What art have I seen? Ross Birrell The Transit of Hermes

Posted in Exhibitions by chrisfremantle on April 23, 2018

Ross Birrell’s Transit of Hermes at the CCA, Glasgow

Tagged with: , ,

Still Life Wednesday 18 April 2018

Posted in Still Life by chrisfremantle on April 18, 2018

Tagged with:

Failure (ceramics)

Posted in Failure by chrisfremantle on April 3, 2018

“Anyone working with ceramics requires a wealth of knowledge, patience, and painstaking skills, but also the ability to cope with failure—using it to grow as artists.” Read the rest here

What art have I seen? Séan Hillen

Posted in Exhibitions by chrisfremantle on March 22, 2018
Tagged with: ,

What art have I seen? Séan Hillen

Posted in Exhibitions by chrisfremantle on March 22, 2018
Tagged with: ,

What art have I seen? Lee Lozano

Posted in Exhibitions, Strike, Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on March 16, 2018

Lee Lozano Slip, Slide,Splice at the Fruitmarket Gallery. I bought her Notebook republished by Primary Information years ago, partly because I like scores and instructions and partly because we were working on Calendar Variations and I was looking for artists working with grass.

Tagged with:

What art have I seen? A Global Table

Posted in Exhibitions, Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on March 3, 2018

A Global Table at the Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem, Netherlands (thanks to the snow-cancelled flight.

The sound of cicadas is evocative and the Carribean accents confirm that although I’m standing in the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem outside Amsterdam, Shelley Sacks has transported me to an island far away. I’m standing listening to a man or a woman talk about being a banana farmer and the way that global trade affects their lives and livelihoods. In front of me is a mat of pressed banana skins, positioned like a portrait. If I put my nose close I can just get the musk, though the museum’s air conditioning has done for it really. I listen to the voice on headphones. There are twenty portraits around the room. Twenty different voices. Twenty different glimpses into lives and livelihoods. In the middle is a large round table, the centre of which is filled with dried banana skins. The table and benches invite conversation. Irreverently I wonder if the museum staff ate all the bananas, or did a local baker make a lot of banana bread? Gill makes good banana bread. I eat bananas because they are a good snack and don’t give me wind. They are part of my domestic life and Shelley’s installation asks me to relate my domestic to through a series of scales to another domestic and regional, linked by a global corporate system of trade. One of the banana farmers asks the Europeans (i.e. me but probably a bureaucrat or politician in practical terms) to help the banana farmers against the American multi-nationals.

It would be great to be part of one of the conversations that happen around this table periodically.

Other works in the exhibition invite you to participate in a ritual with salt to recognise its role in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade

; or tell you about the ‘policing’ of relationships between Dutch men and indigenous and mixed women in the Indonesian colonies; or explores the batik business in which the Dutch as all good merchants do took from the Africans all sorts of designs and then sold them the materials. These and other works in the exhibition all revealed or described situations, where Shelley Sacks’ piece opens up a dialogue. In her work no simple moral position is offered. Rather we are asked to engage with the lives of the banana farmers.

Sadly the complimentary part of the exhibition focusing on Food in Still Life painting had been replaced at the Museum. It had been replaced with paintings on the theme of humour. Actually this is an interesting juxtaposition. The exhibition blurb is,

Naughty children, stupid peasants, foolish dandies and befuddled drunks, quack doctors, pimps, procuresses, lazy maids and lusty ladies – they figure in large numbers in Golden Age masterpieces. The Art of Laughter: Humour in the Golden Age presents the first ever overview of humour in seventeenth-century painting.

These paintings offer a moral commentary on society. They do this with beautifully rendered scenes containing jokes and knowing winks. Sex is alluded to through visual language of hares and skewers and the audience is captured by knowing looks. Scenes are ripe with meaning and compositions juxtapose meaning in revealing ways. Not all the contemporary works dealt with their subject matter with such finesse.

What art have I seen? Hamburger Bahnhof

Posted in Exhibitions, Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on March 2, 2018

2018-03-02 14.09.09

Several amazing Robert Rauschenberg works.

Also major pieces by Joseph Beuys at the Hamburger Bahnhof including ‘Tallow’ originally made for Skulptur Projekte Munster and now in the collection. Caroline Tisdall’s description is much more evocative than the one on the archive website.

