Tuesday 30 September 2008

Dirty money: Nigel wants to turn cash into art

Nigel Ayers with his new `money art' and one of his older summer solstice sculptures.
Picture. James Ram www,jamesramco.uk

A LOSTWITHIEL artist wants people to send him money in the post.
Nigel Ayers is a post-punk musician who has an interest in political artwork.
On discovering a website displaying altered banknotes he was inspired to embark on a similar project himself.
"I found the concept of altering bank notes with lyrics or art interesting.
"Writing on money was a tool used by the Soviet Union to spread subversive messages."
On his website he has displayed a photo of a five-pound note with one of his songs written on it, Never Give Up.
He wants to hear from anyone who has found money with doodles, drawings or messages on.
Nigel, 51, said: "As we move into a more abstract, information-based economy, the opportunities for individualising interactions, like handing over altered, worn, mucky cash are lost.
"It all becomes ones and zeroes. It's not as if money is abolished, it becomes this equivalent information code kind of thing, and the codes get more and more impersonal.
"So why not strike a blow against the information economy? Take part in this guerilla mail art project."
He has had money sent to him doctored by an activist with very strong anti-capitalist imagery on it using red ink which looks like blood.
Nigel said: "I was asking people to send any money that they have found which has been changed in some way.
"I put it out there as an idea on -my website and someone sent me some so I want to keep it going now."
Nigel's notoriety peaked in the 1980s when his industrial band established a firm fan base in Germany. The music produced by Nocturnal Emissions is inspired soundscapes often made by looping tapes. Nigel is due to release a vinyl box set
of music he made in the 1980s. He lives with his wife Linda and their two grey cats and now works for Cornwall Community Space Program.
He once designed a graphic for the Stop the War movement, which showed George Bush's face and read: "George Bush War Killer." He was delighted to see it appear on the front page of a national paper, when famous footballer Diego Maradona wore a T-shirt with the design on during a demonstration in South America.
The guerrilla money art project in a similar way focuses on using a certain type of media to deliver a message.
Write a message, or decorate some paper money (any denomination) and send it to: Mr N Ayers, Earthly Delights, PO Box 2, Lostwithiel, Cornwall, PL22 OYY.

Cornish Guardian Wednesday September 24, 2008

MA Shows at Falmouth review

A review I did for www.artcornwall.org
MA Fine Art: Contemporary Practice 2008
Nigel Ayers

The MA Fine Art course at Falmouth has something distinctive about it. It is uniquely geared towards contemporary artists based in Cornwall, and towards artists facing similar challenges who may choose to live elsewhere. The course is closely linked to the highly-regarded RANE project, which promotes research into art, nature and the environment. The work arising from course tends to reflect a process-based approach to art, it is often found to be using methodologies of academic research than from the self-promotional (and sensationalistic) approach more often associated with contemporary artists.
The end result, as far as members of the public get to see, are a number of show pieces, tending to conform to art installation or gallery-based relational art criteria. These are shown in individual rooms in Lamorva House, a building which looks more or less like one of Falmouth's seaside hotels.
University College Falmouth is going through some reorganisation at present. One welcome revision is that the course now bears the moniker MA Fine Art: Contemporary Practice instead of its former MA Contemporary Visual Arts, otherwise known as “CVA”. Using the words “Fine Art” implies a continuity of tradition running back to the 1960s when the concept of free expression was introduced into art school pedagogy. Dropping the word “visual” is consistent with the fact that a good proportion of what is produced on Fine Art courses is not primarily visual. And the word “Practice” focuses on the complex mental, physical and social processes contemporary artists tend to be involved in. It isn't just simplistic materialisation of art-as-commodity. And the “Fine” bit in Fine Art is what distinguishes it from being a primarily craft-based activity.
This year there were twelve artists' work on display.
Perhaps it's misleading to describe the MA works as “installation art”, that would imply objects installed in a gallery. Here each artist takes over a room in a large house, which means that within that space they can exercise a fairly high degree of control over the setting their work is displayed in. By default, the artists here are able to provide an experience, enclosed within four or more walls with a door that opens and closes, rather than the other exhibition spaces within the college studios (which tend to be manky-looking spaces divided by softboard walls). There is far easier control over lighting, for example, in these rooms that there is in many of the other buildings in the campus. Likewise, with the rooms being discrete, there is also the possibility of greater control over sound and senses such as smell being used as part of the experience.

