Art and social consciousness

As the Hayward Gallery opens its doors to the first ever survey of Jeremy Deller’s socially conscious work, British homelessness charity Shelter are echoing this notion of the relationship between art and social responsibility with the launch of their new exhibition, Up My Street. While Deller’s work has persistently evaded classification, primarily existing as it does in the form of the artist’s own direct engagement with British communities – essentially extracting the art that dwells unwittingly in everyday life – his significant exhibition, ‘Joy In People’, is a timely reminder of the power of artistic intervention in societal issues.

It is hardly comparable, as Shelter’s venture takes place in the more traditional form of an auctioning of works donated by a plethora of celebrated contemporary artists; yet its message is redolent, and past experience has shown that the element of celebrity is undoubtedly an effective means of stirring society into action. With the support of sponsor British Land and a line-up of participants that reads in part like a ‘who’s who’ of the artworld, including Jake and Dinos Chapman, Grayson Perry, Antony Gormley and Gavin Turk, the event has been organised to not only raise funds for the charity, but to increase awareness about the issues of homelessness and housing crises that affect people across Britain every two minutes.

Alongside the work of the aforementioned artists, amongst others, will be that of sublime fashion photographer Tim Walker, illustrator Jon Burgerman and the legendary designer Peter Saville, as well as a piece from renowned East London street artist Ben Eine. There is even an architect thrown in for good measure, with an offering from Amanda Levete Architects. Each were asked to contribute work that has been inspired by a street with particular personal significance, which has resulted in a vast, seemingly arbitrary curatorial grouping of photography, fine art, fashion, graphic design and illustration.

Participating artist Patrick Hughes says: “Shelter is a charity that is close to my heart. Having a roof over your head is something we should all be able to take for granted, and most of us do. However, not everyone has a place they can call their own. I hope this exhibition will make people think about the importance of a home and raise awareness of Shelter’s work.”

All artwork will be auctioned in aid of Shelter. The online gallery is viewable from today, enabling people to bid from anywhere in the world, and the exhibition will be on physical display at the Coningsby Gallery, London from 5-8 March.

The spaces in between

It needs little explanation that upon entering an exhibition, one’s attention is naturally drawn towards the work on display. Yet how much of the experience is owed to the conditions in which the work is placed?

Under the indicative name of Post-Works, artists Melissa Appleton and Matthew Butcher focus their creativity on the environments that surround works of art, creating all-encompassing sensory backdrops to films and live performances that alter the overall experience of an exhibition space.

Their work dwells in the relatively under-explored space between art and architecture, and as tutors, their pedagogic work also spans these two realms at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, The Bartlett School of Architecture and Chelsea College of Art and Design.

Having recently exhibited at the Architecture Foundation and the Institute of Contemporary Arts (both in London, UK), their latest collaborative venture is a dual environment for London-based artist Daria Martin’s exhibition at the MK Gallery in Milton Keynes, UK. Their design accommodates Martin’s survey exhibition, which includes a series of short 16mm films made over the last 10 years and the premier of her new film, Sensorium Tests, based on a neurological condition called ‘mirror-touch synaesthethesia.’

In direct response to Martin’s work, Post-Works have created two contrasting environments in which visitors will experience the series of films. Traditional viewing environments ‘reflect the hermetic laboratory settings’ of the films exhibited in the two smaller rooms of the gallery, while the larger space encourages free-flowing movement amongst its visitors, enabling them to meander between a cluster of dark, shadowy, mysterious enclosures interrupted by phosphorescent pools of light. The effect is a deeper, more physical engagement with the projections on display that in turn strengthens the relationship between viewer and subject.

Describing this second exhibition area as ‘a space that deconstructs the traditional viewing environment and acts as a fragmented but continuous element, supporting multiple and diverse viewing experiences of the works’, Post-Works emphasise the highly emotive yet often overlooked importance of environmental context, and the virtues of acknowledging the spaces in between.

From Beijing to Berlin: The beginnings of a new artistic dialogue between East and West

Berlin has recently welcomed a new addition to its ubiquity of contemporary art galleries. But this is an exhibition space with a crucial difference – as the first ever Chinese-owned and managed gallery to exist in Europe, the Zhong Gallery is a signifier of history in the making.

This groundbreaking new territory is suggestive not only of the continual expansion of China’s economic development, but perhaps more interestingly of a new dawning of cultural exchange between Eastern and Western art practice.

