Monday, 28 November 2011

Books and Talks

John Leighton
By John Leighton, Shop Manager

One of the many good things about our programme of talks and lectures is their considerable literary background and the opportunity it provides to highlight some very interesting books.

On the 30th November, Professor Patrick McGuinness joins us to discuss JK Huysmans Against Nature and the artistic reactions to the scientific breakthroughs and moral codes of the day. If that hasn’t already got your literary taste buds salivating, McGuinness is also the author of The Last Hundred Days, recently Booker long listed and already a favourite with the more discerning reader.It’s an absorbing, semi-autobiographical novel about the last days of Ceaucescu’s Romania.

Compared favourably to Isherwood’s Berlin novels it bodes well for a very interesting evening.

If you prefer Doctors to Professors, how about Dr Conor Cunningham, on the 14th of December? He’ll be with us to present a fresh look at Charles Darwin, the origin of the Species and how both have been hijacked by extremists on both sides of a very long argument. Darwin’s Pious Idea has already garnered considerable acclaim in the book world and this event gives you an opportunity to visit those ideas with the author and then perhaps spend some time with the book at your leisure.

As the nights get longer and colder, two very interesting evenings and two very readable books to keep you going – both available in our shop, The Last Hundred Days, published by Poetry Wales Press and Darwin’s Pious Idea, published by William B Eardmanns.

Related events
Patrick McGuinness, AgainstNature, 30th November. 7pm. Free. More

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Sound Fountains

Caroline Locke's Sound Fountains will be at Nottingham Contemporary on Sat 26 and Sun 27 Nov between 11am - 4pm and Sat from 7.30pm. Drop in, free. Find out more at

By Caroline Locke
One of the functions of the installation is to explore how sound moves visually - deepening the understanding of what sound really is– a series of movements in time - a transmission of energy by a series of vibrations.
Caroline Locke, Sound Fountain, 2011
I first developed vibration tanks when exploring wave formations and before replacing the motors with speakers. I went on to create The Maasticht Sound Fountain – a permanent sculpture commissioned by The University of Maastricht - where sound waves move through the water allowing the spectator to experience the sight of sound.

I am interested in exploring the relationship of the spectator and the performer and the opportunities to blur their respective roles within contemporary art practices. I have been investigating ways in which a spectator can engage more in my work through direct interaction. For example: a spectator will become performer and integral to the work by triggering sensors, which orchestrate changes within the exhibition space.

During a 3-month residency as Visiting Academic at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, I began working with Casey Rice - a noted sound specialist and Max Msp software programmer from the USA.

Caroline Locke, Sound Fountain, 2011

In April 2007, the Arts council of England funded a further period of research with Rice, to develop our initial experimentation. I flew out to work alongside him in his studio in Melbourne, Australia. The outcome of this research forms the basis of Sound Fountains.

Over the last 2 years we have updated and extended this research within the Faculty at The University Of Derby. Alex Gibbins, Lecturer in Multimedia Technology has worked with myself and students using Max Msp software and Interactive technologies. We have used this project as a case study, exploring and experimenting with new devices – giving students access to cutting edge equipment and challenging ways of utilizing it.

I am now enjoying the process of building a new version of the work for Nottingham Contemporary – bringing the research back home after along time working away. The work shares some of the concerns of Weber’s, drawing on natural forces, using sound vibrations, water and notions of order and chaos.

Rehearsals for the live performance began last week with musicians Steve Truman and Sam Hempton. For some time I have been alone with the work, it is good now to share it with fellow admirers. We feel like we are part of a laboratory experiment. Looking at the water surface of the sound fountains is like staring into a fire – we become absorbed.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Zebra Logo

By Klaus Weber

Klaus Weber
The zebra is related to art expressly because it has a pattern. What I like abut zebras is that it’s a camouflage against a background.

My logo was actually influenced by homeopathy. The Local Homeopathy Society of London and Bristol has two lions fighting with each other. This symbolises treating like with like. In homeopathy you treat an illness by inducing the same symptoms. This is feeding fire with fire. The logo is feeding art with art – fighting against art with art.

The logo is really intense. It represents artistic attitude. I wanted it to be something that represented the best an art institution can represent in terms of its spirit and attitude.

In homeopathy the remedy is very diluted – but from the perspective of homeopathy it’s intensified. Dilution makes it more effective than the orginal. It is so dilute that you can’t prove the solution contains the remedy. As it becomes more potent you lose the scientific rationale. Art is more potent, too, as you lose a scientific rationale.

Logo by Klaus Weber

Zebras are also beautiful animals. And I love nature. Nature and art are totally on the same wavelength because both are anti-civil. One is by nature anti-civil – and art itself should work against civilisation.
The zebras are definitely fighting, they are not playing. There is a German saying “where there is love there is also fighting.” They are gay, but they have never told anyone.”

Klaus Weber, If you leave me I'm not coming and Already there! can be seen at Nottingham Contemporary until 8 January 2012.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

New Season

by Siobhan Carroll, The Space Programmer
It’s a new season at Nottingham Contemporary and we are really busy over the next 8 weeks with lots of screenings, talks and events to coincide with the Klaus Weber exhibition and some performances that have nothing to do with the exhibition but are there to be enjoyed!

Jean Rouch,  Les Maitres Fous

There are so many events that I am looking forward to, but some of my highlights include:

An evening of Jean Rouch films including the incredible Les Maitres Fous – the last time I saw this film was an unforgettable experience of being in Mary Kings Close, a underground, spooky part of the Old Town of Edinburgh, with Spartacus Chetwynd’s film ’The Call of the Wild’ screaming in the back ground! For this event there won’t be any screaming but we will have comfortable chairs and a great introduction by Elizabeth Cowie, Professor of Film Studies at The University of Kent –I’m sure the impact of this film will still be as strong, Rouch’s films are must see.

