Neil Stoker

10 February – 8 March 2012

Ruskin Gallery at Working Men’s College is pleased to announce the upcoming solo exhibition of WMC alumnus Neil Stoker.  Amongst many other things, Stoker’s practice involves a series of drawings done by linen thread, and by using this medium, he often prompts questions about how one can create a single line or a piece of drawing that is not confined to graphite on paper.

On this occasion Ruskin Gallery commissioned the artist to produce a site-specific installation on the wall as well as small-scale interventions within Working Men’s College.  Whilst his white linen work  appears as a direct influence from John Ruskin and the Ruskin lace pattern, his smaller intervention works are often hidden, insignificant or barely perceptible.  Yet the sense of quiet discovery is very much at the heart of his practice, as is the ephemeral and subtle qualities inherent in the use of thread.

Stoker’s commitment in utilising thread as his material to draw also highlights many branches of inquisitions, including a discussion that touches upon femininity (seamstress) or masculinity (tailors).  Another reference that maybe visited is around craft (embroidery/sewing), contemporary art, and the assigned hierarchy between the two.  In attempting to reconfigure these boundaries, Stoker also imagines himself to be bridging the “chaotic and the ordered, the formal and the decorative, the hidden and the exposed, the spontaneous and the premeditated (2012).”

For more information about the artists and for images of their works, please contact Erica at EricaS@wmcollege.ac.uk or through www.ruskingallery.com or www.neilstoker.com/

Exhibition open Monday to Saturday 10-5pm

Neil Stoker lives and works in London.  He graduated with a BFA from Chelsea College of Art & Design in 2009, and has exhibited at RK Burt Gallery (Paperwork, 2007), Nolia’s Gallery (Enough, 2007), Arthouse (Primary, 2008) Waterloo Gallery (I’m Open. 2008) and at the Old Police Station (Johnny Funstopper’s, 2010).

Installation View 4

Traces of Ruskin, 2010
Bleached 13/1 linen thread and clear plastic pins

Installation View 5

Installation View Traces of Ruskin

Installation View 6

Detail of Traces of Ruskin

Installation View 7

Installation View Traces of Ruskin

Cups

Untitled, 2010
White/black linen thread sown into disposable plastic cups.

Installation View Untitled

Installation View Untitled

Food for Thought No.2:  ART and art

Written by Erica Shiozaki

A single development that occurred from 1877 to 78 forever altered the lives of art critic and writer John Ruskin and painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler.  A statement made by Ruskin regarding Whistler’s Nocturne in Black and Gold: Falling Rocket had prompted the painter to prosecute the art critic who published the libel in a socialist magazine Fors Clavigera (published by Ruskin).  Although Whistler won, he was granted only a fraction of what he initially demanded and Nocturne was deemed unsellable due to extensive damage done during transportation to court.  Irony ensued as Whistler became bankrupt whilst Ruskin lost his reputation, and his mental health declined.  What this artistic and legal development pronounced was a clash in artistic idealism and as a consequence challenged public opinion and the art world, on what art should do, and what it should look like.What it should do, Ruskin would claim, is to be embedded with moral and ethical codes, to teach and share intellectual concerns and values in a visual manner, and to properly convey these messages through fulfilling one’s artistic skills.  Skills predicted and manipulated the content and coherency of these messages, and not just by its aesthetic vacuity, which Ruskin believed Whistler supported.  As a socialist, and like many other thinkers such as Theodore Adorno and Ayn Rand, Ruskin truly believed in the social integrity and capacity the medium of art can have, the power it can behold, and ideas it upheld.  Art had a strong purpose and a concrete role in the daily lives of people, and artists used their skills to craft their codes.

And yet, craft (skills) versus contemporary art has been the debate of 20th century.  In fact, as journalist Adrian Gills would agree, much of the 20th century art defined the practice of de-skilling art, of divorcing arts from its skills.  Gills recently commented at a panel discussion that the element of craft, an object’s craftness, of the 19th century pre-Raphaelite painting for example, “tells you that it is valuable.  If you couldn’t do it, it must be better than the stuff that you could do (2010)”[1].  It was, and still is, a way to detect the craftsperson’s superiority, technical expertise beyond the viewer’s, and that thought is always most definitely easier to access than delving into the political history of art to see how an abstract painting gained its status.  Art can no longer be under the regime of craft, but instead of ideas, thoughts, and minds.  And because it continues to evolve along with various knowledges and conceptions, its necessity will always reduce, expire, or extend, depending on what situation is concocted.  It will also always aim to be autonomous from everything that surrounds it and makes it, as witnessed with craft.[2]

At a very basic level, art is a form of language, a set of symbols with ‘transmentality’,[3] which cannot share a universal ‘look’, promise a spiritual, or intellectual encounter.  And as with other languages, it has many voices with a number of ways to enunciate it, and countless reasons to exist.  In contrast to Ruskin’s belief, there was never a master plan (ART) but always the activity that was categorically reduced to ‘art’.


[1] Gills mentioned this during a debate for Intelligence Squared (01/11/2010), under the motion Photography will always be a lesser medium than art.
[2] There has been a surge of incorporation of craft into the realm of contemporary art.  Most notably artists such as Grayson Perry and Tracy Emin include materials and methods identified as craft art to their existing practices. Yet still, the divisive distinction remains as the aesthetic of craft is considered and not the skills, commitment or expertise witnessed in craft art.
[3] Transmentality, or transmental language, was a notion coined by the Symbolist poetical school, which aimed to transfer emotion, or rather state of mind, rather than the meaning.

About ruskingallery

The Ruskin Gallery is located at the Working Men's College in Camden. Ruskin Gallery is a contemporary gallery located in the historic building of Working Men’s College in Camden. In addition to providing students the opportunity to show at a professional level, the exhibition programme at Ruskin Gallery involves inviting external artists for site specific projects. The Ruskin Gallery is run by curator Esther Windsor, who is a curator, artist and writer living and working in London. Working Men’s College (WMC), the oldest surviving adult education institute in Europe, was founded in 1854 and was associated with the Cooperative Movement and the Christian Socialists, stemming, from the same tradition that led later to the Worker’s Educational Association. The Working Women’s College, founded 10 years later in 1864, finally merged with WMC in 1967. Early supporters of both have included F D Maurice, John Stuart Mill, Tom Hughes, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Ruskin, Ford Maddox Brown, Walter de la Mare and Octavia Hill. Originally based in Red Lion Street, we have been in this listed building in Camden Town since 1905. We have continued to develop the tradition of liberal education and today the College serves the whole community, with women, unemployed and refugee students forming the majority of the student body. We have grown rapidly in recent years but are still small enough to know all our students and to respond to their individual needs. WMC was designated as a Specialist Designated Institution (SDI) under the 1992 Further Education Act.