Week 1: 23rd to 27th January 2008:
GreenCube and Higher Academy of Happiness
Upper Gallery, Newlyn Art Gallery
Curated by GreenCube
There is an
aura of contemplation in the Upper Gallery of the Newlyn Art Gallery: an
otherworldly sound gently resonates throughout the space, like a hi-tech Gregorian
chant. Entering the
space a noisy and ramshackle apparatus lurches into life, scanning the
walls with a dangerous-looking green laser. The machinery is like a
survivalist’s farm machine, built from bicycle parts and an electric
drill, and powered by old car batteries.
The choral sound 'Aquarius', created by Nigel Ayers, is a generative
audio work for eight stereo speakers. The piece apparently began as a
1972 recording of a Cornish male voice choir, singing the popular hit
from the musical 'Hair'. It has been subjected to a digital process of
exaggerated time-stretching and is now almost entirely unrecognisable.
The spinning laser is 'Wish We
Weren’t Here' by Paul Chaney, used previously to create photographs in
the landscape depicting the raised sea-levels resulting from global
In 'Raising the Eathorne Stone', by Paul Chaney & Steve Patterson a
small DVD player stands on a plinth, and in front of it is a simple A4
plastic display book. This contains a fascinating exchange of letters
and emails between artists, mystics, farmers, engineers and
archaeologists: documenting the process of discovery and re-erection of
a standing stone in a field a few miles away the exhibition space. The
DVD has been shot using the obsolete home-movie format of Super 8 film,
this lends organic saturated colours and texture to the footage.
In 'Cornish Shrew Mysteries', also by Chaney, a snapshot is enlarged to
a colossal size of a hand offering three dead baby shrews to the camera.
The photograph is flanked by two small shelves. On each shelf the bodies
of shrews are sensitively placed in makeshift shrines; one made from a
bird’s nest and the other a tobacco tin lined with fresh flower petals.
A small sketch drawn in faint pencil and smaller photographs on the wall
describes the discovery of the dead shrews in corners of the artist’s
Standing on another plinth is a small open cardboard box. Printed on the
lid is a photograph of an arrangement of rocky cairns and a prayer flag
on what looks like a Himalayan mountaintop. This is 'Holy Mountain' by
Nigel Ayers, labelled as containing 10 Earth samples from the Holy
Mountain Brown Willy, and the photograph was in fact taken on that same
hilltop in North Cornwall. The black soil samples are contained in
neatly labelled clear test tubes. The title reflects the influence of
the visionary films of Alejandro Jodorowsky, whose feature film 'Holy
Mountain' was released in 1973. The box can be interpreted as a
alchemical cult relic or as a cigar box, referencing the use of cigars
in voodoo ritual. It also mimics the format of boxed multiples, intended
as affordable artworks, made by members of the Fluxus movement in the
Examining artists’ notebooks we see in their sketches, flashes of
insight which are subsequently realised in the form of painting or sculpture. In the case of
Charles Darwin’s notebooks, these insights led him to formulate
the theory of evolution. 'Darwin’s First Tree' by Rupert White
grows from the floor and stretches up into the gallery skylights, its aluminium
branches glinting in the sunlight. It is a three-dimensional
reproduction of a sketch by Darwin in which he first made this diagram of
the evolutionary tree of life, where species branch out into sub-species
and new life forms emerge as nature grows in increasing complexity.
On the largest wall of the gallery is 'One a day' a series of drawings
by Daryl Waller. When I visit, the artist is half way through his series
of large ink and pastel drawings made in response to the exhibition. On
the first an enlarged drawing of that day’s Western Morning News shouts
NEW PUSH FOR GREEN ENERGY. The second re-styles a Roger Hilton drawing
with the addition of fluorescent pound-shop stars, in the third DARK
TIMES is corrected to ARK TIME as a bleeding figure lies draped over a
Rupert White’s 'Magic Tree' dangles from a rafter. It is an enlarged
copy of a car air-freshener cut from a piece of sterling board, a cheap
type of builder’s board made from woodchips. On the tree hang a
selection of original signed drawings and prints by well-known 20th century
St Ives artists: Roger Hilton, Sven Berlin, Bryan Pearce, Alan Lowndes
and Denis Mitchell. These are decorated with absurd images of
middle-aged people clipped from naturist magazines. The tree is scented
with a pungent chemical air-freshener. Hung in this irreverent manner,
the St Ives pictures, which have a high value to collectors, take on a
different meaning. The faux naivete (or authenticity) for which they are valued assumes a shocking
freshness when seen in this context, and these aging drawings once again
assume a radical beauty, in many ways mirroring the knowing humour of
Daryl Waller’s work.
