To follow - read down left column and then down right column

Sissel Tolaas

Part of her job includes working with the likes of architects, environmentalists, and even commercial companies to create 'smellscapes' of different cities, including Berlin, Mexico City, and Kansas City, Missouri. She’s been doing this since the early 2000s and already has smell profiles of 35 cities in her library. Altogether, she has a collection of more than 7,000 scents from various projects in her Berlin laboratory.

To Tolaas, there’s no such thing as a good or bad smell. That, she says, is a product of prejudice people are taught early on. 'In my world, there is no hierarchy within smells,' she tells CityLab. 'Every smell has the potential of being interesting.'

Capturing a city’s smells, she says, requires some creativity. What she deems as part of a city’s smellscape can’t scientifically be proven by using, say, lab rats. So she uses her own nose (and those of volunteers) to identify a smell and find the source of it. Then she brings a sample of the object back to her lab and extracts the odor molecules using a machine supplied by International Flavors & Fragrances Inc. The company also helps her identify the key molecules, and Tolaas gets to work on making a synthetic replicate of the smell.

While not full-on science experiments, she does try to collect odors that are constant. 'I walk down the street early in the morning, in the middle of the day, and the evening to reassure that the smell is not just something that you pass by one second, and in the next second it's gone,' she says. 'It has to be permanent.'

Tolaas thinks we don’t use our noses enough. And really, that’s what her projects are about: reconnecting humans with their noses. Evolutionarily, she points out, human noses were used to find food, shelter, and partners. But now, 'we are asked to smell commercial products, perfume, etc., but we're never asked to smell a city, to smell each other,” she says. “It's not fair toward the body, humanity, or the world.'

Yet the smells of a city or your neighbor provides stories and background that can’t necessarily be seen, like someone’s cultural background or the events that have taken place inside a house or community. So she wants to retrain people to use their nose, teaching kids how to gather information through scent and ridding adults of their prejudices toward smells.

It’ll come especially handy in a world that Tolaas says is driven by how something looks. 'Tolerance doesn’t start with how you look and what you believe; it starts with how things smell.'

Tim Hawkinson

The source of inspiration for many of Hawkinson’s pieces has been the re-imagining of his own body and what it means to make a self-portrait of this new or fictionalized body. In 1997 the artist created an exacting, two-inch tall skeleton of a bird from his own fingernail parings, and later made a feather and egg from his own hair. Believable even at a close distance, these works reveal Hawkinson’s attention to detail as well as his obsession with life, death, and the passage of time.

'Tim Hawkinson’s fantastical works suggest the profound strangeness of life, matter, and time. Interweaving images of bodies and machines, at scales that vary from the monumental to the nearly microscopic, Hawkinson conjures a world that teeters on the cusp between the real and unreal.'

Tom Friedman

Tom Friedman transforms these ordinary, everyday materials into unexpected and beautiful artworks. Friedman's such art making has roots in a breakthrough that he experienced when he was a graduate student. Having realized that art should not be defined by its formats, he emptied his studio completely, painted everywhere white, and lighted the space with fluorescent light fixtures on the ceiling. In this almost like a sensory-depriving space, Friedman started his new explorations by bringing objects one by one, once again.

Many years ago, I was influenced by Zen Buddhism. I had an epiphany when I heard the story about the dog. The Zen Master said to his student, 'it's not 'It's a dog!'...It's just Dog! Dog! Dog!' To me, the direct experience is what art, even what life, is all about. Subject and object can and do, in those great moments, dissolve into themselves, leaving us in simple wonder. The direct experience, the thing itself, Not Something Else . In 1,000 Hours of Staring, Friedman raises questions about the boundaries that have been drawn around artistic activities.


22 – Molecular Communication, Tolaas investigates the smell of Müllerstrasse

Paul Hazelton 

For Hazelton, this process of creating something out of nothing poses obvious existential questions. He writes of his skeletal work Being and Nothingness (2007) that it 'exists as a result of something that was forced into being. That is what I do – if it doesn’t exist I will make it exist. For Sartre, what defines us is our undefined non-determined nature. If this is true, then our awareness of what we are not forces us to invent something from the nothingness of our being.'

'As dust settles upon a given surface it begins to transform that surface into a kind of drawing. When I make a dust sculpture I am lifting that drawing and reshaping it.'

Tim Hawkinson's 'Bird' 1997

Paul Hazelton's Dust Sculpture

Reading - Collections, Smell

Reading - Collections, Smell

Altered Spaces (Painting)

Reading - Collections, Smell

Reading - Collections, Smell

Reading - Collections, Smell

Reading - Painting, Altered Spaces

Justin Mortimer

The London-based artist works from collaged photographs he’s found on the Internet or in second-hand books, and paints them in new contexts on large canvases. The bodies are often contorted—children with limbs bent by genetic anomaly, soldiers doing calisthenics, porn actors mid-performance—and the action of the final composition is ambiguous, implied, or partially hidden. In a recent series, bunches of balloons dominated the foreground of battlefields and operating rooms, and parts of prone bodies (possibly corpses) jutted out from behind them. For Mortimer, the balloons are intended to be both sardonically festive—one curator-critic has called them a nod to the post-recession hangover of the 1990s “Party decade”—and also a more heavily anxiety-laden image, meant to evoke pustules and whatever else might spontaneously burst forth from our skin.

'The nudity shows vulnerability. I was using a lot of naturism photography a few years ago. Naturism is a sort of utopian idea. It was present in 1930s Germany and 1950s America. For me there was this sort of lovely freedom to it, but it also reminds me of photographs of people being stripped before they’re executed. I wanted to suggest that in the paintings: people being dragged out of their homes, humiliated, stripped, shot. We’ve all seen the photographs of 1940s Europe with the pits.'