Something strange is afoot in Sarah Bunker’s contribution. The door is propped open by a small concrete object that looks a bit like cat-eyes from out of the road or it could be some sort of primitive sculpture. In the half light it’s very difficult to make out what is going on as you enter a sort of an institutional bathroom with three bathtubs in a row. In the next room there is something odd in the watertank. It could be some sort of a miniature city, or an electronic device, or a special jewel that is kept in water tanks in attics. You expect a dead pigeon, but what the hell is this?
It's like scenes from Eraserhead: a dreamlike effect which somehow triggers off associations with childhood, entering strange rooms, happening upon private adult things and not quite understanding what is going on.
Richard Rooks has some huge wall drawings, executed in sharp black lines directly on the walls surface. They are portraits of Bernard Cribbens. The thought flashes into my mind that this may be something to do with the Wombles, as Cribbens most famous role is the narrator’s voice to the TV series. But no, in this portrait Bernard Cribbens is in his 2008 role in Doctor Who. I’m not sure what exactly is the link between these portraits and what looks like some sort of sociological research being carried out by a young man with a laptop. He is asking a visitor questions and entering the answers into his computer. There is a large table in the centre of the room full of card cubes, forming some sort of graph, each cube is a subtly different colour. They seem to relate to the colours of cars bought by a family group over a period of years. Rooks is up to something interesting and a bit quirky, to do with recently passed-away Britishness and folk memory.

Georgina Maxwell’s pieces directly confront the issue of toxic waste and its effect on sea creatures. One room holds a wall full of red printed postcards to which visitors can help themselves. Each carries a straightforward message about the undesirability of plastic waste in the sea, one wall of this room is taken up with a video projection of similar images. In her other room, hundreds of used cigarette filters are clustered together in a square Perspex gallery frame, a bit like St Ives minimalism, but more “green”. Also somehow the presentation has slightly different effect to displays on similar themes you might see somewhere like the Eden Project. It looks far more like art than an informative display done by graphic designers and it feels personal. Maxwell’s flyposting of a plastic industries conference is also personal it is not presented as a group campaign activity.
Maxwell presents an autonomous form of direct action to do with personal choices and self-empowerment through ethical choices. A set of shelves full of jam jars where items of plastic waste have been collected during a meditative walk. And you know what this display reminds me of? A cabinet full of fish in formaldehyde done by Damien Hirst. I can't help it - the figure of Damien looms over contemporary British art like some sort of big horrible multi-national-cocaine-fuelled-Thatcherite-from-out-of-The-Omen.
On other hand, Sarah Maxwell's cabinet piece is more sort of like an anti-Hirst. Instead of pickling majestic sea critters and flogging them off to men-in-suits to store in corporate vaults, she’s tidying up some of the crap that’s been killing the poor sea creatures off. Instead of presenting them in museum style vitrines, she's re-using old jam-jars.

Rod Maclachlan has a room painted entirely white . High up on a slowly revolving turntable is an empty can of Trago-brand household emulsion paint, probably what he's painted the walls with. There are a couple of spotlights trained on the paint can and as it revolves they cast grey shadows on the white walls...

Chris Bruce has some small impasto oils: The Famous Five go Mad in Iraq. Small boys in false beards and Osama shirts set off a remote control car bomb. A small boy does his rifle practice on the beach. Heavily pregnant Enid Blyton girls.
Bonnie Jenkins has a seductive video display projected into shallow water. Justyna Suesser has disturbing latex rubber body casts and effects-sodden surround sound softly bouncing around a darkened room. James Harthill has digitally modelled white seagulls flying in an endless video loop over Falmouth harbour.
Words escape and run all over the walls and floors and ceiling from out of Richard Ward's altered, modified and cut-up books . Irene Waters has a long row of party snapshots, frocks dangle on fishing line. Mark Walker has turf growing in rows of plastic boxes with some sort of formula written on a whiteboard.

