Florence Peake: CASS/West Dean Residency

Florence Peake ‘The Keeners’, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and commissioned by SPACE.         Image credit Tim Bowditch.

14th May – 6th June 2017
Cass Sculpture Foundation and West Dean College
With thanks to Arts Council England.

West Dean College and Cass Sculpture Foundation are pleased to announce Florence Peake as the 2017 CASS artist-in-residence. This May, Peake will be resident at West Dean College for three weeks, making use of the incredible studio facilities, resources and technical expertise available at both the college and at CASS to create a new body of ceramic work inspired by Igor Stravinsky’s musical score The Rite of Spring. With the assistance of dancer Rosemary Lee, Florence Peake plans to choreograph a routine to be performed on a stage of raw clay. Through grabbing, pushing and pulling the clay, Rosemary will form violent eruptions on the surface to echo the dramatic score of The Rite of Spring. As a result, the surface of the clay will become an abstract documentation of this performance and a sculptural interpretation of Stravinsky’s composition. The clay stage will subsequently be divided into tiles to be fired in the wood-fired kiln at CASS. Continue reading

Visiting Our Neighbours: CASS Sculpture Foundation

A few weeks back, the Visual Arts students and a few staff members made their annual visit to West Dean College’s neighbours at CASS Sculpture Foundation. As well as having time to tour the grounds and see the latest display of large-scale sculptures by artists such as Eduardo Paolozzi, James Capper, Tony Cragg and Tania Kovats, we were also given access to the CASS archive. Having the chance to look through the stored collection of large-scale drawings and works on paper, together with maquettes relating to previous commissions, is always a particular privilege and an experience that feeds directly into the practices developing back in the Studios at West Dean. At the same time, we were given a brief tour around the temporary exhibition in the Main Gallery, combining with separately commissioned works by UK artist, Alex Hoda. Continue reading

Exhibition News

George Charman, Artichoke House (1:100 scale model), Laser-cut plywood with acrylic paint, 35 x 57.5 x 39 cm

George Charman – Artichoke House
20 September – 30 November 2014
West Dean College

George Charman, recent Artist-in-Residence at West Dean College, presents Artichoke House, an interpretation of a pavilion conceived by Edward James and drawn up by architect Christopher Nicholson circa 1936. Working from original drawings held in the Edward James Cultural Archive, as well as taking inspiration from the concrete forms James built at ‘Las Pozas’ (Xilitla, Mexico), Charman’s installation proposes a renewed engagement with an unrealised structure. As such, Artichoke House is concerned with reviewing a surreal proposition as a means of exploring the ontological relationship between image and object. More info.

Rebecca Partridge, Cube Octahedron, Ceramic 25 × 25 x 25 cm
Rebecca Partridge, Cube Octahedron, Ceramic
25 × 25 x 25 cm

Collective at the Jerwood Gridshell
11-14 September 2014
Jerwood Gridshell, Weald and Downland Museum

Artists associated with the West Dean Visual Arts department, including current students, alumni and visiting tutors, will be exhibiting at the Jerwood Gridshell. The artists include: Anne Alldread, George Charman, Lotti V Closs,  Peta Devine, Nicola Ferrie, Pernille Fraser, Jane Fremantle, Sarah Heenan, Margaret Jones, Jill Laudet, June Ngan, Beth Neal, Diane Palin, Rebecca Partridge and Martina Salvin

Jane Fremantle, installation preparation. West Dean house 2014
Jane Fremantle, West Wing and East Wing (in progress), West Dean House 2014

George Charman and Jane Fremantle at West Dean Open House
6-7 September 2014
West Dean House

As part of the West Dean Open House 2014, artist-in-residence George Charman and recent graduate Jane Fremantle exhibited work in the house at West Dean. Charman exhibited a scale model and drawing of his forthcoming pavilion installation Artichoke House. Jane Fremantle exhibited two stone carvings produced whilst a student on the Postgraduate Diploma in Visual Arts at West Dean College. More information on Jane Fremantle’s sculpture can be found here.

