Cristina NualART

Tag: Subversion

Made In – Oil without paint

Excited about being in Birmingham on a nice sunny day, I dashed to Ikon gallery first, and dove right in.

Seeing One’s Own Eyes is the current explosive exhibition by MadeIn artists collective. It is FUN! I went through, so absorbed in the objects that I didn’t read any of the blurb beforehand. What did I get excited about? Bombastic wall hangings, shodily made with chopped up kitch fake fur and sequined textiles, all tackily glued and stitched together. The colours are loud and the cartoons show people you will recognise from newspaper headlines. The text is as in-your-face as the imagery. The whole thing works! This is art that is cheap and cheerful, big and bold, and as amusing and meaningful as pop art can get.

There’s an instructive video by gallery director Jonathan Watkins on how he met Xu Zhen, one of the founding artists of MadeIn.

At this point, you can -like I did- realise that it’s all a fiction. These artists have nothing to do with Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East or a country at war. They are Chinese artists using made in China sarcasm to share with art consumers of the world, who are – of course – deeply interested in big issues like blood for oil and war in far-away countries full of invisible terrorist camps…

To give respite from the bomb-blasts on the second floor, the third floor welcomes you with some quiet anihilation, a breathing pile of rubble. Calm is the name of this surprising room of living destruction. You can watch 45 seconds of it:

I was lucky to see MadeIn’s exhibition the day after I visited Contemporary Art Iraq in Manchester’s Cornerhouse. The latter is, clearly, art made in Iraq. The Iraqi artists share their daily stories and creative pursuits without loud protesting of their county’s situation. Not that they ignore it, they just get on with life without making a song and dance about things. Had they done so, they might have come up with some strident, controversial artwork of the sort the tabloids would discuss. But it could pigeonhole them as protest artists, which is not for every artist to be.

Since Documenta 11, in 2002, there is a tendency for much contemporary art to function as documentary,* but living amidst irrational ruination for years, their museums plundered, current Iraqi artists do what artists do: make art, quite simply. MadeIn are taking on the documentary agenda and parading it in fancy-dress. It’s a fun party. But along with a good party, there’s nothing better than a soul-baring conversation – away from the pandemonium.

* See Materialist Feminism for the 21st Century, by Angela Dimitrakaki, in Oxford Art Journal, vol. 30, 2007.



I visited Manchester’s Cornerhouse and Birmingham’s Ikon gallery in the same week, and was set on fire with neurological sparks seeing the art about the Middle East.

Cornerhouse has 3 floors of Iraq-based artists who collectively remind us, like my grandparents did, that life in wartime does not stop and hide in parenthesis. Artists carry on thinking about art, and how to make it, and the ones selected for this show express their plural ideas in all kinds of media. The variety alone is exciting; the Iraqi context, undeniably, adds power to the imagery.

Roshna Rasool calls these old computer keys Luck. It’s not only funny, it’s intriguing. Were people lucky to have computers? Or to see them destroyed? To add to interpretive meanings, one has to notice that some keys have an Arabic character. And that there are two of these sculptures, one white and one black.

Brhm Taib Ameen’s chiaroscuro photographs are rich, sumptuous and look like paintings – Ha! The days are gone when we use to say the opposite!

I rarely have patience with video art, but this piece by Sarwar Mohamad Amin is a haunting story of dying traditions and the unwaivering commitment to desperately make a living. Emotional.

Rozgar Mahmood Mustfa’s Nylon crackles and breathes, while opposite it, a video of a handsome sleeping man by Hemn Hamed Sharef crackles with the noise of plastic sheets. Smart!

Jamal Penjewy’s series of photos Iraq is Flying is really joyful! These are images that transport you to the place. I got an awareness of the ‘feeling’ of the country.

Memories and War, by Zana Rasul Mohammed. Really beautiful… Schooling may be halted by war, but culture can be treasured in boxes and shared when safe. I loved it.

Even though there was little actual documentary art in the show (and the choice to make it absent was a total success on the part of the curators, I think), the knowledge that the work is created by artists who live amidst the misfortunes of battle, grants the works a more poignant aura. Meanings certainly seem more prolific and appealing seen here. The same works in a white cube gallery with no emphasis on provenance would not be so alluring. Provenance, as in an auction house, adds value.

I intended with this post to compare these artworks with the equally interesting ones (but with a hugely different remit) currently on show in the Ikon gallery, but I’ll need another post to rave about them. Soon!

Exit Banksy, enter Swoon

I finally saw Banksy‘s film Exit through the Giftshop, now on show in only one London cinema. Glad I made it to the big screen before it becomes just another DVD.

