ART, DESIGN AND CULTURAL REPORTAGE: NEW YORK — LONDON

Domestic Wildlife Collection @ Gallery S O

by Melissa Gamwell

23 February 2010

Last Thursday a gaping pair of ostrich-leg boots patiently awaited a recipient at the closing reception of Christian Gonzenbach’s show at Gallery S O titled “Domestic Wildlife Collection”. It was here that a discussion started earlier in the day at the RCA continued; a discussion on his theories of whales. The Swiss artist studies histories and processes, how an animal or object achieves its identity through physicality and material composition.  This is done in the language of nature and animals, with the use of skins, addressing and asking questions of the interior and exterior, of material and spiritual possessions. When does an animal become and animal, and how much needs to be removed before it attains a new purpose, perhaps a functional marketable skin? What is the molecular and spiritual composition of identity?

Gallery SO, Domestic Wildlife Collection

Inside-Out Pets

Ostrich Leg Boots

Gonzenbach was recently working on a mold of a whale, coating the inside surface with a self-formulated skin of clay and plaster, painted black. While the whale would never exist, the mold became a fossil.  He stated that for him whales were imaginary, that he was from the mountains, not the ocean, and since humans no longer have a (legal) trade relationship with these creatures, we justify them in our minds based on modern mythologies instead of first-hand informed practices. When whaling was a valid business, people had to accomodate themselves to this size, creating machines and tools based on a mammoth scale, solidifying their existence.

The presumption of what makes the world we inhabit as it is, remains a human condition that he investigates and humorizes. We cant possibly experience or see the instigations of all form but we wonder. It wasn’t until after attempting to recount my experiential whales, I realized that with the exception of rather small beluga whales in the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and the famous, undying Shamu at Seaworld in 1993, I had never actually seen a whale in its habitat. Even on a whale watching boat off the coast of Maine, I spent hours with my parents and sisters imagining that each little white-capped wave would manifest into a fin or blowhole, to the point where it was a hallucinatory game- there were beyond doubt whales under the surface but none to be seen!

This presumption of experience is normal, and it made me assess how much of my knowledge is physically uninformed- the answer being most of it. Something as ancient as a whale is a poetic example of how severe this condition may be, and there is certainly the psychology of the oceanic unknown that renders it a beautiful example of loss. The philosophy of this thought is hundreds of books deep – my notion a miniscule particle topping an iceberg that I’ve heard is mostly submerged.

Inside-Out Donkey

Inside-Out Donkey

Gallery Detail

Stop animation of Chicken and Weasel exchanging skins

Eraser Arrowheads

Clay bear shot with gun

Meteor

Similarly to the whale mold, Gonzenbach creates his own meteors, not by sculpting a meteor but by creating the matter that would violently and gradually deteriorate a substance; Throwing rocks at clay. When I think of meteors there are massive rocks hurtling themselves towards our stratosphere, but of course I assume this is what happens, based only on the knowledge of huge blemish-like craters in the midwest and the shards of specimens in Natural History museums.

This work made me think of these two projects- which while being slightly different in conception, still represent the solidification of imaginary experience and the replication of an iconic source of greed and commerce.

Photo by Damon Winter for The New York Times

“The artist Duke Riley does some last minute work before launching his replica of a Revolutionary War-era submarine, built of plywood and fiberglass and ballasted with lead, off Pier 41 in Red Hook, Brooklyn on Friday August 3, 2007″ Quoted from the New York Times article.

Balaenoptera Musculus by Tom Sachs. Photo is copyright of Tom Sachs

“For the other installation, Balaenoptera Musculus (2006), a life-sized reconstruction of an 18-metre long blue whale, Tom Sachs took his inspiration from the whale model hanging in the ocean life hall at the American Museum of Natural History, in New York. The whale, which, for its size, Sachs calls adolescent, is made in foam core, cardboard, and white polyurethane foam, a material often used or architectural models. ” Quoted from the Fondazione Prada Press Release.


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27 January 2010

Last week London art directors Will Hudson and Alex Bec launched their fourth annual show titled If You Could Collaborate. The show featured 33 pairings of designers and artists at A Foundation Gallery, all who were given 12 months to produce across disciplinary borders. Collaboration seems to be one of those methods that for me, seemingly for the RCA, is divinely attractive. I am finding in my recent attempts that it is not always magical and I think I brought a little screen of skepticism with me when seeing this work, which for the most part diminished after considering the different approaches. Certain pieces in here seem holistic in concept, material usage, and aesthetic; Others are perfect specimens of two ideas, two ways of working that form visible hybrids of styles. Having seen the gamut of approaches I found some that were logical, expected, and others that had less refined outcomes. Either way- it seemed like the point, whichever side of the fence they landed on. This show had no shortage of conceptual depth or eye candy- definitely looking forward to next years!

