Made you look: Dandyism and Black Masculinity at The Photographer's Gallery

As the title suggests, the Made you look show at the Photographer’s Gallery presents a plethora of photo-based works which bring the audience’s gaze to a halt. The common thread of the diverse range of works, spanning from fashion photography to photojournalism, is their sitters; Black male characters from various settings and time periods, all dressed to impress - whether that being in a traditional dandy-like manner or in a gender bending way. Their carefully constructed physical appearance makes heads turn, or in other occasions reflects a need to stand out from the crowds.

Hassan Hajjaj, 2012, Afrikan Boy. 

Hassan Hajjaj, 2012, Afrikan Boy

Made you look introduces the audience to the work of Moroccan artist and designer Hassan Hajjaj, who photographed esteemed North African creatives dressed in his own creations, against lively patterned studio backgrounds. As seen in his 2012 large scale photograph featuring musician African Boy, there is an explosion of geometric patterns and vibrant colours which take up the entirety of the frame. The sitter’s laid-back attitude is contrasted by the energetic patterns which emit a wave of excitement, commanding the audience to move their bodies. It’s also fascinating how Hajjaj correlates the African-patterned clothing his VIP sitters are wearing with their high social status, advocating that their over-the-top fashion is a contributing factor to their ascendance from the masses. Interestingly Hajjaj’s photographs are contained within white wooden frames with shelving units, filled with canned fish and match boxes. Combining the photographs of his high-status sitters with these mundane products, Hajjaj links these influential figures with mass culture, similarly to how Andy Warhol theorised that coca cola - a mass produced object consumed by the rich and poor alike - was able to bridge the gap between celebrities and their audience.

Kirstin-Lee Moolman, 2015, Wayne Swart from 'Oath lookbook'.  

Kirstin-Lee Moolman, 2015, Wayne Swart from 'Oath lookbook'.  

The show also presents two of Kirstin-Lee Moolman’s photographs from Oath’s spring/summer 2016 lookbook; a landscape and a larger portrait print mounted on the wall. The photographs depict a young black, mixed-race looking man in gender bending clothing; Rendering effeminate jewellery such as pearl necklaces and earrings with masculine silhouettes and a lion-mane afro. This label-defying character poses leisurely in and out an 80’s middle-class styled home in Soweto - an underdeveloped urban area in South Africa. The one-story house is decorated with lot’s of lace and shabby furniture and has a rundown 80’s car parked outside its entrance. 

The settings seen in the two photographs awake a certain nostalgia in me, as they remind me of my grandmother’s house - where I spent most of my childhood. The vintage interiors ooze my deceased grandmother’s unconditional love, providing warmth and acceptance to the nonconformist young man, who reminds me of myself. Whereas this reading might be a cry for intimacy on my behalf, it also elucidates how the strategic positioning of this character in a family home, sheds light on the natural occurrence of gender queer individuals around the world. Moolman’s photographs advocate that these individuals emerged from the same households as everyone else, thus urging the audience to be accepting towards their unusual appearance. 

Collin Jones, 1973-76, from The Black House, Holloway Road, London. 

Collin Jones, 1973-76, from The Black House, Holloway Road, London

Moving on to documentary territories, the show features Collin Jone’s commissioned photo series, capturing the lives of black men living in the Harambee hostel between 1973 and 1976. This government funded housing project based in Holloway Road (London), was erected to support young black men facing prejudice and its negative affect on their lives. Jones records that through one of his many monochrome photographs, depicting two young black men posing in the Harambee estate grounds. The two gentlemen are dressed in smart-casual clothing consisting of tailored trousers, a blazer and a crew-neck sweater. Their relaxed body language denotes a familiarity with their surroundings, which is contrasted by the confused look of the man on the left-hand side, perhaps wondering ‘why is this man taking out picture?’. The most prominent feature in the photograph is the graffiti on the rough Harambee walls, spelling out the words ‘war’, ‘black’ and ‘power’. These three words echo a sense of empowerment brought about by the hardships in these young men’s lives, who were victims of discrimination. 

Overall Made you look is an exhibition that showcases the diversity of black male power through curating black and white photographs from our history, alongside colourful label defying photographs of our future. This culmination of images is a testament towards the indestructible spirit of black men, who have taken a stance against racism by standing up from the crowds and letting the whole world know that they are here and their lives matter! 

