BogeArt Review: Beauty and the Beard

Me and my bearded friend

Me and my bearded friend

Beards. Like ‘em, love ‘em or hate ‘em, Somerset house is bringing them to us in everyshape, size and colour. Only open for the month, BEARD is an exhibition showing a series of photographs taken by award winning photographer Mr Elbank. Elbank’s concept originated as a collaboration with his friend Jimmy Niggles, who is behind the charity Beard Season, which raises skin cancer awareness by encouraging men to grow beards.

The beards on show belong to the old, young, male and female. It largely addresses the beard as a trend/fashion statement/self-expression, with many of the subjects displaying other conscious fashion ‘statements’ in their appearance, such as tattoos, unusual hairstyles and bold clothing. They mention how beards have been ‘scorned, mocked, celebrated and legislated against. Worn by kings and warriors, radicals and revolutionaries they have symbolised power and intimidation or individuality and defiance’; but the images on display are firmly rooted in the 21st century (some of the subjects were found via Instagram) and the focus is on self-image.

The beard is a distinct look, and today one would assume to have a beard is more of a conscious effort than to not, but how did this begin? In a time before grooming (at least to the degree that we know it) surely having a beard must have been the norm for the male gender, as would long hair and pubic hair, it is only in recent history that is has become otherwise. Surely not shaving is more natural than shaving? Regardless, today clean shaven is common and beards have become distinct, and, as these photos show, one can experiment with them just as much as we can the hair on our heads.

The beard is a signifier of many things. Perhaps the most obvious one is masculinity. Women cannot grow beards. Beards are an outward extension of the body, like a penis. The bigger/stronger the beard, the more masculine you are. This exhibition showcases many beards of all shapes and sizes to illustrate a variety of masculinity, as would an exhibition of penis photographs. Mr Elbank draws attention to the usual phallic qualities of the beard, by the inclusion of a portrait of a drag queen sporting a strong beard and a female (The British lady Harnaam Kaur) who has grown one of the more competitive beards in the show. Surprisingly the portrait image of the woman manages to avoid having a circus vibe, instead she blends in quite well as one of the more beautiful bearded specimens to be photographed.

Whilst the beard is a symbol of masculinity, many of the ones displayed are so carefully thought through and groomed that they have gone past the point of masculinity and are verging on the point of feminine. Many of the beards photographed are more metrosexual than manly, and I think the exhibition manages to touch on the changing gender boundaries of the 21st century. What it means to be ‘male’ or ‘female’ is something that is constantly challenged today, with homosexuality, transvestites and transgenderism being accepted on a growing scale. What is expected of us, because of our gender, is, thankfully, losing its rigidity.

In addition the beard, to a modern viewer, has many connotations unrelated to gender. To what many are calling the ‘me-generation’, individuality and distinctiveness are central; and beards, no matter how common they are right now, remain distinctive. Beards can be a strong and bold fashion statement, but if the masses make strong and bold fashion statements, what are we left with? Right now beards seem particularly fashionable, and they do not rely on ‘god-given’ facial features to be successful, unlike the clean shaven look. All they require is testosterone.

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Theoretically it is an accessible trend (although I’m sure many of my male peers who struggle in the facial hair department would disagree), and if it can make the average male face a little more exciting its popularity is understandable. Many members of the older generation seem to find it a rather scruffy trend, but this is a very shallow association. Throughout history the beard has meant very different things, but I think the most relevant, and perhaps interesting, to the ‘me-generation’ would be its role as a symbol of anti-establishment. Not only do quirky beards feel like a stance against the systematic and faceless corporations that have defined economic life, but they have a place in anti-capitalist history. Karl Marx was identified by his thick dark beard and moustache; his writing partner Friedrich Engels held a ‘moustache evening’ with his peers in opposition to clean shaven bourgeois ‘philistinism’; and Che Guevara, fashion’s favourite communist, sported his signature facial hair. Note how only the trendy communists (China is not known for its facial hair) sported the beard.

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Self-image, especially in regards to the subjects of this exhibition, is a curation. The upkeep and grooming of the beards photographed requires commitment, as the grooming guide in the brochure explains, and I am confident that each person photographed is conscious about how they want to be perceived. Then again how can they not be when they are posing for a photograph? I doubt that any of them are consciously thinking about masculinity, anti-capitalism or Che Guevara every time they reach for the clippers, but the beard does imply all of these things. But some vein of these implications is present when a man (or woman) is curating their self-image, even if they just like the ‘look’ of beards.

