Thursday, 5 May 2016

Utopias of the Street

During my last trip to Somerset House I saw a promotion for an upcoming exhibition; a beautiful photographic piece of a field with a burst of pink dust exploding in the air. Hoping to see actual colour dust explosions I was keen to go! And while there were sadly none of this on my visit, it was an incredible show. Bernard and I actually attended on our wedding anniversary. Both in love with the architecture and grandeur of the venue, it was an easy choice. Initially however I was surprised by how small the show was and it took us a while to find it. 

Walking in we were greeted by a wall of high visibility jackets with unusual statements on the back. After a few minutes a gallery attendant came and offered us some from a basket to wear. We became part of the art. Utopian Security. It added such a fun, interactive element. Although a tourist got a shock when she asked how much they cost and was told £50! Relatively cheap for art, but she probably saw it as a gift shop novelty. 

We found booklets on the show and were treated to PR statements on each artist and their work. This made the show for us. I love understanding the context of art and why it was created. It became so immersive and entertaining; finding our favourites and discussing the ideology. Each piece was so unique, brought together by the concept of unsanctioned public art. Creating our own utopias within our geographic and societal bounds. 

The artist above, Mike Ballard, explored the industrial markings of utility companies. Something he refers to as 'Urban Hieroglyphics' Considering how these functional markings can become artwork in and of themselves; it is the "freedom and naivety of the marks" that hold such an appeal for him. "These marks or codes indicate the presence of underground networks, a subterranean matrix that drives and maintained modern life." they are "unintentional abstract gestures that form part of the everyday visual language of the city." (The Hard Margin | 2015 | oil, spray paint and chewing gum on linen) I was shocked when I realised it was painted on linen! I was honestly convinced that they had hung a slab of concrete. 

This piece by Eltono while at first appeared as a illustrative doodle, was accompanied by a video of the artist walking across Somerset House's inner courtyard. Which at first didn't seem to correlate, then after reading the text we discovered that it was a game. But only known to him. He had a line drawn around the outside of the courtyard on which he had to walk. If a member of the public waking in the courtyard overstepped this line, he had to quickly walk to the exact spot. "Exploring new ways of moving in the public space". But if someone else broke the barrier, he had to quickly change direction and head towards their entry point. It was so funny. You can imagine the childlike eagerness in his mind urging him on quickly quickly quickly before someone else walked across! The drawings show his routes and offer us the opportunity to reenact his work, but honesty I would just want to play the game anew! (Footpaths 1, 2, 3, 4 | 2016 | ink on paper and Footpath Documentation | video | 2016)

The piece above by artist Nano4814(ES) was my favourite throughout the show (possibly tied with the high vis jackets!); a stark contrast with the theme of Utopia this piece stood out as a true presentation of the street. A dark and dreary underpass. The faint rainbow and dripping paint almost humorous. A well known place of teenage hangout, darkness, graffiti and at times danger has become a symbol of hope and vibrancy.   

"Mixing popular imagery with wildly outlandish motifs, Nano4814's strangely discomforting and surreal aesthetic ventures beyond the everyday in quite overt terms. For Venturing Beyond he has produced a classically Utopian image, the Rainbow. For Nano however, this trope has numerous potential significations: it can act as a "door, a bridge, a pathway" leading one to different space or different times, yet equally represents the "calm before the storm". It can act as an idealistic representation of the colour spectrum ("only this time in reserve"), but also relates to his obsession with art as a burden, art as a curse." (Untitled | 2016 | Acrylic on wall)

The show is officially titled Venturing Beyond: Graffiti and the Everyday Utopias, the first installation of a four exhibitions and a wide range of talks and events across 2016. Utopia: A Year of Imagination and Possibility.

"In a literal sense, graffiti compels its practitioners to ‘venture beyond’ spatial and architectural boundaries, but also metaphorically provokes them to ‘venture beyond’ conceptual frontiers, to form new ways of thinking, acting and being in the world. Graffiti ornaments the city in resplendent colour and brings art out into the open, an art which belongs to all of us. It simultaneously reveals an aesthetic and social practice which anyone is welcome to join.

Above all, graffiti and street art acts as an alternative voice, whether it is loud and brazen or more subtle and difficult to decipher, which strives to challenge the well-worn systems of society – something which Thomas More’s seminal text also set out. All of the artists will uniquely interpret their ideas on these utopian foundations of graffiti." - Somerset House

Compared with traditional exhibitions of classical and historical work, we could truly relate with this show. So much of it appealed the younger generation and acted as a response to our day to day lives and environment  Making the art accessible and relevant, and frankly far more engaging due to the multiple layers e.g the jackets, the PR books, the theme itself. It was such a success in both of our opinions and I would love to commend those incharge of it. It was fantastic. 

What is your favourite exhibition at the moment?

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