There was much to love about Plovdiv, but this…It was so unexpected. First that there should be within this gallery named for the collection of Tsanko Lavrenov a floor of lithographs from the 1970s and reproduction artifacts from Mexico. Second, not so surprising really, was just how amazing this collection really was. Four rooms, all superb. I don’t usually take pictures of these things, but these…it felt like a treasure almost entirely forgotten, not all of the names of the artists were even known. No postcards of course. Never will we see them again. But the reflections from the glass break my heart.
This is only a fraction, and those I loved most. I found something on all of the artists apart from Irma Dominguez, who is behind these most spectacular cats.
Silvia Rodriguez Rubio, whose work I cannot find but who I think is teaching at UNAM.
I love these so much… Ortiz is one of the few artists here I could find information for. After his suicide this article by Raquel Tibol appears, and in it she quotes Ortiz from 1972: ‘Lo poco de educación plástica que tuve fue de orden gráfico, principalmente en el taller de Silva Santamaría‘. Whose work was also to be found here (though he is originally from Columbia). I loved it also, each character…ah, I love them. Particularly the plant creature in the bottom left, but all of these spiky, dangerous absurd medieval knights are pretty awesome.
Tsanko Lavrenov was also a surprise look at this brilliant painting titled ‘Twenty Years Socialist Construction’.
I liked the rest of his work as well, but anything of ‘ideological weight’ was in storage…as if ideology were only to be found in paintings like the one above. Still, these scenes from the old town of Plovdiv are splendid.
A quick break from writing and reading and writing to think for a minute about Grayson Perry’s The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever! at Bristol’s Arnolfini. It started life in the Serpentine down in London I believe, and was so nice to see something like this outside of the capitol — I loved the Arnolfini focusing on one exhibition as well, it really opened up the space, made it feel larger than I remember it being. The official description of the exhibit:
[The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!] tackles one of the artist’s primary concerns: how contemporary art can best address a diverse cross section of society. On show for the first time outside of London, the exhibition is central to the autumn season at Arnolfini and a programme of events inspired by Perry’s irreverent take on contemporary culture.
In the exhibition, Perry continues to explore many of the themes and concerns that recur in his practice, drawing from his own childhood and life as a transvestite, as well as wider social issues and his abiding interest in his audience. The works in the exhibition examine masculinity, class, politics, sex religion, popularity and art, as well as contemporary issues such as Brexit and ‘Divided Britain’.
My favourite piece was this I think, Red Carpet. I love everything about it. I love that it is a tapestry, love fabric, love the rich textures of it that fit so well the highrise buildings that form its backdrop. I love its squiggly lines, its noting of the many boundaries and main thoroughfares, how it reflects back at the nation its own maps of us and them inscribed upon hearts and minds — safe and dangerous places, useful places, places marked in different ways by class and culture and kind of dwelling and our reception there. I love how this map resembles the kinds of maps Kevin Lynch uncovered in trying to understand how people visualised and understood and traveled through their everyday cities. It is such a beautiful object, yet does not make the discourse (and what it says about Britain in this particular time) all that beautiful, as it isn’t beautiful at all.
Grayson Perry himself describes it thus:
The title evokes the most formal and reverent of welcomes and the style is influenced by some of my favourite material culture – Afghan war rugs. This is a map of British society as evocative and inaccurate as a geographical one made by a medieval scholar. The distortions partly reflect the density of population rather than the lie of the land. It is covered in words and buzz phrases that I felt typified the national discourse in 2016. The background weave is made from photographs of tower blocks.’
The second map is no thing of beauty, which…perhaps if he had spoken to other people on the estate it might have been, but this rings pretty true for young men. Here we have the Digmoor Tapestry.
Grayson Perry writes:
This work is my reaction after talking to a group of young men from Skelmersdale, Lancashire. They are the victims of poverty, chaotic parenting, bad role models and disrupted education. They hung around street corners selling weed, riding motorbikes around parks and getting into fights with rival groups. They were at an age when a hormonal need to assert their masculinity was at its freshest. Deprived of acceptable badges of status, job, money, education, power and family, they exercised their masculinity in a way that seemed to echo back to the dawn of humanity – they defended territory. That territory was the Digmoor estate, a quadrant of a 1970s new town bounded by dual carriageways. They seemed prepared to kill for it. The Digmoor Tapestry is a map of the state the defended. The style was inspired by traditional African fabrics and the graffiti is taken directly from the boys’ environment. On seeing it one of them commented, ‘It looks like it’s been used to wrap up a body’.’