What art have I seen? Workspace at W OR M

Posted in Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on February 22, 2018

Had my hair cut by Workspace’s Jimmy. Workspace has temporarily relocated to Peacock’s W OR M on the Castlegate.

Detail of Dunfermline life

What art have I seen? Mark Dion’s Theatre of the Natural World

Posted in Exhibitions, Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on February 16, 2018
Tagged with:

What art have I seen? The Land We Live In – The Land We Left Behind

Posted in Exhibitions, Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on January 27, 2018

The Land We Live In – The Land We Left Behind at Hauser & Wirth, Somerset. Enormous exhibition curated by Adam Sutherland.

This exhibition is in parts a bit like a rural museum managed by volunteers with cases of curiosities (models of bird feathers probably ten times life size, a doorstop homage to Robert Burns, various other tchotchkis). The first room you enter had a number of artists’s projects that explored food production. Another had strange hybrid works including an applebarn doubling as a confessional. The end wall of that room had a video piece which included a shocking segment of a cow being killed with a bolt gun in an abbatoir.

Whilst it is great to see the exploration of the rural in art and craft, the curation in the end felt conventional rather than radical. It’s a question of balance – the room with the food production projects was too modest and the room with the arty installation pieces was too overblown. The shocking video was just shocking. In about 1970 Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison exhibited, as part of a group show at the Hayward Gallery, a portable fish farm. This led to a storm of protest because they proposed to kill and eat the fish at the end of the exhibition. What were catfish, a staple food in the US, were carp kept as pets in the UK. The Harrisons’ scale of production was also more interesting – enough to produce a feast. The food production in The Land We Live In might keep a family in lettuce for a couple of weeks – it’s is certainly not enough to supply the Gallery restaurant. That installation should have been a whole room producing vegetables and fish for the restaurant. How would we have felt seeing the fish swimming around and then having them killed for our lunch?

We had too much ‘big art’ and not enough big ideas.

What art have I seen? Soutine’s Portraits: Cooks, Waiters & Bellboys

Posted in Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on January 3, 2018

What art have I seen? From Life

Posted in Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on January 3, 2018

From Life at the Royal Academy – centred around Jeremy Deller’s Iggy Pop Life Class it also included the brilliant film by Cia Gou-Qiang – One Thousand Youngsters Drawing David.

Tended to agree with Timeout review that it was not brilliantly curated – last two rooms a bit of a guddle. Better to have more of Michael Landy’s portraits and fewer other bits and pieces.

Tagged with:

Tim Rollins, 1955-2017. RIP

Posted in Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on December 31, 2017

I had the great pleasure to participate in a workshop led by Tim Rollins and organised at the Talbot Rice Gallery in conjuction with is exhibition. He was inspirational, a preacher for art and a leader of people.


Artnews –  

Vice –

No Maintenance?

Posted in Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on December 31, 2017

What art have I seen? David Bomberg at Pallant House

Posted in Exhibitions by chrisfremantle on December 31, 2017

RIP Linda Nochlin 1931-2017

Posted in Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on November 9, 2017

What art have I seen? Vertigo Sea

Posted in Exhibitions by chrisfremantle on November 3, 2017
Tagged with: ,

What art have I seen? Dada Africa

Posted in Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on October 23, 2017

At Musée de L’Orangerie ‘Dada Africa: Sources et influences extra-occidentales’. Also Monet’s ‘Waterlilies’.

What art have I seen? Nazimî Yaver Yenal at Istanbul Research Institute

Posted in Exhibitions by chrisfremantle on October 4, 2017

What art have I seen? Istanbul Biennial

Posted in Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on October 3, 2017

What art have I seen? Istanbul Biennial

Posted in Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on October 3, 2017

What art have I seen? Jac Leirner

Posted in Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on September 20, 2017

At the Fruitmarket, Edinburgh. Art made from the everyday. I think that resistance affects how long a piece of wire can connect a socket to a bulb?

What art have I seen? Soul of a Nation

Posted in Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on September 9, 2017

Soul of a Nation at Tate Modern

Lorraine O’Grady, ‘Art is…’ (detail) 1983

Compelling exhibition bringing together many distinct groups of artists (East Coast, Los Angeles, Abstraction, Graphic Design, etc) tackling vital and complex questions starting in 1963 at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Aspects such as self organising galleries are common to many artists groups. Addressing lynchings and the bombings of churches not so much. You couldn’t have a more complex exhibition on ‘representation’.

What art haven’t I seen? Martin Puryear

Posted in Exhibitions, Failure by chrisfremantle on September 8, 2017

David Braine 1940-2017 RIP

Posted in Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on September 3, 2017

The Archive of Failure

Posted in Failure, Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on August 16, 2017

What art have I seen? Life of John the Baptist

Posted in Exhibitions, Sited work by chrisfremantle on July 31, 2017


Andrea del Sarto’s Life of John the Baptist at the Chiostro dello Scalzo. Last here 18 years ago. Just as good.

Salome’s Dance

What art have I seen? Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden

Posted in Exhibitions, Sited work by chrisfremantle on July 26, 2017

Detail from The Emperor

I have a particular love of artists’ personal projects (Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Little Sparta, Charles Jencks’ Garden outside Dumfries) and Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden is no exception. Quirky and deeply personal under a veneer of playground fun.

The Devil

Fascinated to read that Tinguely did a lot of the welding for the armatures and that the ceramics were largely made, fired and glazed on-site.

The Moon

What art have I seen? Piero Gilardi

Posted in Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on July 20, 2017

The rules of hospital art: ‘If you can’t clean it, you can’t have it’

Posted in Maintenance by chrisfremantle on July 19, 2017

The ambitious programme for the new Children’s Hospital in Dublin here highlighted in the press with the importance of maintenance, “If you can’t clean it, you can’t have it”. Clearly this strategy aims to focus on the needs of the patient and is being led by the Youth Council. They want a building that doesn’t look like a hospital, but can they use the constraints of cleaning and maintenance creatively? For more on that thought read my blog on the London Arts in Health Forum.

What art have I seen? Collection Gori

Posted in Exhibitions, Sited work, Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on July 18, 2017

What art have I seen? Hokusai

Posted in Exhibitions by chrisfremantle on July 7, 2017

What art have I seen? Dreamers Awake

Posted in Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on July 6, 2017

Dreamers Awake must be the largest exhibition comprising only women artists that I’ve ever seen – good on White Cube for mounting it. As the reviewers have said, Surrealism is very much associated with men but this shows that it’s a thread running through the 20th and into 21st Century.

Daniel Dennett on the Dignity of Being Wrong and Art-Science of Making Fertile Mistakes

Posted in Failure by chrisfremantle on July 5, 2017

“The chief trick to making good mistakes is not to hide them — especially not from yourself. Instead of turning away in denial when you make a mistake, you should become a connoisseur of your own mistakes, turning them over in your mind as if they were works of art, which in a way they are. … The trick is to take advantage of the particular details of the mess you’ve made, so that your next attempt will be informed by it and not just another blind stab in the dark.”

What art have I seen? Raphael Drawings

Posted in Exhibitions by chrisfremantle on June 29, 2017

What art have I seen? Aleksandra Mir

Posted in Exhibitions by chrisfremantle on June 28, 2017

Aleksandra Mir’s Space Tapestry: Earth Observation and Human Spaceflight at Modern Art Oxford as well as Kazem Hakimi’s Portraits from A Chip Shop (also at the Fire Station).

What art have I seen? Random Archive at Bury Art Museum

Posted in Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on June 24, 2017

Random Archive at Bury Art Museum – excellent, challenging and provocative installation including the rant above. 
Drifts into the permanent collection, elegantly curated mix of new and old including Paul Scott’s ceramics. One wall has work from a life drawing class which would appear to take place in the space (evidence in the form of easels). In fact there are tables for art classes pretty much everywhere intimating a very used and animated space.

What art have I seen? Patricia Cain’s ‘Seeing Beyond’ at Gracefield Arts Centre

Posted in Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on June 15, 2017

Patricia Cain’s Seeing Beyond at Gracefield Arts Centre and the Seeing Beyond the Immediate seminar in partnership with Upland.
The exhibition emerges from a residency and includes works by Wilhelmina Barns-Graham. It explores the relationship between figuation and abstraction through the eyes and hand of the artist. 

Touring to Hawick and Glasgow.

