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August 12 2012

London 2012: Team arts go for gold

David Hockney fumed at the opening, Gillian Wearing captured Bolt, and Susan Philipsz mashed up some anthems . . . but what else happened when we challenged artists to respond to the Games?

Opening ceremony

David Hockney
The painter and committed smoker was inspired by a detail in Danny Boyle's spectacular that passed others by: Isambard Kingdom Brunel's unlit cigar – and this in spite of belching chimneys and live soldering. Hockney's iPad painting appeared in last week's g2, and read: "I noticed there was a lot of smoke from fireworks but none from Brunel's cigar. Does this mean that the BBC sees art as directive (unlit) and not reflective (lit)? Debate." People did (look up the comments).

Day three

Olafur Eliasson
The artist who put an artificial sun into Tate Modern's Turbine Hall used one of his own-design solar lamps to pay tribute to the Olympians' speed and dynamism. He wrote: "For me, the Games are about being together, about sharing attention and ideals. They are about feeling connected to people from all over the world, physical engagement and energy. Light generates action: it is as physical as anything you will see in the Olympics."

Day four

Mark Titchner
The Turner 2006 nominee picked up on the anxious mood of the early days, before the medal rush. One layer of text in his artwork quotes from the tabloid press ("Historic bronze for our brilliant gymnasts, but please can we have just one gold. Any sport"); the other layer pays tribute to Team GB's eventing horses: Lionheart, Opposition Buzz, High Kingdom, Miners Frolic, Imperial Cavalier ("Do they get medals, too?").

Day five

Richard Wentworth
The sculptor, curator and lecturer took a break from a camping trip (location undisclosed) to watch Bradley Wiggins take gold in the time trial. He wrote: "The 30-year habit of summer camping sets me apart from world events. Catching sight of televisions in bars is the kind of glimpsing I enjoy – images, languages and events all arbitrarily associated with time and displacement. The latch on this door will remind me of the warm domestic afternoon in early August 2012 when our friends invited us to watch London as a site of Olympic spectacle. An odd thing if you know the city well, but much stranger if you are camping a long way away."

Day six


Michael Rosen
The poet and former children's laureate performed his own new poem about gold medal anxiety – still an issue even at this stage, with Team GB behind France. "I love sport," Rosen said, "but become uneasy when it is overly shackled to nation, corporate grabbing and only-first-will-do-ism. All three and I'm nearly out of here. Imagine there's no countries, it's easy if you try." Here's an extract from his Olympic poem:

I've got gold medal anxiety, gold medal neurosis
doctor doctor give me a diagnosis
Day 1 day 2 day 3 day 4
you was down I was on the floor
feeling such a failure
would I finish below Australia?
Then from the heavens came day 5
I discovered the reasons I am alive
better than when I met Christopher Biggins
Glover, Stanning and Bradley Wiggins.

I've got gold medal anxiety, gold medal neurosis
doctor doctor give me a diagnosis

Then before I came to grief
came the moment of pure relief
as the afternoon began to unfold
I ... won ... double gold.
And yet I had cause to fret
there were silvers for me to regret
I gave the medal table a glance:
Horrors! ... Above Brand GB ... France!
• Read the poem in full

Day nine

Gillian Wearing
The Turner prize 2007 winner was in the Olympic stadium on Sunday 5 August as Usain Bolt crossed the 100m finish line, and took this image (right). She said: "I got into track and field through watching Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett's memorable races against each other at the Moscow 1980 Olympics. After that, I have never missed the opportunity to be a couch Olympics supporter. I was in row 48 of the stadium, quite high up, but just above the finishing line. This image is just after the 100m final. Both Chris Gatlin and Usain Bolt have cameras trained on them. In the corner of the image, Yohan Blake, the silver medal winner, congratulates Gatlin on his bronze."

Day 11

Jackie Kay
The poet and novelist read three new poems, a kind of writer's triathlon, inspired by the Brownlee brothers' medal success in that event, as well as Team GB performances in javelin and cycling. She wrote: "I was struck by the idea that sharing somebody's disappointment is as intense and intimate as sharing their success. I used to be a long-distance runner, a Scottish schoolgirl champion, until I broke my leg and didn't walk properly for a year and a half. So I was thinking about that, too. How quickly we move into our unfit futures!" Here's the final leg of her poem, Point of View:

Farewell Victoria Pendleton
It was a day of drama in the velodrome
As you watched agog, OMG,
As Trott took the omnium
Against the odds of a collapsed lung
Coming home, coming home.
Not one but two golds to her name.
You saw the photo of not so long ago
With young Laura and her Bradley hero.
Not long later, you watched Victoria
Who rode as close to her rival
As a synchronised swimmer
And all the drama was in the lane error
Where the line was crossed in the velodrome
As close as step to pets; palindromes,
The Mearest of lines, the closing line.

So, farewell Victoria dearest, you say.
You salute her. She runs her last lap, and bows.
The last time I'm going to go through that, she says.
And even her brave coach is in bits.
We knew it would end in tears, the TV says.
And they roll down your cheeks too – your armchair, you.
The greatest ever theatre – sport's soap opera.
Victoria. Oh Victoria. Collect your silver!
Your ordeal is over: take your seat on the throne.
Read the poem in full

Day 13

Cornelia Parker
The sculptor and installation artist took this image of her own living room, explaining: "I haven't been able to focus on art since the Olympics started, not quite managing to peel my eyes away from the TV. After too many days of viewing, gorged with patriotism and pride, I starting to behave oddly … too much information perhaps, too much success. Now I find myself draping my daughter's union flag over the TV in a feeble attempt to blot it out – but in the process I manage to cause a minor marital rift as my enraged husband misses a crucial bit of action."