There is ‘Animal Spirit’, a different kind of mapping, very different elements, and oil everywhere oil. A foretelling of our own destruction and the death of our future in the entrails as the Greeks used to do…
”Animal Spirit’ was a phrase that cropped up quite a lot during the commentaries after the financial crash of 2008. It seemed to be used as a way of offloading responsibility for the human chaos of the meltdown onto some mystical force, when in fact the men controlling the market are prone to irrational behaviour as anyone. Some of the symbolism within the image of Animal Spirit – the abandoned baby, the three black crowns and the hanging man – come from the names of the traditional patterns in Japanese candlestick graphs used by traders in the city.’
Maps…I so love maps. He has a map of days, a map of nowhere, a map of an englishman… I long to see them. Someday.
He loves shrines as much as I do! Though I prefer mine in the wild. There were bikes! And there were ceramics. This one evoked both phallic symbol and skyscraper and banking district, here we have Object in Foreground which provoked this headline from the Evening Standard: ‘Artist Grayson Perry has created a huge glazed ceramic penis he says is inspired by the City of London’s bankers and traders’. Funny that I too have always thought of them as giant penises. His description was quite provocative:
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of masculinity to examine was its pervasive effect on the power structures and unconscious bias within the City of London financial industry. Men working there are well-educated, confident and operate in a culture of their own making, so it was difficult to pick out the dominant threads of masculinity from the dense and perfect weave of their business. Object in Foreground was inspired by the bland lobbies of their corporate towers. The decor expresses imperial neutrality, but I saw them as bachelor pads write large.
My favourite though, was this one: ‘Luxury Brands for Social Justice’
Because it felt so good to be so angry and yet be able to laugh at this shit all at the same time:
The Viking Ship Museum — incredible. Despite hordes of elderly French tourists in colourful anoraks and sensible shoes fresh off the coach, following a diminutive tour guide in a bright yellow jacket who propelled her footstool through the crowds, leapt upon it, declaimed, and moved on to the next-notable-thing. They followed her at speed, seemed to linger longest in the gift shop — but that’s probably prejudice speaking as I was transfixed and not really paying attention.
The wonder of these ships. To be built with such care, to be eminently practical yet also crafted and made most beautiful, from their great curves and curls to their meticulous carvings. To be buried in honour of certain members of the community. The most beautiful, the most decorated ship carried two women to their afterlife and with them their weaving tools — multiple looms, weaving tablets, yarns, precious cloth. Agricultural tools were found here too, plowshares, sickles, scythes — at least the wooden handles. If only there had been more, they could have joined my collection of medieval illustrations/ implements still used in everyday life.
Two women and their weavings. In this.
What love and honour shown to them. The Oseburg ship, build around AD 820 and in use before the women were buried in 834. 22 metres long, 5 metres wide, could reach a speed of over 10 knots under sail. The most lavishly decorated ship yet found.
A picture of its excavation:
There is the Gokstad ship, found in 1880, built around 890 and buried around 900 with a full complement of shields. A warriors ship.
The third ship, the Tune ship from 910, is almost in ruins, only the base of it remaining preserved. Still beautiful.
The only hint of humour here — the remains of a peacock were found — ‘It may have been a gift from some foreign dignitary or perhaps a ‘souvenir’ brought back…’
Also within the Oseberg ship this cart:
Soft leather boots:
five amazing carved animal heads, four in the burial chamber, they seem to have been meant to be mounted or carried with a thong passed behind their teeth, their purpose unknown.
I would have loved to have been here quiet and alone, but amongst these objects so weighted with beauty and an entirely different way of viewing the world and living within it, those coachloads didn’t matter quite so much. But we got there early before the real deluge started I think. It would have been intolerable with a few more coachloads by the time we left.
We went to see Henrik Ibsen’s home on Friday. In Oslo. We were in Oslo! It was cold for a summer day, quite rainy, never did really stop raining the whole time. So all my photos have a tremendous background of grey skies and water. Still, Oslo is a lovely place.
