Sunday, 5 May 2019

Diane Arbus v. Kader Attia v Art World Control and Paranoia


Diane Arbus: In The Beginning
Kader Attia: The Museum Of Emotion

Hayward Gallery, London
13 Feb – 6th May 2019

I visited two exhibitions by accident recently. I wanted to see Diana Arbus at the Hayward but the admission price covered a second exhibition, The Museum Of Emotion by French artist Kader Attia.

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Kader Attia


Arbus was unexciting, street photography often is. Beyond the intrusion into personal space, the gaze held, the gesture frozen, the monochromatic contrast of black void and sunlit glare and the nostalgia for bygone times lost there is generally a sense of immortalising mundanity. There are a few haunting exceptions for which Arbus is justly famous.

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Child with a toy hand grenade in Central Park, N.Y.C., 1962, © The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC, Courtesy Jeu de Paume, courtesy source: Metropolitan Museum of New York


Next time someone holds you up trying to use their wristwatch to get through the tube barrier, try not to think of that famous boy with grenade.

Attia on the other hand stopped me in my tracks right from the projection in the first room. Attia freewheels through a variety of themes; immigration, control, colonialism. It was exciting and also incredibly photogenic.

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The experience of viewing the two shows was significantly different, Diane Arbus involved reading glasses and nose-to-glass scrutiny; Attia was your varifocal panorama viewing. Yep, that’s my Mk I eyeballs not up to much these days.


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Entering the Diana Arbus we weren’t wished a good day or enjoy the exhibition, we were told quite firmly “no photography”. However in the Attia exhibition you can take photographs as long as you don’t use flash they said, so with the iphone duly blessed we snapped some lovely flicks of this skilfully staged show.

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The thing that leads to those different rules and regs in the two shows lies in the ownership of the art. Nearly all the Arbus images were lent by institutions, donated by trusts or owned by collectors whereas the Attia exhibition attributes ownership as “courtesy artist”, the art (mainly) came from the artist himself.

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It boils down to control, or is it paranoia? Maybe they (owners, curators etc in general) don’t want the images to be misused artistically but you can’t help feeling that their key fear is unlicensed financial exploitation. It could be as simple as possessing your own wonky badly lit photo taken in the gallery makes you may be less inclined to buy the book. Art world savants seek to protect their return on their investment and mobile phone photography doesn’t ring the tills in the gift shop.

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Attia on the other hand has a message or two to convey through his art and indeed has given detailed notes explaining the artowrks, so why block the normal natural channels for disseminating those meanings. Photography and social media is the very heart of sharing. It also helps to build the buzz, you are reading a few thoughts about two exhibitions,something that you can’t really call a review without doing serious bodily harm to the dictionary definition of that word, you the reader can only visualise one of the shows as it is illustrated with consensual images.

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So back to how this reflects into the world of street art, the street art gallery is almost entirely artist curated. Notwithstanding the tiny proportion of commissioned street art out in the wild, the vast majority of street art is displayed courtesy of the artists themselves. Street artists deciding what to put up, where, on what kind of surfaces, when and how much. They start with full control but following the act, their control becomes almost zero and their art can be seen and photographed for free.

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Control once the art is out on the streets is almost but not absolutely zero, artists can expect to retain rights to their image. Just because they share it on the streets does not mean they waive their legal copyright in the image, though that is a point you might need to discuss with a suitably specialised lawyer, should you really not want to not do anything interesting with your life ever again. Is it likely that fundamentally the legal rights of art world gallery artists on image control are pretty much the same as street artist have, those stupid controls imposed in the gallery are in affect your implicit agreement to respect that control in exchange for being allowed to enter the gallery. If you look closely, you will see that graffito bears very little resemblance to a qualified firm of lawyers so this could all be bollocks but the fundamental question is why the fuck do galleries feel compelled to prevent photography.

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I thought this was one exhibition for the price of two but it turned out to be two for the price of one, I would definitely pay for Kadar Attia’s exhibition, maybe you can see why. Reading this photo free review fails to give you any reason to visit the Diane Arbus exhibition.

