On Friday I went to The Royal Academy of Arts to experience their Ai Wei Wei exhibition and attempt to understand what makes China’s most recognisable yet contentious (Google his name in China and nothing will come up) artist tick. It’s a brilliant and interesting exhibition where each exhibit, like the best art, holds a powerful message that’s greater than the sum of it’s parts.
Like ‘Straight’ a gigantic installation made of 150 tons of rebar salvaged from the site of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and then painstakingly straightened. A labour of love, now laid out in broken undulations recalling fault lines, it tells of sub-standard building practises, even in the provinces schools, due to rapid expansion and state greed..and the tragic consequence that had for thousands of lives.
‘Souvenir from Shanghai’ is made from the concrete and brick rubble saved from the artist’s studio which was destroyed under a trumped up planning charge by the authorities. Through the art, the story is told and immortalised.
‘He Xe’ both means river crab and harmonious..’harmonious’ is a key concept with the Communist party with their continued aim for an harmonious society no matter what. This play on words, exquisitely made from porcelain and hand painted, is a cultured two fingers to the governments attempts at quashing freedom of expression. It’s also what 1,000 of Weiwei’s friends feasted on the night before the Shanghai studio was razed to the ground.
‘Coloured Vases’ shows twelve Han and four neolithic vases covered in bright, industrial paint. It questions what we value and why…antiquity? commerciality? tradition? or change?
The art is compelling and full of contradictions, sub clause upon sub clause: Manmade versus nature versus human nature versus control, every element down to the source of materials a piece of the puzzle. Yet, I have to confess to a grain of sand in my shoe. Weiwei’s talent is bringing the human touch to conceptual art and it’s certainly a powerful thing to be able to make ugly things beautiful and change rubble into gold. But many of the exhibits were stunningly crafted out of prized and expensive material like this pair of immaculately carved jade handcuffs, quietly stating that beautiful things can be ugly. But the pleb in me wanted to know where the money came from to purchase such expensive materials? and more importantly, who were the master craftsmen who physically created these pieces?
We all know that large studios umbrella the workers beneath, but who actually carved the marvel that is this marble push chair above? In an age when we don’t have time (and possibly the money) for fine craftsmanship, it was a modern joy to see. Maybe it was an administrive error – at Weiwei’s sunflower seed installation in the Tate, every worker was acknowledged so call me a cynic, but I just had a feeling there was a hint of ego stalking these galleries.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t go or it’s power is dimmed: Rarely has such simplicity sung with such complexity and great calmness.
Go – because if nothing else, it confirms the truth that art will always conquer censorship by the simple strength of it’s vision, the connections and the memories it makes.
Laters, Kate x
Guy Bourdin was a photographer best known for his surreal work for French Vogue from the mid forties to the mid eighties and for his graphically strong and charismatic work for the shoe company, Charles Jourdan. He’s now the subject of the brilliant Image Maker exhibition at Somerset house, London.
Whilst conventional fashion images follow the general generalisation of the world: making beauty and clothing their central elements, Bourdin’s photographs offer something grittier..more radical. In a glossier, more vibrant, tumbling world he created desire and lust..then subverted it with hints at dark fantasies and suggestions of depravity. In beautifully created and calculated illusions, his camera acts like an unwanted intruder..
Welcomes you to the unexpected, wickedly carving up the narrative, his subjects caught in the headlights. Disgraceful, flashy and all handcrafted with love and terror.
But always with humour and heart.
The colours are intense: heightened, enhanced, almost hyper-real: Red, blue, a specific yellow, black and white. And always with a life and energy that our modern day editorials seem to have lost.
In our age of endless image manipulation and photoshopping, there’s something incredible about Bourdin’s sheer creativity and endless imagination. Look, no digital re-mastering..
(This is my lovely friend Sophie at the exhibition in our own photo homage)
This exhibition is cool statement strong balls with scalpel sharp insights and seductive eye candy. Go see it…then see it again..
Laters, Kate x
Bella with the lovely Nathalie
Wednesday was the night of the Exhibition to celebrate the life of my cousin Sam Archer-Fayet and to raise money for SMArt. We made the executive decision to take Bella with us even though it was a school night as a) I wanted her to see Mummy’s work and b) I wanted to introduce her to the excitement and sparkle of a razzle dazzle night in a safe, controlled way..
