Contextual Studies

April 2015: critical studies essay – Susan Hiller and Memory    Memory

Autumn 2014: Every week we’ll have a different topic which we’ll discuss as a group. These are my bits of research (stuff/artists I looked at or was advised to look at) carried out before the discussion…. and then then some thoughts about the subject after the discussion.


WEEK SEVEN – Postmodern Landscape

  • Mariele Neudecker – A German artist based in Bristol, she is best known for her vitrines containing miniature landscapes that evoke romantic paintings (particularly Casper David Friedrich) concerned with the idea of the sublime in nature. She also works with video and photography
  • James Turrell – works with landscape in a different way by primarily focussing on light and space. Has also worked on his Roden Crater project since the 1970’s.
  • Olafur Eliasson – elemental materials.
  • Andy Goldsworthy – Land Art developed in the 60’s as art started to leave the gallery space. I actually find his work pretty boring but in 1996 he did a series of works using sheepfolds which I find more interesting, a way of using an existing structure in the landscape which also connect to the culture and history of a particular area.
  • Olga Bergmann  – hadn’t heard of Olga Bergmann at all but I’m very intrigued!
  • Peter Finnemore – works with a range of methods – video, photography, installation. From “His major opus is a 25 year-long deep investigation into the existential impact of generational and cultural traces upon the home and garden space. These personal and universal environments become a compact manifold; that is, without boundary, occupying both physical and unconscious dimensions. Through creative and transformative participation the home space becomes an instrument of measurement, a stone, bricks and mortar astrolabe to chart the universal interior.” Domestic landscape.
  •  Tania Kovats 


WEEK SIX – Memory

A theme which can be split into several categories: autobiographical

  • Susan Hiller – an American artist who has lived and worked in the u.k for many years.  Much of her work deals with the idea of the collective unconscious as well as individual, personal unconsciousness, looking at dreams and not easily identifiable experiences. She does this through multi media installation, often recording (through writing, photographing, video, using found image or text) stories or experiences. Her work seems to rely a fair amount on the viewer being engaged and almost taking part or somehow suspending disbelief while experiencing the work.
  • Doris Salcedo – looking the past as a way of dealing with the future. A reminder.
  • Christian Boltanski – preserving the memory of people. Relies on shared memories or recognisable images that could pass for memory or recollection. Presence and absence.
  • Hiroshi Sugimoto – Japanese photographer.
  • Anri Sala – an Albanian artist… deals with memory in a more temporal way, time changing…


WEEK FIVE – Transformation Fantasy

  • Jeff Koons – giant inflatable balloon dogs. And other things. This article sums up a lot of my feeling about Koons, especially like this bit  – “It is pretty much exactly like trying to apply your powers of critique to an internet cat video.”
  • Cao Fei – Chinese artist using the imagery/techniques of computer games or virtual games (second life etc..) “dramatic mimicry”. The difference between Eastern and Western aesthetic approach, especially when depicted in  ever progressing /evolving virtual worlds and technologies.
  • Mathew Barney
  • Paul McCarthy
  • Glenn Brown
  • Kiki Smith
  • Yinka Shonibare

WEEK FOUR – Humour and Irony

Humour is often used a s way to broach difficult or taboo subjects

  • Grayson Perry. The Vanity of Small DifferencesA series of tapestry pieces looking at taste and class in British society…..
  • Sarah Lucas
  • Paul Granjon
  • David Shrigley. Nobody is sure why he’s so famous but every one agrees that they’re funny little drawings.
  • Bedwyr Williams – observational. Uses a completely silly way of presenting things and a dead pan delivery to talk about proper ideas and concerns – Welsh identity, how it is perceived by others, the ‘art world’. Is always involved with the subject he’s talking about.
  • Marcus Coates – In performances uses the role/idea of a shaman. Obviously this is humorous, because he has a dead badger on his head and he’s wearing a tracksuit, but it isn’t just funny. Partly because it’s hard to know how much he believes, or makes himself believe (which makes the viewer want to believe?) and also because he’s dealing with serious/important subject matter.
  • Paul McCarthy
  • Jeremy Deller
  • Peter Finnemore


WEEK THREE – Neo Narratives



WEEK TWO – Identity


  • Marina Abramovic. I have trouble with Marina Abramovic. With regard to the theme we’re looking at, ‘identity’, I can see how her work is interesting to look at.   The wikipedia entry for Abramovic (wiki is a good place to start, o.k!?) says “Her work explores the relationship between performer and audience, the limits of the body, and the possibilities of the mind.”, which I think may have been the case in the 70’s but now her fame seems to over-shadow the art, which is a bit boring. It can no longer be an exploration of the relationship between performer and audience because it’s all about people looking Marina Abramovic in her long black coat/dress/jumper thing looking exactly the way you expect Marina Abramovic to look and then people behaving the way they want to behave around Marina Abramovic.
  • Janine Antoni – fantasy, looking at inner identities (fantasies, the unconscious…) and relationship to our bodies – “Contemporary culture has had a severing effect. Our exploitation of the environment is just an extension of how we exploit our own bodies. It is very easy to treat one’s own body like a machine, or as a mere vehicle of the mind.”
  • Anselm Kiefer. Identity as a German growing up in the years immediately after WW2. The changing national identity…
  • Sophie Calle. French photographer, writer, artist. For one piece asked her mother to hire a private detective to follow her (Calle). She deliberately visited areas of Paris that were of personal significance  – reversing the roles of subject and viewer/surveyor. The idea was to end up with ‘proof’ of her existence… She works similarly with information about other people, collecting ‘evidence’ and constructing a profile or identity of a person from morsels of information.
  • Collier Schorr


WEEK ONE – Activism/protest art.

Artists, Causes/movements


Slightly strange website ….especially this bit. Weird tone, an interesting comment left by someone though about context.


From Art Monthly

“We might go further and suggest that the space of art, ‘the actually existing art world’, is now almost wholly complicit with and integrated into the economy and society of what Retort calls ‘the Empire’.” Chris Townsend in Art Monthly –


And bit of Pussy Riot, just because…


Additional artists we looked at in the discussion

  • Renzo Martens
  • Christoph Schlingensief
  • Anselm Kiefer – with regard to ambiguity sometimes present in activist/protest/political pieces
  • Nancy Spero
  • Jenny Holzer
  • An-My Le – particularly demonstrated the ambiguity mentioned in when looking at Kiefer pieces. I feel this is the most personal work we looked at but somehow she demonstrates a strong sense of detachment at the same time (in the clip we watched she talked about recording activities rather than psychologies). As a political refugee, leaving Vietnam for the US at 15, she reflects on her relationship to her homeland and landscapes of her childhood in an almost clinical way while also showing a fascination with the preparations of war (documenting US military exercises in the desert). She has also filmed/photographed Vietnam war re-enactors in the US. It’s a strange and challenging idea that blurs the line between documentary and staged photography and asks questions the our images of  war that we exposed to (either through news reporting/journalism, or film…). I find her work very subtle and understated, it forces questions about what you’re looking at precisely because it isn’t overt.
  • Alfredo Jaar – The other work I was more interested in greatly contrasts with An-My Le. In terms of protest/activism I felt it was the most effective (Lights in the City, a piece Montreal) – not simply confronting people with a political stance but demonstrating a fact (without being didactic) which people then respond to. It’s incredibly simple.



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