What art have I seen? Tschabalala Self and Richard Wright

Posted in Exhibitions, Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on June 9, 2017

Tschabalala Self at the Tramway and Richard Wright at The Modern Institute. In passing saw Florian Hecker at the Tramway and Manfred Pernice at The Modern Institute.

Transformations 2017

Posted in CV, Research, Texts, Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on June 6, 2017

Abstract for the Transformations 2017 conference in Dundee. Accepted.

ecoart as a practice of understanding the world

In 2007 the artist Eve Mosher drew a line on the streets of New York based on current science indicating the impact of a major storm surge – a hundred-year flood. The line followed the contour 10 feet above sea level. Mosher used a ‘heavy hitter,’ the wheelbarrow-like device used to mark the lines on sports fields. Mosher worked on High Water Line, as she titled the project, on and off for six months, photographing the line as she made it. The context was the noted total lack of discussion of climate change in the City and National elections.

Not long after Hurricane Sandy struck New York in 2012 The New Yorker magazine carried a story (Kolbert) about High Water Line. In the article Mosher is quoted saying, “I wanted to leave this visually interesting mark, to open up a space for conversation…” and goes on to say, “The other part of the project was to try to prod some kind of conversation on a government level.”

Some artists describe what they do as ‘eco-art’ (and themselves as ‘ecoartists’). This neologism is a contraction of “art (or arts) and ecology”. It represents a still emergent form of practice (albeit with a history back to the late 1960s) which is distinctive in several aspects, not least in seeking to ‘do good in the world’.

Key elements of ecoart include a focus on context and a concern with human interaction with ecological systems; the frequency of interdisciplinarity between artists and scientists (natural and social) drawing out the complexity of these ecological interactions; the embedding of dialogue leading to wider learning by others living and working in the context.

These elements, along with more formal considerations of making art, combine to form the aesthetic, the tangible and experiential quality of the work, the focus of judgement by the artists concerned.

Mosher’s High Water Line demonstrates all of these characteristics. The context, New York, is where Mosher lives and the work explores the relationship between the artist, other inhabitants and the immediate ecological systems. The context is also the issue of climate change, and in particular the issue of public discourse at the community and civic levels. Mosher drew on readily available science modelling the increase frequency of storm surges. Mosher was doing a field study of published science, exploring what it ‘looks like on the ground’ and what it means to inhabitants. In terms of formal considerations the work, the use of everyday, non-art equipment and materials, the temporal intervention where ‘the work’ exists in documentation, and the performative and social character situate the work in relation to other artists’ practices. Critiques of this work might ask whether it is a work in its own right, or simply and illustration of existing science? Is it merely an exercise in climate change communications, or an artwork in its own right? A key question is the status of learning, Mosher’s own and her intended audiences, within the work – does if form an essential aspect of the aesthetic of the work?

There has been considerable focus on developing our understanding of the aesthetics of social and participatory practices (Bourriaud 1998, Helguera 2011, Jackson 2011, Kester 2004, 2011), but less attention has been paid to ecoart practice. Specific attempts (Kagan 2011) to explore ecoart as an art engaged with sustainability have drawn on thinking about auto-poesis as well as Gregory Bateson’s writings. Others (Douglas and Fremantle 2016a, 2016b) have focused on the formal aspects that are rooted in what might be called core art practices such as composition and improvisation.

The purpose of this paper will be to propose an understanding of education and learning within the practices of selected ecoartists.

Bourriaud, N. 1998. Relational Aesthetics. Les Presse du Reel

Douglas, A. and Fremantle, C. 2016. ‘What Poetry Does Best: The Harrisons’ Poetics of Being and Acting in the World’ in Harrison, H.M. and Harrison, N. The Time of the Force Majeure: After 45 Years Counterforce Is on the Horizon. Prestel, pp 455-460

Douglas, A. and Fremantle, C. 2016. ‘Inconsistency and Contradiction: Lessons in Improvisation in the work of Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison’. In Elemental: an Arts and Ecology Reader. The Gaia Project, pp 153-181.

