Category Archives: Books

Unveiling: Rocket MT2010 – Andro Semeiko 3 April -23 May 2010

Artist book Unveiling: Rocket MT2010, 48 pages, edition of 500, tells a linear narrative with layered visual meaning. It features images created and compiled by Andro Semeiko, and texts specially written by Neil Mulholland and JJ Charlesworth. It is edited and published in collaboration with Basement Art Projects.

Unveiling
Andro Semeiko
3 April -23 May 2010
Opening: Sat 3 April 2:00-4:30pm
Book launch Unveiling: Rocket MT2010, Sat 15 May 2:00-4:30pm
Free copies will be available at the launch and from: www.androsemeiko.com/unveiling
Andro Semeiko has made the body of work to document the secret creation of a space rocket designed to fly to Mars. Built by a secret society, work began underground in the 17th Century and has been ongoing for three centuries to meet the launch date sometime this year! The secret society has employed experienced miners from the Forest of Dean, who had previously helped the English to capture Berwick-upon-Tweed from the Scots in the thirteenth century. The miners have dug tunnels that stretch under the river Tweed to the village of Spittal, which is to be the actual point where Rocket MT2010 has been constructed. Specially trained rhinos were also shipped in from India to help out with the excavations. The final preparations for the first flight of the Rocket MT2010 are about to commence. The secret society will select fifteen lucky people from Berwick-upon-Tweed to man the rocket on its maiden voyage. They will experience the lovingly crafted Mock Tudor rocket, where things are on a miniature scale but have a grand appearance! Every detail of the rocket has been considered by the secret society. For example, the crewmembers’ urine will be reworked into a delicious drink and their nail clipping will be processed into spacey porridge. The secret society has integrated itself into all levels of the community, enabling them to deny and cover up any rumours that the chimney at Spittal point is in fact the tip of their rocket. Can anyone stop the launch of this Mock Tudor rocket? What is the secret society’s unknown quest to Mars? And why are the people of Berwick-upon-Tweed being offered this unique experience?
Project Unveiling consists of an installation in the Gymnasium Gallery and an artist book publication. The installation contains paintings, sculptures, drawings, blueprints, models, a slideshow and several items from Berwick Museum and Art Gallery. It operates in contemporary art context by using mechanisms of archival documentation as well as theatrical methods of delivering a narrative. The blueprints of the Rocket MT2010 are developed in collaboration with Pierre Maré Architects. Life size model of the rocket is built in collaboration with aircraft engineer Simon Heald.

Andro Semeiko is a Georgian artist living and working in London. Exhibition Unveiling is part of his Berwick Gymnasium Fellowship 09/10. Semeiko studied at Tbilisi State Academy of Arts (1998), HKU, Utrecht (2000), Goldsmiths College (2001) and Royal Academy of Arts, London (2006). He has exhibited in New Contemporaries 2001, Camden Arts Centre and Sunderland Museum (2001); Shine, The Lowry, Manchester (2002); Sotheby’s Auction, London (2007); Two Hopes, Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theatre, Georgia (2007); Kunstvlaai, Amsterdam (2008); Expander Painting, Prague Biennale (2009). He was awarded Kunstanjer 2000 (NL) and British Institution Prize 2004.

Berwick Gymnasium Art Gallery

Berwick Barracks
The Parade
Berwick-upon-Tweed TD15 1DG
Opening times: 11am – 5pm, Wednesday – Sunday
Tel: 01289304535, Email: gymnasiumgallery@hotmail.co.uk

The exhibition is made possible by: Matthew Walmsley, Curator of Berwick Gymnasium Art Gallery; Judith King, Curator for Contemporary Art at English Heritage; Anne Moore, Curator of Berwick Museum and Art Gallery; Jim Herbert, Cultural Development Officer at Northumberland County Council. The Berwick Fellowship programme began in 1993 and is awarded annually to selected professional artists who have demonstrated an ongoing commitment to developing their practice. This period of reflective time is intended to give artists an opportunity to produce a new body of work in response to this extraordinary border location.

www.androsemeiko.com

Commenticius Combibo (Lady Amherst’s Lesser Big-eared Ring-necked Semi-collared Bar-headed Pink-footed Red-Eyed Short-arsed Buff-bellied Fanny-tailed Ruddy-cheeked Needle-nobbed Trustafarian Bean Warbling Uphill Oystercatching Snipe)

Commenticius Combibo (Lady Amherst’s Lesser Big-eared Ring-necked Semi-collared Bar-headed Pink-footed Red-Eyed Short-arsed Buff-bellied Fanny-tailed Ruddy-cheeked Needle-nobbed Trustafarian Bean Warbling Uphill Oystercatching Snipe)

This seabird has flourished in the Isle of Man, Switzerland and North Korea where it has been saved from extinction by its careful emancipation from the conditions of late capitalism. In late capitalist societies such birds are controlled by a pitiless law usually beyond their comprehension. The alienated avian specimen is tied to ‘nature’ by an invisible umbilical cord: the law of value.This law acts upon all aspects of its life, shaping its course and destiny. No so for the Commenticius Combibo for it has been selectively bred as a vanguard, to carry the torch of our great undertaking onward and reach the goal of communism via unilateral and equivocal demands for collaboration horizontally, globally and around the world. Its wings take it up towards a higher plateau where it builds a communist avian society. The eye is entirely black (except for albinos). As the bird matures its eyes allow it to swiftly recognise and struggle against all sorts of opportunistic tendencies, allowing it to create a framework to improve international agitation and mobilise migrating masses of comrade seabirds. The species is categorically against the uneven economic development and social exclusion that flourishes under the conditions of late capitalism. It lives within a commune wherein all decisions are made by committees of like-minded birds, decisions that can often involve years of hard struggle against the difficulties of construction, class enemies, the maladies of the past and Darwinism. A keen environmentalist and advocate of free love, the specimen depicted here can be seen taking a condom back to its nest which it will share with its feathered comrades during an orgy. In such ways it is continuing to develop friendly relations with those birds who wish good relations on the basis of equality that serves international understanding and world peace. The road for the Commenticius Combibo is long and, in part, unknown but it will undoubtedly show the way to a happy future for all creatures of the sky.