I am looking forward to welcoming The Free University of Liverpool to Nottingham Contemporary on 9th November to find out more about their programme which is considered and dynamic with the important underlying commitment to free education for all. They describe what they do as a protest, one which seems to have more and more presence as we slip further into this age of austerity.

Jonathan Rée is one of the most respected thinkers today combining art, history and philosophy. In Weber’s exhibition the artist represents the body various ways including Death Masks and vegetables, heightening our conscious relationship to our own bodies, flesh, organs and how we represent this.  I am delighted that we will be welcoming Rée to Nottingham Contemporary on 16th November to consider this relationship, and to examine the challenge that modern science and medicine bring to traditional ideas of the meaning of bodily existence.

Forced Entertainment have been at the forefront of performance, theatre and writing since they began in 1984. The Sheffield based company, will be at Nottingham Contemporary on 19th November performing their new work ‘Void Story’ a  bleak and comical contemporary fable performed as if it were a radio play, sitting at tables, turning the pages of the script, ‘doing’ the requisite voices and adding in sound effects for gunshots, rain and bad phone-lines. Tickets are available now; I am particularly interested to go to the post show talk by the company after the afternoon performance.

I have to send a lot of leftfield invitations asking specialists and academics to be part of our public programme here, but I think the most random invitation I sent and one of the most gracious responses was from Professor Vivienne Brown, Professor Emeritus in Economics at The Open University, who is one of the leading authorities on the moral philosopher and so called godfather of capitalism, Adam Smith. Considering both Weber’s Bee paintings - paintings that were made by leaving primed white canvasses on a bee-keepers grounds in Berlin, to be painted by the bees during their  annual 'cleansing flight' and his failed proposal to Edinburgh City council to cover the statue of Adam Smith placed on the Royal Mile in a swarm of docile bees - Professor Brown has agreed to come to Nottingham Contemporary and present the Adam Smith’s thought on the “hive” – as a model of productivity described in Smith’s text ‘The Wealth of Nations’. On the same evening we have also invited expert urban beekeeper Alison Knox to describe the joys of the apiary and the importance of the bees “cleansing flights”.

This kind of events is an example of what I enjoy most about programming events; bringing two people who would never normally be together, to discuss their specialism’s in relation to a work of contemporary art – through this process I hope that we can appreciate the connections that we might never have seen before, not because they are direct but because they can sit next to one another, quietly informing.

As I mentioned this is a packed 8 weeks, it was really difficult to choose these few to talk about! It is also sadly the last Public Programme that I have programmed with the incredible Daniella King, who has been the Inspire Assistant Curator at Nottingham Contemporary for the last 2 years and who is leaving us in a couple of weeks – we had fun programming it, I hope that you have fun at the events!

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Animatronics, a Beekeeper and Windscreen Wipers

By Abi Spinks, Assistant Curator
What links an animatronics expert, a beekeeper in Berlin and a manufacturer of industrial windscreen wipers? The answer is Klaus Weber’s forthcoming exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary. Along with a team of engineers from the University of Nottingham, all have been involved in creating artworks for this German artist’s solo show.

The exhibition includes several new commissions which Weber proposed specifically for Nottingham Contemporary’s building and I have worked alongside the artist on bringing these artworks to fruition.  The process as a whole has been both exciting and taxing – in ways I could not  have imagined. One of the things I find enjoyable about my job is the need to develop new and diverse areas of expertise, every few months.  The journey from an artist’s idea, through stages of research and development and onto a (sometimes) physical end result, can lead to the most unexpected conversations and experiences.  

For example, how does one produce realistic and continuous rain, indoors? This was but one conundrum I faced for the new artwork, ‘If you leave me I’m not coming’, in which the 7 ½ metre wide window of Gallery 2 will be turned into a giant windscreen, complete with oversized wipers and never-ending indoor rain. To tackle this, we turned to the aforementioned team of engineers at the Environmental Technology Centre at University of Nottingham, who have brought their expertise to one of the largest and most technically challenging commissions we have hosted yet.  Working out precisely the volume of water required and the exact droplet size which would allow for even distribution across the glass is one challenge we have set their scientific brains to. 

Oversized wipers for this artwork, each over a metre long, are currently being designed for production by a company in Redditch, which is more  accustomed to supplying wiper solutions for the Singapore Metro and large scale naval ships. Each wiper works tirelessly to clear away the “rain” which continually obscures the view both into and out of the gallery. This artwork functions as an alternative (and very suitably British) public fountain and alludes to the transparency of the art world, as it works to allow the public outside the gallery brief glimpses of the inside, before the eternal drizzle takes over again. 

 So what of the animatronics expert and the beekeeper?  Well, from 22 October, you’ll have to come and find out for yourself.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Glenn Ligon

By Nadine Zeidler, Assistant Curator

American artist Glenn Ligon reflects in much of his work the difficulties for African Americans within contemporary American society. Investigating how minorities are still coping with the remnants of slavery and subliminal manifestations of racism, Ligon has become well known for his text based paintings. These works predominantly draw on the writing of such notable figures as Zora Neale Hurston, Jesse Jackson, James Baldwin and Jean Genet.

Glenn Ligon, Untitled (We are the ink...), 1992, Private Collection, Boston

Untitled (We are the ink...) refers to a famous quote from Jean Genet's memoir Prisoner of Love where he states, “In white America the Blacks are the characters in which history is written. They are the ink that gives the white page a meaning.” Being a white amongst blacks, Genet was fighting alongside the Black Panther Party, choosing his words carefully to speak on behalf of them. In this text painting Ligon subverts Genet’s outsider designation “they” and re-personalises the text using “we”. Working with stencils from top to bottom the grease from the stick thickens, increasingly obscuring the black letters. The duality Duality (physics)

The state of having two natures, which is often applied in physics. The classic example is wave-particle duality. The elementary constituents of nature—electrons, quarks, photons, gravitons, and so on—behave in some respects
..... Click the link for more information.
of the black text and the white page embodies Genet’s metaphor of racial power relations and it questions how we perceive and construct oppositional categories of identity.

