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Tuesday, 30 September 2008

A well hidden secret

The Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool is a rather masculine and heteronormative institution, therefore 'Hello Sailor' is a brave exhibition, as it reveals some of the hidden histories of gay seafarers and their 'floating gay havens'. I'd heard about it in a seminar about exhibiting the 'Other', and had it not been for that, I probably wouldn't have known about it or discovered this secret history.

On visiting the museum, I found the show itself was rather well hidden, but on my second trawl around the manly, navy blue surround, I saw a sliver of pink out of the corner of my eye and thought "ah-ha that must be it", immediately identifying it through a stereotype. The disposable flat-pack display with harsh lighting and pink candy stripe boards, stands in stark contrast to the somber darkness of the permanent exhibitions, making it feel like a bit of light relief from the preceding 'important' history on show. Most of the visitors I saw had stumbled upon it by mistake and were quite surprised, many finding it interesting and a part of history they'd not considered before, then there were the embarrassed sniggers and cliche homophobic responses, (sadly not surprising), although I think it's terrible that such history is still quite hidden and difficult to handle. A show like this should be permanent and taught as a significant part of history, aspects of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) life should be embedded in general history, rather than segregated as an 'other', then maybe other sexualities would be normalised and people wouldn't be so ignorant and fearful. It can be difficult to identify LGBT historical items though, without avoiding stereotypical kitsch, camp fashions, or pride memorabilia for example. Much of it is everyday and can be lost without cataloging and labeling, museums are often guilty of omitting information that may be seen as provocative or sensitive.

Hello sailor is dressed up in 'camp', with an installation of a gay man's cabin, as its centre piece, a flamboyant, bright orange feathered ball gown, swings from the wardrobe amongst feathered boas and other bits of frilly tat, posters of Rock Hudson and other sexy beefcakes of the time adorn the walls, and camp icon Kenneth Williams stars wearing his sailor suit in a photo pinned to the mirror. This is fun and entices the viewer in, but is it really an accurate portrayal of these seafaring men, or does it just feed stereotypes? Although dressing up and putting on cabaret shows was very much a part of life at sea for these men, their history goes far deeper...

My visit to the exhibition was very informative and enjoyable, it was intimate in the telling of stories and celebratory of the sailors lives. It was a step forward but could go so much further like the accompanying book does. Despite the stereotypical nature of the show, it does open up history and debate though. Is it ok then to use stereotypes in the teaching of 'other' cultures and histories? Is it avoidable? How far should the museum go in portraying an accurate account of what really went on, if it means being controversial and offensive to some? And what of so many more hidden histories and stories?

Hello Sailor is at the Merseyside Maritime Museum until January 2009.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Pick of the Week 29th Sept 2008

This week's recommendations, courtesy of our team of bloggers, include an exhibition at the Tate, a chance to see the future of the London tube, a trip to the Photographer's Gallery, and a chance to check out this year's Turner nominees before the winner is announced.

Joao and Lisa recommend... Francis Bacon at the Tate
Tate describes the exhibition: "Francis Bacon was one of the greatest painters of the twentieth century and this unmissable exhibition will bring together the best and most important paintings from throughout his turbulent life."
11 September 2008 - 4 January 2009.
£12.50 (£11.50)
Free for Tate Members Patrons and individual children under twelve when accompanied by an adult.

Richard recommends... See London's New Air Conditioned Tube Trains!
Euston Square Gardens
(outside the main entrance of Euston mainline station)
Daily until Thursday 2 October 09:00-19:00

Holly recommends... The Photographers Gallery Dryden Goodwin - Cast
26 September - 16 November 2008
Exploring a rich dialogue between drawing and photography, Cast is a major exhibition of newly commissioned work by British artist Dryden Goodwin.

