Although it has been a nearly a month since I visited the Pablo Bronstein: Sketches for Regency Living exhibition at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, I can’t seem to get it out of my head. On the one hand this is due to simple bewilderment at what I’d seen, and on the other a sneaking, growing admiration for the show. This review is an attempt to figure which one of these will win out...
The London-based, Argentinian artist Pablo Bronstein's exhibition consists of series of interventions that take over the building of the ICA, tucked inside Carlton House Terrace on the Mall. Designed by the prominent 19th century architect John Nash, the Grade I listed Regency building provides the perfect setting for the combination of displays of existing work, site-specific installations and performances, all informed by an overtly postmodernist approach.
Taking place every half-hour, the first of these performances I encountered was the Tragic Stage, in which a dancer sat motionless on a chair before performing a series of choreographed movements in front of a large-scale painted backdrop of a Georgian façade and square, that could have been produced by Nash himself.
Her costume was designed Mary Katranzou, a London-based fashion designer, who combined ballet-esque taffeta with a fantastical architectural drawing.
The costume's contrast with the hard edges of the gallery space was one of a series of deliberate incongruities in the installation, most visible in the banal, mass-produced polypropylene chair that sat in front of the glorious fakery of the backdrop.
Disturbances of a different sort were on show in the other performance, that took place on the top floor of the ICA, reached by a winding staircase lined with drawings of building typologies.
Waiting for the second performance to take place, I made my way around the two rooms of the Upper Galleries, around whose walls are fantastical, highly detailed Piranesi-esque depictions of buildings and monuments. These include the large-scale Erecting of the Paternoster Square Column from 2008, displayed in a seventeenth century frame.
This is one of a number Bronstein created, based on the recent development of London’s Paternoster Square. The drawing deliberately plays tricks on the viewer, for while it appears to depict the construction of some ancient, mythical monument it actually shows this more contemporary event. Equally deceptive are the pieces of furniture that occupy each room, around which the second performance was based.
One of these was this huge, monolithic, seemingly derivative Chippendale style cabinet which the gallery attendant/performance artist (I couldn’t figure out which one was his day job) opened up in a series of orchestrated moves to reveal the office contained inside.
While firmly more in the realm of design/art rather than practical furniture, I liked the joke inherent in the cabinet's reference to the growing ubiquity of fold-out computer desks and home offices, indicative of our space and time-short lives in which work and leisure are increasing conflated. In stylistic terms, this hidden interior, with its false cupboards and MDF masquerading as mahogany are all part of the attention to surface and the denial of a unity of form and function that makes up the postmodern style. The pediment is surely a reference to one of the most ‘iconic’ examples of the period that clearly so inspires Bronstein, Philip Johnson’s AT&T Building from 1984 – an opinion shared by the architect Sam Jacob of FAT, who is no stranger to the postmodern vernacular, nor the creative potential of the idea of the copy, an idea which Bronstein clearly enjoys playing with.
As to what exactly the message is of this postmodern confusion of architectural and domestic scales, surface trickery, copying and clashing styles, I'll confess to still being a bit befuddled by it all. Amongst the show's merits was how it, perhaps unwittingly, drew attention to the beauty of Nash’s design, to its elaborate cornices and light, well-proportioned spaces (at least in the Upper Galleries) that I had otherwise overlooked in previous visits. Whether or not the exhibition is strong enough to pull the ICA out of its recent troubled history, and if its avant-garde aims are equal with its location in London's tourist heart, is uncertain. Regardless, this is a show well worth a visit if only for an introduction to the work of the young artist Bronstein, and a reintroduction to that of a past master, Nash.
Posted by Cat Rossi
Pablo Bronstein: Sketches for Regency Living is at the ICA until 25th September 2011.
As visitors to the RCA Show - or indeed any of the current crop of graduate shows will know - trying to identify talent and trends at these exhibitions is challenging, to say the last. Crammed not just with exhibits and exhibitors but visitors too, making sense of what's on show takes time few have, particularly given their short runs (the RCA show is now closed). I've split my review into two parts, and while the first part focused on more design-led and engineering side of things, this second part considers just some of the highlights from the more craft end of the spectrum.
