I have a problem with most of the exhibitions at the Arnolfini, here in Bristol.Frequently, I find them obscure and impenetrable.
I feel very sad about this… because it’s a wonderful gallery space and somewhere I pass several times each week.
Now, I appreciate that this view is not shared universally – BUT it IS the opinion of a large number of talented, open-minded, perceptive arty friends whose opinions I respect.
Even the name of her exhibition: “WOR(L)D(K) IN PROGRESS?” is a bit puzzling. To me anyway (I know what it means, but it’s contrived to say the least).
Joelle Tuerlinckx was born in Brussels in 1958 and her work has been shown widely on an international level.If you haven’t already seen the exhibition, this blurb from the Arnolfini’s website will hopefully provide you with a flavour:
“Her work is distinguished by a unique sensual and transient approach and a precise use of materials, colours, and abstract shapes, culminating in expansive, complex installations. Film projections, video, drawings, collages, photographs and found objects are often combined with subtle alterations to the spaces and gestures that highlight the time and space of the viewing experience”.
Before today, I’d seen the exhibition twice. Well, I tried… really I did, but I’m afraid most of it just went over my head. To me, it really did feel like the “Emperor’s New Clothes”. So today, I went along to one of their exhibition tours (every Saturday at 2pm)… in the hope that someone REALLY would be able to make the “scales fall from my eyes”.Eight of us joined the tour, given by an art lecturer at UWE.
She spoke for ten minutes or so about what was meant by the term “conceptual art” (actually, she read out most of it from her notes… which, for me, seemed only to suggest that perhaps she didn’t really understand Tuerlinckx’s work either!).
Actually, that’s unfair, but that IS how it made me feel.
We were then given 20-25 minutes to look round the exhibition and then to meet in the Reading Room for a general discussion.
In the event, only two other people turned up - in addition to the tour guide and me.
During the course of our discussion, I acknowledged that I found the work very difficult to appreciate. This was received sympathetically by my tour colleagues (although in a rather “we-feel-sorry-for-you” kind of way - they were both young artists and I THINK one of them was going to be a guide at another exhibition in Bristol)… effectively, I was told that “this IS what art is about these days”.
That may be so… but, if it is, then I think art is in great danger of becoming far too arrogant for its own good. I try to visit every exhibition at the Arnolfini but, sadly, most of them leave me feeling frustrated and irritated by this absolute concentration on art’s conceptual form (and, remember, this exhibition is on for more than THREE months – it finishes 16 March)
Is the Arnolfini trying to educate us into appreciating this type of art?
If so, I think it’s failing.
I suggested that they survey everyone who visited the exhibition (I would feel reasonably confident that less than 5% would say they appreciated or understood the work), but I know they won’t.
Guardian’s art critic Adrian Searle’s review of the exhibition (December 2012) included this: “I am considering writing this in the style of Joelle Tuerlinckx whose work has been baffling me for more than a decade. Attempting to describe the Belgian artist's work, I'll have to keep all the words I've crossed out and put them in a pile to use later, along with all the commas, colons, semicolons and full stops I've dropped. Currently they're all under my desk, sprinkled among the pencil shavings and bottles that litter the floor. What's that length of rope doing there? I must have accidentally carted it home from Tuerlinckx's show at the Arnolfini…At some point I'll have to paint my desk with white emulsion, then invert my laptop and shake out all the dead skin, hair, biscuit crumbs and dried tears I've somehow shed over the keyboard. All this stuff must mean something, possibly more than the things I commit to the page… Keep going like this and I might become an artist, but probably not, nor will I ever be Tuerlinckx.
I had to have a lie-down on the floor for a bit. Why has she stained a wall upstairs with tea, and prematurely aged some of her own catalogues and posters and gallery hand-outs? Is it to show what things look like when they age? Or that when they age in a museum, they do so differently? Tuerlinckx does such odd things, though there is a logic to them all, even if it is her logic rather than ours. Art that is only a puzzle is boring: solve it and it's over. Tuerlinckx continues to tease because her works resist solution. Mystery remains”.
For me, mystery certainly remains.
Photo: Gallery 1 at the Arnolfini.PS: the video on the Arnolfini website is quite useful (enthusiastic… and informative to a degree).
PPS: I blogged about the Matti Braun exhibition at the Arnolfini (October 2012) and made similar comments about “inaccessible art”… their response was interesting (see the comment at the end of my October post).
Footnote: As a retired architect and someone who has had a life-long interest in art and design , I’d like to think that I’m NOT a philistine when it comes to art appreciation but I accept that my art preferences might be a little on the conservative side – they would certainly include work by the likes of David Hockney, Peter Blake, JMW Turner, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Andre Derain, Antony Gormley, Stanley Spencer, Henri Cartier Bresson, Paul Cezanne, Grayson Perry, Dorothea Lange, Alberto Giacometti, Henri Matisse, John Everett Millais, Amedeo Modigliani, Marc Chagall, Katsushika Hokusai, Balthus, Grant Wood, Richard Long, Michelangelo and Rafael to mention just a few.