REVIEW: Sarah Sparkes’ The GHost Parlour

This article is also available on Artlyst: https://www.artlyst.com/reviews/the-ghost-parlour-sarah-sparkes-at-new-art-projects/

The GHost Parlour, Sarah Sparkes’ solo exhibition at New Art Projects London, intimately explores the theme of ghosts and spirits, a subject which has fascinated Sparkes and been the centre of her artistic practice for many years. The exhibition comprises three sets of works: one film, numerous rounded collages and prints made on wallpaper and the GHost Tunnel, one of Sparkes’ most significant installations created for FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology) and here exhibited for the first time in London.

Ghosts and spirits have fascinated Sparkes and been the centre of her artistic practice for many years

Sparkes’ film, Time You Need was the recipient of the MERU ART*SCIENCE Award and is now part of the permanent collection of GAMeC, Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Bergamo, Italy. It recreates one of Sparkes’ performances where, through a hypnotic-like process, she encouraged people to get to the Time You Need, to re-visit, in their minds, a moment of their past in order to detach from the hustle of daily life. The film explores themes of time travelling as a journey into our own internal black hole and mixes scientific theories with popular representations. At the same time, the handmade special effects and dreamy aesthetics reconnect the film to the rest of Sparkes’ artistic practice.

Sarah Sparkes - Crazy Horses 2019
Sarah Sparkes – Crazy Horses 2019

Sarah Sparkes Ghost Tunnel
Sarah Sparkes – GHost Tunnel 2019 New Art Projects

The series GHost-dance – David Soul and Crazy Horses have been made by Sparkes using the remaining rolls of wallpaper that covered the walls of her childhood home, creating a powerful connection between her past and her present artistic practice. The subjects printed on these small circular panels include one of the most famous cases of possession in popular culture, The Enfield poltergeist case from the 1970s which involved a teenage girl, Janet, who was alleged to be possessed by the poltergeist of an old man. However, Sparkes also chose to include scenes from other cultures, such as Native Americans ghost dancers trying to bring back the victims of the western invaders, Neolithic field monuments and portraits of key figures from early 20th-century psychical research. Another series of circular works, Crazy Horses feature repeat motifs of skeletal horses. While the first set was made with digital prints, this series is more physical and involved cutting and embedding the images in the wallpaper, to have a more direct connection to the wildness of the subjects: ‘Everyone needs, every now and then, stampeding horses running through their living room’, Sparkes says.

The final artwork is the GHost Tunnel, an installation from 2016-17, part of No Such Thing A Gravity curated by Rob La Frenais, which toured to the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts. This seemingly never-ending tunnel questions the notion of space and depth, and also stands as a metaphor of life and death. It represents that same black hole we all have in ourselves, as while we look in the tunnel we also see our image reflected on the glass: as if trying to understand what is at the end of the tunnel would also make us understand better our own selves.

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REVIEW: Aaron Scheer FINAL_007 (02) at Annka Kultys Gallery

This review is also available on Artlyst.com https://www.artlyst.com/reviews/upcoming-curators-review-exhibitions-annka-kultys-cell-project-space/

Annka Kultys gallery is a compact and clean space, the whitewashed walls a perfect backdrop for her latest showing of Aaron Scheer’s colour-popping digital paintings. Based between Berlin, Germany and Gothenburg, Sweden, ‘FINAL_007 (02)’ marks Scheer’s first solo exhibition in the UK and is on view until March 2 2019.
Scheer works with a range of digital devices, creating his works using the screens of his phone or laptop. The collection of seven works printed on paper continues his ongoing exploration of digital media, using painterly techniques to create artworks. To allow the visitors to have an understanding of his technique, the gallery included in the exhibition an insightful video created by Scheer himself, showing how he composes his digital, colour-saturated palettes by swiping and screenshotting the screen of an iPad. Through layering carefully composed monochrome images or desktop folders, sometimes manipulated using brush strokes effects on Photoshop, he creates vivid compositions with vibrant colour contrasts.

Aaron Scheer Annka Kultys Gallery
DANA X, Aaron Scheer, 2018 at Annka Kultys Gallery

On the surface, these works are pleasing just to look at because of the interplay of texture and colour, but there is a deeper meaning behind the German-born artist’s modern creations. He is interested in the relationship and cross-over between humanity and technology, with a focus on the ever-increasing connection and interdependency between man and social networks. The vivid blue of the Rothko-like painting Digital Archaeology V, or the bright green in the background of Facbook_7aec5af, both on view at the gallery, remind the viewer of apps such as Facebook and WhatsApp. Through applying a classical art compositional approach to digital mediums, he can explore the challenges of our ever increasing digital world, from perceptions of reality to big data and automated production.
As illustrated by the curator of the gallery, contact between Kultys and Scheer started a few years ago, when the German artist connected with her online. She then decided to include his artworks in the group show ‘CACOTOPIA 03’, an annual exhibition featuring the works of five recent graduates from art academies that ran from December 5, 2018, to January 19, 2019. Following the success of that exhibition, Scheer became one of the new artists represented by the gallery.
Scheer’s exhibition is contextualized in the gallery’s history, which has focused on multimedia and digital art since its opening in September 2015. Located in the borough of Hackney, in east London, it encourages artists to bring their digital artworks to the gallery and functions as a point of contact with the press and collectors. For anyone interested in the world of digital art, it is worth a visit.