There is an excellent catalog available here. Below are some images and links to both sides of the collaborations. Project descriptions where quoted are taken from the If You Could website:

Praline + The Model Shop:

“Praline have been creating brilliant design solutions for many years, from publications and branding, to websites and exhibitions. Always looking to add humour and clarity to their work, they’re not put off by the size of a project, working with both large organisations and smaller outfits, including esteemed clients such as the Pompidou Centre and Tate Modern. After meeting The Model Shop of architects Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, through a previous commission they decided they’d like to extend their working relationship a little further. Ending up with a new font, and physical scale models interpreting its shapes.”

Praline and The Model Shop

Detail

Ian Wright + Riitta Ikonen

Ian Wright and Riitta Ikonen

Detail of Helmet

Ian Wright and Riitta Ikonen

Max Lamb + Gemma Holt

I first saw some of Max Lamb’s work at the Johnson Trading Gallery in NYC. It happened to be a week before I was moving to London to attend the RCA and ended up finding an adjunct show in Hoxton with more of his work. I felt the piece that Gemma and Max created was an alternative interpretation to the collaborative theme. More so, it considered the circumstance of the show and took the idea of collaboration as a way of doing something site specific rather than an amalgamation of professions. Besides- herringbone is the new houndstooth.

Max Lamb and Gemma Holt

Craig Ward + Sean Freeman + Alison Carmichael

Craig Ward, Sean Freeman & Alison Carmichael

Fred Butler + No Days Off

“A well-loved member of the fashion industry, Fred is a truly influential creative force. Known for making beautiful props and accessories, there’s no more solid proof of her class than knowing she’s worked on commissions for the likes of Vogue, i-D, Dazed & Confused, MTV and Selfridges as well as her own personal collections. With design studio No Days Off, she is launching the Eight Days A Week campaign, petitioning for a little bit extra time….”

Fred Butler & No Days Off

Karl Brandin + And Beyond

“Karl Grandin is a creative who is difficult to shoehorn. You may find him working as one half of design team Vår, as co-founder of fashion label Cheap Monday, or as a successful freelance illustrator. What you won’t find is him producing a bad piece of work. A varied portfolio, which is infused with a swagger of someone with an inherent desire to create.

By collecting familiar elements from flags, detaching them from their sources and putting them back together in new combinations, he and Dutch fashion designers And Beyond have created a new world in the form of an oversized flag.”

Karl Brandin & And Beyond

Marion Deuchars + Margaret Calvert

Marion Deuchars & Margaret Calvert

Rob Ryan and Michael Marriot

“There are a thousand words we could use to describe Rob Ryan’s work, and all of them are superlatives. Hyperbole is something we usually try and steer away from when describing artwork, but it’s tough to do Rob’s work enough justice without it. A combination of heartfelt sentiments, both beautifully depicted and exquisitely cut, confirm you’re in the hands of a true great when presented with a Rob Ryan piece.

Given a canvas to execute his work by Michael Marriott in the form of a flatpack rocking chair, the duo have produced a piece of furniture I’m sure lots of people will want to get their hands on.”

Rob Ryan and Michael Marriot

Job Wouters + Roel Wouters

Job Wouters & Roel Wouters

BCMH + Smith & Wightman

This was one of my favorite pieces in the show. The team created currencies based on production and material cost. I love the idea of objects being tactilely/physically representative of their value and not just conceptually so.

BCMH + Smith & Wightman


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by Melissa Gamwell

14 December 2009

For the first term project at the Royal College of Art we were asked to choose an object from the Victoria & Albert Museum’s new ceramic gallery, create a replica and produce an interpretation. Nearly a week after considering hundreds of objects, which are displayed in a stunning strand of spaces on the third floor, I finally landed on a French porcelain cosmetics jar, originating from a factory in Mennecy, outside of Paris in pre-revolutionary 17th century France. My initial attraction was due to its hundreds of seemingly identical flowers coating the surface. Any object oriented between the typologies of industrial production and delicate craftsmanship usually catches my eye, and this piece in particular, despite my feeling that it was too simple of an object ( which I now retract entirely), became my focus for the past 8 weeks.