 

 

 

 

 

New Gold Dreams (84-94-04) | Collective Gallery

High Street Fighting Years 

The Collective Gallery has its roots in a tradition of independent and artist-led activities in Edinburgh that can be traced to 1960s organisations such as the New 57 Gallery and protests led by Alexander Moffat and John Bellany against the conservatism of the Royal Scottish Academy. The eventual canonisation of these artists and New 57’s transformation into the Fruitmarket Gallery in 1984 created a cultural vacuum that younger turks simply had to fill. The Artists’ Collective was born on the High Street, just above the Clamshell chippy. But what of the pyrrhic dreams of young Edinburgh artists eager to behead the establishment of subsequent decades?

Real To Real Life Cacophony  

The Collective’s Gallery’s 10th anniversary in 1994 was met with a surge of activity in Edinburgh. The Cracker Factory, a studio and exhibition complex in Newington, had played host to a large Burroughsian group show organised by Mark Hadden featuring key Edinburgh artists such as Jason Malcolm-Hertzmark, Chad McCail, John Ayscogh and Dr Neupop (aka Andy Anderson). “It was a big messy building off a mews, a rough and raw roll-up smoking place that smelled of oily rope; a Trustafarian affair” remembers Robert Montgomery who, with Ayscogh, was competing his Postgraduate Diploma at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) at the time. In 1994 Out of the Blue established a studio, gallery and night-club complex (The Bongo Club), generating a sustainable income from the club sector as a means of supporting art activities and a making them more accessible. Under the Directorship of Sarah Monroe, the Collective was playing catch up with Glasgow’s Transmission, establishing links with weegieceptualists and building up the programme around the emerging generation of Edinburgh artists.

Ayscogh, Montgomery and Elaine Spears had already caused something of a stir at ECA. Disheartened that nobody mentioned the fact that the anatomy room was once stage to performances by Joseph Beuys in the early 70s, Montgomery produced a survey of ECA to see how many people had heard of the artist. Out of 500 interviewed only 220 had. Montgomery wanted to remember such highly ambitious, politicised practices. Without indicating that they were students, Montgomery, Ayscogh and Spears proposed a series of exhibitions for the large Sculpture Court in ECA. An impressed Peter Pretzel handed them the reigns to organise exhibitions by a circle of artists including among others Ayscogh, Montgomery, Spears, Keith Farquhar and Paul Carter.

Noticing their potential, Andrew Brown, Director of the 369 Gallery in the Cowgate, gave Ayscogh and Montgomery the keys to his gallery for six months gratis. Another series of exhibitions ensued featuring Farquhar, Carter, Spears and Andy Smith. It was at 369 that Edinburgh’s largest public art event was planned. Aerial (which was originally to be titled Arial in ode to the washing powder) was a held in sites across Edinburgh from 22nd July to 15th August 1994. Supported by over 20 unpaid volunteers, the charitable limited company orchestrated 26 artists[1] from around Scotland to occupy a number of sites in ways that would now be called ‘ambient’, inhabiting public spaces in ways that jammed the psychogeography of the city.[2]

The works were as diverse as the locations. Ambient sound was a key feature of many projects. Farquhar played a series of audio tapes of dogs barking on the in-car stereos of cars in the Midas Motor Company in Dundee Street, leaving the windows slightly ajar.[3] Detourned street signs were also popular. Carter juxtaposed neighbourhood watch and local gang signs. David Fryer, best known for his fake TWA Bomb Bag, produced a series of blue and white road signs pointing to emotions such as ‘liberation’, ‘complacency’, ‘understanding’, ‘despair’ ‘hatred’ ‘death’ and ‘optimism’. One sign fell and hit an American tourist on the head. Lawyers were put on alert until all was forgiven when Fryer made a gift of the offending sign.[4] Otto Berchem’s examination of the etiquette of urinating in public conveniences, installed in the Gents toilets on the Mound, was not so lucky; it was removed by a worried Edinburgh City Council.

It should come as little surprise to find that the Situationist International (SI) and Alexander Trocchi had a great influence on Ayscogh, Montgomery and peers such as Carter at this time. “Unless you own the media you can’t change reality said the SI”, asserts Montgomery. In this sense, certain members of Glasgow’s Scotia Nostra were seen by Edinburgh artists as “apolitical, neat, tasteful, and very prissy.”[5] Others were not, notably fellow pro-situ traveller Ross Sinclair. It was for Aerial that Sinclair produced the seminal mini-retrospective Museum of Despair at 248 Cannongate, an oasis in the heart of the Royal Mile tourist trap selling self-aggrandising emotionally engaged pop memorabilia. Fittingly, Museum of Despair was where ECA’s dadaist art historian Professor David Hopkins gave one of his infamous drunken recitals of Hugo Ball’s Karawane. Aerial, however, was far from being a pirate culture jam. This was not a guerrilla event; it cost lots of money to pay for 40 billboard ads, ad spaces on 60 Lothian Buses and for Sinclair’s shop rent. The professional proposal netted around £20,000 support secured by Andrew Nairne at the Scottish Arts Council, funding generously matched by around £10,000 by supportive Labour Councillor Geroge Keraran. In total Aerial ended up costing nearer £37,000, leaving Ayscogh and Montgomery with substantial debts and no money for a catalogue.

The debts coupled with the massive drain on their energy greatly contributed to the disappearance of Ayscogh and Montgomery from Edinburgh and their project from the mythology of Scotland’s independent art history. Carter and Farquhar also departed the city, leaving a gaping vivacious wound.[6] Montgomery and Ayscogh differed in what they wanted from Aerial. While Ayscogh saw the project as a pilot for an annual event and a sustainable limited company, Montgomery professes to having been determined not to become a bureaucrat of “community art hell.’[7] There were many obstacles to contend with. With the departure of Andrew Nairne funding might not have been so likely. It was difficult to fill out the post project report. How could what Montgomery intended as a deliberate assault on a dominant culture that he regarded as idiotic be of benefit to the community?[8]

Promised You A Glasgow Miracle?