REVIEW: Bill Viola / Michelangelo

Aaand for art lovers, we’re back with another review of an exhibition! (This review is also on Youtube, click here to see it!)

I spent yesterday morning at the Royal Academy of the Arts in Piccadilly, London, at the exhibition ‘Bill Viola / Michelangelo: Life, death, rebirth‘, which opened on January 26 and will be on until the end of March.

Michelangelo’s The Lamentation over the Dead Christ, c. 1540 © The Trustees of the British Museum

‘Bill Viola / Michelangelo’ is an exhibition where video works from the visual artist Bill Viola are put in conversation with drawings made by Michelangelo (which – note – are owned by the Queen!!). I must say I was quite sceptic, it’s not something common to see works by one of the most famous artists of the world exhibited together not only with contemporary artworks, but with videos! I wasn’t sure about this contrast, but at the same time it was made by such a famous institution that I had to see it, at least. I also started appreciating more and more video art – my love for everything digital is getting stronger – so I decided to give it a chance.

I am actually still struggling in deciding where to start, it is not one of those straightforward exhibition where personal interpretation doesn’t really matter. In this case, the themes explored touch us all, and I suppose that the whole experience depends on how we perceive those particular themes. What I felt during the exhibition and that didn’t fade during the rest of the day is… I don’t know how to put it into words. It’s a sort of peace, simple, natural, but not positive; there is melancholy, there is fear, and death to some extent.

Viola’s Tristan’s Ascension (The Sound of a Mountain Under a Waterfall), 2005 – Courtesy Bill Viola Studio. Photo: Kira Perov

(I probably didn’t get the part about rebirth, did I?)

Bill Viola was born in 1951 in New York, and he’s one of the first generation of artists that started working with the digital medium thanks to the introduction of portable and cheap cameras in the 60s. I feel that one of the most important elements of his practice is to understand his view of ‘time’, which he considers one of the central revolutions of image-making – he also compares it to the introduction of perspective in Renaissance art. And time actually has a central role in his videos, which are usually extremely slow-motion scenes representing people in different contexts, often underwater. And it is that same, soft sound of being underwater, that sense of slowness, that follows the visitor through and out of the exhibition, as if time had been stretched. At the same time, his videos are continuously looped, giving a sense of suffocating eternity.

Michelangelo’s The Risen Christ, c.1532-3 © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Viola’s art explores different themes, often having philosophical and spiritual significance. He engaged with Renaissance art (he went to Florence to study during his education), with religious mysticism, and he combines contemporary technology with ancient tradition. He seeks to explore life, death, religion. Viola suggested that films could “function both as aesthetic objects of contemporary art and as practical objects of traditional contemplation and devotion”.

However, while he explores these themes, it is not entirely clear what he wants to say, what his artworks are suggesting the viewer. No doubt that they easily attract the eyes of the audience because of the subjects and the aesthetic; they invite the viewer to stand still and forget the world for a few moments, but then? What is there after this? Does he want to recreate a sort of mystical experience? Does he want to tell a story? Is he sharing his view of the world? Or he actually didn’t want to do any of these things, and just underline the connection between life and death?

Bill Viola’s Nantes Triptych, 1992, right, opposite Michelangelo’s Taddei Tondo – Photograph: David Parry © Royal Academy of Arts
The Virgin and Child With the Infant St John the Baptist (the Taddei Tondo), c1504-5 by Michelangelo © Royal Academy of Arts, London

Moreover, the conversation between his works and Michelangelo’s is, sometimes, forced, and the dialogue created is not achieved completely. The Nantes Triptych, formed by three different videos representing a woman giving birth, a body floating in water and Viola’s dying mother, is installed in front of Taddei Tondo (1505) by Michelangelo, where the Virgin Mary is comforting baby Jesus, scared at the sight of a goldfinch – symbol of the crucifixion. If from one point of view the two artworks seem to be in a close connection because of the coexistence-of-death/life-theme, on the other there is something unconvincing about it – isn’t it too straightforward? And what is the connection between Viola’s view of daily life – a man floating underwater – and Michelangelo’s?