Two qualities of the beard as an image I feel are not addressed by these photos (perhaps hinted at, but only by default) are the concepts of disguise and religion. Beards can be a disguise, as they prevent us from knowing the beard owners facial features exactly. There is an insincerity to them, the owner might be hiding something underneath the mass of hair. Beards have lots of religious connections, they’re an integral part of some religious practise, but ‘hair and religion’ would need its own exhibition, probably a bigger one than BEARD, and I’m beginning to think I’ve already taken too much from what is essentially a trendy charity exhibition.

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Olly, 20, French and German student

Why do you think the beard is so popular right now?

‘We all want to be unique- just like everyone else’

Isabella Bornholt; BogeArt

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The Brutalist Nightmare

South Bank Centre Image Courtesy of The Daily Mail.

South Bank Centre
Image Courtesy of The Daily Mail.

If you’ve ever wandered along the South Bank, strolled down Bedford Way or walked around Barbican, chances are you’ve come across Brutalist architecture before. Those gigantic asymmetrical, concrete slabs, mounted together to create some of the capital’s most iconic modern buildings such as the National Theatre, surround the Londoner on a day to day basis. These buildings with their intimidating aesthetic, industrial appearance and overwhelming ratio of concrete are, right now, experiencing a Renaissance. Their cool and plain exteriors are becoming the basis for modern-day design and architecture, with some original Brutalist flats being privatised and selling for thousands of pounds.

However, this admiration for these monumental concrete buildings has only been recent. In fact, their introduction into London’s landscape wasn’t received with such high regard. It wasn’t long after they were built that the meaning of the word ‘brutal’ perhaps became too closely associated with these buildings in modern culture. The term ‘Brutalism’ was first coined in the 1950s and derived from the French word ‘brut’, meaning concrete: Nothing to do with the ‘brutal’ aesthetic that the movement is often associated with. The term refers to a specific architectural period in post-war Britain, still recovering from the destruction of World War II. Due to the cheap cost of concrete, the government were in favour of employing this new ‘brutalist’ style in order to rebuild social housing and public and government buildings. This meant that Brutalist architects, like Ernò Goldfinger, Sir Denys Lasdun and Peter and Alison Smithson designed their buildings with certain ideals in mind. These buildings needed to be above all functional for the people who inhabited them, as well as cheap and easy to build, giving them their plain and non-decorative exterior and frank materiality. Especially regarding social housing projects, Brutalist architects sought to provide a sort of social utopia and equal living standards. In high rise Brutalist buildings, flats were usually of equal size, and areas were built into the building complex which separated living and leisure activities such as shops, almost like a city within a city. Despite this, brutalist architecture became increasingly criticsed during the 1960s and 70s.

It wasn’t just its ‘ugly’ and ‘harsh’ exterior that appalled people (Prince Charles once said that when the Luftwaffe “knocked down our buildings, it didn’t replace them with anything more offensive than rubble”), it was also the state of the inhabitants’ wellbeing that was being questioned. Structural issues quickly began to arise, living conditions were cramped, and with no garden fence to chat to a neighbor over, people often became isolated and anti-social. These confined conditions lead to an overhanging cloud of claustrophobia and fear which soon resulted in vandalism and high crime rates. These once hopeful ‘utopian’ communities were increasingly becoming somewhat dystopian. Famous high rise buildings such as Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower (1972) became increasingly associated with anti-social behaviour (including reports on rape and attacks on children) and the Smithson’s Robin Hood Gardens (1972) also became synonymous with crime, causing its demolition to begin in 2013.

Trellick Tower. Image courtesy of the Telegraph.

Trellick Tower. Image courtesy of the Telegraph.

It’s hardly surprising then, that these once hopeful and functional buildings became the architectural backdrop for dystopian fiction in popular culture. J.G. Ballard’s 1975 dystopian novel High-Rise (soon to be made into a film by Sightseers director, Ben Wheatley) tells the tale of an über modern, luxurious set of high rise flats, closed off from the rest of the world with only its high-tech commodities to cater for everyones’ needs. This utopian beginning soon ends in its inhabitants, who, shut off from modern society, begin to segregate and turn on each other. To cut a long story short, this results in crime, murder and violence, which is not too dissimilar from the stories of Trellick Tower and Robin Hood Gardens. Then we have the cameo appearances that brutalist architecture appears in in dystopian film. Think back to Stanely Kubrick’s controversial 1972 film, A Clockwork Orange, where the Brunel University Lecture Centre becomes the setting for the authoritarian Ludovico Medical Facility. What was once seen as a Socialist dream in 60s and 70s Britain soon symbolised a totalitarian nightmare.

