Friday, 20 November 2009

Monday, 9 November 2009


Even if the name doesn’t ring a bell, there’s no doubt that you’ll already know the distinctive figure of Grayson Perry. The 2003 Turner Prize winner, whose transvestite alter ego Claire was courted by a bemused press at the time, uses traditionally ‘safe’ media such as ceramics and textiles to communicate shocking modern issues.

This month’s exhibition at the Victoria Miro gallery features Perry’s largest work to date, a 3m x 15m tapestry, which was designed specifically for the gallery’s top floor exhibition space. Depicting a life that stretches from womb to tomb, the Walthamstow Tapestry is scattered with numerous brand names that have been stripped of their distinctive logos. Paired often with incongruous scenes from daily life – a folk art hair hops over a scribbled ‘durex’ – the tapestry demonstrates how heavily branding is woven into everyday life. How alien they look without their emblems, alone, a bizarre collection of letters.

Striking lime greens and a scarlet and fuchsia umbilical cord anchor the piece firmly in the 21st century but its naïve style draws upon the folk art of eastern Europe and the Arts and Crafts movement. It’s an impressive piece both in size and detail and, from ex-hippies to hoodies, chronicles contemporary life in all its triumph, anger and inanity.

Alongside the tapestry, a large body of Perry’s new work is on display including a number of large etchings and ceramic pieces. Despite dealing with dark subject matter such as child abuse, political hypocrisy and environment apocalypse, Perry’s work is also delicate and beautiful. Sumptuous glazes, graffito drawings and decoupage photographs cover his curvaceous pots, luring viewers close before confronting them with uncomfortable ideas.

The winning combination of a Turner Prize artist, a crowd-drawing hit piece and the gallery’s stunning views over the east London rooftops, meant that this was always going to be a monumental exhibition. But smartly calculated to coincide with the release of a major new book (Grayson Perry by Jacky Klein, Thames and Hudson, £35), it’s also an interesting admission that even artists are not above branding, consumerism and well-timed self promotion.

Grayson Perry – The Walthamstow Tapestry runs until the 14th November

Monday, 2 November 2009

Prenez soin de vous

Sophie Calle at the Whitechapel Gallery
Until Until 3 January

After being unceremoniously dumped, most women reach for the Kleenex and ice-cream and call around an army of militant friends – but not Sophie Calle. The French photographer, celebrated for her documentation of engineered social interactions, instead opted for an altogether more public affair. Asking 107 women to respond to a heartbreaking email sent to her by her lover ending the relationship, she then transformed the results into an exhibition for the 2007 Venice Biennale.

The premier of the English language version of Prenez soin de vous (Take Care of Yourself) is just part of the Whitechapel Gallery’s larger Calle retrospective. The entire downstairs space is filled with photographs, films and physical relics, where the seemingly empowered women have used their professional skills to interpret her ex-lover’s sentiments. A film of a soprano voice belting extreme grief with operatic facial gymnastics sits alongside the framed and bullet riddled email. Each usage of the word ‘love’ has been precisely targeted and eliminated.

The scale and variety of the responses is overwhelming. Varying from an unemotional accountant’s tottings up of the total assets and total liabilities to the melodramatic performance of actress Miranda Richardson with her seemingly unimpressed tabby, the work as a whole demonstrates different and complex responses to loss.

As a piece of work, it cleverly functions much like a grieving woman. Surrounding herself with a circle of mirror identities, Calle almost compulsively over-analyses the email’s every word to the point of obsession. Except from the initial missive, there is no opportunity for the offending party to explain himself. He is now, a separate body without a voice, detached and internalised.

The exhibition is at times cruel and self-deprecating, such as when an employee of the Libération news desk refuses to publish the email on premise that the “letter interests nobody”. But many of the interpretations – Brenda the parrot’s beaky destruction of the email for example – are humorous. It’s selfishness and sense of revenge element may make many viewers uncomfortable, but it is this raw honesty that makes Take Care of Yourself a confession worth hearing.

Image from