Thursday, 22 November 2012

Art: Axisweb in Wales: Developing Critical Writing on the Contemporary Visual Arts 2012

In 2012 Axisweb in Wales ran Developing Critical Writing on the Contemporary Visual Arts - a programme for three aspiring writers in Wales. Jon Cronshaw catches up with the programme participants to find out more about it and ask them what's happened since they took part.

Entering the world of critical art writing can be a challenge for emerging writers. Between February and July 2012, Axisweb, supported by the Arts Council Wales and in partnership with ArtReview and This is Tomorrow, ran a programme of writing workshops and publication support for three emerging writers based in Wales.

The Critical Writing Programme consisted of writing workshops and professional mentoring by three established critics: JJ Charlesworth, Associate Editor of ArtReview; Cherry Smyth, who writes regularly for publication including Modern Painters, Art Monthly, and ArtReview; and Chris Sharratt, a freelance writer and editor.

“We wanted to develop a professional writing programme that took people away from an academic style, to one which engages a wider audience,” explains Project Coordinator Alicia Miller, “Bringing in professionals to give seminars and act as mentors is immensely valuable."

Three writers were selected in December 2011 to participate in this year’s project: artist Ciara Healy, filmmaker Rowan Lear, and artist Brychan Tudor.

They attended three half-day workshops which covered a range of subjects including: how to write for a specific audience; how to write to different guidelines and specifications, and conduct yourself as a professional writer; how to find your voice and style, and have the confidence to speak critically.

Ciara Healy’s review of Jonathan Anderson's exhibition ‘Coal Dust Mandala’ at Oriel Myrddin, Carmarthen, was published by This is Tomorrow, and she has also had her work published in ArtReview.

“It’s completely changed my career, it’s fantastic!” Ciara says, “It has really given me confidence. I was always uncertain about writing poetically and critically and now I’ve developed my own style that I’m more confident about using. It’s my own voice that I finally feel as though I’m speaking in.”

Rowan Lear produced three pieces of writing which were published by This is Tomorrow, including a review of Zoe Leonard’s exhibition ‘Observation Point’ at Camden Arts Centre. Rowan saw the project as an extremely positive experience. "It gave me a real confidence boost with my writing. I learnt some really useful skills like how to write to guidelines and how to get work published.”

Brychan Tudor’s review of Singapore artist Zhao Renhui ‘The Institute of Critical Zoologists’ exhibition at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff featured on This is Tomorrow. "It was a chance to get a real feel the professionalism of writing. It wasn’t just meeting the writers - I also learnt a lot from the other participants.”

The experience was a positive one for all involved. Chris Sharratt, a mentor on the programme, was delighted that his advice and feedback proved useful. "I think you can sometimes take for granted the knowledge and experience you have acquired over the years, and working with writers who are still finding their feet is really rewarding.”

Cherry Smyth found that, “All the participants had particularly strong voices which made it very easy to identify their style and their interests. It really was a joy to do.”

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This article was originally published by axisweb.org, with a truncated version appearing in Axis Notes, 2012.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Music: Interview with Bloodflower's Jonnie Owen

In the shadow of the Welsh Black Mountains, a new music project is coming to fruition. Bloodflower is a collaboration between singer and multi-instrumentalist Jonnie Owen and producer Tom Manning. I caught up with Jonnie to talk about his new project, and to see how things are going with their debut album.


Jon Cronshaw: How did Bloodflower come about as a project?

Jonnie Owen: It’s just me writing the music at the moment in collaboration with a long-term friend - a producer called Tom Manning. Tom found out that there was some free studio time at Monnow Valley Studio in Monmouth, Wales; he gave me a call to see if we could do anything.

We just went into the studio without any expectations; we had a couple of ideas and it just snowballed from there. We realised quite quickly that I had a lot more than just a couple of ideas. It was really exciting: we had this free studio time, so we just threw caution to the wind. We worked really well together, and it’s now an album in progress, with the working title Circadian Clock.


JC: How does Bloodflower compare to your previous projects?

JO: It’s been really good fun, because it’s different to working with a band where you might go in with an idea and try and form something organically between five members bouncing off each other and jamming with an idea. It’s purely from what I’ve put on a computer and built it up from nothing; so some of the songs have been built up from maybe just a vocal line, or from just a beat.

Everything, apart from guitars, has been a big part of this project - I’m a singer, and my second instrument is the guitar. Tom suggested that I tried writing without using the guitar. It took me out of my comfort zone from the word go. So I started using drums, bass, keyboard, percussion, synthesisers, programmed beats – I found it very liberating.

Tom’s an amazing musician in his own right – he’s a multi-instrumentalist – so between us, we can pretty much play everything. He’s a really good drummer, and if I have trouble with a beat, he’ll get behind the kit and do it.

