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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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.’

BogeArt

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 Review: Pipilotti Rist, Worry Will Vanish at the Hauser and Wirth

Pipilotti Rist, Worry Will Vanish, 2014 Image courtesy of Time Out: http://media.timeout.com/images/101837153/660/370/image.jpg

Pipilotti Rist, Worry Will Vanish, 2014
Image courtesy of Time Out: http://media.timeout.com/images/101837153/660/370/image.jpg

The Hauser and Wirth Gallery seems like an ideal choice for Pipilotti Rist’s Worry Will Vanish: small, with blackened out windows and an entrance that is not the easiest to find (it took us two attempts to find the right door), but thus making the experience all the more gratifying, as if finding a hidden, bejeweled, secret cave amongst the hustle and bustle of Savile Row. With its dimmed lighting, the exhibition hall immediately reduces its visitors to a whisper so that the numerous video installations that spurt out onto objects from hidden locations (like the shoe rack opposite the entrance) are duly noted.

Yes, the shoe rack. Worry Will Vanish also invites you to take off your shoes, so that you can fully absorb the sensory experience that you are about to be subjected to, for its only after you’ve taken off your shoes that you notice the squidgy, grass coloured carpet under foot. As you cross the black curtained boundary that separates the exhibition into two parts, you begin to realise why the de-shoeing was important. The large cloud like duvets on the floor spell it out a little more clearly: Rist wants us to completely immerse ourselves in her work, not only through sight, but also through sound and touch.

This makes the spectator experience unlike any other. Once comfortably positioned on a duvet, the only thing left to do is stare up to the screens of the video installation Worry Will Vanish (2014) and watch Rist’s images unfold. Some might describe these intertwining images of the human body, space and nature as mesmerising, others may see them as slightly distressing, but its clear that this swirling psychedelic experience allows the viewer to take the time to delve into their own thoughts, unlocked by the images projected on the screens. Rist allows us to travel through space, earth, the ocean and even the human body, accompanied by the soothing sounds of crickets in a field or bubbles rushing up to the surface.

But are her works successful in diminishing our worry? Yes, the pillows, the spongy floor and the stunning visuals seen throughout the exhibition are an outstanding effort in trying to relax the spectator in such a usually uptight environment like the gallery, some may say even the privileged area of Savile Row, or to offer a ten minute interlude from the stresses of everyday life. Some people had even fallen asleep to the work (it is believed that Rist based her video on a number of relaxation techniques). However, in some cases (rather ironically) worry did not vanish, as was the experience of a friend, who found the images and bright lights had brought on a sort of motion sickness and a headache, so maybe not the best idea to go with a hangover.

Still, through her ingenious installation work, Rist successfully emphasises the power that sight, sound and touch can have on our state of mind as well as our physical condition, be it positive or negative. This absorbing exhibition offers us a chance to leave our busy, city lives at the door and enter into a delicious array of sights and sounds on a large scale which tap into the self through her clever manipulation of the senses. Rist’s exhibition is perhaps not the most ambitious of recent years (in regards to her Eyeball Massage exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in 2011), but her kaleidoscope images do not cease to entice and literally attack the senses.

Maddy Martin: BogeArt

BogeArt Review: Lights of Soho Presents God’s Own Junkyard

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The neon sign. A symbol of capitalism, consumerism, seediness, Soho and the sex trade. In the middle of Soho, next to a sex shop with multiple neon signs of its own, is Lights of Soho’s farewell exhibition to the king of neon: Chris Bracey. Consisting of signs taken from his Walthamstow gallery God’s Own Junkyard, the exhibition is right next to a sex shop with its own collection, albeit a less sophisticated one, of neon signs. It feels like the perfect place for this show, as these sex shops were where Bracey’s career began.

In the late 70’s, he catered to West End’s burgeoning sex industry, helping shape the Soho we know and love today with his provocative and alluring signage. “I did 99 percent of every sex establishment in Soho for 20 years,” he told the BBC last year. “For me, it was an artistic endeavour.” He influenced and helped other more famous artists who wanted to dabble in neon. Grayson Perry was a frequent visitor to God’s Own Junkyard, Tracy Emin had her own neon series, and Martin Creed even used Bracey to illuminate some of his works. The exhibition alludes to the art world connotations with prints of different pieces by Emin and Gilbert & George. By doing this Lights of Soho also raises the question/ draws to attention that the neon king was viewed by critics very much as a craftsman- less so as an artist. Unlike Emin and Creed who enlisted others to fabricate their concepts, Bracey made each neon sign himself.

Definitely worth a visit whilst you are doing your Christmas shopping nearby. When I asked my friends what they thought of the show they both came to the same conclusion: ‘neon signs are cool- I wish my flat looked like this’. Worth a visit purely for interior inspiration, and the tacky light up Jesus Christmas card is the best thing I have seen all December.

Photos courtesy of Jessica Miley http://instagram.com/jessmiley94/

Isabella Bornholt; BogeArt

BogeArt Film Review: Jean Michel Basquiat, The Radiant Child

This weekend I watched the documentary Jean Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child, not to be confused with the 1996 film Basquiat (worth a watch purely to see David Bowie play Andy Warhol). The documentary is the kind of film that makes you wish you were born in another decade. The first 30 minutes are spent describing the uber-cool artistic scene, in downtown Manhattan in the late 70’s-early 80’s, from which Basquiat arose. We hear of the ‘romantic allure’ that NYC carried in those days, how everyone ‘did everything: you were in a band, you were a painter, sculpture, actor’ and the general buzz that the time had, with our narrators beings those who were at the center of it. All the snaps of these beautiful young things in ’78 NYC make Dalston 2014 seem rather brash and predictable in comparison.

Of course the documentary is shot in a fittingly edgy style; in between interviews with friends and art dealers there are cuts to old footage of Basquiat saying profound sounding things whilst puffing on cigarettes. The director Tamra Davis filmed this herself 2 years before the artist’s untimely death. Throughout the film we also see shots of his paintings and him working in his studio.

The film does track his artistic development, from starting out as a ‘graffer’, going by the name ‘Samo’. Through his street poems we see the graffiti culture expanding from simple ‘tags’, moving towards other possibilities, which are now defined by the term ‘street art’. We go on to see how Basquiat became friends with the king of the NYC art scene: Mr Warhol himself. Interestingly, the angle from which the documentary seems to approach this is one that suggests the friends were mutually using each other to help their own career, rather than attributing it as a completely genuine partnership. For Basquiat, Warhols fame would help elevate his status in the art world; for Warhol, Basquiat provided a new energy to his image, keeping his flagging reputation relevant. Warhol dies during a rift in the friendship and it seems Basquiat never seems to recover from it. The rest of the film tracks his descend, ending with his overdose.

Basquiat was beyond cool (I forgot to mention the affair with Madonna), and his art was cool too. His paintings were not overly conceptual nor traditionally ‘beautiful’, they explored relevant themes such as culture and race, not to mention how great they look hanging on the walls of Manhattan lofts. I think I would have liked to have seen a bit more in regards to his work; the doc could have delved a little deeper, especially in regards to the hardships in Basquiat’s life (which the doc charts) effecting his artistic practice.

Was Basquiat simply one of the last flings of American expressionism, a symbol of the dying NY art scene in favour of the British and Asian markets? This documentary seemed to come from a place counteracting this argument; I just wish it had done a better job defending its case. Saying this, Basquiat was fucking cool, his work is fucking cool, and watching this film is a fucking cool way to spend a Sunday evening.

Isabella Bornholt; BogeArt