School of Saatchi: Episode 3

Hooray! It’s School of Saatchi time! Last week they were creating public sculpture in Hastings, today they’re in a stately home – Sudeley Castle to be precise. While the recap footage plays Matthew Collings smiles that all of the artists seem to be making progress which is lovely.

You know, I think this is why I like the program. It has an earnest lack of strategising and sabotage. Collings genuinely wants them all to succeed and they, for the most part, seem to limit struggles and stresses to those they have with their own limitations and critiques of their work rather than trying to bring one another down.

Rebecca Wilson why they have come to Sudeley – Saatchi thinks that really good art should have a relationship with the past and that the classical and contemporary should smoosh together happily. The artists must select an object or artwork to be inspired by and then return and replace the old object with the resulting artwork. They will work two to a room and the artworks should complement one another.

Collings loves this and thinks that tackling the divide between the perceived shallowness of modern art and the apparent depth of older art is important. I would agree with this and I think that what this programme does in showing the non-art-going public the process behind the artwork is important to revealing hidden depths (whether the art itself is any good or not is a different matter). Saatchi also likes things which turn art on it’s head and subvert the past. It’s all about giving something a new twist. Collings thinks it will be interesting to see if the artists engage with their commissioners (i.e. the current residents of the castle including Elizabeth, Lady Ashcombe) or if they completely ignore them in favour of their own ideas.

Samuel Zealey want to do something aural in the chapel so that the body of the observer causes or affects a sound. Matt Clark is interested in light so also goes for the chapel with its lovely stained glass windows. Ben Lowe has gone for a portrait in the bedroom and Eugenie Scrase (also bedroom-bound) is ignoring all the old stuff in favour of electrical cabling.  Suki and Saad are in the library. Suki loves the idea of books and ownership while Saad is excited by the idea of taking something, changing it and giving it back as a kind of gift.

Voice Over Man explains that the relationship between art and the aristocracy has changed – artists used to rely on the patronage of the rich for income, now the owners of stately homes rely on artists to generate revenue by attracting visitors. It’s a good point, simply made. Well done Voice Over Man.

Back we go to East London. Eugenie thinks that the challenge represents “a playful dare to see what we do” from Saatchi. Sam is in his element, drilling and making noise. Copper parts on a stage create a humming buzz and the viewer must stand in a crucifixion-esque pose in order to interact with the sculpture.

Mat Collishaw – an artist from the original Freeze exhibition and one of the original Young British Artists – rocks up. He has previously exhibited at Sudeley and a lot of his work explores historical subjects and generally embraces the whole old/new mashup Collings was talking about earlier.

Mat thinks that Sam’s noise is annoying but this doesn’t seem to necessarily be a negative. He is more concerned that the work will be spoilt if Sam tries to overcomplicate matters and advises that he should keep it pared down rather than make it elaborate.

Matt Clark has decided to use a glass sphere full of red wine to diffuse light around the space. We cut to Collings observing that “Matt seems like an incredibly healthy, integrated personality”. There’s a touch of incredulity to his tone that suggests that perhaps artists aren’t necessarily the most well rounded bunch.  He feels that at the moment Matt is also the most likely to succeed in a real way and become a big name.

Ben Lowe is obsessed by Catherine Parr’s orphaned daughter and wants to explore what might have happened to this abandoned child. There is a sketchy painting illustrating his idea. I feel it’s a tad mawkish – sort of like those tragic life stories in WHSmiths. Ben reasons that he’s trying to do something that stands out and is bold because he want’s to capture Saachi’s attention. “He’s an advertising man” agrees Mat archly.

Voice Over Man reminds us that Saatchi started his ad agency with his brother Maurice and that many people think his advertising sensibilities influence his ideas on art. Rebecca Wilson agrees that Saatchi is an impatient man and “works that are too cerebral or subtle or understated” are not on his agenda. In the wake of Mat’s visit Ben decides it would be wise to change tack and fast and embraces found object.

Eugenie is thinking about the Generation Game conveyor belt in relation to stately homes – seeing so many objects and trying to remember them all. She comes up with a kind of tie rack installation idea off the back of this thought. I think it’s healthy for the public to see the process that leads to her final piece because, of all the artists, hers is the most likely to provoke that “modern art is rubbish” sentiment. Perhaps seeing that there is a process behind it will have a positive effect. I also find Eugenie rather endearing now having failed to warm to her at first. Mat thinks perhaps her artwork is expressing her annoyance with the silliness of the project which brings us back to the nagging suspicion that perhaps Eugenie is laughing at us.

Saad has discovered his original idea of a deformed chair is not as original as he thought. Saatchi already owns several deformed chairs by Nina Saunders. Collings takes the opportunity to point out that originality is about putting one’s own unique spin on a familiar theme. The rich history of tweaking takes us from Hirst to Koons to Beuys.

Collings thinks that Saad needs to step out of his comfort zone.  Saad has clearly reached the same conclusion and will be replacing a bench with stacks of chapatis. “A pile of bread” asks Mat? “It’s just food in a room and worse than that it’s artfully arranged”. He asks Saad if that’s not a bit lame. Saad takes the criticism characteristically well. “What the fuck?” he asks the camera.

