5 uses for a coat hanger

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5 uses for a coat hanger:

  1. Hang up a garment!
  2. Untwist and poke down a blocked drain/hoover
  3. Use two to make a mobile.
  4. Use the hook to fish for something that has fallen down the side of the fridge.
  5. Wrap a coat hanger around a plant pot, secure it and then use the hook to hang it up.

You may have heard of or tried any or all of these ideas but one of the things you might not have thought of, is to make a sculpture out of wire coat hangers.  See?  That’s original isn’t it?  And it was that creative thought which meant that on Friday afternoon I was looking at a sculpture of a deer’s head, antlers and all, made out of coat hangers.  I was at the Summer Exhibition in the Royal Academy and the variety of pictures and sculptures was amazing.  I met up with my husband at the end of the day and we set out to see the exhibits created by famous and unknown artists alike and chosen for exhibition by a panel of experts each year.  From the thousands of entries, only about 1,200 are picked and it is a great boost to anyone who has their work chosen.  They gain a much greater audience and most of the artworks are for sale.

 

We started up the stairs, looking forward to our visit and fresh with enthusiasm.  The first room has only 8 or 10 larger pieces, including a fossilised fuel pump and the word, ‘forever’ up in bright lights on the wall.  We stopped and considered, took a few photos and looked around carefully.  The next gallery included a bar and many gallery-goers were glass in hand as they progressed around the exhibition.  This created a relaxed atmosphere combined with the buzz of the viewers calling each other to, ‘come and see’ or ‘look at this’.   That blend came from arty types who knew what and importantly, which artists to look for, and also from the regular art lovers, who like us, were there to see the tremendous variety and were trying to work what to make of it all.  It soon became obvious that with gallery after gallery of paintings and exhibits, you either had to spend 5 hours there or be a bit pickier about which things to stop and look at.  My feet were already killing me and we had only been there about 45 minutes, so we changed our strategy and walked confidently past many pieces, stopping only at anything which was too interesting to ignore and believe me, that was still lots and lots.

 

There is a theme of collaboration which runs through this year’s Summer Exhibition and there were several famous pieces by artists who manage to work together, (full marks to them, that can’t be easy) for example Gilbert and George and Pierre et Gilles.  One of the memorable exhibits was a low table with a whole heap of charred bones, I’m not sure if they were real or not but as a Momento Mori it was full of the agony and anguish of death.

 

The deer’s head made of coat hangers was remarkable. Created by David Mach, it uses an everyday object to create the familiar form of a wall-mounted hunting trophy but then you look more closely and realise that the deer looks tormented and distressed.  Why has it been killed?  For ‘sport’?  The metal in the coat hangers looks raw and reminded me of the hooks and barbs used in fishing, as well as the suffering of an animal killed as a prize.

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Another of the arresting pieces was a cabinet of colourful vases, labelled as ‘All the fish in the sea’.  The smooth shapes were set in a cabinet with a mirror behind them, giving an impression of twice the colour and the number of the amphora-like forms.  Once I had seen the label, I could understand that the shapes were fish-like and although not intended to look like real fish, the variety of colours and patterns did reflect the many species and types of fish in the oceans of the world.  Is the cabinet intended to suggest that we are only happy to consider fish if they conform to how we see them?  The colours are very bright and artificial, is this the only way we are prepared to look at fish, like in a Disney film?  Maybe these are the total number of fish in the sea and once they’re gone, they’re gone?  It also reminded me of what people say to when a relationship ends, ‘There’s plenty more fish in the sea’, what an annoying and useless phrase that is and in ecological terms may be less and less true.

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I had no idea at the time but it turns out that the fish work is by the same artist, David Mach.  Considering that my aching feet restricted the number of pieces we looked at, quite a high hit rate for his works.  It took some time afterwards to process what we had seen as I found the exhibition quite overwhelming, with so many different artists and styles to appreciate. A few days later and I’m more sure about which works made an impact on me and those I shall remember for some time to come.  My top recommendation if you go to see the exhibition:  Have a good long sit down before you go

Old hat?

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Black and white photos used to seem old hat, in the heady 1980s when all photographs were in bright technicolour. My father loved to take black and white photos in the 1960s and 70s and used to develop them at home in a dark room (the bathroom).  A single special bulb would illuminate his bathing of the photographic paper in a sequence of chemicals.  Once colour had taken over it was too complicated to develop photos at home and he would send away the negatives by post, to receive the colour prints in return many days later.  Those colours are now faded in family albums, the yellow too dominant, skirts too short, the smiles forced.  We were not used to posing for photographs in those days, long before the ubiquitous camera phone and the selfie were invented.  Each call for ‘smile please’ or ‘cheese’ greeted with suspicion or indifference.

 

How different then, the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson which is on show now at the Sainsbury Centre (SCVA) in Norwich.   His black and white photographs chronicle life in Paris from 1929 to 1985 and capture the essence of each subject through apparently very simple scenes.  A young boy, dressed in clothes which are too large for him, stares at the ground, ignoring the photographer who can only be irrelevant to his poverty.  A more joyful scene shows a group of school girls looking out at the view over the Seine from the top of Notre Dame Cathedral, their school capes dating their uniform and making them part of a long-gone era.  There are photos of porters at the big market in Les Halles, known nowadays for a large metro interchange and a shopping mall.  One photo shows a porter with a flatbed trolley, carrying an enormous carcass of raw meat, which takes up the centre of the picture, wholesale in size and intensity. This is no holiday snap, the men do not smile, they have been captured doing their job, this was their daily reality.

 

Cartier-Bresson took many photographs of famous writers and artists, including one here of Jean-Paul Sartre looking nonchalant and effortlessly cool on the Pont des Arts.  The Swiss artist Giacometti, is shown walking across the road, in action, as in so many of his ‘Walking Man’ sculptures, featured in another current exhibition at the SCVA.

 

Cartier-Bresson portrayed Parisians from a variety of social backgrounds.  One photo is of an ordinary middle-aged man alone in a café, looking out of the window, he may be waiting for someone or just watching the world go by.  He looks bemused and if not quite fearful, certainly isolated.  Likewise a photo of plasterers taken in the 1930s, is proof of what looks like a terrible life.  The workers are standing in front of a mountain of cloth, with more piled up in front of them.  They are covered in plaster dust and stand upright to have their photograph taken in what must have been a miserable and filthy working day.

 

There is a contrast in the photos between the truly shocking slums of Nanterre, which look more like the shacks of Nairobi or Rio de Janeiro and the relative riches of a fashion show, where the ladies present are well dressed, hatted and all eyes for the new fashion ideas on display.  One woman has the confidence to lean forward and feel the cloth as the model passes close by.

 

Black and white photography gives this exhibition a strong sense of frame and contrast as well as a clear message for us to view.  In these captured moments, Cartier-Bresson reflected the world around him and each choice of subject and surroundings give us an intimate likeness of what he saw in Paris through the decades of the last century.