Day 14

Wolfgang Tillmans
The artist and photographer, newly returned to London from Berlin, took this photograph of an Olympic traffic lane in east London. The lanes are now suspended but will come back into force for the start of the Paralympics.


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August 10 2012

Olympics in art: Team GB's success drives Cornelia Parker to distraction

Unable to peel her eyes from the TV, Cornelia Parker finds herself behaving oddly – by trying to blot out the images with her daughter's flag



October 12 2011

Museum of masterpieces

From Kristin Scott Thomas's Parisian scene to Philip Pullman's much-loved Monet, celebrities and big names in the art world talk us through their favourite works



September 22 2011

Mike Leigh, AL Kennedy, Mark Wallinger speak out for the LPO Four

Writers, film-makers, artists and academics 'dismayed' at suspension of four musicians, and urge the London Philharmonic Orchestra to reconsider

A letter to the Telegraph (scroll down) expresses what so many people in the audience at the London Philharmonic Orchestra's excellent opening concert were saying privately last night: that the measures against the four musicians who signed a letter to the Independent protesting against the Israel Phil's appearance at the BBC Proms were absurdly draconian.

Those who signed today's Telegraph letter include filmmakers Mike Leigh and Ken Loach; actors Sam West, Simon McBurney and Miriam Margolyes; writers AL Kennedy, Philip Hensher, Kamila Shamshie and Ahdaf Soueif; artists Cornelia Parker and Mark Wallinger; composer Steve Martland; playwright Lee Hall and others, including many academics and scholars.

The LPO has certainly made a crisis out of a drama. I'm not sure it could have stoked the flames of this episode more effectively if it had tried.

Here's the text of the letter:

We are shocked to hear of the suspension of four members of the London Philharmonic Orchestra for adding their signatures to a letter calling for the BBC to cancel a concert by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

According to a statement from LPO managers, quoted in the Jewish Chronicle, the action was taken because the musicians included their affiliation to the orchestra with their signatures – a convention that is common practice within the academic world, for example.

One does not have to share the musicians' support for the campaign for boycotting Israeli institutions to feel grave concern about the bigger issue at stake for artists and others. There is a link being created here between personal conscience and employment, which we must all resist.

A healthy civil society is founded on the ability of all to express non-violent and non-prejudiced opinions, freely and openly, without fear of financial or professional retribution.

The LPO management states that, for it, "music and politics don't mix" – yet its decision to jeopardise the livelihoods of four talented musicians for expressing their sincerely held views is itself political.

Why should it be so dangerous for artists to speak out on the issue of Israel/Palestine? We are dismayed at the precedent set by this harsh punishment, and we strongly urge the LPO to reconsider its decision.


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September 16 2011

Cornelia Parker selects spectrum of Government Art Collection

Whitechapel Gallery's choice of government-owned art includes works by Andy Warhol and Grayson Perry

A video of a man hanging precariously from a ladder seems somehow appropriate for a collection intrinsically linked to politics and politicians, as does the portrait of Elizabethan statesman William Cecil which recently hung in Ken Clarke's office. A phallic geyser bursting out of the earth may be less obvious.

"People will make their own links," said the artist Cornelia Parker about a new exhibition she has curated, choosing 70 works from the Government Art Collection (GAC).

The show is the second in a series of five at the Whitechapel Gallery in London in which different people are let loose among the 14,000 works in the collection.

Parker said the experience had been fun. She trawled through books and printouts before she decided that she was going to display the works according to colour. "I went through lots of ideas and this one about colour is the one that stuck and it gave me permission to be very eclectic," she said.

It means Old Masters are hanging next to modern work. A portrait of Elizabeth I by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, for example, is near to Brews, a strikingly orange work, by pop artist Ed Ruscha and a big photograph in Liberal Democrat yellow by Jane and Louise Wilson which recently hung in Nick Clegg's office.

Other works in the show include Grayson Perry's Print for a Politician, which George Osborne personally chose for his office, a Peter Blake screenprint of the Beatles, previously in the residence of the deputy UK representative at the UN in New York, some colourful William Turnbull screenprints last in the ambassador's residence in Panama and an Andy Warhol portrait of the Queen from 1985.

Parker has also chosen one of her own works, which was one of a suite of six that for 10 years hung in the Chancellor of the Exchequer's wood-panelled dining room while Gordon Brown was there – a feather from the pillow of Sigmund Freud.

Spending cuts means the GAC is not buying anything for two years, the first time it has been forced to stop collecting since the second world war. It has been acquiring works for 113 years and around two-thirds are out on display at government buildings and embassies worldwide at any time.

Next at the Whitechapel after Parker's choice will be the selection of historian Simon Schama, and after that staff from 10 Downing Street will be making the decisions.

GAC selected by Cornelia Parker: Richard of York Gave Battle in Vain is at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, 16 September-4 December.


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June 25 2011

Folkestone Triennial

Folkestone, Kent

Unlike Margate, just along the coast, Folkestone's creative plans for regeneration do not include the building of a swish gallery by a big-name architect. Instead, the town has taken a more subtle route. In 2008, backed by the Creative Foundation, whose chair is the local philanthropist Roger de Haan, it staged its first triennial, an event so joyful and clever its memory ha s outlasted, in my own case, that of pretty much all the art I've seen since. Scattered so as to make you feel that you alone had discovered each piece, the work was frequently beautiful, occasionally funny and always thought-provoking. Even better, it brought Folkestone's considerable charms – the town, after all, was once so grand it was the favoured holiday destination of Edward VII and his mistress, Alice Keppel – into sharp relief. Stumbling on all this art, so cunningly situated, the future and the past seemed suddenly to work together. I left feeling full of hope.

