Double Fantasy - Yoko Ono and John Lennon.
Liverpool Museum - 18 May 2018 to 22 April 2019
Walking away from this show I chatted with my friend about the strong message of peace that Yoko and John share. We pondered how that seems naive in the present day - are we more desensitised and disempowered? We concluded it makes total sense to be working towards peace now, to feel shame for that is the shame.
Wandering around this exhibition - which was much better than I expected it to be - I found myself thinking about the divide between who is a musician and who is a punter in the West. I’ve often found it liberating when this invisible wall is removed and society behaves as though it is natural for everyone to make music.
The strongest I ever felt this was in Beirut, singing until sunrise. Anyone could grab a guitar, a drum, a water container, use their voice and go for it. The line between performer and audience was often blurred. I read somewhere recently that Quincy Jones advocated everyone should have music in their life alongside the main thing they are doing, as it is so valuable and core to human expression.
It was good to see videos of Yoko Ono's band in this show, though conceptual art is clearly her strength.
There was a new piece in the hallway, which was wall papered with world maps in black and white. Visitors were encouraged to colour in the maps where they felt peace should be in the world. Simple, powerful, beautiful - as her work so often is. This reminded me of when I was an art student in Liverpool (a bit ago), referencing Yoko Ono's work and discussing with a tutor - Ralph - how her artwork is actually really interesting but overshadowed by The Beatles - she was so hated! Nice that seems to be turning around now.
A few years ago the Serpentine Gallery in London gave her a show that was fairly encompassing... though I don't remember all that much about it. That was for her artwork, whereas this one is about the lives of John and Yoko with some of their work woven into that.
The Liverpool Museum website has a thorough description of the current exhibition here: www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/mol/exhibitions/double-fantasy/
Francesca Woodman / Egon Schiele
Tate Liverpool, on until 23rd September 2018
The photography of Francesca Woodman who disappears into her landscapes, shown alongside Egon Schiele’s paintings and drawings was a surprising and thought provoking one... It was great to see so much of Schiele's work in one place, what a strong character and incredible painter! I didn't realise how controversial his work was until this; apparently he was in endless trouble for his direct portraits of nudes.
The struggle Woodman had making a living as a photographer was evident in her work, she often appeared only half alive. A photographer (Laura Heart) I shared a studio with around a decade ago, first introduced me to Woodman's work, knowing I'd be interested in her blending into the landscape. We talked about her attempt to break into fashion photography but it didn't happen for her. In the exhibition this was mentioned followed by how she threw herself from a building after a funding application failed. One of my friends was surprised by this considering how well she was doing. I argued that though she was doing well for that field it probably didn't feel like it - cold studios, isolated work and uncertainly of where her next payment would come from combined with the personal nature of her photography would be tough at the best of times. She used herself in the work, partly because her own body was there - highly accessible to her; so I imagine rejections of her work would also feel like a rejection of herself. Her self-portraits depicted her as fragile and young, yet before her time. I sensed broken hearts had put this collection together.
Both artists made emotion laden portraits that would have shocked many, but their short life-spans really bound the shows together. Egon Schiele (1890-1918) died in the Spanish flu epidemic. Under the wing of Gustav Klimt, his art had become highly visible and recognisable at a rapid pace.
A House For Essex, Grayson Perry
I'm reliably told the House For Essex was met with animosity amongst Wrabness locals who strive to keep the place unchanged and pass down the nearby beach huts through generations. Apparently Perry bought the land with rights to develop and made this house with FAT architects, then filled it with his artwork (though I didn’t see inside). You can rent it on airb&b, it books well in advance.
I read this on wikipedia: It is known as "Julie’s House" or "A House for Essex", in homage to the "single mums in Dagenham, hairdressers in Colchester, and the landscape and history of Essex"
Outsider artists typically have decorated their homes and turned them into works of art, including filling them with their own art pieces. The house of someone who hoards can take on a similar aesthetic as their objects are often organised in collections. Perry seems to allude to being part of this scene though clearly isn’t, working (with) and performing for the art industry - quite opposite behaviour to that of outsider artists and people who hoard, which is most often kept hidden.
Migrant Mother: Florence Owens Thompson and her children,
pea pickers’ camp, California (Barbican.org.uk)
‘A double bill of exhibitions featuring pioneering documentary photographer and visual activist, Dorothea Lange, and award-winning contemporary photographer, Vanessa Kinship.’
