Olivia Plender – Rise Early, Be Industrious

0bb2390d-03f9-40b0-b75c-5bc389d310ecOff to print this week is also the book I’ve been working on with artist Olivia Plender and designer Nuno Luz: Rise Early, Be Industrious.

Although it relates to exhibitions at three UK institutions and the texts commissioned (before I became involved) talk about artworks in them, in the process of looking at the material available in relation to the work involved, and two residencies Olivia did in Banff, Canada, over time a structure emerged for the book that makes it deviate from traditional catalogues.

Each work, or body of work is approached as an image section, where the sequence is often derived from different manifestations and iterations in the different shows, which allows for a sense of moving through the often large-scale installations that are entire environments. Through them Olivia explores how official historical narratives are constructed, and the hierarchies behind the ‘voice of authority’ that is traditionally produced by educational institutions in the public sphere, such as the museum, the academy and the media. So rather than representing the work as it was to be seen in one show, we have ended in some cases up with a mixture of images from different shows, and sometimes not related to the three institutions involved here at all, allowing for a comprehensive visual representation of the work.

The image sections sit between the texts by Tirdad Zolghadr, Maeve Connolly and Lars Bang Larsen. While all three authors touch upon the work in the image sections, and there are areas of overlap in what they describe and pick out, they do it from distinctly different angles, to some extent conceptually circling around the work, and the issues explored within them. There is also a conversation between Olivia and several people involved with the Art and Environment course at The Open University, which launched in 1972, and environmental artist David Harding. In addition Olivia has added her own personal reflections in relation to some works – both through descriptive text, and further contemplation and contextualisation – and an intrinsic Index, which can almost be considered a work in its own right, as it really draws out her personal research and concerns.

The process of actually being allowed to take time, and have many conversations via skype (which more often than not would last 2 hours) between Olivia in Stockholm, Nuno in Paris, Berlin or Lisbon, and myself in London, with the odd meeting of all three of us in London, made it a very collaborative one, in which we all contributed from our own angle – as artist, designer and editor.

Keynes & WifeIn the index there is also an image of the economist and founder of the Arts Council, John Maynard Keynes, who lived in one of the houses that now constitute the School of Art of Birkbeck, University of London. The Keynes library is literally a couple of doors down the corridor from my office. It shows him in an unexpected pose with his wife, a Russian ballerina. I had come across the wonderful image not long before I started working with Olivia and Nuno, and when there was reference to him, I jumped at the opportunity to smuggle it into the book.

Published by Arnolfini, Bristol; Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow; MK Gallery, Milton Keynes; and Walter Philips Gallery at The Banff Centre, in collaboration with Sternberg Press, Berlin


Black Sun with Shezad Dawood

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Black Sun is a term with multiple meanings. It represents the eclipse of the day, but is also a symbol of esoteric or occult significance, used in various belief systems, from Hinduism to western hermetic traditions. It is linked to the metaphor dark night of the soul, which is used to describe a phase in a person’s spiritual life, marked by a sense of loneliness and desolation, and which can be experienced in particular by those who are marginalised by ethnicity, sexuality and displacement. Black Sun therefore relates to eclipse, transfiguration and alchemy.

These multiple notions embedded in that of the black sun are the starting point for both an exhibition and a publication. The exhibition is curated by artist Shezad Dawood, with curator Tom Trevor. Artists whose work is part of the exhibition include Ayisha Abraham, Ashish Avikunthak, Matti Braun, James Lee Byars, Maya Deren, Desire Machine Collective, Zarina Hashmi, Runa Islam, Nasreen Mohamedi, Lisa Oppenheim, The Otolith Group, Tino Sehgal, Tejal Shah, Alexandre Singh and Wolfgang Tillmanns.

Both the exhibition and the publication examine structures that look to deconstruct or displace our everyday modes of seeing. Rather than a traditional catalogue, the publication is a parallel platform to the exhibition and allows for a more in-depth exploration of the concept and issues outlined above. It contains three main texts: ‘Black Sun: Alchemy, Diaspora and Heterotopia’, by artist/curator Shezad Dawood; ‘Blind Spot. On the metaphor of the Sun: light, language and melancholia’, by curator Tom Trevor; ‘The Rothschilds’ Revolution’ by curator/researcher Megha Ralapati; and a conversation between Shezad Dawood and Kodwo Eshun from The Otolith Group. Alongside these essays, short texts on each artist participating in the project, and a range of visual and textual references complete the book. Designers are OK-RM.

Although the range of artists and authors involved with the project was selected early on by Shezad, the actual process of putting the book together took about two years. His, and Megha’s, text involved a slow process of setting out, expanding, revisiting and adding. The conversation between Shezad, Kodwo and myself was slowly distilled from a 100-page transcript. The shorter texts about the individual artists involved in the project required another approach again. It’s exactly this diversity, deftly responded to by the designers, whose work references centuries of book design, that has made it into a very rich and sensuous object, that can be engaged with time and again without a need to see the exhibition at all.

Black Sun opened at the Devi Art Foundation in November 2013.

The book was published by the Devi Art Foundation, the Arnolfini in Bristol, and Ridinghouse, London.

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