Conceptual Art in Britain 1964 - 1979 at the Tate Britain

Conceptual Art in Britain opened its doors to the public for the last time on Monday August the 29th and I was there. The exhibition showcased the work of artists working in Britain from the mid 1960’s and onwards, who opposed modern art canons dictating that art is a rare entity set apart from the wold, enjoyed by the privileged and dominated by great artists. Conceptual artists embraced a far more humble approach to art: They used unstable, every-day materials and scrutinised language and philosophy developing theoretical arguments that triggered socially and politically driven work, setting out to inject art back into the world. 

Roelof Louw, 1967, Soul City (Pyramid of oranges), oranges, wood plastic. 

Roelof Louw, 1967, Soul City (Pyramid of oranges), oranges, wood plastic. 

Roelof Louw was one of the artists experimenting with everyday materials in the 1960’s. His 1967 work titled Soul City (Pyramid of oranges) was rebuilt and displayed as part of the exhibition. Soul City (Pyramid of oranges) is a sculpture created by arranging over 5000 oranges in a pyramid, resting on top of a wooden frame with a plastic sheet on its underside. The audience is invited to pick up a fruit and eat it. Consuming the tangy orange, the audience not only alters the form of the sculpture but they also ingest a piece of the artwork itself. Soul City (Pyramid of oranges) transcends the canons of modern art in numerous ways, ranging from its organic non-traditional building blocks, to its absolute surrender to the hands of the audience - a bold gesture most of the Modernists avoided. The bracketed text in the title acts as a constant reminder, that fruits one can purchase from their local supermarket are integral components of Soul City, linking the artwork with the broader world. 

Richard Long, 1967, A line made by walking, Photograph, gelatin silver print silver print on paper and graphite on board. 

Richard Long, 1967, A line made by walking, Photograph, gelatin silver print silver print on paper and graphite on board. 

Richard Long's A line made by walking coincides with Louw's Soul City (Pyramid of oranges). The title reveals how Long - a sculpture student at St. Martin's - enlisted the mundane act of walking down a field as part of his art making process. The path Long created walking backwards and forwards on the English country field, was photographed and developed into a gelatin silver print in 1967. Assimilating this photograph within his sculptural practise, Long rendered the physical path inseparable from the photographic print that documents it, illuminating an alternative context for sculpture.

Keith Arnatt, 1969, Self Burial (Television Interference Project), 9 photographs, gelatin silver print on paper on board. 

Keith Arnatt, 1969, Self Burial (Television Interference Project), 9 photographs, gelatin silver print on paper on board. 

Conceptual Art in Britain also explored how photography was embedded within conceptual art, not only for documenting the effect of time on unstable artworks, but also as a liberator of sculpture from its physical form, allowing it to align itself within the greater world. This is being addressed through the photo based works of Keith Arnatt, who used photography as an extension to his sculpture practise. His 1969 series Self Burial (Television interface project) which comprises of 9 photographic gelatin silver prints, allows us to investigate the relation between photography and sculpture in conceptual art. The sequential imagery depicts Arnatt dumped in the middle of an anonymous field - much similar to that in Long's A line made by walking - dressed as an average Joe, standing atop a crater of freshly dug soil which gradually sucks him in. Arnatt's facial expression remains stoic throughout the series, similar to that of a statue that knows it is being watched and calmly reflects its viewer's gaze. A cabin, telephone poles and a thick white smoke creep out from the background, making Arnatt's descend into the ground seem as a form of escapism from the modern world. 

Intriguingly these images do not exist to capture a live performance; On the contrary Self Burial (Television interface project) was staged so that Arnatt could achieve these shots, that were broadcast on German television. Immortalising the moments where his body was the sculpture, Arnatt undermined the modern art conventions that confined sculpture within space and time, recognising that the concept of the work, is far more important than the materials it is made of.

Victor Burgin, 1976, Possession, Duotone lithograph on paper. 

Victor Burgin, 1976, Possession, Duotone lithograph on paper. 

A section of the exhibition examined the revisiting of conceptual art in the mid 1970’s, when conceptual artists acquired a critical tone, addressing problematic aspects of life through their art making. Informed by socio-political phenomena conceptual artists combined theory and practise into artworks presenting their critical research, operating around the premise that the personal had become political. Victor Burgin’s lithograph titled Possession (1976) is a prime example presented in Conceptual art in Britain. The artwork’s layout is similar to that of an advertising poster and it features a stock-advertising photograph of a white young couple courting; the blonde woman leaning in to whisper something in her partner’s ear - hiding his face in the process. The image sits within a black mount and is accompanied by a a white bold text on the top, asking the audience ‘What does possession mean to you?’. Burgin follows up this question with a quote from the Economist (1966) in white letters - stating that ‘ 7% of our population own 84% of our wealth’ - precisely positioned underneath the image of the couple. The limited palette of black, white and fleshy tones, along with the angelic appearance of the protagonists, establishes a serenity which seeks to mask the cold facts delivered by the Economist quote. Could this be Burgin’s way of exposing how images mystify the consumerist agenda of advertisements? In fact, the text casts a different light on the tense lover’s grip, urging the audience to consider the relation between ownership and sexual relationships. Burgin thus places possession in multiple contexts - from the emotional, to the materialistic and beyond. At its core, Possession stimulates the audience’s thinking process with its contrasting signs, freeing them from a passive consumption mode. 

Overall Conceptual Art in Britain showcased the countless manifests of conceptual art, taking the audience on a journey from the first works of young artists rolling their eyes at modern art, to its expansion towards language, photography and political activism. I walked away from this exhibition hungry to learn more about this defiant movement that radicalised the definition of art and how it has influenced the way we engage with contemporary art. 

Michael Beutler and Yelena Popova at Nottingham Contemporary

Pump House and After Image are two solo shows presented simultaneously at Nottingham Contemporary, by Artists Michael Beutler and Yelena Popova respectively. The two distinct shows instigate a discourse gravitating around the relation between the built environment, new technologies and human interactions with Contemporary Art. 

Michael Beutler, 2012, Carpet

Michael Beutler, 2012, Carpet

German Artist Michael Beutler was invited to realise the second part of his solo show Pump House in Nottingham Contemporary. Following the completion of stage 1 at the Spike Island Gallery in Bristol, Beutler resumed his plans of transforming the gallery space in Nottingham Contemporary. 

Enlisting local collaborators, Beutler has transformed galleries 3 and 4 into an imaginative realm bursting with vibrant colours and luscious textures, with the use of repurposed materials - ranging from corrugated cardboard and paper, to plywood along with accessible industrial materials. The resulting structures manifest into Architectural and Sculptural forms which alter the gallery space into a Fine-Art-grown-up equivalent of children’s playground - where the audience is submerged in Beutler’s a visually stimulating maze. 

Michael Beutler, 2007/2016,  A Frame Table.

Michael Beutler, 2007/2016,  A Frame Table.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Beutler’s manipulation of the gallery space is its resemblance with Allan Kaprow’s Happenings in the 1950’s and 60’s New York. In a way similar to Beutler, Kaprow would occupy gallery spaces with maze-like large scale installations constructed with found objects. Kaprow would subsequently encourage his audience to interact with the built structures in such ways that resulted into spontaneous performative acts that became known as Happenings. The common thread between Kaprow and Beutler is the inclusion of the human factor in the manipulation of the built environment - which illuminates a communal aspect of artistic creation. This component contributes to the immersive experience of the audience, which is constantly reminded that the final structure of Pump House is the result of the group’s collective manual labour - through the broadcast of the video documentation of the assemblage of the structure from various televisions stationed in the space. 

Michael Beutler, 2000 - 2012, Produzieren 

Michael Beutler, 2000 - 2012, Produzieren 

Most importantly I realised that Beutler’s Pump House presents the way in which we consume the built environment: Admiring the overwhelming material presence and size of the built structure itself, we occasionally become oblivious to the amount of manual labour that was poured into the completion of the project. Acquiring a socialist point of view, Beutler reintroduces the human labour factor within the construction process of Pump House. Apart from the video documentation being broadcast in the space, Beutler also reminds his audience that the hand builds the brain’s design based on the heart’s desire - by incorporating the architectural plans as part of the installation and the distribution of hand-drawn ephemera. 

Yelena Popova, 2016, Untitled, Mixed Media on linen and wood pieces. 

Yelena Popova, 2016, Untitled, Mixed Media on linen and wood pieces. 

Russian born Yelena Popova’s first institutional solo show After Image, accompanies Beutler’s Pump House. After Image examines the way in which we consume images living in an oversaturated world where we are bombarded with imagery from every direction. The show comprises of a selection from Popova’s ongoing series of Evaporating paintings - which manifest on unusual circular and oval canvases along with the more traditional square canvases. The paintings depict abstract scenes painted using subtle pastel and beige tones in a manner where the images are barely there, requiring the audience’s undivided attention in order to reveal their pictorial secrets. Yelena’s work is reminiscent of Wassily Kadinsky’s use of rhythm and musicality observed through his lively arrangements of organic shapes. Popova’s natural flowing abstract shapes evoke Kadinsky’s musicality and so does the rhythmical arrangement of the Evaporating paintings throughout the gallery space.  

