If You Cannot Do It – Review It

If You Cannot Do It – Review It

Don’t believe that old chestnut.  Its as appetising as a Jammy Oliver healthy option meal deal, it looks okay until you unwrap it and realise the ingredients are as fake as a celebrity smile.  I can take a picture and I’ve written a few words. I enjoy creative art. So why not write a few words on my thoughts on pictures at an exhibition.

ART?  Its the artist’s outward expression of their inner feeling.  And this expression is open to interpretation by the voyeur.  The effect the art or a collection of artistic works has upon the reader, viewer, listener, taster becomes the… like, indifference, dislike of the object, picture, food, display.

I enjoy the exhibitions presented by the Nottingham Contemporary (have a look at nottinghamcontemporary.org ).  The gallery/art centre has great merit and is, to my eyes, a beautiful building.  The angles of the walls and roof beg to be photographed.  The building is on three levels, it’s three giant concrete and fibre glass boxes set upon a fairly steep hill, one side tram lines the other flights of steps which give a feeling of depth and importance to the modern design.  This is as it should be, the building is a centre for human expression and the design fulfills it’s purpose with a potent dominance of the landscape.  It is an asset to the city.

Nottingham Contemporary
Nottingham Contemporary

A recent exhibition ‘Rights of Nature’ took the visitor to Madagascar and The South American Rain forest.  Videos, pictures and interviews with the native South American Indians who recorded their almost hopeless plight against the companies and governments who have stolen their land.  The magnificence of this work of collected injustice has stained my memory with the ignorance of greed.  I revisited this exhibition four times, it effected me so deeply.  What an incredible statement it made. I cannot review it in full as it is past and would only whet the appetite for a dish no longer available.  I write of it to give a little balance to my feeling of…

The Present Exhibition 

Glenn Ligon –  Encounters and Collisions 

The four galleries contain a collection of art put together by the artist Glenn Ligon.  His work has interested me for many years, it’s vibrant, strong and leaves you in no doubt as to the artis’ts purpose.  How could it?  Many of the abstract pictures are written statements, almost or possible manifestoes of his determination to reveal his inner being.  My emotions are effected as I read the words, some are aggressive, determined, highlighting racism, poverty and justifying the anger of those who are oppressed.  His work must be a guiding light to ANY race or minority who has been or is subject to the mindless cruelty of the racist, bigot, dictator or idiot.  He’s a genius, a great artist.

He wrote compassionate letters to many artists asking if he could borrow pieces of their work for an exhibition –  You can read these letters at the Contemporary –  I believe these are a deep insight into Ligon’s personality and should be considered an important starting point to the two or three hours needed to get the most from a visit.  Take an hour to wander, go to the small restaurant have a glass of wine or a coffee then return to revisit the selected works seems to work well for this writer.

The two looped black and white films should be the first stop.   Watching them gives a feeling of ‘era‘ and the ‘atmosphere‘ of the foundations of the exhibition… America of the 1960’s.  Think about the juxtaposition of these two loops.  Same time.  Differing ideas – art and revolution – aspects of a country alive with crazy and abstract ideas and crazy and real anger and insight to violence.  I begin to ask is Ligon for or against the use of force to effect change.  That’s the point here isn’t it?  If the artist has assembled statements which have effected him, what is he attempting to reveal?  His deep feelings and resonance of the imagery must surely have a specific purpose.  I realized the complexity of Ligon’s psyche, he’s an exceptional creative being.

I began to wonder if he is asking for an apology or making a declaration.  A declaration?  Yes, Is his statement?  “You.  YES YOU. You see, read, watch, listen to what I have to say. I’m a minority in what was once a minority. I’m going to be acknowledged.”

The visitor either sees ‘Encounters and Collisions’ as an assembly of artists’ work and takes the opportunity to view each one on its own merit OR they realise they are within a masterpiece of work.  It does warrant the word ‘masterpiece’ for Ligon has taken each artist’s work and used each to produce a powerful and effective work of art.  This exhibition should be viewed as a whole not as a fragmented assembly of individual imagery.  I entered the Contemporary on my second visit with the intent to view ‘Encounters and Collisions’ as an accumulation of sensory stimulation.  I sat drinking my glass of wine mid viewing and I realized this was a terrific artistic experience.

You will need to visit to piece the jigsaw together.  Indeed there is pleasure and pain in many of the photographs.  Confusion and questioning awaits.  For example, any large canvas painted in a solitary colour will dampen enthusiasm – (There’s nothing new in the single coloured canvas – Tate Modern’s ‘Monochrome White Painting’ by Li Yuan-Chia’ is a ? too! ) I know there is a statement in there somewhere, so far it has evaded me.

I wrote this first part of the review two weeks ago and made a third visit on the 16th of April as I wanted to review my notes before tapping out a few comments on the items which resonated with my emotions.

And something happened…

No Photos
No Photos

‘NO PHOTOGRAPHY in the exhibition’  – The instruction had troubled me on my two prior visits –  I had already wondered if the sign is there due to insecurity, greed or small minded selfishness – I don’t really have the definitive answer. I suspect there is a fear someone may steal an idea or two, who knows? Who cares? Clearly Ligon does.  Does this stop sign imply there is an unseen aspect of the New Yorker? I begin to ask more questions.  Should an artist encourage another to experiment with their work? Songs are often copied, guitar riffs reused, song lines distorted.  Is art a declaration of freedom?  It is! A conduit to free speech and expression?  It is! If there’s a story to be told, write it, if there is a record to be made make it, a picture to be taken, take it, a speech to record, tape it.  Art encourages free thinking.  No Photography?  Two words that stifle freedom to record, review, remember.  No Photography!   What, in a art centre?  A centre of freedom, a building which contains imagery which should be without censorship.  Still, I have seen it before and am never able to resolve it.  Copyright and profit are part of the need for greed, why should art be any exception?

As I enjoyed my third visit, an employee could see I carried my note book and a 35mm film camera.  He came over to me and declared “You are NOT allowed to take photographs in the exhibition.”  I looked into his eyes and replied “I’ve read the signs and respect the instruction.”

The employee ruined it, an unstoppable wrecking ball, smashing the illusion, forcing me to rethink my review of Ligon’s assembly of art. I had been duped by Ligon’s successful assembly of powerful expressions of freedom.  The video loops, photographs, canvases, the rebellion, neon signs, a project – I’d incorrectly assessed it and of course it is an assembly of art, full stop.  “No Photography” is control, fear of theft of intellectual property, its a castigation, restriction.  The two words were given life by the guide. I questioned my original interpretation of the purpose of the exhibition. Which I felt encompassed freedom of speech, the censor’s opinion and the fight for human rights. Once the guide questioned my integrity, the exhibition dissolved into a random assembly of images.  He enforced, took over, saw me as deceiver, potential thief of intellectual property.  He was guardian, storm-trooper, black band around his arm terrorist. – “No Photography” =  No freedom here.  I think of artists murdered by Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot and Mao Zedong, you think me extreme? Think again.

If the guide had not questioned my integrity – I would have been pleased within my appraisal of Ligon’s exhibition.  I am now thankful he made me aware of the undercurrent, the nod of the head to violence, the use of fear to control, the celebration of force and threat to achieve supremacy and revenge.  This is how I see it all now, and all due to two words.

Later, I discovered the ‘moment’ had another effect.  When I look at Glenn Ligon’s work I see one word ‘Imprisonment’.  Why imprisonment? Its the opposite to freedom.  I had falsely believed him to be a freedom fighter, whose weapon is canvas and paint, paper and ink, words and prose.  I think of him now as opportunist, manipulator, illusionist.

This blog is an experiment in writing – Not an experiment in reviewing or criticism.

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