It’s very DIY – from my point of view it’s quite a punk approach to something that hasn’t been punk before.





JC: How would you define Bloodflower’s sound if a lazy music journalist wanted a quick sound-bite?

JO: I don’t know - I suppose people will have to listen to it and define it for themselves. That’s another thing about this project; we’ve not really given much away. We want people to take our music away and attach the meaning that they want to it.

I don’t really want to talk too much about the lyrics like I’ve done in the past, because it kind of spoils it - you know what you’re listening to before you’ve even listened to it – you know what the story is, you know what the conclusion is. It’s about letting the audience take it. As soon as we release it, it’s no longer mine. It’s the idea of releasing art and letting people take from it whatever they want.

I’m not purposefully trying to add mystique or mystery to it; it just gives people more ownership of the songs and enjoy them being part of their lives.


JC: What would you say Bloodflower’s main influences are?

JO: I could reel off a list of bands, but it might start pigeonholing the whole project. Because I’ve been doing a lot of work with bass, there’s this heavy 80s influence on it – bands like Talking Heads and The Clash. I’ve been listening to a lot of Arcade Fire – they’ve got this way of shouting music at you, and you just can’t get it out of your head. Also artists like Bjork, Nick Drake – so loads of different stuff really.

I’m studying Contemporary Fiction and Social History at university, so I’ve been really inspired by writers like Haruki Murakami, J G Ballard, Jeanette Winterson - there’s so many.


JC: With a project which so studio-based, do you intend to take the music to a live setting?

JO: We’re in the middle of recruiting musicians for the live show at the moment. Tom’s going to be performing the drums, I’m going to be predominantly singing, so I want to get other musicians in that I know and trust so that I can be free as front-man. I may do a bit of piano, or the odd hit of a drum machine just to make the show look a bit more interesting. We’ll be touring and gigging next year and I’m so excited; I can’t wait to hear how the music will sound live.


JC: With your last band, you toured the UK, Europe and America - do you have similar ambitions for Bloodflower?

JO: First of all, we’ve got the album which is well on target for being finished early next year, then touring up and down the country, head into Europe and eventually the States. The main goal at the moment is to get the project functioning as a live band, and just make it an amazing live show.


Bloodflower are scheduled to release their debut album early next year. You can find out more on Bloodflower’s Facebook page HERE. You can listen to the track Indigo below.




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This article was published by Alternative Music Press.




Music: Why UB40's "Signing Off" Is Still a Reggae Classic

The Brummie band were much maligned over the years, but their debut album is a powerful, timeless record in protest of Thatcher's Britain...



UB40 have been responsible for some terrible crimes against music over the past three decades, but before they were moaning about a girl running off with their “colour TV” and their “CD collection of Bob Marley”, they were deeply engaged in political protest and shed a stark light onto Thatcher’s Britain.


Growing up on a council estate in Wolverhampton during the 1980s, the music of UB40 seemed part and parcel of everyday life, and particular songs would be perfect for any given social situation: ‘Kingston Town’ would always crop up at weddings; birthday parties might feature the 808 State remix of ‘One in Ten’; and Saturday night gatherings might include a drunken sing-along with their cover of ‘I Got You Babe’. Perhaps it was to do with the affinity that Midlanders had with their local heroes, or perhaps it was that UB40 sung about issues that that people living on the estate could related to: mass unemployment, the rise of Thatcherism, racism, alienation, and a feeling of anger at the injustices of the world around them.




Album-opener ‘Tyler’ tells of the alarming case of a 16 year-old American student who was returning home from school by bus in 1974 and was attacked by a mob of around 100 pro-segregationists. During the scuffle, a 13 year-old bystander was shot, and though no weapon was ever found, Tyler was sentenced to death for his murder (this has since been reduced to life). There is much inconsistency and controversy surrounding the case, which led to Amnesty International declaring Tyler’s incarceration as a racially-motivated miscarriage of justice, and the organisation have given Tyler the status of a political prisoner. In telling this tale, the music is mournful yet melodic, and Campbell’s vocals seem to burst with anger and frustration.


‘King’ - a song about the loss of Martin Luther King - is a rich, reverb-soaked reggae track that utilises pop melodies to speak about racial tension, and King’s followers’ loss of direction: “You had a dream of a promised land / People of all nations walking hand in hand / But they`re not ready to accept / That dream situation, yet”.


The politics are left aside during the instrumental track ’12 Bar’ with its dub-tinged echoic sounds, warm saxophone solos, and a bouncy bass-line. ‘Burden of Shame’ is held together by a dark, moody bass-line that seems to echo the tones of the guilt-ridden lyrics: “As a nation we`re following blindly / No-one stops to question why / Our money`s supporting an army / And a boy in Soweto dies / I`m a British subject, not proud of it / While I carry the burden of shame.” This might come across as rhetorically similar to Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’, but the songs couldn’t be more different. Whereas ‘American Idiot’ is inspired by rebellion for its own sake, Campbell’s vocals are poignant and intelligently considered: these aren’t simply words to drive a pop song – this feeling of shame and powerlessness is genuine and heartbreaking.