The Brunel University Lecture Centre in A Clockwork Orange. Image courtesy of http://www.collective-zine.co.uk/cboard/topic56559-brutalist-architecture.html

The Brunel University Lecture Centre in A Clockwork Orange. Image courtesy of http://www.collective-zine.co.uk/cboard/topic56559-brutalist-architecture.html

The irony of Brutalist architecture is huge, leaving it as one of the most misunderstood aesthetics in modern design. Its unfortunate that the monumentally terrifying, yet fantastic look of these London buildings became too closely associated with brutality and crime in general, not just within fiction but in the day-to-day lives of the people who lived there. However, as mentioned earlier, Brutalism is now experiencing a wave of nostalgic appreciation. Trellick Tower, the high rise building known for its violent crime rates, has privatised and gentrified its flats which sell for thousands and thousands of pounds. I suppose it just only goes to prove how one man’s utopia is another man’s dystopia. Maddy Martin; BogeArt

BogeArt Events: Friday Late at the V&A ‘Queer is Now’

The Grand Entrance at the V&A

The Grand Entrance at the V&A

Every last Friday of the month the V&A hosts an evening event which is open to the public, and I thought it was about time we review it here on BogeArt. This month the theme was ‘Queer and Now’ with the aim to ‘challenge traditional gender roles and exploring the diverse worlds of the LGBTQ history through art, design, performance and politics’. This month’s event garnered a lot of interest as DJ’s from the notorious club nights LOVERBOY and Amy Grimehouse were playing in the grand entrance. The V&A brings the LGBTQ London night scene to the academic institution, and pairs it with think pieces concerning what ‘Queer’ encompasses today.

The 'Challenge Heteronormativity' pinata in the grand entrance, by Rachael House

The ‘Challenge Heteronormativity’ pinata in the grand entrance, by Rachael House

The V&A Garden at night

The V&A Garden at night

watching Amy Grimehouse

watching Amy Grimehouse

You have to get there early, as all the events and performances fill up on a first come first serve basis, and they all fill up quickly. Highlights included Salon Outre, who provided ballet from Swan Lake, burlesque set to Kylie Minogue and readings of Shakespeare’s homoerotic sonnets. Particularly interesting, and a little more serious, was a presentation by ‘guerrilla gardener’ Paul Harfleet, who plants pansies at locations where homophobic abuse has taken place and then photographs them. The photos stand-alone effectively, with a familiarity to images of the remembrance poppy, but, for ‘Queer is Now’, the artist presented correspondences between pansies in the collection at the V&A and his work.

During breaks I wondered around the cast courts, where real people had been invited to pose alongside the stone sculptures, in order to highlight the ‘constricting physical idealism and rigid social identities embodied in classical sculpture’. These ‘live sculptures’ also provided great life drawing compositions, which I have tried to capture in some snaps:

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My recommendation- see as much of the instillations, performances and talks as possible. The music doesn’t stop, and whilst listening to a set in the grand entrance of the V&A feels pretty fab, the majority of people were nervous to really get into it and dance, making me wonder if perhaps museum etiquette is too ingrained in us for this kind of night to fully succeed? If you really want to boogie then I would perhaps suggest actually going to the DJ’s club nights. It’s also hard to really get into the music when the evening stops at 10pm. The aim to utilise today’s music scene as a curation tool I don’t think has yet been fully achieved by any of these late night museum events (including Late at the Tate), but I do think they are getting closer. It’s not just the organisers who need to get it right, I think the viewer has some adjusting to do also. Saying that, what a fun, thought provoking and wonderful way to kick off the weekend!

We asked some guests what they thought of the evening:

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Molly, Art student, 20

‘I really like the theme, it fits in perfectly with the flamboyance of the V&A- plus some great music. I really liked the work by Paul Harfleet, I guess others did too as the room was packed!’

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Alice, 19, Geography student

‘Me and my mates just heard about this and decided to come last minute. It was great to see the LOVERBOY and Amy Grimehouse dj’s for free, especially in such a monumental venue! I’ve never seen a museum have such a vibrant atmosphere’

http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/f/friday-late/

Isabella Bornholt; BogeArt

BogeArt: Humans of Art

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Clare, 61, Restaurateur; seeing Rubens and his Legacy at the Royal Academy

‘I love Rubens; his painting’s remind me of the balls I used to go to at the Banqueting House in Whitehall. He painted the ceiling you see- a lot of people don’t know that. His overtly fleshy touch is a bit much for some, but you can not deny he was a superior painter.’

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BogeArt: First Thursdays Review

First Thursdays has been a staple in east London nightlife for a few years now. Every first Thursday of the month galleries in east London showcase their new exhibitions to the public, offering free beers and/or cheap wine to visitors. In my experience it has always been more about the free booze and the beautiful people, rather than being enthused by the art, and it became a regular fixture on my calendar in my late teens. Having not been for a couple of years, on Thursday I headed towards Redchurch street, with BogeArt readers in mind and Maddy at my side, to find out if first Thursdays could be more than just a pretentious way to pre-drink.