And the same happens in the other rooms where the artists’ works are installed together, the dialogue is not convincing and appears just thanks to the clues in RA’s information boards on the walls. To me, it seems that, despite the shared themes of spirituality, materiality and life/death, Michelangelo’s works were diminished. It is as if they were reduced to the most appropriate interpretation for this particular exhibition, and for Viola’s video.

At the same time, I liked the show: Viola’s videos need to be experienced on a big screen, with the right light and the right atmosphere, in order for the audience to enter in contact with the artwork itself. I must admit that it does require some time, but it reveals itself to be a poetic experience. Especially when you accept the stillness of the video, and you start realising that you, first of all, have to experience the exhibition itself with slowness and calm in order to fully appreciate it.

But it is also important to notice that, in those rooms where both Michelangelo’s and Viola’s work were installed, the drawings totally eclipsed the videos because of their undeniable beauty.

I mean, it’s Michelangelo.

Opinion: today’s world of video games, pt. 1

The theme of this week’s Sunday article is something that I have always had at heart, and I am very sensitive about. This means that I could very easily be one-sided and stifle all opponents (kidding! 😇). That topic, that is going to be the focus not only of today, but also of Wednesday’s post, are video games! I know it is definitely not a topic for everyone, some people love them, others hate them, but please, try and read the whole article before giving your opinion. That is the thing, I am happy to listen to other people’s thoughts only if it is a two-way process, if a conversation and an exchange can be created.

My first love, Pokémon Leaf Green for Game Boy

I would like first to try and debunk the myth that video games are only for those weird people that spend their whole day at home in front of a screen, shooting and doing horrible things to other virtual avatars and eating junk food because they don’t even know how to cook. I love playing video games, I can call myself a gamer even if that is not my life’s only purpose, and I can assure everyone that nowadays games have evolved so much.

A TV service aired in January 2019 (!!) on a really popular program of the Italian television called Striscia la Notizia, really gave me, and the whole Italian gaming community, the creeps. You can find the video here, and I will try to summarize it for the non-Italian speakers: taking Fornite (a multiplayer ‘battle-royale’ game where 100 players are on the same map and need to eliminate each other, the last standing wins) as a starting point, the guy speaking declares how ‘for experts (who?), it (Fortnite) is dangerous for our children since it can incite anti-social or illicit behaviour’.

Fortnite © Epic Games

According to him, this can lead to cyberbullying, which can lead to children being sluggish and lethargic. And, to top it off, Fortnite is apparently also full of pedophiles. I won’t go more into details and I won’t say that many things they say are inexact (but they actually are), this TV program is already famous for transmitting inaccurate news and for being biased towards what they want to transmit the audience. What hurt me the most was how video games are always the black sheep, and how people are not even willing to try to understand before forbidding them to their children. Children are not stupid and I think that every parent should try to understand what they like doing, and why they do like it. Moreover, parents are missing out an important medium they could use to create and share moments with their children.  

Now, games are not a single-player experience anymore. So many of them, like League of Legends, Fortnite itself, or the new Apex Legends having so much attention recently, allow you to play with other humans and to chat with them. Not to talk about the huge community that is forming around the online game streaming platform Twitch, where literally everyone can meet and chat with other players (or streamers) of their favourite game.

Still of the League of Legends Korean Championships being aired on Twitch

And yeah, of course you could meet someone who has had a bad day and is not saying very nice things (and that is why parents should always have an eye on their child playing), but isn’t it the same with social networks? Why do we allow children to have an Instagram account when they’re 10, but we forbid them to play online? With the difference that, while playing, you are actually sharing an experience with someone else, and you try to help each other out to reach the same goal. Why no one mentions the spirit of community, teamwork and solidarity that can be enhanced by playing video games?

Journey

I read a really interesting book, called Why Games Move Us: Emotion by Design, where the writer Katherine Isbister analyses how games can create strong, positive emotional experiences for players, especially when playing with other humans. One of the examples she uses is a game called Journey developed by Thatgamecompany for PS3/4 and PC (I still haven’t played it – need my PS4 which is home in Italy!): apart from the fact that the beauty of its landscapes and soundtrack is stunning, the game offers the opportunity to play online in its massive world. It can happen that you casually meet someone on your journey: you can communicate only by ‘singing’ or by agitating your scarves. When you ran one near the other, your cloths glow, and that’s it. I think it is an amazing example of how you don’t actually need to shoot and kill other players to ‘feel’ something while playing.  

Two players online in Journey

This game actually connects to the next theme that I wanted to address… but not now! We’ll talk about it in the second part of the article, out on Wednesday! Stick around if you’re interested in this topic, and in how games can actually be… art! *spoiler*

In the meantime, hope you enjoyed this article! Thank you for sticking around, and let me know what you think of this post in the comments below!