Also at the Photographers Gallery - The Soho Archives 1950 & 1960
26 September - 16 November 2008

Carly recommends... Drift 08
26th September - 19th October 2008
An exhibition on the River Thames.
Go even if its just to see Julien Berthier's, apt sinking ship titled love-love at Canary Wharf

Sam recommends... Turner Prize 2008
30th Sept - 18 January 2009
Winner announced on December 1st
This years artists are: Runa Islam, Mark Leckey, Goshka Macuga and Cathy Wilkes

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Sonia Blair: Playing With Myself

London’s Truman Brewery plays host to an exhibition of new paintings by artist Sonia Blair, aptly titled, playing with myself. The works explore childhood, memory, and self-sabotage through the recurring image of a little girl and with references to nursery rhymes and bedtime stories.

Inspired by these fables, Blair has used characters like Red Riding Hood and Alice in Wonderland to tell a more personal story of childhood and its consequent relationship with adulthood. The images associated with ‘child’ and those associated with ‘adult’ are juxtaposed and we are forced to consider our own feelings of what it means to be a child, in general and personally.

The already-dark undertones in these fairy-tales are enhanced by Blair’s mischievous character, who often sports oversized high-heels and a wry expression. The apparent irony is crucial to these paintings’ success, not least because Blair seems to be palpably aware of it. She reveals her graffiti-background in the characters rounded, almost manga-esque, features and the use of board rather than canvas, but the works have a much more serene impact than graffiti with their autumnal colour-palette, soft-focus and obvious brush-strokes.

With an unusual blend of darkness and light, desperation and humour, these works are genuinely beautiful and still manage not to take themselves too seriously. They signal a new wave; a visual art which has managed to combine the street, the gallery and (eventually) the home in an incredibly appealing, refreshing and reassuring way.

Playing with myself is on from 26 September – 5 October, 11:00-19:00, at Shop 14, Truman Brewery, Hanbury Street, London E1 6QL


The Intriguing and Elusive Meaning of Entertainment - With Reference to the Astounding 'Miss Behave’s Variety Nighty'

Although it seems like such a long time ago, a time of wearing t-shirts and contemplating ice cream, it was only last month that I meandered my way in the sunshine to The Roundhouse to see Miss Behave’s Variety Nighty.

As an avid fan of all things kooky and cabaret, I was looking forward to the evening at hand, but disappointed that as a poor student I could only afford the £10 ‘Restricted View’ tickets.

Firstly, if you have never stepped foot in The Roundhouse, it is certainly a must. The very scope of the auditorium is amazing. It feels both cavernous and warming, plush and sparse, a real dichotomy of architectural gems. You can see why it serves as both a venue for high energy, crowd enthused gigs, and as a space for both intimate theatre and spacious circus. Oh, and yes, it is round.

As the audience entered for the show you couldn’t help feel that little tingle of excitement that comes from the jovial murmur of a large group of people out for a good time. My companion and I were shown to our shared table by Miss Behave herself, as she wandered through her adoring onlookers squeezed elaborately into tight red PVC. “Table 9?” she enthused, “You’ll love it, great view!” And she wasn’t just wearing the mask of gracious hostess… It turned out my lowly ten quid had got us prime seats right at the edge of the stage. Not only that, but table service too! Never has a tenner been better spent on an evening of theatre!

Although we didn’t have the traditional ‘proscenium’ view, it only served to heighten our experience. When Dusty Limits sang, it seemed he sang only to me. When Miss Behave swallowed a sword, we knew it was no trick. When the stunning aerial artists performed, they swung above our heads with ease and without fear – the gorgeous trapeze artist even climbed down a rope right beside my companion and kissed her sweat-ily on the cheek before darting off, much to my jealousy.