Respite comes with the tracks that follow: the cheery instrumental ‘Adella’, with its bright chord changes, gentle Hank Marvin-esque guitar noodling, and a springy bass hook laid over reverb-soaked snare shots; ‘I Think it’s Going to Rain’, which is probably the softest song on the album, and points to their future direction that would come to fruition on Labour of Love; and the dubby instrumental ‘25%’ which has a saxophone solo that can’t help but bring to mind the theme music to Men Behaving Badly.


‘Food for Thought’ is littered with imagery of starvation and death, and called attention to the famine in Africa almost half a decade before Band Aid. The music is moody and atmospheric, and its lyrics are dark enough to have been dreamt up by Sylvia Plath: “Skin and bone is creeping, doesn’t know he`s dead / Ancient eyes are peeping, from his infant head / Politicians argue sharpening their knives / Drawing up their bargains, trading baby lives.” This theme is economic injustice and inequality continues with urgency on ‘Little by Little’, though its imagery is a little less subtle than on ‘Food for Thought’: “Poor boy sleeps on straw / The rich boy sleeps in bed / That fat boy fills his belly / My poor boy's dead.”


The album-closer of the original vinyl release, ‘Signing Off’, is another instrumental with a skanky bass hook that ends the record on a high. The album was repackaged with an extra three tracks in 1984, and features some of UB40’s best work. There is a dark and gloomy reggae reinterpretation of Abel Meeropol’s ‘Strange Fruit’, a song made most famous by Billie Holiday’s haunting rendition. ‘Reefer Madness’ is instrumental with an almost frenetic rhythm that seems to lean more towards the madness than the reefer.


The album closes with one of UB40’s most accomplished pieces of music. At almost 13 minutes in length, ‘Madame Medusa’ is a scathing attack on Margaret Thatcher: “From the tombs of ignorance / Of hate and greed and lies / Through the smoke of sacrifice / Watch her figure rise / The sick the poor the old / Basking in her radiance / Men of blood and gold.” Indeed, the final seven or so minutes of the record are more than a political diatribe, but are an actual call for arms: “Knock her right down / And then she bounce right back / She gone off her head / We've got to shoot her dead” – I’m sure this was meant metaphorically.


Signing Off provides a snap-shot of British social history that captures a sense of helpless frustration at “a world that doesn’t care” that feels only too poignant and relevant today. An excellent album.

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This article was published by Sabotage Times.


Art: Axis @ 21: Being an Artist - Then and Now

Five artists on Axis - Dail Behennah, James Murray, Karen Knorr, John Plowman and Natalie Finnemore discuss how they started out and what's important to them right now.


Dail Behennah

Art was a second career for me. I have a Geography degree and I worked in local government and in the Health Service after graduation. Ideas about mapping and ecology are still important to me.

I learnt basketry and chair seating in evening classes, followed by a City and Guilds at the London College of Furniture.

There’s something about using a hard material and making a vessel that just clicked. When I finished, I received a Crafts Council ‘Setting Up’ grant. The money was helpful, but it was the fact they had faith in me that made me think, “Well, I can’t give up now. I’ve got to make this work.”

My work has become more sculptural, less vessel-based. I had an epiphany when I was 50. I suddenly thought, “Actually I can make anything I want.”

My repeat work sells at a lower price. It’s harder to sell the big pieces. Museums have bought my work, but of course they have no money for acquisitions any more. I’m finding it tough at the moment.

I’ve just had a solo exhibition in a Swedish museum and their regional government has bought a major piece for their permanent collection. So that’ll keep me going for a while!

My advice to younger artists is to be nice to everybody. Be interested and enthusiastic about your work. Small conversations may result in an opportunity years later. People are always the catalysts.

Axis has been really useful, because I’m still working on a website. Being on the directory makes me feel like an artist as well as a craftsperson. In some ways it’s an accident which route you take. As the sculptor Richard Deacon has said, “The handling of materials is an act of thinking.”


 James Murray

I come from a theatre background, so most of my work has a live element to it. I like to work with local folklore and the stories that people tell me.

At the moment I’m setting up a studio with my partner and juggling that alongside full-time employment as an art technician. That can be difficult, but living in London it’s pretty much impossible to survive without it.

I come home from my day job and then spend three or four hours working on my own practice. If you put enough effort in and you’re genuinely good enough, then it will be worth it. That’s what I try and keep in mind!