REVIEW(ish): T. Emin, ‘A Fortnight of Tears’

‘Ms. Emin’s nihilism is so intensely passionate that it amounts to her life force. It is carried (…) primarily by language (…). In this day of multiple media and blurred boundaries between disciplines, it still seems that she might be less an artist than a writer, whose autobiography and hard-won philosophy of life would work best in book form. But in whatever form Ms. Emin chooses to work, one thing seems clear: she’s all voice.’ Roberta Smith, NYT

Yes, I know, I haven’t chosen something easy to write about, especially being this my first article.

Today Tracey Emin is one of the most controversial contemporary artists, some say that her works are ‘too much’: too much depression, too much sadness, too much passion. She knows how to provoke the viewer, she knows how to make us feel. It is as if she was saying ‘You can choose whether to open yourselves to my artworks and accept whatever emotions they may cause you, or you can go on living emotionless your gray and dull life’. Because despite all the tragedies she went through, her life is a blaze of colours.

Tracey Emin with My Bed, Tate Britain, 2015 © Guy Bell

Tracey Emin was born in 1963 in London, and she is one of the most well-known British contemporary artists of today. Her arguably most famous work is My Bed, exhibited at the Tate Gallery in 1999 and which represented Great Britain at the Venice Biennale in 2007. The bed (yup, the artwork title is quite self-explanatory) exhibited was the actual bed where she spent hours and hours smoking, eating, or having sexual intercourses in a quite difficult period of her life. For this reason, her artwork attracted not little media attention: it wasn’t just a bed, it was a bed surrounded by empty alcohol bottles, sheets full of weird stains, used condoms and empty cigarettes packets. Some thought ‘I didn’t come to an art gallery to see used condoms!”, but thankfully a lot more people appreciated the underlying intensity of her sorrow and despair.

Oh, yeah, she is also famous because in 1997 she appeared drunk on TV in the discussion panel of the program ‘The Death of Painting’ (…or ‘Is Painting Dead?’, according to The Guardian). I actually looked for the video but couldn’t find it (please, share the link if you do!).

The entrance of the exhibition at White Cube Bermondsey, 2019 © Virginia Bianchi

Tracey Emin’s ‘A Fortnight of Tears’ is now on at White Cube Bermondsey until April 7. If you’re in London, GO AND SEE IT. I mean it. (If it wasn’t clear enough, it was quite a long time that I wasn’t that emotional about an exhibition).

The artworks exhibited are how Tracey translated her sufferings into material, artistic objects. Each and every one of them (and they’re quite a large number) is a punch in the stomach of the visitor. Starting from the first room, where fifty self-portraits taken during her sleepless nights of insomnia are hanged on the walls, the intimacy of her devastated glances made me feel naked and uneasy, almost as if the ghosts haunting her nights were in that same room, with me.

Insomnia Room Installation, 2018 © Virginia Bianchi

Those very same ghosts are the ones that appear in the next exhibited artworks: her passed away mother and her unborn child… or actually children – in the exhibition only one abortion is fully mentioned, but she had two: ‘After three [abortions] you start going mad. I’ve had two and I’m borderline.’

The ghosts of motherhood and femininity pervade the rest of the exhibition: the two naked bronze sculptures laying on the floor, leaving us to wonder whether they are unborn foetus or despairing figures; the paintings, representing female figures drawn with such an anger that sometimes they just seem splashes of blood on the canvas; or the silent video she made filming slowly, with a deathly calm, her mother’s box of ashes. The last piece of the exhibition is a 22 minutes-long video where she tells us of her first traumatising abortion in 1990, and of how that experience has had a profound impact on the rest of her life. Her strength, once again, consists in how she doesn’t hide, how she explains in full details how it went, how she calmly doesn’t spare us anything of that story.

In one document, contained in one of the two vitrines collecting intimate and improvised writings from her archive – some are also on sheets with the logo of hotels where she was staying -, she writes ‘Always so alone, so scared – so not wanted.’ And she has that incredible power that only very few artists have nowadays, of making the viewer feel discomfort as if her despair was theirs.

But, of course, only if you are open to embrace her works. That is why she is such a controversial artist: by thinking rationally, by examining her technique, one will never get to the bottom of her works. I feel it to be a bit like looking at a Pollock and saying ‘My child could have done that!’ One also need to consider the fortnights of tears the author spent creating that same artwork you are admiring today.

No Love, 2018 © Virginia Bianchi
(from left) I watched you disappear. Pink Ghost, 2018; I was too young to be carrying your Ashes, 2017-18; You were still There, 2018 © Virginia Bianchi