Three years on, and the Creative Foundation's wisdom is now obvious. Gallery or not, Folkestone is already well on its way to having something that Margate painfully lacks: a permanent collection. Several of the pieces that were commissioned for the 2008 triennial have remained in the town, most notably Tracey Emin's poignant Baby Things – a bonnet, booties and matinee jacket cast in bronze and then "abandoned" on railings and beneath park benches – and Mark Wallinger's Folk Stones, a collection of 19,240 numbered pebbles, each one representing a soldier killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, many of whom would have departed there from the town's harbour (Wallinger's piece has grown so beloved, it gets its own poppy wreath come Remembrance Sunday).

Meanwhile, the foundation's investment in existing real estate is slowly paying off. Fewer shops stand empty. On the harbour, a fabulous new restaurant has opened, its fish fresh off the boats each morning.

It pains me, then, to report that the second triennial is not quite so successful a proposition as the first. On the train, inspecting my blisters – there is a lot of walking to do: its brilliant and determined curator, Andrea Schlieker has commissioned 19 artists, some of whom have contributed more than one work – I tried to convince myself that disappointment was inevitable, given my ecstasy three years ago. But the truth is that this a more patchy affair. In 2008 artists were encouraged to use the town and its ghosts as their inspiration, something that more than justified the triennial's obsession with site specificity. In 2011 the feel is deliberately more outward-looking: its subtitle, after all, is A Million Miles From Home, a theme that nods both to Folkestone's geography – gazing out to France on a grey day, it can feel like the end of the world – and its status as a place where asylum seekers and other immigrants often end up.

The result, though, is a show that is sometimes off-puttingly preachy. The Israeli artist, Smadar Dreyfus, for instance, has recorded in their entirety seven lessons in Israeli schools, lessons that take in such loaded issues as citizenship and the Law of Return. Sitting in the pitch black of an abandoned office building listening to these lessons – a translation is provided on screen in the form of "word pictures" – is an object lesson in the bullying and self-indulgence involved in a certain kind of contemporary art. It's unendurable.

My advice? Avoid the film installations (I counted – yawn – four). Ditto the work that requires too lengthy explanation (in Folkestone's delightfully spooky Masonic Hall, a new and extremely winning venue in 2011, the artist Olivia Plender gamely tried to unpick for me her film installation Are Dreams Hallucinations During Sleep or Hallucinations Waking Dreams; alas, I am still none the wiser – all I can tell you is that it involves a local am dram group doing improvisations). No, head instead straight for the stuff that will hit you bang, smack in the solar plexus. Luckily, there is plenty of it.

The best work makes the most of Folkestone's beguiling topography. Begin your tour high on the Leas, almost as far west as HG Wells's house (designed by Voysey, it's now an old people's home), where you will find Cristina Iglesias's magical Towards the Sound of Wilderness. Iglesias has cut a path through undergrowth – a kind of secret passage – which leads to her "intervention", a terrific mirrored box-like structure whose walls, crafted to resemble thorns, call to mind The Sleeping Beauty. Step into it and, from a window, you will see a Martello tower now entirely covered in ivy. When the hundreds of birds that nest there sing, the experience is genuinely otherworldly.

From here, head east towards the Victorian water-powered Leas Lift. Riding the lift has always been a hairy experience – the descent is dramatic and always, somehow, unexpected – but now it's comical, too. As the mechanism begins to roll, so does Martin Creed's sound installation Work No. 1196, Piece for String Quartet and Elevator: a series of descending scales. Impossible not to smile.

Leave the lift, and you're on the site of the still-mourned Rotunda amusement park. Here stands AK Dolven's desolate and beautiful Out of Tune, a huge tenor bell suspended on wire between two beams. Pull the rope, and it will ring out, melancholy and ghostly. Dolven, who is Norwegian, speaks of having brought something – this old bell – back to life. But to me, it sounds more like a death knell, or a warning.

And perhaps it is. There is so much of Folkestone still to save. Close by is the old harbour railway station: hard to believe, standing among the rust and the weeds, that it was here that the Orient Express used to call. On the tracks is Paloma Varga Weisz's sublime Rug People, a group of men with Modigliani faces cast in bronze, standing on an oriental carpet. For all that is it so physically heavy, this sculpture, it seems to me, is the very embodiment of transience, a family's world reduced to the scant acreage of a patterned rug. I adored it, though it is Cornelia Parker's bronze, The Folkestone Mermaid, on Sunny Sands beach, that the townspeople will want to claim as their own. It's a delightful joke, of course, this nicking of Copenhagan's most famous landmark, but Parker has made a beautiful work in its own right. Strong, proud and human – no flipper for her, though her feet are draped with seaweed – this mermaid's jaw suggests the same patient indefatigability as that of the town she symbolises.

Nearly there now. At the top of the Bayle, hanging in the nave of St Eanswythe's church, is Hew Locke's For Those in Peril on the Sea: a flotilla of votive offerings in the form of model boats in every shade and style you can imagine. It's a work that manages to be both impossibly cheery, and contemplative. Just below it, in the Old High Street, is Erzen Shkololli's Boutique Kosovo. Shkololli, who works in Pristina, has gathered together traditional Kosovan costumes, made by this country's craftswomen – except he has displayed them as if in some upscale minimalist store (think Marni). This is not the most nuanced commentary on globalisation that I've ever seen, but the garments are so fascinatingly exquisite – they seem almost to have the quality of religious relics – I'll forgive him. Besides, isn't this what we want for towns like Folkestone? Small (and possibly useful) shops rather than chain stores. Beauty rather than blandness. What you might call, feeling daring, a soul.


