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Bill Viola
St Paul's Cathedral
St Paul's Churchyard, The Chapter House , London EC4M 8AD, United Kingdom
June 1, 2014 - June 1, 2015

Offsite and away from the gallery: contemporary art in a cathedral, a National Trust home and a university
by Phoebe Stubbs

White box art galleries are strange places for the uninitiated. Work is denied any visual context other than other artworks. People tend to talk quietly, if at all. Their interiors bear no relation to the world outside their doors. Brian O’Doherty discussed this problem in the 1970s in his book Inside The White Cube: “In this context a standing ashtray becomes an almost sacred object”.

Galleries have in the past few years introduced more "offsite" exhibitions to tackle this, but the number of other institutions experimenting with showing contemporary art is also on the rise. Contemporary art seems to carry a value that is appealing for other cultural sectors, brands, and institutions. Although this can be problematic for artists, it has led to the possibility for work to interact with spaces in new ways and open up to different audiences.

St Paul’s Cathedral regularly engages with contemporary artists. Bill Viola—a pioneer of video art’s transfixing capabilities with a longstanding interest in Christian themes—is a good fit. He insisted on HD before it was well-known, forcing technical perfection for his medium. His well-crafted lighting, slick studio sets, and immaculate timing are so enticing you sometimes overlook the work’s more heavy symbolism. 

Viola’s Martyrs (Earth, Air, Fire, Water) is the first moving image work to be shown in the cathedral. Despite video seeming far from the cathedral vernacular, Martyrs looks at home. A sturdy quadriptych of standing HD monitors showing four looping videos of people silently enduring, even at peace with, staged and stylized tortures involving the four elements, it is not unlike classical paintings of the martyrs. As a space for art, the hubbub of the cathedral was unexpectedly less reverential than a gallery. But the building acts as a visual means to relate the themes in the videos to the larger narrative of religious art. At St Paul’s, Viola marries his videos’ startling visual effects achieved in his removed studio-setting to their thematic content—a visual history of human suffering and redemption.

Ryan Gander at 2 Willow Road; Courtesy Sam Roberts


Ryan Gander’s exhibition The artists have the keys at Ernö Goldfinger’s Hampstead home, on until 2 November, relies on a much more intimate context for its success. Hidden among Goldfinger’s carefully arranged possessions are Gander’s subtle works. Easy to miss, the joy of the exhibition is going round the house with the list of works and trying to prize apart the objects that tell us Goldfinger’s story from Gander’s. Anyone with a family is motivated by money is a self-assembly money box that sits on a shelf, mimicking the ingenious functionality of the flat-pack chairs designed by Goldfinger’s wife, Ursula. Two works from Gander’s series A lamp made by the artist for his wife appear to be Goldfinger’s, but on closer inspection are ad hoc constructions of too-new objects—bike pumps, shiny bull-dog clips, a kitchen roll holder. Another man’s home as context for Gander’s art makes sense. His varied output often deals with both personal experience and the overarching narrative of art history. The preservation of Goldfinger’s home does more than celebrate its architecture. It places you in the story of his life, allowing every painting, box file, and well-made door handle to illuminate the cultural context of the mid century.

Javier Tellez, Caligari und der Schlafwandler (Caligari and the Sleepwalker), 2008, film still; Courtesy the artist and Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zurich


This year’s Anxiety Arts Festival is dotted around many carefully chosen London venues. Acting out: the institution denied is in the converted Anatomy Museum at King’s College until 21 June. To find it you have to walk up through the university. On show are three videos, a vitrine, and three performances on different evenings. The works all deal with issues around the visibility and perception of mental health. Dora Garcia’s film The Deviant Majority (2010) examples revolutionary and political ideas in psychiatry, from Italy to Brazil. Javier Tellez’s film Caligari and the Sleepwalker (2008) features patients from Vivantes Klinikum in Berlin who slip between their characters and themselves; they act, watch themselves act and narrate their stories. Although these works make sense in the university setting as a physical embodiment of a space for the mind, it is the display of Eva Kotátková’s vitrine from her work Picture Atlas of Johan, A boy who cut the library of the clinic into pieces (2014) that speaks more directly to the room’s previous life as an anatomy theatre. Little carefully cut out arms are suspended on string like the parts to a game that is at once sinister and charming.