Glenn Ligon, Untitled (Malcolm X), 2006, Courtesy of the artist and Thomas Dane Gallery
Untitled (Malcolm X) forms part of a series of works where Ligon conducted an art workshop for young children. He asked the children to colour images that were intended to foster shared cultural knowledge and pride. Based on the children’s drawings, Malcom X – the Icon of Black Liberation – is subjected to a clownish remake. Through the investigation of racial stereotypes as well as the nature of representation, Ligon is interested in the slipperiness of the images he is using and also the anxiety around this slipperiness.

L-R Bruce Nauman, One Hundred Live and Die, 1984
Glenn Ligon, Excerpt, 2009, Courtesy of Private Collection, NY
Excerpt – another of Ligon’s pieces in the exhibition – is a direct reference to a larger neon work by Bruce Nauman entitled One Hundred Live and Die. Set against a dark backdrop the black tubes of “Black and Die, Black and Live” were nearly invisible and are not allowed any agency within the flashing spectacle. Ligon admires Nauman’s precise use of language and sampled this particular excerpt. Using visible black wires and black painted neon tubing so that the white light emanates from the back of the text Ligon’s gesture gives the text “Black and Die” and “Black and Live” its own realm of visibility and amplifies the brutality of Nauman’s words.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Jean Genet: Gallery 3

Simon Withers
by Simon Withers, Artist and Nottingham Contemporary Gallery Assistant

Having invested quite some time invigilating the current exhibition, my attention has been drawn towards two works, the bell from the Galleries of Justice (1858) and Walking man 1 (1960) by Giacometti. On a formal level I am forging connections between these two works – bonds which may or may not be essentially prevalent in the work. The empty triangular space between the legs of Walking Man echoes the pyramidal form of the bell – do I use the word pyramidal here imprecisely to describe a form that has feminine qualities? The bell is curvaceous in shape so perhaps it is more akin to an eroded ‘stepped’ pyramid rather than, say, a great pyramid in Giza.

There is something about the cast object that interests me, as both of these forms have a degree of ‘fallible permanence’ – a hard-softness. These two constructs look as if they could be everlasting; yet they could be cast down to zero, whereby even the histories attributed to them shall perish and they could then undergo a metamorphosis and be cast anew. It is not surprising therefore that my thoughts turn towards death and rebirth. Whilst I am alive I have ample time to turn my thoughts to morbid things as William James did, saying the morbid ‘was an all too valid way of seeing the underlying realities of existence.’

As for the bell on the floor of Gallery 3, which once tolled in the execution of condemned criminals, it was made by Whitechapel Bell Foundries – Britain’s oldest company, founded by Charles and George Mears in 1570, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. This illustrious bell foundry also created the Liberty Bell, Big Ben and ‘Great Tom’ (the large bell in Lincoln Cathedral). The foundry additionally crafted the tenor bell of St Sepulcher in London, this bell long ago used to announce the imminent death of some unhappy wretch in the Gulag like Newgate prison. Incidentally, the tenor bell was at some subsequent date substituted by a large executioners hand bell.

As I stand observing the public in the course of visiting Gallery 3, some appear (consciously or otherwise) to adopt numerous qualities of the Walking man, they strike up similar gaits and stances. The emaciated figure, in stark contrast to the nourished individuals scattering the gallery space, is by comparison wearing an endurable sum of flesh and (perhaps stoically?) he strides out with resolution, as though on a death march towards that void – the white wall of the gallery.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Chasing the Visitor Voice

Maggie Hester
By Maggie Hester, recent Marketing intern, art museum and gallery studies post-grad (Leicester), and temporary source of American influence in the office

During my brief 8-week stint as intern for the Marketing team, I have had the pleasure of talking with visitors about the current exhibition Jean Genet. In fact, you may have been one of the hundred whom I recently spoke with. If so, thanks a lot! Your feedback is invaluable. How fascinating it was to hear from so many different people – each bringing to the gallery a unique set of knowledge, skills, interests and life experience that colors their interpretations and impressions. Such inner workings of visitors are incredibly important to museums and galleries today.

You see, museum professionals have recently begun to sense a massive shift in practice – one that is affecting everything from methods of exhibiting and writing about objects to the way we harness the ever-changing nature of digital innovation. Perhaps the most significant change happening in the field is the acknowledgement and affirmation of the “visitor voice”. Whether an art gallery or science museum, a country house or castle, or even a museum about quilt making – we're all chasing after what it is exactly that makes visitors tick. What makes you want to go to a museum or gallery in the first place? What causes you to enjoy your visit? What prompts you to come again?

Frankly, the act of looking doesn’t seem to be enough for people any longer. With the prevalence of the Internet, and its endless array of tantalizing information at our constant disposal, we require more complex and engaging content, don’t we? That and good cakes in the café. When in a gallery space, we want to be taught, entertained, uplifted, challenged, and inspired – depending on our mood and time available. We want to learn something new, feel connected to other people and places (both online and offline), experience good design, good food and, at times, just have a moment to “get away from it all”.

Like other cultural institutions around the world, Nottingham Contemporary has begun to take visitor suggestions to heart. When not spotting the Zebra around town, I have been analyzing comments and statistics in an effort to decode the various needs and wants of an increasingly diverse audience base. For Jean Genet, we received such great feedback that staff are thinking about what to do moving forward that will boost what works well and alter what doesn't, enabling visitors to enjoy their experiences in this place all the more.

It is an exciting (albeit daunting) time for museums and galleries in the 21st century – just as it is for libraries, charities and commercial businesses. Everyone is trying to remain relevant as the world becomes smaller, smarter and faster. With this in mind, as I shortly leave the UK in pursuit of my American roots, I can safely say that there shall never be a dull moment inside the walls of Nottingham Contemporary.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

3 Symposia on the Late Genet

By Siobhan Carroll, The Space Programmer

We in the public programme team have been putting together a very lively series of events that coincide with the current Jean Genet exhibition. Artists, scholars, writers and others who knew Genet personally will descend on Nottingham for three daytime symposia that will reflect on his life and work – not simply looking back, but also investigating his legacy as it still holds relevance today. The symposia will concentrate on elements of Genet’s later life and plays as well as his experience with the Palestinian people and the Black Panther Party.