This year, the Ceramics & Glass and Goldsmithing, Silversmithing, Metalwork & Jewellery (GSMJ) departments exhibited their work together in the same space, with work by students from both departments mixed together. On the whole this was successful as it emphasised the diversity within and across both departments, even if it made the overall identity of each less immediately apparent.
While glass pieces were in a minority, I was particularly taken with Liam Reeves' Vector series of vases, decorated using reticello, a technique originating from the Venetian glassmaking island of Murano that demands a very high level of skill. The glassware’s name and neon hues were both nods to the Tron film that inspired this glassware, making this unusual for being a contemporary, digitally informed take on a historic Venetian tradition - as well as the latest example of a design to be inspired by the Disney film, alongside Dror Benshetrit's Tron armchair for Cappellini from 2010.
I couldn’t not be fall a little bit in love with Malene Hartmann Rasmussen’s If I had a Heart I could Love You ceramic-based installation that consisted of a fireplace, wooden planks, a basket of kindling, and even a squirrel and snake (added after this photo was taken). These all added to the surreal quality of the work, which had a cartoon quality reminiscent of Katherine Morling’s installation at Collect earlier this year (reviewed in an earlier blog post), and embraced the idea of excess on a visual, material and conceptual level. If at times the installation teetered on the edge of too much excess, it was rescued by the large dose of humour involved.
At the more commercial, or at least covetable, end of the exhibits were Katy Jennings' cast ceramic Knitwear Birds which introduce individuality into serial production by chipping the mould prior to each casting, and then screen-printing each one-off form with a different 'sweater' pattern.
The pieces' whimsical air was also present in the GSMJ exhibits, most notably in a collection inspired this time not by birds, but horses. Fantasy and fiction presided in the otherwordly horses that make up the forms of the necklaces, bracelets and even knuckle duster in Birgit Marie Schmidt’s I Can’t Seem to Get Rid of the Horses collection.
The collection is based on Schmidt's childhood obsession with horses, around whom she'd weave fantastical stories while nestled under her grandmother's kitchen table - which has itself been turned into an exhibit, pinned high up on the wall with excerpts of Schmidt's daydreams stuck underneath for the visitor to read while standing below. Similarly fantasy-inspired, this time tinged with the combination of futurity and the prehistory that inspires much of the post-apocalyptic strand in design today is Julie Legault's Powerrocks pieces, that have the appearance of meteorites, but the function of USB sticks and phone chargers.
Although I missed the Fashion show, there were some striking accessories on display, including Laura Amstein’s beautifully-crafted leather bags (being eyed up by none other than former creative director of Smythson Samantha Cameron at the private view) and in the textiles department Marie Parsons’s neon and pastel trunk and handbag that combine traditional quilting and appliqué techniques with digital embroidery, laser cutting and materials including latex and plastic laminates to make primal, eighties-esque patterns.
While there are many, many more exhibitors at the show worthy of mention, from Emma Shipley's beautiful hand drawn Troglodyte Gorilla prints to Ki Hyun Kim’s remarkably lightweight balsa wood 1.3 Chair (that beats Gio Ponti's 1957 Superleggera chair by about 400g), Lauren Bowker's PHNX seemed like a suitably spectacular piece to end on. Bowker, who describes herself as a ‘textile innovator’ has been working with dynamic chromic imaging– in plain speak, the technology behind the Global Hypercolor t-shirts that ruled the 90s. She displayed her research through an Alexander McQueen-esque piece, whose feathers had been impregnated with dyes that change colour over time.
Lauren Bowker, Phnx, 2011 on Vimeo.
Talking to Bowker, what was most striking was that this was not just some outlandish, or purely fashion-orientated, work but she conceives it as having highly practical ends too. Amongst the intended uses are in the field of healthcare, in which the patient’s clothing could change colour in response to stress or another pre-programmed criteria. For its creativity, innovation, craftsmanship and aim to use design to do what it should - change lives for the better - Bowker's work stands for some of the best qualities of a stand-out, if rather squashed, show.
Posted by Cat Rossi
We have an exclusive for our blog readers - Rian Hughes has created a series of images based on his book 'CULT-URE', which we are pleased to be able to share with you over the next couple of weeks - enjoy!