Ruth Brown has a room done up like some scientist-philosopher’s study with quotes from Magritte on the blackboard.

And then into another pitch black room, bumping into small children who are already inside there.
There's a huge great moon kind-of thing filling up the entire wall. It looks like “2001” as seen on Imax, and as it revolves there’s this incredible image as rays of light radiate out of it, and it fills your entire field of vision so it looks like it's in 3D. And then the hairs stand up on the back of your neck as you realise it's that same can of emulsion paint you saw earlier... and what Rod Machlachlan's done is really clever, what looked like a crappy minimalist installation is in fact one half of a camera obscura, with which he has created this incredible absorbing image projection. The room is full of kids who are absolutely gobsmacked by it all .
Sometimes I wonder what exactly is the point of the general public being invited to see these show pieces when much of the context of the work, including the history of research that has gone into them is invisible.
As a visitor this cannot help but to impose a level of puzzlement at the work being shown. Mindset and “framing” are important as regards contemporary art. If you don’t know what’s going on, the effect, even for someone with lots of experience with contemporary art be just so baffling that you lose interest.
But then surely the point of fine art as opposed to live art is that it stands apart from the artist and has a life of its own. This point often gets missed by both students and staff. The background can be banal, but often it can be more complex and more engaging than what is offered as the show piece. It's not just the colleges' fault, it happens in all sorts of galleries. I often find myself staring at new-fangled electrical fittings convinced they must be some sort of minimal art pieces. Thank goodness the Tate has explainers there to tell you what is art and what is not.
Historically, art environments have had a very radical psycho-political agenda. Up until the ‘90s they tended to be more ideologically- than commercially- driven. The idea was to create some kind of small 'temporary autonomous zones' which would create altered states of consciousness, to help destroy the bourgeois mind-control which at the root of the world’s problems. This is sort of what I hoped to see happening here. Perhaps I did a bit.
MA Fine Art: Contemporary Practice 2008 Exhibition. Artists: Ruth Brown, Sarah Bunker, Chris Bruce, James Harthill, Bonnie Jenkins, Georgina Maxwell, Rod Mclachlan, Richard Rooks, Justyna Suesser, Mark Walker, Richard Ward, Irene Waters.

Tuesday 16 September 2008

Lest We Forget - Nocturnal Emissions boxed set

VOD 56: Nocturnal Emissions LEST WE FORGET 4-Lp-Box w. 7" / booklet

Lest We Forget is a collection compiled from the earliest recordings by Nocturnal Emissions, a group founded by Nigel Ayers, his brother Daniel Ayers and Caroline K in 1980. It comprises of material previously only available on cassettes as well as tracks recorded under their earlier name, The Pump. The Nocturnal Emissions were active in what has been known as “cassette culture” and explored the medium of underground cassette exchange in parallel with their better known vinyl releases and live performances. They used the available technology of the day in a spirit which seems to have anticipated modern social networking through the Internet. This series of documents offers a rare glimpse at audio sketchbooks; raw, unfinished works-in-progress and live performances by the group. It covers a wide range of musical style by a group who were committed to radical experimentation in both form and content. The box set also contains some previously unreleased tracks from the early ‘80s which sound surprisingly contemporary and fresh.

The group has undergone several mutations since these early recordings and continued into 21st century as a solo project by Nigel Ayers. Caroline K left the group in 1984 and produced one solo album before adopting a more private life. She remained a good friend and lived in England, Sri Lanka, and finally in Italy. She married Danny Ayers in 2001. While the edit of this collection was being assembled, she took ill with leukaemia and died during hospital treatment a few days later. Caroline’s distinctively moody electronics, vocals and bass guitar feature strongly on these albums. We offer this box set as a tribute to her life and work.


