Yoko Ono takes us To The Light

Yoko Ono Installation view, Yoko Ono: TO THE LIGHT Serpentine Gallery, London (19 June - 9 September 2012) © 2012 Jerry Hardman-Jones

Whatever your opinion of Yoko Ono, I urge you to go and see her latest exhibition ‘To The Light’ at London’s Serpentine gallery whilst you still can. Just don’t go to see it with a stinking hangover (I’ll explain more later!).

Described by John Lennon as the world’s most famous unknown artist, this collection brings together works from the illustrious Japanese writer, musician and peace activist’s long career – spanning back to well before she was labeled a witch by mewling Lennon lovers.

Personally, I couldn’t give two hoots about Ono’s Beatles connection. I just think she’s a great artist. Take her instruction paintings, for example. The purest form of conceptual art, these typed up words ask the viewer to essentially create the piece within their heads. First published in 1964 in a book entitled Grapefruit, I am happy to note that there are a bunch of Instruction Paintings here.

Of course Lennon is always going to have a presence in her work, and he’s here at the Serpentine too – from the video of him smiling (film number 5 smile 1968) to the infamous stepladder leading up to the ‘Yes’ Ceiling Painting (1966) that was apparently central to their first meeting.

One particularly moving piece was a piece of paper smudged with the combined footsteps of Yoko and John (Footsteps we made) which they had, apparently, ‘got into doing’. ‘Now, 40 years later, ’ Yoko writes, ‘I held the paper and made the footsteps go from the floor towards the ceiling. I saw something I didn’t see then. We were walking to the sky.’ Call me a bit of a soppy Sally (or you can blame my Sunday-morning hangover for kicking in at this point), but this piece especially was testament to WHY it makes sense that Lennon is always in the background. There’s no doubt that these two creatives shared a massive and consuming love that still lingers, somehow, today.

Yoko Ono Installation view, Yoko Ono: TO THE LIGHT Serpentine Gallery, London (19 June - 9 September 2012) © 2012 Jerry Hardman-Jones

Quite removed from romance, it’s Ono’s ‘Cut Piece’ films that are undoubtedly the emotional highpoint of this show. Interpreted as one of her most feminist works, the Cut Piece is also one of the most well-known examples of performance art, and one that Ono carried out and filmed in both 1964 and 2003. In this exhibition, the two films sit across from one another, creating a quiet dialogue of their own.

Essentially the performance involves the artist sitting before an audience and inviting people to come up and cut a piece of her clothing away, one after the other. It’s an experiment in participation, trust, bravery and power… and the difference between the two films is remarkable.

In the ‘60s version, we are witness to a dignified yet slightly scared young girl sitting on the floor, wearing a calm expression like that of someone waiting for an injection to be administered. Slowly, people snip away pieces of cloth, until participators become bolder in their interactions. One man circles Onomenacingly, to laughs from the audience, before making his first incision. The piece comes to an abrupt halt soon after the one audience member addresses the audience with a smirk that he will ‘take his time’ and be ‘gentle’, before gleefully removing her entire camisole and slitting through both her bra straps. It’s a shocking and unsettling watch.

Feeling shaken from the first film, the second later version is somewhat of an antidote. This colour film from almost 40 years later shows the Yoko Ono we all know and…well, maybe not love, but…you know. She looks strong, experienced, tired.  ‘It looks like someone who went through a shocking life,’ Yokohas said of it, ‘which is true.’ She seems open and accepting of her visitors and they, in turn, are compassionate and towards her. Often they talk to her before making their contribution, one participant pins a medal on her and kisses her on the cheek, another cuts off a piece of her own clothing and places it on Ono’s exposed leg.

As a piece of performance art, Cut Piece is important and thought-provoking , but as an  exploratory piece challenging social norms, it’s an absolutely fascinating and very emotional experience… And absolutely too much to cope with on a hangover.

So, please PLEASE do go and see To The Light whilst it’s still on (it’s free!), just don’t do it the morning after the night before.

