‘I don’t think people realise just how difficult it is to find solo female artists to review. It’s not to say they don’t exist but the opportunity for variety is simply not there. Things are getting better, it can be said, but there’s huge headway to go. How come? I can find an abundance of shows that address themes I love, mediums I respect, work I admire but when it comes to women, there just aren’t enough exhibitions that crossover with work I can relate to or talk about…
So here is where I turn to our readers to ask them to suggest female-led pieces or exhibitions for us to review, we are here to champion women in art!’
Brittany, Art Student.
Setting The Scene
When it comes to illustrators, the freelance industry is a competitive pool. I sit on Pinterest for inspiration for my art course and it’s packed with elaborate scribbles, often going uncredited where the Internet provides a massive void for you to scream all your talent into, drawing just so happens to be the most affordable medium for any artist – budding or experienced. People go “ooh, that’s nice” and pin without even having to think. Contrary to popular belief, being good with a pencil or pen comes down to practice as opposed to talent. Put the time in to learn and you will succeed. As a result, turning heads with drawing is hard. Yes, you’ve got the classics like Michelangelo and yes there’s an ocean of commercial uses for drawing but I can safely say, I have not seen one single solo Fine Artist’s exhibition done in the humble biro. Currently being exhibited at Modern Art Oxford’s Piper Gallery, Aleksandra Mir’s “Space Tapestry” is the first to take that prize.
Born in 1967 in Poland, Mir is a citizen of Sweden and USA. Now based in London, she has held several exhibitions worldwide and has 25 years of international practice. The focal point of her art is space exploration, the artwork itself coming from her development of large-scale collaborative projects, the most notable being “First Woman on the Moon 1999” which has been touring for 17 years.
Inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry, “Space Tapestry” is a collaborative drawing project inspired by how space innovation could shape our future. The drawings are entirely black and white, spanning nearly the entirety of each gallery wall, making you feel small as you look at the pen detail in each piece. Mir’s team consisted of x27 (18-24-year-olds), so the thought does cross your mind of just how long each piece would have taken if it hadn’t been a collaborative project.
The Art – “Get on Da Spaze Buz” I felt slightly overwhelmed when I walked into The Piper Gallery, I just didn’t know where to start. Don’t misinterpret this as bad, there was so much detail and the sheer size of the pieces made it hard to decide where to get started. I instinctively went to “Get on da Spaze Buz” first, the furthest away and the simplest to take in. It depicted several flying buses, Halley’s comet and the caption “Space seems to be everywhere!” in an American-diner style font. A depiction of the future where you can take a tour bus across the universe, as though it would appeal as simple and as safe as a sightseeing attraction.
Mir’s vision of flying buses would comfortably sit her in the realms of a 60s American Futurist, an ideology that grew popular when NASA began its second human spaceflight program, Project Gemini. Futurists would depict all manner of Sci-Fi daydreams such as flying cars, jetpacks and robot butlers but their ideas of the future were flawed where they often didn’t consider the economic necessity or the rate of scientific progression. Project Gemini was a series of preliminary missions to test whether extended space travel was ultimately possible and due to its success, we knew we could perform the Apollo missions. We’d achieved something astounding as a species and having the grand visions of a Futurist was no longer discreditable because of it. I think the difference between now and the 60s is that we’re far more sceptical of success because of how quickly we’ve advanced in recent years, this is great for keeping our aspirations realistic. At the same time, I adore the hope in Mir’s work, it fills me with excitement for the future and we can all take something from that.
The Art – “We Believe Communication is a Basic Human Need” I recognise the scene from any classic American space-race film. The giant light up boards with clocks and dials and buttons. I can see why Mir concentrates on space even if her drawings feel a little romanticised. I think it reveals a sensible middle point between the corporate slush we know to take scepticism with and the hope we want to have for the future. After all, we have travelled to space. We’ve done amazing things. Sci-Fi is an endlessly fascinating subject that allows us to picture what’s so far deemed as impossible. It’s not just indulging in daydreams either, modern medicine, technology, and still, all that space out there that we’ve yet to explore. We’ve made breakthroughs that would fascinate our ancestors so why shouldn’t we visualise flying buses?
The Art – “Slogans”/”This is Not a Satellite, This is an Educated Nation” In “Slogans”, Mir asked her collaborative participants to readdress the corporate phrases, taking away their cold fonts and allowing each person to visualise them in a more personally expressive way. Space and future go hand in hand, as you see these artists transform these words into something more hopeful and intelligent than their original application. “We monitor our planet on a daily basis”, “we can’t stop thinking about the future”, “do you want to be part of the space future?”. When you can see these in someone’s handwriting, it feels less like a front and more honest and direct. Being part of the “space future” sounds like a genuine invitation.
One of the most impressive of the set was “This is not a Satellite, This is an Educated Nation”. The scale especially hit me with this as I can imagine how painstaking it was to draw out the grid on it, let alone sit for hours colouring it in. Fourteen metres in length, the piece is the longest in the series being displayed at Modern Art Oxford. Even with the amount of people involved, it still feels like a monumental task. Putting these pieces together, lining up the huge sheets of paper, drawing the outline down…the number of pens used up on this… that’s a question I really want answering.
Why Is This An Artist To Champion? I admire Mir’s collaborative approach because it provides a whole host of metaphors for what art is capable of doing. A whole team of people creating something impressive proves that art brings people together both in the gallery space and the creative process. I also think there’s something special about doing a show using materials that the majority have access to; the humble pen and paper. What better way to show that the core of any successful piece of art is the idea? It clearly conveys art as a communicator, not a special club for the elite (see “For The Love of God” by Damien Hirst).
Mir’s work caught my eye because it crosses over with my own practice, I adore science fiction and her work reinvigorates my hopes for a space-age future. I’ve grown up in a time where new breakthroughs happen every day, my childhood was filled with devices making those leaps and bounds between creating the initial groundbreaking technology to now enhancing it. Mir draws on that “eureka” feeling in “Space Tapestry” because she’s managed to make paper feel as though it’s performing to you in 3D. Using human spaceflight as a focus sets our sights on something bigger than ourselves where it’s associated with what humanity does best: work together to achieve the impossible. Thoughts of interstellar discovery bring people together where it asks us to separate our individual identities and think about how we might be perceived as an entire species. Mir said this of her series: “A lot is determined beforehand, but even more is left to the energies and personalities of the people who are enmeshed in the process”. “We come in peace” is our default out-of-office reply to the inhabitants of foreign planets.
Earlier I used the phrase “elaborate scribbles” but I now reserve that purely for work on the scale that Mir and her team have achieved.