Jamaica Biennial 2017 – Bulletin 5: The Biennial @ Devon House

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Deborah Anzinger – A Piercing Cold Where We Meet (2017, digital study)

The 2014 edition of the National Gallery of Jamaica’s Jamaica Biennial was shown at multiple venues—a first for this exhibition in Jamaica—and this included Devon House, the original home of the National Gallery and one of Kingston’s main heritage sites. Devon House was included as part of the National Gallery’s fortieth anniversary celebrations, as a home-coming of sorts, but also in response to the Devon House Management’s invitation to organize regular joint exhibitions.

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Laura Facey – Bumpy Top Desk and Mirror (2016)

The Jamaica Biennial 2014 at Devon House featured work by Laura Facey, Ebony G. Patterson (who won the Biennial’s Aaron Matalon Award that year), Greg Bailey, Cosmo Whyte, James Cooper, and Oneika Russell, and was one of the most popular and critically acclaimed parts of the exhibition. The approach taken was for the works selected to be installed the Devon House mansion interior, alongside or in replacement the regular furniture and art works, and, in the case of Laura Facey, also in the formal gardens in front of the house. The result was a rich dialogue between the history and context of the house—which was built and owned by Jamaica’s first black millionaire, George Stiebel, in 1881—and the issues raised in the art works, such as the historical and contemporary dynamics of race and class, the politics of visibility and invisibility in the face of social violence, and our relationship to the natural environment.

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Sharon Norwood – Root of the Matter XI (2016)

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Jamaica Biennial 2014 – Behind the Scenes: The Installation of Laura Facey’s Walking Tree and Needle for the Planet

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Once an exhibition is up and running, everything may seem effortless and it is easy to forget what went into the installation. In this post, the first of several that give you a glimpse behind the scenes of the Jamaica Biennial 2014, we let you in on what was probably the most technically challenging part of the process: the installation of Laura Facey’s large wood sculptures, Walking Tree and Needle for the Planet.

Because of the unusual size and weight of the works — 14 meters tall for Walking Tree and nearly 10 meters long for Needle, with both weighing several tonnes — the decision was made to exhibit the works outdoors, in the formal gardens at Devon House. The problem was however to get these works from Laura’s studio in rural St Ann to Devon House and then to mount them there without damaging the gardens. Special precautions also had to be taken to ensure that the works were stably mounted, for the safety of visitors and the works themselves. With other works, the installation was a piece of precision engineering, kindly contributed and very ably executed by Tankweld Limited.

The process started with several site visits, to determine where and how the works were to be mounted. The largest and heaviest of the two sculptures, Walking Tree, posed special challenges because it is top heavy and susceptible to wind. The Tankweld team therefore decided that it needed to be anchored with steel plates and 3 feet long steel pegs which would be concealed below the lawn.

December 2 was the big day on which the two sculptures would be transported from Laura’s studio at Mount Pleasant in rural St Ann to Devon House and mounted there in the formal gardens. The day started with loading the two sculptures, which were at Laura Facey’s studio at Mount Pleasant in rural St Ann, onto a large flatbed truck, using a second boom truck. This was followed by what must have been a hair-raising drive to Kingston via the notoriously steep new North-South High Way and the equally challenging Bog Walk Gorge and Flat Bridge. The convoy arrived on schedule at Devon House in the early afternoon and the installation of Needle was completed without too much difficulty, although special care had to be taken not to damage the Royal Palms that fringe the formal gardens. For Walking Tree a larger boom truck was needed and this was done the next day. It was an even more delicate operation, as can be seen in the accompanying photographs.

Once the installation was completed, we all agreed that it had been well worth the effort and the two sculptures make a visually stunning intervention in the Devon House gardens, right in front of the manor’s facade. The installation has been very popular with visitors and has served as the backdrop for countless photographs. The works can be seen there until March 15, after which we will have to embark on the equally challenging task of removing them!

We wish to use this opportunity to extend our sincere gratitude to Tankweld Limited for making this project possible.

Kei Miller: Languages beyond Meaning

Laura Facey - Radiant Red, stained wood, National Biennial 2012

Kei Miller

As the National Biennial 2012 draws to a close, we are pleased to provide you with yet another perspective, contributed by Kei Miller, Jamaican poet, novelist and essayist.

It has not been my habit to write about art – to transcribe the awe I sometimes feel standing in front of a piece, or to jot down the fleeting thoughts that might cross my mind while viewing a work. Part of this is self-doubt, of course. I have never studied the visual arts, and I suspect it has a language which I don’t know how to speak.

And then again, there is another feeling I have that the best art actually speaks its own language – something beyond words – and that this business of translating paint or ceramic or film into syllables and punctuation marks, a semiotic medium which it resisted in the first place, is always a kind of reduction. Perhaps I have taken Susan Sontag’s warning to heart – that to talk about art is too often an act of trying to interpret it – to give it a meaning.

Of course at this year’s biennial, much of the work is full of rigorous intellectual content, but nothing that I would call ‘meaning’. This word ‘meaning’ suggests a neat and sometimes too-tidy conclusion, while I suspect our best Jamaican artists are more interested and drawn to the many and messy layers of exploration that precede such flat finalities.

Ebony G. Patterson - The Observation (Bush Cockerel) — A fictitious History, video installation (detail), National Biennial 2012

Ebony G. Patterson – The Observation (Bush Cockerel) — A fictitious History, video installation (detail), National Biennial 2012

I am grateful that Ebony G. Patterson has not yet concluded her fascinating exploration of not-quite-male/not-quite-female bodies. And the work does not seem anxious for conclusion. The bodies she represents seem to move both robotically and gracefully across a much wider spectrum of gender than we tend to imagine let alone acknowledge. What might start out as masculine in Ebony’s work can easily end up feminine; what might start out effeminate can end up butch. But more interesting than these binaries are the many other points along the spectrum; Ebony’s bodies pause at and perform many other genders – genders that have not yet been named by language. ‘Masculinity’ for instance, seems to be a plural thing in Ebony’s work and so embraces the effeminate man, not as someone whose behaviour is antithetical to manliness, but rather as a possible and authentic version of it. The dainty flowers that hang in her video installation this year end up not only contrasting but also perfectly complimenting the soft beauty of her men.

When I step out from the tropical, slightly magical cave she has created, back into the bright lights of the gallery – I am not conscious of anything so simple or smug as a conclusions, only of a fascinating journey. Continue reading

2010 National Biennial Artists Talk 2: Conventional Media/New Expressions

 

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Join us for a panel discussion with Laura Facey (winner of the 2010 Aaron Matalon Award), Omari Ra, Margaret McGhie and Phillip Thomas, all artists who are represented in the 2010 Biennial, for a discussion on the use of conventional media and formats in contemporary art.

Free and open to the public.

Note: The 2010 National Biennial will close on March 5. Make sure to see it!

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