I don’t make a big thing out of it (naturally) but I happen to hold a first-class degree in History of Art.

(Interestingly enough, I know of at least two other History of Art graduates also employed in the world of media strategy- an opportunity the rather inadequate careers department at UCL should probably include in their very thin folder of potential careers for directionless graduates.)

Anyway, when I came out of college – back in 1998- I was heartily sick of Art.

I’d spent three years reading and studying all sorts of theories; from formal analysis to feminist and queer theory to psychoanalysis to class struggle to semiotics to economics and back to formalism again, and had started to percieve the whole thing as a house of cards. It was the year of sensation at the Royal Academy, which was a pretty good metaphor for how I felt about the whole subject- it all seemed vacuous, overtly concerned with the market and fascinated by it’s own cleverness. I pretty much wanted nothing more to do with it.

Anyway, over the last few years I’ve experienced a bit of a rennaisance (l0lz) regarding Art,  largely down to the sterling work of Regine and her incomparable site, and Brighton artists Blast Theory.

I’m enthused again, and I’m enthused because the way that artists think of and utilise the media that I work with every day are so much more vibrant, so much more necessary and so obviously more concerned with how people live than the ubiquitous blandishments of the advertising community (and the meta-industry of consultants/journalists/authors on which it thrives). Seeing artists work with with digital media has helped me to see it afresh, and see possibilities I wasn’t seeing before. Which is what art should do, I suppose.

Whether it’s creating a ‘dislocative tourism agency‘ to connect physically and culturally disparate cities, or designing an alarm clock that mercilessly exploits social-connectedness to create powerful new incentives to get out of bed, it is thrilling to see digital media being employed with such an innate understanding of how it fits into people’s lives and such fertile, curious and fearless imagination.

As far as I can tell, the future of media is not being nurtured within media companies of any stripe- be it Nokia or The New York Times. In my opinion it is most definitely being imagined at the RCA, in Portslade and in myriad warehouses, co-operatives and studios the world over.

Anyway, seeing all this wonderful stuff that seemed to ‘get’ media in a manifestly different way to how I’d been seeing it actually got me excited about artists again – about how and what they think. It got me excited about going to see exhibitions again.

In fact, I got so excited about all this stuff that I actually presented a slide about Wim Delvoye’s Cloaca project to the company’s UK sponsorship department for FIVE WHOLE MINUTES.

This was perhaps ill-advised.

Nonetheless, I have regained a passion for seeing Art again, primarily because it helps me to think in a less-trammelled way about how things are or might be or might have been. So in a long and rambling manner, I thought I’d post about some of the stuff I’ve seen recently (towards the end of last year) that got me all hot and bothered: the Domestic Appliance exhibition at Flowers East in Shoreditch and the Heart of Glass exhibition that was part of Concrete and Glass, also (surprise surprise) in Shoreditch.

First up, Domestic Appliance.

I actually got to see this as part of our frankly kick-ass strategy team ‘awayday‘. What I loved about this – apart from all the great exhibits- was the fact that none of my colleagues realized that the stuff they were looking at spanned decades of artistic production. The excitement and playfulness of the exhibition had rendered studying the little plaques on the walls irrelevant. The objects themselves were enough; the  curator’s vision defeated the audience’s impulse to try and ‘own’ the exhibits by naming and categorising them into some sort of taxonomy. Domestic Appliance wasn’t an edifying lecture on the canon of kinetic art, but rather a brief glimpse of the weird and wonderful other lives of the objects inhabiting our homes – a Toy Story for grown ups who like their fairytales a little askew.

Jean Tinguely’s Mouton, the scariest and  most deranged thing on show (like a little piece of  Silent Hill somehow existing in Hackney) was from 1962:

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Theo Kaccoufka’s quietly obscene Fountain dated from 1994:

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And bringing us bang up to date were Tim Lewis’ bewithching, gracefully moving (and heavily photographed) Pony

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…and Ian Burns’ The Way We Know It – Surrounded Islands (Version 1) – Keep it clean and organized which created a sense of drama by using live audio/visual feeds to magnify the changing light that was being reflected onto a tiny diorama of found objects.

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A special mention also has to go to Max Dean, Raffaello D’Andrea and Matt Donovan’s Robotic Chair which held audiences rapt as it repeatedly assembled and disassembled itself. The BANG it made when losing it’s limbs made me jump at least three times.

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A fantastic way to spend a few hours and a powerful hit of mental wasabi for me.

Right, now onto Heart of Glass.

I actually got a ticket for the Concrete and Glass mini-festival by entering a competition via email on the opening day (w00t, go me)- which meant I couldn’t find anyone to go with me, of course.

As a result I skulked around, smoked cigarettes to look less lonely (pathetic) and went home waaaay before TV on the Radio got started.

Nonetheless, one of the things I did manage to do was visit the brilliant Heart of Glass exhibition in the creepy basement of Shoreditch Town Hall. I’m not sure whether it was this awesome setting, or the head-rush from the fags, but I had a really fantastic time exploring the nooks and crannies of this impromptu gallery.

The exhibition was also a competition – one lucky artist of those exhibiting would be awarded the prize of a solo show at next years event. For what it’s worth, my highlights included Alistair Mcclymont’s The Limitations of Logic and the Absence of Absolute Certainty, a swirling shifting tornado of water vapour that would repeatedly coalesce into a powerful, visible form and then become loose and unstructured again. It was like a ghostly apparition, moving in a natural and yet weirdly unnatural way that seemed brilliantly otherworldly in the dilapidated dark setting.

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There’s a video of it doing what I was trying to describe here.

I also loved Kate Terry’s Thread Installation #19, another work that visitors felt compelled to move through and around, the lines of thread changing from visible to invisible depending on your relation to the light source. It’s geometric beauty seemed to come from the digital realm – something created by an algorithm rather than by an artist fastening resolutely analogue thread to tacks hammered into the walls. The smoothness and regularity was thrown into sharp relief by the crumbling walls and dirty, sandy floor of the room that housed it.

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Paul Archard’s Horseplay was unsettling, in a slightly-scary-fun sort of way.

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The horsebox dominated the low room in which it was diplayed. People (me included) attempting to peer in were unnerved by the powerful, reverberating sounds of a stallion’s breathing- and left with the sense that the box could hardly contain it’s inhabitant. Every three-minutes or so there would be an explosion of whinnying and snorting that made the box shudder and shake, giving everyone a start. It created a genuinely physical response from those milling about the room, and is a great example of a ‘site-specific installation’ properly doing what it says on the tin.

Lastly, my personal favourite was Kate MccGwire’s Vex.

Caged within a victorian curiosity cabinet, it was a kind of stuffed nightmare- a mutant mess of serpent and bird, sinuously turning in on itself.

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Up close the individual feathers (gathered over a period of months from London pigeons) made attractive (pretty, even) patterns and yet backing away from the thing, I felt disturbed by it, but never able to take my eyes off it.

Compelling stuff, and worthy of winning I think.

I feel a bit sad posting about these exhibitions given that they’re both over. However, if you happen to stumble across a mention of any of theses artists or works featured in an exhibition near you I reckon you could do a lot worse than checking them out.

Images credits: flickr users David Emery and turn towards the light
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