We are delighted to announce that Maggie Gray and Denise Kwan are the winners of the inaugural Art & Culture Art Criticism Prize, judged by Donald Eastwood, Editor of MurmurART's Dialogue. The two winners will share the £250 prize and the winning submissions can be seen below with comments from Donald.


Winner: Maggie Gray

Good subject, choosing an exhibition that is not so high profile means they cannot rely on other reviews. Good use of dictionary in the introduction for once - excellent pace and fluency in the writing, easy to read and playful - also good consideration for the reader, the more complex ideas well expressed and explained. Slighty too many parentheses. Very good structuring of argument at both sentence and paragraph level - beautifully concluded with a confident but an open conclusion. Overall, lovely style, economy of language and articulate description. The open endedness was equally appreciated, though they could have developed more of an argument, i.e. globally I was left feeling the writer, while very perceptive about it was not that involved in their viewing of the exhibition.


Winner: Denise Kwan

Impressive start, astute use of language and excellent scene setting - takes the reader easily into complicated thought over the works. Evidence of the writers art historical knowledge, without it being forced upon the reader -  equally the writer's description of their own reaction is well-grounded and measured. Allusions are enlightening and universally understandable. Overall, very impressive indeed. This piece really needs little or no editing. It is very enlightening while never straying into didacticism, achieving the desirable impression of having shared the writer's articulate respond to this exhibition.
























Winner: Review by Maggie Gray

Hydrarchy: Power and Resistance at Sea

Gasworks, London

18 September - 7 November 2010

Click HERE for more information


‘Hydrarchy’ – the sovereignty of the seas – is dismissed by the Oxford English Dictionary as an obsolete term. It is certainly not something that I or (I hazard a guess) many Londoners regularly think about. In our modern era of internet and aeroplanes you can cross even the largest pond with relative ease. We have rudely reduced the ocean to a parenthesis between home turf and foreign shores. Gasworks drags it back to centre stage in this admirably ambitious show, for a deeper look at the watery majority of the earth’s surface and the people who live off it.


The very need for the term ‘hydrarchy’ suggests that, on water, normal social systems do not apply. International, stateless and often disputed, the ocean is a no man’s land full of men displaced and remote from the institutions that endeavour to organise them. Add to that a lifestyle of physical and emotional extremes (the inhospitable emptiness of open water and the communal claustrophobia of cabin life) and it is no wonder that historically the sea has been a site of struggle. Slavery and deportation, mutiny and piracy, even the workers’ strike are products of a maritime world. In an off-site talk (accessible online) Marcus Rediker describes the seafaring society as a ‘many-headed hydra’ of power and resistance. The main display, chosen by Anna Colin and Mia Jankowicz, thoughtfully reflects this. Power rears a predictably ugly head in the form of greedy corporations and heavy-handed states, but the depictions of those who endure or resist the rigid hierarchies of life on board ships are wide-ranging, contradictory, and insightful.


Paul McCarthy’s 1980s performance piece Aryan Death Ship (shown here for the first time as a video installation) opens proceedings on a grisly note. McCarthy plays an unhinged, muttering captain holding sway over his watching ‘crew.’ As his character veers from the absurd to the macabre, the original audience’s good humour dwindles to a smattering of nervous laughs. McCarthy’s ship acts as a malevolent microstate, where power is concentrated, prejudices easily exacerbated and the ability to opt out dangerously curtailed. Watching the video, which superimposes two different recordings, slightly out of sync, is enough to make anyone feel seasick.


A subtler tyranny lurks under the surface in Laura Horelli’s documentaries about luxury cruise liners. While paying customers indulge their every whim, employees work criminally long hours, on basic pay. In a veritable ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ moment, Horelli’s film cuts from a view of incredulously small staff cabins to two showroom designers agonising over whether a sculpted sea-god should have fuller cheeks. Stuck on their portable cities for months at a time, many of the workers seem disconcertingly listless.


Not so the protagonists of Polly II: Plan for a Revolution in Docklands, who firmly occupy the resistance camp of this exhibition. Anja Kirschner’ and David Panos’ piratical update of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera sees contemporary London’s East End flooded and its residents, stranded and dispossessed, plotting an uprising. A timely cautionary tale, perhaps, for anybody with an eye on the polar ice caps. Civil disobedience breaks out, too, in Melanie Jackson’s installation The Undesirables – a beautifully constructed paper diorama showing the container ship MSC Napoli stricken off the coast of Devon in 2006. At the time, the media announced that anything washed ashore was legal public property. Mass looting by the law-abiding British public ensued. Jackson’s installation is a humorous homage to navy models of sea battles. Fragile figures are strewn across the gallery floor like detritus washed up on a wave, waiting to be salvaged or swept away. It is significant that both these works situate themselves at the water’s edge – a fault line where boundaries of land and law are not always clearly drawn.


All the upheaval is (somewhat) offset in Uriel Orlow’s The Short and the Long of it (v 1.0), a collection of narrative documents about 14 cargo ships that were stranded in the Suez Canal during the Six-Day War. Orlow focuses on the camaraderie that developed between the crews during their staggeringly long delay. Their makeshift, peacefully international community lasted eight years as a narrow hiatus in the heart of a warzone. If some of the other works paint a jaded and volatile picture of society at sea, Orlow’s can be seen as more affirmative. But it is precisely this kind of close-knit and closed community of men that could be moved to mutiny by an undemocratic leader. Really this is the other side of the same coin.