'I like my work to be quite non-explicit. In some ways I want to show the deed, but I don’t want to show the deed. So, is what’s happening in the piece the result of an action that I’m painting? Is it an action that’s about to happen? I’d also like to set up the idea that the viewer could be the protagonist in the drama. So, are you, the viewer, actually the person who’s controlling what’s happening in the picture-space? In “Tract,” there’s a shadow at the bottom of the painting, which could almost be cast by the head of the viewer. I like the idea that you are possibly viewing what’s happening, but you can’t really see it. I like to make you think you’ve got to go around objects to try to imagine what’s happening behind them. Frankly, I’m not a clever enough artist to be explicit; I think it would be quite banal. I think the imaginative possibilities are much stronger.'

'When I’m composing ideas for pictures I roughly sketch them out on the computer. I scan images, I collect all the data that I have on my hard drive, image databases, from scans of cats, to wedding cakes, limbs, background photographs that I’ve taken on holiday. Through the process of using the computer you can come out with a very realized image very quickly making it a very seductive process. But it’s up to me to translate that to a piece of work from that digital image. I certainly become very seduced by the sort of pseudo realities that can be made in Photoshop. So when I start painting I very quickly see holes and problems in the image and also how banal that image is. It’s up to me to bring something in with the use of paint. As I make the image, the painting starts to dictate the image so I move away from the initial source that I made on the computer. In fact, I often make the image on the computer, begin the painting, see the problems or the good things, and go back to the computer to redraft that image, scale it up, and reimpose that onto the image again. So my pictures are quite fragmented looking because it’s often a combination of six different images all part of the same thing. I’m constantly looking for those serendipitous clashes with the first layer doing something interesting with the top layer. It dictates itself, it has its own volition, which is a completely different process from when you are working on the computer.

Reading - Painting, Altered Spaces

Reading - Painting, Altered Spaces

Reading - Painting, Altered Spaces

Justin Mortimer's 'Kraal' 2012

Justin Mortimer's working process for 'Depot' 2006

Matthias Weischer

Matthias Weischer’s Interior sets up an ambience of corroded decadence. Here Weischer’s formalist interests are presented with more naturalistic qualities. Exploiting his media to its full potential, Weischer creates spatial illusion through his application as well as composition: the heavy folds of the curtain are painted with concrete ballast, while the ceiling writhes with liquid fragility. Weischer renders the receding wall with battered texture, the illusion of movement gives way to a fanciful mural; a portal to a mystical landscape, incongruous with this dilapidated setting.

Weischer’s investigation into the depiction of three-dimensional space is of great importance in his work. He ignores the laws of classical perspective and rather dictates his own. Collage-like painted elements build upon imagery that is as diverse as wallpaper motives, mosaic floors, windows sills, pieces of furniture, loose bricks or part walls, and the occasional reference to a figure or element in settings that range from desolate rooms to lush fields in the countryside.

The multiple layers in Weischer’s work reflect a continuous search for uniting void and substance. His interest in the process of building a composition and searching for the equilibrium of chaos and harmony, places his work on the edge of reality and illusion.

'(Work process) It’s largely spontaneous. It’s very abstract, an abstract mess at the beginning. The painting emerges from chaos and then I find order from that. What is it going to be? Is it going to be a landscape, an interior? And then the chaos becomes a sort of atmosphere. Then the atmosphere leads me to the object. It’s coming from the background into the foreground. The objects are really coming at the absolute end. They are the end point.'

Maurits Cornelis Escher

Escher depicted landscapes and natural forms in a fantastic fashion by using multiple, conflicting perspectives. He portrayed with great technical virtuosity impossible architectural spaces and unexpected metamorphoses of one object into another. Escher commonly used geometric grids to form intricate interlocking designs.

M.C. Escher's 'Hol en Bol' 1955

Matthias Weischer's 'Interior' 2003

Paul Rebeyrolle

His powerful and generous work is a call to freedom, a seditious act against the many faces of injustice, oppression, estrangement of man and his knack for self-blinding. it’s a hymn to the violent beauty of an indomitable nature, too.

He was part of a group of French artists who were united in their promotion of expressive Social Realism in opposition to the current schools of abstraction. They came to public notice in 1948 when Michel de Gallard, Bernard Lorjou, Yvonne Mottet, Paul Rebeyrolle and Michel Thomson exhibited at the Gal. du Bac, Paris. They declared that ‘man is an eater of red meat, fried potatoes, fruit and cheese’, solidly rooted in the elementary material needs of daily life, and that his need in consequence was for true, authentic and direct pictures. They set the solid common sense of the populace against the refinements of the abstractionists who, engrossed in their purely pictorial problems, had lost contact with ordinary life. (at time 3:42 to 7:22 - see him create pieces)

Contextual Practice (Being Invisible Can Be Deadly)

Paul Rebeyrolle's 'Homme tirant sur ses liens' 1979

Paul Rebeyrolle's 'Deux depouilles de blaireaux' 1993

Marlo Pascual

Marlo Pascual creates images and installations that give photographs a new life as objects are removed from the context in which they were taken. Pascual cuts, folds, impales, and situates the enlarged prints in minimalist assemblages that employ props such as large rocks and plants, coat racks, and fluorescent lights. She highlights the fragility of the image and takes the photograph out of the realm of the two-dimensional world into the three-dimensional world.

'When I was picking images, it was based on the fact that the images seemed overtly constructed. I liked photos where you could tell the subjects were posed and read as artificial, and that was more obvious in  older photos.

Paul Rebeyrolle's 'Mouton Noir Depece' 1994

Contextual Practice (Language and Text)

Marlo Pascual's 'Untitled' 2009

Marlo Pascual's 'Untitled' 2010

Martin Creed

It characterises his desire to communicate and interact with the viewer – to create a reaction and stir an emotion. For Creed, experience is fundamental to understanding his work and he asserts that his art is “50% about what I make and 50% about what other people make of it.” His work is often playful and minimalist and ‘Work No. 975 EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT’, blazoned across the Gallery’s frieze, operates in a similar vein. Visually spectacular in its neon audacity, the work, however, encourages a more contemplative response. Although it is at first an overtly familiar and reassuring phrase, it plays on our personal insecurities and gently suggests that everything might not be alright.

