Saturday, 22 April 2017

Ellsworth Kelly: Liverpool Tate

                                                             'Broadway' (1958)

Liverpool UK has a number of high profile galleries, not least the Liverpool incarnation of the Tate gallery franchise. 

Settled in the relatively small, but not inconsiderable, ground floor gallery is an excellent mini-retrospective of prints and paintings by American artist Ellsworth Kelly. 

Kelly’s work is an exercise in high-quality wrongness, each distortion of the flat, coloured and rectangular seems retrospectively obvious. Obvious in the same way a successful melody seems contained and complete, even prior to being heard. 

The elegant incorrectness of Kelly’s best work demands sustained attention. Its refined variance from the strictures imposed by High Modernisms simplification to colour and surface is a continual pleasure.

As somatic deformations of an architectural purity, traps for the eye, Kelly’s paintings loop the experience of the graphically attractive back to the act of reading the design. Looking becomes thinking about looking whilst simultaneously enjoying the activity. 

As a return for time spent in front of any object it is hard to know how that can be improved on.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Steve Hunt: UNITY - Memories Of A Free Festival

Hunched and scowling on a corner on the outskirts of Manchester’s Northern Quarter, ‘The Crown And Kettle’ pub eyes suspiciously the city’s self-professed ‘cultural quarter’ and its mercantile infighting. 

The walls of the pub are currently home to Steve Hunt’s photographs communally entitled ‘UNITY: Memories Of A Free Festival’. 

The pictures are belatedly printed black and white ‘documentary’ photographs of small groupings of attendees at an anti-racism UNITY festival staged in Chorlton in Manchester in 1994. 

Hunt has a good eye for spotting if not moments of disunity then points of apparent individual introversion within a crowd. Even if this interpretation of the images is very much imposed by the viewer, Hunt’s cumulative compilation of moments which suggest this reading have a destabilizing effect on the festivals theme of joyous UNITY. 

Not, to be fair, a dismissive undermining of the festivals good intentions, more a suggestion of questioning uncertainty.

1994 was roughly the point at which digital photography began its rise to dominance, a form of image construction which dispenses with the lick of reality implied by older printed photos.

In reality photos were always things which acquired value through their different potential uses. Whereas a mediated flow of images is controlled information, instructions pretending to be one-side of a conversation, the photographic print is a record of a process of fixing an image and can have a number of functions at one-and-the-same time - memory enhancer, a record of an incident, a form of surveillance, and so on.

As photographs are objects divorced from one simple function, solid material facts as much as congealed movement peeled from reality, their immobile indifference to the viewers demands makes them alien artifacts from somewhere else. Even if that somewhere is our own pasts.

In this way, the passive irresponsibility of older photographs-as-things, their refusal to be easily defined, there stubborn mute there-ness, stands in opposition to the deadening economy of images, the contemporary digitized world of an excess of images; here today and largely gone today.

However, like a hazy memory or a half-seen event, all photographs nag at us, demand interpretation.

These pictures now sit at an almost distant moment in time. With all such photographs there is a temptation to indulge the viewer in the warming certainties of nostalgia. 

But these prints willingly embrace the entropy of their physical decay, the fact of old processes slipping from use, the imperfections of their production processes controlled by the artist, all suggesting a less clear framing of historical events, both culturally and privately.

The inevitable end-point for the medium, its moment of disappearance, is being used as a new user function. One we still have yet to fully understand.