It was a sharp contrast to the previous week when Bella and I had argued at her school – it had been a bleak, stormy autumn night – the first night where it was dark by the time it came to picking them up from their after-school clubs which I hadn’t anticipated so we had no lights for our bikes which meant walking them home and to top it all, it was raining. Halfway home Bella announced she’d left her PE bag behind in the drama room with her school uniform and school shoes in. Disaster. We went back. Rather than face the hassle of locking up the bikes again, I asked Charlie to wait with them whilst Bella and I dashed into school – I would then wait in the hall where he could see me, whilst Bella ran and got her bag. ‘Off you go’ I said, ‘But I don’t want to’ said Bella.’Come on – I’ve got Charlie outside in the dark and rain and I won’t know where your bag is.’ Reluctantly she went. Then came back with no bag – ‘There’s a class in the drama room’ ‘Well, knock on the door’ ‘I can’t, I can’t’ By now I was fuming…so I explain to Charlie and march her off to the drama room, knock on the door, say ‘I’m sorry to interrupt but can my daughter grab the bag she’s forgotten’ then gesture to Bella to go inside. ‘I can’t, I can’t’ says Bella, backing off down the hallway. I turn into a towering inferno of mummy-rage. ‘IF YOU DO NOT GO IN THEIR RIGHT THIS MINUTE BELLA BENTLEY THERE WILL BE NO POCKET MONEY FOR A MONTH.’ A teacher came out and handed me the bag..
But I was so livid I couldn’t speak to her for an hour..it touched a real parenting nerve..the philosophy of our house is that confidence, self-respect and manners are the cornerstones – even more important than good grades. This episode put a shining spotlight on some seriously wonky foundations that I had no idea were there. I hadn’t handled it well either..so when I’d calmed down we sat down in my study so I could explain why I felt so cross and disappointed. It’s not an easy subject..but I wanted her to know that at some point we all feel shy or scared of a situation but it’s the way we deal with it that matters. We came up with three coping strategies:
1. Rehearse what you’re going to say for both a positive and negative result and always be very polite – it always gets you so much further.
2. Think of the most confident person you know and pretend to be them.
3. Worse case scenario, imagine the intimidating person in their underwear..
Fast-forward to Wednesday night and Bella was asked if she would choose the numbers in the raffle.
She did a brilliant job – cool as a cucumber, confidently reading the numbers out to a full gallery of adults..I was so impressed..she got the biggest bear-hug afterwards and she whispered in my ear..’I remembered what you said’…
My picture also sold..so a top night all round. One I won’t forget in a hurry..
Laters, Kate x
It was a full day yesterday..picture travelled to the exhibition in Covent Garden ready to be hung for the 12..it’s in the Seven Dials area of Covent Garden..a rather whimsical collection of little streets beyond the main thoroughfare that holds some true hidden gems for any shopping aficianado..to be recommended..
Then onto to South Ken to meet the lovely Julie from Vintageattitude, stopping by to check out the
swimming pool ice rink at the Natural History museum..it’s a fabulous situation – but I’ve never actually seen ice-skates create their own wakes before..
We were going to the Horst Exhibition at the V&A…I love the V&A but they miss a trick by banning photography – and to outlaw sketching seems somewhat narrow-minded and draconian. Having said that, it’s a wonderful exhibition, highly evocative of a by-gone era, leaving you wanting to for-go champagne flutes forever in favour of silver cocktail shakers and crystal rounded coupes…but you’ll have to take my word for it.
Time for a pit-stop at the magnificent cafe..
Julie’s fabulous bag..she is a true original..and that’s just Julie..
Then it was home for fireworks..
Charlie tried to tell me it was to celebrate Guy Fawkes night..
But I knew it was the warm-up for my birthday today. Cue the rude cards..
Another year older, another year gone..I was talking to a lovely mum in the playground the other day when her daughter came rushing up and said ‘My Mum’s 43 now’. ‘I told her’, she sighed. ‘My Mum’s 30 on Saturday’ piped up Bella..’I didn’t’ said I….
Laters, Kate x