The Serious and The Surreal

by Katie on April 2, 2010

It was a strange week in gallery land. There were a number of launches out there like any week but they were are as disparate as Katie Price and her namesake, the Chutzpah.

Kicking off at one of my favourite spaces for sheer grandeur alone, Haunch of Venison, attendees were invited to experience Thomas Heatherwick’s second solo exhibition, ‘Spun’. Not having a danny about Thomas Heatherwick (sorry art buffs, I admit ignorance on this one), it wasn’t exactly as I expected. Basically, a room was filled with similarly bemused arty farts with bitter glasses of wine, not exactly sure what we were supposed to be admiring – a dimly lit room with a polished stainless steel, silver ‘spinning top’ type chair in the middle, like an upended modern chess piece, while various other similar pieces were raised on display in mirror polished and brushed copper versions. Aah! So, *that’s* what we’re supposed to do! Various brave bods lined up to have a go on the seat of spin, which did exactly that….lolled around 360% degrees like an arty exhibit at Alton Towers. I could wax lyrical about Heatherwick’s flair for challenging rules and how he has successfully engaged architecture with art and function but I’ll leave it as just plain fun.

At “I Still Do: Loving and Living with Alzheimer’s” at the Cork Street Gallery, it was a very different kettle of fish. Judith Fox, artist and entrepreneur, has painstakingly and lovingly captured her husband’s descent into Alzheimer’s after only three years of marriage. Heartbreaking and extremely moving imagery conveys the reality of the disease: the difficulty, the emotion, the heartbreak, the trust and the humour, where glimpses of the ‘former’ person come through. Giving us a rare insight into dealing with the illness, Fox’s aim is to humanise the disease, making it more accessible and understandable, and to promote it from being ‘untouchable’ to being a very real threat to millions of people, particularly in ageing Western societies like the UK and USA, where health care will be stretched and lack of provision and care is a real and worrying future issue. The drug company Pfizer backed the show and, for the past 20 years, have been taking an active part into research to modify the course of the disease and hopefully, to provide a cure.

The importance of a holistic approach to the illness was clear and the need to unite government, business, charities and media. With a very recent government backed TV campaign on Dementia awareness (1st March 2010) and author Terry Pratchett’s work into making the illness more well known and acceptable, we can safely assume we are at the tip of an Alzheimer’s iceberg in terms of understanding and awareness.

As Judith Fox’s brilliant ex surgeon husband has said to her in frustration, “I want to go where I was when I was well”. How poignant.

Over at Idea Generation in the Shoreditch area (where everyone looks like they’ve recently visited an ‘All Saints’ reject sample sale), I was a fish out of water in terms of area, familiarity and in subject matter at Storm Thurgerson’s extended album art, “Right But Wrong’. The place was awash in 1970s culture as album artwork from Led Zeppelin vied for attention with that of Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath. As well as the art work, there were many old rock business types floating around who had obviously had a life well spent and had no doubt, had various rock star over indulgences. The record sleeves screamed of this. Surreal imagery with ‘way out’ vibes that was entirely redolent of its era. Crivens, I could practically feel the 70’s spirograph wheels painting multi colours in my head.
Now, you may not know this, but I am the sister of a bona fide rock ‘insider’ brother who has been sound engineer (and still is) to many rock luminaries such as Elton John, Prince, Eric Clapton, Ozzy Osbourne, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Steve Winwood and the goddess that is Stevie Nicks. As the youngest of three elder brothers and a sister in the 1970s, I had my fair share of prog rock experiences as I heard Deep Purple, Cream and Pink Floyd seeping from various bedrooms. Even then, I knew this was a bit different. For a start, it was always accompanied by yucky smelling cigarettes and oft hazy looking friends stumbling from the rooms all long hair, beads and flared denim. Well, at least they were cool, back then. The Thorgerson exhibition brought back floods of memories as I viewed images of whimsical, long haired young men in tight t-shirts, ever so slightly well bred and hippie (Ummagumma) and surreal images of women in corsets that transformed into bulbous red onions ( Umphrey’s McGee), Dear God. Even the host of titles were transcendental with implied abstract meaning and (non red brick) university youth cleverness. Floyd’s The Division Bell (1994) artwork is world famous as two facing metal heads almost yack at one another as is the unsurpassed ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ black cover, with the pyramid and its light refraction. At the exhibit, ‘the dark side of the room’ (fnar fnar) showed ten variations on the latter’s theme, all equally distinct. It was ‘Peter Gabriel and Car’ that was outstandingly noticeable. Covered in raindrops and angst, the image was wholly and dourly evocative. I left then. In a Momentary Lapse of Reason.

Thomas Heatherwick – Spun Chair (aluminium)2010

Aluminium – Height: 65 cm, 25.61 inches , Width: 88 cm, 34.67 inches

Copyright Thomas Heatherwick Photography courtesy of Haunch of Venison
Ed in shirt, ‘I Still Do’ photos by Judith Fox
Pink Floyd The Division Bell (1994) – Design by Storm Thorgerson & Keith Breeden

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