Thursday 11 September 2008

Albion Dreaming review

Albion Dreaming by Andy Roberts

Albion Dreaming is a serious attempt to re-evaluate and document the use of LSD in popular British culture since its discovery 70 years ago, around the same time as the atomic bomb. Although well written, it is a book aimed for a popular, rather than a medical or academic readership. Whatever your views on LSD, its impact on culture in the UK has been phenomenal. From secret MI5 and psychiatric experiments, to beatnik magic experiments, the psychedelic 60s through free festivals, new age travellers and the rave scene.

In our culture LSD, as well as being a folk devil, has also been associated with very positive life-changing experiences and self- initiation. For many people acid has led to an increased awareness of ecological concerns, spirituality, communality and a better understanding of how the mind works. Roberts points out that its legal position has often been out of proportion to its documented dangers, and that illicit LSD manufacturers tend to be ideologically rather than commercially motivated. Proper medical research on what is certainly an unusual and is possibly a very valuable drug has never really happened. This has been thanks to tabloid hysteria and political timidity and public fears. Tabloid hysteria and moral panic has also led to disproportionate judicial repression of LSD manufacturers, suppliers and users, some of which is documented here.

Being concerned with mythology, magic, urban legend and new religions, it is ideal material for a seasoned Fortean researcher like Andy Roberts. The book is very well-researched, much of the material here has never been published before, rumours and hearsay have been followed up, and facts have been checked. Roberts also emphasises how mindset and environmental setting are vital to how LSD is experienced and how the effects of LSD, especially within in a society such as our own, are not always positive.

A big fat book which provides a fascinating read about what remains a very controversial subject.

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Marshall Cavendish (30 Sep 2008)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 1905736274
  • ISBN-13: 978-1905736270

Albion Dreaming

Tuesday 9 September 2008

BBC Radio 4 Today programme stigmatises mental health issues

This morning, BBC Radio 4's Today programme launched a tabloid-style attack on sufferers from mental illness in general and autism in particular

I lodged a formal complaint along these lines:

".... I was appalled by the fear-mongering way statistics were interpreted on your programme this morning, and the way John Humphreys expressed many of the common prejudices that stigmatise people who happen to be ill. They are members of the public, not criminals who should be feared.

Almost everyone suffers from some kind of mental ill health at some time in their life. Could the Today programme please help inform the public (and John Humphreys in particular) on mental health issues and how the Health Service functions, rather than reinforcing existing myths about mental illness. Thank you."

Maybe they'll take notice if enough people write in. Please forward your e-mail to

and to

Please pass this onto anyone who may be interested.

Thursday 4 September 2008

Submersive Figures review

Here's an art review I wrote the other day for:www.artcornwall.org
Submersive Figures

New Street Gallery, Penzance, August 2008

Submersive Figures, at the New Street Gallery, Penzance, is the second of series of exhibitions by a group of artists who were originally brought together as part of the second Spontaneous Combustion show in St Ives in 2007. As Jo Forsyth described at the time: 'between commercially driven work and the state funded activities (in Cornwall) there exists a vast cavern of overlooked outpourings of creative expression of which this exhibition is a small part'.

The implication was that these artists are neither making populist (commercially driven) nor elitist (state-funded) art. Instead they are doing something else, somewhere in-between.

The group’s work is varied in style, medium and technique. The media used include those of modern craft-based art practice, including studio ceramics, sculpture using recycled materials, painting on canvas, print-making and textile-based work. The emotional content is a strong element in the work art and in some, but not all, of the artists there is a strong sense of the postmodern in the re-use and recycling/ appropriation of familiar cultural iconography, scrap material and bricolage. This is consistent with the group’s common interest in the creative spontaneity found in outsider art. Another common ground is that all the pieces are hand-made by the artists themselves.

