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June 21 2012

Hepworth Wakefield scores with Luke Fowler

Northern archives from the Workers' Educational Association strike a chord in the Turner Prize shortlister's guest show. Alan Sykes is impressed

Although no doubt disappointed that they lost out to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter in this year's £100,000 Art Fund Prize for Museums, staff at , the Hepworth in Wakefield will console itself with the fact that they have already attracted well over 500,000 visitors in only just over 12 months since the gallery first opened. Many more will certainly stream through its beautiful doors for its two compelling, and highly different, summer exhibitions.

If Luke Fowler wins this year's Turner Prize he will be the fourth artist in a row from Glasgow to win. His exhibition at the Hepworth Wakefield will give the public a chance to evaluate his work before he joins the others on this year's Turner Prize exhibition at Tate Britain in October.


He has previously won the inaugural Jarman Award for artist film-makers, a Paul Hamlyn Award in 2010, and, aged only 25 in 2004, a £25,000 Donald Dewar Arts award, named in honour of the first Scottish First Minister. The new work he is showing at the Hepworth, The Poor Stockinger, the Luddite Cropper and the Deluded Followers of Joanna Southcote is the result of his winning the Contemporary Art Society's "Commission to Collect" award, which the Hepworth won jointly with the Wolverhampton Art Gallery. It will be the first moving image work to be acquired by the Wakefield permanent art collection, which is held by the Hepworth.

The title is a quotation from E.P.Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class, in which the historian and long-time extramural lecturer at Leeds University tried "to rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the "obsolete" hand-loom weaver, the "utopian" artisan and even the deluded follower of Joanna Southcott, from the enormous condescension of posterity". Joanna Southcott was a messianic prophet who attracted a huge following in the early nineteenth century, and who still has believers who think she will return to earth in glory (and, more specifically, in Bedford).


In the past Fowler has used archive film footage to make works about, amongst others, the LSD-admiring psychiatrist RD Laing and the avant garde composer and founder of the Scratch Orchestra Cornelius Cardew, whose members included Brian Eno and Michael Nyman.

In The Poor Stockinger Fowler uses the writings (possibly more quoted from that read) of EP Thompson and his friends Raymond Williams, who wrote Culture and Society, and Richard Hoggart, author of The Uses of Literacy. All three were active in the Workers' Education Association in particular and adult education causes in general as important post war engines for the democratisation of culture. Alongside these the artist juxtaposes research material taken from northern archives and new film footage taken in the West Riding.


Simon Wallis, director of the Hepworth, was quoted in Aesthetica magazine saying of Luke Fowler:

Moving image work is always going to be an important part of any contemporary programme. Our interest in Fowler's work arose from his engagement with experimental film-making and documentary. Wakefield has a historical connection to avant garde film through the work of Lindsay Anderson, who directed several films locally, including Wakefield Express (1952) and This Sporting Life 1963). Anderson's engagement with our immediate geographic environment and the blurring of boundaries between fact and fiction presented a synergy with Fowler, who has always expressed his indebtedness to Anderson's Free Cinema movement.



Luke Fowler's new work can be seen at the Hepworth, Wakefield, from 23 June until 14 October. It is on alongside Artists' Rooms: Richard Long


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May 01 2012

Turner prize shortlist 2012

Paul Noble's weird world may be the frontrunner, but what about the sexy art of Elizabeth Price, the melancholy movies of Luke Fowler or the off-the-wall work of Spartacus Chetwynd?

This is a good shortlist. I was very impressed by the sexy, fetishistic film Elizabeth Price showed at the most recent British Art Show, with its encounters with objects and surfaces and the way the camera eroticises her subjects, including a vinyl LP, kitsch pottery figurines and an egg whisk. Her seductive art is sculpture by other means, and you're never sure whether her work is critique or love affair. Maybe it is both. Like a lot of artists now, Price seems to me to be revisiting modernism and its legacy. Sexy though her art is, it can also be a tad academic.

Luke Fowler's 2009 Serpentine Gallery show should have made him a contender then, but he probably didn't need yet another show. His films have frequently returned to problematic subjects – focusing more than once on the anti-psychiatrist RD Laing. He is attracted to marginal figures and lost souls, like the composer Cornelius Cardew, whose flirtation with Maoism almost wrecked his reputation. But Fowler's work is more than bio-pic dressed up as art. His work is atmospheric, melancholy and sometimes rather moving, whether he is using archival footage or filming new material. I once likened him to the documentary film-maker Adam Curtis. Fowler's films are often long, and I do wonder if the level of concentration his work requires will, like previous contenders the Otolith Group, get lost in the razzmatazz of the Turner prize.

Spartacus Chetwynd (what a name!) is totally oddball and off the wall, often in a good way, though her performances – which have sometimes involved large groups of participants and burlesque props – can be ramshackle affairs. I hope she'll produce something new and gobsmacking for the Turner prize, and not just leave us in a room filled with the detritus of her live works. There hasn't been nearly enough performance art in the Turner prize over the years, and more and more artists are returning to the form.

Paul Noble will undoubtedly be the frontrunner. He used to do funny performance pieces too, but for more than 15 years has focused on drawing his imaginary town of Nobson, with its faecal people and surreal architecture. Drawing can be a kind of performance too, and Noble's reputation is that of a reclusive obsessive, making a private fantasy world in a cloistered room. His art is enormously engaging, lively and peculiar. He says he has finished with Nobson, but on the basis of that alone he would deserve to win – though it's certainly not a cert.


guardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


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