I’m not making any money out of my work. As soon as you mention performance to galleries or dealers, they switch off. The same goes for video. What I’m hoping to do over the next year, before starting an art post-grad, is to develop a balance between the live works and limited edition prints of documentation.

I was contacted through Axis by the curator of Motorcade/FlashParade and had a show there in March. It made me think that there might not be such a rush to go back to education. One thing I like about artist-led spaces is that there’s this real culture of learning and sharing.

I’ve made some good connections through just mailing people on Axis to say, “Hi, I like your work”. Then you’ve opened up a dialogue with that artist – it’s another person to draw inspiration from and share ideas with and that’s really cool.


Karen Knorr

When I started out in 1977, there was barely any fine art photography art market in the UK. Vintage photography was the main market; and to this day that’s how specialist galleries like Daniel Blau, James Hyman and Eric Franck make most of their money.

Now you have websites such as Getty, Corbis and Saatchi, which sell work by emerging artists in the £2K to £10K range. But the fine art photography market in England is still minuscule.

France was my saving grace. Centre Pompidou was the first to buy my work ‘Gentlemen’, probably the most groundbreaking work I’ve done. But the English establishment’s mentality hasn’t shifted. The moment the Royal Family begins to collect photography, then the whole of the gentry class will do it!

Unless you’re in the right place, at the right time, with the right dealer, it’s very hard to earn a living doing fine art photography. I’ve always taught, and sold work. And I’ve had the best years of my career these last three years. But how long will it last? You constantly have to re-invent.

My advice to younger artists would be - diversify your portfolio, research the way the market works, find your niche and develop it. Don’t stand still. Keep on learning new technology. Update, update.

I think the Arts Council is a wonderful invention, because it supports artists that are uncommercial and ‘difficult’. That’s why I support Axis. That’s why I’m part of this community and encourage my students to join it.


John Plowman
I’m an ‘older generation’ artist and I’m very content where I am with my practice. But working in Higher Education, I’ve noticed that many people are returning to education – older people who are also ‘new’ artists. They find it difficult to get their foot in and that’s food for thought. Other artists’ issues seem to be get much more coverage.

Before the Internet Axis was a completely different beast: I remember you could access an Axis terminal in various places, for example the Building Centre in Store Street, just off Tottenham Court Road. It seems so antiquated now! The database could be accessed by exhibition organisers – at that time there wasn’t the term curator as we understand it now.

People today describe themselves with more labels: artist, writer, curator. Now all those roles have become areas that art practice encompasses, so there are artists who run spaces, curate exhibitions and write criticism.

I point post-graduates towards Axis for research and I’ve used it a lot myself for my curating activities. Over the years people have told me they saw my work on Axis. It increases the visibility of artists and gives them credibility.

My advice to younger artists is that you need to take risks and keep the faith. Don’t be afraid to speak to people – parents call it ‘pester power’. But if you’re pitching to galleries, really make sure you know who you’re pitching to. Don’t just take a standard approach.


Natalie Finnemore

I did my Foundation in Art and Design at the Cumbria Institute of the Arts and began my BA in Fine Art at Sheffield Hallam in 2008.

It’s quite difficult to focus in your first year at art school. It wasn’t until my third year, when I started taking photographs of buildings and architectural forms and using drawing and printmaking too, that my work really developed. The colours I use are often based on the photographs I take, which I usually enhance.

I’m really interested in the process of making. You’ll find that although the work looks clean and well polished, sometimes works are purposely left so the holes and screws are visible. I like Rachel Whiteread’s work, because of the way she uses drawing. I’m also influenced by artists such as Donald Judd, Joseph Albers, Thea Djordjadze and Shahin Afrassiabi.

In my final year I applied for the bursary programme at S1 Artspace and am now a permanent studio holder there. I work part-time and make art three days a week. Friends in London have found it virtually impossible to find an affordable studio space - it’s quite a luxury to have a studio in such a good community that attracts great press as well.

Recently I’ve been selected for Bloomberg New Contemporaries, which is very exciting. I’ve been in a miniature print exhibition in Canada, which I first saw on Axis, and I’m working on a future project with the curator at Vinyl Space in Birmingham, which came from Axis as well.

In future I’d aim to work on a bigger scale and use more expensive materials. I’d like to stay in Sheffield for a few more years. But who knows!

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This article was published on axisweb.org and in Axis Notes 2012.







Sunday, 18 November 2012

Art: Axis @ 21: John Plowman

As part of our 21st anniversary celebrations, we asked a selection of artists to reflect on the artistic landscape since Axisweb was founded.


On the art world:

The landscape has changed, especially in terms of the terminology that’s used. A lot of people today describe themselves with more labels: artist, writer, curator. There was a time when there was a clear distinction between the terms critic, exhibition organiser, artist and the institution, and now all those roles have become areas that art practice encompasses.

There are a lot of new graduates and emerging artists who are older. There doesn’t seem to be a lot on offer for that type of artist. There are people who are very good artists, who have returned to education that find it really difficult to get their foot in the door.


Memories of Axisweb:

I think the aim of Axis in the early days was to create a national database of artists and art works, which could be accessed by what was then called ‘exhibition organisers’ - at that time there wasn’t the term ‘curator’ as we understand it now. This was in the days before the internet: you could access a terminal in certain parts of the country, and get the information there. It seems so antiquated now.


Advice for emerging artists:
You need to take risks and you need to keep the faith. Taking risks is really important, and don’t be afraid to ask people, or speak to people. – parents call it pester power.

This article was featured on axisweb.org.


Monday, 12 November 2012

Music: Keep or Cull No.22: Beta Band - The Three EPs (1998)

One of the first CDs that I bought after going to university was the Beta Band’s Three EPs. When I first moved into halls I put an advert up in the students’ union advertising for a singer to write some songs with to eventually form a band. The first to respond was a singer and guitar player who professed to hating all female singers (I had been listening to quite a bit of PJ Harvey and Tori Amos in the summer before going to uni, and so found this to be a bit short-sighted), he was also a member of the university rugby team. I’ve never been into sports myself, but I’m not the type of person who will hold something against someone because they like different things to me. On Wednesday nights in the student union, I used to DJ the indie room, and one evening before I’d set up, I saw this guy in the union bar with the rugby team, dressed as they all were with shirts and matching ties. I went over to say hello and he completely blanked me. He didn’t just not recognise me, he acted as if I didn’t exist. I felt a bit embarrassed, said “fine”, and walked away. A few days later, he knocked on my door for a practice and he apologised for not speaking to me at the union and told me that he wasn’t allowed to speak to anyone who wasn’t in rugby team on a match day, or he’d have to do a forfeit – what an absolute bell-end. I made my excuses, saying I was on my way out and avoided him for the rest of the year.

The second guy who responded was a few years older than me and was studying for Masters’ degree in digital music technology. He had a degree in physics, but was a music lover through and through. His main instrument was the harmonica, which meant that all of the songs we wrote had to have harmonica solos, and we always ended up doing Bob Dylan covers. He had an immense collection of CDs, and introduced me to a lot of artists I had never heard of, or hadn’t really listened to: Ride, the Boo Radleys, and the Beta Band. I remember one day we were in his room chatting about music, and he had the second Beta Band EP of the Three EPs on vinyl. He played ‘Inner Meet Me’ and I just fell in love with it: it sounded a bit like Beck, but more psychedelic. The next time I went to the HMV in Hanley, I bought my own copy of the Three EPs and played it nonstop for about a fortnight. We never really got anywhere with the band; we did some DJ sets together and wrote some songs, but nothing ever really seemed to click musically.

The first EP, Champion Versions, opens with ‘Dry the Rain’ - arguably of the Beta Band’s finest moments: a transcendent folk song that builds to an uplifting crescendo, with layered vocals, glorious trumpets and an awesome bass-groove. The song is an anthem, and it’s impossible to hear this song and not sing along with the chorus: “If there is something inside that you want to say / say it ,alright, it will be okay / I will be your light / I will be your life” - simply brilliant. ‘Dog’s got a Bone’ is a laidback sleepy song with relaxed guitars and accordion. It doesn’t have the anthemic feel of ‘Dry the Rain’ - it is more inward looking and existential, but very good in very different ways. Opener to the second EP, The Patty Patty Sound, ‘Inner Meet Me’ is probably my favourite track on the collection. It has surreal lyrics that verge on the absurd (“Last night I dreamt somebody fell asleep between my knees / I couldn't help it all my thoughts were rejected by a boy called me”), an otherworldly sound, and the tune is just mind-blowing. ‘She’s the one for me’ treads similar musical ground as ‘Dry the Rain’ but throws in some high-pitched speeded-up vocals in the chorus, just to throw you off your guard. ‘Dr Baker’ from the third EP, Los Amigos del Beta Bandidos, is another highlight, with its walking piano and hypnotic vocals soaked in reverb and given space to breathe. It’s a great piece of music that I would recommend to any music lover.

Again, I am forced to keep another album, and another charity suffers because of my selfishness, but what can you do?

If you like what I do, please leave a comment. You can also recommend Keep or Cull on Facebook or share with friends on Twitter/Google+ (use the links below) or anywhere else. You can also follow me on Twitter @Jon_Cronshaw. Thank you.



Read more articles here: www.keeporcull.co.uk.

Live Review: Selflove @ Milo, Leeds, 6th November 2007

by Ben Smith

Milo was hosting Night Vision, an interesting mix of music and poetry.