To The Light runs until the 9th of September 2012

More info here> http://www.serpentinegallery.org

By: Sarah Barnes, 03.09.2012 | Comments (0)
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Can Feminist Art Change The World?

That, my friends, is the question posed by the organisers of the Carnival of Feminist Cultural Activism and it’s a discussion they are keen to get you involved in!

The 3 day long ‘carnival’ (part conference, part festival) is set to take place in March 2011 at the University of York but, in the meantime, the organisers are keen to enlist all sorts of voices to take part in the event itself and discuss what feminist art can do for society. So, if you are an academic, an artist, an activist, all of these or none at all, and you have an opinion that you want to share on how creative culture can address issues of power and gender then these Feminist Cultural Activists want to hear from you!

Perhaps you have an idea for a presentation, a performance, an exhibition or a workshop… whatever it is, get in touch with the event organisers and share your thoughts.

Deadline for all proposals is the 31st of October, so you’d better get a wiggle on if you want to get involved! All the info you will need on how to submit can be found here.

Although the content for this carnival is still being collected together, I’m already pencilling the dates into my diary, such is my excitement around the theme! Registration for the event won’t be open until the 20th of November, but the organisers have already published the prices for early bird tickets, so start saving up now to make sure you don’t miss out! All other details can be found on the Feminist Cultural Activism website and also on their Facebook event page.

(Image is of the Guerilla Girls, of course!)

By: Sarah Barnes, 20.10.2010 | Comments (0)
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You’ve got FeMail

Another day, another exciting Ladyfest Ten project to get involved in! This time, those creative types at Storm In A Tea Cup are hoping to get women (and men) from all over the world to participate via the medium of snail mail in their Postcard Project.

Whilst Ladyfest Ten, as an event, will be taking place this November in London, the aim is to celebrate ten fantastic years of the grass-roots female arts phenomenon that is Ladyfest. Since Ladyfest has been celebrated all over the world, it seems only right to invite those it has touched to contribute in some way. This particular artistic global outreach aims to bring together those Ladyfesters from around the world in a huge support of this very unique female focussed fest.

Feeling inspired? Well, before you starts scribbling away please bear in mind that there is a theme and that theme is ‘X’. As well as being the roman numeral for Ten, it is also the kiss sign… and in Norse mythology is the letter for GIFT (you really do learn something new everyday!)

Submissions can be in any medium- as long as it still passes for a postcard and fits through a letterbox then the rest is up to you! Perhaps even adorn your creation with one of these Women of Distinction stamps, shown above, for extra feminist brownie points… Just make sure you get it to the Ladyfest Ten team by October 15th – address is here.

By: Sarah Barnes, 03.09.2010 | Comments (0)
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Joan Mitchell: Over here and demanding your attention

I get a thrill from learning about kick-ass creative females, so you can imagine how glad I was that tonight’s Culture Show had a whole segment devoted to abstract expressionist painter Joan Mitchell.

Now, I must admit that I had not heard about Mitchell before… but this is not so surprising since, whilst she has been described as ‘one of the most important and singular American painters of the post-war period’, Mitchell (born 1925) has been largely obscured by her male contemporaries. Her peers in the macho world of the abstract expressionist movement included art superstars Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock –  and much has been made of Mitchell’s work falling by the wayside due to gendered favouritism.

Still, it seems Chicago born Mitchell was tough enough to carve a path out for herself in the art form; an assertive, sometimes stand-offish, foul mouthed female, Mitchell carried on perfecting her craft long after abstract expressionism had fallen out of favour with fickle critics. She continued creating her vibrant and lively works up until her death in 1992.

Having remained obscure to far too many for far too long, Mitchell now seems to be getting the recognition she so rightly deserves – and the first British exhibition devoted to her works is set to open at Edinburgh’s Inverleith House on August the 27th. Find out more here.

