Saturday, 29 August 2015

Venice Biennale part 4

Nidhal Chamekh

Nidhal Chamekh had two distinctly different bodies of work on show. The first was perhaps more traditional, and consisted of a series of approximately A2 size drawings, hung framed in 2 rows. The drawings were fragmented images, sometimes using biro and at other times more traditional ‘art’ media. They also included Arabic script. He is obviously interested in science and its ‘objective’ status, the drawing often using engineering cross sections or biological illustration, off set against more emotive subject matter. Chamekh grew up in Tunis, and his family were involved in militant action, so he would have experienced the chaos of war from an early age.  It has been said about his work that it works as,“ a ‘sampler’ of the chaos of history”. He uses montage techniques to construct his images, but has a really good sense of design, so that as he builds these images they are still readable and not too confused. Often hand drawn, rather than actually collaged, but combined with the use of transfer techniques (see) his imagery relies on a basic recognition of the artist’s rendering skill as a metaphor for ‘care’ and ‘attention’

Nidhal Chamekh

Like several other artists at Venice Chamekh also uses models to visualize his ideas and his second exhibit was an installation of drawings placed next to a model of a city that had a rolling ball on a track that ran over the buildings below. This time the drawings were all focused on ideas of time. He is obviously trying to deal with the significance of the stopped clock. Time arrested suggesting that moment when we take stock, or a period when we await a dramatic happening, time seeming to stand still just before a tragic event.

Nidhal Chamekh

It was also good to see the drawings of William Kentridge again. Another artist who has often responded to political events in his past work, this time however he was looking back into history and the way that wars and the victims of war are a long running theme in art history. He was asked to respond to being part of the Italian pavilion and took the opportunity to revisit old images of Italian martial history, reminding us of the ever constant violence that seems to pervade human history. I was particularly interested in the way he worked from existing imagery and made it his own through his particular use of expressive charcoal and ink drawings. 

This was a very large ink and brush drawing, covering several sheets of paper. 

One ink drawing in particular (see above) had been enlarged and then cut out, (I presume laser-cut), it was then hung and mounted against a brick wall. I didn’t think it really added to its effect, but it was interesting technically.

William Kentridge

Finally a reminder that you can always be on the lookout for new ways of presenting drawings. Terry Adkins had had a series of drawings/prints displayed using a hinged rack. It looked as if it was designed for a commercial outlet, and added a ‘consumerist’ message to his images because of this.

Terry Adkins

I could continue to put up posts on Venice, but perhaps this is enough for now. I am aware that some of you may well be going there this coming semester, if you do, try and use the experience to think about your own work’s ambition and where you perhaps stand in relation to the possibility of making work that has a political or moral dimension. This is not to say it has to, but simply one of those experiences that can help you when positioning your practice. It may also be a useful experience even if you hate the work on show, this can be a very powerful indicator that you either need to confront these issues or that your work should be non political and if this is the case you will be in agreement with some of the most revered thinkers in aesthetics. Kant’s ‘disinterested interest’ pointing to a position in aesthetics whereby the artist’s job is not to comment on the world or try to change it but to observe it and the way it operates.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Venice Biennale part 3

Tiffany Chung
Tiffany Chung works using tracing papers and mapping procedures. Deceptivly simple work that is very powerful in its effect. At first sight it appears as very pleasently decorative. Small dots and circles of colour are marshalled across the milky surface of the tracing paper. It is only after looking at the titles that you begin to realise what you are looking at. These are maps of changing territories, territories that are moving because of ongoing war. In particular the war in Syria results in a constant taking and retaking of positions. Boundries between states and peoples are of course set by arbitary means.

The information provided in the information plate both identifies each work and details the issues dealt with. This way of hanging suggests the random nature of aggression and the unpredictability of these dangerous situations. 

Tiffany Chung is from Vietnam, she makes cartographic drawings, sculptures, videos, photographs, and theater performances that explore spatial and sociopolitical transformations interwoven with her responses to the lingering resonances to political and historical trauma.

Chung uses map conventions and Maja Bajevic uses the diagram to carry her ideas. Using graphs of rising and falling commodity prices, Bajevic creates images with old craft techniques such as weaving and embroidery. The two would appear to have nothing in common, but the conjunction between an old craft and contemporary graphic measuring techniques reminds us of how all data is in fact reliant on the rough imprecise nature of reality. The highs and lows of the stock exchange can appear to be an abstract, almost inhuman process, but a handmade, woven artefact will always retain the trace of its human maker. 

Maja Bajevic

Born in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Maja Bajevic lives and works in Paris. Using a range of media including video, light, installation, photography and performance, Bajevic's work reflects on social and political issues. Her video “Double Bubble” (2001) explores the concept of religious ideal, contrasting the values preached by organized religions with crimes committed “in the name of God”. Bajevic’s sound installation “Avanti Popolo” (2002-2005) is composed of patriotic songs from 30 different countries. Immersing the viewer in a cacophonic sound-scape, the work questions the paradoxical nature of anthems, which enhance a sense of collective belonging while also lending themselves to ideological designs.

