So it has been fairly quiet on here these last few months…sorry! I took up an exciting opportunity at Art15, London’s Global Art Fair, and it slowly took over my life – my fault rather than their’s. The fair opened for a third year at Olympia on the 20th of May and closed this past Saturday on the 23rd – a complete blur of a weekend, and I’m still not really sure what happened to be honest. I thought it would therefore only be appropriate for my first 2015 post (ahh, it has actually been so long since I last posted something on A Collection of Curiosities!!) to be Art15-related, and have pooled together my favourite pieces from this year’s fair – where 150 modern and contemporary galleries from over 40 countries came together to show all types of work in one place.
The newly opened exhibition at Autograph ABP, Black Chronicles II, explores black presence in nineteenth and early twentieth-century British studio photography. Bringing together over 200 photographs, some of which have been unseen for 120 years, the body of curated works sheds an interesting light on the black subject in Victorian Britain. As the co-curator, Renée Mussai, explains: “Black Chronicles II is part of a wider ongoing project called The Missing Chapter, which uses the history of photography to illuminate the missing chapters in British history and culture, especially black history and culture. There is a widespread misconception that black experience in Britain begins with the arrival of the Empire Windrush and the first Jamaican immigrants in 1948, but, as this exhibition shows, there is an incredible archive of images of black people in Britain that goes right back to the invention of photography in the 1830s.”
Mussai notes that there “are several intertwining narratives – colonial, cultural and personal – embedded in these images, but what is often startling is how confident and self-contained many of the sitters are as they occupy the frame.” Above all, these precious windows into Victorian life present images of British colonialism in all its contradictions – the Ethiopian prince in exile, the black companion-servant to explorer Henry Morton Stanley and the celebrated, imprisoned “gift to the Queen of the Whites”.
The African Choir were a group of South African singers who toured Britain between 1891 and 1893. They were brought together to raise funds for a Christian school in their home country and performed for Queen Victoria at Osbourne House in the Isle of Wight. At some point during their stay, the choir group visited the studios of The London Stereoscopic Company to have group and individual portraits made. The London Stereoscopic Company specialised in producing carte de visites, small photographs printed on cards that were traded by collectors or used by performers for publicity purposes. These long-lost images, last shown in the London Illustrated News in 1891, make up the dramatic centrepiece to this exhibition.
Autograph ABP is a foundation that focuses on black cultural identity, often through the use of overlooked archives. Rivington Place, London, EC2A 3BA. September 11th 2014 – November 29th 2014.
Image sources: The Michael Graham Stuart Collection; The Hulton Archive; The Jenny Alsworth Collection; The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography; The Paul Frecker Collection; Autograph ABP; The Guardian Newspaper.
From above and afar, you would be excused for mistaking this great work with the lavish furnishing of a tiger skin rug. However, it’s when one steps closer that they notice the unusual material making up this 40-foot work of art – 500,000 cigarettes. The Chinese contemporary artist Xu Bing began working on his tobacco project in 2000, this 440-pound rug forming the climax of his ensuing exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in 2011 – The Tobacco Project. The entire study explores the international trade, packaging, marketing and seduction of a deadly smoking habit. Bing chose Virginia to exhibit his work, as the eastern American state is traditionally known as the home of mass produced tobacco products. The artist visited tobacco farms, warehouses and cigarette factories in Virginia to create the work for this exhibition, which also includes pieces from his previous projects on the same topic. Using tobacco as both a material and a subject in which to explore a wide range of issues, Bing’s work relates to issues from global trade to the exploitation of tobacco. His interest in ‘tobacco culture’ extends further to the historical impact of China’s large-scale exportation of tobacco products from the United States, which originally began in the late 19th century.
For more information on the making of Bing’s Tiger Skin Rug: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yfygs7A-Nb0
Image source: My Modern Met
New York Fashion Week, September 2014: Looks like stripes are making a strong come back, but attitudes and egos need to be left behind.
“Fashion is too much like high school and that needs to change. We need a principal that puts their foot down and accepts vision and creativity above all.” – Faustina
“There’s not enough brand loyalty.” – Jamal
Maeve: “I don’t like the ‘who wore it best’ columns.”
Beagy: “I don’t like THE ATTITUDES.”
Photo credits to Lauren Zasar.
“By the end of the First World War there were very few people in the countries that took part who remained unaffected. The war reached out and touched almost everyone’s life in some way or other.”
Yesterday marked the centenary of Britain entering the Great War (1914-1918) – the first global conflict of the Industrial Age. Artists and historians have been commissioned for various projects to mark the start of the First World War and to commemorate all those who fought in it. The Open University enlisted the help of a restoration expert to colourise a selection of photographs taken during the conflict. The original black and white images have been completely transformed and brought to life, presenting windows into the lives of the many soldiers and civilians affected by the events of World War I.
(For those wanting to learn more about the events that shaped the First World War, a short BBC video by Dan Snow, giving an overview of the whole war, can be found here)
Norman Foster’s vision for a network of bike paths suspended over London’s railway lines, could see commuters gliding over the city as they travel to and from work. Unveiled earlier in January, SkyCycle would allow cyclists to move through the city completely liberated from the roads. The plans have already won the backing of Network Rail and Transport for London and would see the installation of over 220km of elevated, car-free routes suspended on pylons over the suburban rail track lines, with over 200 entrance points, ultimately accommodating 12,000 cyclists per hour. Lord Foster, for whom cycling is a great passion, describes the plan as “a lateral approach to finding space in a congested city…By using the corridors above the suburban railways, we could create a world-class network of safe, car-free cycle routes that are ideally located for commuters.” The idea gained the approval of the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, by complete accident after Foster’s team bumped into Boris in the lift on their way to a meeting at City Hall. The addition of SkyCycle to London’s already eclectic skyline would present yet another innovative way in which the historic city has continually evolved and adapted to its growing population and to changing fashion.
Google Street View specialist Halley Docherty brings life to old pictures by combining aged photos with corresponding Street View images. In these photos Docherty takes us back to cities of the second world war, giving us a glimpse of life then and now.
Photographs all by Halley Docherty.
“The stranger who finds himself in the Dials for the first time…at the entrance of Seven obscure passages, uncertain which to take, will see enough around him to keep his curiosity awake for no inconsiderable time…” – Charles Dickens, ‘Sketches by Boz’ (1836)
In the early 1690’s, the MP Thomas Neale (1641-99) attempted to develop part of the overcrowded slum of London’s St. Giles into what is now Seven Dials. Today the trendy shopping area is a far cry from the disreputable hovel depicted in William Hogarth’s Gin Lane (1751) – printed almost 60 years after Neale strove to pull the area out of the gutter, it shows that the original plans for redevelopment were ultimately a failure. Neale wanted to establish Seven Dials as a fashionable London address, following in the earlier footsteps of the successful Covent Garden Piazza. However, the area failed to do this and it quickly deteriorated into one renowned for its many gin shops. At one point a pub could be found on every one of the seven points facing the central column, their cellars and vaults connecting in the basement, accommodating the possible need for a quick escape.
Neale’s master plan began to unfold in 1691, with the construction of six streets radiating out from a central ‘circus’, holding a column decorated with six sundials. A seventh street – the eastern part of what is now Mercer Street, named after the Worshipful Company of Mercers, who owned the land and licensed the building work – was added in the early years of the eighteenth century, but it was too late for anyone to alter the already finished column to match. The seventh style of the middle column has thus been interpreted as the actual monument itself.
Charles Dickens Junior (1837-96) noted the poverty of the area in the nineteenth century: shops selling second and third hand goods, a bizarre cluster of stores selling “every rarity of pigeon, fowl and rabbit, together with rare Birds such as hawks, owls and parrots, love birds and other species native and foreign”. He took note of children playing in the streets together completely unsupervised, while their parents presumably sat in one of the seven pubs facing the central monument – “it is evident whatever there may be a lack of in the Dials, there is no lack of money for drink”.
Moreover, the nineteenth century also saw an influx of Irish workers into the area, who were predominately attracted by the cheap, though overcrowded, lodgings. Henry Mayhew observed in 1861: “In many houses in Monmouth Street there is a system of sub-letting among journeymen. In one room lodged a man and his wife, (a laundress), 4 children and 2 single young men. The woman was actually delivered in this room while the men kept at their work – they never lost an hours work!” The flood of immigrants gradually spread out to surrounding areas, from Endell Street to Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue, easing pressure on Seven Dials and allowing for a steady gentrification of it as craftsmen and larger businesses moved in.
** Interestingly, nearby Neal’s Yard, today housing many vegetarian cafes and homeopathic remedy shops, has been home to alternative medicine, occultism, and astrologers since the seventeenth century, all of whom were attracted by the sundials and the symbolic star layout of Seven Dials.
Coming from an Anglo-Japanese background myself, CYJO’s continuous photographic series Mixed Blood (2010-2013) is something that hits close to home. The project depicts New York and Beijing based “mixed” families, and highlights the cross-cultural, unique, and subjective lifestyles and experiences born from the amalgamation of different cultures, faiths, and ethnicities. CYJO’s photos are windows into the lives of families that have had to naturally create a culture and identity of their own through tradition, modernisation, and citizenship.
“I feel a strong connection to the portraits and narratives in CYJO’s Mixed Blood. They are at once familiar and provocative. They highlight the borrowing, plucking, reshaping, and discarding that we do in fixing our identities at any given time, in a particular space, and for a particular purpose.” – Dr. Maya Soetoro-Ng, University lecturer and sister of US President Obama.
As a child (and still today) I was/am a huge fan of the Where’s Wally series. So coming across Liu Bolin’s work for the first time this year, I was instantly drawn to the similar challenge it invited of finding hidden figures. Bolin is more commonly and aptly known as the “Invisible Man” due to his incredible talent of blending into the backgrounds and settings of his works – in some cases, he is completely unseen despite being in the absolute foreground. Presenting a talk at a TED conference in February 2013 (just under 8 minutes long and really worth watching!), the Chinese artist explained that physically disappearing into his art gave him the opportunity to consider the “contradictory and often inter-cancelling” relationship between civilisation and its development. Through these images Bolin was able to emphasise the social and political issues inherent in China today, using his works as a platform to speak for those made invisible by the Chinese government – whether by consumer culture or by circumstances of history.
In the talk, Bolin refers to his 2005 ‘Hiding in the City’ collection as a “reflective…series of protests”, highlighting its powerful and intentionally thought-provoking nature. The images came about after Chinese police destroyed the artist’s village of Suo Jia Cun, as the government attempted to discourage communities of artists working and living together. In retaliation, Bolin and his assistants painted his clothes, face, and hair to blend into the background of his torn down studio. Since then, the “Invisible Man” can be found fading into scenes set all over Beijing. The objective being that “just as with Bolin himself, the contradictions and confusing narratives of China’s post-Cultural Revolution society are often hiding in plain sight”.