Monday, 19 April 2010

Elena Bajo lives and works in New York and Berlin and has spent the last two months as artist in residence at The Woodmill leading up to her first UK solo exhibition, opening at the gallery next week.

As Elena’s work is site-specific, she is used to having to work fast to a very tight time frame. Although unusually for her, she has had two months to prepare at The Woodmill, but she sees this as a positive, if unfamiliar, opportunity. This has given her time to research the history of the building; the findings of this research are central to her work. Elena is not intimidated by scale, having made pieces for outdoors before, such as a 70 metres long x 4 m high sculpture, 'Silent', a sound barrier made out of concrete, steel and plexiglass, recontextualized and placed in the urban context of Madrid, it was awarded the Madrid Abierto Public Art Award, in collaboration with Warren Neidich, Madrid 2004. But The Woodmill gallery space is vast, being the biggest indoor space she has shown in, and so this extra time to adapt her work to it has been appreciated.

Elena received an MA in Fine Art from Central St Martins, but previous to this studied Architecture MA in Spain. Elena decided to study architecture as although she had a strong background in performance art, she sensed that she wanted to find out more about space, and answer the question in her head, ‘what is a space?’ For her, this architecture degree was very much theoretical and she learnt a lot about approaching a subject from a wider perspective. She found that all points of creative interest converged on this course – it is a field in which everything is imbedded. She now finds that she processes information in terms of drawings and plans – which no doubt has influenced her interest in the function and history of the buildings in which she exhibits, often looking at architectural plans.

Elena’s work is very much all encompassing to the space she is working in, using the gallery as a studio and incorporating found objects from the space to create her installations. This way of working inevitably develops a very physical relationship between the artist and the environment. Within her practice she examines the social and political dimensions of everyday spaces. She has found that The Woodmill building has always previously been government owned, and it is these situations of power that she is interested in. Whilst exploring the building, Elena also discovered that it had been used as a bunker during the Cold War, and this bunker still remains beneath the building. Without any access, she asked permission from the local council, but was denied; so despite this building now being used by artists, it is still difficult to function separately from this history of government ownership.

Elena’s work takes on a wide range of forms of expression; exploring performance, installation, sculpture, painting, film, text, writing and participatory events. Her exhibition at The Woodmill will be no exception to this. There will be an ongoing performance throughout the opening evening and exhibition dates. She says we should expect everything from the list to be present in the show.

It was the unique environment and situation at The Woodmill that encouraged Elena to come to London for her residency. She explains how she was fascinated by the concept of a large group of artists occupying a building that would be demolished afterwards, making it entirely a space for these artists to use for their needs. Whilst working in the building, she has enjoyed working alongside others rather than on her own, having the opportunity to communicate ideas and concepts and share ways of working.

Following on from the exhibition opening on Wednesday, there will be several events and activities linked to the exhibition held on the weekend of the 8th May. During this weekend there will be a discussion between Elena Bajo and Tom Trevatt, a series of film screenings, including Guy Debord’s La Société du spectacle (Society of the Spectacle) 1973, and films relevant to the local area such as a Paul Neville’s movie Bermondsey in 1969, and a tour of the area with a local historian. Other events during the exhibiton include a poetry presentation by Barry Schwabsky, reading about his 'Abandoned Poems', work that shares a commonality with Elena’s work in the sense of using 'rejected, abandoned, refused or disused materials'.

For the duration of the exhibition Elena is doing a collaboration Project with P.A.S.T Projects, Paul Sammut and Alexandra Terry. This Project will reactivate the space that they P.A.S.T Projects occupy in The Woodmill building, which was the mail room for the office building. They have invited artists, curators, writers, musicians to contribute to the project by sending them letters by Post, which will then be displayed in the space.

After The Woodmill, Elena has plenty coming up, with a group outdoor show at Sølyst, Copenhagen, Umberto di Marino Gallery in Naples, Thirty Six Dramatic Situations, at LOUIS V. E.S.P., New York and a performance at Torrance Art Museum, LA.

Elena Bajo / The Woodmill / P.A.S.T Projects’ blog

Private View: Wednesday 21 April, 7 – 9.30pm

Thursday to Sunday, 12 – 6pm
21 April – 23 May 2010

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

JaffaCakes TLV

It seems surprising that there are still areas within the art world that remain untouched, and barriers that remain unchallenged. Israeli art comes in to this - Tel Aviv, despite having a booming tourist industry and attracting visitors for its diverse city life, has an art scene that is yet almost unrecognised. JaffaCakes TLV is a new exhibition in London that is going to start making a few changes as it holds the first group show of Contemporary Tel Aviv Art in the UK, and it opens this week in Hoxton.

It was during Frieze week last year, that the three curators: Yasmine Datnow, Maia Mogensztern and Lara Wolfe started dabbling with the idea of JaffaCakes TLV. Frieze highlighted the problem for them, that there was so little knowledge of Tel Aviv artists despite the US interest in the last couple of years, there is still a very long way to go. This idea started as a small exhibition proposal they expected to turn around in three months and show in a flat. They had no idea of the enormous interest the idea would attract. The support received has taken this idea off the ground, and after nine months of organizing, the exhibition is taking place in a Hoxton gallery as a pop up show with a catalogue.

The starting idea was very abstract – part of the problem for Tel Aviv artists is the lack of access to information, with very little having been written about the art scene and the texts that there are being written in Hebrew. The curators had to do a lot of their own work when researching artists – life was nothing like as simple as picking up a catalogue and flicking through. The publication that will be printed alongside JaffaCakes TLV will therefore act as a resource in English for the future.

The curators are very aware of the big responsibility they have taken on with this exhibition. However, they also recognize that as long as they do the artists justice in the curation, the work will speak for itself. They took three months to research artists, in search of those who are relevant to the now. Most of the artists do not currently have gallery representation, and so this exhibition is really exposing the Tel Aviv art scene right now at this moment in time. By taking the work of these artists out of Tel Aviv and to the UK, they are opening up this art scene to a wider audience, but as a result also taking the focus back to Tel Aviv.

When people consider Israeli art, it is probably inevitable that the majority will decide that the work will be political. Undoubtedly, the political life these artists have grown up in will effect the way they consider themselves and their surroundings, but the new generation is interested in expressing something other than solely politics, the work of these artists is more dimensional.

The exhibition title, JaffaCakes TLV? - Jaffa is one of the oldest ports in the world and yet, is now at the centre of Israel’s fringe culture – this contradiction suggests the playful nature of Tel Aviv.

The curation of this exhibition was inspired by Etgar Keret – a renowned short story writer and Camera D’Or winner. Keret’s short stories are set in the heart of Tel Aviv – within the streets and lives of ordinary people; throwing this familiarity in to question with moments of irregularity. It is this feeling of Keret’s that the artists in JaffaCakes TLV explore and his unpublished short story, ‘What of this Goldfish would you Wish?’ will be published in English especially for the Jaffa Cakes catalogue, with a short film shown in the exhibition as well.

The JaffaCakes TLV artists are exciting and will undoubtedly catch attention. One to watch; Know Hope. One of the younger artists of the group at 23, this street artist is interested in interventions in the street and site-specific installations in the gallery. Know Hope places cardboard cutouts in urban environments that play with the idea and performance of giving. This artist is not currently represented by a gallery, but the attention around him is growing and there is a definite buzz about his work.

It is clear a lot of work and enthusiasm has gone in to this exhibition, and it is all pointing in the right direction that it will succeed in what it has set out to do. It opens this week with its preview on Thursday evening; you heard about it on Art Licks, but now go see it in Hoxton.

Artists: Maya Attoun, Michal Helfman, Nogah Engler, Know Hope, Yochai Matos, Naama Tsabar and Mika Rottenberg

Jaffa Cakes Website

Preview: 15 April, 6-8pm

Tuesday to Saturday, 10am-6pm, or by appointment
16 April –15 May 2010

Image: Know Hope, Protecring Ourselves From The Times With The Times.

Friday, 2 April 2010

The Sunday Painter

The Sunday Painter has gained substantial success holding exhibitions in unusual places, and now they are opening their own gallery in a permanent space in Peckham. I visited The Sunday Painter to have a nose-about the new building and talk to them about their intentions for the gallery.

The Sunday Painter was formed in 2008 by recent graduates Tom McParland, Will Jarvis and Harry Scoging Beer. Considering its traditionaI definition, I was curious to find out how they had settled on their name, but they explained:

“It's usually used in a fairly negative sense towards hobbyists or unschooled artists but it doesn't hold that association for us now. Whilst in our final year of our degree we were accused of coming across as Sunday Painter's due to an apparent slack approach towards a certain project - this was just before we'd actually formed the idea of the gallery, but it was that remark that gave us the impetus to do something to almost prove him/her wrong. We chose the name as a little dig at the person who originally labeled us so - I think he found it funny...”

The first Sunday Painter exhibition was held in a dilapidated function room of a South London pub. Although this was a good starting point for The Sunday Painter, it was restrictive in terms of access and time. However, Hannah Barry took a great interest in the exhibitions they were producing, and invited them to collaborate last summer at Bold Tendencies III. This collaboration was a brilliant opportunity for The Sunday Painter to experience exhibiting in another unexpected location and to put themselves firmly on the art-map.

During these last two years, The Sunday Painter was always aiming towards having their own permanent gallery space, and last summer they started looking for a place that would give them freedom and independence to curate the exhibitions they want to show. They signed the lease in February and are opening in May – ambition is not a problem with this gallery. It is perhaps unsurprising that the space is in Peckham;

“This is where we've been working for the past 3 or 4 years - we lived and studied in Peckham and it just made sense for us to locate the gallery here. It's not something we feel the need to overstate or dwell upon. I think there are expectations as to what is going to happen here in the future, but that's not something we need to concern ourselves with at the moment.”

The program will focus on exhibiting the work of emerging artists, and the inaugural exhibition will be of new work from artist Stuart Middleton. Being set up as a non-profit gallery, the interest for The Sunday Painter is not to find the ‘hottest up and coming artist’ to then make a profit out of. This gallery is going to show strong and interesting exhibitions with artists they like and that people will get something out of seeing; there is no secret agenda.

“It's been almost 9 months since we started searching for the perfect property, and during that we spent a lot of time looking at some really interesting young (and old) artists and thinking long and hard about what it is we want to do with this gallery - that was a really informative time.”

There will be events running alongside the exhibitions – such as weekly crit. groups and artists’ talks. It would be conceited for this gallery to exist amongst such a character-charged area and not interact with this environment, but The Sunday Painter plan to run an educational program and work on projects with local schools and residents.

With the amount of work they have already done transforming this space, I feel I can say with confidence that the result of these efforts will be a fantastic new gallery and strong addition to the current Peckham art scene. But the completion of building heralds only the beginnings of the program ahead. As The Sunday Painter eloquently conclude:

“It's going to be such a privilege to be in a position to have complete control over the gallery space and the surrounding areas of the building - previous projects haven't allowed us this privilege - it just means we can offer so much more time to the installation of our exhibitions, and we can accommodate some really exciting changes to the actual fabric of the building. We have our studios too that run alongside the gallery space, and its going to be great to be working amongst some brilliant young artists, I hope it will benefit everyone who is here.”

The Sunday Painter