Helguera, P., 2011. Education for Socially Engaged Art: A Materials and Techniques Handbook. Jorge Pinto Books

Jackson, S., 2011. Social Works: Performing Art, Supporting Publics. London and New York: Routledge

Kagan, S. 2011. Art and Sustainability: Connecting Patterns for a Culture of Complexity. Transcript Verlag

Kester, G. H., 2011. The One and the Many: Contemporary Collaborative Art in a Global Context. Duke University Press

Kester, G. H., 2004. Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern Art. University of California Press

Kolbert, E., Crossing the Line, The New Yorker, November 12, 2012 accessed at, 31 October 2016

Imagining the Mediterranean

Posted in Failure, Research, Texts, Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on June 4, 2017

This abstract was submitted to the Imagining The Mediterranean Congress scheduled for September. Unfortunately it wasn’t accepted.

Science and Cultural Heritage: Transdisciplinary Practices and Artists

Current socio-political contexts are shaped in increasingly complex ways by environmental issues which in turn are informed on the one hand by natural sciences and on the other by cultural factors. There are considerable challenges in adequately integrating specialist scientific perspectives with those from the humanities: yet policies (particularly for change adaptation and resilience) are likely to be much more successful if they take on more holistic approaches.

The intergovernmental Convention on Wetlands, the Ramsar Convention, established to protect the values and functions of wetlands, addresses this challenge through the Ramsar Culture Network. The Network includes interest groups and specialist experts in thematic areas ranging from indigenous knowledge and spiritual values to agriculture and food, youth, tourism, art and architecture.

This paper will focus on the role of artists (a term which will be explained as embracing contemporary practices that may surprise some readers by the variety of scientific and socio-political roles that are played), highlighting key examples of artists involved in wetland biodiversity and related cultural heritage. Some artists choose to engage with non-arts contexts, including projects with scientists, planners, landowners and local communities.

In the immediate Spanish context, artists have been drawn to record and represent Las Tablas de Daimiel, one of the first Ramsar designated wetlands in Spain. In particular Ignacio de Meco whose paintings document the landscape and form an important record of a changing environment (2010).

Lillian Ball’s GO Doñana (2008) project, part of an on-going series based on the game of Go, was an invited part of the International Bienal of Sevilla. As the audience interacted with the projected Go board, each move activated the video/sound viewpoints of scientists, farmers, environmentalists, landowners, and park guides.

In a wider Mediterranean context the artist, biologist and environmental activist Brandon Ballengée has worked with the Parco Arte Vivente in Turin (2011). His ongoing project Malamp, focusing on mutations in amphibians, is pursued throughscientific enquiry, art installations and “eco-actions” involving varied communities in field work.

Further examples include Liz Nicol’s on-going work in the Venice Lagoon and Shai Zakai’s work Concrete Creek (1999-2002) in Israel as well as Jane Ingram Allen’s ongoing Cheng Long Wetlands International Environmental Art Project.

Some of the strongest impetus for attention to these matters in the Ramsar context has come from initiatives pioneered in the Mediterranean region, and global leadership continues to be provided from this part of the world. The paper will draw out the transdisciplinary characteristics of artists’ practices which address both the cultural and scientific aspects of environmental contexts and policies.


Allen, Jane Ingram. Cheng-Long Wetlands International Environmental Art Project.

Alvarez-Cobelas, M., Cirujano, S. and Meco, A. ‘The Man and Las Tablas de Daimiel’ in Ecology of Threatened Semi-Arid Wetlands: Long-Term Research in Las Tablas de Daimiel. Dordrecht Heidelberg London New York: Springer. 2010

Cravero, Claudio. Praeter Naturam: Brandon Ballengée. Parco Arte Vivente, Centro D’Arte Contemporanea, Torino. 2011.

Culture and Wetlands: A Ramsar Guidance Document. Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, 1971) Culture Working Group. Gland. 2008. accessed 26 April 2017

Zakai, S. Concrete Creek: Artist’s Statement 1999. accessed 30 April 2017

Oxford Futures Forum 2017

Posted in Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on June 1, 2017

Abstract accepted by Oxford Futures Forum (2-3 June 2017). Heading there now.

What is the role of artists in relation to land use?

Lucy R Lippard says in her recent book Undermining (2014) that she finds ‘landscape’ to be a difficult word, trapped in the art domain, and that living in the American West the term ‘land use’ is more relevant.