The Edinburgh Annuale held in August 2004 featured a number of artist-led organisations including Kim Coleman, Annette Knol and Lucy Sacker’s Brunstfield flat-based Magnifitat (June 2002-), the café-based art collective Total Kunst (2003-), Ruth Beale’s roaming Aurora (February 2004-), committee-run gallery The Embassy (May 2004-) and Sophie Rogers’ flat-based venture Wuthering Heights (2004).[9] These organizations replaced others founded in recent years including Billy Clark’s Tag Team Experiment (September 2002-March 2004) and Grace Maran and Paul MacGee’s Djinniditto (2002), which alongside ECA student collectives such as Vague (2003-), a spattering of large group shows at The Roxy Art House and Naomi Garriock’s laboritory space Cell 77 (October 2004-) began to generate a renewed sense of vibrancy in the city. Following in the footsteps of Edinburgh’s infamous Shaver’s Weekly, free independent publications such as One O’Clock Gun, Dodelijk, Butter and The Scorpion[10] have also all launched in these recent years.

As in 1994, much of this activity has stemmed from a core group of ECA students united by an Epicurean sense of purpose – Astrid Johnston, Ruth Ewan, Craig Coulthard, Tommy Grace, David MacLean, Cathy Stafford and Kate Owens. In May 2003 this group curated Win Together Lose Together Play Together Stay Together, a former bookies at 28 Leven Street in Tollcross.[11] Rather than the SI, these artists could be said to be loosely connected by a utopian neo-romantic sensibility and a common interest in ritual, myth and heraldry. Owens’ Divine Geometry was a decorative window display made from unfashionable reformed potato snacks such as Mini Chips, Monster Munch, Space Raiders and Discos, a formidable challenge to the baroque sensibilities of Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen. Coultard painted a commanding series of defunct mediaeval heraldic shields used to represent the old Scottish counties before they opted for dreary corporate identities. Grace’s beautifully distressed Paulus Group photoprint represented a quasi-Masonic checkerboard of Renaissance tiles disappearing infinitely into the painterly horizon. Using plastic beads and glue, MacLean conjured an intricate image of Christ playing dice, a blasphemous emblem of the triumph of chance over divination, and an excellent metaphor for the show as a whole. Along with new Edinburgh zines, this art was marked by a distinctively home-grown Edinburgh sensibility (literary and gothic). Was Edinburgh finally experiencing its own minor miracle?

It has long been argued that Edinburgh has much to learn from the ‘Glasgow Miracle’, a myth coined by curator Hans Ulrich Obrist. Obrist’s blessing joined a long litany of mystifications of Glaswegian culture, such as “Glasgow Smiles Better”, “There’s A Lot Glasgowing On” and “Scotland with Style”, slogans that patronisingly imply a cultural year zero with each ‘reinvention.’ This disingenuousness is not something that Glaswegians or Edinburghers should welcome. Culture isn’t a genie in a lamp; it’s omnipresent. The production of such myths may benefit some, but the trickle-down effect of hype doesn’t materialise since what hype promotes is an image of a culture viewed through the wrong end of a telescope. Thankfully, visibility, a key trope 90s pseudo-corporate aesthetics, is not something that keeps newer Scottish independents awake at night. Lacking the major Eurocuro and media connections that put Glasgow on the map in the 90s, Edinburgh independents work with nascent organisations in cities such as Glasgow, Aberdeen, Manchester, London and Athens. Just as importantly, they often work with each other.

Does this mean that there is a self-consciousness in terms of how new institutions have positioned themselves in Edinburgh? Are they learning from Glasvegas? Magnifiat and Aurora both unquestionably took their lead from Marianne Greated and Sorcha Dallas’ Switchspace (1999-2004) although Aurora can often more closely resemble one of Lucy McKenzie’s Flourish Nights (2002-03). The Embassy has adopted the same legal and committee structure of Transmission. Total Kunst could be an elder sister of Glasgow’s Chateau. Yet in each case there are differences in terms of the work shown and the cultural and educational allegiances spawned. Total Kunst in particular has to orientate its curatorial agenda around the ethical consumerism of the independent Forest café. The model of one-night video and performance is more common in Edinburgh than in Glasgow, a result of the difficulty of obtaining spaces in an over inflated property market (and devoid of a contemporary sympathetic voice such as Councillor Keraran). Working with Jenny Hogarth as Magnifitat & Sons, Coleman has programmed a regular series of video and live art events at ECA’s Sculpture Court since November 2002; events that are now organised by the seven members of The Embassy committee as part of Sculpture and Drawing & Painting’s professional practice course.

Recently established organisations can just as easily be seen to have their roots in the history of Edinburgh independents. Architecturally and structurally speaking, Total Kunst echoes the organised shambles of the Cracker Factory, Out of the Blue and Neupop International; The Embassy the New 57. Aurora has staged two events at 159 Great Junction Street in Leith, a gallery space donated by Ayscogh’s multimedia marketing firm smithandjohn. Aurora could be seen to follow in the footsteps of Djinniditto, which had a promising plan to use a monthly Friday club night at Edinburgh’s Club Ego as a means of financially supporting slide projections around the city in 2002. Resonant of the art night club mix of Out of the Blue, they also seemed to be taking on the ambient mantle of Aerial. Rather than the expected cross between culture jamming, guerrilla advertising, the well-established tactics of 80s artists such as Krzysztof Wodiczko and a touch of VJing, the art element mainly incorporated a slide show of figurative paintings and drawings, newly deceased art that would look at home in any New Town gallery.[12]

Beuys will be Beuys. Ideas rooted in Fluxus have been cropping up since Richard Demarco brought Beuys to Scotland. In 1994, Montgomery and Katrina Moorhead staged a bed-in at the Collective gallery, then newly located in Cockburn Street, as part of Karaoke Fluxfest. The idea was to stage a democratic event in which anyone participated with their own Fluxus inspired performance, “with the irony that we knew we’d just be doing karaoke versions. I thought that was funny in terms of what was going on at the time in Scotland…”[13] In 2005, The Embassy will stage its own Fluxus show demonstrating the city’s long standing engagement with such independent spirits. The myth of an Edinburgh Renascence is sustainable only with selective memory. However, if independent Edinburgh artists and writers remain willing to embrace (relative) autonomy, parochialism, syncretism, idiosyncrasy, absurdity and caustic dourness – all key attributes of Scots culture devalued by the faux-internationalism of this country’s mainstream arts bureaucracies – then the city has at last found a critical mass to fuel itself. Pax Edina!

