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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Romance Is Dead. Long Live Art!

Death Drawing (the new incarnation of the Swallows and Amazons drawing salons we have bigged up so heartily in the past) is back after its January debut with an artistic alternative to all the Clintons cards cutesy-ness that’s going on at the moment.  So, if you’re London based, love-lorn and of an artistic nature, then this is most likely your perfect way to spit in the face of Saint Valentine!

Death Drawing aims to bring ‘a lethal injection of theatricality, curiosity and the macabre’ to the traditional life-drawing salon, and this month’s anti-valentine’s themed session is no exception. Taking place on the 15th of February at East London’s Victoria pub, the event promises participants a very bloody Valentine’s with plenty of broken hearts to inspire their scribblings. Guests are even invited to exorcise their heartache by bringing along old love letters and unwanted Valentine’s cards to add to a shrine to romance.

The salon starts at 8pm and costs £8, with all art materials provided for you – Just make sure you reserve a place because it’s bound to be packed! All the details are handily laid out for your perusal on this here Facebook Event Page. Lovely.

By: Sarah Barnes, 08.02.2011 | Comments (0)
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What is ‘Feminism’? Answers on a Postcard…

Personally, I don’t think I’d be able to fit all my thoughts about feminism onto a postcard (if that was possible, this blog wouldn’t exist!) – let alone make said postcard aesthetically pleasing and worthy of being put up for auction! Hats off, then, to the 38 people who have done just that for tonight’s Feminism in London Postcard Auction.

Raising funds for this years Feminism in London conference (taking place on the 23rd of October) the auction will include works from artists, writers, activists and feminists – even musician Kate Nash has got in on the action with her cut-and-paste commentary on the way women are treated within the music industry.

My personal favourite is Hayden Kaye’s take on toilet door signage (always an interesting starting point when looking at social gender construction) and I’m glad to see one of my favourite illustrators, Julie Verhoeven, is on board too. The whole thing has been curated by the anarchic and witty Sarah Maple, who has been declared as ‘The heir to Tracey Emin’s throne’ by The Independent on Sunday.

The auction starts tonight from 8pm at East London’s Aubin Gallery, but you’ll want to get there a bit earlier to secure your entry (for £7) and get your mitts on some free drinks! All the details are here, happy bidding!

(Hurray for UK Feminista for bringing this event to my attention, and also the The Guardian for covering it so extensively!)

By: Sarah Barnes, 04.10.2010 | Comments (1)
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‘Made’ makes my day at LFW

When it comes to jewellery, I don’t ‘do’ girly or glitzy (dahlink!) – for me, chains have to be chunky or it just feels all wrong. To my mind, there’s just something a bit inauthentic about the glittery, flimsy chains and glued-on diamantés that flood our high-street stores. I long for something a bit more robust, a bit earthy… Which is why I have always loved fair-trade jewellery brand Made’s gorgeous pieces.

I finally treated myself to their recycled brass loop necklace earlier this year and, although it stung my wallet a wee bit, I have very much got my money’s worth out of it since. I even wore it to collect Uplift’s Cosmo Blog Award earlier this month – and got complimented on it in the comments section on that blog!

I should, of course, be telling you that the reason I love Made jewellery is because it is an inspirationally modern business  project that works with East African artisans, paying fair wages and providing support at every level, with the aim of bringing disadvantaged communities out of poverty through a ‘trade not aid’ ethos. This is true; this is, indeed, one of the reasons I love Made.  But I think the fact that they create genuinely great, clunky, charming jewellery pieces is just as important. If they didn’t, if their range was lack-lustre and un-inspired, then the whole thing would fall flat… and where would that leave those that they support?

To keep things fresh, Made team up with a host of collaborators to design one-off ranges. Big design names such as Jamie Rubin, Brian Crumley and even starlets such as Alexa Chung have had a hand contributing directional pieces in the past… so when it came to visiting the Estethica exhibition at London Fashion Week this month, I naturally made a bee-line to Made’s stall to check out the talents they had enlisted this season.

Central Saint Martin’s trained jeweller Hattie Rickards is the new designer in the Made fold. Her collection (some of which is shown above) draws on the natural world, casting from fish bones, shark teeth and seed pods to create a colourful, magpie-like pick and mix collection. I expect her pieces won’t drop until spring, so we’ll just have to wait with baited breath until then.

The big name on board for September is Laura Bailey, who has created some incredibly covet-able pieces that trip along a fine line between delicate and sturdy, simplistic and elaborate. More importantly, she has become a great ambassador for the company – having written a piece for The Times on their work and putting her fine features into the frame for the campaign.