Although the white box has conditioned the art viewer to overlook context, in these exhibitions it is precisely the relationship of artworks to and with these other institutions that enriches the works themselves. These are all examples of how art is not solipsistic, how it lives in and speaks to the world at large.


Phoebe Stubbs 


[Image on top: Bill Viola, Martyrs (Earth, Air, Fire, Water); Photo by Peter Mallet]

Posted by Phoebe Stubbs on 6/16 | tags: video-art installation mixed-media Anxiety Festival St Paul's Cathedral site-specificity

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Marina Abramovic
Serpentine Gallery
Kensington Gardens, London W2 3XA, United Kingdom
June 11, 2014 - August 25, 2014

10 Minutes of Cynical Silence
by Philippa Snow

512 Hours at the Serpentine is notorious already, for two reasons: first, for the fact that the show contains no artwork whatsoever, and second, for the way in which it's inspired hysterical, snaking queues outside the gallery—queues of the kind more typically associated with the stadium gigs of her erstwhile pop-star associates Jay-Z and Lady Gaga. Marina Abramovic's medium is nothing, and as such, her critics would argue that her art is nothing, too. Conversely, her many defenders insist that to miss the object is to miss the objective—Marina is the medium, in both senses of the word, and the work is both art-performance and séance in one whole.

What the faithful are waiting in line for is this: a-hundred-and-sixty participants will enter the gallery at a time for each scheduled performance. They leave behind, in Serpentine-issue lockers, their electronic lifelines, their clocks and their Candy-Crush-boasting comforters, and once inside they're invited to walk around the space in absolute silence. One by one, the performance artist will take them by the hand, and leave them facing the gallery wall for a brief, ten-minute period of meditation. It's an odder experience to queue for than the Artpop tour, I imagine, but people were going wacko over it—interviews I read later with those who had taken part in this slow, strange dance were something akin to testimonials from religious converts.

The aim is for the visitor to do exactly nothing, and yet I felt paralyzed with the kind of fear that I get from—horror of horrors—immersive theatre. Those who rely on audience participation are invariably skillful enough to smell my anxiety from a mile away, the way that a shark might smell a graze on the knee of a swimming child. At one point, I believed that Marina was reaching out for my hand, only to realize that its intended target was The Guardian's Adrian Searle, a humbling moment which I later came to recognize as a metaphor for my own career. When it came to the crunch, my given instruction was to “listen to the sound of the silence,” a mantra which succeeded in immediately stirring up a feeling of vague irritation, in lieu of zen: I found myself unable to access anything meaningful during my meditation, for the most part, and as a result, proved a lacklustre collaborator for the artist.

“The British,” Abramovic has reportedly said, “you are so cynical...So for me the only way that I can win this British public is to be extremely vulnerable and humble.”

I suppose this is where my real frustration with the artist and her artwork lies, to be confessional—it forces me to reconsider my own misanthropy, and its usefulness when I am interacting with the world. A cynic may look at a Magritte, and say simply: “well, yes, c'est clearly une fucking pipe.” For the cynic, the silence is just silence, and an artwork cannot simply be an energy. For the same reason that I could never be rendered a non-smoker via hypnosis, no number of trips to 512 Hours would allow me to hear Marina's silence—a silence which, one might imagine, is fuller and somehow more real. I will concede, though, that after five minutes or so, I did begin to feel woozy. Nothing core-shaking, but I did feel as though I'd taken some rather pleasant painkillers.

On the exhibition card, still dazed, I wrote: “As expected; almost mind-bendingly soporific,” a review which for any other show might have passed as an insult. Make no mistake—I would never say that Abramovic has not been successful in her aim of creating a zero-structure energy artwork. I only wish that I, the doubter, had a greater capacity to appreciate it.


Philippa Snow 


(All images: from

Posted by Philippa Snow on 6/22 | tags: performance 512 hours participatory art immersive art Durational performance

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20130207173302-treadmill__i__1968_79_x66_in_mm_oil_-_can to Philippa Snow
Got to hand it to Marina A: she's gotten famous so she's lording her new-found power. Maybe she can fly me to her next performance, so I might get there and tell her a few pungent things in public. Otherwise, M, please hold off performing until you have something new and unique to share with us. Yrs, Frank Ettenberg, Santa Fe

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