Playing first, a three-piece who didn't give their name gave a short mix of covers including and an innovative re-working of Frou Frou's "Let Go" and a somewhat less innovative version of Ryan Adams' "Oh My Sweet Carolina" (maybe they should've done the 'classic' "This Is It"), as well as traditional Irish folk songs. The harmonies and violin over acoustic guitar worked well and showed that in time they could be a name worth looking out for on the Leeds music scene. Once they get one.

Despite a prolonged wait whilst a new PA was drafted in to replace the damaged original, Selflove aka Jon Cronshaw, quickly settled into his stride to produce a fine selection of his own material and a couple of clever covers.

Playing solo with an electro-acoustic guitar, he ripped through his set with urgency and displayed fine musicianship. "Holding Me Down" was delivered with the menace of Johnny Cash's "Personal Jesus" redux and "In Memoriam" was perhaps the highlight for me.

Defying the compere's request to finish one song earlier, he delivered a fitting end to the set with a rendition of Guns N Roses "Sweet Child O' Mine", complete with Axl Rose falsetto and yelps.

Answering questions about the somewhat murky origin of his band name, it was revealed that it had been chosen as the first word he saw when he opened the Bible. Whilst musing over the perhaps less memorable names that fate could've presented, the audience was left to digest a very well-crafted performance.

This is a review of a show I performed at in November 2007, article from Leeds Music Scene..

Art: Axis @ 21 - James Murray

As part of our 21st birthday celebrations, Axis has caught up with members who have benefited from opportunities provided by our site.

I just love the face that you can just get lost in Axisweb, just trawling through the pages of curators and artists. One thing I really like is that on Axisweb there is this real culture of learning and sharing.


I’ve made some really good contacts and connections through just mailing people, saying “Hi, I like your work”, and then you’ve opened up a dialogue with that artist – it’s another person to draw inspiration from and share ideas with and that’s really cool. I really enjoy using Axisweb and I’m going to continue to use it.


Recently, I’ve noticed a new function, is ‘Activities.’ Since I’ve filled in a little bit about myself, I’ve been getting alerts about opportunities that are in keeping with my own work – that’s been a really good feature.

This was originally published by Axisweb.org.




Saturday, 10 November 2012

Art: Axis @ 21 - John Plowman

As part of our 21st birthday celebrations, Axis has caught up with members who have benefited from opportunities provided by our site.

There is a lot of information out there now that artists can access, but Axisweb is meatier.


I’ve used Axis as an educational resource. If you’re teaching postgraduates, it’s a good place to point them to for research. I’ve used it a lot myself with my curating activities to research artists. As a tool, Axisweb is extremely useful.


I’ve had people over the years tell me that they saw my work on Axis, it increases the visibility of artists, and I think that is one of the main challenges for people that are just graduating, it’s getting that visibility on a credible or validated umbrella. I think that having work accepted onto the Axisweb database is a feather in their caps because it has that credibility, and I think that’s where its value is.


This testimonial was used by Axisweb.org.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Music: Dark Horses - Black Music album review

As the nights draw in and the air gets colder, what better way to while away those cold, gloomy nights than in the company of some cold, gloomy music.

Brighton-based Dark Horses’ debut album Black Music is an LP that lives up to its name. Don’t expect catchy guitar riffs or sing-along vocals, this is an album full of anger, misery and self-indulgence and is probably best avoided if you’re looking for anything that doesn’t fit somewhere comfortably between either doom or gloom.

It’s quite obvious from the outset that producer Richard Fearless has had quite a hand in shaping Dark Horses’ sound. ‘Roses’, for example, with its droned bass dirge and gentle percussive thuds would fit comfortably on any Death in Vegas album.

‘Radio’ is one of the most accomplished songs on the album. Honeyed vocals drip melodically over shoegaze guitars and echoic tambourine splashes. This might be the result you’d get if My Bloody Valentine attempted some Motown covers. This is followed by the excellent ’Alone’: with its sleazy krautrock beats and driving bass-line, one is reminded of tracks like Primal Scream’s ‘Autobahn 66’ and Deerhunter’s ‘Nothing Ever Happened’.

It is after such a promising flurry of tracks that the album descends into derivativeness. There are some sporadic moments of note, but the album is so inconsistent that it is difficult to really invest in the songs in any meaningful way. Take for instance the country-tinged industrial dirge of ‘No Dice’, a song with dark booming percussion and desert dried guitar riffs that burst with potential but end up sounding lost and clumsy due to some questionable production choices.

The album dive-bombs further by the time we hit their cover of Talking Head’s ‘Road to Nowhere’. The song is stripped back, and everything that made the original so engaging is cast aside in favour of something twee and grating that will probably end up being used on some washing powder commercial. The last real song on the album, ‘Anna Minor’, manages to sound like something that PJ Harvey might have produced as a B-side in 1998.

The idiom of a dark horse conjures up images of mystery and potential - an underdog with hidden and unexpected talents. Unfortunately the metaphor doesn’t stretch as far as the band themselves who seem quite content with revisiting the same musical roads as acts like the Cocteau Twins, Howling Bells, and Death in Vegas. Black Music is an album of little remark that feels like it takes itself far too seriously. The sombre gloominess that Dark Horses seemed to be driving towards quickly veers off into mundane and incredibly dull territory that is as boring as it is derivative.

With the nights drawing in and the air getting colder, cold and gloomy music just doesn’t hit the spot and something more warming is in order – perhaps the musical equivalent of hot toddy sipped in front of a roaring coal fire.

This article was published by Sabotage Times, Leeds Music Scene and Alternative Music Press.






Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Photography: Sculpture Studies





These photos were taken in spring 2012 at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park near Wakefield, West Yorkshire. Click on the images to enlarge.


Saturday, 3 November 2012

Art: Developing critical writing on the contemporary visual arts

Entering the world of critical art writing can be challenging for emerging writers. Between February and July 2012, Axisweb, in partnership with Arts Council Wales, Art Review and This is Tomorrow, ran a programme of writing workshops and publication support for three emerging writers based in Wales.

The Critical Writing Programme comprised of writing workshops and professional mentoring by three established critics: JJ Charlesworth, associate editor of ArtReview; Cherry Smyth, who writes regularly for publication including Modern Painters, Art Monthly, and Art Review; and Chris Sharratt, editor of creativetimes.co.uk..

“We wanted to develop a professional writing programme that took people away from an academic style, to one which is engaging to a wider audience,” explained Project Coordinator Alicia Miller, “bringing in professionals to give seminars and act as mentors is immensely valuable.”

Three writers were selected in December 2011 to participate in this year’s project: artist Ciara Healy, filmmaker Rowan Lear, and artist, Brychan Tudor. They participated in three half-day workshops which covered a range of subjects including: how to write to a specific audience and engage readers; how to write to different guidelines and specification, and conduct yourself as professional writers; how to find your voice and style, and have the confidence to speak critically.

Ciara Healy’s review of Jonathan Anderson exhibition ‘Coal Dust Mandala’ at Oriel Myrddin, Carmarthen, was published by This is Tomorrow, and has also had her work published in Art Review. “It’s completely changed my career, it’s fantastic!” Ciara explained, “it has really given me the confidence to approach my writing. I was always uncertain about writing poetically and critically and now I’ve developed my own style that I’m more confident about using. It’s my voice that I finally feel as though I’m speaking.”

Rowan Lear produced three pieces of writing that were published by This is Tomorrow, including a review of Zoe Leonard’s exhibition ‘Observation Point’ at Camden Art Centre, London. Rowan saw the project as “a really positive experience. It gave me a real confidence boost with my writing. I learnt some really useful skills like how to write to guidelines and how to get work published.”

Brychan Tudor’s review of Singapore artist Zhao Renhui ‘The Institute of Critical Zoologists’ exhibition at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff was also published by This is Tomorrow. Brychan thought that “it was an incredible experience. It was a chance to get a real feel the professionalism of writing. It wasn’t just meeting the writers, but I learnt a lot from the other participants.”

The experience was a positive one for all involved. Chris Sharratt, a mentor on the programme, was delighted that his “advice and feedback was useful. I think you can sometimes take for granted the knowledge and experience you have acquired over the years, and working with writers who are still finding their feet is really rewarding.” Cherry Smyth explained that “all of the participants had particularly strong voices which made it very easy to identify their style and their interests. It was really a joy to do.”

There are plans to run the project again next year to help raise the profile of Welsh arts and emerging writers based in the region.

This article was featured in Axis Notes 2012.

Music: Keep or Cull No.22: Blind Boys of Alabama - Spirit of the Century (2001)

Regular readers will no doubt be aware that I live with visual impairment, and so you’d think that the Blind Men of Alabama would provide the perfect opportunity to talk a bit more about my experiences with the disability. Instead, I’m going to talk about one of the greatest TV shows ever made: The Wire.

The Wire ruined TV for me. Before watching The Wire I’d happily watch reality shows, soap operas and quiz shows without a second thought. Today, I hardly watch TV at all; there are so many poorly-made, badly-written, superficial shows that I don’t tend to waste my time. The Wire has turned me into a bit of a TV snob: it’s not that I care what anyone else watches, I just hate watching crap.

