Friday 9 June 2017

Friday 9th June: Grayson Perry's "The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!" at The Serpentine Gallery

Grayson Perry is omnipresent and has opened his new exhibition on the day of the general election!  "The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!" is brimming with new politically driven social documentary and has been devised to drive people to the show.
He's literally exploring what makes an art show popular and questioning how the art world likes to quantify that notion with stats on attendance figures and how it transfers to prices at auction.  He actively wants to promote art as an inclusive space rather than its previous impenetrable realm of "in the know".  He's also highlighting the way that the public's consumption of culture has now broadened so much that we actively make cultural choices to boost our outward perception to others.  Paradoxically, he actually admits to being partially nostalgic to the times of when art galleries were unattended and empty so it was easier to see the work!  ITS FASCINATING:

"Maybe this unease between exclusivity and popularity reflects something fundamental about us humans.  We are pack animals who like to belong to a group, yet we also want to feel we have a strong individual identity, which leads to tension.  The phrase vanity of 'small differences' has a relevance here: we want to belong to a tribe, a class, a group, yet within that group we need to feel individual so we tend to dislike no one quite as much as those who are almost the same as us.  We particularly dislike their taste.  We want to feel we are making the consumer choices that give us status as unique, creative individuals yet we all crave the support of others approving of the same things."      

So, despite the fact that the majority seem to be in love with Grayson and his work, don't let that put you off!  HA!!!

Infact, you have to go!  And immediately be confronted with a massive self portrait "Reclinging artist" that's addressing the mass interest in both him as a personality second to his work.  It's a beautiful and epically detailed woodcut which is intriguing not only for the paraphernalia of his studio but also to appreciate the skilled technique of the craftsmanship.  For each new work (as always) this is abundant.  Grayson Perry is celebrating process as much as raising political awareness.  New works include tapestry, embroidery, applique, bike building and of course ceramics.  This takes the form of a double headed pig piggy bank with numerous slots to cast your own political view........... which ultimately all collect in the same pot.  This is also reflected in two new pots which were decorated with themes gathered from social media on Brexit - one is for and one is against but the two are almost identical "Matching Pair".  Who knew?!  

It's perfect timing to pitch all of these ideas together and gather them with previous poignant works.  Its a chance to catch archive pieces you might have missed and explore his research into how the country has potentially landed where it is today....... "Death Of A Working Hero" and "Animal Spirit".  As he guided us around at the press view he explained that although we like to think that our rationale guides our decisions, it is infact always an emotional response that dictates our lives.  There is a lot of passion running through his subject matter and that might be what has elevated his status in our fondness towards him.  He's made a shrine to his marriage which he suggests is a union which should be celebrated every day as love is the major player in all that exists.  Admittedly he is depicted in a dress as his trans self which might not relate to everyone, but that's what I love about him.  He's taking time to invest, explore and expose the nation's view of British Masculinity but he's doing it driving around the country on a motorbike in drag.

Infact I occasionally pass him on my cycle route home and one day saw him with two other cyclists on incredible bright long extended frames like some kind of futuristic penny farthings.  I desperately wanted to take a photo but was too shy, despite guessing that I probably knew the bike designers.  A few days later I saw Petor (Dear Susan Bicycles) and it was indeed him because he's been spending the last 8 months constructing a custom bike for the show.  See the frame above with its "Princess Freedom" deity on the front and chrome wheel hubs with hand-carved hearts.  It's a great thing of beauty with candy stripe coating and I was so chuffed that I got to see it!!!  For this reason alone, I really recommend visiting!  But don't take my word for it, make your own cultural choice!!!

I'll sign off with the quote that's on the wall as you come in because its a perfect sentiment for this time:

"When I came up with this title "The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!" I liked it because it chimed with one of my on-going ambitions - to widen the audience for art without dumbing it down.  Mainly I liked it because it made me giggle, but popularity is a serious business.  Ask any politician."

(Grayson Perry is in front of his new tapestry "Battle of Britain" wearing a dress of an Alan Measels print by Anne Isabella Rasmussen from CSM BA )

Wednesday 7 June 2017

Wednesday 7th June: Central Saint Martins BA Fashion Show 2017, Xiao Ming

As you can probably tell, THIS WAS MY ABSOLUTE FAVOURITE.  