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May 27 2011

This week's new exhibitions

Guernsey Photography Festival, St Peter Port

Packing in big names and greener talents, this fledgling photography festival looks set to become a cornerstone of the cultural calendar. Three British staples headline among more than 20 exhibitions. Pioneer of photography-as-art Martin Parr is showing a selection from his Small World series, where perma-tanned global tourists flood beaches like so many ants. These compliment Parr's hero, Tony Ray-Jones's affectionate images of the British working class at play. Richard Billingham's series of his alcoholic father, Let's Talk About Ray, brings a sobering dose of gritty social realism, while an impressive array of events, screenings and workshops includes a talk from acclaimed documentarist Caroline Drake, and Samuel Fosso, whose twist on self-portraiture and identity see him dress up as black icons.

St Peter Port, Sat to 30 Jun

Skye Sherwin

Linder, London

Linder's record sleeve for the Buzzcocks single Orgasm Addict was a classic: a nude pneumatic babe with a clothes iron for a head and smiling gnashers for nipples. Thirty-three years on, her Frankenstein's monsters of collaged consumer culture retain their bite. Her latest series fuses magazine cookery pages with retro-looking soft porn imagery: wry collisions of the different fantasies sold to men and women. They highlight a starkly similar displacement of physical wants into capitalist baubles, be that women's bodies, food or fast cars.

Modern Art, W1, to 25 Jun

Skye Sherwin

Cornelia Parker, York

The religious allusion in the title of Cornelia Parker's Thirty Pieces Of Silver is amplified by its installation in the nave of the converted medieval church of York St Mary's. More than 1,000 silver pieces are arranged into 30 disc-shaped groups. Each found and collected object – candlesticks, cigarette cases, an old trombone – have been flattened by a steam roller and suspended from the church's ceiling so they appear to levitate. While Parker's work might be predictable – she is the artist who squashes things, explodes them, throws them off cliffs – its metaphoric resonance is undeniable. There is something infectiously melancholic in this poetic reflection on the passing of time, the vanities of materialism and the tragic wastage of personal betrayal.

York St Mary's, to 30 Oct

Robert Clark

Imogen Stidworthy, London

In the past, Liverpudlian video artist Imogen Stidworthy has made work featuring Cilla Black impersonations, criminal gang slang and Romanian street singing. Throughout it all is her interest in language, whether as cultural glue, or through subversive translations. Her latest exhibition is dominated by the incredible but true figure of Sacha Van Loo – a blind linguist, fluent in seven languages, and with an ear finely tuned to hundreds of accents – who analyses wire-tap recordings for the Belgian police. In an installation that uses sound, video and laser scanning, Stidworthy meshes Van Loo's story with elements from Solzhenitsyn's novel In The First Circle. Its account of Stalinist Russia, where imprisoned academics develop technology that jumbles and decodes language, is creepily echoed by police tactics in present-day Antwerp.

Matt's Gallery, E3, to 17 Jul

Skye Sherwin

All That Fits, Derby

Subtitled The Aesthetics Of Journalism, this is an insightful look at fact and fiction in contemporary art which borrows from news and documentary reportage. Curated by Alfredo Cramerotti and Simon Sheikh, All That Fits is being shown in what they call three "chapters" – The Speaker, The Image and The Militant – with the central tenet being "Whereas journalism provides a view on the world, as it 'really' is, art often presents a view on the view." Typical of the ambiguities among the work, Eric Baudelaire's The Dreadful Details brings Manet's 1867 painting The Execution Of Maximilian up to date in images that restage atrocities of the Iraq war in what appears suspiciously to be a Hollywood movie set-up.

QUAD, to 31 Jul

Robert Clark

Ed Ruscha, Wolverhampton

As part of the Artist Rooms touring project of prize works donated to the nation from the collection of Anthony d'Offay, a small but representative collection of drawings and paintings by the renowned west coast American painter. Ruscha depicts the culturally hot landscape of Hollywood with an aptly cool technical restraint. Los Angeles boulevards, billboards and gas stations are reduced to bold compositions of precisely outlined primary colours more familiar in graphic design than fine art painting. Other works more overtly reveal the always-present underlying sense of alienation that affords Ruscha's paintings a psychological tension missing from the more flashy work of many of his east coast peers.

Wolverhampton Art Gallery, to 29 Oct

Robert Clark

House Work, Manchester

It's becoming increasingly common for art to sample, disorientate or mischievously trash neat and proper scenarios of domestic respectability. Jo Lansley + Neeta Madahar present a photographic diptych that uses a bedroom backdrop for evocations of barely suppressed longing. Works by other artists tackle the vulnerability of a domestic or familial sense of security in forms from shantytown sculptures to an account of the last days of a dying grandmother meticulously drawn from mobile phone snapshots.

The International 3, to 17 Jun

Robert Clark

Josephine Pryde, London

An arch yet elusive take on art world anthropology characterises Josephine Pryde's largely photographic work. An earlier series married unsentimental portraits of a baby with song lyrics about the bleak, if hoary, romance of the impoverished artist's life, offsetting creativity, parenthood and art-making in a disquieting mix of temper tantrums and self-validation. For her first UK show in six years, Pryde returns to the theme of reproduction, combining fantasy fertilities with a technologic vision of biological reality. One set of photographs depict teenage girls posing as if pregnant in a perfect stereotype of gendered aspirations, another inserts MRI scans of foetuses in the womb into classic landscape photography, saturated in single colours. The show's title, Embryos And Estate Agents: L' Art de Vivre, sets the teasing tone for how all this might be approached.

Chisenhale Gallery, E3, to 10 Jul

Skye Sherwin


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October 16 2010

Meet the best new artists in Britain

We asked Richard Wentworth, Tacita Dean, Yinka Shonibare and Cornelia Parker to choose the young artist they find most promising – and tell us why

HELEN MARTEN chosen by RICHARD WENTWORTH

Sculptor Richard Wentworth is quite clear why 24-year-old Helen Marten is a young artist to watch: "I admire her sureness, fearlessness and lack of hubris," he says. "It is complicated for her generation. It is as if they were in a ludicrous souk. But she is like a fantastic tourist: intelligently acquisitive, yet editorially selective. She is a brilliant fossicker. She knows how to look."

A is for anarchy… is the title of one of Marten's series – and do not expect any of her work to be law-abiding. She is an artist for whom anything can be subverted: the world's potential grist for her satirical mill. She is captivatingly articulate about what she describes as "environmental window shopping". She was not sure she was going to be an artist (there has always been a competing literary pull), but she did a foundation year at Byam Shaw – part of St Martins – and a degree course at Ruskin (which she calls Oxford's "dirty little sibling"). She introduces me to a sculpture that invokes George Nelson, father of American modernism, made of "slick, sleazy powder-coated aluminium". She describes it as "at once corporate and semi-baroque" and "anchored" by a white PVC tailored suit jacket that is "seedy and flaccid". We also inspect A is for anarchy…, two 3D letter As. The first is sub-titled "Thug Life" and is a "hard, knotty ringleader". The second, his "sidekick", is "slobby, messy, getting into bad scrapes".

She revels in the "remeshing" of the design canon (the more you know about design, the better you will be able to unlock her work). She describes herself as "nomadic", travelling between Macclesfield, where she grew up, and London. Most of the "brute manoeuvring of materials" gets done in Macclesfield. The "condensed thinking" happens on trains and the "grappling with verbal stuff" happens in London. She works with metal and wood, "hard, lofty boys' material", which she describes as "unforgiving" and also with clay which is "relaxing and yielding" – more feminine and spontaneous. In one of her wittiest pieces, three gorgeously entangled clay figures hobnob. They are animated but inconclusively human. The title is: Um, you mean we have to be serious now?.

Marten's aim is to produce a "family of objects and ideas with some sort of circuitry". Wentworth says: "She is making codes – her work is like a contemporary Rosetta stone. It is part of a broad conversation. She is enormously respected. She has a hidden grandeur but no grandiosity. And she has such wisdom… I can talk with her about how the world is made." Kate Kellaway

CHARLOTTE MOTH chosen by TACITA DEAN

'Her work feels like she's travelling, noticing and absorbing, and is not, for the time being, studio-bound or stuck to a particular place or orthodoxy," says Tacita Dean of her chosen artist, Charlotte Moth, before praising her "eclectic use of materials" and "delicacy of touch".

Charlotte Moth's art has taken her all over Europe, but it was in her hometown, Bexhill-on-Sea, as a teenager that she had her first shiver of inspiration: walking past the De La Warr pavilion every Saturday on her way to work, she noted with curiosity the white Modernist hulk amid the old-world grandeur of the seaside resort.

Sixteen years on and Moth, 31, is still fascinated by the shapes and spaces around her, from apartment blocks to empty streets to striking interiors, but is now an established artist who draws on these photographic subjects as a sculptor draws on their material. She avoids restricting herself to one discipline – "I always had a problem at art school because they made you choose departments" – and her work takes in photography, sculpture and, occasionally, film, theatre and music: an exploration of space in all its aspects.

Moth shares with Dean an interest in analogue – Travelogue, her ever-growing collection of photographs of spaces such as hotel lobbies, seaside resorts and deserted offices is shot entirely on film – and an affection for continental Europe: Dean left Britain for Berlin in 2000, Slade graduate Moth has lived in Paris, "on and off" for the past four years. "It's this idea of displacement that's really important," she says. "When you're removed from something, then maybe you can look at it in a different way."

In ParisMost recently, Moth has been working on installations of a "sculptural dialogue" between two works – the one a shimmering curtain, the second a slide show behind the curtain. She also continues to add to Travelogue, in which images are stripped of all context: "Someone who comes to see [them] might not have been at the De La Warr Pavilion but they might have been to a lido in Cornwall, for example, or some exotic place that feels the same. The sense of ambiguity is important because there are many readings an image can trigger." LD

BJORN VENO chosen by YINKA SHONIBARE

Yinka Shonibare was initially drawn to Bjorn Veno's work because, while artists such as Tracey Emin, Cindy Sherman and Paula Rego are renowned for scrutinising the female self in their work, Veno seemed to be the only contemporary male artist doing the equivalent. "I'm older than him but maybe I'm having my own mid-life crisis," Shonibare says, "because I find his exploration of male identity very intriguing. He's very brave to expose himself like he does. It's not something I could do."

Captivated by tales of heroism as a child, 31-year-old Veno uses photography to explore his sense of disillusionment at the man he has become. "I had this idea," he says at home in Rochester, Kent, "that adults were in full control, a bit like James Bond or Indiana Jones. Suddenly I found I'd become an adult and I was actually worse off. You have these perceptions of what it means to be an adult which you cannot live up to."

For the first chapter of Mann, his four part self-portrait series, Veno returned to his childhood home in Norway to photograph himself playing the games of his infancy: set within dark, haunting landscapes, Veno, often naked, looks pale and powerless. In one he crouches next to a Lego spaceship, his underpants round his ankles. Elsewhere he emerges limp and dripping from a lake, the opposite of a triumphant James Bond coming to shore. "I find failure interesting," he says. "As a man you're not supposed to fail." By the final chapter Veno is playing out his hero fantasies. In one shot he's a "confident" swaggering fisherman "ready for a fight".

