Open Frequency 2009: Maria Pask selected by Michael Stanley

Open Frequency 2009: Maria Pask selected by Michael Stanley Maria Pask, 4 f-er, 2008. Performance

Michael Stanley profiles the work or Amsterdam-based artist Maria Pask

I don’t believe in Bible
I don’t believe in Tarot
I don’t believe in Hitler
I don’t believe in Jesus
I don’t believe in Kennedy
I don’t believe in Buddha
I don’t believe in Mantra
I don’t believe in Gita
I don’t believe in Yoga
I don’t believe in Kings
I don’t believe in Elvis
I don’t believe in Zimmerman

I don’t believe in Beatles

(John Lennon, ‘God’, 1970)

‘It’s going to be a strawberry. I’ve already done the banana, it’s in the van. Do you want to see it?’. The van is a late ‘70s, mustard orange, VW Camper van, driven by Maria Pask on a 20-hour journey from Amsterdam, its roof awning replete in crimson and white stripes, and evocative of a romanticised escapism from a not-too-far-distant past. Spilling from its interior is an eclectic inventory of tools, costumes and props; an ironing board, sewing machine, a cheap electronic keyboard, spare fabrics and of course, the eight foot-long stuffed banana.

This was Pask’s near-ceremonial arrival at Milton Keynes Gallery. It was a clever nod to the opening sequence of the popular musical film Jesus Christ Superstar (1973), a personal favourite of the artist’s – in which a ragged band of relatively unknown actors arriving on location with an improvised script perform their drug-fuelled Passion. Intriguingly, Pask’s performance-cum-workshop-cum-film, ‘John Newton: A Basic Guide to a Play’ (2005), also took its cue from a passage of biblical redemption, in the ‘conversion’ and near-beatification of the once slave trader turned Missionary preacher John Newton, and similarly engaged the improvised format of a workshop, articulating Pask’s emphasis on the collaborative and participatory structures through which her work comes into being.

The blatant unfashionable-ness of dealing directly with Christian ideology belies Pask’s self-belief in her own ability to shape from a historical context contemporary relevance, without resorting to sentimentality or literalness. This was further evidenced in arguably Pask’s most ambitious project to date, ‘Beautiful City’, for the recent Münster Sculpture Project in 2007. A title taken from the hit musical Godspell, ‘Beautiful City’ (2007) invited representatives of a wide variety of religions and persuasions to Münster; each weekend, within a white tent, a different speaker presented his or her religious or spiritual convictions to the public.

Pask’s cocktail of social commentary, political doctrine, ecological soundings, philosophy, feminism, body politics and religion is often presented as the naïve ramblings from some coffee-table philosophy or ‘tabloid’ theory of social organisation – their appropriateness awkward and ill-fitting. Typically, Pask allows one of these dominant themes to take centre stage, to become the vehicle through which she brings together people within the structure of her work. Most recently it has been religion. In other projects, ‘The Kit: Emmanuelle’s Annual Manual’ (2004), it is eco-self-survivalism; at other times it may be the cult of celebrity as in ‘Family All Stars’ (2005). Pask, in consciously siting her practice within this dizzying array of feigned belief systems, offering the promise of salvation and contested ideologies, seems to be asking the most pertinent of questions as an artist: what, if not ‘art’, are we to believe in to get us through from day to day?

Michael Stanley, March 2009

Artist's biography

Maria Pask (born Cardiff, 1969) lives and works in Amsterdam. Recent solo exhibitions and projects include 4 f-er, Studio Voltaire, London (2008), Summer School, MKG, Milton Keynes (2005) and Ellen de Bruijne Projects, Amsterdam (2006).

Selected group exhibitions include Weak Signals, Wild Cards, De Appel Curatorial Programme, Amsterdam (2009), Heaven, 2nd Athens Biennale, Greece (2009), 4 f-er, If I Can’t Dance Tonight, Frascati Theater, Amsterdam (2008), Keywords/behaviour, Muhka, Antwerp, Belgium (2008), Other People's Projects, White Columns, New York City, USA (2007), Information versus Information, The Galician Center for Contemporary Art, Santiago de Compostela, Spain (2007), Münster Sculpture Project 07, Münster, Germany (2007), Pensée Sauvage - On freedom, Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt, Germany (2007) and Starhawk! the musical, BAK basis voor actuele kunst, Utrecht (2004).

Maria Pask is represented by Ellen de Bruijne Projects, Amsterdam.

About Michael Stanley

Michael Stanley is Director of Modern Art Oxford, one of the country’s leading venues for the presentation of international contemporary art. Previously he worked as Director of Milton Keynes Gallery (2004 – 2009) where he was responsible for two Turner Prize nominated exhibitions; Yeah…, baby you! by Phil Collins and Cathy Wilkes in 2008, as well as a range of first UK solo exhibitions including Roger Hiorns and Phillip Allen and by international artists including Pae White, Carlos Amorales, Carlos Bunga and Adrian Paci. Most recently he curated the widely acclaimed survey exhibition of work by Marcel Broodthaers and an exhibition of work by the late James Lee Byars. He has also introduced new strands of programming including offsite projects by Johanna Billing, Wolfgang Weileder and Langlands & Bell.

As Curator at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham (2002-2004) he curated the Turner Prize nominated exhibition by Anya Gallaccio, as well as the critically acclaimed exhibition by George Shaw; What I Did this Summer. He has worked with international venues and artists creating collaborations, including SMAK, K29, St. Gallen, Centre d’Art Contemporain, Geneve, MUDAM, Luxembourg and Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama.

Michael previously worked as Curator of Art at Compton Verney (2000-2002) where he took the lead curatorial role in developing a series of major projects including Aleksandra Mir and the capital development of the gallery which opened in 2004. He also founded an independent commissioning organisation called epilogue (1997–2001) where he curated non-gallery exhibitions such as Tabley (2000).

Michael received a First Class Honours degree from the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, Oxford University (1992-1995). He is a Trustee of The Contemporary Art Society, a school governor and married with three young children.

Open Frequency keeps you in touch with new developments in contemporary art practice from across the UK. The artists are selected and profiled by leading curators, artists and writers, presenting the work of artists to watch out for over the coming year. Open Frequency represents a forward-looking glance today of the artists who will be setting the agenda tomorrow.