I’ve been meaning to write about my visit to the Turner in Margate for some time now, but it hasn’t ever felt right. I think what I saw needed to filter in a bit further.
Initially I was pleased to have stumbled upon another exhibition by Yinka Shonibare and was excited to explain to my children about his fabrics and how they brought the two installations alive. These were well researched and supported. Yet, I know he lends himself more readily to textiles art research but I felt his work was too… accessible? Transparent? Educative? I really respect his research into cultural identity and the issues of immigration and how this helps him work towards and answer of ‘Who am I?’ Yet, it lacked something for me…
I think it lacked pondering, no, it lacked feeling. It felt cold and installed and like a lecture. I learnt so much about his presented subjects: ‘End of the Empire’ considering alliances of WWI and created for the 14-18-NOW partnership. In ‘The British Library’ I was able to read and research the names and connections to immigration of many notable names from British History. But…it was learning, my brain was working, yes true my eyes, but that is as far as my senses were engaged. significantly my feelings weren’t engaged. I didn’t feel changed after having seen it. I didn’t look at the world differently, I just felt more educated for it rather than moved.
Then we went upstairs. In the children’s area (I’m refraining from making derisive comments on the staffing and catchment audience – I’ve had my rant on the forum) aka Clore Learning Studio, local artist Leise Wilson had a beautiful display of her work ‘365 days’ which detail her obsessive (and privileged) documentation of every low tide for the year (2014 and 2015) painted on an identical rectangle of tissue from the same window in her home/studio in Pegwell Bay. Looking across the work the seasons could be seen with the colour change in the sky. It was a beautiful document. How I wish I had that view and could be at that window for every low tide!
Moving on we stepped into the world of Danish artist Joachim Koester. His work ‘The Other Side of the Sky’ was paired with selected watercolours by JMW Turner. I was hooked by the title which conjured up stories and pictures and poems in my head before I even entered the exhibition. We went in as total ignorants to the artist and his work. I read no literature until we had seen the exhibition, then I bought the supporting booklet after to see what it would add to my experience. I entered curious and intrigued, my children were (fairly) willing trailers-behind-mum, Mr Man (who is a self-proclaimed not-arty type but a generous companion) just came in to see. There was lots I didn’t get. Yet, I think part of my unrest and overwhelmedness this week has been down to the fact that there was something in the exhibition that truly got under my skin.
The exhibition began with ‘Some boarded up Houses’ 2009-2014- silver gelatin prints, then ‘Occupied plots, Abandoned Futures, Twelve (former) Real Estate Oppurtunities- 2007 a series of 12 gelatin prints. Mr Man liked these – they held lots of story and were documentary in Nature – and there’s the word that switched me off with Shonibare! My girls and Mr Man loved ‘Praying Mantis’ as they are all fascinated by the creature per se – these inkjet prints along with his film ‘Praying Mantis, 2015 – had them engaged due to the subject matter. I observed these works, again cleanly and non-commitantly. ‘Tarantism’ the film, and ‘The Hashish Club’ and ‘Body Electric’ as well as his other film works were not yet decodable to me. I do not know enough about film to understand the process and I found the subject matter disingeneous and disengaging. However, this was completely turned on its face by the installation ‘My Frontier is an Endless Wall of Points’ a film animation created after the mescaline drawings of surrealist poet and painter Henri Michaux. I have always been fascinated by Surrealist poetry, a little turned off by the over-exposure to surrealist painting but ever captivated by their intentions and experimentalism. This work looked like everything I am trying, but failing, to acquire with colour, even though it was colourless – fluidity, wateriness, marbling, layered, unfixed. I’ve just looked at the work again having appended images to my sketchbook and just realised what I was up to last night in my own sketches, even though I saw this over 2 weeks ago.
I thought, last night, that I was inventing a new handwriting for myself- this comes from my reading on innovators and creatives – you cannot depart from or innovate on a domain without having wholeheartedly absorbed the rules and requisites – one of the only things that I am confidently practiced in is handwriting- so I was experimenting with ‘what if I created a new written language for the sound of music in my body’, in other words I was writing what I could hear of the music that I was listening to (Progressive Trance genre tracks remixed by German DJ Neelix). I’ve looked back at a still of Koester’s ‘My Frontier is an Endless Wall of Points.’ Here am I trying to record my wordless language, what music does inside me, clicking on the links will show you Koester’s work as he animates Michaux’s attempts to ‘explore the inner landscape’ through his meschaline drawings. I don’t need to take drugs to get to this place – just dance music!!
It all goes in – no wonder I need to get to the sea and sky to clear some inner and outer breathing space.
Julie, I should listen to you more carefully – you’ve said to me before that when I get in a pickle there’s something coming!! And I took your advice Inger, some de-stress time – then bang! This all comes together in my head as I type, which then affirms the usefulness of typing up exhibition visits.
Back to Koester, with a renewed understanding. To the piece that gave the title its name ‘The Other Side of the sky’, 2015. This is not just film. This is stunning. I sat and watched, peeped in through the windows of the ramshackle shed – or as Koester describes it in the following film ‘the shack’- which homed the projection camera and film. This piece was commissioned by the Turner gallery and was inspired by the story of Turner having himself tied to the mast of a ship to experience the full force and journey of the snowstorm. This gave Koester the idea of ‘the trip’ and things you shouldn’t normally see – this now explains the films in the other galleries, the trippiness and drug-related works.
I am also pleased that we experienced the exhibition exactly as the artist intended it – on a journey, a walk through, a trip and just see what arises. I like that we saw it innocently and unexpectantly. Now I look into it, the works increase in magnitude and influence.
As for Turner’s ‘Colour Beginnings’ I had written him off when I was a teenager, rejecting anything mainstream, suggested, sanctioned or approved (yes, I know, I still retain chracteristics of this attitude). It is time to look at his works with fresh eyes and engage with them through the open door of Koester’s work – as the supporting booklet details, ‘both artists want to go beyond the appearance of things, to create an image free from reality’s contraints. In Koester’s words, both represent a ‘liquefaction of reality.’ They just depart from different perspectives.’
When your reality has been liquified by the guerilla tactics of another, it is easy to step across this boundary and explore the territory. What remains difficult is coming back.