Suki is measuring  mirrors obsessively for the second week in a row. Voice Over Man has noticed this too and we look at last week’s inexactly cut mirrored panel sculpture in Hastings. She will be replacing a books on a bookshelf with mirrors. The reverse of Sam Zealey she is in danger of being too minimal and being missed. Suki decides to bring books back into the equation, spraying them black and putting them on the floor.

Saad’s family has been conscripted to make chapatis . The whole family will be going to install them and enhance the idea of a gift. His mother doesn’t understand the idea of chapatis speaking of their own identity.I don’t know if it’s the edit but I’m currently with Saad’s mum even though I can kind of see what he’s getting at. Saad wraps a chapati in bubble wrap and posts it to Lady Ashcombe. Sadly when it arrives it is entirely mouldy. I like the patterns the bubble wrap has made in the mould but Lady Ashcombe is perhaps a little nonplussed.

Oooh! I love Matt’s sphere! He is filling it with wine in reference to holy communion and using gelatin to set it. The mixture turns cloudy. Sam’s mum is helping out with his noise sculpture.

Suki’s black books look amazing. Saad thinks that they will clash with his piece and override the idea that the chapatis are like leaves of a book. He decides to confront Suki saying that she hasn’t told him of the new development of the black books. She points out he never told her there were going to be thousands of chapatis and that she only found out about those when she told him she was thinking of putting books on the floor.

Later on at Sudeley Castle Suki is enamoured of the dust on the bookshelves – “You see time accumulating in these gaps between the books”. Saad is enjoying the fact his family are taking him more seriously as an artist however his sister is not convinced by the chapatis – “he says they’re talking” she smiles. Suki’s mirrors are not quite the right size and keep falling forward. “Maybe next time I should do an installation where all the mirrors break” she sighs.

Matt’s wine and jelly bauble is not quite what he had planned. It’s gone a kind of milky red. The basic glass shape and the chapel environment make me think of Ben Tyers’s ‘Breathe’. The reflections from the globe are beautiful but I can’t help wondering how much of that is to do with the fact that the chapel itself is stunning. Perhaps it will took better when the jelly is set.

The next day we peer expectantly at the jelly bauble. The wine mixture has set and isn’t crystal clear but it at least translucent. Some crafty lighting turns it into a rich glowing globule hanging like a drop of blood in the room. I love it.

Ben’s painting just needs to be hung so he rocks up relatively late and takes but a second to put it in place. He hasn’t had much airtime for his work this week which can’t be a great sign.

Eugenie makes a last minute change preferring the artwork when it’s not working and stops the motor to force the viewer to think about it for themselves.

Suki is still struggling with her mirrors so Saad tells her it might be best to give Saatchi the basic idea rather than trying to finish and failing. She agrees and sets to work. Saad thinks Suki is unbending and isn’t thinking about the impact of her work on his. He complains that his artwork is about loving and sharing but she has drained it out of him. I raise an eyebrow.

Lady Ashcombe adores Matt Clark’s – “I think we should keep it there – it’s really really wonderful”. She also loves Saad’s chapatis and the idea of the gift from family to family – “This is a surprise and a treat”. With rather less enthusiasm she notes that Ben’s painting is spooky but goes well in the bedroom and likes the tactileness of Eugenie’s tassle.

The chapati’s have a mixed response from the visitors. One lady thinks they are beautiful and seems quite moved while another thinks it’s awful. Suki’s mirrored shelves are liked but the books on the floor don’t go down well. Someone thinks they look dead. One man remarks that Sam’s noise sculpture is annoying and works completely against the chapel’s atmosphere.

Ben’s painting is ‘a nightmare’ and ‘a black hole’. “I would hate to wake up in front of that” one woman tells her companion. One man on the tour of the castle simply hates modern art. No-one seems to get Eugenie’s. Eugenie, for her part, doesn’t like people to speak when they look at her work  – they should be enquiring within themselves. Overall the visitors seem to be pleased by the idea of having current art in the castle but some pieces are far more successful than others.

Having done the vox pop here are the judges. Collins thinks Saad’s chapatis are irrelevant to the library but fun and joyous, sentimental and ruthless.  Kate Bush feels Suki’s subtle and beautiful work “suffered from the juxtaposition with Saad” which is exactly the opposite of what Saad was getting stressed about.

Eugenie’s work is judged to be  a “potentially interesting object” by Kate Bush. While Collings thinks that Eugenie conceives her ideas in a sensitive way which somehow gets lost or is missing from the follow up. Kate Bush still thinks she might be a charlatan.

Ben’s is a little derivative –  possibly due to his lack of formal teaching, Matt’s bauble is redolent with Christian iconography and Sam’s lacks clarity. The noise is more static than thrum. I think it would have been better if it had sounded more organic and less like troubled electronics.

Ninja Saatchi arrives in a copter and is “pleasantly surprised”. He has a few concerns – mostly that some people are not pushing themselves – but overally the project has been a success. Rebecca says that Saad and Matt have particularly excelled – Saatchi absolutely loved the chapatis and the glass bauble, despite it’s relevance to the chapel space, would be equally strong taken out of context. Saatchi likes Eugenie but (as seems to be the common concern) he is worried she might be a chancer and Rebecca note that she is “skating on thin ice”.

That’s all from Sudeley. Come back next week for the group show at the Saatchi gallery! The preview included a clip of Saad struggling out of some sort of fabric womb and one of Sam losing his cool and declaring he has had enough.

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