Shonibare also describes the "odd" quality that Veno's photographs have, something he works hard to achieve, particularly through lighting. For the "tableaux vivants" he works with his camera on timer and performs in character, selecting the final shots from hundreds. In the chapter Veno found the most cathartic, his mother and aunties were also required to react on camera to him "in a bad state, hyperventilating, screaming". The resulting images are both moving and disturbing.

Veno has just started an MA in photography at the Royal College of Art and is represented by London's Nettie Horn gallery. It seems his study of failure is likely to bring him great success."He deserves to do well," Shonibare says. "He has a vast body of work and is more rigorous and focused than so many of his contemporaries." IC

KATIE PATERSON chosen by CORNELIA PARKER

Katie Paterson is an astronomical artist – in the fullest sense of the word. The sky is not the limit for her. It is a beginning. Her champion Cornelia Parker describes her as someone who can "take you out of your realm … she is so original, engaging and expansive – I fell in love with her and her work. She makes us realise how inconsequential we are in relation to the universe." Her work has involved plotting a map of 27,000 dead stars, bouncing Beethoven's Moonlight sonata off the moon in morse code and returning the results into a self-playing piano, making an electric light bulb that duplicates moonlight.

More recently, she has become a connoisseur of darkness. In her beautiful, playful, fastidious The History of Darkness, she has catalogued and dated darkness with the help of telescopes – including the Keck telescope in Hawaii – the most powerful telescope in the world that can look back 13.2 billion light years. Questions that tease us out of thought obsess her: "I like work on the brink of impossibility," she says. She loves immensity – and particularity. One of her works tells the story of a single grain of sand taken from the Sahara desert which, with the help of a nanotechnologist, was turned into the smallest grain imaginable ("I like the idea that it is a sculpture") and then released back into the desert. "The sand is smaller than a blood cell, as close to nothing as you can get but it still exists." Paterson's boyfriend photographed her, in black and white, returning the sand to the Sahara. "I suddenly felt so sad," she said. It was to do with scale – the immensity of the desert and her almost invisible enterprise.

Paterson, 29, laughs as she talks about her work – and acknowledges that it is finely balanced between seriousness and play. She is a romantic (with the romantic's understanding of futility) and with the patience, curiosity and technical persistence of a scientist. Scientists champion her work: she has recently become University College London's first artist in residence in the department of physics and astronomy. She grew up in the western highlands of Scotland and studied at Edinburgh and the Slade, where her MA involved recording a melting glacier – a work that launched her career but is likely to prove just the tip of the iceberg. KK


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June 23 2010

Brassed off at Baltic

Gunshot moulds and battered wind instruments ... artist Cornelia Parker introduces her tumultuous new show



June 18 2010

This week's new exhibitions

Ernesto Neto, London

When it comes to whopping great art spectacles and interactive fun, the Hayward summer shows seem to have it licked. Past exhibitions have included a boating lake on the roof and giant, inhabitable bubbles. This year's looks no exception with Brazilian installation artist Ernesto Neto taking over the upper galleries and outdoor sculpture courts. Typically, Neto stretches sheer coloured Lycra over skeletal constructions to create womb-like tents in which dangling sacs are filled with spice. Imagine being in the body of a giant insect or an alien shrine and you're halfway there. In addition to winding through his famously pongy, gossamer caverns, gallery-goers will get to walk barefoot through a giant "nylon vessel", lounge on vast cushions, and submerge themselves in his "sculpture pool". If this is art as escapism, it seems an innocent one, inviting a happy tumble back into childhood pleasures with creative play and sensory adventures.

Hayward Gallery, SE1, Sat to 5 Sep

Skye Sherwin

Susan Stockwell, York

Susan Stockwell misuses everyday objects and domestic materials to enchanting effect. Past installations have included a map of the world painted with tea on teabag paper and a quilt woven from Chinese banknotes. Here she floods the nave of the church-cum-arts-centre with an intricate sculpture mass-constructed from four tonnes of computer components. Stockwell, while playing with themes of consumer waste, refers to the "toxic exquisiteness" of her hi-tech raw materials, hinting at the double-edged fascination her best work generates. There's an aspect here of simply putting contrasting elements together to see what aesthetic and metaphorical charms might arise.

York St Mary's, to 31 Oct

Robert Clark

Mick Peter, London

Mick Peter's art is overloaded – ingeniously so. The Glasgow-based artist's hulking sculptures might be plastered with concrete and gloopy white paint but they are not what they seem. Underneath the thick outer shell, what Peter has chipped away at is nothing but polystyrene. The excess doesn't end there. His sculptures take their forms from an unwieldy set of obscure cultural references. The starting point for this latest show, for instance, combines Gogol's short story The Nose and the set design for a modernist opera. Yet the work itself has a dumb physical presence, an "emblem of stupidity" perhaps, like the dunce's hat that appeared in Peter's earlier comic book-style drawings. These dense-looking creations belie a wry perspicacity. Weighted down by layers of materials and ideas, they seem to ask what artists can and cannot do, or to put it another way: what's the difference between a fool and an educated fool?

Cell Project Space, E2, to 18 Jul

Skye Sherwin

Nothing Is Forever, London

The nexus of the south London art map reopens its doors after a renovation programme courtesy of 6a, the architects acclaimed for their sensitive development of Raven Row last year. Its premiere exhibition features work by 20 artists, including pieces by British luminaries Fiona Banner and Mark Titchner alongside Americans Lawrence Weiner and Robert Barry. There's vivid colour in Austrian painter Ernst Caramelle's geometric arrangements and Lily Van Der Stokker's sugary, cartoonish works, while David Shrigley provides the jokes. It's all wall-based, with the work destined to be painted over and absorbed into the building's fabric.

