesion. A symbolic representation of a communist ideology brought together as one work and charged with questions, messages and an indiscernible meaning as we look on the head of Kim Jong-un.

When I asked Lisa about the small-scale of the drawing in contrast to the size of the paper used she explained

The world is too overcrowded and complex. It has to be broken down in to small and isolated pieces to allow time – and space – to think and reflect

Lisa believes that the technique used to execute the drawings “almost disappear” after the drawing is completed which gives you freedom to reflect on the politics and history of the space.

The dismembered head was a chance to focus on the features of Kim Jong-un’s face – a man with an almost child-like appearance with enormous power at his fingertips. The isolated head spoke to the idea of a “head of state”, an authoritarian rule, communism portrayed almost as a joke.

We ended the conversation talking about the importance of art in domestic spaces which Lisa believes can have a lasting impact on art and culture, perhaps more than the big art fairs. She believes that living with art is much more likely to generate discussion and thought, whether about the artist, the techniques or the subject matter.  That desire to produce work that asks questions is so important to the way she produces her art irrespective of the longevity of the materials she uses. Interpretation itself is not essential.

As we said our goodbyes I couldn’t help thinking how inspiring the conversation had been.  Now I look at “Head” on the wall across from the table and I see a new layer of appreciation and reflection.  A new depth to the story, whatever I might read in to it.













Dancing with Tables : a commission in the making

Jefford Horrigan performing Transmission Gallery 2011

When I asked Jefford Horrigan what he says to people when asked “what do you call yourself?” his answer was quick and decisive “I dance with tables“.   And that is exactly what he does. His ability to transform furniture and household objects in to “something other” through a sculptural performance  – and possibly in our homes was answered almost as decisively with “yes, please”.

Independent curator and consultant Rose Lejeune met up with Tim and Sam at a private view and having heard about the Collective asked if we were interested in participating in her project around commissioning new art for collections. Rose’s main focus is how the process of collecting and engaging with artists and their ideas can have as much value as the traditional accumulation of collectable items, especially when it comes to the  more “performative elements”.  Her proposal was that Jefford should use three of our homes for a performance piece.  We would purchase the drawings emanating from his performance at whatever stage of the process that happened.  The Collective had commissioned a performance piece on quite a grand scale some years previously (which will be the subject of a separate blog) – and one that had involved all seven households at that time.

We all agreed that a trip to his studio was needed in order to understand more and see some of his work.  We also wanted to meet Jefford himself!

The evening trip to Acme studios (co-located with the excellent Matt’s Gallery) in the east end of London was an adventure in itself.  As it involved a walk across the intriguing Mile End park – but in the dark – or along an equally dark, but picturesque canal route I didn’t feel completely comfortable making the journey alone (my penchant for TV crime dramas getting the better of me) , so Tim met me at the station and we walked together. Assembling all the Collective to these visits is almost impossible with work commitments and coming from dispersed locations across London at the end of a long week at work.  But representatives from three households were there – so that was a good start.  I didn’t hold any expectations.

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I was greeted with furniture, lots of furniture. Sturdy four legged wooden chairs hanging from the wall, antique tables, work tables, lamp stands and old shades – all the trappings of a second hand furniture shop – except that it wasn’t – this was Jefford’s studio. Performance videos were playing and there were a number of drawings framed and unframed, and at the centre there was Jefford talking to Rose and those members already there.

It’s more about presence than the thing itself, and it can belong in its own environment . I like to create atmospheres“.

There was certainly a presence about Jefford and I immediately wanted to understand more, not only about the performances but about the legacies that usually come from them in the form of his drawings.  Drawings can appear at the proposal stage for a performance, or during the creation process itself – or even at the end when it’s all over.  There’s no predicting.

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When I work on a performance I have to learn it bodily and the circumstances partly determine the shape of the piece.

Jefford showed us examples of his drawings and explained how they related to the works that they made reference to.  Others represented a mix of ideas emanating from the performance.  But the drawings have to stand alone – “they have another life, it’s another thing”  separate from the performance, and for those viewing the drawing in the future who have not seen the performance they will have a different relationship with it.  “I don’t work across boundaries” says Jefford “I work in the course of them”.

By the time the visit drew to an end we were captivated and agreed to commission Jefford to create a piece to be performed in three of our houses with a triptych drawing bringing all three performances together.   As curator, Rose would manage the commission process with first task being the need for Jefford to visit all our homes to determine which three homes would be most suited. Will I be disappointed if it’s not our house?  Not really, as I felt perfectly confident that Jefford would determine which spaces would work best.

Roll on the autumn!

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We couldn’t part without our inevitable detour to the nearest pub – this time to the Palm Tree Pub well known for its jazz music and relaxed atmosphere.  Described on googlemaps as a “quirky canal- side pub in a shady park” I couldn’t help feeling glad that we were heading out in to the night as a group!