Laura Bailey for Made from Made on Vimeo.

After spending far too long salivating over all these new designs (making me late for the next show, oops!) I was very lucky to be presented with a lovely freebie – a collection of beaded bangles. True to the Made design ethos, they are simple, striking and have that personal feel (you can see the lathe marks on each metal disc, the idiosyncrasies in each glass bead) that makes sure your mind will turn to the good work that Made do whenever you wear it. Whilst this little freebie really made my day, it’s great to think that Made are making lives, one day at a time, for those involved in and supported by the project.

By: Sarah Barnes, 26.09.2010 | Comments (0)
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Estethica at LFW

Whilst New York creates the classics, Paris is chic and Milan has the glamour, London Fashion Week is all about pushing things forward… and when it comes to sustainability and responsibilty, boy does the fashion industry need a push! Thank goodness, then, for Esthetica – now in its fourth year at London Fashion Week.

Sponsored by Monsoon, this showcase of ethical design talents started out as a small initiative designed to shake up things at fashion week and get industry folks thinking about their ethical commitments. Going from strength to strength with each season, the trade exhibition has now grown to house 36 fair-trade and environmentally responsible designers working in ready-to-wear, jewellery and accessories.

Favourites of mine include Lu Flux, Ada Zanditon and, of course The Environmental Justice Foundation (who have featured in Uplift rather a lot for their fab designer tees) but this year I was able to add a few new favourites to my list! I’ll be blogging about them soon, so keep your eyes peeled!

Estethica is always a joy to peruse at fashion week; It’s inspirational and encouraging to see how different creatives are tackling the problems that lie within the process of garment creation. As you can see from the diagram below (by Burak Cakmak of Gucci Group and www.made-by.org) there are plenty of places to slip up! But it’s great to see designers take up the challenge and work at making fashion fairer for all. Let’s push things forward!

By: Sarah Barnes, 22.09.2010 | 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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Have Your Cake and Eat It This Saturday!

I’ve just heard word of yet another fabulous fund-raiser for Ladyfest Ten!

Have Your Cake And Eat It is the love-child of two of London’s top creative organisations, Diy Womp and Storm in a Teacup, so a good time is practically guaranteed! Taking place this Saturday at East London’s George Tavern, the event is yet another in a fantastic string of shindigs that raise funds for the very good cause that is Ladyfest Ten.

Personally, I’m already sold on the cute Russian Doll flyer, but if you need any more persuading to attend then here’s what to expect:

A bargain at £5 on the door, the event kicks off with some genteel art appreciation at 6, with bands taking to the stage from 8. Need to know more? Click here!

By: Sarah Barnes, 16.08.2010 | Comments (0)
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Fashion Maketh Woman? The Verdict

After getting all excited about the TEDWomen lectures in the US later this year, I reminded myself that I should really fill you all in on a fabulous debate I attended last month right here in London town!

Intelligence Squared is a global forum that believes in ‘knowledge through debate’ and hosts fantastic evenings of contest and conversation. I attended their Fashion Maketh Woman debate at Westminster’s Methodist Hall, full of excitement and nerves (had I worn the right thing?) and not knowing what to expect.

The title was a bit baffling, and I was baffled further still when I was accosted by a woman with a clip board as I entered. “Are you FOR or AGAINST the motion?” she asked, to which I felt a bit too stupid to be in attendance as I muttered “Err, I don’t think I understand the motion.” Of course (ahem) it was all just a question of semantics; “Do you think fashion makes women what they are?” the helpful woman spelt it out for me, “God no!” I answered and hurried inside to find out I was in the minority; the pre-vote showed 335 For the motion, 318 against and 256 ‘Don’t Knows’.

Paula Reed, looking exquisite in pre-collection AW10 Oscar de la Renta, was the first to take to the stage. Arguing in defense of fashion (well, she is Grazia’s style director after all!) she put it to the audience that “Fashion is the clearest expression of all the most fundamental things in life” and that it is “A delicious relief in a dirty world.” Speaking of her humble background and wide-eyed delight for all things fashion, Reed came off as very like-able and relate-able - quite different to how she has appeared at times when judging on Project Catwalk!

Describing those who focus on the negative elements of fashion as “Purse-lipped puritans” she went on to say “They set themselves up as high-minded – and often as feminists – but there’s a hint of misogyny in there, I think.”

Still, Reed did accept that fashion isn’t always without fault; “For the rise of ‘porno-chic’ fashion, fashion editors have come under fire” she said. Also, on the topic of fashion’s relationship with eating disorders, Reed talked about how she had sat on the board of a recent model health enquiry and that all she was sure of was “how many different opinions” there were on the matter and that thin models will soon be going “the way of the padded shoulder”. I admired her bravery for addressing these areas of concern, but it still felt like Reed missed the point somewhat by pointing to the rise in obesity as proof that fashion imagery doesn’t affect how people see themselves.

Ultimately, Reed reminded us that fashion can be a joy and, whether we choose to partake in trends or not, we are always making our own satorial statements. “Looking around this room,” Reed said, gleefully,  ”I see lots and lots of Grazia fashion pages from over the past 6 months… you’re looking good, by the way.”

Up next was Stephen Bayley and, although he was arguing against the fashion industry, I just knew I wouldn’t enjoy his speech quite so much.

This is because Bayley is the author of Woman As Design, a book that angered feminists (including Germaine Greer) upon its release last year due to its portrayal of idealised and objectified women. Now, I may have been tempted to pick up the book (if it didn’t cost a whopping £50!) because maybe, just maybe, it might offer an interesting glance at how women’s bodies have influenced design and how beauty standards have transformed over time. I lost any inclination to do just that, however, upon reading Bayley’s Guardian rebuttal Why My Book Is Not Sexist in which he seriously described Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour as ‘a sexist ghetto’ and asked why there was no Man’s Hour. Pssch.

As an intelligent and eloquent speaker, Bayley came out with some cracking quotes (most of which have been included in the ‘best bits’ IQ2 video). He expressed his bemusement at an industry that demands innovation without need and asks people to imitate it without reason. This “cycle of utter folly” also adds to the confused gaze in which we view women’s bodies, Bayley asserted; “Some moments parts of the woman’s body are sterilised and at other times eroticised.”

Still, any great points Bayley made became tainted upon his argument that, whilst the fashion industry says “Buy this and you will look more attractive”, most women would actually look more attractive if they “got a tan, trained for a marathon and lost 30 pounds.” Sorry, Bayley, but you lost my vote right there.

Finance executive turned fashion designer Britt Lintner was keen to tell us how her clothing range for career-minded women has aided them in their professional lives; “We wanted women to celebrate their differences and their individuality,” Lintner said, “Whether a size 6 or a size 16, we’re all about real women.”

She went on to tell the audience, through the aid of Power-Point and a rather fun collection of old photos, how she had used clothing to help her compete as her career evolved. “The psychological impact is undeniable,” Lintner said, stating that clothes give you “the confidence to strive for whatever you want.”

Good points aside, Lintner did herself no favours by pulling out a quote from Margaret Thatcher to back up her points. Good though the quote was, you could almost hear the clenching of teeth in the auditorium as Lintner described Thatcher as “the greatest working woman in the whole world.”

As I had expected, Turner Prize winning artist Grayson Perry was a fantastic speaker. Passionate to the point of anger, Perry brought up many good points about the waste and exploitation ingrained in parts of the fashion industry. “Fashion maketh woman?” Perry all but spat, “I don’t agree with that… Fashion maketh money, fashion maketh waste, fashion maketh carbon, fashion maketh lazy!”

Talking about trends, Perry stated that “The world’s biggest industry is set up to make you dissatisfied with what you’ve just bought” and he wondered whether trend-followers ever actually considered what suited them. He also speculated whether “If this machine of power didn’t exist, would people be more creative?”

Wearing a dress designed for him by a CSM fashion student, Perry lamented the speed at which fashion runs; “It hoovers up ideas and then spits them out half chewed.” He also touched on the throw-backs to colonialism that fashion seems to parade around every so often like an embarrassing souvenir; “This year we’re doing Tibetan…but what if you’re actually Tibetan?”

Lastly, Perry likened the Hot or Not pages of fashion glossies as “The judgement of the playground” and went as far as saying that the fashion industry as a whole is the industrialisation of playground cool; “And cool,” Perry chided us, “is the new straight.”

Madeline Levy, editor-in-Chief of fashion and arts magazine Bon International, was last to speak about the merits of fashion. Throughout the debate speakers on both sides of the fence had agreed that, whilst fashion can come under fire, style is all-well-and-good. Levy, however, put it to the audience that style doesn’t push boundaries or move aesthetic levels in the same way that fashion does. Fashion, Levy said, is an “art form which concerns us all” and it can even allow us to dress up and above the positions we were born into.