The Wire is a detective drama set in Baltimore, and weaves together a number of interlinking stories that highlight the corruption that exists in public life and on the streets. In simple terms, each series revolves around a major investigation which somehow involves wire-taps. As well as the usual motifs of police drama, The Wire strives to tell the story from all angles: the police, the drug dealers, the media, and the schools, to name a few.

For those who haven’t seen The Wire, I should warn you that it is not an easy show to watch: the storylines are sweeping in their scale and cutting in their social commentary; the characters are complex; there is a lot of ambiguity - you find yourself sympathising with the drug dealers; and it makes no concessions to the casual viewer. Indeed, each series has a different focus and a different key cast of characters who sometimes appear again, and sometimes not. Detective Jimmy McNulty, who is positioned as the main focal character in the first series, is sidelined in the second series. Nick Sobotka, a central character in the second series is never seen again. D'Angelo Barksdale, a mid-level drug dealer who has reservations about “the game”, is ultimately murdered and made to look like he’d done a Michael Hutchins because he’d turned his back on his crew. Perhaps most impressive is that the character you end up rooting for the most is Omar: an open homosexual who robs drug dealers. These are bold statements from its network and writers, especially when we consider that TV networks are ostensibly driven by the need for ratings and advertising revenue.

I realise that The Wire isn’t for everyone, and if you think that Deborah Morgan’s character in Dexter is complex and subtle, that The Shield is a carefully observed portrayal of law enforcement, or that the dialogue in Eastenders really captures what it’s like in East London, then The Wire probably isn’t for you.

When I watch TV now, I can’t help but compare it to The Wire - and when I do I usually end up turning the TV off. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some excellent dramas released in the past few years: Red Riding was astonishing; Mad Men was brilliant; Walking Dead and Battlestar Galactica were very good; and I’m currently working my way through Breaking Bad. Is it so wrong of me to want something that’s good?

On the opening credits to The Wire, the song ‘Way Down in the Hole’ is performed, in each series by a different artist. In the first series it was the Blind Boys of Alabama who provided a version of the song, and I just had to buy the album. ...

Read the full article HERE.

Art: Axis @ 21 - Tony Stallard

As part of our 21st birthday celebrations, Axis has caught up with members who have benefited from opportunities provided by our site.

After responding to an opportunity posted on Axisweb, sculptor Tony Stallard tells us about his recent commission ‘Ghost in the Machine’: a light-based sculpture to be permanently exhibited in the Playhouse Theatre, Harlow.

The piece, which was commissioned in November 2011, is a work which ‘plays with the nature of the theatre and its past’. Stallard explains that the work, which is constructed in steel with pulsating LED lights, will incorporate a depiction of a harlequin entering the Playhouse ‘in an ethereal way, as a reflection of the theatre and its relationship with its public - both now and of the past.’

The history of theatre and the history of the Playhouse have played a key role in informing Stallard’s latest work, noting that it ‘suggests the strange and almost surreal joining of the past and the present, and in particular the nature of the Playhouse and its contemporary environment.’ He hopes that the work will serve to highlight ’the theatrical legacy evolving from its ancestry (in every sense of the word) which is particularly important in Harlow and its roots in pantomime.’ Indeed, the audience’s metaphysical response to the work is key to the sculpture’s effect, with its pulsating lights suggesting a hidden, ethereal world. Stallard explains: ‘This is particularly true in this case as the work would seem to emanate from the back of the theatre and suggest a ghostly presence, or a kind of echo from the interior.’


‘Ghost in the Machine’ is currently being produced, with the aim of being installed by the end of 2012.

This article was produced for axisweb.org.





Thursday, 1 November 2012

Music: Keep or Cull No.21: Blur - Parklife (1994)

For Christmas in 1994, my parents bought me two CDs: Oasis’s Definitely Maybe and Blur’s Parklife. These albums were pivotal in the development of the UK indie scene. I was a huge fan of both bands, and saw the whole media storm surrounding their rivalry as a bit contrived to say the least. A lot of it seemed to be more of a rivalry between the North and South that, as a Midlander, I could never really relate to. It reminded me of playground squabbles over whether Nintendo was better than Sega or Ultimate Warrior better than Hulk Hogan.


What I liked most about Parklife at the time was the fact that the inner sleeve included the guitar chords for many of the songs. I’d received a guitar for Christmas the previous year from my uncle, and there were very few ways back then of getting hold of guitar tab without spending a load of money on sheet music. A lot of the time I’d work stuff out by ear, or occasionally borrow tab books from Wolverhampton Central Library. One of the first songs I learnt to play from the album was End of a Century, a nice simple song that I used to impress a couple of girls I fancied at school during music lessons.


Read the full article HERE.

Comics: Die Plankton



Art: Curated Selection: Axis of Spooky

I was invited by Axisweb to create a curated selection of contemporary art from their database with a spooky theme for Halloween.

View the selection HERE.