The Lie of The Land

Throughout 2018 I’ve been involved as with a catalogue for MK Gallery in Milton Keynes. Following an expansion project by 6a architects, in close collaboration with artists Gareth Jones and Nils Norman, MK Gallery will reopen in March 2019. The opening show, titled The Lie of the Land, explores how the British landscape was radically transformed by changes in free time and leisure activities. Tracing a line between Capability Brown’s aristocratic gardens at Stowe and the social, urban experiment at neighbouring New Town Milton Keynes, the exhibition teases out the aspirations that underpin our built environments.

The catalogue includes essays by Anthony Spira, MK Gallery’s director, Jane Rendell, Jes Fernie, Owen Hatherley, Tom Emerson, and Cora Gilroy-Ware and Paul Gilroy, which explore aspects of landscape design and urban development, land ownership and access, housing, and how these are all interwoven in Milton Keynes’s history. It contains shorter texts by Claire Louise Staunton, Sam Jacob and Fay Blanchard. The book is designed by Mark El-kathib.


The book is also a ‘proper’ catalogue, with many images of works in the show, accompanied by extended captions. Artists and designers whose work is part of the project include: Edward Alcock, David Alesworth, Archigram, Edwin Beard Budding, John Berger, James Boswell, Boyd & Evans, Thalia Campbell, Canaletto, Philip Castle, Ithell Colquhoun, John Csaky, Jeremy Deller, Sarah Ann Drake, Malcolm Drummond, Susanna Duncombe, Peter Dunn, Tracey Emin, Rose English, Rose Finn-Kelcey, Norman Foster, Elizabeth Frink, William Powell Frith, Buckminster Fuller, Thomas Gainsborough, Walter Goodall, Walter Greaves, Richard Hamilton, Emma Hart, Ebenezer Howard, Julius Caesar Ibbetson, Evelyn Grace Ince, Helmut Jacoby, Bob Jardine, Gertrude Jekyll, Gareth Jones, Michael Kirkham, Laura Knight, Mabel Francis Layng, Ann Lee, Loraine Leeson, Lawrence Lek, Linder, Joan Littlewood, Errol Lloyd, Jane Loudon, John Loudon, Laurence Stephen Lowry,  Edwin Lutyens, Andrew Mahaddie, Robert Medley, Brian Milne, Henry Moore, William Morris, Marlow Moss, Joseph Nash, Paul Nash, Balthazar Nebot, Nils Norman, Marianne North, Eduardo Paolozzi, Joseph Paxton, Olivia Plender, Ingrid Pollard, Cedric Price, Project Art Works, Jacques Rigaud, Bridget Riley, John Robertson Reid, William Patrick Roberts, John Ruskin, Benton Seeley, Yinka Shonibare MBE, David Shrigley, Alison and Peter Smithson, Jo Spence, Thomas Struth, Superstudio, James Tissot, James Walker Tucker, Joseph Mallord William Turner, John A. Walker, Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward, Ed Webb-Ingall, Carel Weight, Stuart Whipps, Rachel Whiteread, Althea Willoughby, Audrey Weber, Stephen Willats, Harold Williamson, John Wootton, James Wyld, John Yeadon.

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


Launch Andrea Büttner’s Hidden Marriages: Gwen John and Moss

Am off to a conversation bef12e9_sept8_tate_imgtween artist Andrea Büttner and Chus Martinez at Tate Britain. Martinez was one of the authors who contributed to Büttner extensive monograph published by MK Gallery and MMK Frankfurt (see earlier posting). Tonight’s discussion marks the launch of the book Hidden Marriages: Gwen John and Moss and will range from the Hidden Marriages project to the broader concerns of her practice, currently on view at Tate Britain.

In 2011 Büttner was invited by the National Museum Wales  to explore its collections. Hidden Marriages is the culmination of this research, which draws together a selection of objects from two disparate bodies of knowledge: the museum’s collection of drawings by Gwen John (1876–1939) and the extensive collection of mosses preserved in its herbarium. Büttner’s research findings were first presented as an installation at National Museum Cardiff in spring 2014, and culminate with the artist’s book.

Within the museum’s collection of almost 1,000 drawings by Gwen John, Büttner focuses on images of church congregations and portraits of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, a carmelite saint. St. Thérèse’s writings on ‘The Little Way’ played an important role in Gwen John’s life and work.

The concept of ‘littleness’ has also been of longstanding interest to Büttner. Much of her work makes connections between art history and social or ethical issues, with a particular interest in notions of poverty, shame, vulnerability and sexuality, and the belief systems that underpin them. Although working a hundred years apart, John and Büttner share an interest in the spiritual, social and aesthetic notions of ‘littleness.’

Büttner has discerned similar characteristics in the classification and description of mosses – plants that fall under the term cryptogam (meaning hidden sexuality). Moss is also described as a ‘lower plant’ – incorrectly implying a lesser, or more primitive, evolutionary development than flowering or ‘higher plants.’ Hidden Marriages: Gwen John and Moss draws these two seemingly unconnected collection areas together, making links between the reproductive processes of ‘lower plants’ and the contested sexuality of Gwen John; between littleness as an aesthetic, biological, and social discourse; between the scientific ordering of the Museum and the harmony and beauty that John sought in her work; and, ultimately, the way institutions ascribe relative importance to objects, ideas and people.

The book Hidden Marriages: Gwen John and Moss includes over 60 drawings by John, most published for the first time, and essays about Gwen John and moss by art historian Lily Foster and biologist Ray Tangney, Principal Curator of Cryptogams at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales. It was edited by Ben Borthwick and designed by Studio Quentin Walesch. It is published by Koenig Books, London.

Andrea Büttner Monograph


Andrea Büttner‘s first comprehensive monograph was co-produced by MK Gallery and MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt to coincide with the exhibitions at each institution. It features a large amount of images of her work, ranging from woodcuts and reverse glass paintings, to slide shows and hand-held video, as well as views from exhibitions at dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel, Germany (2012), Artpace, San Antonio, USA (2011) and Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, UK (2008).

Contributions from writers Lars Bang Larsen, Richard Birkett and Chus Martinez, alongside an interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist and Nikolaus Hirsch address prominent motifs in Büttner’s work, from the Arte Povera movement and the Franciscan religious order to the German artist HAP Grieshaber. Also included are transcripts from three of Büttner’s sound pieces: Corita Reading (2006) which brings together extracts quoted by American artist Sister Corita Kent in her work; Roth Reading (2006) which singles out expressions of shame and embarrassment in Swiss artist Dieter Roth’s diaries; and Tischreden (Table speeches) (2013) a series of talks on the subject of poverty. Edited by Susanne Gaensheimer and Anthony Spira and published by Koenig Books, London, 2013.

The careful considerations in the three completely different texts were mirrored by the artists’ very carefully selected images of her work and the position of these images on the page. The – unusually large – format of the book also contributed to making it more than ‘just’ a catalogue, as it allows the reader to gain a comprehensive sense of the materiality of the woodcut that is so prevalent in the artist’s work. The texts were interesting to copy-edit / proof, as they each approach the artist’s practice from an entirely different angle.