It was a fabulously well-executed affair, with performative stage hands, amusing and unusual acts, and Miss Behave served as an extremely able and knowing hostess, encouraging the laughs and berating the slightly too noisy lads. (Poor boys, the PVC, the burlesque, the booze – it was all a bit much for them… That’s what you get for going out for ‘team building’.­)

Though, the one thing that intrigued me the most about this event was not how Lucifire, Queen of grotesque burlesque, managed to escape her literally blazing routine unscathed and without burning the building down, but a small note accompanying the programme…

To paraphrase, it read along the lines of, “There is no message to this show. If you leave entertained, we have done our job.” A standard sentiment, it seems, for the genre – after all, that’s entertainment! However for those who have decided to focus their academic study on the recent resurgence of cabaret, burlesque, variety and their affiliates (ahem. Me.) I find I cannot help but find the ‘message’. Even if none is intended, how can I not wonder at the queer identities on show, the play of gender and of sexuality. The very fact it is on a stage ‘means’ something to me, but it doesn’t mean I don’t have a jolly good old time watching the show. Perhaps it is thinking about these unintended, but nevertheless, always present meanings that makes it ‘entertaining’ for me personally?

In short, this leaves me wondering – in a Carrie Bradshaw style;
Does academia make you a bad audience for ‘entertainment’?

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Texture in Painting

Visiting the Tate Modern last Monday, I took a look around a current free exhibition Sign and Texture as well as some of the newly hung permanent exhibitions. As I was looking at these paintings it occurred to me that they were not being used to their full potential. André Masson’s paintings with sand create a lovely grainy look but viewers are unable to run their fingers over the gritty medium. Fred Williams’ thick paint blobs add an extra layer to his oils on canvas but the 3D effect would make more of an impact if we were allowed to trace the hilly landscapes of the pieces with our own hands.

But I guess museums just can’t trust us to clean our hands first.

I know there are some exhibitions where the audience is allowed to touch and play with the art, but I’m not aware of any that let you simply feel the surface of a painting. Perhaps I’m just weird, but I like to fully experience beautiful things, and touch is a wonderful way to really engage with a piece, especially when the artist has put so much effort into making it tactile. Am I alone in this?

Friday, 26 September 2008

SHOWstudio: Fifteen Minutes of Fashion

Digital-fashion innovators have produced a fascinating exploration of a side to London Fashion Week we don’t often see much of: the designers.

Portrait photographer Giles Price and curator Magda Keaney have collaborated with SHOWstudio, one of the world’s forerunners in new-media fashion, to exhibit a series of before-and-after portraits of British designers. Inspired by Andy Warhol’s famous citation that, in the future, everyone will have “fifteen minutes” of fame, Fifteen Minutes of Fashion enables us to see the designers’ faces five minutes before and after their catwalk show and consequently ponder the contrast so evident in them.

Unlike Warhol’s now cliché, however, these designer’s fifteen minutes of fame is a biannual occurrence, generally happening whilst the collective fashion-eye is wide open and scrutinising the catwalks of the world. Despite this scrutiny, the majority of people never get a chance to see the designer’s personal reactions to their show. Fortunately, these photographs give us that chance by shedding a private light on a relatively public moment. This is due to the implicit intimacy of the portraits, where Price has skilfully revealed a personal side to the designers, the overwhelming raw emotion such an event can bring about, without allowing us to forget they are in a room full of people.

The success of this project is evident in Keaney’s selected subjects, whose variety in age, gender and renown creates a perfect balance with Price’s superb spur-of-the-moment photography, providing viewers an alternate and intriguing aspect to the usual fashion week commentary.

It is this sort of project, where creatives put their talents into generating innovative ways of exploring and expanding our traditional media-models, which pushes fashion forward and challenges those who are reactive or ignorant to the exciting changes occurring in the industry.

To read about Giles Price, Magda Keaney, the Fifteen Minutes of Fashion project or SHOWstudio, visit


That's Entertainment

I was walking in to my local Brighton shopping centre when I saw a large crowd gathered. I got a tad excited and went to see what all the fuss was about. I was disappointed when I saw a person dressed in a shoddy monkey suit playing on a tatty drum kit, with a good amount of change in his hat. This monkey was out to entertain and it seemed that he was successful...

This got me thinking about the word ‘entertainment’.