The gallery, which opened on 21 January this year was founded by Beijing collector Gaowen Zhu and will be directed by Jiangnan Wang, whose previous experience in the interchange between contemporary Eastern and Western art is indicative of the gallery’s defining curatorial approach. As Gaowen states: “Though Chinese contemporary art and the Chinese art market have already gained attention from all over the world, there are still sometimes quite stereotypical opinions outside China. Art is art.” The gallerist aims to break away from such stereotypes, and in particular the Western perception of otherness in Chinese art in general, by presenting the work of up-and-coming artists from China alongside their Western counterparts.

Berlin’s position at the forefront of progressive art-making makes it the ideal host for such a revolutionary new creative platform. And the exchange will not just be one-sided; Gaowen has announced plans to introduce Berlin artists’ work to an equivalent gallery in Beijing.

The first exhibition to be held at Berlin’s Zhong Gallery, Dawn: New Art from China exemplifies the recent diversification and exploration of the personal in Chinese art, and emphasises the shift away from its political focus in the late twentieth century. Of the group of exhibiting artists, namely Chen Yujun, Li Jikai, Li Qing, Wang Guangle, Wang Yabin, Wu Di, Yuan Yuan and Unmask Group, the latter’s collaborative work shows the most promise with its strange fragmented busts and humanoid, fiberglass sculptures reclining in cell-like ellipses.

While Ai Weiwei’s overtly political work has had an enormous impact on the Western artworld over the past decade – the fact that the artist himself was put at the top of last year’s Power 100 solidified his status as one of the most influential figures in the Western art market – there has previously been no native curatorial ‘voice’ for contemporary Chinese art within European galleries. Weiwei became a household name after the Tate’s Sunflower Seeds exhibition under the direction of Nicholas Serota; now it is the turn of native gallerists to present Chinese contemporary art to a Western audience.

Is the Ritz Paris little more than a nostalgic vestige of a bygone era?

Popularly referred to as the hotel that once hosted twentieth-century icons Coco Chanel and Ernest Hemingway, the Ritz Paris will be closing this summer for a 27-month renovation period. In an ‘unprecedented’ transformation its interior is due to be stripped and entirely re-fitted for the first time since 1979, when it was bought by its current owner, Mohamed al Fayed.

“Few hotels evoke a sense of place and history like the Ritz Paris”, gushed AnOther Magazine in a recent, obituary-like article about its imminent temporary closure. Indeed, the 115-year-old establishment in Paris’ Place Vendôme evokes a bygone era of literature, Bright Young Things and glittering scenes of ’20s and ’30s glamour, in which Greta Garbo and F. Scott Fitzgerald float through dining halls swollen with smoke and chandeliers.

But such wistful reflections on the hotel’s inextricable link with its bourgeois past simultaneously highlight its destabilized position in the present. The hotel was founded by César Ritz and chef Auguste Escoffier in 1898 with the intention of providing for its guests ‘all the refinement that a prince could desire in his own home’; yet apparently its planned revamp this year comes in direct response to its failure to meet the ‘palace’ standard last year, falling short of the qualifying factors that put nine other French hotels into this prestigious category.

Whilst evidently in accordance with the hotel’s original reason for being (after all, what prince could reside in anything less than a palace?) the decision to cut 470 jobs in the attempt to reclaim the 160-room hotel’s former glory also draws attention to the disparate gap between a flailing European economy and a rapidly inflating luxury market in Paris, due to growing demand from the current generation of super-rich Russians, Arabs, Indians and South Americans.

So for now it seems the question of whether it is possible for the Ritz Paris to regain its princely status – and indeed its contemporary relevance – is yet to be answered.

New London concept store embodies the retail trend that defies categorisation

Dubbed ‘the Oscars of the design world’, the Design Museum’s international Design Awards annually showcase its pick of the best innovations from the creative sphere. Yet its division into seven distinct categories – Architecture, Digital, Fashion, Furniture, Graphics, Product and Transport – is perhaps becoming an anachronistic framework into which some of today’s more progressive, boundary-merging creations don’t neatly fit.

Such is the case for one of this year’s nominees for the Fashion category: the Late Night Chameleon Cafe (LN-CC) in Dalston, London. An architecturally stunning interior is the nest for an ‘all-encompassing world’ designed by renowned artist and set designer Gary Card. The 6,000 sq-ft space combines traditional fashion retail with art galleries, record and arts book outlets and a ‘club space’ complete with vintage sound system, elegantly woven together by a labyrinth of wooden passageways.

The physical presence of these ‘concept rooms’ extends into LN-CC’s virtual counterpart, with a website that hosts interviews with designers and photographers as well as mixes from its in-house DJs, all fully interactive in English, Japanese and Chinese, and partial translation in Korean.

Of course, it’s not the first of its kind – Paris’ Colette, to name but one, has been successfully running a comparably concept-focused boutique since 1997 – but it is dawning upon the retail industry with increasing perspicacity that it’s not enough just to sell things anymore; nowadays, it’s more about the mood than the product. LN-CC describe their project as ‘more than a store, it’s an evolving platform of curated ideas encompassing clothing, music and art in both a physical and digital environment.’

It can be dangerous turf though. As numerous cases have shown, it’s all too easy for an innovative ‘concept store’ to spiral into the pit of pretension. Take for example Shoreditch’s painfully self-conscious Boxpark, ‘the world’s first pop-up mall’; aren’t we all just a little bit tired of upcycled shipping containers now?

But it’s so far, so good for LN-CC. And with that fragmented, honey-coloured, octagonal tunnel that navigates you through its haven of carefully considered consumerism, it’s worth going in for the architecture alone.

See more about the Design Awards here. All nominations will be exhibited at the Design Museum, London from 8 February, with results announced in April.

In pursuit of normality: The remedial power of architecture in the wake of disaster in Japan

Japanese architectural practice MoNo have created two artworks in memory of those affected by the devastating Tohoku earthquake and ensuing tsunami that struck Japan in March last year. The architects Fumiaki Nagashima and Mami Nagashima Maruoka exhibited the work at two sites already of local significance, respectively a historical residence and a shrine, imbuing them with further gravity through their connection with this unparalleled natural disaster.

‘Snow Tree and Snow City’ was designed for a Christmas art exhibition at the close of 2011 to signify the end of this year of ‘profound sorrow’ for Japan, the architects explain. It is set within the historical Yagishita family residence in Yokohama city; a family who flourished in the copper-iron trade in the late nineteenth-century Meiji era. The architects transformed one of the traditional rooms into a ‘Western Style zone’ for this Christmas exhibition, and themed their work on Yokohama as it would have been when this residence was originally built – cloaked in snow. With sunlight reflecting from its pure white surfaces during the day and LEDs diffusing a warm orange glow across the miniature city by night, this is a place of purity and quiet contemplation.

MoNo’s ‘Shining Tree in a Sacred Place’ is another illuminated installation built as part of the Akari Art Exhibition programme, within a city-wide event in Kusatsu. Receiving over 30,000 visitors, the programme was held in historic shrines and temples throughout the city, which was historically an appointed area for inns in the Edo period (1603-1868), due to its being at an important junction of two main roads, Tokaido and Nkasendo. It is within this auspicious city, at the Oshioi Shrine, that MoNo created an illuminated pathway of flickering candles and towering, fabricated Shining Trees, ‘the symbols of our destination’, with the intention of both commemorating the lives that were lost and signalling hope and optimism for the future.

The multitude of creative charitable projects that were formed in the wake of this tragedy reiterates the well-known capacity for architecture and design collaborations to not only physically, but psychologically rebuild a community. The apex of this remedial process might be seen at the Venice Biennale 2012, in which the curator of the Japan Pavilion, renowned architect Toyo Ito, will focus on ‘Architecture in the Wake of Disaster’. With his modest ‘Home-For-All’ project, Ito implores architects worldwide to remember architecture’s raison d’être – not least, as a function of primitive instinct which human survival and progression depends upon. The curator’s vision for Japan’s future resonates in the abundance of smaller projects by architects such as MoNo; not to focus on superficial innovations for the sake of design, but to establish, brick by brick, a new state of normality and an adjusted sense of enquiry into the purpose of architecture.

Tate Modern 2: The shape of things to come?

Twelve years after the opening of Tate Modern, a new addition to Europe’s most popular gallery of modern art is close to completion: Tate Modern 2. While this much-anticipated sequel was announced several years ago, its construction has been underway since last summer with the first phase due to be finished this year; by no coincidence, at the same time London welcomes the world to the 2012 Olympics.

As with Tate Modern itself, the new section designed by Herzog & de Meuron draws upon its architectural history to create something entirely new. Increasing the gallery’s overall space by a massive 60%, the new 25,000 sq ft building will sit to the south of the original gallery, expanding on Tate Modern’s famous origins by incorporating the former oil tanks that once powered Bankside Power Station in the mid twentieth-century.

In these dark underground recesses, Tate will be able to hold new installations and performance pieces including dance, music, film and spoken word. Divided into three parts, the tanks will accommodate a changing programme of exhibitions in one, performances and events in another and supporting facilities in the third. The raw industrial surroundings will provide an interesting backdrop to the major artworks it will hold – as with many contemporary galleries, Tate is searching for antidotes to the conventional ‘white cube’ interior.