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Finally, just to avoid any wrong impression, some of the Kader Attia art was catalogued as being held in private collections or institutions, one can only guess that it was a condition for inclusion in the exhibition that photography be permitted.


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Reflecting Memory (2016) (phantom limb syndrome)


All photos: Dave Stuart

Friday, 26 April 2019

Banksy Extinction Rebellion Street Art


A new Banksy has appeared in London and locations do not get much more central than on the roundabout at Marble Arch!

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A young girl appears to have planted a new sapling and seems mark the species with a plant label stating through the extinction symbol that it is the Extinction Rebellion and like any optimistic gardener, it is planted in the hope of growth hence Banksy’s slightly odd proclamation “From this moment despair ends and tactics begin”.

Are we a bit early calling this as a Banksy – at the time of writing "yes" is the answer. There will be doubt right up until the moment it appears on either his Instagram feed or the Banksy website. For now, there seems to be several strong reasons for believing this to be a Banksy :

The politics of the piece; it is in favour of an environmental cause, specifically the Extinction Rebellion. The most recent confirmed Banksy street art was his “Seasons Greetings” toxic snow stencil in Port Talbot, South Wales, so this new piece aligns neatly with a Banksy theme.

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Seasons Greeting" - photo courtesy Banksy Instagram


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Extinction Rebellion peaceful street closure, Oxford St (16th April)


The location: This Marble Arch spot was one of the key Extinction Rebellion London blockade locations and indeed following the peaceful ending of the protests in the other locations it was the final location protested until officially ended with a closing ceremony yesterday (Thursday)

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Temp pic credit Google Street View


The Banksy Look: the art is primarily stencil with wax crayon text, it looks like a Banksy in general. More specifically, the image of the girl is a mirror image of a female seen in a piece of Banksy “Indoors” art housed in the Walled Off Hotel in Palestine. This appears to be pretty incontrovertible evidence that it is a Banksy.

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photo credit: Walled Off Hotel Instagram (detail)


On Wednesday the Met Police were reported to have made it a criminal offense to incite others to protest outside a designated area following new conditions imposed under a Public Order Act. Banksy would appear to have flaunted this as well as several other Criminal Damage statutes. Well done.

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Looking a bit deeper at Banksy’s actual message, it appears to be a quote taken from "The Revolution Of Everyday Life" by Belgian Situationist International writer Raoul Vaniegem. The passage reads

“My sympathy for the solitary killer ends where tactics begin; but perhaps tactics need scouts driven by individual despair…. These tactics will be condemned to theoretical hibernation If they cannot, by other means, attract collectively the individuals whom isolation and hatred for the collective lie have already won over to the rational decision to kill or to kill themselves. No murderers-and no humanist either! The former accept death, the latter impose it. Let 10 men meet who are resolved on the lightning of violence rather than the long agony of survival; from this moment, despair ends and tactics begin. Despair is the infantile disorder of the revolutionaries of every day life.“

In one part, the idea of desperation of fighting against the lies of a higher authority was one of the core messages of the Existential Rebellion. On the other hand the author appears to be urging action through violent means which was not an Extinction Rebellion tactic, they were explicitly pursuing peaceful mass protest.

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Extinction Rebellion - The Whole Truth! (16th April 2019)


Of minor interest is Banksy’s clever reversion to vandalising public property as opposed to privately owned property, at least the god awful art speculators hopefully can’t step in and snap this up like they did the Port Talbot piece and the Cosette Gassed “Les Miserables” French Embassy piece. Contractors were seen lurking around the Banksy this evening and rumours were that they were there to install perpsex to protect it. Presumably this would have to be a Westminster Council initiative, which is amusing at several levels, not least the fact that they traditionally are anti graffiti and secondly, found the Extinction Rebellion a pain in the arse they had to tolerate through gritted teeth.

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So there it is, a new Banksy in London found in pristine condition and at the time of this visit unprotected, such a rare pleasure these days.

