Thursday, 17 November 2011

The Ghost Parade

The first thing you notice are the dinosaurs. No, first comes the light which floods the dinosaurs, cascading from a tall neo-Gothic roof faceted with clear glass like a nineteenth-century diamond. Cool autumn daylight makes the dinosaurs seem curiously less ferocious, and I bravely muster another step forward to examine them closely. Before I even start to read the plate, my attention is swept towards a monumental ivory structure almost the height of a house, an upside-down sharp pointed boomerang propped against a column for support. I notice little pointed ridges...teeth. The structure is an enormous jaw of a whale.

This is my fourth time at the Oxford Natural History Museum, and I am transfixed.

Above me, skeletons are flying through stillness. Whales, dolphins, countless reptiles have shed their silvery skins, their bones fixed, motionless beneath the diamond dome. A giant glass-eyed tortoise glances upwards from its tank in bewilderment. I retrace my steps, and arrive by what could only be described as a kaleidoscopic forest of butterflies. The opalescent wings of one are juxtaposed with the pair of another, an electrifying blue, as though it had collected an entire cosmic sky on its microscopic shoulders.

Another case beckons, titled: Asteroidea/Ophiuroidea. You can guess what lies there - I yearn to remember the Latin name. In fact, I yearn to remember everything: that a swift spends all of its lifetime in flight, eating, feeding and sleeping in the air, the name of the dinosaur whose remains were dug up by St Edmund Hall College, how the Dodo bird became extinct, what inspired Lewis Carroll to write Alice in Wonderland... Not everything is hidden beneath glass; hundreds of stuffed animals are everywhere, and it is quite a while until I reluctantly stop stroking a fox's featherlike auburn fur and descend into the second half of the building: the Pitt Rivers.

It is darker still - to preserve the treasures safely enveloped in the arms of their protector - this giant cabinet de curiosit├ęs. It seems to be an assemblage of every possible and impossible artefact from every ancient culture in existence. The shrunken heads, or tsantsas, (look familiar? Prisoner of Azkaban production team must have thought the same) are always a popular exhibit, evoking timorous gasps or gaping stares of repulsed fascination (perhaps my reaction above fits somewhere between the two). 

Upstairs, the collection continues, merging ages past with the immediate present. The body modification and beauty gallery is a haunting reminder of just how much perception of beauty alters from culture to culture - from scarification to binding feet to fit Chinese slippers scarcely bigger than the palm of my hand, to whole-body tattoos and lengthening of skulls. Somehow, against this array, a pair of false eyelashes appears innocent and insignificant.

Another flight of stairs, and I am greeted with intricate keys of all shapes and sizes. I lean across and examine them all individually, as if to leave impressions in my already-dazzled mind. D'nnnnng. The gong is sounded. It is time. I am brought to my senses. The museum is closing and I am herded out, looking back longingly at all the things I hadn't had time to photograph with my eyes.

I walk out of the Pitt Rivers as the doors slide soundlessly behind me, and behold the skeletons once more. Only this time, they are bathed in shadow: the lights at the museum have been turned out. I pace past row upon row of skeletal deer, under whales floating above me, a ghost parade of bones glimmering in the faint golden light, like spectres. Everywhere there are secrets, secrets, secrets - I hope there will be enough to last me a lifetime of visits to this curious place.

Cream silk blouse, vintage 
Jumper, vintage, Papa's
Dress, vintage
Scarf, vintage
Tights, Jack Wills
Boots, Clarks

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Frieze Please: Frieze Art Fair 2011 Highlights Pt.1

Gillian Wearing, Self Portrait of Me Now in Mask, Maureen Paley Gallery

 Cornelia Parker, 30 Pieces of Silver (with reflection), Frith Street Gallery

 Roger Hiorns, Untitled, Annet Gelink Gallery

David Noonan, Untitled, David Kordansky Gallery

 Nathalie Djurberg, Animals, Gio Marconi Gallery

 Hernan Bas, Doily Pads, Galerie Peter Kilchmann


 Hernan Bas, Untitled from the series "a bunch of fairies", Galerie Peter Kilchmann

 Hernan Bas, Two fairies (or, in the fairy ring), Galerie Peter Kilchmann 


 Adam Fuss, from the series "my ghost"

 Thomas Houseago, Earth Mask II, Hauser & Wirth

 Pawel Althamer, The Billy-Goat

Unknown with M's Feet, by me

 Robert Mapplethorpe, Lisa Lyon


Michael Wutz, Untitled etching, Aurel Scheibler

 Tom Burr, Fading in a Manhattan Sunset, Sommer Contemporary Art

Part the first of my favourite artworks at Frieze 2011. I know, it seems like aeons ago but I wanted to post about it for a while. One way to describe Frieze would be systematic bombardment of the senses through the medium of Art in a white tent several kilometres long, with hordes of enviably dressed personages parading themselves (if they are important or famous) or meekly glancing over heads (if they are mere mortals). The colossal space is a dazzling patchwork of galleries from all over the world, showcasing artists from Magritte to Emin, from the Chapman brothers to Ryan McGinley. It is nigh on impossible to see everything, and to describe the variety of work on display, so I will let the photos do the talking. Part the second to follow, if I ever get to breathe again between preparing my own artwork for assessments, university interviews, reading and suspending myself in a state of nervous agitation to do with the aforementioned.