In keeping with the historical structure, the extension also has a brick facade. Yet this unfashionable material is reinvigorated with a perforated lattice, which allows interior lights to glow through during hours of darkness. The new section will also include different types of galleries and public spaces on the upper levels, accessible through a series of wide, maze-like staircases that double-up as resting or meeting points.

The project was greatly needed given the gallery’s enormous success. In fact its eventual expansion seemed inevitable; with an expected number of around 2.5 million, under Sir Nicholas Serota’s direction Tate Modern received 5 million visitors in its first year alone.

Meanwhile, the overall picture of the UK’s arts industries is becoming increasingly divided. Last year’s dreaded Arts Council cuts resulted in more funding into the larger, more successful galleries in the UK, leaving little or none left for many of their smaller, independently run counterparts – many of which have gone into administration as a result.

While the cuts have undoubtedly had an effect on all art institutions – Tate Modern’s own government contribution for this project was cut by 15%, meaning the second phase of its completion is being pushed back to 2016 – this £215m renovation could be seen as a portentous new symbol on London’s skyline. The government’s response to the recession indicates a dominant focus on the improvement and expansion of well-established galleries, while smaller independents are having to find their own ways to keep hold of their businesses or face total extinction. In this respect, Herzog’s prophecy that Tate Modern 2 will be ‘even more of a success with people, even more a part of London’ is a reflection of the times, but for some, not a necessarily positive one.

Mario Nanni’s latest work highlights the growing significance of crossing creative disciplines

Lighting designer and multi-disciplinary visual artist Mario Nanni has brought his illuminated architecture projects to London for the first time with a screening of his latest ‘light poem’, Da Sempre per Sempre (All Along Forever).

The founder of Italian lighting manufacturer Viabizzuno, Nanni works with architects and designers worldwide to create ‘not just products, but solutions’, while his ‘light poems’ use film in an unconventional context to illuminate spaces and reveal new dimensions to the architecture of a building.

Having collaborated with a plethora of other artistic and architectural visionaries including Kengo Kuma, legendary painter and film director Peter Greenaway, Peter Zumthor for the Serpentine Pavilion 2011 and David Chipperfield for the Wakefield Museum, this latest project arose when the Gucci Museum commissioned Nanni to create a light show to celebrate its 90-year anniversary.

The spectacular result involved a system called ‘2.9LD’ that used projected film to illuminate the façade of the building in a fifteen-minute sequence, depicting a silent narrative through the medium of light.

At its debut screening in London at the Viabizzuno Inlondra showroom on Great Titchfield Street, the audience gathered in a low-lit basement sipping Nanni’s own homemade white wine and sitting on stools of his design, while the creator explained his concept for the Gucci project. It was an exploration in two parts: that of the Gucci Museum and the history of the building itself, a former palace from the Renaissance era called the Palazzo della Mercanzia Florence. In an approach typical of Nanni’s contemplative artistic process, he ‘tried to figure out the client’s needs for light by understanding and listening to the place.’

He extracted colours from Italian Renaissance painting, with its heavy use of reds, blues and greens, while obscure scenes draped over the windows are revealed as fragments of 14th- and 15th-century paintings, which appear to be illuminated from the inside. His work establishes ‘a visual relation between real and imaginary objects: light takes a physical shape, turning into volume…’

A similar project at the Scala in Milan conveyed the value of history and knowledge through a sequence of falling books. In this he tells ‘the story of the human being’, revitalising our relation with the past and emphasising its importance in our current collective mentality. The narrative also depicts the boat used to carry material to build the Duomo on a channel designed by Leonardo Da Vinci – yet another reminder of the underlying connectedness of things.

Nanni sees his purpose as creating ‘not just light but art’, which is perhaps why his work was discovered by internationally-renowned video artist Bill Viola, who he went on to collaborate with. His work does indeed cross disciplines in a way which he himself compares to the multi-dimensional creativity of Da Vinci. His all-encompassing approach to lighting is translated into Viabizzuno, where ‘form follows light’; more weighting is placed on mood and atmosphere than the form of fixtures. A spokesperson for the company reflects that ‘people don’t always appreciate how much lighting [alters] architecture, but hopefully now this is changing’.

Nanni believes that channeling creativity through a range of outputs – just as Da Vinci did – is the way forward. And from a sustainability point of view as well as that of preserving historical knowledge, Nanni’s work highlights the infinite possibilities for a building to be reinvented, re-used and re-imagined, without the need for demolition and rebuilding – to at once save resources and see history in a continually new light.