Yelena Popova, 2016, This certifies that, Code generated moving image produced in collaboration with Noel Murphy. Soundtrack devised and composed by Rebecca Lee. 

Yelena Popova, 2016, This certifies that, Code generated moving image produced in collaboration with Noel Murphy. Soundtrack devised and composed by Rebecca Lee. 

And it does not end there; Popova expands her use of fluidity through her 2016 animation titled This Certifies That which is also exhibited as part of After Image. This code generated video animates european-currency-inspired imagery in a flamboyant manner, choreographing the smooth flow of stars as the backdrop alters revealing an ever-changing classical-sculpture-reminiscent figure. The use of a sequence of numbers dependant on the time and date, ensures that each dance remains unique offering the audience a literal once in a lifetime show. The majestic moving image is accompanied by loud soothing synthesised music and sirene like vocals, which establish a transient and meditative environment that engulfs the audience. Surrounded by this ocean of serenity, the audience witnesses Popova’s spectacle which initiates a discussion revolving around thematics of the European Union and its relation with life, capital and politics. 

Having seen Beutler’s and Popova’s shows, it becomes apparent why the two were paired together by Nottingham Contemporary. Beutler’s material entropy creates a dialogue with Popova’s work which distills and reimagines entropy with an eclectic taste. The two shows share a finely balanced dynamic which allows the audience to appreciate the differences between Beutler’s and Popova’s work, painting a picture which is indicative of the diversity which exists within the Contemporary Art world. 

Judy Blame: Never Again at the Institute of Contemporary Art

Judy Blame, Black Magic, 2015-16, Mixed Media (front) and ID Magazine Commisions, 1982 and 1990 (back). 

Judy Blame, Black Magic, 2015-16, Mixed Media (front) and ID Magazine Commisions, 1982 and 1990 (back). 

Never Again marks Judy Blames first major solo show, hosted at the Institute of Contemporary Art. Blame is a man of many talents: A renowned fashion accessories designer and stylist who has worked with the likes of John Galliano, Marc Jacobs and Rei Kawakubo at Comme de Garcons, Blame is also an Art Director consulting some of the most prominent figures of the music industry, such as Massive Attack and Bjork. 

Blame began creating reactive jewellery in 1980’s East London, as an outcry towards conservative British politics at that time. His signature DIY aesthetic, along with the use of readymade objects was moulded by the abundance of poor materials readily available to him and his desire to distinguish himself from his contemporaries of the 1980’s London Club scene. 

Judy Blame at Taboo by Christoph Nemeth, 1983, Mixed Media. 

Judy Blame at Taboo by Christoph Nemeth, 1983, Mixed Media. 

Blame is a true heir of Marcel Duchamp, rendering the use of found objects with his punk rock attitude, to create cutting edge artefacts through extensive experimentation and collaboration with other creatives. The work exhibited as part of the Never Again show consists of Blame’s clothing, accessories, collage, private commissions and installation work

Personally I am particularly interested in Blame’s collage work which coincides with the golden rule of the medium of collage; Historically collage had emerged as a form of low art, manifesting visually as an assemblage of found throwaway objects and ephemera found in the streets - opposing the supremacy of high art and liberating the processes of artistic creation from the shackles of elitism, by choosing these vulgar objects as its basis. 

Judy Blame, Couture Clash (#1-25), 1983-89, Mixed Media. 

Judy Blame, Couture Clash (#1-25), 1983-89, Mixed Media. 

True to his rebellious calling, Blame used images found in fashion magazines and other ephemera to create his Couture Clash collage series; A body of collage work completed between 1983 to 1989 which depicts whimsical scenes of fashion, ecstasy and affluence. The protagonists of these scenes are female characters - models or divas undoubtedly -  who strike fierce poses whilst surrounded by a mayhem of symbols associated with wealth, social status, music and fashion. The finishing touches of these mixed media collages are pen marks on top of images adding a layer of dynamism and rhythm, or an altogether different comedic touch - as Blame drew male genitalia over the femme fatales. 

Judy Blame, 2008, Mixed Media. 

Judy Blame, 2008, Mixed Media. 

Never again also features some of the later collage work of Blame, created from 2008 and onwards. These collages re-examine the female figure, accentuating its increasing commoditisation and sexualisation through the fashion camera lens. In other words, Blame documents the increasing interest of the commercial world towards the embellished-with-fashion-accessories female body, with the overlay of retail signs and price tags - reading ‘fragile’, ‘sale’, ‘sold’ and ‘£1’just to name a few - directly on top of his heroines. The use of bold red, black and white colours evokes the world of advertising, which instigates a dialogue between Blame’s and Barbara Kruger’s practise - both of which examine the idea that identity is socially constructed and fashioned through the consumption of goods. 

