Monday, February 18, 2013

Vikings! Death and Wendy Ramshaw

Edinburgh over the weekend and what an exhausting marathon it proved to be, jumping from gallery to gallery before collecting my new kilt (no photographs as yet!).
I started off at the Vikings! exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland, a phenomenal tour-de-force of utterly gasp-inducing metalwork with some glass, wood and textiles on the side. A joint exhibition between NMS and The Swedish History Museum in Stockholm. The jewellery in the exhibition is of special note but, unfortunately, I was not allowed to take any photographs of it to share with you. Suffice to say that anyone expecting brutish primitivism which would suit the popular image of the Viking is going to be disappointed in one way but can't fail to be amazed in others. There are pieces in the show for which I couldn't work out the method of manufacture at all!
One non-jewellery exhibit which compelled me to sneak a photograph was this fantastic recreation of the form of a Viking longboat from the corroded nails alone:

Viking Boat

Viking Boat

There is a little brain-worm in the back of my head now about creating something using the idea of these nails floating in space...

Sco Natio Gallery O Mo

After the Viking exhibition, I jumped on the bus to the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art to see the From Death To Death show. This show should have been right up my street, and bits of it were, being billed as "the diverse ways in which 20th and 21st century artists have approached the subject of the body". Unfortunately, it was somewhat curatorially vague, lacking in clear direction or focus and with an over reliance on some artists whom I didn't think merited the volume of inclusion (Robert Gober, for example). Like the curate's egg, it is good in parts: and the parts which are good are very, very good but are not enough to make the exhibition feel complete and satisfying.
The star of the show, for me, is the wonderfully sensual installation by Brazilian artist, Ernesto Neto:

Ernesto Neto - 1

A room full of these intestinal tubes made from nylon and filled with raw spices, each one pungent and colourful. The smell fills the entire gallery, from the moment the viewer walks in the door, and the smell in the room is ravishing. The great joy of this piece is that for all its monumental simplicity, it is also endlessly subtle. I especially enjoyed the way in which the spices leaked out of the tubes:

Ernesto Neto - 4

As well as the way in which the nylon took on the colour of the spices:

Ernesto Neto - 3

This has been the work which has been garnering all the press attention but I was actually quite surprised to see how few people lingered to enjoy it. Most of the visitors walked right through without stopping to enjoy the smells or the details. Their loss.
There is a lot of video in the exhibition, a form for which I have a very low tolerance, but it was nice to see that all five of Matthew Barney's Cremaster Cycle films were being shown (simultaneously) in the gallery. A great shame that they are not also being shown individually in a cinema too.

After finishing at the Death to Death show, I trotted off into town to see the two exhibitions of work by the British jewellery high-priestess, Wendy Ramshaw, which proved to be a bit of an eye-opener for me. The show is in two parts, a small selling exhibition in The Scottish Gallery - a model for what a small, independent gallery can and should be - and a larger retrospective in the public arts space, The Dovecot Studios.
Ms Ramshaw is most famous for her "ring towers", sets of rings which can be worn separately or together and which are displayed when not worn on turned towers:

Wendy Ramshaw at The Scottish Gallery

Wendy Ramshaw at The Scottish Gallery

Her other work is very geometric and abstract and seems to deal with flat space rather than dimensional space. These recent brooches at The Scottish Gallery are a good example:

Wendy Ramshaw at The Scottish Gallery

More recently, she has been working on a much larger scale, making gates other architectural and landscape works - some of which were shown at The Dovecot Studios - and which look like scaled-up versions of these brooches in many ways.

Wendy Ramshaw at the Dovecoat Arts Centre

Unfortunately, I wasn't allowed to photograph inside the gallery at the Dovecot, so I took this from outside! You can see one of the gate models on the far wall.
Which brings me to what I have been thinking since I saw these shows... While I appreciate what she has done in terms of bringing the idea of contemporary jewellery to a wider UK audience and while I can see that she is a very talented designer, I find her work utterly sterile: completely devoid of passion. It doesn't speak to me on anything but a technical level. I can find no wit, humour or humanity in it, merely a flinty, disconnected intellect.
Don't misunderstand me... I think that everyone who is interested in contemporary British design should see these exhibitions - especially the jewellers - as this is important work. It is me personally who finds it cold, lifeless and unexciting.
Perhaps someone can change my mind?

On Friday afternoon, before I set off to Edinburgh, I was at a loose end. All my students were working in a most admirably self-directed way and one of the fashion students foolishly left a box of pins in the computer room. The pins were thicker than usual dressmaking pins and really pleasing to touch. I sat down to experiment at the bench and found that I could fuse the ends of the pins into beads, meaning that I could trap them in a hole...
The "Friday Fun" kinetic ring was born...

Friday Fun - 7

Friday Fun - 5