This affirmed a line of research and writing I’ve been engaged in for more than 18 months, concerned particularly with artists whose work addresses land use and could contribute to Land Use Policy. This is only one aspect of artists’ working with environmental and ecological issues, but it is an area of key relevance to the Oxford Future Forum agenda. ‘Land use’ directly describes the current construction of human use of land as a resource, with all the implied contradictions. Whilst artists and designers are sometimes involved to support ‘public engagement’ through creative approaches, I’m interested in the work of artists who also work strategically imagining different futures and sometimes work to deliver them. Practices such as Collins and Goto, Stephen Hurrel, Kate Foster, John Wallace, Anne-Marie Culhane and internationally Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison are drawing on social/cultural histories as well as scientific disciplines (eg Forest Ecology, Soil Science, Coastal Defence or Marine Biology) to synthesise new understandings of specific places at a range of scales. This can be understood as the formation of scenarios, albeit presented as artworks.

The development of Ecosystems Services Assessment makes this work more significant given that it specifically includes the Cultural dimension, an area which the sciences and environmental management find challenging to move beyond obvious designations of scenic beauty (spiritual value) or path networks (leisure value). But it is worth noting that the artistic practices cited above , through cultural approaches, can also address the Provisioning (i.e. products obtained including food and fuel), Regulating (e.g. water purification) and Supporting (e.g. soil formation and photosynthesis) aspects of Ecosystems Services Assessment. An apparently cultural approach to river ecology might envisage interventions which affect water quality and flow management. A good example is the Harrisons’ Atempause Für Den Save Flüss / Breathing Space for the Sava River (1990) which proposed an ecosystemic approach to cleaning the Sava River which was also implemented on the nearby Drava River.

Artists are in some cases able to go beyond representing landscape to create value in areas not previously perceived as valuable through conceptual, policy and practical interventions produced with communities, environmental managers, engineers and scientists. In doing so they demonstrate complex skill sets including social engagement, collaboration and interdisciplinarity as well as the production of process and object-based art.

The challenge is to engage policy makers (as well as curators) at regional and national level in understanding the value of these practices. Another challenge is to understand how to extend this type of work, which currently exists as unique projects, across multiple different administrative regions.

I work as a researcher and producer across arts & ecologies and arts & health. I was the producer for the Harrisons’ Greenhouse Britain: Losing Ground, Gaining Wisdom and have recently co-authored two chapters on their aesthetics. I’ve worked with a number of the artists mentioned above. I established ecoartscotland as a platform for research and practice in 2010. ecoartscotland is multi-dimensional, collaborating with the Land Art Generator Initiative on a major project for Glasgow, participating in exhibitions at Edinburgh College of Art and Summerhall Arts Centre, publishing ‘occasional papers’ under an ISSN, and connecting a large network of practitioners through a blog.


Harrison, Helen Mayer and Harrison, Newton, Atempause Für Den Save Flüss, Ljubljana: Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, Moderna Galerija, 1990
Lippard, Lucy, R. Undermining: A Wild Ride Through Land Use, Politics, and Art in the Changing West, New York: The New Press, 2014

What art have I seen? Souvenir

Posted in Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on May 28, 2017

Souvenir by Victoria Bianchi on Ayr Beachfront. A journey back to the heyday of Ayr Beach, reminiscing without being corny or stereotypical, this was physical, engaging and touching by turns.

What art have I seen? Loraine Leeson and Peter Dunn’s The Things That Make You Sick at the ICA

Posted in Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on May 26, 2017

The Things That Make You Sick: East London Health Campaigning, 1977-1980 by Loraine Leeson and Peter Dunn at the ICA until 2 July.

Brilliant to revisit the serious radicalism of these artists work with local Unions and Trades Councils to support local campaigns against hospital closures as well as raise issues of ‘health over profits’ and women’s rights. The issues are the same today though I’m not sure the art practices have the political alignment or intention. These artists put themselves at the service of local people’s needs as part of campaigns – they felt that it was better not being instigators (as they had been in a previous project). Lots to learn.

What art have I seen?Picasso: Minotaurs and Matadors at Gagosian

Posted in Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on May 26, 2017

What art have I seen? Cerith Wyn Evans

Posted in Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on May 25, 2017

No Maintenance: Chris Dooks

Posted in Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on May 10, 2017


Can taking ‘no maintenance’ as a creative challenge inspire new approaches to art in healthcare settings? This is the challenge I posed in a blog for the London Arts in Health Forum based on a paper published in the new Design for Health Journal.

