There is something really wonderful about going to an art gallery and finding artists you’ve not heard of before whose work really excites you. Back in October, I headed to Modern Art Oxford and discovered the work of Rose Finn-Kelcey and Aleksandra Mir; two very different artists working in very different ways but who both had a lot to teach me…
Rose Finn-Kelcey: Life, Belief & Beyond
Finn-Kelcey [1945-2014, England] was a multi-media artist who studied at Ravensbourne College of Art & Design and Chelsea College of Art. Her work explored the idea of agency and questioned the power structures in place. The above ‘Power for the People’ was one of several flags she created and hung in provocative locations, in this case, Battersea Power Station. I appreciate the scale of her work and the strength of her message. It must have taken some guts to place her flags in the places she did.
A follow up to her negative piece in the same format ‘House Rules’ from the year before, ‘It Rules’ features positive, active instructions. The simplicity of the scrolling message on a small digital screen is really effective, especially when you consider how much time we spend obeying requests given to us on signage like this! The choice of green is a sign of the works permissiveness; ‘House Rules’ was written in red.
There were many other pieces in this retrospective that struck me; the sheer variety and scope of her work is impressive. The last one I will share with you though is the above Untitled Drawing. It is a really simple work – stenciled pencil letters on paper. Some parts of it are lighter (more faded?) than others and I really appreciate the sentiment, memory does not preserve things uniformly.
Aleksandra Mir: Earth Observation & Human Spaceflight
Aleksandra Mir [1967- Poland] took her inspiration for Space Tapestry from the Bayeux tapestry and other chroniclers of events from around that time. This exhibition is only one piece of the rich fabric of art; another piece Space Tapestry: Faraway Missions at the Tate Liverpool concurrently with the Modern Art Oxford exhibition. Thanks to the success of her previous work ‘First Woman on the Moon 1999’, she has built close relations with the UK Space Agency which has helped with the creation of Space Tapestry. Mir engaged a group of 25 collaborators aged 18-24 for this project as it required a large amount of drawing to realise. ‘This is not a Satellite, This is an Educated Nation’ is one piece of an intended whole which will measure 200 metres by 3 metres when finished.
It was important to me to photograph the work close up. The overall effect is monochrome, but on closer inspection, there are pockets of colour (due to the blue biro) in it. I also think the variety of mark-making is very interesting; whilst the young people who drew the piece from Mir’s plan they also left their own imprint on it with their choices of how to fill the squares. It’s made me think that it would be worthwhile exploring the possibilities of small tiles of lino combined to make a larger whole.
The other piece that is part of the exhibition is ‘Slogans’, a collection of slogans she found whilst walking around the trade show at the UK Space Conference in 2015. Having aggregated them, she handed them over to her team of “human robots” for them to create hand-drawn images for. You can imagine the difference between the slick, finessed posters on the stands and the end result from the group of artists who reimagined them. I enjoy how varied they are, despite all of them following the same format and being monochromatic.
It is nice to see collaborative work getting exposure, the strength in Space Tapestry is in it’s scale, something which in its current form would be nigh on impossible for one woman to achieve using the same methods.