Reading Ibsen again was good too — I confess I read him too young. I read The Doll House I think, long long ago. Didn’t really understand it, what could I know of bourgeois emptiness and the disfigurement of women under hypocritical middle-class moralities? Like another planet, and a fairly boring, if not downright nasty one. I remember not liking it.
I like Ibsen so much better now — I worry, perhaps, that I know too much now about bourgeois emptiness. But still only from the outside. I can see, though, why Eleanor Marx would work so hard to translate them into English, why she wrote of seeing Hedda Gabler (1890) in the theatre and emerging transfixed. It was my favourite of these three. There are women here who save, and women who destroy, but all of them feel like real women. Rounded. Fighting their boundaries and the customs that hem them in, even if like Hedda, they don’t have the self-awareness to fight well. This is the tragedy of women who have not found meaning in life, but know that it is missing. Know that the narrow role allotted them is not enough. Hedda wasn’t brave enough to strike through to the centre of things — maybe she wouldn’t have been a nasty bully if she had. I wonder. But she was too brave to live constrained under the power of a man.
The there is The Pillars of the Community (1877). Here Lona has returned from the New World to the Old to shake out the stuffiness and the hypocrisy. She knows just what she wants, is comfortable in her own skin. The New World continues to be a place for Europeans to reinvent themselves, escaping the constraints and disfigurings of middle-class society. Here, the possibilities it offered and the woman who has grasped them, win a happy ending for everyone.
It felt a bit didactic, but I quite loved it as exemplary of that Victorian capitalist who long ago ceased to exist — the one who grew rich on others’ misery yet who was firmly anchored in position and place. This led to a paternalism, a sense of duty, a sense of being a pillar of the community. While it is entirely hypocritical to say that their investments were disinterested, they still had a care to ensure their investments could be seen as building and growing their community.
Hell of paternalistic and hypocritical though — here he has secretly bought up all the land where he is trying to bring a railway line in:
Karsten Bernick: See, I have risked this for the good of the community.
Lona Hessel calls him on it. You have to like her.
Karsten Bernick: And isn’t it the community itself that forces us into crooked ways? What would have happened here if I hadn’t dealt secretly? They would all have thrown themselves into the concern, divided it, scattered it, mismanaged and bungled the whole thing…That’s why my conscience absolves me in this particular case. It is only in my hands that these properties can become of permanent benefit to the many people they will provide with a living. (97)
He is, of course, in the process of replacing workers with machines, forcing them beyond their capacities, and almost commits murder. But at the last moment he is saved from his own self, which allows him to see himself truly and repent. Come out to the community he has felt so constrained by, even as he comes clean. A nice moral.
I liked the The Wild Duck (1884) better. Liked that the wealthy idealist in this play does more damage than good. Is as blind as his avaricious father, but in different ways. I loved how this play turned The Pillars of the Community on its head in a sense, complicated the value of truth, showing its destructive power. I particularly loved this interchange:
Relling: While I remember it, young Mr Werle — don’t use that exotic word ‘ideals’. We have a good enough native word: ‘lies’.
Gregers: Do you mean the two things are related?
Relling: Yes. Like typhus and typhoid fever. (244)
I’m still thinking about Relling’s ‘medical’ use of the ‘saving lie’. Just another way towards misery, but whether more or less miserable is a difficult question. Hjalmar Ekdal is a vain, weak man. Perhaps What was best was whatever kept little Hedvig and the wild duck alive.
Ibsen’s house and the museum attached was by far the priciest thing we saw in Oslo, apart from perhaps Engebret Cafe, where Ibsen ate on occasion along with Grieg and Bjornstjerne Bjornson and etc (and where Munch was kicked out of, after accusing staff of stealing his gloves and scarf). It was delicious however, and all paneled wood, which you know I loved.
I failed completely to get a good shot of Ibsen’s home’s exterior… here is an oblique shot, where this wonderful statue faces the park where the palace sits:
What it once looked like:
We had walked across the park to get to the museum from one of the precisely ten thousand Scandic hotels scattered across the city. It was bought when Ibsen was old and famous and rolling in funds — and so he ended his days in a setting very much like one of his plays:
In face he did all the decorations himself, like his own stage set. It is quite opulent. The dining room and salon (with colours all off due to the light):
His amazing study — his wife used to sell tickets to see it after he died, people would line up. She lived here until her death in 1914. It was turned into dentist offices before being returned to almost its original state:
They even rescued the bath from a farmer’s fields.