Fiona Banner

Banner came into prominence through her "wordscapes" or "still films"—works such as this one that explore how stories are perceived and reimagined, particularly in pornography, action films, epic films, and films about war. Break Point (its title reverses the title of the film) is the largest in a series of prints that considers the genre of the car chase. Here the artist transforms her detailed description of a seemingly endless, yet climactic, chase—including dialogue, action, scenery, and sound effects—into a block of text the size of a billboard or, more aptly, a cinema screen. As pursuer closes in on pursued, the words literally crash into one another, creating an abstract visual corollary to the rousing action of the film.

Martin Creed's 'Work No.203: Everything is Going to be Alright' 1999

Material News (Sculpture)

Fiona Banner's 'Break Point' 1998

Reading (Library Induction) - 'Can Art Aid in Resolving Conflict'

Michelangelo Pistoletto 

Michelangelo Pistoletto’s 1967 performance 'Walking Sculpture' was a citywide performance in which the artist rolled a newspaper sphere through city streets in Turin, Italy, captivating all who came into contact with it. Pistoletto’s walking performance was an act in opposition of both traditional methods of art-making and behavioral norms. In fact, his works meant to actively include his audience, encouraging viewer’s participation not only with art but with one another. 'Art can also be democratic, it can be very much involved in society,' the artist said during another performance in London in 2009.

'The sphere is a point of attraction. We need something to put us together,' Pistoletto said. In fact, as the crowd moves along the street, only a few touching the sculpture at a time, the sphere became invisible to the people further back. In these moments, only the ‘attraction’ itself is visible. 'When we find a common responsibility we start a political strategy,' the artist announced. Per his manifesto: 'It is necessary for democracy to dissociate itself from the destructive model of exponential consumption and turn back to the principle of sharing.'

 'Arte povera is essential in the materials. In the activity that the material can create by itself,' the artist told me. In the case of 'Walking Sculpture', one can literally feel the inertia of the materials; for Scaffali, the primary activity is to see one’s reflection in them. Unlike minimalism, suggested Pistoletto, his Arte Povera works embody 'essentialism.' They are 'not pretending to express an individual emotion' but a collective one.

Michelangelo Pistoletto's 'Walking Sculpture' 2009

Michelangelo Pistoletto's 'Walking Sculpture' 1967

Zlivinas Kempinas' 'Airborne' 2008

Zlivinas Kempinas

Roberts: And after working with microfilm and 35-millimeter film, what made you shift to your current practice of using videotape?

KEMPINAS: One day, I pulled tape out of a VHS cassette because I suspected that it might be a very interesting material to work with: it’s super thin, super light, and totally black, so you can perceive it as an abstract line. Since you can create many different drawings with a single line, I figured that I could use this material to make different three-dimensional installations. At the same time, tape is a data carrier. Hypothetically you can have all the colors and sounds of the world in it. So, it has this capacity, this potential, just like 35-millimeter film rolls, but it’s more abstract and simpler. And then, of course, videotape is so flexible and so light that it can be set in motion using air circulation, which becomes an invisible carrier for the sculpture.

Roberts: When did that inspiration strike? When did you first use fans to lift videotape into the air?

KEMPINAS: I experimented with videotape as an art student at Hunter College. After I realized its flexibility, I made four arches out of tape, one for each wall of the room, with four fans in the center. The arches weren’t attached to the floor or the ceiling—there were just a couple of small tacks on the end of each arch for weight. The wind lifted the arches up and down along the wall. Sometimes just one side would rise, and other times, the whole arch would fly up in the air. They became live sculptures: light sparkled on the tape, there was the sound of the fans, and the arches went up and down. On the one hand, they were free objects—free from the wall and the floor, but on the other hand, they were caught by the wind of fans and looked like they were struggling to fly. I realized that after all these years of intense studies, nothing made me happier than having this silly strip of tape going up and down the wall. Then, I wanted to make the tape fly.

Roberts: And that’s what led to Flying Tape (2004)?

KEMPINAS: Exactly. Flying Tape is one gigantic loop the size of the room, capable of levitating in midair, held up by the wind of several industrial fans. It’s a self-balancing sculpture that constantly changes its shape but without ever losing its circular structure. It’s a sculpture without a pedestal, and it’s not hanging from the ceiling or standing on the floor. It’s carried by an invisible element—currents of air.

Roberts: How do Flying Tape and your other kinetic sculptures reflect your ideas about the relationship between sculpture and space?

KEMPINAS: I didn’t want to build anything meaningful when I created Flying Tape. I didn’t have any story to tell, and I didn’t want to critique or comment on anything. I just wanted to activate space in a room. Somehow. Anyhow. And preferably without spending much money! I used gravity as a force, but instead of playing along with it, I was intrigued by the idea of fighting it, using these banal materials of unspooled VHS tape and industrial fans.

Zlivinas Kempinas' 'Flux' 2009

Zlivinas Kempinas' 'O Between Fans' 2006

Alice Aycock

'Getting back to your questions about the early work - Sand/ Fans came before everything. Later, I moved through this whole mechanical period, when I was using industrial architecture and machines and movement. In Sand/ Fans I had these big industrial fans blowing sand, and I was talking about a sort of transience- the edges of things were fluid; there was an ephemeral quality.'

'Yeah. I like to see the fans as an early indicator of these big machines that I made later…I really loved those fan blades, and I still do. I still love propellers; I love the whirlwind image, which is like a hurricane or a big turbine. That image is still very important to me- kind of terrifying, and powerful and seductive. I see the fans as the beginning of that. I also think a lot about how you could make art out of something that is just dust-it’s thin air. After you have made all these big solid things, you just blow it apart, just say- “It’s nothing but dust.” I started out like that, and maybe I’ll end up like that. It still fascinates me to think about generating pieces that are just thin air.'  

'It seems possible to imagine a complex which exists in the world as a thing in itself, generating the conditions of its own becoming, and which exists apart from the world as a model for it, exposing the conditions of its own artifice, a complex which undercuts its own logic by exposing the premise on which it was built, underpinning and undermining, drawing in and then distancing the spectator from the work in a theatre of theatre which is both true and false.' 