South London Gallery, SE5, Fri to 5 Sep

Skye Sherwin

Cornelia Parker, Gateshead

Cornelia Parker's installations are dreadfully poetic, monuments to all that is vulnerable and ephemeral. She's the one who notoriously exploded a garden shed and suspended the spotlit fragments to cast spectral shadows. Here in an extensive exhibition of recent and rarely seen work, collectively enigmatically titled Doubtful Sound, she conjures an atmosphere of pained nostalgia. Sixty silver-plated instruments borrowed from a military band have been crushed flat, suspended in mid-air and lit with a single lightbulb. Her Bullet Drawings are bullets stretched out into wire like graphic trajectories. If this sounds like so much conceptual sculptural silliness, you need to experience the work in the flesh to garner the full power of its sensitivity and sadness.

BALTIC, to 19 Sep

Robert Clark

If You Can Hold Your Breath, Liverpool

The Ceri Hand Gallery has established itself as a venue of international distinction with its programme of often peculiarly edgy art. Accordingly, this show consists of recent work by contemporary artists, including Sara Bowker-Jones and Alex Farrar, who all, in their own curious way, deal with unresolved states and in-between themes. There are deliberate technical awkwardnesses and mistakes. Images are multiple layered, fragmented or obscured; films are stripped of script and character; and scraps of paper are fixed with masking tape.

Ceri Hand Gallery, to 18 Jul

Robert Clark

A Horse Walks Into A Bar, Manchester

Nine contemporary artists, including Mark Wallinger and Richard Billingham, treat the relationship between animal nature and humankind with the full degree of seriousness the age-old subject deserves, while at the same time shamelessly acting the goat. This work, in media ranging from performance to painting, is well aware of art-historical pitfalls, of the sentimentality and the mythologising. Instead we get mischievous and sinister images, perhaps befitting an age in which the interface between animal nature and human nature is more fraught with tension than graced with back-to-nature harmony.

Castlefield Gallery, to 8 Aug

Robert Clark

Whitstable Biennale 2010, Whitstable

This fifth incarnation of Whitstable's biennale confirms the Kentish seaside town is shaping up to be something more than a retreat from the cultural map. With a focus on film works, it boasts new commissions, talks and one-off events. Highlights include celestial works by Katie Paterson, including invisible black fireworks and a cosmology lecture and Adam Chodzko's decidedly earthbound revelations about local history. His "Ghost" kayak is kitted out with a video camera to record its passengers' journeys to Deadman's Island, a former burial site for those who died on Victorian prison ships. Meanwhile, Annika Ström park bench performances summon the spirit of coastal life.

Various venues, Sat to 4 Jul, visit whitstablebiennale.com

Skye Sherwin


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May 25 2010

A history of violence

Cornelia Parker has blown up huts and opened fire on a dictionary. Now she has built a giant gun and squashed an entire brass band. What's with all the pulverising?

Cornelia Parker is staring with astonishment at her new sculpture – a 9-metre-long shotgun. It's as if she's just been handed the present of her dreams – and in a way she has. We're at the factory where the gun has been made, and we can hardly hear each other for all the hammering and drilling. Parker is not one of those artists who insists she's buffed every engraving and screwed in every last screw. No: she's the ideas woman.

She comes up with the concept, specifies what she wants; they make it, she contextualises it. Job done. So the Brobdingnagian shooter will be sent to Scotland where it will rest louchely against a great tree in a sculpture park owned by her wealthy friends Mr and Mrs Wilson. "There's nothing like a 9-metre-long phallic object, is there? Hehehehhe!" Her laugh is loud and staccato, like an attack of hiccups.

The gun against the tree is a homage to a famous 18th-century painting – Gainsborough's Mr and Mrs Andrew, which features a gun in a more conventional context: the weapon is in proportion and slipped through the arms of the young aristocrat, posing with his new wife and hunting dog. Parker's monster gun is playful and disturbing, and poses many questions: what is this blot on the landscape, who does it belong to, what life has it seen? She doesn't provide the answers. She creates stories without plots. A huge gun in an empty landscape: it could be Cormac McCarthy's most pared-down novel.

For 30 odd years, Parker has worked away quietly, unobtrusively, producing work of brutal beauty or sweet carnage. So she'll blow up a hut and shock us with the lovely reconstituted remains. Or she'll squash a whole brass band of instruments with a 250-tonne press and suspend the dimly lit results in mid-air – a piece that will be exhibited for the first time in a show at the Baltic in Gateshead next month.

Some of her ventures have wonderful chutzpah. She'll wrap Rodin's The Kiss in a mile of string, nick the ancient canvases from Turner's paintings and claim them as her art – or interview the great political thinker Noam Chomsky and present that as art. Most famously, she put a sleeping Tilda Swinton in a glass case at London's Serpentine gallery so we could gawp at her as a (barely) living work of art.

Parker, 53, is a dead ringer for Joan of Arc – all bobbed hair, tunics and military bearing. She is a little older than the group that constituted Britart, and a little younger than sculptors Anish Kapoor, Antony Gormley and Richard Wentworth. She says she is part of Britain's lost generation, and you sense she likes it that way. Parker is a conceptual artist, a provocateur, a theorist with a sense of humour.

She grew up in rural Cheshire on a smallholding. Her sickly father had never been out with a girl until he was 34 and met Parker's mother, a German girl who had been traumatised as a Luftwaffe nurse in the second world war. Life was tough and physical – mucking out the pigs, milking the cows. "My father wanted a boy badly and didn't get one, so I was happy to be the surrogate boy. I was very strong, always doing manual labour."