You can catch the Culture Show episode which features Joan Mitchell here (it’s the Edinburgh Festival Special, Part 2)

By: Sarah Barnes, 19.08.2010 | Comments (0)
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Who’s The Man?

If ever you needed proof that language is a hugely powerful tool in defining gender, you would only have to look as far as the title of Feministing founder Jessica Valenti’s book, He’s A Stud, She’s A Slut. But, whilst you may think men get off easily by being labelled Studs, Big Shots and Supermen, such grammatical expectations of men can weigh just as heavily as any negative names women are burdened with.

Don’t believe me? Then take a trip along to Who’s The Man, an installation at London’s Future Gallery of more than a 1000 hand painted enamel panels, each depicting a word or a phrase used to describe a ‘man’. Opening today, the exhibition of painstakingly produced typography is the work of Rudy de Belgeonne – who hopes the hundreds of screaming painted names will ’help the bewildered male plot his way through the gender landscape…’

And isn’t that all any of us are trying to do? Regardless of what gender we are, regardless of whether we’ve been described as a slut, a beast, a queer or a geezer, we are all surrounded by language that solidifies society’s expectations of us. We can all relate to those pressures; the put-downs and the put-upons, the stereotypes and the requests to conform to certain genders. That’s what makes Who’s The Man an exhibition that speaks to everyone… even if, quite simply, it just calls them names!

Who’s The Man runs until the 8th of June at The Future Gallery.

By: Sarah Barnes, 03.06.2010 | Comments (0)
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Walls Are Talking

To any normal soul, the prospect of visiting a whole exhibition dedicated to wallpaper may sound rather like a glorified trip to B&Q. However, when I clapped eyes on the promo material for the Whitworth gallery’s exhibition dedicated to wallpaper, art and culture, I excitedly began organising my trip there and then. Blame it on my adoration of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s classic feminist novella, The Yellow Wallpaper, but I have long thought that wallpaper, as a medium, is ripe for artistic subversion.

The Manchester Whitworth’s Walls Are Talking is the first major UK exhibition of  wallpapers created by artists (with major names such as Andy Warhol, Sarah Lucas and Damien Hirst in the mix), and its aim is to take wallpaper away from its comfortable purpose of  aesthetic backdrop and present it as a confrontational force in delivering messages about warfare, racism, cultural conflicts and gender.

The big names are sure to pull in curious art lovers eager to see Warhol’s famed Cow Wallpaper and Hirst’s odes to pharmaceuticals and butterflies. But, whilst I was pleased to see Sarah Lucas’s Tits in Space and Julie Verhoeven’s Show Studio commissioned pornographic chinoiserie, it was actually the lesser known artists that opened my eyes up to the artistic possibilities of wallpaper.

Vigil Marti’s ‘Bullies’ (above), for example, is an eye meltingly vivid depiction of all the school peers who had teased him for his homosexuality, presenting them as a garish constant in the background of a victim’s existence. Canadian artists collective General Idea’s work ‘Aids‘ (1988), based on Robert Indiana’s infamous Love, is a clever play on the replication of the virus in host cells whilst also portraying the shift to a time when free love is no longer easy and innocent.

I also loved Zineb Sedira provocative ‘Quatre Generacions Des Femmes’ (1997) which combines the masculine (in form and as an occupation) Islamic geometric patterning with the names of the women in her family, asserting the importance of females in societal structures.

Any visitors who do stumble into this exhibition because they see a connection with The Yellow Wallpaper (which, I have to admit, is never alluded to by The Whitworth… although I can’t believe the curators aren’t aware of the story) will not be dissapointed as there are plenty of subversions of wallpaper around themes of  monotony and claustrophobia. Kelly Mark’s 12345 (1999/2000) is a simple hand-drawn tally in black on white, counting the passage of time (or the ticking off of domestic duties) as if in a prison cell.