The intention is to provoke new approaches to making public art (or sited work) for hospitals and healthcare settings. Having considerable experience of managing the commissioning process, it seems to me that we need new ways to think about the challenge and the particularly difficult requirements of ‘no maintenance’ in a high ‘wear and tear’ context like a hospital. But the intention is to raise deeper philosophical and theoretical issues around ‘care’ and ‘maintenance’, and underlying questions of value.

One of the artists who has responded is interdisciplinary artist, composer and researcher Chris Dooks. In 2014 Dooks completed The Fragmented Filmmaker, Emancipating The Exhausted Artist, his Phd on his art practice in relation to his Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (CFS-ME). The Phd took the form of three vinyl records (yellow, blue and red) and an autoethnographic text. Despite this condition Dooks has undertaken residencies in Berlin as well as with Woodend Barn, Aberdeenshire; Timespan in Helmsdale; and made work in response to the Dark Skies Park in the South West of Scotland.

Dooks’ research proposes that making art could be a way of coping with his CFS-ME even though the very character of the condition limits the ability to do the things normally associated with making art.

Dooks proposes that ways of making art, in particular ‘bricolage’, defined as ‘construction achieved by using whatever comes to hand’, are compatible with ‘low energy’ generally and his condition specifically. Dooks says, “The Holy Grail is to make something with conceptual value without actually ‘making’ anything at all.”
Each of Dooks three works for his Phd addresses a different method and a different challenge. He describes each of the three projects as experiments within a personal arts laboratory. One is focused by cosmology, another by the limitations of a broken harmonium and the third by what you can record from your windowsill.
In each case they address specific challenges of CFS-ME, such as not being able to leave your house, or the need for aids to sleep. Dooks says of this last challenge, “…one aspect of that is to create ‘soporific sonics’ – where tones to aid sleep and rest are cherished prizes, when found.” But each is also much more. Each demonstrates the potential of making art from whatever comes to hand, including broken instruments, conversations with strangers and ambient sounds.

In the sleeve notes for Ciga{r}les (the yellow album) Dooks explores the relationship between his own “predicament”, the “unpleasant and inconvenient limitations” he lives with, in relation to the wider importance of limitation and context in the making of any artwork. He juxtaposes these limitations with the necessity of limiting oneself when making an artwork, selecting what to work with and what to leave aside, editing and in the end knowing when to stop.

The question that I’m raising is asking artists to shift ‘no maintenance’ from an external limitation into a self-imposed creative constraint. Dooks’ work also explores using his illness as a part of his creative process, both for his own wellbeing and as part of cultural projects.

Of course one of the sharpest aspects is that whilst Dooks constructs sound with care for his own wellbeing and for our pleasure, most healthcare environments, and in particular hospitals, are characterised by monitors and alarms, a constant barrage of random noise. Although most work made for hospitals and healthcare settings is visual and applied art, Dooks’ work makes a compelling case for needing to address the sonic environments.

No Maintenance – a creative challenge for public art in healthcare settings

Posted in Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on May 3, 2017

Thanks to the London Arts and Health Forum for the opportunity to share the idea that maintenance can be a creative inspiration for art in hospitals.

London Arts in Health Forum blog

By Chris Fremantle

Maintenance is one of the most difficult challenges in public art, especially working with the public sector, because no-one wants to commit to long term costs. As a result many briefs, and I’ve written my share of them recently for new projects in hospitals, specify zero or at best low maintenance. They go on to stipulate that any cleaning must utilise equipment already in use. Art must be able to cope with chlorine-based cleaning products and even with steam cleaning. Often the response is to do what we normally do but to specify more robust materials.

What if we imagined ‘no maintenance’ as a positive opportunity? What if zero maintenance was a creative challenge for artists and designers and a benefit for hospital patients, families, carers and staff (medical, nursing and support)? Could we still provide a positive distraction, aid way-finding, support patient dignity, make distinctive ‘places’…

View original post 1,181 more words

Museum of Failure

Posted in Failure by chrisfremantle on April 24, 2017

Comments Off on Museum of Failure

%d bloggers like this: