Shimmering, Shining, Vomiting, Glitter

I am going to this symposium tomorrow! It’s going to be intense for my lazy little brain as it has been at least five months since I’ve engaged with long hours of lectures but I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve felt inspired by the exhibition on display Nottingham Contemporary celebrating the work of artistic collective Asco and been to a few talks and film screenings in connection with it, so I’m hoping tomorrow will be fascinating and rewarding. Having a read through the list of speakers and the titles of the talks, I can tell a lot of it will be quite new to me but it definitely sounds right up my street.

"This two day symposium seeks to explore the meaning of disgust across a range of practices, including art, literature, film and popular culture, activism, spatial practice and performance, from the twentieth century to the present day."

Regeneración 2, no. 4, 1974 – 75, p.31, drawing by Patssi Valdez. Courtesy of the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Library

'VIOLINS, VIOLENCE, SILENCE' - Bruce Nauman @ York St Marys

I recently visited the latest exhibition in a series of contemporary art installations at York St Marys, ‘ARTIST ROOMS: Bruce Nauman’. In partnership with Arts Council England and the Art Fund, York Museums Trust presents a selection of works by American conceptual artist Bruce Nauman in a beautiful, historic architectural space. Walking around the exhibition I was thrilled to see the range of Nauman’s works that were featured, from his large cast iron sculpture to his video works and most iconic neon sign installations. It felt like a rare treat to see the work of a contemporary artist in the city of York, especially in an important public space. However, as I was having a quick flick through the comments book, I noticed other visitors didn’t exactly have the same reaction. Some felt this wasn’t the kind of work they wanted to see here, some confessed that they didn’t enjoy it because they couldn’t appreciate the point of the work and some wrote that they felt it shouldn’t be considered art at all. 

One of the comments that stood out to me read ‘Violence - what is all this obsession with violence?!’ I reflected back on the exhibition I had just walked around and contemplated what it was about these works on display that created an apparent overwhelming theme of violence. One of the most prominent works on display is a neon tubing piece titled ‘VIOLINS VIOLENCE SILENCE’, 1981-2. The words ‘VIOLENCE’, ‘VIOLINS’ and ‘SILENCE’ in neon bright shades of yellow, pink and white intersect and overlap to form a triangular shape hung on the central back wall of the church interior. The word ‘violence’ takes prominence in the work as it becomes apparent that the beginning and end of the supporting words combine to make the ‘violence’. Whether the material quality of the neon helps to emphasise the significance of the word ‘violence’  could be debated. The harsh flicker and buzzing sound of the neon sign affects the senses in a violent manner, yet the iridescent glow in warm hues softens the word. What is undeniably clear is the detachment of the word from its context. The viewer is aware of the uneasy connotation of the word but is not subjected to experiencing or witnessing any form of violence as part of the work.

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This is in opposition to a video piece on display around the corner to the neon work titled ‘Violent Incident: Man-Woman Segment’, 1986. In this piece the viewer observes a male and female performer become physically violent towards each other. The performers actions become more erratic and over-the-top until the ‘violence’ seems like something from a cartoon sequence and less aggressive or vicious. In the work, the ‘violence’ in the title is mirrored by ‘violence’ taking place in the work. Nauman has interpreted the word and recreated a form of violence that takes on a comical appearance but is none-the-less something the audience may associate with the word. In the neon piece however, the interpretation of ‘violence’ is left to the viewer to produce. It seems that the person who has made the comment about an “obsession with violence” has walked away from the video piece with a set idea about violence in their head and continued to view the works with this in mind. Nauman’s work has an inherent violent quality to them perhaps. This is something the sculptor and installation artist Cornelia Parker believes about her work and sculptural artworks in general. The process of making sculpture and installations can be violent in itself, she believes - the cutting, sawing, slicing, carving, assembling, disassembling actions that take place, for example. Parker has made work such as ‘Words That Define Gravity’, 1992, where she engages with the violent act of throwing words over a cliff edge. In some works an action associated with violence is reduced to a word, and that word alone can still have powerful associations with the viewer, who then makes the assumption that the artist is “obsessed with violence” for example. 

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Above: Bruce Nauman, ‘VIOLINS, VIOLENCE, SILENCE’, 1981-2.

Below: Cornelia Parker, ‘Words That Define Gravity’, 1992.

Hannah Höch, The Beautiful Girl, 1920
Höch was born on this day in 1889. She was one of the few woman that participated in the Dada movement and was a very important figure in the Berlin Dada group. She was one of the pioneers of the photomontage style and is celebrated for the way she challenged new and unstable definitions of femininity that were widespread in postwar media culture. This can be seen in The Beautiful Girl in relation to the condition of the machine.

My shots of Geoffrey Farmer’s ‘Let’s Make The Water Turn Black’ showing at Nottingham Contemporary until 5 January 2014. Featuring over 70 sculptures constructed from found objects and spreading across two of the gallery’s large rooms, ‘Let’s Make The Water Turn Black’ takes on the form of an installation that invites the viewer to move around its platform, observe the moving mechanical elements and changing coloured lights and listen to the musical compositions. Farmer understands his work as “a single instrument” which presents six decades of the American rock musician, Frank Zappa’s, life. Using computer algorithms to control the work and a soundtrack featuring archival sound recordings and pieces of music, this is a contemporary art installation that must be experienced to even begin to get your head around!