  Cosmetics Jar, Mennecy, France, 1755. Soft paste porcelain with hand-pressed decoration(left) Mennecy II, London, 2009. Slipcast porcelain, casting wax, graphite, plaster(right)

Cosmetics Jar, Mennecy, France, 1755. Soft paste porcelain with hand-pressed decoration. Approx 16 cm x 13cm(left) Mennecy II, London, 2009. Slipcast porcelain, casting wax, graphite, plaster. Approx 28cm x 18cm (right)

Aside from the technical challenges I was particularly interested in the life of such an object and its user. This jar would have been part of a set, living on an impressive vanity where the ritual of beautification would occur. Both the 17th century french royalty and the bourgeois court were heavy subscribers to the cosmetics industry. Ointments and powders were used to make the skin appear more fair and white, which was a visual proclamation of the luxury of service, situated well beyond a sun-cast, agrarian means of living. Despite the privilege, cosmetics at the time used arsenic as an ingredient, which lead to skin disfigurements and fatalities.

I love that an object can possess such a dichotomy, sourcing beauty and disfigurement, and inherently also be a decorative particle of another surface. When developing an interpretation, my focus was derived from the temporal quality of cosmetics as a surface device, and how it might integrate an object abstractly with a person and their environment.

The form itself became an exaggeration of the original Mennecy jar, but now coated in a series of residual materials that will fade and deteriorate on the vase, while making marks on the person and their habitat. Consequently the object will become a record of its use, questionably more unsightly or constantly cleaner, more deteriorated or progressively beautiful with age.

Here is a visual time line of the project showing varying stages of the process.

First attempts at throwing porcelain

First attempts at throwing porcelain

The original jar and lid would have first been thrown in a soft-paste porcelain on a wheel, then turned by hand to create the decorative marks and shape. The flowers are hand made and immediately applied.  For my attempt I experimented with different templates to accommodate the form of the original, and also created a plaster tool to aid in the production of the flowers.

ThrowingSamples_vs03

Base form with and without floral application

Original Mennecy Jar ( left) and replica ( right)

Original Mennecy Jar ( left) and replica ( right)

Details of the replica object

Details of the replica object

One of my earlier reactions to the form and use of decoration was to invert the expectation of flourish by creating the texture/subject/interest on the inside of the vessel. While I was also contemplating the final direction of my interpretation, I made a test study for this concept ( which was also used as a glaze test). I will definitely be developing this concept further for another project called secret fauna@ secretfauna.com

Inverted Mennecy, London, 2009. Hard-paste porcelain. Hand applied flowers and horses.

Inverted Mennecy with hand applied flowers and horses. Hard-paste porcelain. Approx 13cm x 9 cm

Horses_vs02

Detail

Detail

Detail

Below are some sketches that were made from the original thrown forms which began to dictate the forms of the final interpretation. These were thrown spontaneously  and after living with them in my studio  I began to see them as small sketches of how I might go forward.

Thrown sketches

Thrown sketches

This led to more refined forms turned in plaster for casting.

Turned plaster forms

3 form developments in plaster

Porcelain Casts

Porcelain Casts

Porcelain casts and color sampling

Porcelain casts and color sampling

Porcelain casts

Porcelain casts

When considering materials to coat the surface of the vases, I experimented with colors and textures that I felt had a notion of cosmetics and that historically related to objects and object-making. One of my first thoughts was to use red wax because it  reminded me of the body, blood & femininity. It also works as a nod to lipstick & rouges.  I was very attracted to the residual quality of wax, in that despite the color, if you are to touch it, you end up repelling other kinds of matter, rather than obtaining a visual mark. Contrary to that I also started testing graphite mixed with binders, which makes it a bit harder and slightly less transferable, reminiscent of an eyeshadow or pencil. Finally I tested plaster with different gradients of tint, to reference a finely pressed powder.

Porcelain sample dipped in wax

Porcelain sample dipped in wax

Tinted plaster swatches and porcelain samples dipped in plaster

Tinted plaster swatches and porcelain samples dipped in plaster

Porcelain samples dipped in varying consistencies of liquid graphite

Porcelain samples dipped in varying consistencies of liquid graphite

Final prototypes:

Slip cast porcelain with wax, plaster and graphite coatings

Slip cast porcelain with wax, plaster and graphite coatings

Graphite and plaster transfer

Graphite and plaster transfer

ModelVase_vs02

habitats

FinalPrototype_vs02

Detail

Here is an article about the renovations of the new V&A ceramic galleries:

http://www.septemberindustry.co.uk/?p=2985

The Anish Kapoor exhibit:

http://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibitions/anish-kapoor/


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