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08 May, 2009

The best art shows to see this week

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

Amoral consumerism in Southend, Francis Alÿs transforms Saint Fabiola, and bloodthirsty revenge comes to Birmingham’s International Project Space

At Southend’s Focal Point Gallery, images from Grazia and Heat find themselves in Clunie Reid’s aggressive collages, covered in wild marker pen scrawlings, which wouldn’t look out of place in a creepy stalker’s den. Reid tars everything with the same brush, creating collages of glossy images, including Paris Hilton, reality TV stars and glossy advertisements. She uses cutting, defacement, tearing and sticking as a form of critique before gaffer-taping everything to the wall, raw and roughshod. She also photographs some of her collages with a flash camera, so that the reflective glare inhibits our ability to see the image. Reid hopes to disturb our relationship to photography, attempting to reveal the amoral consumerism that can be found lurking within the images she uses.

While Reid deconstructs iconography by destroying and defacing it, Francis Alÿs collects and accumulates to create Fabiola, an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. For more than 15 years the Belgian, Mexico-based artist has collected depictions of the fourth-century saint Fabiola from markets and charity shops. Mostly the work of amateurs and Sunday painters, his collection now comprises around 300 paintings, all based on a lost original by Jean-Jacques Henner (1885), which featured Fabiola, facing left, a heavy red veil covering her head and shoulders. Each painter has made their own stylistic changes – a flash of red lipstick here, a transformation of hair colour from brunette to blonde there – and each is as much a portrait of the person who painted them as they are depictions of the saint. As Laura Cumming wrote last week, Alÿs is the “most humane of contemporary artists”, and the paintings of Fabiola, which depict a myriad of imperfections and inconsistencies, reveal the power of icons to change according to our needs and desires.

The ICA have almost decided to do away with images altogether for their new exhibition, Talk Show, which opened this week. Those who bemoaned the recent closure of the ICA’s Live Art department will enjoy the month of May, which will be filled with the spoken and written word, and a packed programme of performances, live art events and talks. One of the works worth looking out for will be Pierre Bismuth’s Jungle Book Project (2002). When the artist realised that his goddaughter watched the same cartoons hundreds of times, he bought her copies of Disney’s The Jungle Book in several languages – only to become fascinated by the dubbed versions himself. The result is a series of drawings of the film’s characters, which come to represent 19 different countries. The exhibition also includes several artists in residence, including Fia Backström and Melanie Gilligan, whom you can visit at the gallery as they present their works in progress.

Melanie Gilligan’s work can also be seen this week at the International Project Space in Birmingham. Gilligan’s prescient work Crisis in the Credit System from October 2008 (which can also be seen online) is a film depicting bankers and financiers learning to use “the market” in a such a way that it becomes an autonomous entity. They tune into the market and hear its thoughts, learning the best way to play it. The market begins to spit out new words in response – bloodthirsty words of murder, disease and greed. Accompanying Gilligan’s film are Michael Stevenson’s illustrations of modern fables, and Emily Wardill’s Sea Oak, an imageless 16mm film which leaves only a projector to look at, alongside a soundtrack that discusses our ability to conjure images when hearing words.

Finally, the Arnolfini in Bristol is raising that very British subject, class, often politely swept under the carpet by the art world, in a group exhibition entitled Lapdogs of the Bourgeoisie. Neil Cummings’s video Lapdogs appears to be a trailer for a new reality TV programme for the Arabic-speaking world, which appropriates the format of the Channel 4 series Faking It. The trailer features a painter-decorator being trained as a contemporary artist. The transformation is more than just a change of job, Cummings suggests: it is a change of class.

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