47_Swoon_photocnualartIt is really a good watch – tons of fun! I love the amusing turn of events that mess around with your preconceived ideas of who is the protagonist.  At first, your wishes are granted and you get lots of footage of street artists at work, and you naturally expect plenty more footage on Banksy for the main part of the film. But before I tell you what happens, I have to put Banksy on pause, to digress about Swoon, one of the street artists at work in the first part of the film, and the only female one. Swoon, as coincidence would have it, is currently featured prominently in this month’s Art News magazine, for her ‘sailing’ artspedition.

I first came across her work  in an exhibition in Village Underground, East London, last year (pictured). The Thousands was the mysterious title given to the week-short show by the very young curator. 18 year old RJ Rushmore was kind enough to give me an hour of his time to tell me about the stunningly well-light display of street art from around the world in the not-so-underground, superb space. Rushmore is a collector of Swoon and of other figureheads of street art, and some of the artworks in the exhibition were of his collection. He knows these artists first hand, from his childhood days hanging out in both London and New York, encountering the artists at work in teenage infested wastelands and alleyways. They way he told me about it all, I’m guessing that he started collecting with little cash, whereas as we see in the film, street art is now big bucks. Moral: it’s good not to be metrowealthy and grow up in plush, cleansed neighbourhoods, if the vandalism you would otherwise encounter can be turned into gold – and celebrity status. My hat off to the teenage curator/collector for utilising his life experiences to his advantage. And my hat off to Swoon for her skilfully crafted cut-outs and paste ups. She’s worth keeping an eye on.

As for Banksy, he is very clever, as well as skilled. His Guantamo Bay interventions in Disneyland are as funny as the reactions of the Mickeyguards when they discover them. See him also transform a beautiful red phonebox into an equally beautiful, and humorous, sculpture, with meaning appropriated by BT… (if, like me, you’re into red telephone boxes, check out David Mach’s sculpture in Kingston-upon-Thames).

After this exhilarating spur of live artmaking (including -and yes, I disapprove- a live, painted elephant) the way Banksy turns the film around, (by way of ‘revenge’?) is better than fiction. The cameraman and the street artist swap places, and the unexpected outcome brings about a sad-but-hilarious real-life take on the art world. Possible ponderings revolve around the power of money, of advertising, of using your friends because the ends justify the means, of the American dream, of madness or of sheer willpower. Definitely lots to think about, but smiling most of the time. Respect!


P.S.: A really interesting piece of research on the legal quandaries implicit in graffiti:
Tomasz Rychlicki, ‘Legal questions about illegal art,’ Journal of Intellectual Property Law & Practice (Vol. 3, No. 6, 2008) pp. 393-401

Activist Art in a Vacuum

Mr Vacuum Cleaner is around London these days, exhibiting, performing, managing, and all that. So I joined a like-minded group of art-consumers to play anti-consumerist war games in a shopping centre for a day.  In groups, we faced challenges such as finding out the average age of the makers of the clothes in Gap Kids. Answer: do you think they would tell us? Even HQ could not find out! We reckon it’s about 12.

Attempting to discover the ingredients of a Macdonald’s milkshake was even more mission impossible – macstaff can’t even see the ingredients on the packing for the ready-made beverage – there are none printed. I personally thought that not listing the ingredients was illegal, (let alone worrying…) but my food law cognisance is low in research. Starbucks staff were more open to learning about their carbon impact, and although they knew how many daily transactions the shop made, they did not have figures for how many disposable cups were used. However, they were willing to know, if you can do the counting… We did not question how many litres of water may have been wasted. You’ve heard the stories about our rivers going down Starbucks drains. Check out waterwise to find out how much water our coffee really costs.

The tasks were not all about numbers, though. We found out that New Look’s window manequins are shaped like Barbie dolls (i.e. unreal!), that running up escalators the wrong way can be an alternative to paying gym membership, and that the Disney store seems to have bought up all Chinese toy factories.


carbonbuyer_photocnualartOnce the questions were answered (or not, as PR departments saw fit) and the give-me-fives clapped, we took a break for networking and respite, before rehearsing for the grand finale: a secret rendez-vous back in the shopping mall, singing (very loud and a capella)  protest songs for the amusement of shoppers and the horror of security guards. With our cover blown, our spirits high and our mission accomplished, we scuttered off, surveilled (I mean extra-surveilled) by plastic police, and returned to our business as usual.




After many industry efforts to ban it from the internet,
I finally got to see it:  Logorama, the film.

Oil as the end of capitalism… It is brilliant!


Unless otherwise specified, text and images © 2017 Cristina Nualart

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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