'I wanted a lot of people to see it, but the piece is really best when there are just one or two people watching it happen. Everybody was standing around it, waiting for some huge dust storm. But it’s far more Zen, it happens over time: Little piles of sand make ripples and waves and little dunes. It takes hours. It’s not a crowd-pleaser, not like a football game.'

Andy Mauery

'I find interest in works that are unheroic: quieter, contemplative, more likely to offer questions than provide answers. My material choices often reference the body: hair and hair-like fibers, wax, and paper. Our bodies, and these materials, record information--some of it encoded in the very substance and stuff, while other evidence is a memoir of nurture (or lack thereof) within the context of nature.'

'To many, these approaches in themselves define my work as, "feminine," which makes quite a bit of sense in that I am tapping directly into the historical, female lineage inherent in the histories of craft and art. I am interested in how social constructs of gender affect/influence environmental degradation.'

'As a material, hair is simultaneously an extremely personal part of each of us and a widely shared mammalian feature. There’s my hair, which I groom in a manner that culturally address a sense of self in many ways. And then there are more than 5,000 species of mammals that, yeah, all have the same stuff, yet it’s considered so completely, utterly foreign and “animal.”  Many artists have tapped into the politics of hair. It’s complex and very real. I have frizzy auburn hair, and it has garnered a surprising amount of attention, both positive and negative.'

OPP: What role does fragility play in your practice?

AM: Plural roles, definitely, as it is entwined in so many aspects of my practice. Addressing the physicality first, at times I am so intent on working right up to the edge, as if I have to find out first just how far a material can be pushed before it fails. I have so many examples of objects that didn’t survive their own making, when I pushed just a bit too hard. Or sneezed on them. It turns out that a frog made of starch does, indeed, dissolve in those circumstances.

The crowning glories are the husky, strong works in my oeuvre, comparatively. I was talking with an artist friend about having a hair work badly damaged in a shipping accident, and when she suggested some tougher materials, I said, “oh yes, on it already. I’m doing a collaboration in glass.” Then I heard the sentence outside of my head, through her laughter: when glass is your “tougher” material.

I’m drawn to materials and structures that are vulnerable, and delicate, and ephemeral. Of course it’s lovely when they are paradoxically strong and fragile, too. Horsehair is a great example. That seeming contradiction is what I keep poking at with each sculpture, drawing, installation. I want materials that degrade and age, that have a life span, that need to be cared for to survive, that are analogous to the subject matter or theme of the work. Fragility and mortality are really driving the train, so to speak. 

Alice Aycock's 'Sand/Fans' 1971

Alice Aycock's 'Sand/Fans' 2008

Dieter Roth's 'Literature Sausage' 1969

Andy Mauery's 'Crowning Glory 2 (Hopping Mouse)' 2013

Dieter Roth

Between 1961 and 1970 Roth created about fifty 'literature sausages.' To make each sausage Roth followed a traditional recipe, but with one crucial twist: where the recipe called for ground pork, veal, or beef, he substituted a ground-up book or magazine. Roth mixed the ground-up pages with fat, gelatin, water, and spices before stuffing them into sausage casings. The source materials include work by authors and periodicals that the artist either envied or despised; they run the gamut from lowbrow illustrated tabloids to well-regarded contemporary German novels to the works of Karl Marx and the influential nineteenth-century philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Roth turned literature into a metaphorical object for intellectual consumption and physical subsistence.

'From time to time I take books I can’t stand or from authors I want to annoy and make: sausages c. 40 cm long, 8 cm thick, should end up as an edition of 50, titled on the outside, signed, numbered, DM100.'

Though Roth’s intent was derogatory and provocative - books as so much meat—I think an old sausage lover like Grass might have been pleased by the transformation.

Sarah Lucas' 'Bunny Gets Snookered' 1997

Sarah Lucas

Originally a component part of an installation and exhibition titled Bunny Gets Snookered, this is one of eight similar mannequins arranged on and around a snooker table at Sadie Coles HQ, London, in 1997. Black and White Bunnies are three black and white photographs of one of the mannequins which were included in the exhibition. Lucas stuffed variously coloured pairs of tights with cotton wadding to make 'bunny girl' forms, whose limply dangling arms and passively lolling legs provide a representation of abject femininity, in thrall to the arena of male virtuosity as suggested by the snooker table. Each 'bunny' wears differently coloured stockings corresponding to the colours in a set of snooker balls. Pauline Bunny, in its black stockings, corresponds to the highest value snooker ball. The black stockings are the most traditionally alluring of the selection of colours, connecting this representation of a woman to the image of a seductress. Any suggestion of power this might carry is subverted by the passivity of the floppy, stuffed body, which is clipped to an office chair, providing an emblem of secretarial submissiveness. The title of the installation reinforces the reading of disempowerment: to be snookered, in the language of the game of snooker, means to be prevented from scoring. This bunny girl is trapped by her femininity, only to be knocked against her fellow bunnies in a game of masculine skill.

Her works border on abstraction, while always suggesting a broken figurative shape or some stand-in for the physically collapsing body. Pauline Bunny is less of a full figure than it is a torso with two sets of legs, a thing stuck in-between sexualised formalism and figurative abstraction.

It exists as an exquisite trap for heterosexual male desires: it is and it isn’t alluring. The sculpture alludes to eroticism, but delivers a punch in the gut to the libido and ego. In each Lucas work, there seems to be a heavy dose of autobiography and critiques of gender roles. I have always thought that she maintains an amazing balancing act between materials and content, humour and humiliation, social critique and personal revelation.

Hito Steyerl - about 'How Not to Be Seen'

'How Not to Be Seen' presents five lessons on invisibility. As titles that divide the video into distinct but interrelated sections, these lessons include how to: 1. Make something invisible for a camera, 2. Be invisible in plain sight, 3. Become invisible by becoming a picture, 4. Be invisible by disappearing, and 5. Become invisible by merging into a world made of pictures.