Nearby, droplets of water
cling like glistening jewels to the inside of 'Still
(condensation-cube)': a sculpture in which a simple process of
condensation converts sea-water collected from Mounts Bay to drinking
water. This work by Rupert White alludes both to the human instinct for
survival, and to processes of spiritual transformation. 'Psilo' and
'Corporation-tree', two other large sculptures by the same artist rest
in the adjacent space. The former is based on hallucinations that have
been reported by people taking magic mushrooms, and the latter seems to
refer to the artificial planting schemes of out-of-town retail parks.
On the last wall, is 'The Bodmin Moor Zodiac', 12 mysterious
silver-framed images based on aerial photographs of areas of Bodmin Moor
accompanied by a wood-framed vintage Ordinance Survey map showing the
same images in situ. These ink-on-paper images, with the saturated
colour of batiks, have been digitally-enhanced to highlight the
Rorschach–like images of zodiac signs. This may be a colossal piece of
Neolithic land art discovered by Nigel Ayers, or it may be an expression
of an attempt to use diagrams, schematics, flow charts to link the real
material world with the abstract world of thought and feeling.
Until now, psychogeography has been an urban concept. There is little
precedent for the ideas of psychogeography applied to a rural setting
like Cornwall and the content of the rural imagination. Most people
coming into the Cornwall area are attracted to the experience of the
coast. However, the art in this exhibition emphasises an interaction
with the interior landscape, both literally in terms of inland areas and
metaphorically in terms of the recesses of the human mind.
In this work, there is shift of emphasis from the visual, to a holistic
use of contemporary art tactics. The style is one that has become
familiar in terms of sensationalistic Young British art, however the
GreenCube artists are very clearly attempting to reclaim the tools of
1960s conceptualism, to charge their work with levels of meaning that
have been lost in contemporary art marketing. The mood of the show is
contemplative, yet punctuated with the shocks of the postmodern world. A
powerful antidote to the globalisation of contemporary art,
'psycho/geography' was an exciting exhibition made by a group of
emerging artists sharing a heightened awareness of their geographic and
historical location in Cornwall.
mentored by Steve Messam of FOLD and FRED, Cumbria
Alma Dinger, Photos: Rupert White, Video: Nigel Ayers
Academy of Happiness
Lower Gallery, Newlyn Art Gallery
Curated by The Higher Academy
Higher Academy of Happiness was the curator of new interdisciplinary
research on 'the good life' through experiments with artworks and live
art events. The study borrowed the management tool of ‘Key Performance
Indicators’ from government and business organisations to investigate
whether art can shed any light on the quality of life, and how it can be
measured. The research was carried out to support the Kingdom of Bhutan,
currently seeking new ways to assess a society’s effectiveness through
Gross National Happiness (GNH).
The Academy brought
together five contemporary artists based in Cornwall to explore the
'feel good' and 'feel bad' factors in the quality of life through the
different creative standpoints of jazz music, sound art, movement
improvisation, glasswork, film and installation. The artists were Rae
Chapman, Davina Kirkpatrick, Noel Perkins, Caroline Schance and Larry
Recipes for the
(2008) corporate balloons, yellow paper, pen, breath, people.
Members of the public were invited to write down their recipe for the
good life on yellow slips of paper, fold the paper, insert it into an
academy balloon, inflate it and tie a knot in it.
(2006) Film and sound installation by Rae Chapman. A work recalling the
moment at a wake when everyone laughed.
(2008). Animated film by Rae Chapman. 3D animated graph visualising the
magnitude of the happiness problem, and when less becomes more.
(2008) by Larry Stabbins. Saxaphone and Reaktor. New work to expose core
feel good/feel bad factors from new album, Stonephace, with key
philosophical readings on good life as soundtrack. Film by Rae Chapman.
Mapping the Quality
(2008) - blackboard, film, movement. Noel Perkins and Caroline Schanche,
members of public, Higher Academy of Happiness. Homage to Joseph Beuys.
Quality of Life
Impressions – Blue (2008)Glass
and film. Clear cast and etched glass by Davina Kirkpatrick held in
suspense awaiting regeneration. Film by Rae Chapman.
Happening at the
(2008) – movement improvisation, glass, film, sound, public. Live art
event experiment in synthesising and presenting data from cooperative
inquiry. Noel Perkins, Caroline Schanche, Larry Stabbins, Davina
Kirkpatrick, Rae Chapman.
(2008) – mentor and mentees, MacBook Pro, Skype. Live video conference
with curatorial mentor, Dr. Becky Shaw to establish curator job
description, targets and performance review mechanisms that measure
levels of success.
Bottom Line in
(2008) – blackboard, chalk, corporate balloons, Cornish daffodils,
recipes for the good life.
Recipes for the
good life collected as durational public artwork were released during
the curatorial review on the final day of the exhibition. A yellow paper
trail of new data formed a continuous line around the entire gallery
space as the last trace of this cycle of inquiry into the good life.
Higher Academy of Happiness
offers a model for learning on how to improve the quality of life. The
Academy uses the arts and art events as a toolkit to promote dialogue
and reflective practice on well-being.
Thank you for your
Words and images: Rae Chapman
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