It is a loaded word, I associate it with negativity as for me it immediately means something with no depth. Adverts for musicals on the underground that say 'Highly Entertaining' and the genre of 'light entertainment' which covers the likes of The Generation Game!

However, isn't the main purpose of all performance to entertain? Are there different levels of entertainment?

I recently saw 'In-I' at the National Theatre, I found it enjoyable but I wouldn't use the word entertaining. But what's the differeince between being entertained and enjoying somthing? I think I also associate that word with comedy. There are lots of these loaded words, like 'experimental' and 'fringe' and these are often linked with being serious or pretentious (I hate that word). Do people call these types of performance entertaining?

Was this crowd entertained by the performing monkey? Were they just following the crowd? Am I generalising horribly? Or am I just asking too many questions?

I saw Pina Bausch's Rite of Spring, a highly intense performance where the dancers were literally hurting themselves in aid of the intricate and fierce choreograpy. This peice got to me, inside my stomach, the endurance of the dancers was gut wrenching. Was I entertained? Is this different classification of enjoyment?

Dreams of an Archivist

I saw a fairy today on the concourse of Manchester Piccadilly train station. The fairy was dressed in a bride's attire and she floated along singing the words "Better things are electric", accompanied by a Disney-esque orchestra, which played all but a few bars until the fairy began again. The loop went on for two very surreal minutes and stopped only when the platform was announced for the delayed 1425 to London Euston.

I haven't slept all that well for a few days and after discovering the work of the illustrator Martin O'Neill as part of a birthday card I made two days ago and moreover being submerged within my own archive of ephemera, I have manifested an acute ability to cut and paste in real time.

You'll know who I mean by Martin O'Neill ( His ecclectic montages of surreal and often iconic commercial imagery, are so virtuoso that he has in fact created his very own brand; deployed by the likes of Land Rover, Jaguar and Guinness no less to name just a few. O'Neill moved out of London to Hastings, in order to make way for his monumental, and ever growing, archive of analog imagery. Rifling through car boots sales, magazines, house clearances and flea markets, the man is obsessed, yet it is this meticulous attention to period, to detail, to the original purposes of his images, that make his worlds so compelling.

The fairy of my own reverie, if you're wondering, is actually from an advertisement broadcast during the 1930s to promote an all-electric flat in Hackney. She's the little talisman of the new electrical age if I may take you briefly back to the 1930s. She'll float out of your chimney or your charred gas oven and chant a jolly tune about the toaster, the curling tongues, the electric oven, the drying cupboard, the fridge, the washing machine, the three prong plug socket and you will prance gaily to the merriment of her sing-song and promptly coax your husband into buying not one but the whole range of these novel appliances for your new, all-electric flat. She's a crafty one that fairy. "Better things are electric"...sing along!

Like O'Neill, I'm an obsessive archivist, the difference that I have been collecting objects specific to the brave new world of electricity from the 1920s to 1950s. This ostensibly off-the-wall discourse through which electricity was presented to its consuming public has brought to my library fairies, sprites, spirits of the spark, wizards in the wall. My work invites me to another realm, which is part real, part imaginary; both tangible and sublime, and where past is cut out and glued on to the present. I do see fairies, yes, but I'm confident my enlivened apparitions bring with them an element of credence to my work, especially when I am thinking in terms of live art and performance. I am obsessed oh yes! but past and presence in celebratory alliance, makes for an enchanting world to live and work in.

I just hope to goodness my glue runs out soon because this fairy is starting to piss me off and I really do need to get some sleep.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Pick of the Week 22.09.08

Welcome to the first Pick of the Week.
Every Monday our bloggers will recommend shows and gigs that they have seen and done and think you should do and see to. If you have been to see anything great and worth talking about then please let us know in the comments section.

Pick of the week for 22 - 29th September 2008

Film - Welle, Die aka The Wave out Friday 19th

Installation - Roger Hiorn's Seizure
and for more info and images check out shapeandcolour blog
Be warned queueing to see the work may be necessary, particularly on weekend afternoons.