Photos: Dave Stuart except where credited


Thursday, 21 March 2019

Take Back Control - Group Exhibition


Take Back Control
Group exhibition curated by Bryden and Ellie Pennick
The Crypt Gallery, Euston Rd, Kings Cross
London NW1 2BA
14 – 24 March 2019


The Crypt under St Pancras Church, an appropriately gloomy yet incredibly photogenic spot, hosts a look back on the role British newspapers played in the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign and its aftermath and it probes the response of artists to Brexit. Art in galleries sometimes soars in a beautiful synchronicity between content and location and political group show Take Back Control has this, though perhaps not always in the expected sort of way.

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The Brexit referendum in 2016 engaged and enraged the population with a far greater level of passion that politics usually does. Brexit’s process and progress since then has made it un-deniably obvious that political promises were made that could not be kept; claims were made that had no connection to fact or reality and the quantity of disruptive information which has surfaced since then makes many question “Was that known to them? Was shit hidden from us? Did they lie? Or did they actually not know something they should have figured?” This is neatly captured by Ben Bird in Europa, in which as you progress further and further into the text of “The Rape Of Europa” from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, more and more letters get dropped leading to progressively increasing confusion in the message.

Ben Bird Europa “The Rape Of Europa"
Ben Bird: Europa “The Rape Of Europa"


If you lack the necessary ego and savage power lust to become a politician but still want to be able to proclaim your affiliations and exert influence on public thinking, become a street artist. However, if you want to seriously manipulate public opinion, buy a newspaper. Not in the “A Guardian, 2 pints of milk and a packet of Rizlas king size please” sense no, the way to do this is to become a media mogul. Any semblance of even-handedness during the referendum was abandoned in favour of psycho-leave or rabid-remain. Nuance evaporated, editorials were polarised and debate reduced to shouty absolute truths.


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The day after the referendum result was announced the Daily Mirror, having previously wished for reconciliation across the leave/remain divide went with an editorial “clueless face”. Nearly 3 years later it feels that we aren’t even that confident.

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Divine judgement has literally rained down on the Crypt Gallery leading to a biblical flood, a consequence of which is the floor is coated in a bluey grey mud. As we wade through a slimy mess we hope is just clay but fear might be something more connected to the state of the original contents of this charnel house, so we find on the floor an apt metaphor for the slippery toxicity of the headlines in the newspapers of the time.

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Artists of course would never be such shameless liars and Quiet British Accent do us the favour of confirming that their “BUGGER BREXIT” is actually “Quiet Balanced Advice” (QBA – geddit?). Several protest march placards are juxtaposed alongside photographs showing those placards marched in actual “keeping things real” angry protest through central London. Roll on the “Put It To The People” march on Saturday.

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Quiet British Accent "Bugger Brexit"


Graffoto had the pleasure of meeting Quiet British Accent for the first time in the muddy crypt where we struck up a Quagmire Based Association. They explained that Edward V appears in their Bugger Brexit poster because he recovered from a serious illness by convalescing in the seaside town of Bognor. Later relapsed and his physician advised the King return to Bognor upon which the royal fuse blew, “Bugger Bognor” he exploded. The Quiet British Accent placard is a paraphrasing of that regal riposte.

Quiet British Accent "Bugger Brexit"
Quiet British Accent "Bugger Brexit"


Dr d has been using the newspaper stand poster as a device for years and in this show he paraphrases the D-Ream ditty that became the battle song for those heady days in 1997 when a Labour led government was formed, this first appeared on the streets earlier this year and damn, hasn’t Dr d the political clairvoyant been proven right again.

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Dr D “Things Can Only Get Bitter”


Unsurprisingly Theresa May draws a lot of ire from the artists, which is kind of ironic as she was a Remainer in the 2016 campaign. Heath Kane’s Second Class features Elizabeth on a stamp with what is revealed here to actually be Theresa May, she formerly of the remain camp but now leading Britain out of the EU, a grimace of horror as she realises she has blown the Tory majority superimposed onto the Queen’s face. This also appeared pasted illegally on the streets of Britain courtesy of Flying Leaps who have slipped a number of their artist partners into this exhibition.

Heath Kane - Second Class
Heath Kane - Second Class


Joshua Evan isolates the unhelpful and quite self-evident soundbite of a politician who really put the “less” into meaningless by progressively slowing down a looped recording of Theresa May’s “Brexit means Brexit” to the point where, in arriving at the logical endpoint of journalist John Grace’s caricature of her as The Maybot, her circuits are finally overloaded.


Joshua Evan “Brexit Means….”


On the subject of The Maybot, would I be the only one who looks at gets flashbacks from Paul Deltic’s Theresa May portrait to the nightmare memory of her doing the Robot across the conference platform last year? Try un-seeing that image in your mind now.

Paul Deltic “You Can All Fuck Off”
Paul Deltic “You Can All Fuck Off”


Joe Holbrook’s UKIP print on what is stated categorically to be British steel at face value may look like a leaver manifesto logo but the title alludes to something else, “Eye shadow cannot fix scrotum like features” kind revisits the old adage that you can’t make a silk purse out of a sows ear and embossed under the surface of the UKIP insignia is a National Front logo, translucent but pimped with glitter to smother its unpalatability. That old UKIP logo will always bring to mind comedian Russell Brand’s slapdown of Nigel Farage as “a Poundland Enoch Powell”, which is pretty much the same connection Holbrook makes.

Joe Holbrook “Eye shadow cannot fix scrotum like features”
Joe Holbrook “Eye shadow cannot fix scrotum like features


Some of the artists focussed on the impact of this political rupturing of the country on. If you have to guess which way Sally Jones’ Bruised Britannia leans politically, you have to divine her intention from a blinded and battered Britannia. To a Leaver this may represent the nation as it waits to cast off the shackles of the non-democratic EU, or to a Remainer it could represent Britain no longer looking outward, its standing in the international community irreparably damaged, perhaps. The artist’s note indicates it is actually about the tensions and division created within Britain and the future uncertainty about the consequences, which is politically is neither one way nor the other. Britannia’s trauma plays out against a George Orwell quote “in times of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act”, back to newspaper culpability again.

Sally Jones Bruised Britannia
Sally Jones "Bruised Britannia"


A particular challenge in the art of protest is ensuring clarity and some Brexit inspired art is mired in ambiguity. For example, the Brexit Ball Gag sculpture by Simeon Oliver is described in the gallery wall note as touching on how surrendering control, the act of allowing someone to fit a ball bag could be construed as actually retaining power and control through the gift of consent, whilst the obvious literal interpretation would be that an individual, or let’s say metaphorically the whole country, loses its voice when the EU gag is fitted. Vote now.

Simeon Oliver  "Brexit Ball Gag"
Simeon Oliver "Brexit Ball Gag"


When Banksy revealed his Brexit piece de resistance in Dover in 2017 (covered here), that also suffered from ambiguity but there was an almost unanimous presumption that Banksy meant it to be an anti “Leave” gesture.

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Banksy 2017


Sean Wheelan contributed a hand painted fire blanket symbolising how in this debate neither side is capable of listening to the other and dialogue, be it online or in the press has been reduced to an exchange of insults; “wrong wrong wrong” ad infinitum (or at least until he ran out of space). Anticipating the way that farce turned to comedy this week in Westminster, the artist has embedded multiple spelling mistakes in the writing, perhaps an echo of the careless approach to precision and detail in the urgent exchange, the Brexit Brevity, of angry tweets and posts.

Sean Wheelan “Fragment”
Sean Wheelan “Fragment”


A degree of mission creep sneaks into the show with some specimens of art known to have originated during the 2017 snap general election rather than the Brexit referendum, though you may argue that poll was more almost entirely nothing other than a failed exercise in increasing Theresa May’s majority so her party could railroad anything through parliament to win its preferred Brexit. One we saw in a few locations on the streets was the superb “Strong and Stable My Arse” from Jeremy Deller which mocked the rather lame attempt by Theresa May to invoke a cult of personality in 2017, look how well that went!

Jeremy Deller ”Strong and Stable My Arse”
Jeremy Deller ”Strong and Stable My Arse”


That Jeremy Deller artwork appeared on the streets alongside KennardPhillipps’s “Study For A Head 7” where peeling back the face reveals big business is the true master. Again this is more a big political truism that it is Brexit specific.

KennardPhillipps & Jeremy Deller
KennardPhillipps & Jeremy Deller


KennardPhillips “Study For A Head 7”
KennardPhillipps “Study For A Head 7”


Leave art is under-represented in the exhibition or maybe Leave art is accurately given some kind of proportional representation as artists appear to be more inclined towards Remain. Based on what is visible on the streets of London this is true of street artists, as highlighted in the blizzard of pro remain Brexit related street art found recently. The only artworks in Take Back Control which appeared to these eyes to be categorically favouring Leave rather than merely sitting on the fence or hard to work out, were a quartet of prints by Jan Bowman. A Remainer would pick the metaphors apart very easily – slaying the EU serpent leads to increasing tolerance, really? Flies in the face of the increase in racist attacks reported since the referendum.

Jan Bowman
Jan Bowman


It’s not that the art is bad, Jan Bowman’s art is perfectly fine though perhaps the way the allegorical virtues of an independent Britain and Europe can be construed as flatulence emitting from the horses’ arses is probably an unintentional metaphor, it’s just that the political arguments in the art are flawed in a way that characterised a lot of the case for Leave.

Jan Bowman “Europa and Britannia Defeat The EU Dragon”
Jan Bowman “Europa and Britannia Defeat The EU Dragon” (a Brexit allegory)


The apparently simple democratic process of giving the public a choice then acting upon their choice has raised question about the very mechanism by which a few are granted power which they then wield supposedly on behalf of whichever minority is largest and we all abide. In fairness to the Leave side of the debate, this was a rare example of a poll being won by an actual majority. Do the elected ones serve self-interest, party or population once elected? Does public preference remain static or does it change as more information is revealed? Would that majority still be a majority today? Is the referendum asking the right question? If you take Emma Goldman’s quote “If voting changed anything they’d make it illegal”, which Banksy parodied with his central London wall “If graffiti changed it they would make it illegal” and mash it up with the idea of a ballot box with a shredder and where have we seen a shredder in action recently, you’d get David Dunnice’s democracy trashing clear plastic ballot box. No matter how simple or clear or regulated the vote is, it’s not so much the vote being rigged as what follows.

David Dunnico “A Clear Perspex Ballot Box / Paper Shredder “


David Dunnico “A Clear Perspex Ballot Box / Paper Shredder “
David Dunnico “A Clear Perspex Ballot Box / Paper Shredder “


Many of us remember promises of “the easiest trade negotiations in history” and “the day after the referendum we will hold all the cards in negotiations” yet the process of getting to simply agreeing how to leave has provided complex, labyrinthine and full of dark corners and blocked route, much like the crypt actually.

Crypt, St Pancras Church (Bugger Brexit in the distance)
Crypt, St Pancras Church (Bugger Brexit in the distance)


There is an irony in looking at an exhibition that questions media integrity and bias and writing about it here from such a partisan perspective. Any die hard Leaver is quite entitled to dismiss this blog post as a bitter rant of a defeated metropolitan dwelling London centric loser and they’d be right but actually you can’t deny the central tenets of the exhibition. It was a shit referendum and it has got shittier and it’s the newspapers and the politicians.

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This group exhibition contains great art, absolutely of the moment, politically engaged, mentally stimulating as well as staged in an incredible location. I nearly missed it as I just happened to be in the area last week with a nagging voice in my head saying that there was something on at the crypt, a hasty search of emails and social media drew a blank so I really just poked my nose in there on spec. At the end you leave wondering if there is any hope now for a political process which will be independent, truthful, free from foreign interference but perhaps Zish Alexander is on to something when he highlights the empowerment of the individual sharing their video and photo captures but wait a minute, that means using facebook and Instagram and …aren’t they just as biased, manipulative and distorted as the old world newspaper media?

Zish Alexander “Raised Lens”.  Also Jill Laudet “Who Counts”
Zish Alexander “Raised Lens”. Also Jill Laudet “Who Counts”

All photos: Dave Stuart