Casting a quiet shadow over this restless exhibition is the topic of slavery, a human outrage directly enabled by sea travel. Mathieu K. Abonnenc’s film The Middle Passage charts the forcible transportation of African people to the New World, using a series of borrowed film clips. The vast gulf of the Atlantic, devoid of figures, nonetheless expresses the magnitude of the human tragedy which saw thousands of lives lost and displaced. The film is a softly spoken statement on behalf of those who were ultimately denied even the power to resist.


With its emphasis on video and extensive series of satellite events, Hydrarchy is a show that demands your time. You should give it. This exhibition takes a long and revealing look at maritime society and, in the process, casts more than a sidelong glance at society as a whole. In every work, human existence on the water looms like an exaggerated reflection of the land-bound version; more unnatural, more urgent, more volatile. It is a place of extremes.


Our world operates internationally now, in large part thanks to the people who, centuries ago, set sail to open up the seas. And although we have subsequently sidelined the ocean in our public consciousness, more of us than ever live large chunks of our lives ‘offshore’ - in the air, on the web, over the phone. No country is an island anymore...perhaps we should all be thinking a little harder about how to live in a society that has been set adrift.


























Winner: Review by Denise Kwan

Richard Rigg: Holography

Workplace Gallery, Gateshead

11 September - 9 October 2010

Click HERE for more information


People inform objects and objects inform people. This porous relationship is openly dissected through Richard Rigg’s sculptural objects in his solo show Holography at Workplace Gallery, Gateshead. The viewer is taken on a journey through the three floors of the gallery where an object characterizes each level.

Familiarity takes on an unusual persona. Recognizable objects are inverted, repeated and embedded into one another. Windowpanes multiply along the gallery wall, two rows of Victorian school chairs are joined like Siamese twins while a pair of life size telegraph poles rise from the gallery stairwell and extend towards the top floor. The manipulation of the object and its form disrupts our habitual assumptions and knowledge. Questions from each piece inform one another, as ideas resurface under different guises.


At first sight the show appears to be a conventional gallery presentation. The space is subservient to the artwork. A framed cyanotype print of an amphichiral knot entitled The Fort was here before it was Built is positioned on the wall while physical objects are positioned within the space. However architecture does not only exist in this didactic manner. The seam that separates the space and the artwork oscillates and an objective distinction between the two is blurred. This osmosis between the work and its space is actively acknowledged in Wall Hanging.  A negative cast of a hook is discretely embossed into the wall and what remains is its imprint. The entire gallery appears to be hanging upon the intangible, as though on air. A simple gesture flips the possibility of absence, stretching the reach of imagination to dream of the indefinable.


In ways, Wall Hanging might appear to be too clever for its own good like a quick trick pulled from the hat. However beyond that which can be seen and touched, how can we imagine the shape of absence or the idea of the unknowable? What might a clay cast of negative space reveal? The exhibition continues and the physicality of architecture becomes a dynamic participant to give form and context to the artwork itself.


Another work, The Broken Appearance of the Floor activates the potential of architecture to recreate itself. On the top floor, across two adjacent rooms are a pair of life sized paddling oars, their handles lean into each other as they are half submerged into the floorboards.  They appear as though in mid motion, willing and wanting to convert a static building into a machine of dreams and adventures to sail far from its anchored position.


As objects alter our experience and knowledge, the same principle applies to fabrics and the clothing they become. These are the worn objects that shape and mould the human body and offer visual information about the individual will. The possibilities are endless in Cloth Arranged to Look Like a Jacket (Self Portrait). In the middle of a darkened room, the spotlight falls onto a heap of crumpled pinstripe fabric. Theatricality encapsulates the space and throws the object into a performative character. The fabric remains static and indifferent to command. This is especially indicative, as the material of pinstriped fabric suggests the realm of commerce and business and of control and obedience. The back of the room allows access into the unisex toilets and this is signaled by the male and female humanoid figures. Both the fabric and figures use the human presence to allude to structures that exist to order and dictate.


The fabric resides in a protest of indifference, physically un-shifting become anything other than its formless character. A potential of androgyny looms and we wonder what garment it might reveal: might it be some crafted trousers, a modest skirt or it could be an all-in-one suit, like a pair of cropped trousers, tight and bulbous on the crotch, flaring to become a voluminous mass, snagging and dragging at the floor? It could be anything. It requires no practical justification other than it could be and why not? Formlessness invites an imaginative generosity as the theatre of potential is within the mind.


Throughout the exhibition, there is no single work that epitomizes Richard Rigg’s practice in a singular sentiment. In this sense, Holography is constructed like a careful sentence. Each piece is dependent on the next. Questions emerge from one piece and resurface in another, offering sharper insight or a clearer ambiguity. Simultaneously it creates uncertainty while attempting to answer uncertainty itself. Logic operates between the gaps and this remains intangible and invites the mind to intersect. And within each piece, there is a sense of an unfinished breath, an incomplete utterance that both creates and leaves a pause. It is not necessarily what is seen that is most important but how this connects and overlaps creating further constellations in possibilities and knowledge.

0831422ecbf26fc0e17b647583b8a142 Holography Richard Rigg 11 September - 9 October 2