Theatre - Eurobeat at the Novello Theatre

Film - Tropic Thunder

In Sheffield - Abundance presents Earth, Hand, Mouth, Earth
Access Space, 1 Sidney Street, Sheffield, S1 4RG
A series of photos and a video installation from this year's harvest of the fruits of Sheffield's streets and public spaces. Abundance takes a colourful perspective of the otherwise forgotten fruits of the season, celebrating the city as one big communal orchard.

Deptford X 10: 'Ghost Trade and the Spectre of Change'
private view on Thursday 25th September 6.30 - 8.30

Podcasts - Run Riot podcasters, Patrick and Emre, have just launched a new Dotpod podcast.

Visual Art - Hew Locke: The Kingdom of the Blind at Inviva
03 Sep – 20 Oct 2008
A new installation exploring the visual language of social and political power

...............and don't forget to check out Open Rehearsal in London from 26-28 September

Friday, 19 September 2008

Delicious Mixed or Separate

I am currently two weeks into my Foundation Art and Design course and I have been spending most of this time being encouraged by my tutors to explore all of the corners of the visual arts spectrum. Up until now I have been learning the arts in specific categories; in my fine art classes I did painting, drawing and sculpture and had to make sure I didn’t veer too much into design. In my graphic design classes I spent most of the time on Photoshop and little traditional art found its way into my coursework. The other three classes that formed the art department were photography, textiles and 3D design. I only got to touch on the basics of these disciplines in my classes.

Now I’m a BTEC student I’m finally getting a taste of everything and it’s peculiar to me how it all mixes in so easily. In textiles projects we can make sculptural 3D design clothes, in 3D design projects we can use graphic design to create beautiful shells and packaging, in photography projects we can use a paintbrush and make a traditional fine art painting out of photo paper and chemicals.

I can’t quite explain how refreshing it is to not have to worry about which discipline I’m following. However, as I’m planning to follow the graphic design aspect of the visual arts, I’m going to have to be careful to not get used to doing whatever I want. Artists can do whatever they want. Designers can usually only do what their client wants. (Although that’s not to say that I can’t put my own little spin on anything I create).

As Foundation Art and Design mainly functions to get us into university, we’re encouraged to mix the disciplines. Our 3D design teacher told us how when he went to his interview for his architecture degree, the interviewers showed little interest in the 3D work of his portfolio and instead quizzed him about his intentions and criticisms of the rest of his work. Universities and employers like artists and designers with a broad knowledge of art. After all, a photographer can only bring so much to photography, whereas a photographer/fine artist/graphic designer is going to have a lot more experience with composition and lighting.

In art, a jack of all trades will often do better than a master of one.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

A Warm Welcome

Hello readers

I am glad you have managed to navigate your way through the plethora of projects, events and artists’ works to find us; and now you’re here you’re probably wondering what this blog is about.

The Artsblog is a new initiative set up by Artsadmin and a group of people who have taken part in or been involved with past projects here at Toynbee Studios. This group made up of past Summer School students from 2007 and 2008, Thinktank members and a range of artists and teachers, all here to get your responses and input into the Artsblog. Have a look through our bloggers profiles to find out a bit more about them and the kinds of things we will cover as well as our interests and talents!

The blog has been developed people with a passion for live art and performance. All the bloggers on here are working for free and we don’t earn any money through advertising or sponsorship, we are doing this because we want to open up the often small circles formed in the live art and performance world, we want to encourage good old conversation and debate!

So if you like a post let us know, and equally if you think that we are talking rubbish then bloody well tell us about it – constructively, of course!

So seeing as you are here, let us know what you think about the idea of the Artsadmin Artsblog. We need your feedback to make this a success. Tell us what you want to read about and where we’ve been… take ownership! This blog will only ever be as creative, vibrant and thought provoking as its’ readers and contributors… and judging by our bloggers the Artsblog is gonna rock!

Speak up!