This is a post that I originally wrote for WITP art in March 2016
At a time when the phrase ‘migrant crisis’ forms part of our everyday dialogue, it makes sense to take a look at migration’s more positive aspects. Many of the UK’s top contemporary creatives are themselves migrants or come from migrant backgrounds. Here are five to celebrate for starters…
Dame Zaha Hadid (Architect)
Born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1950, award-winning architect Zaha Hadid first came to the UK as a student. Now a naturalised British citizen, her firm is responsible for high-profile buildings including the London Aquatics Centre, built for the 2012 Olympics and the Serpentine Sackler Gallery in Hyde Park.
Sir Anish Kapoor (Sculptor)
Born in Bombay, India in 1954, Kapoor has lived and worked in London since the early 1970s when he moved to study art at the Chelsea School of Art and Design. His work has won him the Turner Prize (2002) and seen him represent Britain at the Venice Biennale (1990.) Kapoor was the artist commissioned to create a sculptor for London’s 2012 Olympic park. In 2013 he received a knighthood. In 2015 he joined artist Ai Weiwei in an eight-mile walk across London to show solidarity for refugees across the world.
Oscar Murillo (Painter)
Born in La Paila, Colombia in 1986, Murillo and his parents moved to London when he was 10. He graduated with an MA from The Royal College of Art, London in 2012 and his bold paintings have since seen him rocket to fame. More than just an art world darling, Murillo’s work candidly confronts the negative effects of globalisation.
Lynette Yiadom-Boakye (Painter)
Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s parents were both originally from Ghana and worked as nurses for the NHS. Boakye graduated from Falmouth College of Arts in 2000, then completed an MA at the Royal Academy Schools in 2003. Afigurative painter, her bold use of colour and raw style set her apart. Her ability to evoke an intimacy amongst the rough is unique and has seen her nominated for the Turner Prize and gain interest from the likes of Charles Saatchi. Following her show at the Serpentine last summer, she is currently one of the UK’s most in-demand young painters.
Frank Auerbach (Painter)
With an extensive retrospective currently on at Tate Britain it is impossible to deny Auerbach’s influence on British art. Auerbach is by all means a ‘British artist’, his paintings of Camden Town depict significant eras in London’s geographical and social history and are in many ways unrivalled. Auerbach however was born in Germany and naturalised as a British citizen in 1947. Had the UK not offered him a home at this time then British culture would have suffered a considerable loss.
The Barbican Art Gallery, London presents a wall to wall retrospective of the life and work of design’s most formidable couple; Charles (1907) and Ray (1912-1988) Eames. ‘The World of Charles and Ray Eames’ thoughtfully explores the people and processes that pioneered 20thcentury design and shaped visual and material culture into what it is today. From architecture, furniture, graphic and product design, to painting, drawing, film, sculpture, photography, multimedia installation and education the exhibition examines how over four decades the Eameses and their collaborators created functional everyday products that were infused with philosophical ideals.
The show brings together over 380 works that are spread across two floors to form a delightful labyrinth from the many objects and projects that the couple produced during their lifetime. This extensive overview is structured thematically to address the different social, political and cultural circumstances that influenced the Eameses and their output. A moulded plywood leg-splint created by the Eames Office in 1942 is a key example. It illustrates the impact that social circumstances often had on their designs. Whilst the splint stands alone as an exquisite work of sculpture its use is entirely practical. It was made during World War II in order to provide a lightweight and inexpensive alternative to metal leg splints. It could be mass-produced and easily transported and clearly demonstrates the Eameses ethos of designing beautiful objects that catered to societal needs.
Personal notes, sketches and photographs of the couple are peppered throughout the exhibition and emphasise the profound link between their personal life and professional work. The architectural plans and photographs from the striking home that they planned and built together is clear evidence of their life’s dedication to design. The exhibition reaches a pinnacle in the central room where a raised platform is lined with colourful fibreglass Eames chairs each of a varying design. From ones that we all know from schoolrooms and sports stadiums to intricate armchairs whose steel legs look more like modernist sculptures than metal limbs, this simple display depicts the sheer scope and innovation of Eames Office design. ‘The World of Charles and Ray Eames’ is structured to delve visitors deep into the minds and methods of this remarkable couple, laying out their legacy in a way that allows exceptional design to speak for itself.
‘Big Bang Data’ at Somerset House, London is a timely exhibition that explores how the data explosion of the 21st century has revolutionised our lives for better and for worse. The show features works from a range of international new media artists including Ryoji Ikea, James Bridle and Eva and Franco all of whom confront the impact that the exponential growth of data has had and continues to have globally.
The exhibition is divided into sections designed to map the trajectory of data from its origins up to the selfies, social media activity and CCTV camera footage that we now produce on a continual basis. ‘Big Bang Data’ makes a brave attempt to decode and direct this sheer mass of information.
The show’s first section ‘The Weight of the Cloud’ introduces visitors to the very physical reality of a commonly misinterpreted concept. ‘The Cloud’ is in fact a network of servers, operated from industrial-scale data centres which are located across the planet and connected by a series of submarine cables. A map of these servers, based on artist Morag Myerscough’s ‘Telegeography map’ is suspended from the ceiling and hangs at eye-level. Viewers face the cloud’s physical presence front on.
As the exhibition continues it is easy to become lost in the weight of information on display. Whilst a solid attempt has been made to present data in digestible chunks, as chilling news stories on data security are juxtaposed with internet-trends, one can’t help but begin to feel lost.
Owen Mundy’s ‘I Know Where Your Cat Lives’ transmits this sense of confusion. It mocks the internet cat trend whilst making a pertinent point about online privacy. Mundy has mapped the location of cats from across the world based on publicly available photographs tagged with the word ‘cat’. If the cat photographers decide to increase their privacy settings then the image of their cat will disappear the map. By bringing these two themes together Mundy highlights the unpredictability of the internet. He presents it as a uniquely heterogeneous space in which unrelated topics begin to overlap.
One of the exhibition’s highlights is ‘The London Situation Room’ a collaboration with ‘Future Cities Catapult’ and ‘Tekja’ it screens realtime data from the world’s most closely watched city with visitors contributing and affecting change to the data displays. Whilst the exhibition raises important questions about the dangers of unthinking internet use it also attempts to highlight some of the advantages with a rather forced section titled ‘Data for the Common Good.’ Although it’s uplifting to think of mass data as a democratic tool of efficacy and transparency, if ‘Big Bang Data’ proves anything it’s that mass CCTV surveillance and instances such as the NSA scandal already outweigh big data’s potential benefits.