A satirical take on instructional films, 'How Not to Be Seen' features a mix of actual and virtual performers and scenes, which illustrate the strategies for becoming invisible, communicated in an authoritative narrative voiceover. In the fourth lesson, the narrator outlines ways of disappearing—including “living in a gated community” or “being a disappeared person as an enemy of the state” —while panning shots of architectural renderings of luxury living and public spaces, populated largely by computer-generated people, unfold across the screen.

Among the video’s central symbols is a real place: a patch of marked concrete in the California desert once used by the U.S. Air Force to calibrate their surveillance cameras. The concrete is riddled with cracks and desert scrub. As the artist indicates throughout her video, sites like this have fallen into disrepair not because surveillance has stopped, but because more advanced systems are now in use, which do not need to be tested there. These newer systems ensure that we are always visible, and might benefit from her lessons in how not to be seen.

Valie Exports' 'Body Configurations' 1973

Hito Steyerl's 'How Not to Be Seen' 2015

Valie Export

Since the late ‘60s, VALIE EXPORT has concentrated on the body in her work, with the intention of challenging – in a society characterized by a false egalitarianism of gender – contradictions, pressures, and violence toward women. In her practice, performance is a means of investigating physical and psychological limits or is used as a device to destabilize sexist ideologies.

'Since 1972, my drawings, photographs, and actions have been concerned with the presentation of postures as the expression of inner states, represented both in nature and in architecture as adaptation, assimilation, imposition, etc. in or on the environment. Parallels such as landscape and mind, architecture and mind, are mediated by the body, partly because the parallels have their origin in every extreme opposition of body and mind, and partly because the body is a revelation, as is landscape. Landscape is a revelation of space and time, or, more precisely, the arrangement of its elements, such as trees, rocks, hills, etc. are that. Arrangements of the body’s elements are postures, revelations, or expressions of inner states; this analogy between arrangements of landscape and body, these common forms of revelation, have served visual art from the beginning as surfaces for projecting expression: external configurations, whether in the landscape or in a picture (which thus becomes landscape) serve as an expression of internal states. This is why landscape is no less common as a motif in painting (and film) than the body. This is why people speak of “scenic atmospheres.” A landscape represents an atmosphere, just as body posture expressions do. Expressions are formed not only by the face. So a state of mind can be expressed first by the configuration of landscape components, secondly by the configuration of body components and thirdly—which is the innovation in my work— by the configuration of body elements in the landscape. In a second stage, the expression manifested in certain postures is examined in its historical forms. In the paintings of past times, unobserved, an archive of bodily postures has been collected which is of great expressive and informative value in examining the emotional states and mythologies of their eras. It turns out that these frozen motions of the body represent a canon, a doctrine. When I imitate these old postures I try more or less to perform an operation to draw out the expression, to make it independent, by assembling the postures with contemporary materials, thus trying to reveal these expressions. (Critical activity). At present I am mainly treating female postures from a feminist point of view and dealing with materials from the female environment, in order to thaw the imposed norms of the female bodily gestures, body language, and the associated function of the female body in our culture.'

Valie Exports' 'Body Configurations' 1973

Matthew Barney 

DRAWING RESTRAINT (1987-present) is a significant and long-term project for Barney, in which he proposes art-making as parallel to athletic training: the development of form occurs through resistance. Begun while still a student at Yale, Barney was influenced by his background as an athlete and sought to foreground the physical body and its tensions in a studio practice. DRAWING RESTRAINT comprises drawings, sculpture, photographs and video works emerging from his self-imposed and increasingly complex obstacles and scenarios. Considered together, DRAWING RESTRAINT forms an ongoing proposition for the harnessing of one's impulses and drives into a desired output, artistic or otherwise. They demonstrate the underpinnings of Barney's work, in which the body plays a central role, and ritualistic processes of creation are explored through manifold materials, settings, and personas.

Matthew Barney’s ‘Drawing Restraint’ series (1987–ongoing) may be best understood as ‘an endless loop between desire and discipline’, a characterization that comes from the artist himself. Barney’s early works functioned as systems designed to ‘defeat’ the challenges of drawing: thus the restrictive harnesses and ramps of Drawing Restraint 1 (1987), which left the artist stretching or groping to set pencil to paper. With 17 subsequent videos delineating evermore elaborate contests of physical strength and psychological willpower against resistance at turns physical, sexual, architectural, cultural, oceanic or spiritual, the series resembles the endless tragicomic trials of a Greek demigod, or its most contemporary incarnation, the athlete. Barney often likens his actions to those of a competitor who uses resistance training in order to build up muscle groups. In a 1990 text titled ‘Notes on Athleticism’, the artist describes this hypertrophic process, concluding: ‘THE ATHLETE IS THE ARTIST’. Barney’s use of jock-ish metaphors can get overplayed, but such tropes point to the fact that the body and its tribulations are central to his practice – and that his thoroughly Postmodern work furthers one of the oldest art-historical traditions: figuration.

Come Here I Want to See You (4D)

Performing for the camera

Reading - 4D,Performing for the camera

Reading - 4D,Performing for the camera

Reading - 4D,Performing for the camera

Reading - 4D,Performing for the camera

Matthew Barney's 'Drawing Restraint', 2005

Bruce Nauman

In 1968 Nauman produced a series of holograms titled Making Faces in which he contorted and stretched his face into a series of exaggerated gestures, the kind of grotesque faces pulled (playfully) by and for children in order to amuse, distract, and even terrify. The holograms were projected onto glass and have an eerie underwater quality reminiscent of a horror movie. In 1970 the artist picked up the hologram slides and selected five images from which the screen-prints were produced. In their new form - much bigger than life-size, and tinted yellow over black and white - they have been transformed into a kind of lexicon of facial expressions. They focus on the lower half of the face, in particular the mouth. Without the eyes, facial flesh is reduced to matter, and emotional connections become more ambiguous.