After Perry’s attack on the fashion industry, Levy came back with the statement that “The pharmaceutical industry is pretty corrupt but that doesn’t make medicine bad.” She also agreed with Paula Reed, saying that those who hold disdain for fashion may also hold disdain for women; “When men are passionate about something it’s a hobby. When women are passionate about fashion, they’re vain.”

I had been really looking forward to hearing Susie Orbach, author of Fat Is A Feminist Issue, speak against fashion – but her melancholy, emotionally centred speech didn’t really sit well after the passionate demonstrations, peppered with facts, that had gone before.

“You’re ten years old,” Orbach started, “your breasts are little buds. You check out your pose in the mirror, just as you’ve seen Mum do. You’ve seen her sigh in the mirror when she doesn’t quite fit. Still, she’s your yummy mummy.”

Orbach’s imagining was based in the realities she had collected for her latest book, Bodies, and yet the approach felt rather ill-at-ease in a debate setting. I much preferred her speech which followed on from the personal intro, as it felt more effective. “Ask a woman what she’d like to change about her body and she will have a list,” Orbach stated, “Ask her what she likes and she will struggle.”

After all speakers were heard and we were called to vote again, there was still confusion as to what we were actually voting for. If we are FOR or AGAINST fashion, are we talking ‘Fashion’ as an industry (and all that entails) or are we talking clothing, style…fashion as art?

I know that I would like to see the fashion industry grow in more ethically and environmentally friendly ways; it needs scrutinising and it needs to take responsibility. I also know that I welcome it as a creative and empowering force on an individual level. But ‘Fashion Maketh Woman’? I don’t think so. It’s not that gendered – everyone is affected by fashion and trends! Plus, women aren’t one dimensional – it takes more than fashion to make a woman!

A new final vote was taken with the results of 293 For the motion, 468 Against the motion and a nervous 44 ‘Don’t Knows’… how nice to no longer be in the minority! Still, if it had come down to voting only on the basis of speakers, I would have voted for the fashion clan! They came off as much more positive, open to change and eager to confront fashion’s problems, whilst all the while being non-judgemental and fun!

Watch IQ2’s Best Bits from the debate here and find out more about their Autumn season of debates here.

More to read:

MsAfropolitan’s thoughts on Fashion Maketh Woman

Mutton’s Guide To Fashion’s take on the debate

Bust Magazine reviews the Fashion As Empowerment exhibition at the Met

By: Sarah Barnes, 24.07.2010 | Comments (0)
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Register for the Feminism In London conference

I’ve just heard the good news (from The F Word blog) that the Feminism In London one-day conference is now open for registration! The programme is full of interesting speakers and plenty of workshops to choose from (including ‘Young, old feminists: Getting to know each other’, ‘Confronting privilege, contributing to change, for men only’ and ‘A space to recover for women of colour only’)

It’s great news to hear that this event is completely child friendly, with a creche (run by the London Pro-Feminist Men’s Network) and relevant workshops for 12-18 year olds. It’s also good to know that trans women are welcome at the women-only workshops and trans men are welcome at the men-only workshop.

You will need to get your skates on to ensure you get a place on the workshop of your choice, so register here asap! You can find out more about the event at the FIL website, and keep up to date until the event via the FIL twitterfeed.

By: Sarah Barnes, 11.07.2010 | Comments (0)
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Craftacular Spectacular!

Praise be for summer! Because, with the summer, come the craft fairs… and all the bunting, home-made cupcakes and fizzy pop that goes with them. And, when it comes to craft fairs, you don’t get much better than the Bust Craftacular!

Taking place this coming Saturday, the Bust Craftacular will boast over 60 stalls of the coolest hand-crafted goodies – not a craftastrophe in sight! If you’re not much of a passive craft consumer then you can get in on the action too; The Make Lounge will be holding fascinator workshops, you can try your hand at screen printing your very own tote bag with Mr Wingate, and Tatty Devine will be encouraging customers to colour in their own jewellery.

If all this is starting to sound a bit too well-behave then not to worry! There will be a range of DJs throughout the event to whip even the most conservative crafter into a frenzy and the really energetic can even learn the Lindy Hop and Jitterbug in classes from the Swing Patrol!

Admission is just £2, so hurry down this Sunday to York Hall, E2, on Saturday. The first 100 in get a free goody bag!

By: Sarah Barnes, 06.07.2010 | Comments (0)
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