Chocolate, Lard and Tea

Ai WeiWei’s A Ton of Tea, recently exhibited in Bristol, conjures up Chocolate Gnaw and Lard Gnaw (1992) by Janine Antoni. Although the two pieces address different topics, they coul be perceived as following the same metaphorical discourse, with Ai’s work retrospectively expanding on the interpretation of Antoni’s.

In an interview with MoMA, Antoni explains that “[Chocolate] seemed to embody desire for the viewer, and what happens if you succumb to that desire? You get fat. So I used fat as the material to make the second cube … The lard will begin as a cube and as the exhibition goes on, it will collapse on to the floor”. By extension, her cubes could be read as a comment on consumerism, saturation of greed overindulgence and the eventual collapse of capitalism.

As if following in Antoni’s steps, Ai’s A Ton of Tea “makes reference to post-war art history and globalisation, through the humble substance of tea, China’s oldest export” (caption), thus alluding to today’s economy, with the Sleeping Giant now waking up to take over in the lead.

Photos of Antoni’s work: foodforanimals.com, batcountryx.blogspot.com
Photo of Ai’s work: my own

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Textural Exhibition in Bristol

Once again, Arnolfini in Bristol is host to a truly amazing exhibition. Cologne-based artist Matti Braun has taken over the three-floor art centre with his stunning texture works.

Galleries 1 and 2 present a series of paintings in which Braun experiments with a variety of media (UV paint, ink, lacquer, etc.), dark colours and textures on raw silk canvases. Parts of the works are matt, others glossy, with some fusion and interaction between colours and media, or with the support itself, thus creating a range of intriguing effects and textures. The fluid grace of the random, yet somehow balanced, compositions is simply beautiful. Floored with rough concrete slabs that make the ground slightly uneven, thus adding texture to a three-dimensional experience, and dimly lit with a few pairs of neon lights (one UV, one normal), Gallery 1 immerses the visitor in an atmosphere that makes Braun’s art all the more captivating.

In Gallery 3, the floor has been covered with a pond liner, then flooded into a dark mirror-like lake and dotted with wood slices as stepping stones. (The wood was sourced locally: a Douglas fir in Westonbirt Arboretum suffering from an invasive fungus had to be felled). The installation is inviting and fun as well as beautiful.

Three patolas hang in Gallery 4. They blend Indian traditional patterns with the modern, flat technique of print on fabric. Where one expects texture, there is none. In Gallery 5, the soft light plays on the rich glaze of the large bowls that appear to be made of fused glass. On getting closer, the expected transparency of the material evaporates like an illusion and we realise they are ceramic bowls.

A must-see before the 6th January.

Dropping the ‘H’

I was recently reminded of an exhibition that played with sounds and space: recordings of accents (regional or international) and projections of words in various languages, by French-Norwegian London-based artist Caroline Bergvall and Irish composer Ciarán Maher, hosted by the Arnolfini, Bristol, 2 years ago.

One installation, “Say Parsley”, was particularly captivating. In one of the largest galleries, small round weights hung from long thin cables attached to the ceiling by simple hooks, with the weights almost touching the floor. On the floor, underneath each weight, was a letter of the alphabet. Some of the weights stood motionless, others swung along an invisible line, while others went round in circle or in an oval shape. Some movements were small and slow, others were quite energetic. Each ball seemed to have a life of its own. Standing there in this silent yet somehow subtly atmospheric space, watching these red weights move freely in their own different ways, was mesmerising.

With local accents and urban speak in mind, the letter “h” had been omitted (or “dropped”) from the installation so that there were only 25 weights. By the exit door, was a box full of badges with the letter ‘h’ on for visitors to take away.

Stills from the video “Say Parsley”. (Note the writings on the wall.)