'The idea of making faces had to do with thinking about the body as something you can manipulate. I had done some pieces - rigorous works dealing with standing, leaning, bending - and as they were performed, some of them seemed to carry a large emotional impact. I was very interested in that: if you perform a bunch of arbitrary operations, some people will make very strong connections with them, and others won't. That's really all the faces were about - just making a bunch of arbitrary faces.'

John Wood and Paul Harrison's 'Board', 1993

Amalia Ulman's 'Excellences and Perfections' 2014

John Wood and Paul Harrison's '3 Legged', 1997

John Wood and Paul Harrison

'This (Board) was the first piece of work we made together. At the time we never really thought of ourselves as having any kind of working relationship. We had just left college and we were just trying to continue to make things. We had access to a school theatre for the summer and so we set a camera up (an old S-VHS camera borrowed from the school) and made hours and hours of tests and experiments. Something about playing around with an 8x4’ MDF board stuck with us and so we spent two weeks working on a continuous sequence, a sort of dance piece with out us having to dance.'

'We had been commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella to make a work for a touring film programme. We had hired a tennis ball machine from Bridgnorth tennis club in Shropshire and managed to shoot the commissioned work quite quickly and so we had a few extra days to play around with it. '3 Legged' (1997) came out of us just messing around, firing the machine at each other, standing against a wall or on chairs. As is often the way, some of the most interesting things come out of just messing around.'

Bruce Nauman's 'Studies for Holograms', 1970

Amalia Ulman's 'Excellences and Perfections' 2014

Rachel Maclean

‘We Want Data’ is a series of wall hangings exploring themes of data management and consumption. Part Baroque heaven, part post-apocalyptic dystopia, a series of grotesque, cartoonish figures are seen to share in and compete for attention within a world where power dynamics are repeatedly inverted and reconfigured.'

The way that people use social media to construct identity is also a major theme in Maclean’s art – particularly in the work she has produced for the coinciding HOME and Tate Britain shows. 'I’m interested in cultures of narcissism and the selfie. You can create your own self through the images you upload, so you create this hyper-real version of yourself online.'

RA: How did you decide to play all of the characters in your films yourself? Was that a convenience factor or is it an intrinsic part of your practice?

RM: It’s an important part of my practice. When I started out at art college that decision came out of an artistic tradition of using yourself or your body in your work and also responding to the history of performance art. I’ve always been interested in costume and transforming identity so I think it was natural that I got into enjoying playing different characters within the film work. I suppose, half-intentionally and half-accidentally, I found that using my own body was an interesting way to work. I quite like it now. The process is very odd, especially filming against green screen because so much of what you’re doing is entirely illusionary, so what you see in the room while you’re filming is very different to what you create afterwards. I enjoy that slightly fragmented process. I like the feeling of the absurdity of all of the characters being me; the paper-thin, almost uncomfortable feeling of needing to believe somebody is an older person but knowing that there’s very obvious prosthetic make-up. I like that sense of everything being an illusion.

Rachel Maclean's 'We Want Data', 2016

Rachel Maclean's 'We Want Data', 2016

Samson Young

In the latest iteration of the ongoing project, Muted Situation #22: Muted Tchaikovsky’s 5th, 2018, Young invites the Flora Sinfonie Orchester in Cologne to perform Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony in its entirety. The orchestra, however, has been asked to ‘mute’ the musical notes, suppressing the pitched foreground layer of the composition, and bringing forth the sounds produced by physical actions in a performance – the musicians’ focused breath, the turning of pages, or the clicking noises of the instruments’ keys.

On the process of muting, Young writes: ‘... muting is not the same as doing nothing. Rather, the act of muting is an intensely focused re-imagination and re-construction of the auditory. It involves the conscious suppression of dominant voices, as a way to uncover the unheard and the marginalised, or to make apparent certain assumptions about hearing and sounding.’ The process has the effect of disrupting the viewer’s expectations; when the piercing shriek of a violin fails to come forth, it feels anticlimactic, ridiculous even. Young’s situational experiments reveal what is suppressed, enabling us to become aware of another layer of reality underneath the noise.

Samson Young's 'Muted Tchaikovsky', 2018

Contextual Practice (Proximity, Context, Meaning)

Sofia Hulten

ST: Another crucial aspect in your work is the idea of the ready-made. Trained in sculpture, you tended not to produce objects, instead, you changed the state-of-existence of found objects

SH: The found object is the catalyst, it sets the ball rolling. Very often, an object can contain a question for me, such as “What was I?” 

ST: What happened to me? Why did I end up here?

SH: Yes. And some other object would be “What could I be?”

ST: And here you come into the scene and interfere with the life path of the object you found.

SH: I am really interested in the question of origin – where something starts, something ends, what the starting point of an action is, for example. I am interested in the fact that at the point when I come in with the object, it already has a history. That gives me something to work with.

ST: But sometimes it’s just impossible to locate the origin. You go deeper and deeper into the story and it might just lead you to yet another story.

Reading - Contextual Practice, Proximity, Context and Meaning

Reading - Contextual Practice, Proximity, Context and Meaning

Sofia Hultan's 'Grey Area (Twelve attempts to hide in office spaces)', 2011

Sarah Lucas

Lucas appears in the macho pose she has claimed as her own. Clad in old jeans and heavy footwear, she sits with her legs wide apart and her feet planted firmly on the ground. Androgynous t-shirts and leather jackets feature in many of the images.

Sarah Lucas' 'Fried Eggs' 1996

Exhibiton Review


Reading - Place

Marlene Dumas

'I have been a fan of Oscar Wilde ever since I can remember. As a writer of great wit, his combination of intelligence and humour is unique. He was imprisoned at Reading for two years for loving the beautiful, untrustworthy 'golden boy' Bosie. I have painted Wilde before the entry into the prison that destroyed his life and tried to show him less as a proud author and more as a vulnerable man in relation to the young lover who led to his tragic end.'


Marlene Dumas' ' Oscar Wilde and Bosie', 2017

Do Ho Suh

Can you speak about the furniture-like sculptures in this exhibition? Why did you choose these objects?

'The larger appliances, or furniture, in the main room were fixtures in my old New York apartment. After spending 15 years there, I came to the conclusion that I could create the sense of the space with these anchoring objects. Luckily, the dimensions of the gallery are very similar to my old apartment. The work therefore gives me the feeling of being inside my apartment with the appliances arranged in a similar layout.'

Is this feeling of familiarity part of the work for you?

'I’m looking to recreate my comfort zone. As a foreigner—no matter what reason you leave—once you depart from home, you have to deal with new environments and spaces all the time, and this sense of unfamiliarity. In a way, my work is coming to terms with that. The whole idea started when I brought my Korean home, which I spent time in as a child, to the United States. It was about creating a comfort zone.'


Your sculptures regarding the home tend to be made from a translucent material. Why is this characteristic important?


'When I began making these works, the fabric was really important because I was not trying to make exact replicas of these objects or of a house. It was more about capturing the intangible quality of memory. This notion of memory itself is not necessarily solid, it can be quite vague.'

But the objects are so detailed.

'Yes, the objects are quite detailed and we probably pushed the limit of the fabric, but it’s still not close to the real thing. It was never about making something exact. It was about capturing the time spent with those objects, something that we cannot see in the objects themselves.'

Can you talk about the construction process?

'The most important process is measuring the space and the object, you have to measure these things really thoroughly. For instance, a refrigerator, you open and close it numerous times a day so you would think that you’re very familiar with it. But once you start to measure it, it’s a totally different story. You begin to understand how the object is made. By measuring, you consume the object in a different way. Having gained some more information about the space, about the object, it gives me an excuse to move on from them.'

It sounds quite intimate.  

'Exactly. You are kind of reenacting. Every day you probably do things without really thinking. During this process, you really pay attention to these interactions. Especially when you’re making these objects into fabric.' 

Angela Su's 'Feather Stich', 2019

Angela Su's 'Whip Stich', 2019

Amy Stephens

Amy Stephens’ work is fundamentally sculptural in both its form and content, taking for its starting point the tactile and expressive qualities of a range of materials. Contrasting the angularity of wood and metal with the soft tactility of fabric and flock, her assemblages occupy a space between the abstract and the associative, and between seduction and control. Sparse and inherently structural, they have a strong architectural presence and make a conscious nod to Modernist or Minimalist sculptural traditions. Rendering materials and objects found in nature through industrial processes such as bronze casting and wood planning, Stephens highlights the tension between the natural world and artificial methods of production. In this way the artist explores the symbiotic relationship between nature and human agency, and draws attention to their tenuous interrelationship through the creation of objects that are at once beautiful and threatening. Stephens’ sculptures are often a direct response to the architectural spaces in which they are exhibited, and arrest the viewer through their elemental physicality. They also uncannily hint at recognisable objects and shapes through elegant juxtapositions; some have an anthropomorphic quality, their lines and junctures approximating limbs and joints, while others evoke the animal world through appropriated objects such as bronzed deer antlers. The artist’s sensibility and thought process can be seen within the subtle, economic use of individually produced elements, and their arrangement within purposeful and engaging compositions. As powerful groupings, they announce the power of the natural world through the language of manufacture, and provoke a dialogue of materials and forms that demands the viewer’s attention.

The artist uses an array of materials that are strongly suggestive of urban living. Negation and structural isolation are recurrent throughout with objects and images finding form by layering registers of information. Stephens' fragile sculptural assemblages are described as 'tracings that form the basis of an architectural skeleton' connecting one space to another whilst highlighting the fundamentals of drawing. She creates geometric portals and in-between spaces encouraging exchange round and through. Bright lines, bronze artefacts and playful intervention encourage the viewer to consider both the structure and surface material that form the basis of Stephens work.

Amy Stephens' 'Ilemenite City II and III', 2015

Frtiz Panzer's 'Handmade', 2017

Mona Hatoum's 'Remains of the Day', 2016

The Self

Amalia Ulman

Ulman conducted a scripted online performance via her Instagram and Facebook profiles. As part of this project, titled Excellences and Perfections, Ulman underwent an extreme, semi-fictionalized makeover. She pretended to have a breast augmentation, posting images of herself in a hospital gown and with a bandaged chest, using a padded bra and Photoshop to manipulate her image. Other elements of the makeover were not feigned; she followed the Zao Dha Diet strictly, for example, and went to pole-dancing lessons often.

Through judicious use of sets, props, and locations, Excellences and Perfections evoked a consumerist fantasy lifestyle. Ulman’s Instagram account is a parade of carefully arranged flowers and expensive lingerie and highly groomed interiors and perfectly plated brunches. These images are excessive, but also believable—because they’re so familiar. For many privileged users, social media is a way of selling one’s lifestyle, of building one’s brand. And Ulman went to great lengths to replicate the narrative conventions of these privileged feeds, from her use of captions and hashtags (#simple, #cutegasm), to the pace and timing of uploads, to the discerning inclusion of “authentic” intimate or emotional content (a photo of a lover or a moment of despair).

Critic Brian Droitcour has described the rise of social media as a rebalancing of image-making power: the 'aestheticization of everyday life in social media…has leeched the authority of image-making from mass media and from art.' In an important shift, social media has given far more people than ever before the means to self-publish.

At the same time, though, the power relations on social media simply mirror those at play in the world at large. Powerful, savvy people are powerful, savvy social media users. Even while power is leeched away from traditional mass media and the established art world, social media too often reproduces or even amplifies the same kinds of cultural values seen in those spheres. As artist Hannah Black has written, 'Once, only the professional Hot Babe adorned all major media outlets; now social media makes of everyone a Hot Babe, should they be willing.'

In response to these conditions, Ulman conceived of Excellences and Perfections as a “boycott” of her own online persona. For three months, she allowed her profiles to be exactly what social media seems to demand—that she be a 'Hot Babe.' As a result, she garnered the support of other women who had endured similar makeovers or procedures. She earned criticism for seeming to promote retrograde physical ideals, she was the target of cheap flattery, vulgar propositions, and abusive comments. Her close friends were often confused, unable to demarcate the Ulman of social media as a separate fiction, even when she would try to explain the project away from the keyboard. By repeating a lie for three months, she created a truth that she was unable to dismantle.