In Ian Dunlop’s vibrantly coloured monoprints , familiar archetypes of American corporate hegemony in apocalyptic mandalas are displayed like the magical iconography found on banknotes and other Masonic stationary. The black outline of the Colonel Sanders logo leers out of a pall of smoke at the centre of one picture . A cluster of cruise missiles rocket out across a turbulent seascape with a flotsam of pharmaceutical capsules and red flowers. At the four corners are a hand gun, an alarm clock showing five minutes to twelve, a dollar symbol, and a radiation hazard sign.

At the centre of another monoprint is the logo of the Playboy bunny, surrounded by handguns, sub-machine guns and nudie models. The rabbit is a pre-Christian fertility symbol appropriated by a major corporation to promote commercialised sex. Here the bunny occupies the picture surface like a Beast from Revelation. In Playboy magazine, nudie images are mechanically reproduced, highly glossified photoshopped airbrushwork. Here they’re a hand-drawn one-off, drawn on a perspex sheet in printing inks then rolled under an etching press onto high rag content art paper. In rhinestone-cowboy colours, their outlines sink into the thick paper, degraded from the hyper-real.

A softer version of Americana inspired English pop artists in the 1950s to imagine an escape from the gloom of the British establishment, embracing the new vibe of individualised consumer culture and rock’n’roll. As we enter the 21st century, these symbols no longer mean the glamour of “America” but instead imply a globalised totality of some sort of Armageddon.

Lisa Stewart’s pieces are around eight or ten inches high and look like they could be miniature figures made for a stop-frame animation based on a William Burroughs dystopia. Gnarled new age travellers and Mugwumps. Barnums' mermaids dredged from fishermen's nets. Genetically manipulated Morgawrs. Amphibian cryptids with screw-lock caribinier earrings. Thin grey camel foetuses, evacuated from the Drenched Lands. Banana Billy and the small time Vegetable People. Under dead crab eyes, limestone flesh creeps through. These boys have been rebuilt. The broken image of Man moves frame by frame and cell by cell. Species of carnivorous molluscs on the road to Damascus, the human virus in miniature Doc Martens.

A giant head covered in a multitude of plastic toys, rays guns, with a built in bubble machine that blows bubbles out of its mouth (above left). A big daft dog, wet fur represented by umpteen different shaped nylon brushes screwed down to its plywood skeleton, the whole thing standing on two purple washbowls. Robert Bradford’s assemblage sculptures conjure up riffs on Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s 16th century allegorical figures, but now the heads and figures are rendered in three dimensions with polychromatic plastic toys salvaged from the early - morning delirium of car boot sales. And, as it’s been a wet summer for boot sales, it looks like Robert has been raiding the pound shops and market stalls for raw material.

Octopus’s Garden is the title of one of Robert Bradford’s pieces here (as well as a painting by another artist in the show which has less obvious associations). Ringo Starr wrote the song Octopus’s Garden after a brief spell of leaving the Beatles. While on holiday with his family in Sardinia he was made aware of the fact that octopuses roam the depths of the ocean, picking up stones and shiny objects for their gardens. Bradford’s foraging seems a bit like that octopus behaviour. A Perspex cistern full of bubbling water, blue plastic octopus with googly eyes, blue aquarium gravel, strategically arranged observation toy telescopes offer kaleidoscope eyes' viewpoints of the frothing water. Flashbacks from pop and natural history in a lowbrow Cubist device. Oh, and there’s a little yellow submarine in there too.

A woman , squatting in a white wedding dress, gazes out of the canvas studying the viewer, surrounded by renaissance trappings and holding a pointed stick . The woman’s figure could be copied from a photograph, or from a studio model. It looks modern. The background figures are copied from Renaissance paintings, with characteristic anatomical distortions. Cupid fondles her right breast through her clothing, but she’s ignoring this, looking sidewards out at the viewer. Perhaps the woman in the painting is not totally taken in by the theatricality of all that fake classical shite. In another painting, three people stand two facing outwards with fake smiles clutching glasses of red wine, as if at a private view. The central figure with folded arms wears a mask of white paint which drips down the canvas.

