Study Visit – Conceptual Art in Britain 1964-1979

This study visit took place on Saturday 20th August 2016 at the Tate Britain, Millbank, led by Robert Enoch. As always it was good to spend time with students I knew and also to meet new ones, and to have the benefit of tutor guidance.

I enjoyed this exhibition very much but am struggling to write it up. I suspect that I haven’t finished processing it all yet, but need to write something down to clear my head and keep my notes current. So I’m going to write about a few of the highlights for me and some notes on further reading that I would like to do.

tate orange-4233Walking into the exhibition, the first thing I smelled was oranges and the first thing I saw was a square frame on the floor filled with oranges, with the remnants of a second layer. It’s the remains of a pyramid of oranges, called “Soul City” and created by Roelof Louw in 1967. Though obviously it’s made by a different hand, with 5,800 different oranges, replenished weekly. This made me think hard about the nature of this work – clearly we can’t view the exact original, in the same way that we can view a classic painting. Technically, in a world without copyright, we could have multiple instances of this exhibit, like photographic prints, notionally anywhere in the world, or space,  that has enough oranges to construct a pyramid. There is something very digital about it to me – that you have this precise 5,800 oranges reminded me of pixels in an image, and removing an orange (pixel) reminded me of the Foundations exercise about manipulating individual pixels to change the nature of an image. Obviously the pyramid is 3-dimensional and you have the added experiences of smell, taste, touch (plus the Tate staff telling you exactly what you may and may not do with the exhibit); whereas images are two-dimensional, but I still can’t get the analogy out of my head. Having brought “my” orange back home then onto Cornwall on holiday, my plan was to eat it, plant the seeds, and see if any further enlightenment was possible that way. Sadly, it had no seeds so I can’t grow my own Soul City Orange. I’m not sure if that was bad luck or another gallery stipulation along with no photography, no eating the fruit in the exhibition, and only removing oranges from the top of the pyramid. If I lived closer I would be tempted to sneak an orange into the exhibit too. I remain intrigued by the idea of an artwork that can just come and go, newly generated into the same form every time ready for dispersal to tubes, buses, desks, parks, lunch-boxes, picnics all over the place. Perhaps the wooden square frame is original? What makes this instance of Soul City authentic? There is one other instance, owned by Richard Salton who represents the artist. You can read more here.  It is priced at £80,000. What would you get if you bought it? A license? A frame? Oranges? Some plastic (according to the Tate page for this work, it contains wood, plastic and oranges). A contract with a citrus tree plantation or a fruit importer? I find no end to the questions around Soul City.

So much of what I saw made me think. There were many characteristics in common across a very diverse exhibition. Those I have noted include literal, precise, funny, factual, analytical, ordered, plus that the work is far more about things and ideas than people. Where people are used it is to illustrate a concept or an idea rather than to provide a portrait. According to the link above, Louw’s work was never planned for selling, which does make me wonder how it differs to work that is planned for sales.

Proposition 1970 by Ed Herring 1945-2003
Proposition 1970 Ed Herring 1945-2003 Purchased 2012

Let’s move on to Ed Herring, Proposition, 1970. In summary, he gave out cards covered in blotting paper. Each person kept a card constantly with them for a week, over an eight week period. There was some subsequent editing and ordering of the cards, which I didn’t fully understand and it wasn’t possible to view the cards individually or in situ. I liked the idea of each card absorbing something about and of the person who carried it for a week. I like objects with physicality and that carry visible and invisible traces of time and how they have been used. I like the creased photos at the bottom of my handbag, the scratched Polaroids in a handbag pocket, prints peppered with holes from years the kitchen pinboard. So I found this work very intriguing and am going to learn more. Image from Tate Website:  Proposition, Ed Herring, 1970, Photo: © Tate, London 2016.

There was much other work there that stopped my eyes and moved my thoughts. “Camera recording its own condition”  and “Sixty seconds of light” are two of my favourites, for their mathematical and visual elegance, and it was amazing to see them in their original forms. I have a Disney Princess alarm clock that I plan to use to make a version of “Sixty seconds of light”, I’ve done some work with it for the Foundations course on my contraband assignment here. I like the idea of showing the countdown to midnight.

Camera Recording its Own Condition (7 Apertures, 10 Speeds, 2 Mirrors) 1971 by John Hilliard born 1945
Camera Recording its Own Condition (7 Apertures, 10 Speeds, 2 Mirrors), John Hilliard, 1971-6, 2016: © Tate, London [2016]
I ended up thinking a lot more about what constitutes art, and how a photograph can be just the start of something, the jpgs aren’t necessarily what it’s all about. I would love to write more but the best thing is probably just to remind myself to look up my notes from the day, follow up on the reading and write another blog post when that is done.


2 thoughts on “Study Visit – Conceptual Art in Britain 1964-1979

    • Kate September 7, 2016 / 10:16 pm

      Hi Amano, it was good to see you at the study visit. Thank you very much for the link to my write-up, I will reciprocate. Yes, I photographed Imber village in Wiltshire, which was evacuated by the War Office in 1943 and never returned to its population.


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