Lisa Hecht’s Chain Link Fence (2000) and Matthew Meadows Razorwire 2 (2007) also play on the idea of imprisonment, making a statement that however comfortable and luxurious a home can be, it can also feel like a stifling and restrictive environment. Hayley Tomkin’s ‘Cry Baby’ (1996, below) draws an instant emotive response to its muddle of sad babies – is this the stuff of nightmares, or simply the stuff of sleepless nights?

I must admit I was surprised just how enjoyable and engaging an entire exhibition dedicated to all things patterned and flocked was, but you really have to hand it to the folks at the Whitworth in that respect. There were some classic works in there, some fantastic graphic works and a lot of important messages.  Much better than a trip to B&Q, any day!

Walls Are Talking is free to enter and runs until August the 30th.

By: Sarah Barnes, 13.05.2010 | Comments (0)
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Contemporary Art Iraq at Manchester’s Cornerhouse Gallery

‘Iraq is both somewhere we feel close to and yet a place we know nothing about’ – So begins the blurb that greets you at the entrance of Contemporary Art Iraq, the UK’s first comprehensive exhibition of fresh Iraqi art since the first Gulf War. This neat little sentence completely sums up my reasons for visiting Manchester’s Cornerhouse to see the exhibition; With a head filled only with British news reports and romanticised American war films, I know nothing of the real Iraq, its inhabitants and its art scene… but I am completely intrigued.

Contemporary Art Iraq collects together the work of 19 artists who currently live and practise in the country. The works are split into three sections; the first of which is entitled Of Time and Tradition. Here we can gain a sense of Iraq’s rich history; Aryan Abubakr Ali’s work A Year Or More (Days of The Week) references Mesopotamia’s claim to have invented writing whilst Bhrhm Taib H. Ameen’s series of posed Folk Men photographs (Kurdish Man detail, above) highlights cultural and individual identities and divides. Most striking, however, is Sarwar Mohanad Amin’s documentary Yayli which follows a proud and passionate man whose family business of driving a horse-drawn cart is slowly failing in the face of modernity.

The second gallery, which hosts The Changing City, interplay between the individual and their shifting surroundings. Bitwen Ali Hamad’s Qalat follows a man marking his passage through the city of Sulaymaniyah (where high levels of ‘personal mobility are not consented’) with a leaking bucket of white paint. In Bricks (above), an installation by Azar Othman Mahmud, we are presented with a depiction of a city at night. A reflection on the Iraqi nation-building project, this make-shift  rendering raises questions on the permanence of the project.

After these two sections, I found the third to be the most provocative and stimulating. Not surprising really, since this last gallery represented ‘Protest’ and collected the works of artists who respond to contemporary problems in their works.

In My Finger Didn’t Get Ink (above), a film by Muhammad Sale Rostamzadeh and Wrya Budaghi, the two artists host a demonstration outside a polling station on voting day. Being internally displaced they are denied the right to vote and so protest with whitened hands and features that draw attention to their clean, non inked, voting digits.

Born in Jail (below) by Julie Adnan powerfully presents the children born in jail and the mothers who must raise them within the confines and structures of their surroundings. As Rachel Hand says in her review Voices From The Gulf;

The women are ignored and forgotten, erased almost, whilst their children (the future of their country) suffer despite their innocence. The legacy of a regime has never appeared so cruel.

The brilliant thing about this final ‘Protest’ room is that there always seems to be  search for solutions and an element of hope. This feeling is perfectly captured in Jamal Penjweny’s Iraq is Flying series (seen in first image), which literally shows people soaring above their situations.

Art can often be a much more direct method of communicating broad cultural ideas, speaking on a very visceral and personal level, which is why Contemporary Art Iraq is such a vital, eye-opening exhibition for anyone interested in global contemporary art… and especially for anyone who thinks they ‘know’ about Iraq.

The exhibition is open until the 20th June 2010 and entry is free. Hafsah Naib will be artist in residence at the gallery between Wednesday the 12th and Saturday the 15th of May. There will be a tour of the gallery, which will include BSL interpretation, on Sunday 23rd of May at 2pm. Find out more at the Cornerhouse site.

By: Sarah Barnes, 03.05.2010 | Comments (1)
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Dayanita Singh’s Dream Villa

New Dehli born and based artist Dayanita Singh is a brave woman. In order to seek out beauty, photographer Singh has been travelling at night to unfamiliar locations and setting about looking for dream-like visions to capture on camera. The result of her nocturnal travels makes up her new book ‘Dream Villa’.

Part art object and part travelling exhibition, the book simply presents Singh’s images in all their peaceful, mysterious and eerie glory. The images speak of the relationship between man and nature, as Singh relishes in the effects of un-natural lighting and how it brings vividness and colour to the dark night.

Dream Villa is available now from Steidl.

By: Sarah Barnes, 13.03.2010 | Comments (0)
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Ladyfest Goldsmiths kicks off on Monday!

Ladyfest Goldsmiths returns this year with a five day programme celebrating women in arts, music, film and more! The line-up looks amazing, with a great mix of workshops, film screenings, discussions, gigs, crafting sessions, and even the chance to get gaming with other girls.

Events kick off this coming Monday (the 22nd) and go on til Friday (the 26th) All events except the Ladyfest Band Night (on Thursday, definitely not one to miss!) are free, but donations are appreciated and will go to Women’s charities.

So that you’re nice and prepared, here’s the line-up in all its glory!


5pm Special Collections, ground floor, the library: Launch of the Ladyfest Art Exhibition – ‘In Her Shoes’. Free drinks and nibbles. (The exhibition will be open all week.)

5.30pm Special Collections, ground floor, the library: Where are all the Women in Art? Talk with artists Oriana Fox and Lydia Maria Julien.

7.30pm the Common Room, first floor, Students’ Union Building: Cabaret Night by the radical feminist collective Lashings of Ginger Beer.


3-4.30pm Stephen Lawrence Committee Room, ground floor, Students’ Union Building: ‘Women and Direct Action’ workshop with NUS Women’s Officer Liv Bailey.

5pm in RHB308, second floor, main building: Film Screening Patti Smith – Dream of Life + discussion on Women in Music.

9pm the Stretch Bar, second floor, Students’ Union Building: Ladyfest Pub Quiz.


12.30–4pm Stephen Lawrence Committee Room, ground floor, Students’ Union Building: Video Gaming Session.

4.30pm Stephen Lawrence Committee Room, ground floor, Students’ Union Building: Why I am a Fat Activist. Talk & Q&A with fat/queer activist Charlotte Cooper.

6pm RHB137, ground floor, main building: Pitbull Film Productions Short Films Screening + Talk by film makers Bev Zalcock and Sara Chambers.

7pm RHB143, first floor, main building: Performance Art with Justyna Scheuring, Bojana Jankovic, Nicole Dimitrakopoulou, Becky Fury, Kinetic Aesthetic.


12–2pm Stephen Lawrence Committee Room, ground floor, Students’ Union Building: Crafternoon – come to do either tie dye, make-do and mend or knitting (or all of them!).

4-7pm the Common Room, first floor, Students’ Union Building: Ladyfest Live – Acoustic Afternoon.

5.30pm Stephen Lawrence Committee Room, ground floor, Students’ Union Building: Film producer and journalist Mandana Mofidi TALK.

7pm RHB139, ground floor, main building: Film screening of The Seashell and the Clergyman and The Smiling Madame Beudet by Germaine Dulac as part of Feminist Society’s Women Make Films film series.

9pm The Stretch Bar, second floor, Students’ Union Building : Ladyfest Band Night with happy punk tunes from BRACELETTES, skewhiff riot grrrl from WETDOG, superfun smoky garage rock from PENS and catchy steel-toed shoegazing from VERONICA FALLS. Girl Germs + DaftKunt DJ, feminist society & co. provide cakes. Tickets are £4 on the door, or £3 in advance at the Students’ Union Shop or online.


12-4pm The Stretch Bar, second floor, Students’ Union Building: Jumble Sale and Craft Stalls.

4pm Special Collections. ground floor, the library: Last chance to see ‘In Her Shoes’ Art Exhibition as it closes at 5pm.

By: Sarah Barnes, 20.02.2010 | Comments (0)
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Talent Spotlight – Fiona Woodcock

The sharp eyed amongst you will remember Fiona Woodcock’s quirky Christmas cards from when we signed off for our festive holidays. Having become intrigued by Fiona’s big bouffanted ladies, I loved discovering more of her work and getting to know her playful experimentations with patterns, blow pens, graph paper, stickers, prints and paints.

Fiona’s blog has some clues as to the inspirations that make this creative woman tick , but what better way is there to get to know Ms Woodcock better than with a little Q&A?

Hello Fiona! You’ve said that you knew a long time ago, when you were growing up in Leicester, that you wanted to be an illustrator. Is your inner child pleased with your career choice?

My inner child is delighted with how things have worked out career wise. I’m very lucky that I have the opportunity to work on lots of great projects within the animation industry and also to develop my own illustration work and personal projects (e.g- the hand printed card range).

You went to Glasgow School of Art… What was the most important thing you learned there?

I had a brilliantly creative three years in Glasgow. It’s very hard to pin-point just one important thing, but I was told about the benefits of being out of your comfort zone. A very useful piece of advice when you need to push yourself creatively.

When do you feel inspired?

I get inspired a lot, sometimes as a result of seeing some mind-blowing work, or spotting a unique colour combination out of a train window. I get inspired at gigs too, I think it’s to do with witnessing someone being brilliant at their chosen field.

Where do you tend to work?

I’ve got a studio set up in my flat where I work. I also go into production studio’s when I work on animation projects. I like the combination of doing both.

What’s the best thing about where you live?

I live in South London. On a local level I’m keen on the nearby Antiques and Collectables Fair and my allotment round the corner. But London as a whole is a constant inspiration to me. I still get a buzz just from crossing the river Thames.

What is your favourite medium?

I tend to play with different materials, but I mostly use acrylic paint due to its rich colour range.

Your blog collects together lots of lovely visual inspirations. What particular stuff tends to turn you into a salivating aesthetic-magpie?

I magnetise towards strong colour and geometric pattern and have a leaning towards found 1950’s- 1960’s printed ephemera.

I like work that appears to have an effortless simplicity and that is a little bit imperfect.

Who are your favourite creatives? Who would be your dream partner for a collaboration?

I admire the individual approach of the artists David Hockney, Peter Doig and Gerhard Richter, the inventiveness and versatility of Miranda July and Mike Mills and the strong design sense of the classic title sequences of Saul Bass. A dream partner for a collaboration would have to be Michel Gondry.

And what would be your perfect commission?

I’d love to design an album cover for the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s

What has been your career highlight, so far?

It’s very hard to pin-point this. I designed some commercials that were screened in Times Square in New York a few years ago, which was very exciting, but I can’t say they were creatively my career highlight. So, maybe because it’s at the forefront of my mind, I’ll say the collaborative project that Sandy Suffield and I have just created for the current ‘If You Could Collaborate’ exhibition (above). It’s a great honour to be alongside such talented collaborators.

Sandy and I depicted 6 Sun headlines. The one with the pills (below) is of the headline the day after Michael Jackson died.

It’s a shiny new year! What are you planning to do with it?

This year I plan to develop my screen printing from card sized to larger format pieces. Also an animator friend Maki Yoshikura has written a brilliant short story that I’ve started to illustrate, I hope to work with her to develop it into a short animated film or a book.

To see more of Fiona’s work, take a trip to her portfolio site… or go see her work in the flesh at the If You Could Collaborate exhibition. It runs until the 23rd of January at A Foundation Gallery, Rochelle School, Arnold Circus, London, E2 7ES with a late opening (til 9pm) this Thursday the 21st. Lovely stuff!

By: Sarah Barnes, 19.01.2010 | Comments (0)
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