 

Neil Mulholland

Tollcross, Edinburgh

February 2005



[1] John Ayscough, Emily Bates, Otto Berchem, Will Bradley, Paul Carter, Keith Farquhar, Patricia Fleming, David Fryer, Mark Haddon & Sean Watson, Alex Harris, Maggie Hills, John Keiller, Claire Lewis, Michael Lindley, Chad McCail, Andy Miller, Robert Montgomery, Emma Neilson, Ewan Robertson, Michele Rosaus, Susannah Silver, Ross Sinclair, James Thornhill, Fiona Wright, Martin Young and Anon.

 

[2] Such projects have arisen again in more recent years, notably in October: Contemporary Art in St. Vincent Street which featured the work of 31 Glasgow-based artists in the city-centre during October 2001. Artranspenine03 took this a stage further, introducing viral works by artists to locations across the north of England to produce the largest public art festival staged in the UK.

 

[3] Interview with Keith Farquhar, Edinburgh, February 2005.

 

[4] Interview with John Ayscogh, Edinburgh 2005.

 

[5] Interview with Robert Montgomery, London, February 2005. Ayscogh and Montgomery were more than aware of warehouse show precedents such as Frieze (1988) and Windfall 91 but rejected their white-cube ethos. Montgomery continues: “Windfall 91 looked like something that was happening in London. It didn’t seem political. Nice Blinky Palermo looked good in the architecture. Paltry middle class ambition.”

 

[6] With the exception of Montgomery, who now lives in London, all have since returned.

 

[7] Montgomery ibid.

 

[8] Montgomery produced a leaflet ‘Campaign Against Boredom’ during Saturday 23rd July 1994 as part of Aerial. While both continue to practice as artists, they also now both work in the cultural sector of the media. Montgomery is an editor at Dazed & Confused while Ayscough founded the media company smithandjohn in Edinburgh in 1998.

 

[9] Although listed as a series of fringe events in the inaugural Edinburgh Art Festival in 2004, the Annuale received no support from the Festival. This echoes the Festival’s treatment of Aerial which was shunned in 1994.

 

[10] The Scorpion is designed by Sam Okley who worked on design of Aerial publicity in 1994.

 

[11] Minus Ruth Ewan and Astrid Johnston, this group went on to form The Embassy the following year with Kim Coleman and Jenny Hogarth.

 

[12] This raises questions regarding history and memory in Edinburgh’s artworld. Had there been an historical account of 90s Edinburgh art practice, this retrogressiveness perhaps would have been unimaginable.

 

[13] Montgomery ibid.

Journey to the Centre of the Skye | Paul Carter

Hostile images abound of missionaries who participated in the global spread of secularism. Scots sport pundit Archie McPherson expressed disdain for heathen missionaries: “An atheist sermon is an unprovoked bellum; hit seeks tae wyle, tae gadge, tae broubatter, tae steer, and tae fricht; hit ends, hit it can, by grafting intae yer hert, and leavin tae fructify thare, an fremd impulse, the grunds a that ye dinnae ken, and the efterins  a whit ye neer hae craved.”  Portobello missionary Alexander Peden understood not a jot of this strange auld blether, setting out eagerly to claim the dark lands as his own property and gain Establishment.

Peden was one of the first amateur explorers to pack up trunk and Global Positioning System and hotfoot it north unassisted by private militia or sponsorship from Virgin. The Scottish interior was a place forbidden to Lallanders who either died easily of midge bites or lay awake for fear of being ‘milked on’ by cows. Before setting upon his nimble heels to sea, Peden sought valuable advice on the storms that lay ahead from John Laurie. A presptarian grim-lifer, Laurie lived in an abandoned gasoline station in North Berwick surrounded by shrunken crisp packets and luminescent bottles of white cider. He was best remembered for his role of Private Frazer in Dad’s Army, a Scottish undertaker who had previously served in the Royal Navy as a Chief Petty Officer Cook, and was well-known for being a skinflint. “I say, how awfully nice to see you”, addressed Peden as he brushed past Frazer in the long queue for Scotch Eggs and pornography at the local Spar. “Rrrrrrubbish!!”, Frazer bellowed. A brief silence ensued, followed by an unswerving calm. “You’re doomed, doooomed!” I know not whether it may be worth observing, that Frazer had no word in his language to express anything in the affirmative. Peden shrugged his shoulders and began to stock up on sweeties and bottles of ginger, remembering to purchase an assortment of gold mirrors, hawks’ bells, Tartan Special and scratchcards to trade with the the strange races of the (far) North.

Peden’s fantastic voyage took him across the heavily fortified Highland line to strange lands where he experienced a world of superstition and, lands of crofters who painted their faeces[1], and archipeglios of white English settlers who believed in money and worshipped the scone, offering financial sacrifices to their Gods. Armed to the teeth with three beautifully worked knives of obsidian and four half-bricks, glistening with sun -tan oil, soaking up the powerful rays, he strolled northwards towards tropical uncertainty through thick forests peppered with warnings of heavy plants and zero-tolerance Sports Utility Vehicles. This was one of the most difficult parts of the trip, since Carter had forgotten his outboard motor and had hitch a ride with a passing ferry. After an hour and a half, his rations were reduced to half a packet of Strepsils and a bottle of Sunny Delight. Half-dead with hunger, he stumbled onto dry land. An orchard pathway paved with mobile phones led him towards a gleaming tower of filth.

 

I poised trembling before an ancient concrete dwelling. Shadows no longer existed. Above the door I could read the legend: Descend, bold traveller, into this Saturday MadHouse, and you will attain the centre of the earth; Quod feci, Abbot. The walls were strewn with cibachrome water-horses, trompe l’oeil paintings of mince, light-entertainment awards and cheap fancy dress, all of which announced that one had entered the abode of a shapeshifter. It was enough to distract the most ingenious classifier of interior design.

 

As Carter gingerly entered the lounge, tall twinkle-eyed, Chester-born farce comedian and impressionist Russ Abbot confronted him. His audacity, his joy, and his convictions were magnificent to behold. He had a handsome and sensual face and boy did he smell great with the heady cologne he was wearing today.  Yet Abbot was no fool; he recognised the unavoidable relationships of culture and the wider spectrum of ideology, social power, and personal and cultural identity. Wearing a balaclava, a wet suit, flippers, snorkel and navy officer’s jacket, he stood with his back to Carter. He opened a large humidor and selected a Hamlet cigar, then carefully prepared the end of the cigar with a cutter. “My dear dear boy, we do not commit murder here. We are a deeply religious people.” The cigar began to smolder and thick aromatic smoke filled the air. “Your attempt to conquest Northern Scotland, which mostly means the taking it away from those who tie up the kids swings on Sundays or are slightly doorer than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when one looks into it too much”, he intoned. Bewildered by the tobacco fumes, Carter’s found his attention drawn the Evil Eye mural above the fireplace. “Uch aye see yoo Jimmy ahll kick yer up tha airse”, Abbot jammered aggressively. Abbot had transformed into a prehistoric lout. His head, huge and unshapely as a buffalo’s, was half hidden in the tangled growth of his unkempt ginger hair, atop which he sported a Tam O’Shanter as large as an English shilling. His wetsuit was now an oversized kilt. Suddenly he turned and made to head-butt a startled Carter. Carter’s skull cracked, as whisky glugged by jugload went down the cavernous throat of the vast brute.

Carter entered into a concussion. He gawped wide-eyed as Abbot’ velvet-soft commands surrounded and bewitched him. He heard intriguing tales of showers with goats and more everyday occurrences such as the devoted love of the seal woman and her fisher mat. Such was his phenomenal repertoire of silky voiced  tales from the Celtic legends of Kirk Cobain to the mythical tales of Dustin Gee and Les Dennis, that Carter remained under his spell until the summer solstice. Carter learned how Abbot had become the village’s Byronesque leader by appropriating the local faery traditions and customs, integrating himself into the day-to-day Otherworld of Clannad-listening society. Abbot’s post-colonial lesson inspired the hypnotised Carter to produce discourses that explicitly foreground the complicity that art collecting, display, and viewing have on the wider social conditions and cultural politics of the moonflow and the semen. His passion for barbarity would soon overwhelm the politest nation. By collecting the oddest objects available in the dark lands, Carter’s collections seized the feeling of wonder and surprise encapsulated in creationist doctrines. All objects were seen to have a divine origin. Some were ambiguous. This produced further curiosity. For example, it was often puzzled if shortbread was of vegetable or mineral origin. These objects seem to be in an intermediate state. The secrets of creation were thought to lie in such transitory phenomena. True to his time, Carter would build a scatological tapestry of Scotland as a mystical, enchanted land obsessed with anality, a disposition he always observed in nations he visited. In the latter half of the century it was possible to visit Carter’s collection with a letter of introduction.

Carter’s collection was not defined by its contents. Objects were extracted from the circuit of utility and economic activities to form new meanings and relationships with each other. Works of art were not valued as highly as some objects. For example, the Carter paid €6000 for a poster of Slipknot, €100 for an KISS Action Figure and only €3.75 for a DVD by Carey Young. Collections of precious plastics were required, not as jewels, but as rarities. Many plastics were perceived as having healing virtues. This meant that they were often crushed into powder and carried in a key ring. Collectors were not interested in practical uses of plastics. Crisp packets and plastic bottles of white cider were coveted for their extraordinary characteristics. Crisp packets were revered like asbestos, because they resist fire, and plastic bottles of white cider, for their capacity to attract women. Objects were split into categories. In the first would appear clothing such as snow-washed/cartoon denim, purple robes, Archie McPherson’s sheepskin coat, etc. Alongside would be found all kinds exotic writings (Tatler, Harry Potter, sectarian graffiti, etc.) on various supports (paper, bark, brick wall, etc). In the second category appear mechanical instruments (Tamagotchi, Roman candles, spinning wheels), balaclavas, Airfix models, large double corona cigars and, finally, works of art. The genesis of Carter’s collection reveals a need to control an emerging middle-class population, providing it with civilising values and the rules of social decorum by programming it to hypnotically respond to the aroma of cigars. At the same time, it is put into service as a locus from which to project non-secular values. In this sense it was largely successful, admired widely in its time. Even the cynical old git Frazer was impressed with the results of Carter’s expedition: “I never doubted ye for a single minute”, he wrote in the letters page of the Edinburgh Evening News.

 

Neil Mulholland



[1] See Laporte, Dominique. History of Shit, MIT Press, 1978.

 

Are You Hung Up? | Michael Fullerton – Transmission Gallery

FULLERTON, Michael
Scottish painter of portraits, landscapes, and fancy pictures, one of the most individual geniuses in European art. Born in Glasgow, he showed an aptitude for drawing early and first was encouraged by his mother, who was a woman of well-cultivated mind and excelled in flower-painting. He went into town to train, probably studying with a French engraver or scene-painter. He remained in Glasgow and, when the DSS brought an annuity, started his career as a portrait-painter in the city’s Anderson area. His work at this time consisted mainly of heads and half-lengths (Mrs Sassoon; Wayne Allard), but he also produced some small works in red public hair which are the most lyrical of all conversation pieces. He used to spend a lot of time outdoors, smoking. He developed a free and elegant mode of painting seen at its most characteristic in full-length portraits (Paddy Joe Hill; Roger Winsor). In later life, he further developed the personal style, working with light and rapid brush-strokes and delicate and evanescent colors. He was an independent and original genius, able to assimilate to his own ends what he learnt from others. He had no drapery painter, and unlike most of his contemporaries he never employed assistants.
Notes:

Paddy Joe Hill A man wrongly convicted of the IRA bombing of the Mulberry Bush and Tavern pubs in Birmingham. Exonerated six years later, he went on to found the Miscarriages of Justice organisation. From the early days, Fullerton used such figures to express a way of life that he could approve, a way of life opposed to that of the fashionable upper-class sitters whom he had to paint. In smoking and wenching, he also found something of an escape from the conventional life into which he could not happily fit. Hill carries his jacket over his arm to give the portrait an air more pastoral, lending charm, wistful melancholy and genuine pathos. For some, the painting remained a touch too perfunctory in handling and lacked modesty in palate; The Scotsman exclaimed, ‘A wanton countenance, and such hair, good Lord!’

Wayne Allard Senator for Colorado. Fullerton’s era had little understanding of abortion, only politically expedient reaction to its symptoms. Allard begged God to bless his nation with strong moral leaders who might have the fortitude and courage to guide him through a time in which global terrorists threatened borders, and abortion and assisted suicide tore at his heart. The textures and tonal values of Allard’s world were both reflected and transported into a new dimension, that of pigment. It seems that Fullerton was sufficiently convinced by the amiable charm of the politician who sat to him to aggrandise his portrait into a fantasy figure of consummate elegance, in which one Republican found ‘all that we believe of Heaven; Amazing brightness, purity, and truth, Eternal joy, and everlasting love.’ The way that the lighting emphasises the head suggests that Fullerton worked on it by candlelight.

Mrs Sassoon the enchanting ballet dancer, was the mother of radical coiffeur, famous connoisseur and diplomat Vidal Sassoon. Sassoon may have commissioned this portrait to promote his commitment to hairstyling as an expression of freedom. Recognizing the fluid brilliance of his brushwork, Mrs Sasoon praised Fullerton’s ‘manner of forming all the parts of a picture together’, and wrote of ‘all those odd scratches and marks’ that ‘by a kind of magic, at a certain distance, seem to drop into place as easily as my fanned and feathered hair’.
Siouxsie Sioux Owner of a contingent in the estate of Bromley in Kent, was a collector, musician, composer and an amateur artist. Owing to her father’s derangement, she became later a theorist of the Gothic revival, arguing that the musical scale should correct drawings of the human form. Siouxsie Sioux has a glorious but inviting elegance. Tonally, it shows that Fullerton was using indigo, purchased of Scott in the Strand, with a liquid palate. Indeed, all serious artists of the time were in many ways experimentalists with pigments and materials.
Freewheelin’ Franklin Freak Hippy. A nervous man, yet one of accomplishment and intelligence and exceptional beauty, he lived at the centre of the political, military and social life of his day. His devoted and supporting brothers – Fat Freddy and Phineas Phreak – were counter-cultural, establishment-hating, drug-using, draft-dodging hippies – splendid ideals which they in part absorbed from the general cultural trends of the day without realising it. Franklin’s Grand Tour took him to the East Village and Los Angeles before his return to San Francisco where he founded Rip Off press, which became one of the major printing houses. The colouring is certainly in a San Franciscan mood. In a letter to Franklin, Fullerton wrote that the portrait was much improved and that he was “extremely satisfied with the alteration. I hope that we part in great good humour. Long live the Marnius van der Lubbe International Firebombing Society.”

Lloyd Cole Musician and composer. Cole once shared the stage with Fullerton’s brother David’s ensemble Fruits of Passion. Out of antagonism to his father he affected to be a Whig. He was a man of culture and wit, who left a valuable collection of music, books and paintings to the nation.

Steve Jobs Hip-capitalist. Jobs co-founded the Apple Computer Inc. in 1975 with Steve Wozniak. A few years later they introduced the first personal computer, the Apple II, to global acclaim. By 1984, they had created the window system that would dominate all home computing. It has been pointed out by some that Jobs resembles Christ. Such raffish blasphemous excess would, of course, have been unbecoming of Fullerton; research revealing that Jobs sports the picturesque hippy couture fashionable among elegant Americans during the period.

Charlton Heston née Athletic was one of the most celebrated actors, oboists and marksmen of his day. He was married to Fullerton’s daughter, although the marriage was short-lived. Known for his viciousness and defiant behaviour, he married a widow so notorious that Fullerton refused to meet her. His remains were defiled by the mob. His second wife, who loved him dearly, could not look at the portrait after his death. She ordered to take it away.
B_M_ is assumed to be the daughter of a tender friend of Fullerton who owned an ironmongery in Soho, London. A gifted musician with a beautiful voice and a head of flowing red locks, she was well educated and knew five languages. Although the circumstances of their courtship are unknown, it is believed she had an affair with Fullerton. Later, her pubic hairs were bought for £5,000 by the artist to hush up the story, and arranged in a neat triangular pile.

Lady Cosgrove The first female judge in Scotland, appointed by the Lord President and the Lord Justice Clerk with the consent of Scottish Ministers. The portrait was commissioned soon after the marriage to Isabella, during the newlyweds visit to Glasgow. Lover: Lady Cosgrove caused a public storm when it re-emerged into the public domain at a Dundee exhibition. The surge of the crowd was so great that it had to be roped off for its own protection and the critics went into voyeuristic rhapsodies of praise. This exquisite painting was recognised by the artist himself as his ‘most outstandingly beautiful, sweet and alluring picture’. It has been worshiped internationally, and has even been appropriated in a lingerie advertisement.