‘Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing retrospective of American photographer Dorothea Lange (1895-1965). Barbican Art Gallery, 22nd June to 2nd September 2018
The first room mildly irritated me - beautiful photographs taken in Dorothea Lange's San Francisco studio, often of her pals. I’m tired of wealth and contacts determining what culture is and giving the well positioned a place in history.
The second room shared Lange's wake up call, with street photography during the Great Depression which was followed by more and more and more rooms and rooms of committed photography mainly depicting economic refugees. Portraits that were so personal, close and natural it was hard to imagine how they could have been taken on her camera of the day.
Lange's most famous image of a woman living in a tent with her children at the roadside 'Migrant Mother', was exhibited in a small room with a series of this family. Lange was quoted as saying it was a collaboration that felt quite equal, for the woman seemed to know the images would help her. This seemed a bit much, standing in the Barbican galleries in a solo show of this photographer’s work across years, countries, continents… my friend remarked it was unlikely she’d stayed in the tent, when I mentioned my gripe.
It got me thinking about the often difficult relationship between the subjects’ of journalism and a journalist's output. There are of course many in the field of foreign correspondence who help raise awareness and give everything to bring truth to the surface; though sadly it can appear they are the minority. Many visible in the industry have been known to work with people who are already suffering and 'done to', then produce images and stories that have a different slant or purpose to that which was alluded to in forming the alliance.
Further to this, ethics regarding the methods used can be questionable. Disclosing stories of suffering can be re-traumatising even in the most private and safe of environments, but often civilians still living in traumatic and unsafe circumstances tell their stories without any safeguarding or support system in place. In the case of the Yazidi women and girls in recent years it seemed there was as much voyeurism at play as attempts to help them - with unnecessarily detailed reports of rape and sexual slavery; the subjects of these stories even being further endangered by their anonymity not being sufficiently protected.
That hard to tread line between exploitative and responsible journalism, is also slimmed right down by opportunity - by what people choose to read.
The information in this exhibition included who was commissioning Lange on her photography assignments, there were a few mentioned, though The Farm Security Administration seemed primary. This was helpful to know, though her incredible focus and consistency in style and content did have a more self-initiated feel to it - a labour of love. I guessed that she already had her basic needs met and the commissions embellished this rather than sustained her. It’s notable she is described here as a founder of documentary photography rather than an early photojournalist.
One room fairly mid-way in housed powerful and moving documentation of the Japanese Americans being deported after the attack on Pearl Harbour - enabled by an assignment from the War Relocation Authority to document the relocation (or incarceration) of the Japanese diaspora. Lange was against the treatment of these communities and used her photography as a critical tool: as this was not what she was asked to do the work remained largely unseen. It was so sad to view the faces of children with parcel labels hanging around their necks, who might not even speak any Japanese. Apparently many pictures were missing where she had photographed the deportees draped in stripes of light that made them appear as though they were in prison. My friend pondered the scale of World War II - this huge expulsion of American citizens with Japanese descent being a little known part of it. I found it impossible to ignore how easily people can be pitted against each other, when with limited resources and political provocation or propaganda.
The show ended on a softer note in Ireland, which seemed to interest her less. It really was the Dust Bowl images that stuck with me - and the Japanese children pledging allegiance to the American flag, wondering what on earth was going on and having to just go.
Vanessa Kinship didn’t do too well being upstairs from this show. The strength, consistency and depth of Langes collection shining even brighter and making Kinship seem quite whimsical, with curation that didn’t so much nod toward high end art but rather screamed and pointed. Minimal labels on Lange's work told you who, where and what. The presentation of Kinship's photography asserted the viewers take what they will from the no label images, which felt a bit easy for both artist and viewer. There was an interesting room of portraits from Georgia, which would stand alone well; though they felt like a flicker of light after the roaring fire below.
I could probably do with seeing the Kinship show on a different day. Actually I definitely could, aiming to enjoy the diversity of her practice and resist the urge to be disparaging of it. It's too easy to dismiss contemporary practitioners... though equally important not to be overly influenced by framing.
The Dorothea Lange collection of images were all (as far as I remember) silver gelatin prints and this could be a camera she used (for Migrant Mother): Graflex Super D - lommen9.home.xs4all.nl/Graflex%20Series%20D/
The Barbican's say: barbican.org.uk/our-story/press-room/dorothea-lange-politics-of-seeing