I've never seen anything like this before and that is exactly the quality I'm looking for at Graduate Fashion Week.  Xiao Ming's collection defies any description and although worn on a body is not in any way definable as a garment.  It's surface pattern applied to skin.  It's textile art in motion.  It's a glorious colour palette and an engineering technique that I can't place.  Like giant paper-cuts but as shiny as silk with a sharp sheen sliced and placed together.  It's not woven from warp and weft but links like loops of knit in radical new shapes.  It's kind of sci-fi but not recognisable from any source or reference.  It's totally new, fresh and turning fashion design upside down, inside-out and stuck on with tape.  Its Xiao Ming.

Tuesday 6 June 2017

Tuesday 6th June: Central Saint Martins BA Fashion Show 2017

Congratulations to the Fashion / Textiles and Marketing students at CSM for this year's show!  The styling of each collection was incredible from the shoes to the headwear and all of the accessories inbetween.  I was so impressed!
The general feeling was quite dystopian and a bit scary with models summoning up zombie realness, stomping down the runway!  But I could see a heavy influence from the House Of Beauty and Culture in the materials and tailoring reflecting the work of Christopher Nemeth and Judy Blame.  For that I applaud the ICA in last year's show on Judy's work and the collective.  Many collections echoed this aesthetic with hessian, twine, drift wood and twigs tangled into seams and some were even woven basketry and crocheted plastic bags.  Here are my highlights which included the "L'Oreal Professional Young Talent" award winner Goom Heo's look at the top here, constructed of layers of reclaimed t-shirts.  I really loved Sarah Ansah's 3D knitwear from metallic yarn and Tolu Cocker's screenprints of HipHop caricatures on denim.  All really exciting from a textile perspective!  See more over on the CSM feed.

From top to bottom:  Goom Heo, Jae Yoo, Tae Kim, Kevin Germanier, Sarah Ansah X 2, Jegor Pister, Tolu Cocker X 2

Tuesday 6th June (06!): After 6pm

Q:  What would you recommend doing at around 6pm in London?

A:  Find a Happy Hour in a nice bar to sit down with a copy of Time Out to scan the event listings.  It's an excellent immediate resource of reliable recommendations to make a good start!  Look for a gallery or museum late-night opening / store opening / restaurant launch / gig / clubnight.  It's possible on any night of the week to find somewhere to go for free culture, drinks and even food if you're lucky enough.  You just have to do a little research!

Q:  What did you get up to before the shoot?
A:  I ran the Hackney Half Marathon and then went to the pub for a roast dinner to watch the Tottenham Vs. Arsenal London Derby football match - a classic contradictory London Sunday! 

Q:   What are your plans for the evening? And with whom are you planning to spend time with?

A:  Its the end of the bank holiday so I have to stay in and do last minute homework!   But a typical example of a night out was last Thursday when Eglo Records did an instore gig at Carhartt, then onto a launch for Converse / NIKE Flyknit with a performance by Yungen before finishing off at a film screening and club night curated by NTS Radio for KENZO.  3 separate venues, 3 separate neighbourhoods, 6 brands, 1 night!

Photography & interview by Shin Hye Lee

Monday 5 June 2017

Monday 5th June: THE FIFTH DIMENSION AT 56 for the E17 Art Trail

This year the 
theme of the E17 Art Trail is STEAM; Science Technology Engineering Art & Mathematics. Step into the 56 dimension and teleport yourself to their paper filled parallel universe, BIG on fun.  An installation by duo prop maker & artist Rosy Nicholas and set designer Alex Cunningham has gigantic versions of everything usually found in the cafe.  Take a photo of yourself with some of the "Alice In Wonderland" size props and enter their competition for the best pic of the day to win a free coffee.  Pick up a copy of the entire art trail guide and set about the journey across Walthomstow of exhibitions and events on until the 18th June. 
No. 56 St James Street, Walthomstow, London, E177PE

Wednesday 31st May: "Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion" at The V&A Museum

The name Balenciaga may not be as ubiquitous in the mainstream history of fashion such as contemporaries Chanel or Givenchy but his legacy is, if not more far-reaching.  His shyness towards the press may have been a short-fall but for his ingenuity and influence his name is synonymous with pioneering.  For this reason, the V&A want to re-write the history books with this detailed and educational retrospective.  It’s the very first show dedicated to the designer in the UK and falls on the centenary, displaying 100 garments and 20 hats.  This particular show pin-points his most creative period between the 1950's and 1960's by using an incredible 70% of the museum's own archive.  As some pieces are too precious to exhibit they have been presented as giant X-ray scans to reveal the inner-constructions such as weights sewn into hemlines to determine hang.

