Saturday, 11 August 2012


Still Life: An Audience with Henrietta Moraes calls itself ‘a play interweaving text and drawing’. This will presumably appeal to a mixed crowd, who might be divided by their predominating interest in either of these interwoven components. The pull for me, of course, was the drawing  - an hour’s life-drawing for a fiver? Yes please.

Sue MacLaine, originally starting out as a stand-up comic, devised the script for the play which has her speaking as Henrietta Moraes, a ‘bohemian’ of the London hippie scene, friend to Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud. MacLaine delivers a great performance and the script is poetic and at times quite beautiful; her voice chimes over the fervent scratching of pencils and charcoal as she moves deliberately and gracefully between poses.

She often addresses the audience directly – ‘this is a Bacon story, you’ll like this’ – and makes direct eye-contact with her audience as they are drawing, making for a different kind of drawing experience to that which normally takes place in the studio. The piece sets up a curious dynamic between the audience and performer: in actively participating in the show the drawers are able to imagine a more personal relationship with the model, and in turn, themselves as the artists she speaks on on that London scene.

I would thoroughly recommend MacLaine’s piece at Whitespace to both those who can and cannot draw, and to those who have and have not tried life drawing. I found myself switching in and out of the narrative as I drew – Still Life: An Audience... is a multifaceted piece of theatre which can be experienced on different levels.

Go watch, listen to and draw Sue Maclaine as Henrietta Moraes at Whitespace on Gayfield Square, until 27th August.

Thursday, 9 August 2012


'Contents of this lecture are a well-guarded secret!' warned the Summerhall programme. What would the 73yr old Carolee Schneemann, pioneering feminist artist, cat obsessive and general eccentric, deliver in her ‘performative lecture’ in the converted vet school? 

We take our seats in an authentic lecture theatre, lines of desks still intact with hard backed seats to keep students upright in some of the more soporific lectures. The lights go down; Gnarls Barkley's 'Crazy' comes over the stereo. And here she is, with a mass of white hair luminous before the light of the projection lamp. Clutching a knobbly branch and purposefully-nonchalantly waving a rope at her audience, she slowly descends the staircase between the desks. Has she finally lost it? No one is quite sure what to make of this slightly bizarre entrance. She reaches the stage. 'Okay, I'm in control.' she says with a mischievous half-smile. And so we are introduced to the artist’s curious and unique wry humour which lightens even the darkest subject matter. Over a career of over forty years, Schneemann’s work has addressed less than palatable issues: the falling figures of 9/11, animal abuse, and themes of gender identity which she acknowledges can be ‘hostile and aggressive’ but she twists to make them ironic: ‘I can’t be cynical.’

Schneemann’s talk was engaging, lively and personal. She discussed the iconographical importance of less obvious motifs beyond the commonly identified themes of gender identity and sexuality in her work, beginning with what she called ‘predictive drawings’ from childhood. The staircase for example is important for the moment of 'gravitational uncertainty between steps'; the cat serves as a 'central form of narrative' that 'defines space' and serves as a symbol of 'comfort and intra-species communication'. 'It's really well done don't you think?' she says of a drawing that appears to be a cat jumping out of a box, completed by the artist at the young age of 4. 'I'm very fond of it; I call it the ecstatic cat'.

Asked if she was still making new work, Schneemann’s response was incredulous: ‘Are you kidding? Does a bear shit in the woods?’ This summer at Summerhall she has created something of a sensual experience where projections overlap and bleed into one another, and the soundtracks from each of the different installations combine as a mass of clicks, whisperings and distant rumblings that fills the space. Schneemann has revisited past performance and reinvigorated their documentation by ripping up vintage photographic prints and laying them on the floor, and re-mixing footage with other, newer imagery. The exhibition Remains To Be Seen runs until 27th September.

Saturday, 4 August 2012


The ground floor of Edinburgh's Fruitmarket Gallery is dominated by a vast wall of flickering monitors, mounted in lines onto basic wooden racks. Artificial light shimmers off the screens like heat and it is difficult to focus on one alone. The piece is Dieter Roth’s Solo Scenes [1997-98], which opens the current exhibition Dieter Roth: Diaries. It forms part of the artist’s endeavour to document and display the daily routines of what would, unbeknownst to him, be his final year of life. The majority of the screens show Roth reading - at his desk, in bed and on the toilet - silent one-way dialogues with texts we cannot see. In some videos he makes phone calls we cannot hear, to people we do not know. Quiet tapping and paper shuffling interspersed with some mediocre piano playing combine to make a muted cacophony of the sounds of the everyday.

In spite of Roth’s efforts to make public the private moments of his life, his work serves to confirm, rather than to break down this distance. In an adjoining room to the main space, all of Roth’s surviving diaries sit encased in a glass box. Many of the books are closed; they conceal, rather than reveal their contents. (A different approach to the RA’s digitalised presentation of Hockney’s sketchbooks at their exhibition in London earlier this year). Upstairs, in grubby ring binders of his collected rubbish (over a period of two years the artist gathered all waste less than 1cm thick in a different take on the diary format) the mass of dirty tissues, old packaging and postcards is overwhelming, and uninformative. Similarly to the 128 videos downstairs, they form an overload of information which is impossible to consume in its entirety.

In their introductory text, Fruitmarket draw Roth’s work under the banner of Confessional Art, linking his practice with Tracy Emin, Louise Bourgeois and Sophie Calle. It is an interesting comparison to make as Emin, Bourgeois and Calle all three use sex and relationships as their core ‘confessional’ content. Roth’s work is about no one but Roth himself and his somewhat solitary existence. His only confession is that he is human, and no more remarkable than the average viewer. And an enthusiastic nose-picker.