West Dean Visual Arts at Embassy Tea Gallery

Graduating students from the full-time Visual Arts programmes are currently exhibiting a selection of their work at the Embassy Tea Gallery, London.  The exhibition presents work by students graduating from the Graduate Diploma, Postgraduate Diploma and the MFA, and includes stone-carving, painting, printmaking, ceramics, hand-woven tapestry, and sculpture.

Full details can be found here.

Installation view

PV 1_620px

Sarah Heenan 620px

Installation view 2

Line and Form Fundraising Exhibition – May 2013

Line and Form Fundraising Exhibition - Auditorium Gallery

At the beginning of May, the full-time Visual Arts students presented Line and Form, an fundraising exhibition of prints, drawings, ceramics, sculpture and objects. Both the private view and the public opening were a great success – all proceeds raised go towards the production and development of two Summer Shows in West Dean and East London, as well as toward the MA exhibition in September. Further details of all these exhibitions can be found here.

We would like to thank all those who contributed original artworks to the exhibition, including Michael Brennand-Wood, Maz Jackson, Marcus Rees Roberts, Amy George, Nicolas Feldmeyer, George Charman, Vernon Tong, Su Hue Kim, Alison Sandeman and Frances Hatch.


Review: Fix Fix Fix

As mentioned in previous posts on this blog, the current exhibition at Gallery SO in East London is Fix Fix Fix. Curated by Glenn Adamson, Head of Research at the Victoria & Albert Museum, the show focuses on the interrelations and distinctions between the worlds of  art making and conservation, bringing together commissioned and privately produced objects related to the theme of repair. It involves work by artists working across a variety of media, as well as professional conservators. As part of the opening event earlier in the month, Jasmina Vuckovic, a graduate of West Dean College’s Conservation of Ceramics programme and a representative of Sarah Peek Conservation, demonstrated her skills, joined on the night by the current Programme Leader Lorna Calcutt. A write-up of the event was recently posted on the West Dean Conservation blog.

ChNKATZ facade

Gallery SO is an intimate space. Its narrow facade is notable for the painted-brick sign above the ground floor window, the trace of the old twine merchant’s and one of the last Jewish shops on Brick Lane (an apposite reference considering the theme of repair). This window looks into the front showroom, which nowadays displays work by international artists and makers; the rear showroom, where Fix Fix Fix is installed, lies beyond a small internal courtyard and specialises in temporary projects and exhibitions. Gallery SO is partner to another space in Solothurn, Switzerland, originally founded by Felix Flury in 2003. The gallery describes its main focus as the “contemporary object” and is especially associated with artists whose practices involve aspects of jewellery making and craft-based production.  As such, it seems uniquely positioned on the ‘boundaries’ between disciplines, especially those of Fine and Applied art, in a way that is complementary to West Dean Collage. It is able to pose conscious questions concerning the distinction between ostensibly disparate worlds, drawing on their affinities and differences – such as their use of materials, their modes of display and visual language – seeking out potential overlaps as productive territories for curatorial work.

Fix Fix Fix is another ambitious example of such a show – one that straddles what could be considered separate endeavours of making and repair. Importantly, it draws upon artists that regularly exhibit at the gallery – such as Bernhard Schobinger, Lisa Walker and Hans Stofer – but brings them into contact with professional conservation and repair companies (such as Arlington Conservation, Fixperts and Park View Motors), specifically commissioned artists (Alice Kettle, Laura McGrath and Jasleen Kaurand, amongst others) and educational partners (such as West Dean). As a result, the theme of repair is therefore approached in various different ways throughout the exhibition. The curatorial statements link it, from the beginning, to the concept of an ‘ideal’ repair – an action that would leave no trace, restoring a damaged object to its original state through what is described as a process of “self-erasure; the more skilled the repair, the less visible it will be.” This is also acknowledged from the outset as an impossible task, one that can only be idealised, and it is in fact this area of shortfall that opens out areas for artists (or art objects) to explore. The artist may have no desire or requirement to make their interventions ‘disappear’ into an original object, yet this paradigm may still have its attraction. In an artistic context, perhaps, this gesture – although it may borrow its materials or technologies – is not repair in this sense but a gesture of creativity within given constraints. Of course there may be an intention to re-establish a functional connection between the components of a given situation – to repair and restore – yet this may be made more or less explicit according to the artist’s intention.

As well as the theme of self-effacement, contributors to Fix Fix Fix have also engaged with the theme of repair through connections to improvisation – how constraint can be an impetus for invention and creative solution. Many pieces draw associations from the short-cut, the jury rig, the bodge versus the botch (the former being British slang for a job improvised with whatever is to hand, the latter being a failed attempt), reverting to string, tape or unlikely materials, even cannibalisations of different items – all of which bring to mind the elaborate constructions popularised by Rube Goldberg and Heath Robinson, often associated with war shortages – making the best of things when resources are rationed. It is no surprise that Adamson makes reference to Richard Wentworth’s Making Do and Getting By, a series of photographs that document the invention at work in the solving of everyday problems – which often call upon innovative approaches to the juxtaposition of materials, an expressive mixture of formal qualities and strangely poetic redefinitions of function.

Richard Wentworth - Making Do and Getting By

Of course, this theme also makes reference to the expansive tradition of bricolage in the arts, yet the alignment with the professional approach to repair throughout the exhibition seems to open up more specific approaches to objects, more intimately connected to themes of purpose, function and decoration. Not only do the works draw upon a D-I-Y aesthetic but also refer to specific interventions into commodities, such that mass-produced objects can be transformed into unique (art) objects. One version of such an approach is employed by Lisa Walker, whereby she adapts a specific tool by radically abbreviating its original dimensions, yet crucially reinstating its operative function. Another artist might appropriate the exposed space of a breakage – the rupture in a ceramic bowl – in order to secure another surface area (previously hidden inside the object) that can now be used – in this case filled with writing (Hans Stofer). An additional function can be bestowed on a broken object, even if its original purpose is never reinstated.

Other works play on these limits of given function by redefining a repair according to apparently superfluous degrees of ornamentation. Such an approach can involve mimicry, whereby the visual appearance of repair/damage is reproduced in another medium – for example, cracked glass being ‘faked’ in etched silver, relying on the artist’s hand to convince the viewer that the sinewy lines are in fact evidence of the stress fractures particular to the impersonated material. there are other examples where the traces of additional repair work have been otherwise hidden (explicitly or implicitly) by superimposed decoration. throughout there are questions as to whether fixing can be a form of annotation or commentary on what is already there, in all its complexity (which puts one in mind of the work of a recent visitor to West Dean’s Visual Arts department, Bouke de Vries).

Other artists in the show create strange, surreal partial-objects, that are suggestive of function that has yet to be assigned. Whether this purpose is for the repair of some other object (one that is not present) is left unexplained. Such objects have a loaded quality to them, an air of anticipation that adds to their oddity. This strangeness is also present in works that come about when the parameters for judging the success of a repair in one context (such as a degree of ‘polish’ or the flattening out of inconsistencies) are used to deny the fundamental elements of an object in another. Again this plays on the subtle distinctions within the concept of repair, especially when they are taken out of context – for example, the different languages of preventative and corrective repair, or the interim repair vs. the wholesale renovation. The exhibition as a whole draws upon these fascinating details – often referencing the amount of knowledge that is required to understand an object – the materials and methods that were used to produce it – before any repair is undertaken, or the ingenious purpose-built structures that are developed for repair access. The centre of the gallery is dominated both by a grand piano suspended in a viewing truss, and a reconditioned jeep engine placed high on a plinth so that the barely visible traces of its repair disappear in plain view.

Roland Roos - Free Repair 91

Yet one of the strongest themes to emerge from the exhibition is the consideration of repair as an act of generosity, tied in with a spirit of community associated with the common use of objects, spaces and systems. Such systems could be those related to value or exchange, wherein material substances become moulded into cultural artefacts and signifiers, distributed according to a shared language of responsibility, etc. – what might be described as the fabric of things. The Swiss artist Roland Roos, in his piece entitled Free Repair 91 (2008-2010), presents a double slide projection showing ‘before’ and ‘after’ images of what he calls his “unsolicited corrections” to the urban environment: repairs to civic spaces (car parks, pavements, walkways, railings and so on) as well as commercial indicators (shop signs, billboards, logos). Both these types of space are treated equally, without distinction, which suggests that Roos’ reparations are intended to function outside any obvious political emphasis. The notion of solicitation is also central here too, in that the artist is assuming a particular role yet the parameters of the intended action are awkwardly defined; it is the artist’s recognition of the necessary task that shapes the work, and that gives it is closure. Here there are interesting questions about how clearly an ‘error’ or fault is recognised by an autonomous individual, and the point at which that individual takes it upon himself to do something about it, indicating something of a moral or ethical investment in the common good as well as an established system of ‘received ideas’ that can be seen to be lacking given the right circumstances.

As with all of the pieces included in Fix Fix Fix, Roos’ work is concerned with visibility. The presence of any repair, however it is approached or disrupted by an artist or conservator, by a curator or a gallery visitor, is directly concerned with close observation. Across all the pieces including in the exhibition, the theme encourages a form of scrutiny that links the contemporary object to its inherent material qualities and its weight of encoded information – data that can be repaired, extracted or otherwise manipulated in an infinite number of ways.

Visiting Artist: Bouke de Vries

Grayson Perry - The Westfield Vase

This week the Visual Arts department was pleased to welcome Dutch artist Bouke de Vries as visiting speaker. After giving a talk on his practice, Bouke spent the rest of the day conducting tutorials with the full-time students across all disciplines. Bouke’s presentation detailed how, after studying at Eindhoven’s Design Academy and Central St Martin’s in London, he switched careers to enrol on West Dean College’s Ceramics Conservation programme. The skills he developed throughout his time at West Dean would not only feed an ongoing career as a professional conservator, but also provide a unique language for an art practice that finds expression in very particular ceramic sculptural objects, installations and decorative tableaux. In fact, it was through a collaboration with Grayson Perry, bringing together artist and conservator, that Bouke first made sustained contact with the art world.

Bouke explained that his private conservation work continually raised questions about ideas of perfection and value.  He soon engaged with these ideas and began to establish a body of work that combined variations on a theme of re-contextualising found objects through skilled intervention. Using his skills as a restorer, he produced a series of what he describes as  ‘exploded’ artworks – sculptures that reclaim shattered pots or broken figurines by de-constructing (rather than re-constructing) them, transforming evidence of traumas they’d suffered into new qualities – ones that suggest an entirely rewritten originality for the objects. As Bouke puts it, his interventions instilled “new virtues, new values” onto the artefacts, “moving their stories forward.”

Bouke de Vries - Mao with Dunce's Cap

The form of Bouke’s work is informed by serendipitous finds in flea markets and junk shops, as well as fragments of porcelain sourced through his contacts in the restoration trade. He makes clear that his practice involves responding to these ‘original’ artefacts rather than seeking them out, often being surprised by how their damaged elements might immediately suggest methods of reconstruction or specific interventions, not only in the techniques that might be employed but also in the kinds of ‘image’ that result. The referential qualities of specific historical materials also proved crucial, such that when manufactured objects spoke strongly of a specific place, time and cultural heritage (busts of Chairman Mao, for example), these connotations could be used as a form of quotation, playing on accepted associations of particular styles and materials, further implying that their breakages can be considered a direct metaphor for historical context and commentary. As well as social and political themes, such as the effects of free market capitalism, celebrity culture or the prevalence of knife crime, Bouke’s works often draws on older traditions of art history – particularly Dutch still life painting and its use of metaphor and coded meaning.

Bouke de Vries - War and Pieces

The use of specific display cases was also a running theme to the work, emphasising the delicacy of the porcelain pieces and the reliance the work has to an occasionally tacit or neatly hidden presence of violence. Bell jars, vitrines and cabinets of curiosities were all alluded to, together with other more specific methods of exhibiting partial objects associated with museum artefacts and suggestive reconstruction: perspex mounts that elevate objects in glass cases or metal rods linking the missing limbs of classical sculpture.

Finishing with an account of a recent installation, War & Pieces, on the Holburne Museum’s Ballroom table – a work inspired by the eighteenth-century fashion for decorating banqueting tables with extravagant porcelain and sugar sculptures – Bouke then answered a number of questions from the audience. The resulting discussion was a fascinating examination of how the worlds of Fine Art and Conservation have come together in his work, which, given the setting, was an extremely current and relevant subject to discuss.