Judy Blame, Art Therapy Rehabilitation Collages, 1999, Mixed Media. 

Judy Blame, Art Therapy Rehabilitation Collages, 1999, Mixed Media. 

Blame’s Art Therapy Rehabilitation Collages illuminate the presence of a social aspect within Blame’s multifaceted practise. The two collages titled Demon Temptations (past) and Focus my life (sobering thoughts) which make up this collection are assembled with the use of individually cut newspaper text cut outs, which narrate a somber tale of doom and a sobering tale of second-chances respectively. The bricolage of wildly variant bold black lettering is arranged chaotically, yet retains a flow, allowing the reader to extract the narrative of the antithetic stories - both of which blend together into the continuous natural cycle of death and rebirth.

Overall Judy Blame’s Never Again show broadens the horizons of what mode of work can be curated within the walls of Art galleries and museums: Blame’s experimental artefacts showcase his cross disciplinary approach towards artistic creation, bringing together a plethora of seemingly distant creative disciplines.The resulting artistic hybrids are curated in a unique, visually stimulating show, which acts a beacon - shedding a light of hope on the younger generations of cross disciplinary artists - encouraging them to keep pushing the boundaries of creative disciplines - embracing Blame’s nonconformist genre-bending philosophy. 

Hlaotvee: A vault of Art, Fashion and Style

Hlaotvee is a compound word which is made up of the words ‘hate’ and ‘love’ combined together in a single written entity. Also known as hatelove, Hlaotvee refers to the state between hate and love - a state where these polar opposites occur simultaneously - a state we experience when we love to hate, or hate to love.

Hlaotvee, Photograph of store vitrine, 2016, Limassol. 

Hlaotvee, Photograph of store vitrine, 2016, Limassol. 

However in its physical form, Hlaotvee manifests as the coolest Designer x Vintage store in the shopping heart of Limassol, Cyprus - Anexartisia’s St. The store houses a mixture of international fashion labels such as Wildfox (which is exclusively distributed by Hlaotvee in Cyprus) along with selected pieces from up-and-coming fashion designers and vintage clothing. Hlaotvee would be incomplete without its army of kitsch and cheerful accessories, which range from seashell purses to clutches containing unicorn magic and tribal inspired necklaces— to name a few. Undeniably the space exudes a glistening aura which inspires people to view clothing as a means of personal storytelling. 

Hlaotvee, Photograph of store interiors, 2016, Limassol. 

Hlaotvee, Photograph of store interiors, 2016, Limassol. 

An integral component of Hlaotvee is its dual disposition: apart from a fashion store Hlaotvee is also an art space. Founder of Hlaotvee and Central Saint Martin’s alumna Josefien Heich explains how her vision for the space encapsulates the close relation between (fine) art and fashion and blur the lines that exist between the two disciplines. 

The space showcases Josefien’s personal hand painted portraits which depict female characters drenched in colour, painted with fluid lines in an expressionist reminiscent style. The emotionally charged paintings are exhibited alongside a vast collection of fashion photographs that capture dramatised tales of youth and flamboyant teenage dreams - surrounded by Hlaotvee’s fashion collection. Some of Josefien’s work is framed and hung on the wall, whilst other pieces are arranged in stacks on the floor, following a laid-back mantra which coincides with the everything goes aesthetic of the space. In this way Josefien establishes an alternative way of curating contemporary art, which is heavily inspired by the realms of fashion and theatre and is infused with drama and passion.

Hlaotvee, Photograph of store upper floor, 2016, Limassol. 

Hlaotvee, Photograph of store upper floor, 2016, Limassol. 

Apart from Josefien’s personal work and fashion photography collection, Hlaotvee also presents a body of work from young artists still in secondary education as well as artworks created by children with disabilities. Josefine has enlisted a range of charitable youth organisations such as the Theotokos Foundation, as creative collaborators, in her efforts to support their work whilst also stressing out the importance of the creative process in the daily lives of children with disabilities.

Hlaotvee, Photograph of store front, 2016, Limassol. 

Hlaotvee, Photograph of store front, 2016, Limassol. 

Most importantly Hlaotvee is a space the lonely souls can call home. A rebellious space where being an outcast makes you a cool kid. A space uniting artists from wildly diverse disciplines that inspires them to be unapologetically creative.