Fruits of Passion This picture was probably commissioned to mark the release of the single No More Tears, which took place on All Saints Day. The ensemble had followed Feargal Sharkey, probably a Roman Catholic, around Britain in concert, where they performed until retirement. The completion of the picture met with the immediate success of No More Tears. Already, in finding an opening vista through the enclosing trees, we witness Fullerton developing the Claudian aspect so that the movement inwards is balanced by the triangular grouping of figures on the left side. There are two points of rest, yet the intersecting triangles are not static elements of design; they create a supporting system, yet also flow back dynamically into the lead singer. The Fullerton brothers inherited an extensive rustic tent during this period, encouraging their exoneration of Rousseau. David wears cricketing linens and white sport socks in homage to the cult of the cottage. The beautiful terre verte foliage was studied en plein air at Faslane Peace Camp on the Clyde Estuary, famous for its nuclear submarines, principal lounging place for persons of leisure in summer.

Roger Winsor Treasurer, National Union of Mineworkers. Winsor was a talented harpist and MI5 collaborator. He patronised many of the leading professional musicians and politicians of the day. In Fullerton’s portrait, he wears rustic hippy attire, a ‘hairy’ disguise that allowed him to spy on ‘the enemy within’ during a protracted period of immense political turmoil. Roger Winsor was kindly lent by a distinguished private collector.

Sir Trevor McDonald OBE Journalist. Fullerton (even though his output was prodigious) was easy-going and often overdue with his commissions, writing that ‘painting and punctuality mix like shite and sherry’. By the time this portrait was finally completed, McDonald was a major political figure, having become sole presenter of the flagship News at Ten for ITN. Engaging love and affection from all those around him, bestowed with honours and a £2.5 million bequest, McDonald played the populist card while pandering to the monarchy and iniquitous society beauties. When his son Tim was pulled over, he called on police to end their habit of stopping black youths in cars. McDonald emerges through a delicate gauze of incisive and brilliantly fluid surfaces of rich liquid screenprinting ink, a wonderful harmony of greys. The fully glory of Fullerton’s mature powers render McDonald a living whole, giving a spontaneous grasp of his character as he smokes a fine-blend shag recipe bequeathed by his brother-in-law, Phineas Phreak.

Bibliography:

Bergerac, Jim. World of Fullerton: Paintings and Drawings, Paris: Chatte Riche, 1990.
Painting of Europe, XXI Centuries: Encyclopaedic Dictionary, London: Kellogg, 1965.
Barrell, John. The Dark Side of the Landscape: The Rural Poor in English Painting, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980.
Manwearing, Willoughby. Fullerton: View of Faslane (World of Art) Edinburgh: Radical Vans, 2001.

Knock it Out | Thomas Kilpper, ‘The Ring’, Southwark, London.

Knock it Out

My work is sort of a ‘reinstallation’ of The Blackfriars Boxing Ring in The British Library. I picture the very special audience of a special boxing fight. About eighty people are packed together to join this spectacle, some are well known, others not (Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Johann Gutenberg, Alfred Hitchcock, Dennis Healey, Adolf Hitler, Len Harvey, Henry Cooper, Mohammed Ali, Marie Lloyd, Mata Hari, Richard Wagner, Georg F. Handel, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Bobby Sands, Ho Chi Minh, Madonna, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, Leo Castelli, Sigmar Polke, Gilbert & George…) From my perspective all are connected to the particular site, to the Southwark area, or to me.

Thomas Kilpper

 

On the tenth floor of Orbit House, an abandoned office block in Blackfriars, Southwark, Thomas Kilpper has produced a four hundred square metre woodcut. For the last five months, carving directly into the mahogany parquet floor of the building, Kilpper has inscribed it with its own histories, presenting a map of the vast socio-cultural, political, and economic changes happening in Southwark over a period of more than two hundred years. We can chart the various changes in social organisation, politics and economics from the Christian uses of the site in the 18th and 19th centuries to the advent of cyber-capitalism presently.

Kilpper’s use of woodcutting, the oldest form of printmaking, is highly significant. Appearing in Europe at the beginning of the 15th century, woodcuts were used to reproduce knowledge, literally inscribing events in history. One of the major shifts in worldview that came with the invention of the printing press in this period was the notion that the natural world is just passively waiting for us to appropriate it.  Mapmakers, for example, shifted from the activity of creating artefacts that explained existence to the creation of artefacts that charted the world.  In stark contrast, Kilpper’s woodcut is not simply a collection of images that convey information directly from an artist to the viewer. Its primary function is to serve as decoration which pays tribute to the psychogeographies of the site, the complexity of the work mirroring the complexity of these histories. By interlacing and interweaving 80 portraits, Kilpper emphasises that his print is not intended to be a naturalistic representation of the site and surrounding area, but to be schematic and symbolic. Kilpper’s illumination of The Ring, being open to different interpretations, poses allusive and meditative possibilities, making the histories of the area manifest in the subjective mapping process itself.

Kilpper’s narrative commences in 1780 when the octagonal Surrey Chapel was constructed on the site by the charismatic Reverend Rowland Hill, who was known to draw congregations of over 1000 to his services. The chapel was eventually abandoned in 1890 when it became Green & Sons Ltd. Engineering, and then a furniture warehouse in 1905. Between 1907 and 1909 the building was converted into one of London’s first cinemas, returning it to its original function as an arena of glamour, ritual and escape.  Kilpper’s interest in the relationship between spectacle and the historical erasure tallies well with this period of cinematic history.  At the beginning of the C20th actors were rarely given credit for their film work. Many of the early actors came from a theatre background, wherein film work was considered inferior. Often they did not want to be recognised in the films.  The mapping of this era is, therefore, necessarily schematic.

Designated as an entertainment venue, the building became the popular boxing arena known as The Ring. From 1910 to 1940, it played host to some of the most famous boxers in London.  During this period sports such as boxing became one of the central sites in the social production of masculinity in Western societies. Many attempts had previously been made to link combative sports with moral strength – such as in the ‘muscular Christianity’ espoused by leading Victorian headmasters. This was particularly conspicuous in the period spanning the two World Wars when the boxing ring became an arena for the development of physical presence, stoic courage in the endurance of pain, and judgement under pressure – unequivocally military values which were then portrayed as essential parts of the achievement of ‘manhood’.

Kilpper weaves the ideological role of boxing with more personal recollections of the sport, representing figures such as Mohammed Ali and Henry Cooper. This again fosters the leitmotif of the relationship between celebrity and historical erasure in The Ring. Boxing fame is particularly fickle and transient. We remember Ali and Cooper but, like greyhounds and racehorses, most boxers come and go. Kilpper draws parallels with the artworld. Kilpper reproduces Leo Castelli alongside Tony Shafrazi and Bruno Bischofberger’s famous poster of Warhol vs. Basquiat (1985) depicting the artists preparing for a boxing match. Like a successful boxing promoter, Castelli’s reputation outlasted his client’s careers. Of unsuccessful abstract expressionists, he once said ‘they accuse me of killing them; they blame me for their funerals. But they were dead already. I just helped remove the bodies.’

During this period the building doubled as a theatre and Music Hall, where the music of Wagner and Handel could be heard.  The Old Vic Company – with Robert Atkins and Leslie French – performed Shakespeare’s Henry IV at The Ring.  (The original ‘ring’, Shakespeare’s legendary Globe Theatre, had not been reconstructed as yet.) Alfred Hitchcock used The Ring as the set for his 1926 silent movie of the same name, in which a boxer falls in love with the ticket girl. Hilter also left his mark on the site. Nazi air raids struck The Ring twice, bringing an end to boxing and theatre at Blackfriars.

The current office building Orbit House, was erected in the sixties for the Ministry of Defence, commissioned by Dennis Healy to house the secret printing office of The Army. Kilpper illustrates this era by reproducing the first Western representation of a printing office, The Dance of Death (Lyon c.1500).  This macabre image raises the history of print as an instrument of control. The Church’s monopoly on information during the manuscript book period, ended with the arrival of print. European nation states flourished as the world could now be mapped without recourse to religious propaganda.  The world was no longer unknown, but a manageable, controllable resource to be exploited.  (A replica of Francis Drake’s 16th century galleon the Golden Hinde, docked adjacent to Orbit House, testifies to this.) As a Eurocentric world economy flourished, armies and attendant nationalist propaganda were needed to protect and develop the new colonial markets. Thus print liberated and imprisoned simultaneously.  As Kilpper observes, newspapers covered the windows of the Ministry of Defence’s secret printing office. The Ring traces the use of print as a means of subjugation during the Ministry of Defence’s occupation, reproducing newspaper images from the Falkland’s war and numerous reports of the troubles in Ulster.

For more than 25 years The British Library’s Oriental Collections Department mainly occupied Orbit House. The production of books and therefore the very existence of libraries are, of course, inseparable from the invention of woodcut technology.  In 1452, Johann Gutenberg conceived of the idea for movable type by bringing together technologies of paper, oil-based ink and the winepress to print books. At Bruges in Belgium in 1475 William Caxton and Colard Mansion printed The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye, the first book printed in English, thereby heralding the standardisation of the language. Yet the printing press was not a single Western invention but the aggregation in one place, of technologies known for centuries before. The Oriental Collections Department is the home of the Diamond Sutra (868AD), the oldest dated and known woodprinted book of the world, a major source of technical knowledge for European printers. Kilpper simultaneously relates the Diamond Sutra to his own pre-history, to the genealogy of The Ring and to European colonialism.

Kilpper’s father was born in China where his grandfather was a missionary. His father recalls the Boxer Rebellion, an uprising against European encroachments on Chinese territory and against Christian missionary activity. The Boxers formed about 1899 as a secret society, calling itself ‘The Fist of Righteous Harmony’. The Movement, centred in Peking, reached its climax in June 1900. Some Christian missionaries and many Chinese Christians were murdered. Kilpper’s grandfather was kidnapped. Foreign residents and many native Christians took refuge in the British legation, where they made a determined stand against the Boxers. On June 21st China declared war against the western allies. During this fight the allies destroyed Peking’s Summer-Palace. Foreign troops remained in Peking until the peace protocol was signed in September 1901, a severe humiliation to the Chinese. Kilpper’s Mao Tse Tung proclaims: “We took some of your missionaries to the mountains, you took our Diamond Sutra to Europe – we gave them back, you did not…”

Now Orbit House is abandoned and due to be demolished. The landlords intend to erect a new and bigger office building named Southpoint. Costing £90m, this will be the largest private investment in this area of London for 15 years. In such paperless offices, methods of mechanical reproduction such as printing are virtually obsolete. The ‘printed’ word and image are now used for real-time social interaction and for fully individualised navigation through interactive documents. Information flows digitally, making it instant and free, yet unaccountable. Consequently, the era of the nation state is over as we enter the epoch of cyber-colonialism. The might of the fully globalised economy has forced the Southwark area to change as a whole. Nearby Bankside Power Station, designed by Giles Gilbert Scott, is being converted by the Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, transforming it from a building planned for an industrialised nation state, to one designed for an information-based global network. The first phase conversion into the Tate Modern will cost £134m. The London Borough of Southwark was a key initial investor, recognising the regeneration and employment potential the scheme offers the area. Typically of service-based economies, Bankside will provide employment but have nothing in common with the district it inhabits. When it is not simply ignored or erased, the history of the ancient market and port of Southwark is being neatly packaged (The Globe, The Clink Prison, the Golden Hinde) as the area is globalised to attract lavish international investment. Since the introduction of the Jubilee Line and the near completion of Norman Foster’s Bankside-City link bridge, the Dickensian alleys look destined for enhanced gentrification. The area’s rich history and plenitude of sights are transforming once again, but not, as The Ring intimates, without a fight.