The first symposium (which happens tomorrow!) will consider Genet’s literary and theatrical assaults on colonialism and conceptions of sexual identity. Speakers, artists and academics such as Clare Finburgh, Carl Lavery, Adrian Rifkin, Agnès Vannouvong, and Lili Reynaud-Dewar will offer insights into the writer’s complex confrontations with French society in the backdrop of May ‘68.

On 29 September, we’ll explore Genet’s involvement with the Palestinian people with guests Leila Shahid, Anjalika Sagar from The Otolith Group, Hadrien Laroche and Doreen Mende. Each will discuss Genet’s exchange with, and representation of, the Palestinian struggle. Leila Shahid, for example, was a close friend during the writer's final years and was with him when he visited the Chatila Refugee Camp. Now General Delegate of Palestine at the European Union, she will discuss Genet's passion for this displaced people and what she sees as his lasting contribution to the understanding of the Palestinian cause.

Finally, on 30 September, we will welcome Emory Douglas, Kodwo Eshun and Lili Reynaud-Dewar, with John Akomfrah OBE and Kobena Mercer who will join the day’s discussion via Skype video chat. The first half is a rare lecture by Emory Douglas (have you seen his murals at the gallery yet?) – the Panthers' former Minister of Culture – who is travelling over from California for the event.

After the last symposium we’re delighted to welcome back Derby based DJ Devon Daley to help us wind down and reflect on the day’s events in the Cafe.Bar with Panther-inspired soul, funk and hip hop records.

Whether you’re looking for discussion with artists, debate about politics, or just some stimulating history and good music – all of which is free of charge – we hope to see you around the gallery this month! (Dates, times and booking links are below.)

Genet: Sex, Power and DramaturgyBook
Tomorrow, Wednesday 14 September 2pm – 6pm

Genet and the PalestiniansBook
Thursday 29 September, 3pm – 6.30pm

The Panthers and GenetBook
Friday 30 September, 11am – 4pm

Friday, 9 September 2011

Jean Genet and the UK Riots

By Ed Dodson, installation intern for the Jean Genet exhibition, and English student at the University of Leeds

Genet was born nearly a century ago, and we live in very different times. Nevertheless, it is an apt time to write about Jean Genet – and for Nottingham Contemporary to host an exhibit in dialogue with his life and works. Genet was a radical writer – these are riotous times. We have witnessed destruction and violence that in some instances tragically proved fatal, and so did Genet.  If Genet can teach us something here, it is that such actions are never causeless, although those causes may be difficult to understand.

Many commentators have stated that the recent UK rioters did not seem to have a specific aim in mind. They did not have a manifesto, an ideology, or even a particular policy they wished to attack. However, as the conflicted psyches of Genet’s texts reveal, this does not mean we should not try to understand the causes behind these acts, or to understand the conditions they are borne out of. Only then can we help prevent them ever occurring again. This does not condone the actions investigated. A historian or political scientist might study the causes of World War II and Nazism for instance, but that is not done to condone Hitler’s actions.

Genet was scarred by his own family circumstances, and from the consequent social exclusion, almost from the moment of his birth. He was abandoned by his parents and this quickly led to his imprisonment at the premature age of ten. He continued to commit crimes, most of them petty. His five novels were written while in prison. It was onlyIs H later in life that Genet found acceptance by a certain section of society. He was adored by an influential circle of French philosophers, headed by the towering figure of the existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre. Such adoration could evidentially be uncomfortable. The publication of Sartre’s eight-hundred page biography called Saint Genet led to an eight-year writer’s block.

Genet later joined the Black Panthers (and later the Palestinian movement) in order to satisfy his urgent need to be an outsider. His espousal of the Black Panther movement came from a desire to help their cause. Yet it also satisfied his own radical impulses in that he had joined a movement ostensibly counter-productive to his own ends as a white man. He was a rebel for the sake of rebellion itself. He sympathised with outsiders, whatever the reasons for their alienation, marginalization or exclusion. “Obviously I am drawn to peoples in revolt because I myself have the need to call the whole of society into question,” he stated. In this vein, Genet continued to steal even when he was rich. Theft may have been more of a necessity when he was young, but now he no longer needed to steal for survival, or even for material purposes. Theft had become an ideological act – an act against capitalism, an act against the society that had so excluded him and humiliated him. Perhaps there are parallels with today’s rioters in that the causes of Genet’s criminality were far from simple – but this did not mean his actions were apolitical or anti-political.

Genet’s play The Maids (1947) exemplifies the swirling contamination of impulses that can lead to radical or violent acts. Two maids – Solange and Claire – plot to assassinate Madame, their employer and idol. Their act is emblematic of class rebellion- the underclass rising up against their oppressive master or mistress. But the maids are also reliant upon Madame for their livelihood. As much as they hate her, they desperately love her too. They dress up and perform her. Their attempted murder of their glamorous employer is in many ways an attempted suicide. Indeed the play ends in self-destruction, as Claire drinks, quite literally, her own poison – the poison she has prepared for Madame.

The maids’ actions, like Genet’s, do not fit into a particular political programme. They are contradictory, and ultimately self-defeating and self-destructive. Genet had the medium of art – literature, novels, plays, and speeches – to express the confused state of mind of an alienated rebel. Some are not so fortunate. We must look to him and artists inspired by him, as exhibited at Nottingham Contemporary, in a time of need – a time which needs analysis and understanding, as well as condemnation.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Drama Queens by Elmgreen & Dragset

By Sam Mercer, artist, co - director of Tether and Gallery Assistant

Giacometti's ‘Walking Man’ finds itself onstage with 5 other seminal 20th Century sculptures, including ‘Elegy III’ by Barbara Hepworth & ‘Rabbit’ by Jeff Koons.

