Saturday, 29 December 2012

Art Academy Reading Group: Composition as Explanation, Gertrude Stein


Present: Natalie Bradbury, Lauren Velvick and Maurice Carlin

Gertrude Stein's Composition as Explanation was, like our last reading, originally delivered as a lecture, this time to Oxford and Cambridge Universities in the summer of 1926. Natalie suggested this piece as she had previously read it on Maurice's recommendation, and had found it understandably challenging, so was eager for the opportunity to discuss it in more depth.

In this text Stein outlines her ideas regarding art, modernism and war, and actively demonstrates what she describes with an experimental "continuous present" writing style. Using style in order to convey meaning, as Stein does here, is hard to approach as a reader unless you are expecting it, however, we all agreed that once we had become familiar enough with the style to follow the text it became enjoyable and poetic, rather than unpleasant and jarring as it had seemed at first. Stein begins by defining 'composition', in her conception, as how we live differently over time, in an empirical realm which remains essentially the same. She repeatedly explains 'composition' in various ways, slipping in points about human perception which ring with truth, and the cumulative effect is of broad understanding, as though this is what the word composition has always meant, which serves as a backdrop for Stein's other points about how society functions aesthetically.

Maurice suggested that there are three interlocking issues to consider in this text; Firstly, as mentioned above, the concept of 'composition'. According to Stein, composition has to do with 'what is seen' (which I take to mean 'what is experienced empirically') and time. She seems to be referring to the particular reality of a given time, or era, which is simultaneously experienced and made by everybody who lives in that era; "they are composing of the composition that at the time they are living in the composition of the time in which they are living". Outside of this experience and making, however, everything is the same; "Each period of living differs from any other period of living not in the way life is but in the way life is conducted". Stein refers to a tyranny of no-one, whereby everybody knows and agrees to certain things without knowing or ever having agreed to them.
Secondly, early on in the text Stein refers to the way in which artists have tended not to be lauded until after their death, and of how the beauty in art which is Avant Garde for its' age often goes unrecognised until it is too late; "Of course it is beautiful but first all beauty in it is denied and then all the beauty of it is accepted. If every one were not so indolent they would realise that beauty is beauty even when it is irritating and stimulating not only when it is accepted and classic". With a basis in her concept of composition, Stein then goes on to state that "No one is ahead of his time", indicating that context is of paramount importance in cultural production, and if artists are only recognised posthumously, it is a symptom of a stagnant society.
Finally there is Stein's observation that when a society is at war it is forced to become contemporary with itself, and perhaps war is the only time when this is possible; "it is quite certain that nations not actively threatened are at least several generations behind themselves militarily so aesthetically they are more than several generations behind themselves". For a trio of readers who have only known relative peace, the idea that war could be viewed as positive progress was bizarre. We wondered whether now we have succeeded in become contemporary with ourselves? After all, artists often become famous before they are dead now, and 'shocking' contemporary art is welcomed into institutions - or are we just able to define and categorise everything more quickly?

Reading this text also raised an issue which we have been returning to again and again in recent Art Academy activities - the idea of appreciating a piece of artwork without trying to 'get' it. In this case the text became much more enjoyable, and fruitful once we had stopped trying to decipher it in terms of a traditionally written essay. This is something that we discuss in more depth at the next open Crit.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Art Academy reading group: Politics of Installation, Boris Groys


The most recent Art Academy reading group looked at Boris Groys' text Politics of Installation, as viewed at e-flux. Originally delivered as a lecture at Whitechapel Gallery in 2008, it was a text Rosanne had been recommended before, but never fully digested. The reading group was attended by Lauren Velvick, whose practice is focused on writing and curating, writer, artist and creative practitioner Rosanne Robertson who draws upon performance, installation, sound and video, and writer Natalie Bradbury. Each of us brought different viewpoints and experiences to our reading of the text, and all had encountered some difficulty engaging with certain themes and ideas.

Central to Politics of Installation are notions of freedom and agency and how these are manifested both in society, by individual artists and in art exhibitions/institutions. Groys' argument is that the installation is a place of 'unconcealment', which reveals hidden realities about sovereign power which is concealed behind the democratic order.

Groys starts by talking about the dominance of the art market and 'art as commodity', and early on in the text refers to the art system's absorption by mass culture. We discussed where we see ourselves as individuals, artists and curators fitting in this 'mass culture' personally. We each shared our own understandings of the 'art world' and 'art market', and how they work, and how they differ from Groys' representation, which is very focused on the institution, and major museums/galleries, as opposed to bottom-up, artist-led activity. We also discussed the function of the museum/gallery; curiously, Groys sees it as an extension of public space, mediated by the curator as a 'representative of the public'. He appears to conflate the curator with the institution and, in one of the more challenging parts of the text, suggests that the word 'curator' represents a person who 'cures' the 'powerlessness' of individual artworks, which some of us felt was somewhat pessimistic in its assessment of the power of images and art. 

Groys identifies 'communities' of museum/gallery-goers. The installation is a place, he argues, in which the audience 'exhibit themselves to themselves', and he goes on to say that in the contemporary art space the 'multitudes can view themselves and celebrate'. We thought he was suggesting that museum-goers see themselves reflected in the content of the museum, and considered whether visiting museums and galleries could be seen to reinforce the status of the members of these communities as belonging to an elite cultural class (here, we referred to the ideas of Pierre Bourdieu such as social and cultural capital). Groys suggests that the exhibition viewer is on their 'territory' when visiting a gallery, implying that they are empowered, and this led us to talk about what 'type of person' attends museums/galleries and who is 'at home' visiting exhibitions. 

Politics of Installation also discusses the different ways objects/paintings are experienced as opposed to installations, which can be seen as a 'privatization' of public space (the gallery in this instance). By allowing visitors into the private space of an installation, suggests Groys, the artist is opening up and democratising that space. He also touches on individual versus collective experience, and the community of viewers created by an installation, which led us to question whether an installation necessitates collective experience. However, we thought it was odd that performative art was not mentioned as a separate, third type of art experience separate from both object/painting art and installation art. 

We also touched on the authenticity of artworks, and what it means for an artwork to be copied and reproduced, and the particular implications of this for installations.

We found that the reading group was an effective way of getting to grips with the text that had some similarity with the university seminar experience but felt less formal and more open and honest, giving us the freedom to share parts of the text we were unsure about as opposed to feeling like we needed to appear as if we already had all the answers. The reading group enabled us to question statements/viewpoints expressed by Groys, and the audience, purpose and usefulness of the text.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Open Crit with John Wallbank


Open crits were restarted again today at Islington Mill. We were joined by John Wallbank who has been artist in residence at the mill over the past month. John talked about the work he had produced over the course of the residency.

Rosanne Robertson presented a new video work, 'Selected Sound: Painting by Eye, Music by Ear' plus a 'sketch' for another film work.

Lauren Velvick presented her research and ideas for an upcoming exhibition and series of events she is co-organising entitled 'Hoist by their own Petard' which forms part of the Free for Arts festival.


Sunday, 2 September 2012

'New Schools', Frieze magazine.

Islington Mill Art Academy were recently asked to give an interview as part of a survey of recently founded artist-run art academies with contributions from other education programmes such as The Silent University, The School of Global Art, The External Program, MASS Alexandria and SOMA.

Issue 149, September 2012

Academy members Maurice Carlin and Lauren Velvick spoke with Frieze Magazine's Sam Thorne about funding, failure, education and locality among other things for a survey contextualised by the opening line...

..."What would an art school fit for the 21st century look like?"

Read here

Monday, 2 July 2012

Corridor 8 Interview


Maurice Carlin, from Islington Mill Art Academy is interviewed by Grace Harrison in the current edition of Corridor 8 magazine. This year Corridor8, the annual international journal dedicated to showcasing the best of contemporary art and writing in the North of England, has been split into four parts, each focusing on a particular location and facet of the visual art ecology. The new edition aims a spotlight on art education.


Thursday, 29 March 2012

Artist talk - David Medalla

This Thursday 29th, artist David Medalla will be giving a talk entitled 'Calling Kurt Schwitters! Calling Kurt Schwitters!' at Islington Mill in the gallery space at 6pm. All welcome.



David Medalla makes work which has frequently defied categorisation. It has ranged anywhere from sculpture and kinetic art to painting, installation and performance with all the spaces and overlaps between these forms remaining fresh, spontaneous, shifting and playful. Davids work is currently on show as part of 'Migrations' at Tate Britain (till 12th Aug.) 
We look forward to welcoming David back to the Mill! 
Please pass on the invitation to your networks and anyone you think would be interested in David's work.