At school, she discovered art. Her teachers, a husband and wife team, took the class to London to visit the galleries. She applied to all the posh colleges, was turned down and ended up at Wolverhampton Polytechnic. The more she studied, the more she realised she was a useless painter. "I remember trying to paint light coming in through a window and being very frustrated by it." Then she realised the painted thing could never be as good as the real thing. "I thought: I don't want to depict something, I want it to be the real thing."

It was only when she left college that she realised what she was interested in – if not why. She would boil up lead on her kitchen stove and make casts of souvenir cathedrals: Cologne, Reims, Sacré Coeur. Then she started to squash, flatten and destroy objects. She uses the word "intuitive" time and again about her work; the art comes first, the meaning afterwards. "I think your subconscious knows far more than your conscious, so I trust it. I just make it first and then it becomes much clearer to me why."

What's with all the pulverising? "I can consciously say I like squashing things because I saw Tom and Jerry films or Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times. That's true." Then there's the subconscious. "A lot of my work has been about stuff I've been frightened of: cliffs, explosions, meteorites, that kind of stuff. I would have been this trembling blob of fear if I hadn't got into making art, which is a good way of deferring it."

There's a third, wholly practical reason why Parker was drawn to destruction when she started out: she's accident-prone. "I was technically very bad, always destroying things by mistake, tripping over things, breaking them, so in a way it evolved into all this."

Hanging out with the army

Parker has history with weapons. There's Embryo Firearms (a pair of cast steel Colt 45 guns in the earliest stage of production); the lead bullets she stretched into wire and made into Spirograph drawings; the pearl necklace fired through a shotgun; and a dictionary shot by a dice called Luck Runs Out.

She collaborates with people who are not natural bedfellows. When she shot pearls for bullets, she was assisted by workers from the Colt firearms factory. "They were all National Rifle Association, card-carrying Republicans – not the people I normally mix with." Who does she normally mix with? "Well, you know, old lefties. Hehehe! I do like stepping out of my comfort zone. The army were great. The major who helped me blow up the shed was more sensitive than most of my lefty friends."

The most incredible thing about these apocalyptic pieces is the end result: from the bang and the wreckage she creates a shimmering beauty. The remnants of the hut, or the charcoal from an arson attack on a black Baptist church in Kentucky get suspended and take on a new dimension. "I think they're quiet, contemplative. You've had the explosion, there's the aftermath, and I reanimate them. Things went up in the air and fell on the floor, and when I got all the debris and laid it out in the gallery it looked like a morgue. But when I put them back in the air they were somehow no longer full of pathos." Actually, I think there's a whole new pathos and optimism in her exploding pieces – life, death and resurrection. Once a Catholic, always a Catholic – even if a lapsed one. She always thought of sin as a black mark on a white background when she was growing up, a recurrent image in her art.

At times Parker's work can be little more than dodgy puns. Last year she put on a firework display that contained a piece of moon rock, and called it Moon Landing. How does she know when something is art or just a punning stunt? She shrugs her shoulders, and says she doesn't much care. "It's a hunch. You get a little feeling at the back of your neck . . . ooh, this is something I want to pursue, and then you end up with a 9-metre-long gun before you know it, and you think shee-it, how did that happen?" Parker is married to the American artist Jeff McMillan. She still speaks broad Lancashire, except for the "shee-it" that punctuates her sentences.

Where on earth do the ideas come from? Some are just batty, aren't they? She nods enthusiastically and tells me why she decided to exhibit the backs of the Turner paintings. She was exploring the conservation department at Tate Britain and came across the spare layers of canvas. "They had this lovely patina on them because they'd had their backs to the walls for 140 years. They looked like very emotional abstracts." The Tate explained that Turner always painted on two layers of canvas, and that they had stripped the extra layer away when they restretched the paintings. "It took me a while to get permission, then I borrowed them, had them framed and put them in a show at the Serpentine."

Bloody hell, that's cheeky. "I was very cheeky, I know." She grins, and says that's not the half of it. "I then wrote to the Tate and said, 'Could you possibly requisition this as an example of my work in the modern collection rather than the conservation department?'" Amazingly, they agreed. Now the spare backs of Turner paintings are credited as Parker's work. "I was thinking of charging them, but I thought: I can't. Ha!"

Much of Parker's work can be seen as creative biography. She's asking us to look at familiar things and people from a fresh perspective and reimagine their history. And, occasionally, she examines her own life – but, as you'd expect, in an unlikely manner. At 44, she surprised herself by becoming pregnant with her daughter Lily, now eight. "I was hugely old when I became a mum. It was a big shock. I think it was a tequila night – I'm married to a Texan!" So what did she do? She took herself off to an auction in New York, bought the night gown that Mia Farrow wore in the horror film Rosemary's Baby and displayed it as a piece of self-reflective art. "She's got a knife in her hand and is about to kill the baby, but she can't because the maternal instincts take over. I was convinced I was going to give birth to the devil. I wanted to wear it to give birth, but it's far too small. Mia Farrow and I are very different."

She must have been in a bit of a state when she bought the gown? "I was. But buying it was really good, a bit like sympathetic magic. Lily is not the devil." Both mother and child are doing just fine now. The gown, the gun, the explosions. Yes, of course with the benefit of time, she can see a pattern. "It's that fear, isn't it?"

• Cornelia Parker's gun sculpture is at Jupiter Artland, Edinburgh, until 12 September 2010.

• This article was amended on 27 May 2010. The original stated that Cornelia Parker grew up in rural Lancashire and ended up at the Slade in Wolverhampton. This has been corrected.


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