Monday, 16 October 2017

Site and Situation: (not) at Home

House from Display to to BACK to FRONT by Fran Cottell, Katy Deepwell

Katy Deepwell , Professor of Contemporary Art, Theory and Criticism at Middlesex, an art critic and historian with a specialism in feminist art criticism and theory about contemporary women artists.

An introductory essay to Fran Cottell’s book, which collects together descriptions of different interative installations in her home over a period of time. 

Cooking Up the Self Bobby Baker and Blondell Cummings “Do” the Kitchen by Lesley Ferris

Critical writing with some historical background, analysing two different performance artists; Bobby Baker stages her work in her own kitchen and Blondell Cummings performed in kitchen ‘sets’. 

Written by Lesley Ferris - Arts & Humanities Professor, Department of Theatre at Ohio State University, a theatre director and scholar.

Blondell Cummings Chicken Soup –

video still 1989


Bobby Baker Kitchen Show

Bobby Baker: Redeeming Features of Daily Life edited by Michèle Barrett and Bobby Baker (2007), Routledge.   





 Fran Cottell:  “During the 1980s and 1990s I had started to think about the public/private relationships between and within the body (often represented by clothing) and or the spaces we occupy.”

Fran Cottell is the Fine Art Senior Lecturer at Camberwell.  

 “Since 2001, Cottell has used her own house as both subject and experimental site for her performative events, subtly altering this domestic environment through architectural interventions. (Camberwell website)

Back to Front installation 2011– photos by Terry Watts from Fran Cottrell’s website

The work made interventions (eg viewing platforms, peepholes) over a period of time in her own house in Greenwich and invited people in whilst going about her everyday life with her family.

Platform for visitors to stand on while family got on with daily life

Fran Cottell’s interest has been in exploring the relationships between ‘inhabited spaces’ – the body, the home, and the exterior world.  (Introduction by Fran Cottell)

She found that galleries were too public a space and wanted to explore ‘real experience’ – the interior space and the life that took place there.’

Collecting time – invited different curators and critics to put their heads through a hole in her daughter’s bedroom floor so that she could take a photo of them

In this essay, Katy Deepwell writes about the work in the context of sculpture, and cites Rosalind Krauss idea of the ‘expanded field’ – 

 “No longer an object to be looked at, the work will literally put us in another place, create another kind of environment”. 

Instead of standing and looking at one fixed object in one space, the experience can be a ‘4D experience’, being immersed in an environment or installation, happening over a period of time.

Some examples of other immersive installations for comparison:  

DreamThinkSpeaks’ Absent, Shoreditch Town Hall, 2015 

 photo Jim Stephenson

‘An intimate promenade installation inspired by The Duchess of Argyll’s residence at a central London hotel in the 1970’s’ 

14 Radnor Terrace 1974 – feminist art group SLAG – South London Art Group took over/squatted a small terraced house as a large scale installation  called ‘ A Woman’s Place’  - contemporary critique of family life. 

In 2017 Raven Row gallery reconstructed some of the work, the show was called 56 Artillery Lane in homage

Su Richardson for Fenex 1977 (my photo) recreated in Raven Row in 2017


Fran Cottell explains in her introduction how a live ‘real’ experience is more vivid and alive , something that it is not possible to deliver through a performance in a gallery.

(I enjoyed the Raven Row show very much but you can see how much more powerful it must have been in the squatted house the artists had taken over in the 1970s.)  

Also, by inviting people into her home with her family, the work ‘invites viewers to consider ‘where’ they are in the process of viewing the work: a viewer/a resident, a participant/an observer, part of the life displayed/or on display” . 

I  felt that Katy Deepwell and Lesley Ferris were both admirers of their respective artists’ work.The writing was enthusiastic and keen to give the reader a personal impression of the work, and to argue for its value. 

Both pieces admitted the work is not easy to convey in description. For this kind of live work, to get the most out of it you really have to be there. 

I also thought that the pieces played down the humour of this work, as though if something is funny, it can’t also be serious and meaningful. 

I liked Fran Cottell’s remark on her visitors. 

 “Most people reacted with humour… although some… reported back afterwards, complaining that they had been unable to sleep, after a visit, because they found it unsettling’. 


It is alive and vivid , more so that a traditional gallery installation, but not repeatable, recordable (or sellable?) 

I wondered why the book was only available as a download? 

Can a writer make a living with this kind of work if they don’t also have a day job, eg an academic job at a university?

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Symbiotic postures of commercial advertising and street art: rhetoric for creativity

Journal of Advertising vol 39 2010

Before looking at the article, it is useful to consider the Situationist concept of Recuperation.

Debord in the Society of the Spectacle said that official culture is a ‘rigged game’
‘where conservative powers forbid subversive ideas to have direct access to the public discourse.’

‘ Such ideas get first trivialized and sterilized, and then they are safely incorporated back within mainstream society, where they can be exploited to add new flavors to old dominant ideas. This technique of the spectacle is sometimes called recuperation.

To survive, the spectacle must maintain social control and effectively handle all threats to the social order.

More broadly, it may refer to the appropriation or co-opting of any subversive works or ideas by mainstream media.

 It is the opposite of détournement, in which conventional ideas and images are reorganized and recontextualized with radical intentions.’

(Quote about Recuperation from Wikipedia.)

This article is a good example of recuperation, as the authors state at the beginning
“…we analyze a set of rhetorical practices employed by street artists that not only reflect, but might also be used to shape, commercial advertising…’

Street art and graffitti can be about subverting consumer culture.

Dr D Sly

Fiat 1980s? 


Adbusters  Absolute AA 



The article suggests using the techniques of street art and graffitti to reinvigorate advertising and sell more successfully to their audience ‘appropriating street art’s authentic essence to revitalize their own commerical efficacy.’  

It was written by four professors of marketing at American and Italian universities for the Journal of Advertising published by the American Academy of Advertising in 2010.

It is aimed at professionals working in the advertising industry and is written in academic language,  based on a 3 year study with 20 artists across Italy and the USA in person and through ‘netnography’ (study of websites?) and on 60 ‘consumers’ – ie viewers of street art.

 It offers as analysis of the techniques of street art and suggest advertising can appropriate these techniques. It concludes ‘Street art can be considered as an emerging template for commercial advertising’.

They claim to use ‘visual data’ as examples in the article, unfortunately in the copy the pictures have reproduced poorly and are unclear, which is ironic considering it is about the power, persuasiveness and impact of visual images.  

I found this article depressing, but in the end concluded that advertising (capitalism) and graffitti (radicalism) will always coexist and feed off each other in a loop.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

‘Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography' Guy Debord, 1955, Ken Knabb (ed)

A French philosopher and theorist influenced by Marx, Debord founded Situationist International in the mid 50s. 

The Situationist artistic and political movement experimented with the idea of constructing a situation. This was to combat the passivity created by capitalism, which Debord called the Society of the Spectacle (people being seduced into consumerism by capitalism through contemporary mass media.)

Written as a manifesto for the group, this introduces key ideas such as psychogeography; "the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals”. 

It  concentrates on the urban environment.

Debord’s Psychogeographique de Paris. A map of the city of Paris, cut it into pieces and glued together in a different way.  The new map was supposed to show locations which evoked the most emotions from people.
Debord’s idea seems to be that capitalism turns people into robots moving in a fixed, passive, predetermined way (eg home/work/home).

People can explore psychogeography through dérives (– translating as ‘drift) which encourage people to move actively and consciously through the city, moving at random, & finding chance encounters and personal memories.  

The SI were early adopters of graffiti, using public space to convey their message. 


‘Never work’ written all over Paris in the1950s

 'Call in sick' DFace 2008 Hackney

Debord writes about ‘… a general idea of happiness prevalent among the bourgeoisie and maintained by a system of publicity… an idea of happiness whose crisis must be provoked on every occasion by every means’. 
Another prophetic idea by Debord was the idea of détournement' (can be translated as diversion, or in current usage, hijacking) ie changing a pre-existing work of art or literature to subvert its meaning.  Quoting or plagiarizing existing images so that the original is subverted.

Eg  a comic book – familiar and accessible, but subversive in its ideas. 


(Le Retour de la Colonne Durutti  altered comic by André Bertrand that was handed out at a University in  1966 during a student protest 

Cowboy 1: "What's your scene, man?"
Cowboy 2: "Realisation"
Cowboy 1: "Yeah? I guess that means pretty hard work with big books and piles of paper on a big table."
Cowboy 2: "Nope. I drift. Mostly I just drift."


 Jamie Reid's famous cover 1977

Advertisement ‘détournment’ by Dr D, @subvertiser 

Starts Wars - Dr D  2003 

Sold Out/ Clearance sale Aida Wilde -

Screenprint/posters in Hackney Wick by Aida Wilde on the sale of artist studio buildings to make way for investment properties.

The opposite todétournement' is the idea of recuperation, in which subversive works or ideas are taken over by mainstream media. This is a survival technique for capitalism,  as it attempts to absorb resistance.  I will talk about this in the next blog.

The word count didn’t allow for examples of contemporary artists/inheritors of the Situationists but here are some links: 

@specialpatrols Special Patrol Group