'I like photography, performance art through photographs, and I think that was important for me to take into account,' she said over the phone from Los Angeles, reflecting on her creative choices. 'Instagram is a lot of text and photographs, and that's kind of how I work, through photography. Snapchat is too much about just the action, and I am more interested in the aesthetics of the images.'

Ulman's Instagram account gained thousands of new followers who watched her seemingly personal journey. And then, five months in, when she hit about 90,000 followers, she revealed that it was all a performance. She'd cast herself as a semi-fictional character based on popular images that certain girls (affluent, young, often white) post of themselves on Instagram. In doing so, she revealed how emotions and experiences can be staged on social media, often for attention, or out of loneliness, or just wanting to have others bear witness to one's personhood.

'It was funny to have other panelists saying, ‘Instagram is a place where you can be yourself,'' Ulman reflects. 'People love believing in things, and people still think the internet is a place of authenticity, but everyone is selecting, or even fabricating, what they post.'

'Everything was scripted,' explains Ulman, who grew up in Asturias in north-west Spain. 'I spent a month researching the whole thing. There was a beginning, a climax and an end. I dyed my hair. I changed my wardrobe. I was acting: it wasn’t me.'

'It’s more than a satire,' she explains. 'I wanted to prove that femininity is a construction, and not something biological or inherent to any woman. Women understood the performance much faster than men. They were like, ‘We get it – and it’s very funny.’ ' 'The joke was admitting how much work goes into being a woman and how being a woman is not a natural thing. It’s something you learn.'

Reading - 4D, The Self

Reading - 4D, Sonic Witness

Reading - 4D, Sonic Witness

Reading - 4D, Sonic Witness

Reading - 4D, Sonic Witness

Urs Fischer's 'Untitled (Self Portrait)', 2011

Sonic Witness

Nevin Aladag

On three separate projection surfaces, Aladağ creates a large-scale sound-and-image portrait of the city of Stuttgart, the place she spent her childhood and adolescence. Here we encounter, for instance, an accordion that plays as it unfolds along the length of a lamppost, or a frame drum that rolls loudly through a park landscape. A flute trills as it sails off into the sky with a balloon; the chestnuts in a chestnut tree play a gong and a violin turns on a merry-go-round. Traces is fascinating especially in moments of the orchestrated interaction of only partially controllable sounds. Are sound and image coming together here to tell a tale? As surprisingly as a symphonic interplay seems to arise, it disintegrates just as quickly back into cacophony. The artist has neither designed a soundscape of pure noise, nor has she composed an interpretive piece about the city. Rather, Aladağ has invented a remarkable hybrid. The most disparate urban situations become the players in an orchestra. Rocking horses in the pedestrian zone and the slopes of vineyards, downhills on the main street and a carousel in a playground constitute the ensemble that, under Aladağ’s direction, performs an audio rendition of their city on the accordion, drum, flute and violin – and elicits wholly unexpected possibilities from each classical instrument.

Nevin Aladag's 'Traces', 2015

John Cage

Cage created this work to encourage people to listen to the sounds around them. The sounds make their own music even if it is not the traditional or conventional music people are used to.

Conventional music has rests as part of the music. If those rests did not exist, there would be no place for singers to breathe, no variety in the combination of instruments heard during a symphony orchestra or band concert, and no place in the music for a pause as part of the rhythm. But when a musician sees a rest in the score, that rest is still part of the composition and is a valid part of the overall work. (John Cage talking about silence)

John Cage's '4 minutes, 33 seconds', 1952

Sofia Hulten's 'In the Genes', 2014

Contextual Practice (Gallery Visit)

Dafna Talmor's 'Construction Landscapes', 2019

Marlene Dumas' ' Oscar Wilde and Bosie', 2017

Do Ho Suh's 'Home Within a Home', 2013

Do Ho Suh's 'Home Within a Home', 2013

Angela Su

Created recently during the turbulent protesting months in Hong Kong (since June 2019), this body of works examines the act of sewing in the medium of hair embroidery. The artist intentionally subverts the traditional notion of sewing as a feminine activity inhabiting the domestic sphere, and portrays it as an extreme form of protest in the public domain. Along with drawings that allegorise bodily fragmentation and schizophrenia, the artist critiques the physical and psychological experiences of living in the post-colonial city state.

Angela Su's 'Satin Stich', 2019

Amy Stephens' 'Something, Anything, Everything', 2015

Frtiz Panzer

The work references gestural contour drawings, creating the volume of an object through a gossamer-like outline that seems to gradually dissipate. the series offers an almost ethereal experience, requesting the viewer to rely partly on memory and recognition to complete their own understanding of the work.

Fritz Panzer's 'Prenninger Kuche (Wire Sculpture)', 2002

Mona Hatoum

Drawing upon themes interwoven in everyday life and the larger situation of our inherently unstable world, Hatoum’s work creates a sense of profound unease through a process of visual and material seduction. By engaging the viewer in a direct phenomenological experience, industrial materials and everyday objects are transformed into potent cyphers, charged with emotive and thematic force. In the poised and disquieting installation Remains of the Day (2016−18), which evolves from work made for the 10th Hiroshima Art Prize exhibition, simple wooden furniture and domestic objects − a kitchen table, group of chairs, rolling pin, stool and vintage toy truck − are covered with chicken wire and subjected to an intense, furious heat. Burnt and charred, the resultant black and brittle charcoal forms are held together by their wire armature, appearing like ghostly shadows of the solid objects they once were, while scattered fragments across the floor imitate the possibility for further disintegration at any given moment. As if registering some sudden and dramatic catastrophe, Remains of the Day interrogates the idea of ‘home’ through familiar and symbolic forms, locating it not as a place of refuge and established order but as a site of upheaval, disorder and the uncanny.

Thomas Demand's 'Presidency', 2008