There are historical paradoxes set up in these works by Morwenna Morrison. They're anachronistic. It’s impossible to see the image of Mona Lisa without a flash of associations. In postcards from Amsterdam Mona Lisa is smoking a spliff. In 1919 Duchamp gave her a moustache and a pun that implied she had a hot ass. Warhol printed her in crude multiple images, emphasising flaws in reproduction and the qualities of the image as a brand mark. Now Morrison paints a cropped version of La Gioconda, the hands are missing (Mona's hands are notoriously difficult to paint). She has surgically enhanced breasts and a face marked out for cosmetic surgery. Juxtaposed with Morrison's other remixes of renaissance conventions, the flippant humour of this piece parodies her own painterly craft, adding to the subversions of pictorial conventions used in the more serious-looking paintings.

Linda Styles' small, often understated, ceramic pieces vacillate between studio pottery and mantelpiece clutter. Her fruitbowl-size bathtub is placed on the floor, easy to miss or kick over, but features a nice scratchy line drawing: an anxious woman in a bathtub, smears of brown, underwater – drowned - hands clinging to the sides.

In the front window are some other small pieces this time in slipcast earthenware glazed in cobalt blue. A collage of retro bric-a-brac, blue angelfish, cherub supporting a chalice, blue curlicues of waves, snorkling putti, bathroom trinkets, fish-shaped ornaments, soapdishes, bubble baths and toothbrush holders, the sort of thing that would make Bernard Leach spin in his grave. The scale is sort of introverted; the uniform blue glaze drowns out the form, making it appealing to the type of person who collects cobalt blue pottery. Styles’ work suggest complicity rather than innocent craft-making, she points out that cobalt blue is “the colour of deep oceans, expensive because it is mined in war zones, historic because it has be used for centuries and traditionally signifies the top end of the ceramic market place”.
In Jo Forsyth’s Whirlygiggle Chess Set, primordial life forms replace feudal heraldries. The pieces are recognisable, but transformed into squiggly sea creatures, orange and yellow snails and worms with black heads. The board itself is tiled in coral colours of orange and yellow with wavy edges, as if it’s the bottom of a swimming pool. In Sue Dove’s piece gestural drawings are woven into rugs, facial features worn like doormats, mugshots in cross-stitch, clothing becomes boats, boats become bathtubs, ragdoll faces smeared in oil. Are they waving or drowning?

Penny MacBeth’s work seems to contain some sort of poetic narrative constructed by fragments of text: visual puns, associations of objects and painting, fabric print, textile collage, ceramic relief heads and acrylic resin bubbles. In 'Bloodline', an installation of fifteen small canvases are used like comic strip frames, with fragments of portraits, text clipped from newspapers, ransom note style, over acrylic renderings of fabric print and wallpaper patterns. Ancestral portraits traced from photos in old family albums, linked by scarlet fabric tendrils to a dressmaker’s dummy wearing a white dress with images and texts on textile. Canvas as something you wear. Ancestral bonds red roots bound in red fluffy wool. Muslin skirt lit from underneath with tiny red fairylights.

Navigating dry land
In a boat full of water
Where did you hope to go
On that particular journey
Drowning in your own tears

So it goes. The pieces that make up 'Submersive Figures' occupy a submerged area that is somehow not quite art and not quite craft. Often the power of expressionistic art lies within the edit. The process of these forms of art-making are complex and involves the acquisition and practice of very particular sets of technical skills, pre-planning and a degree of intellectual sophistication to co-ordinate all the disparate activities that go into them. This level of sophistication isn’t spontaneous, though it can be about spontaneity. Some of these pieces appear unfinished rather than “raw” in the sense of being primarily some sort of an emotional imprint.

The show is light on theory and has a tendency towards whimsy and stating the bleeding obvious, which somehow makes it enjoyable. My main criticism would be; it doesn’t go far enough, there's not enough of it, it needs to be more excessive. I get the feeling that there may be something more profound going on at a submerged level. I sense a disturbing undercurrent which is to do with the specific socio-economic circumstances and historical background of art made in Cornwall. Hopefully this will emerge in a more monstrous form in forthcoming shows by the group.

Nigel Ayers 20/8/08