Over the next 45 minutes, the sculptures ponder their creation, existence, what they’re doing on stage and who all the strange people are that are staring at them.

Drama Queens is a one act play devised by artists Elmgreen & Dragset for Skulptur Projekte in 2007. In 2012, their work will occupy the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square.

The play sits alongside other works created in recent years that attempt to anthropomorphise and create a conversation between inanimate, abstract objects and artworks. A similar work, ‘The School for Objects Criticized’ by Alexandre Singh has a variety of everyday objects speaking to each other about an exhibition they have seen recently- an exhibition the audience is currently viewing.

Perhaps this existentialist comedy has similarities to the way Marc Camille Chaimowitz uses Giacometti's Walking Man at Nottingham Contemporary, a way of reconsidering and creating new meanings or dialogues in 20th Century artworks.  

Drama Queens the play can be found in our Study.

Sam Mercer is co-director of Tether, see

Friday, 19 August 2011

Carry On Gallery Assisting

Marjie To
By Marjie Todd, Front of House Assistant

Working as a Gallery Assistant can be varied, very informative, really enjoyable and often fun. Fortunately, at Nottingham Contemporary we are visited daily by a public eager to take in the experience of each exhibition and sometimes to share their ideas with us.

In our last exhibition, the Chinese artist Huang Yong Ping exhibited a sculpture “Amerigo Vispucci” - an aluminium bull mastif appearing to urinate against the wall in Gallery 1. The waste matter formed the shape of a U.S. map on the floor. One visitor, a dog owner and seemingly a canine behavioural expert, informed me that the patch of urine was in the wrong place in relation to the angle in which the dog was taking aim. An illuminating comment which highlights the fact that contemporary art can evoke the most unusual responses from those who view it.

Huang Yong Ping, Marche de Punya. (detail).  Photo by Stuart Wood
School Group at the Gallery
Another of Huang Yong Ping’s works was a sculpture of a very life-like elephant which lay on its side as part of the installation “Marche de Punya” which was showing in Gallery 2. It was interesting to witness the initial responses of visitors when confronted by this piece, particularly those of young children. My favourite was from a girl aged about 3 who mused that maybe Dumbo had flown through our large picture window at Weekday Cross and knocked himself out on the Gallery floor.

During our current exhibition “Jean Genet”, a young boy was very excited to see that we were showing sculptures by Alberto Giacometti. He told me that he took part in a school project inspired by the artist where they made art works using tin foil. He also made an offer (accompanied by a knowing look) for the bronze piece “Man Pointing” which is on display in Gallery 3.

John Newling, The Miracle Trees (Moringa Oleifera). Photo by Andy Keate.

We recently showed an installation by artist John Newling in our Study. This involved the germination and growth of the rare Moringa plant and the project drew many interested visitors. I was somewhat taken aback one day when I was on duty at the reception desk and a gentleman approached me and announced that he had “come to have a look at your Moringas”. Perhaps the Carry On films have a lot to answer for here!

John Newling, The Miracle Trees (Moringa Oleifera). Photo by Andy Keate.
Since Nottingham Contemporary has opened it has become commonplace to see our visitors making friends with our own loveable zebra and some of our regular young art lovers come especially to see him. It has also not been unusual to bump into a roving Russian cosmonaut, young men in swimming trunks and semi-naked ladies in large hats. (Most of this can be explained by viewing our 15 specially designed and striking logos on the Nottingham Contemporary website).

Marjie has a secret! She is the person holding the sunglasses in Ben Cain's artist logo.

Logo lady inspired by Anthea Hamilton's artist logo
Zebra mascot inspired by Klaus Weber's artist logo
 Paying us a visit can provide for a very entertaining and uplifting experience. Working as Gallery Assistants we see at first hand the effects that contemporary art has on those who come to see it and responses are overwhelmingly positive as we see and hear from those who come to visit us again and again.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Partial Eclipse

Alex Farquharson
 By Alex Farquharson, Director Nottingham Contemporary

I went to Tate Britain on Saturday to see a room of works by Marc Camille Chaimowicz from the 1980s. It’s part of an exhibition based on Tate’s collection called 'Has the Film Already Started?' It considers performance in the visual arts, directly and indirectly.

The exhibition opened a fortnight or so before Marc Camille’s exhibition here dedicated to Jean Genet. The two make for a fascinating comparison. His room at Tate is centred on a group of works called ‘Partial Eclipse’, begun in 1980, which consists of a slide projection, paravents, painted panels, collages and an occasional subtle performance. It established a vocabulary he has been working with to this day – as is soon evident to visitors of both exhibitions.

Chaimowicz plays with the two meanings of interior – interior meaning the domestic interior, and interior meaning one’s inner life. For Chaimowicz, one’s rooms should be intensely personal environments. He doesn’t have a studio, instead his south London flat is the fulcrum of his work. Its precise arrangements of eclectic objects relating to different periods of his life and the lives of others is expressive of a very particular sensibility. His own art works, which also resemble furniture, furnishings and objets d’art, retain a sense of belonging and personal significance despite the publicness of their exhibition settings. For that reason the experience of being in one of his exhibitions has the intimacy of literature. ‘The Courtesy of Objects’, the subtitle of his exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary (and before that, at Norwich Gallery), conveys this: how can objects be courteous, unless they are somehow imbued with the personality traits of certain people? In Nottingham, one thinks of Genet, naturally. ‘Partial Eclipse’ evokes fragments of Proust, transferred from the Bourgeois interiors of late 19th century Paris to more cramped quarters in London in the 80s.

Each Saturday at 3pm, the slide projector comes on, Kraftwerk’s primitive synths can be heard, and the lights go down. Eventually, a man, simply dressed, enters the exhibition. He does next to nothing. He paces around and around the space between projector and screen, preoccupied. His shadow becomes part of the images Marc Camille took in his home in the early 80s, reanimating memories in our present; at the same time, fragments of these images appear on the man’s shirt, which acts as a moving distorted screen. At one point he smokes a cigarette (a surprising event these days). A woman’s and a man’s voice are heard reciting lines from the ‘Partial Eclipse’ collages in the exhibition. Their words are monologues on desire prior to consummation. We also see black and white photographs of the couple in question on the paravents and the decorated panels that lean against the wall. A dreamlike atmosphere pervades the scene, and we are left uncertain as to whether or not the piece is recounting an affair between two people or one person’s fantasy of a possible affair. Moreover the man and woman don’t appear sufficiently differentiated; perhaps they refer to male and female aspects of the same individual. In Proust too there is often the same sense of desire infinitely suspended, postponed or sublimated, as the first person narrator recalls his difficulties finding true fulfilment of the self through relations with others (a quest he’d abandoned prior to beginning writing the monumental In Search of Lost Time). In Chaimowicz’s work desire can be found amongst the thickets of ornamentation. Stencilled patterns, like creeping ivy, leave their mark on all manner of objects. The Modernist architect, Adolf Loos, notoriously declared ornament a crime in the early 20th century. There’s the sense in Chaimowicz’s work that he enacts crimes that ornamentation might engender: his work’s etiquette may be immaculate, but it harbours unspoken and ambiguous desires.

Has the Film Already Started?’ continues until 26 February, 2012 at Tate Britain. ‘Jean Genet… The Courtesy of Objects’ at Nottingham Contemporary continues until 2 October 2011.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Art Work of the Week

This week Marjie Todd, Front of House Assistant picks her favourite art work from the Jean Genet exhibition: Marc Camille Chaimowicz, The Casting for the Maids – First Cut, 2010

Marc Camille Chaimowicz, Jean Genet... The Courtesy of Objects, installation view Nottingham Contemporary, 2011. Photo Andy Keate

This installation consists of a props and wardrobe room which is situated adjacent to a TV screen showing a film. The subject of the film is a fictional casting session of Jean Genets 1948 play The Maids. The story is about two young servant girls who plot to murder their mistress. The play was based on a true life incident involving the Papin sisters which took place in Le Mans in 1933.

The film is made up of various shots of three young women applying make up, costumes and reading aloud excerpts from the play. There are close ups showing some of the objects we see in the room within the Gallery – costumes, mirrors, flowers, masks and at one stage a container of barbiturates.

Marc Camille Chaimowicz, Jean Genet... The Courtesy of Objects, installation view Nottingham Contemporary, 2011. Photo Andy Keate

The props and wardrobe room can only be viewed through three window frames designed by the artist, the door is locked so we cannot enter which is echoed in the accompanying film – here we see split screen shots of a winding staircase where the maids slowly descend the wide stone steps. The use of strobe lighting creates a ghostly and menacing air and freshly lit candles suggest some kind of ritual. As viewers we are witnessing an informal interpretation of Genet’s play but even here an uneasy aura of mystery pervades.

Find the installation in Gallery 4 until 2nd October,

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Peeping Into Contemporary Art

By Saima Kaur, Community Programmer

Saima Kaur
Last week a pile of notebooks arrived on my desk, each one brimming with notes, sketches, inserts and reflections on contemporary art.

These notebooks belong to students who have just completed the ten week ‘IN2 Contemporary Art’ course. It is aimed at adults who want to learn or reconnect with their interest in artistic practice, be it their own or that of contemporary artists.

Into Contemporary Art sketch books - top by Daphne Bene
The course is ably run by our associate artist Chris Lewis Jones and my role is to ensure it’s all going smoothly, but I manage to sneak in some friendly tea making as an excuse to chat to the participants and get an insight into the workings of the course.

Daphne Bene
As a result, I’ve been privy to watching near strangers create striking artwork, have some heated discussions and even strike up unlikely friendships. I’ve seen previously reluctant participants create arresting artwork in ten minutes flat,  marvelled at two generations working together to make work that deconstructs received perceptions of gender and listened carefully to the lone voice lamenting the invisibility of class politics in current cultural discourse. Each course produces artistic expressions that are diverse, personal and sometimes strangely moving.
Jan Bentley

I feel we’re lucky to have such people work with us and am gearing up for my next round of tea lady duties!

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Singing in the Galleries

Helena Tomlin
By Helena Tomlin, Head of Learning

On Friday 21 July I had the privilege of introducing a women’s choir in Gallery 1 to an audience of visitors many of whom were new to the gallery. We were treated to an amazing harmony of voices issuing from Gallery 1 as Platform 51 began a 20 minute performance of their favourite songs, singing in front of the vibrant red and black Emory Douglas mural. Their beautiful voices easily filled the gallery and we were encouraged to join in to the programme that included Sing with Joy, Across the Fields and Down the River to Pray.

Comments from the Choir included:
“Stimulates the senses, contributes to my wellbeing within a group of like minded people, testing my ability in a direction I’ve never used before.”

“It has given me lots of confidence and has been brilliant getting together with other people. We have laughed a lot and has been so much fun!”

“Singing with this choir has helped me to have fun and meet new people. It has also given me a focus during a family members stay in hospital. And I’ve been on the radio!"

Platform 51 are a charity who give a voice to young girls and women, campaigning for things that women need and want. Many of the women who Platform 51 work with lack confidence and some are in a crisis situation so the choir was begun in Nottingham to inspire women to take up a group activity. The Learning team hope to work in partnership again with Platform 51 and use the gallery in creative ways that will be of benefit to women in the city. We are all looking forward to it!

Monday, 25 July 2011

The Novelties of an Internship

By Alice Gale - Feeny, Fine Art Student from Nottingham Trent University and an Intern with the Public Programme Team

For the past few months as an intern, I have experienced a fluctuation of events and consistently eye-opening experience involving on ground-level, many-a-cup of tea in front of a computer which led to some wonderful meetings, moments of anxious participation whilst singing in Persian, the occasional backing vocals in a Korean and Polish; I could continue.

But maybe it’s important to elaborate on the occasion that led to the Persian Singing.

Hiwa K, the Kurdish Iraqi artist began the neoliberal discussion group and 70’s cover band Chicago boys... while we were singing they were dreaming whilst on his residency at The Serpentine’s Edgware Road project: The centre for possible studies. Hiwa spent a day with me, as I acted as city guide, the day before their first rehearsal. Firstly, I would use the word guide loosely. Between the downpours of rain, we seemed to consistently miss buses and decided against buying an umbrella; my influence I’ll admit. At one point, we passed a hairdresser’s that Hiwa pointed out. Traditionally, it’s the local that points out to the tourist, destinations of interest; however my inability to speak Kurdish limited my awareness of this particular business.

The ramble up Mansfield Road to The New Art Exchange and Polish Centre (which I found impossible to find), was in the hope of finding individuals to collaborate and discuss with; those who may bring local insights into topics that occupy the Chicago Boys: migration, privatisation of public space, education cuts, to mention a few. The definitive point, when all tour-structure was lost came as we lost ourselves, for nearly an hour, in The Forest Field graveyard.

“This is not putting aside the stories...
This is not a picture of the decadence of human”

Talaah by Googoosh was taught to me a day before the Chicago Boys event on May 14th, by CB member and (powerful) singer, Helene Kazan. I should refrain from relishing in the feeling of singing with such a wonderful band but at the same time, cannot deny the joy I felt to be so welcomed to participate for the occasion of this event. The songs were chosen by the group for their weighty, political and personal resonance. This aspect felt by far the most important and pertinent aim of the group and influenced my overall experience of singing the songs.

Hiwa K was one amongst many of the group to present an interjectory insight between the cover songs. A video was shown of a protest involving Hiwa himself, alongside fellow Kurdish civilians in Sulaimaniya. The action caught on film, was not only utterly moving in terms of its political resonance but because of it’s terrifying proximity to the date of the Chicago Boys event, having happened only weeks before. The video saw protesters clutching bullet shells, chanting in the direction of the riot police that were just down the street. One older man stood in front of the younger protesters. Hiwa translated his chant that could be described as self-sacrificial, in honour of those younger behind him. Amongst the action, Hiwa K reiterated a performative, yet calm form of protest, playing Man with a Harmonica from Once Upon a Time in the West on harmonica, with megaphones strung around him. This was oddly conflicted by the reality of what was happening around him. Halfway through the footage, protesters began to cover their mouths with cloths to prevent the inhalation of tear gas released by the riot police. Following this, gun shots were clearly heard. A man half-covered in blood was lifted by the crowd; his foot suspended by others hands. To me, it was horrifying and at the same time, undeniably distant from The Space at Nottingham Contemporary. My overall encounter with the Chicago Boys project was all the more surreal for this necessary insight.

My experience of the current exhibition during my time as an intern has differed dramatically to that of a visitor (that I once was and will be once more.) In the run-up to my Wednesday Walk-Through, I have viewed the work time and time again. Not enough perhaps. What I find most important about it as a whole, is the repetitive use of the replica; the translations performed in order to speak about certain topics and ideas that are perhaps too politically difficult or close to home in the case of the artists. Through the use of animals, marionettes, architecture and children, Huang Yong-Ping and Wael Shawky seem to draw in an audience, to otherwise tricky topics. Shawky has used the term translation to describe the role of an artist. To me, Shawky does this exactly. With aesthetic consideration, he retells events that would otherwise be purely factual. In this translation we are given a go-between through its transference into a new medium. In Shawky case, video is key. In many ways, the medium is the most understandable to us now and therefore frames the historical events so they may be consumed as we consume media.

Friday, 1 July 2011


We asked Dave Thomas our building technician a few questions about the one of the busiest and exciting times in the gallery - exhibitions changeover

David Thomas
As part of Huang Yong Ping's exhibition - an elephant and a cockpit of an American aeroplane left the building yesterday – were you looking forward to moving them out of the galleries?
It is nice in some ways to get them out of the building, but we were sad to see them go. For the elephant to leave the building we had to remove the front doors as it was too large for our goods lift - and the sculpture weighs close to 1000kg. Then we had to build the steel crate (which weighs 500kg and is six metres long) around the elephant outside the building, and fork lift it into the transportation truck to be returned to its store in Paris. The aeroplane was slightly more straightforward. I guess I could say that I was looking forward to taking it down, but only because it means that we can build something else in its place!

The Tech Team moving Huang Yong Ping's elephant

How would you describe the installation for the next exhibition, Jean Genet?
We have a number of technically challenging works coming up in the next show. There are plinths to make, which will be used to house the Giacometti sculptures. Marc Camille Chaimowicz will be wallpapering the gallery walls - removing it afterwards might be a challenge! Also I am fabricating a new commissioned work for Lili Reynaud-Dewar - I can’t give too many details of this away before the show opens, all I can say is that it’s a large scale piece which is made of steel, wood and fabric and in total weighs close to two tonnes.

Marc Camille Chaimowicz's limited edition wallpaper

What have you been working on to prepare for the Jean Genet installation?
I have been finishing the welding and engineering for Lili Reynaud-Dewar’s new commission, this involved processing over a tonne of steelwork, and custom fabricating over 100 individual pieces to make up an internal framework system. I have also been finalising CAD designs for the exhibition build, ordering materials to construct a new cinema room in Gallery 1, pre-fabricating the framework for this construction and processing timber sheet stocks for the Giacometti plinths.

CAD drawing for Lily Reynaud-Dewar's new commission

How far in advance do you have to plan a new exhibition installation?
The plans start as soon as we know the rough outline of the exhibition; this can be anything up to 2 years in advance. If new pieces of work are being commissioned there is often a great deal of planning and engineering which needs to go into a piece of work before it reaches the fabrication process.

What part of this installation are you most looking forward to?
I’m looking forward to seeing Lili’s new commission finished and constructed, it’s been quite a complicated piece to design, engineer and fabricate. All in all this process will have taken almost 6 months to pull together and as the pieces have been fabricated in different sections and stages its exciting for me to bring it all together at the end. For Lili I imagine it will also be an interesting experience as it will be the first time that she will have seen the piece in its completed form, having previously only seen certain finished elements, plans and photos etc during the fabrication stage. For an artist this can often be an exciting and a nerve wracking time, especially when your work is completely outsourced for fabrication. For myself, and other fabricators it’s a time where you share these emotions and hope that the artist is happy with what you have constructed.

What is the biggest thing you have built – in or outside of the gallery?
I used to build houses so I guess they would be the largest! In terms of my creative fabrications I guess housing the cinema space at the end of gallery 4 would be my largest internal purpose built structure. This included two new supporting walls to take a load bearing ceiling using 250mm roofing joists, full high spec acoustic treatment, an integrated air filtration system, light baffled entrance, suspended cinema screen and surround sound system. In total we processed over 10 tonnes of material for this build, and this space has now been in the gallery for over a year so it’s also the longest standing temporary structure that I have designed and built. I’m looking forward to taking it all down for the next show though, opening Gallery 4 fully again and building a new cinema space in Gallery 1.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Decoding Monkey: Entering the Hall of Mirrors

By Wayne Burrows

Decoding Monkey at Nottingham Contemporary 24 June 7pm – late. Free

First aired in Japan under its kanji title 西遊記 (Saiyūki) in 1978, Monkey was dubbed for the British market by the BBC the following year and – placed into a kid-friendly teatime slot - made what had previously been a distinctly Chinese legend into part of the folklore of several generations of British, American and Australian children. It’s the story of a Stone Monkey who learns magic, rises to kingship, tricks his way into Heaven, causes chaos, gets stuck under a mountain for 500 years and is given a chance to redeem himself by helping a monk on a journey to India to retreive scriptures.

The cartoonish style of the Japanese TV series is sometimes thought to be slightly disrespectful of the original novel’s sacred concerns, but the truth is - if the English Modernist poet Arthur Waley’s 1942 translation of Wu Ch’Eng-En’s fifteenth century text is anything to go by - the story is pretty cartoonish anyway, an episodic tale of monsters, fighting and human vices magnified in the mirrors of Gods and Demons, all served up with lashings of magic. The Buddhist homilies and bizarre situations, the clowning and kung-fu, are all right there in the original text.

Nowhere is the style of Monkey – both book and TV show - better appreciated than in the first episode, Monkey Goes Wild About Heaven, the story’s foundation and origin myth in which the trickster rapidly evolves from animal to Great Sage, Equal Of Heaven, gets punished, fails to learn his lesson and acquires his peculiar band of fellow pilgrims: the saintly monk Tripitaka (a man confusingly but perfectly played in the series by a woman, Natsume Masako), a dragon-horse, lustful pig-monster and a reformed but morose cannibal. We’ll be screening this very episode in full as the final act of Decoding Monkey.

Before we get to that, though, the story of Monkey’s own eventful journey from East to West will be unravelled, taking in Chinese oral tradition, animal symbolism, Ming Dynasty bureaucracy, the English Modernist circle gathered around Ezra Pound in the 1920s, the popularity of Bruce Lee’s breakthrough 1970s kung-fu films and the Group Sounds music scene in 1960s Tokyo, which among other things, hatched Monkey himself, the actor and singer Masaaki Sakai, when he played a key role in The Spiders, Japan’s answer to the Beatles, Monkees and Rolling Stones, all at once.
It’s a story, in other words, that’s every bit as cartoonish, full of digressions and downright unlikely as the one told in the pages of Wu Ch’Eng-En’s novel, and its many byways will hopefully cast some useful light on the symbolism and thinking behind the work by Huang Yong Ping – an artist who made his own Journey to the West - in the upstairs galleries. I’ll be doing my best to untangle these many threads in The Space on June 24 and I hope you’ll be ready to join me.

Wayne Burrows

Friday, 3 June 2011

Store Room Cupboard Cinema

Helena Tomlin is Head of Learning at Nottingham Contemporary

A couple of months ago during the Anne Collier and Jack Goldstein exhibition this spring, Phil Wise the Deputy Head at Larkfields Junior in Broxtowe rang me to talk about joining one of our Free Twilight Planning Sessions for Teachers. We run these on a regular basis for all teachers across all Key Stages. Our artist educators introduce resources and ideas that can be used to develop work in the gallery for ‘self-led’ sessions to give teachers confidence to run workshops themselves.

After a wide ranging chat and brainstorm over a cup of coffee here at the Gallery Phil decided he would send the whole school staff to work with us! The upshot of the meeting was a plan to develop their Arts Week in school in response to Nottingham Contemporary and the exhibitions on show at the time.

The results of this inspiring collaboration can be seen at

I went along to school to experience the Arts Week myself. After navigating my way to the correct motorway exit (I’m new to Nottingham still!) I was welcomed into the school and spent a happy hour watching the films they had made in a cinema created from clearing out a school store room...Phil had developed it into a wonderful pop-up screening space and I together with parents and families of the children involved took it in turns to enjoy a full viewing.

Although I’ve been working in arts education for over 20 years now, it has been a while since I have seen such a well thought out piece of work completed within a short time frame. What made the Arts Week so successful was Phil and his team’s ability to capture the excitement and evident fun all the children had in the making of the work. At Nottingham Contemporary we are keen to make visible the processes and practice of contemporary art making, and this project certainly delivered on this key theme.

The children and teachers had all taken on board the ideas generated by the two artists. These included thinking about repetition, suspense and a focus on one key element. To see more of Jack Goldstein and Anne Collier’s work at Nottingham Contemporary take a look at

I’m excited about what other schools in Nottingham will come up with after training with us and I’ll keep you all posted with further news!