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Highlights from A Few Dangerous Days in the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle: Day 1.

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Highlights from A Few Dangerous Days in the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle: Day 1.

Tired of the silliness of Turnitin, and dogmatic beliefs about referencing, I’ve taken a break from the bit of academic institutionalism I’m tied to for a little money in my retirement and am back in Yorkshire and tonight sitting in a Leeds hotel. Here are the highlights for today, where we stuck to transitory exhibitions because of a ‘man-flu’ (bad cold) I’m nursing.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park

I thought at first of describing the 3 exhibitions today, but I think it is better to pick out moments. In the Bothy Gallery, 3 new artists (Tom Lovelace, Miriam Austin and Sam Belinfante) explored perception of what we call ‘nature’ and the surprising discoveries within it of artifice and imposed human (and sometimes ‘inhuman’) orders. My attention was called to a 25-minute HD video installation of a rehearsal of a rehearsal – the Mechanicals from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The aim is to explore the sensory confusions in the language of the mechanicals in a way that takes as more than a joke, but sensory overload was certainly the order of the day – not least in the play with water as theme in all 3 artists, all exploiting the ‘scenes’ from the Sculpture park itself.

However, to the main exhibition: Alfredo Jaar. At the portal of this exhibition us ‘The Garden of Good and Evil’ and we approached it from its non-explicated end, that away from the Gallery entrance and thus had no props to our perception of it in the form of explanatory and context-giving notice boards. Aisles of living trees in pots ordered but taking no notice of their ordering in their invasion of the spaces that separate them, you would encounter large steel & concrete structures in the form of enclosed and semi-enclosed boxes and bars – the most naked being small prison cells but all foreboding of unnatural constriction – or is ‘evil’ an abomination of nature or a function of it. One we ignore at peril.

Jaar’s work, whether looking at Chile or Vietnam disturbs because it tests the level of our tolerance of seeing. Many of his most telling photographs and their multi-modal transformations within large imposing and threatening installations, where images emerge from the ambient darkness are of people looking at horrors and reacting, that we, as viewers, cannot see. And then there is the ‘Sound of Silence’. Approached via a wall of unbearably bright light, you go beyond that wall to find behind the box that bears it the entrance to a totally enclosed ‘cinema’. Here the story of ‘Kevin, Kevin Carter’ is told on slides mainly of one lines, sometimes one word of a story, flashed so that they gain he intensity of a poem and at its centre a photograph of a vulture and a child and at its cruel end the play of ethical issues that mount into torture and implicate all artists as well as commentators about the responsibilities which ‘observation’ puts us under. No spoilers here – they matter.

‘A Hundred Times Nguyen’ has a similar theme – in a huge gallery sets of 4 different frontal shots of a single Vietnamese refugee (the same 4 in each hanging) are toured until at the end we are confronted by the variations of order of the shots in the pictures. But the effect is not in seeing this but in the ease with which we do not see these differences – how Nguyen is obliterated in multiplicity, in refugee status where such is a matter of huge numbers. In films, Jaar talks about what the aesthetic is and what it hides but also how resistance to it may be as morally futile as remembering it is not self-sufficient. To use a cliché – an art for our time.

Then to:


The main exhibition was a retrospective of Alina Szapocznikow’s sculptural work and preparatory drawings. Let’s be honest. I had not heard of this artist but what a rich and fully engaged career is opened up here, full of searing honesty and the necessary obsession that creates art. Szapocznikow’s early death and its expectation became for her a means of deepening her concerns with boundary-crossing between boundaries, of flesh and machine, human-animal, female-male such that she began to explore the buzzword of all art – development – in terms of the pressing living growth of cancerous tumours alongside other developments. Taking casts of her body still, she made that and the relationship to other bodies – notably her beautiful son, Pyotr – her theme and object. Pyotr naked and lieing at an angle, exposed and dead to sight, bears a large phallic growth that resembles a tumour. The exploration of sex and gender then remains painfully close to her concern with the Gothic monster – that thing of horrible parts that insists on wholeness.

And those apparitions are in the early work too. I was pleased to find that Griselda Pollock has a book on this. I purchased it.

So back in Leeds and surprised by how it has changed today’s Leeds Art Gallery visit promises the artists which were so ignored today, Hepworth but especially Henry Moore of the Henry Moore Institute. At last we might be beyond seeing Moore as the old reactionary of art: Szapocznikow’s debt to him was clearly enormous, although her thought and feeling perhaps outgrew him.

By the way, I did take the chance to see Henry Moore’s mining drawings again in the Hepworth. Tom McGuinness is right though. They do not live as pictures in a mine but merely depict it. Food for thought.

All the best


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