At first we headed to a little gallery on Redchurch Street which got our attention purely due to the promise of alcohol, it’s proximity to the overground and a break from the -12 degree night. As is often the case with spontaneous decisions on a Thursday night in Shoreditch, the gallery was extremely underwhelming. The visitors were sparse, as were the film posters on show, and it was hard to find the will to chat to the gallery owners/curators/assistants about anything, apart from the cold weather, when I was barely one drink in. I do not even remember/care what the name of the place was, nor do we have any photos as our camera man (a mate who offered to take pics for us after brandishing my photography skills as rubbish) had yet to arrive at this point.

So on we went to the Londonnewcastle project space which had a large queue outside; it seemed this was February’s blockbuster show. Inside it was packed and rather hot, but the hallway of deer skulls made from wax and sticks were enticing as was the broken bark we were treading over on the floor (how alternative). I managed to push through the crowds to get one of the limited beers on offer, and was ready to continue my cynical approach. Unfortunately for me, it was not long before I was actually rather impressed.

The exhibition on show was Animal by ‘spanishurban’ artist Gonzalo Borondo. It is curated to achieve a wow factor- with things projected onto the walls, hanging from the ceiling, scattered on the floor and a couple little claustrophobic cupboards to immerse us with the artist’s vision. The aim of the show is to ‘explore the conflict between our innate animal instincts and our present lives, which are coated with the dependence of technology and our fear for the unknown’, which on certain levels, I suppose, it achieves. The thing that impressed me most was the artist’s mark making: he painted on perplex glass, he created an animation using paintings and, particularly impressively, drew through etching in to paint on perplex. Interestingly, or ironically, mark making is one of the things that sets us apart from animals, a complete paradox to our ‘animal instincts’, as it is one of the defining features of human civilization. Before we left this exhibition our camera man had shown up so we have plenty of photos and even a video of Animal (see below).  x7zp9U qIInBN oZL50Z LdYPTL

The alcohol ran out, we had been there for over an hour and the edginess of it all was no longer a novelty so we decided to try our luck at Richix. Richmix is a cinema with a couple of exhibition spaces and is a regular fixture on the First Thursday scene. By the time we arrived there was no more free alcohol, and very few people (except those waiting to see Birdman). We bought some popcorn for a bit of fuel before examining the exhibit.

The exhibit was almost as underwhelming as our first stop, but perhaps if there had been a more buzzing atmosphere and free beer I would have given it more of a chance. Democracia real ya! was an exhibition showing Mexican street art, with the usual anti-authoritarian theme that one expects from street art. Undoubtedly in Mexico, with all its corruption and crime, there is perhaps more prevalence and gravity to this kind of art compared to the likes of Banksy. Although unfortunately, to my eyes at least, the format of this work has become so familiar that it is hard not to glaze over it as gimmicky urban illustrations. It’s even harder at 10pm when the lure of the pub was hanging over the group.

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So, off we went to The Owl and the Pussycat. At the pub people kept telling me how nice it was to ‘do something new’ with their evening and I definitely had a good time; I suppose enjoying 1 out of 3 galleries isn’t bad. We also asked two First Thursday virgins what they had to say, hoping that they would be devoid of my cynicism: dxjfh9

Shona, 20, student: What did you think about the exhibition?                                             ‘I really like how it was curated. The hay bales, turf, flowers and bark gave the exhibition a real festival vibe, and don’t we associate festivals with ritualistic and often animal behavior? I think everything was displayed very creatively and touched on some interesting issues.’

How has you First Thursday experience been?                                                                 ‘Its been cool, met some cool people and saw some cool things. It’s nice to be able to discuss the work with others. At museums the norm is to view things quietly. Tonight everyone has been very vocal- not sure how much of it is about the art though!’ gyEECk

Frank, 21, Sudent What has your first impression of First Thursday been?                       ‘Its fucking dope. I like the free booze’                                                                                 Anything else?                                                                                                                     ‘Not really’

Photography courtesy of Aaron Jones

Isabella Bornholt; BogeArt

BogeArt: Humans of Art

WjjguJBeth, 20, Art History Student at David Batchelor’s Found Monochromes at the Whitechapel Gallery

‘David Batchelor presents white squares he finds on the streets, projected on hanging white squares, in a white, square, gallery room. A white square, in a white square, in a white square- in WHITEchapel. Like a monochrome russian doll.’

http://www.whitechapelgallery.org/exhibitions/david-batchelor/

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