This kind of detective work from the curators of "Shaping Fashion" is a good indicator of the level of close detail put into telling the story of Cristóbal Balenciaga.  His history is divided into 3 themes with an additional gallery charting the timeline of successors who have been inspired by his avant-garde, architectural approach to garment construction.  Here lies a gallery of modern fashion design in its own right as a stand-alone gathering of Courrèges to Iris Van Herpen and Paco Robanne to Chalayan.  Crucially, within the collection are examples from Nicolas Ghesquière's helm at the house which he took on at the spritely age of 25 (which I don't think I fully appreciated at the time)!  It's just as exciting to see these looks up close now as it was to see them appear each season in that chapter.  Now currently under the creative leadership of Vetements head-designer Demna Gvasalia, its key that we go back to the very start and understand how the Spanish talent made this vanguard Parisian institution.

Balenciaga had an immediate introduction to the art of dress-making from his mother and later studied tailoring after an apprenticeship, aged 12.  The combination of these two disciplines made him deft in both flat pattern-cutting and draping which was an advantage in defining his understanding of form.  His design process always began with the fabric and experimenting with how it would fit to the body rather than sketching.  This technique engineered the one-piece pattern and minimal seams of his signature style.  Stiff fabrics became architectural silhouettes (Gazar silk) and looser softer styles flowed with hidden corseting.  You can detect his influences direct from his Spanish heritage amongst these choices such as lace mimicking the mantilla or embroidery from a Matador Jacket.  Regional dress was a significant source of inspiration from “Bata De Cola” flamenco dress to the soutanes worn by Spanish clergy and “Mozzetta” capes of clerics and monks.  In addition to this, Balenciaga investigated non-Western ways of clothing the body and garments of few seams such as Kimonos.  All of these sources generated his revolutionary version of the female silhouette as an abstract vision in contrast to the waisted hourglass of the era.

By eliminating the waist, his “sack dress” of the late 1950’s anticipated the shift dress of the 1960’s.  Although ridiculed in its time for being unflattering, we can now appreciate his radical foresight with the benefit of fashion's evoultion.  The fact that he cast and trained his own unconventional models for the salon shows further proves his preoccupation with celebrating the female form.  He wanted to frame the body rather than restrict it.    He was a skilled craftsman who explored scale, shape and unusual materials to innovate and push boundaries. 

“Balenciaga uses fabric like a sculptor working in marble” Cecil Beaton

As an example of this preoccupation, Balenciaga considered hats integral to the whole look and silhouette.  Couturiers usually out-sourced hats but he set up two of his very own millinery ateliers to focus on the collections’ headwear.  These surreal constructions are one of the best sections of the show (for me!) and neatly and exquisitely demonstrate his innovation.  There are leaf embellishments made from cellophane and plastic beading in collaboration with embroiders Lesage.  The examples on show are complimented with hat design sketches, illustrations and boards of fabric swatches.  Its heaven for any hat-maker, especially designer Noel Stewart who has been commissioned to create a capsule collection for the exhibition’s gift shop. 

The curators also worked with students from the LCF MA course to replicate garments in calico to display alongside the originals.  A lot of Balenciaga’s magic is only evident in concealed layers that lie beneath, so they have wired up sections to best demonstrate these methods.  In addition to this, animations of the pattern pieces whirl on screens next to each case so you can visualise how a garment has come together.  In honour of Balenciaga’s overwhelming care and consideration, the V&A have gone to great lengths in outlining, demonstrating and sharing as much knowledge as possible.  It’s taken me a week to get around to writing this because I didn’t know where to start with the incredible insight I amassed from all these sources.  It’s excellent to see his lace “Baby Doll” dress from 1958 in one case and then follow up with Molly Goddard’s recent tulle shift and comprehend the extent of his influence.  Despite however much or little you may already know about Cristobel Balenciaga; the V&A have done him proud in their extensive portrayal.  I recommend this as a No.1 Summer show, especially followed up with a sun bathed coffee in the Museum’s glorious central court garden!