Also see posts on mapping and

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Venice Biennale part 2

This year’s Venice Biennale is curated by Okwui Enwezor a Nigerian who works out of a gallery in Germany and has an office in New York. He is an advocate of art as a global phenomenon and warns us against using a white European western lens with which to evaluate art.

He has previously stated, "The only thing modernity teaches us is that modernity is in itself a project with very deep social, cultural, economic, and political entanglements. And there are no innocents. Artists function within transactions – whether in the relationships between objects, or the relationships between discourses". See

Enwezor is very clear about his ‘audiences’, which I think is an important issue when not only curating but making art. I thought his phrase “there are no innocents” important too, as it engages with us as artists to make sure we are informed and that we are actively making work which is positioned as part of a global discourse. I am very aware that when I turn on the news I am affected both emotionally and politically in the way I respond. My art practice is therefore, because it is something I deeply want to engage with and shape and hone my feeling through, also affected by what is happening around me. However the ‘global village’ as McLuhan would put it, is also local and my experiences are also shaped by my immediate environment. This complexity is I think something to be embraced and as it is the reality of now, something we ought to respond to if we are to make an art practice that is relevant to our time and point of location on this Earth. Global warming, conflict and mass emigration are part of our lives, just as much as consumerism, the rise of social media and the selfie or the Yorkshire Dales, Leeds United and the streets of Chapeltown or one's age, gender and social class. 

Of course there are wide varieties of approach to art making within a context of global discourse and this blog is about drawing, so I have made an attempt to filter my responses through a drawing lens. Even so I cant escape the fact that at the centre of the whole Biennale there was a daily reading of Marx’s ‘Capital’, a reminder that the curator Enwezor asks us to frame our reception of the works through a Marxist reading. I shall try and pick out my own readings of course but perhaps as readers of the blog post you could add to my readings your own thoughts on the social, political and economic positioning of each work.

"Abu-Bakarr Mansaray was born in Sierra Leone, a country in western Africa that suffered from civil war during the 1990s. After quitting school in his teens, Mansaray taught himself practical science and engineering, while also devoting himself to a widely adopted technique in central Africa: manufacturing decorative objects or toys with wire and iron. He also invents machines for his own use at home and sometimes for other people.” See 
I found the work fascinating because when I was at school back in the 1950s most of my friends if they did draw, spent their time making drawings of war. We were a generation of children brought up by fathers who had been in the forces and who had seen action in WW2, our grandfathers had all fought in WW1 and therefore as boys we were expected to do the same in some future war. War inhabited our subconscious and we drew obsessive images of planes and tanks whenever we had a chance. Abu-Bakarr Mansaray has been able to visualise his awareness of the technology of war in a similar way, adding into it an obsession with details that have come from his engineering background. He also works on a large scale, some of his drawings being 4 to 5 feet across. The compaction of technical drawing and personal myth making, makes for a powerful mix of imagery. This together with a use of biro and felt-tip, all supported by dense annotation held my attention for quite some time, as the details force you to stand quite close to these images in order to read and see how detailing works. 

Abu-Bakarr Mansaray 

In contrast Qiu Zhijie works in a tradition that has a 2,000 year old history. Chinese scroll brush drawings have a deep tradition that is still referred to by many contemporary artists. Qiu Zhijie uses traditional brush drawing to develop complex landscapes that contain several narratives. He works detailed images into the enveloping landscapes which are as much of the mind as of any actual geographic territory. Like many artists working today he also works in other media. 

Note the drawing of a roller machine near the bottom edge

Qiu Zhijie

 An image that is first seen in a drawing is often then recreated as an actual object, in one case a roller incised with an engraving of a star system is located on a central pole, so that it turns around on a central axis, the drawing the roller makes in the sand being erased as the machine turns, in another a music box is recreated in metal.

Qiu Zhijie

Qiu Zhijie also works using video techniques, often embedding his monitors in objects which again refer to sections of drawings and his obsession with cliches of Chinese history.
Qiu Zhijie

Qiu Zhijie also makes work much more directly looking at the historical nature of Chinese scroll brush drawings. This huge drawing below being a direct copy he has made of an original. However the drawing is done on 2 layers, the top layer is clear acrylic and on this he has annotated the drawing below.

Qiu Zhijie

Qiu Zhijie's annotations in effect bring the image back into the 21st century, his comments are those of an observer from another time, an observer who is fascinated by the parallels that can be made between now and then. 
Drawing is central to both these artist's practice, however one is direct and almost 'childlike' in its application and the other is very knowing and sophisticated in its execution. What both have in common is a love of detail and complex narrative, as well as a need to annotate their work. 

See also: