Frida Kahlo at the Victoria & Albert Museum

Plaster corset, painted and decorated by Frida Kahlo, Museo Frida Kahlo. © Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Archives, Banco de México, Fiduciary of the Trust of the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museums.

I so, so loved seeing Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up at the V&A when I was in London earlier this month.

Despite finding the haunting soundtrack they bled into every room a bit emotionally manipulative, I felt that the exhibition - full of personal belongings and artefacts exhumed after 50 years from a locked room in her house, La Casa Azul, in Mexico City - powerfully cut through so much of the myth about her, absolutely anchoring her life and work and extraordinarily wonderful, powerful sartorial choices in her body.

The plaster casts and steel braces; her prosthetic leg; her many medicines and the details of her painso much pain – brought a real clarity and urgency to her work. To create such visceral, clear-sighted, provocative works despite and because of her pain, I’m just in awe really of her intense female energy. To have her passion and anger and vision, when so many others would have foregone their politics and aesthetic agendas for painful solitude and defeat, I was profoundly moved actually. And I also really, really loved – thinking about her jewellery – how she used it to do and say so many things – about herself and about Mexico. Jewellery really can be this extraordinarily powerful, subtle tool for communication if you wear it right

There’s so much more to say about Kahlo, her work, the exhibition, the god awful, tasteless shit they were selling in the giftshop (I can’t imagine how the socialist Kahlo would have felt about £45 floral headbands being sold in her name…) but really, for me - it was about that visceral, tangible connection to her pain and her clarity of purpose.



Lottie Consalvo: mid-fall, Alaska Projects

My text to accompany Newcastle-based artist Lottie Consalvo’s recent exhibition mid-fall.

Alaska Projects, Sydney, 27 April – 15 May, 2016

Lottie Consalvo is contemplating time. Years, nano-seconds, moments of eternity, transition, points of no return – these moments of between and becoming are explored in her current series of abstract paintings.

Consalvo’s interdisciplinary practice includes performative and often quite specific autobiographical references and this collection of works represents not one, but a series of moments in time. They are observations of quietly transformative experiences – from her 12-month long durational performance, Compartmentalise in 2012, to her recent travels around Ireland absorbing its rough hewn beauty – all stone circles, limestone and rain – and its reverence for spirits and shrines.

Lottie Consalvo, mid-fall (study), 2016, edition of 1 and 2 AP, size varied, glicée print on cotton rag.

Lottie Consalvo, Hanging mountains, 2016, acrylic, charcoal and plaster on board

This travel and Consalvo’s latest series of paintings have actually occurred in the middle of her latest 12-month durational piece, Desires, wherein she has given herself permission to do those things that make her happiest. The works in mid-fall do not explore any particular desire. What they reflect is Consalvo’s ongoing fascination with states of mind, in particular memory and how certain psychological states reflect physically and within the physical world.

In mid-fall Consalvo considers time, momentum and the nature of transition; something she is necessarily experiencing as a consequence of her long-durational performance work. Here, the habits and rituals of her everyday life are incrementally transformed by the terms of the work and she looks back only in order to observe her progress; to locate those tipping points of no return (which she so deftly illustrates in mid-fall (study) and then again in mid-fall). There is nothing regretful or nostalgic in these considerations, simply a conscious fascination with process, memory, transformation, and the possibility for ritual within it.

Shrines have long been of interest to Consalvo; as places for solitude, faith and reflection and in these works she draws on experiences of reverie – standing in the rain at Powerscourt Waterfall in Wicklow, Ireland – to her own small moments of ceremony – collecting and grounding coal from her garden fire to embed in her painterly surfaces – to create a series of visual spaces that resonate with the quiet emotional energy of these experiences.

Lottie Consalvo,  Stones fall faster than water and I will always love you,  2016, acrylic, charcoal, beads and plaster on board.

Lottie Consalvo, Stones fall faster than water and I will always love you, 2016, acrylic, charcoal, beads and plaster on board.

Several works in the series, including Stones Fall Upon Tall Men, make direct reference to the visual forms of totems and shrines and in addition to the use of coal Consalvo has also used casting plaster. Drawn to its associative fragility and painterly qualities, she incorporates it both within the painted surface and sculpturally, to emulate the collections of stones. The contrast between these bright whites and the pure black only highlighted by the rest of Consalvo’s deliberately subdued palette of earthy, dark tones.

These recurring motifs – the stones, the totems, and these senses of falling or yielding towards new states of being – are necessarily abstract. Flying and Falling, one of the earlier works to be created in the series is unsurprisingly the most figurative and reflects another moment of transition within the series – away from the literal and didactic – towards something more instinctive and emotional.

By abstracting these notions of reflection, memory and momentum, Consalvo instead meditates on the power of certain places (be they literal, emotional or psychological) to bring about transition and change. So long as you have faith enough to let go.



REVIEW: Suzanne Treister, ALCHEMY, Annely Juda Fine Art

11 September - 25 October 2008

Suzanne Treister, ALCHEMY/The Guardian, 6th October 2007, Dimensions: 4' x 5' watercolour, ink and felt tip pen on watercolour paper. Courtesy the artist.

For an exhibition that deals mystically, directly and then almost nostalgically with notions of communication, it’s unsurprising to discover several ways of reading the work of Suzanne Treister.

Alchemy, Correspondence: From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe and War Artists are three distinct bodies of work but each has a poetic subtlety    that transcends three distinct experiences. Indeed, the visual and  intellectual subtlety of Treister’s work makes for a contemplative, and  ultimately rewarding, study of the passages and processes we have for  absorbing and  receiving information in the modern day.

Correspondence is a beguiling and fascinating work, despite a lack of bombast or colour. Featuring 324 letterheads of government offices, NGOs, corporations, embassies and arms companies, each hand-drawn in lead  and arranged systematically into nine 6×6 grids, Correspondence reminds  us of the human and the personal behind the official and the impersonal.  The slight smudges of lead and occasional wobble in line are reminiscent of  school tracing exercises but the effect is quietly devastating.

Suzanne Treister, Correspondence: From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, 1 of 324 drawings of letterheads reproduced in pencil, primarily from Government and Presidential Offices, Ministries of Defence, NGOs and arms manufacturers across the world, both past and current. 21cm x 29.7cm

Correspondence asks us to consider notions of representation, to recognise  the human contribution to the making of ‘official’ decisions and the  subsequent exchanging, negotiating and conveying of such decisions. Also,  significantly, to recognise the powerful anonymity of the logo, which  abrogates all personal accountability in a system of complex communications, such as is represented here.

The idea of an official news or narrative is taken literally in Alchemy, a series of seven large-scale watercolour and ink works based on the covers of seven newspapers from around the world, including The Guardian, Al-Ahram and The New York Times. There is a mystical, otherworldly element to the series however, with a central circular motif to each work reminiscent of esoteric crystal ball gazing. Headlines swirl, images threaten to evanesce thanks to the gestural wash of colours and unfinished lines and there is arguably an aesthetic simpatico to the tarot card, with its codes and complex symbology.

Installation view, Suzanne Treister, Correspondence, Annely Juda Fine Art, London, 2008.

Suggestive of powers outside the conventional realms of politics and mainstream media, Alchemy explores the slipperiness of interpretation in the face of multiple belief systems and channels for receiving information. There is also a wall drawing in the Alchemy series, A Timeline of Science Fiction Inventions: Weapons, Warfare and Security and this is perhaps the least successful part of the exhibition, especially compared to the evocative pencil sketch portraits in the eponymous War Artists series. A history documenting ‘innovations of imaginary and fantastic technology’ according to the press release, the colourful drawing looks like a series of DNA models but is convoluted and the attempt at witty didactics is at odds with the subtlety of other works on display.

Overwhelmingly though Treister’s complex and considerable exhibition is a provocative and thoughtful meditation on the power of communication in the modern day.