Ibsen wrote five hours every day. Exactly.
One one wall of the study, Ibsen hung a huge portrait of Strindberg — his mortal enemy. I read Strindberg before our Stockholm adventure, and never got round to blogging that. While I quite liked The Red Room, his plays had me raging over the treatment of women. I prefer Ibsen.
Suzannah died in this chair (on the right behind glass) in the lovely but very little library, sitting up as she had wished
In addition to his plays with interesting women, there are the lovely hand drawn certificates he made for his wife Suzannah on special days:
That was from the museum, full of fascinating odds and ends:
We didn’t go direct from his home to the Grand Cafe, where he went every day. But we did go. Here is Munch’s drawing of Ibsen at the Grand Cafe:
It has changed quite a bit, but still feels very expensive and rather glamorous. We drank wine.
While wandering we also accidentally passed the location of his first house (I think, it’s in Norwegian) that his wife Suzannah hated, said it was cold and all corridors…
I could end with his grave, which we found in Vår Frelsers gravlund…
But instead will end with the cafe, where we actually found a very decent cup of coffee:
The exhibition of The Prix Pictet shortlist and winner at the V&A was superb.
Prix Pictet is a global prize that aims to highlight sustainability and environmental issues through photography….The theme for this cycle is Space.
The winner Richard Mosse for his series entitled Heat Maps — enthralling pictures, only two of them on display here. Huge composited black and white film pictures and heat photographs showing refugee camps, showing metal cars glowing and human bodies incandescent, this use of military technology against military technologies to bring alive the scale of the camp, but in so much detail… Like a Bruegel Mark said and it was exactly what I had been thinking but the technology of it also means it comes in and out of focus a bit, like an enormous charcoal with sections in crystal clarity but but others blurred as though a careless fist rested there. Figures also burred white but caught in fragile intensely human moments and motions, there is a vividness here, a humanity unvarnished, a poverty not picturesque. These are landscapes of tents and metal and ripping wire, and a fragile battered environment of water, trees.
Carceral spaces at scale, but with humanity foregrounded. They were incredible. A visceral call to dismantle all of it, a recognition of the spirit of those within it.
The full list of photographers, all of their work is wonderful.
Mandy Barker (United Kingdom) Beyond Drifting: Imperfectly Known Animals
Saskia Groneberg (Germany) – Büropflanze
Beate Guetschow (Germany) – S Series
Rinko Kawauchi (Japan) – Ametsuchi
Benny Lam (Hong Kong) – Subdivided Flats
Richard Mosse (Ireland) – Heat Maps
Wasif Munem (Bangladesh) – Land of Undefined Territory
Sohei Nishino (Japan) – Diorama Map
Sergey Ponomarev (Russia) – Europe Migration Crisis
Thomas Ruff (Germany) – ma.r.s
Pavel Wolberg (Russia) – Barricades
Michael Wolf (Germany) – Tokyo Compression
Another set of pictures of the migrant experience from Sergey Ponomarev, pictures of this massive movement of humanity that seems so remote to London even as I read of camps and deaths, even as I contribute food and money, even as I cry over boats tumbling over themselves and spilling children into the sea.
Most of the refugees reached Europe. They began to conjure up and build new living spaces for themselves, forever changing the face of Europe itself.
I loved the recentering of the world onto these journeys that these pictures achieved. This new world they are creating.
Pictures of faces against glass in Tokyo’s subway, condensation, patient suffering. It feels infinite here.
Shinjuku Station is used by an average of 3.64 million people per day, making it the most crowded train stations in the world in terms of number of passengers. I spent more than 60 weekday mornings photographing passengers during their commute into Tokyo. All portraits were taken at one train station along the Odakyu line, during rush hour between 7.30 and 9 am. At intervals of 80 seconds, a train already packed to the absolute limit pulled into the station. Even more people pushed their way into the compartments until the commuters were jammed like sardines in a can. Day in day out, millions of commuters must endure this torture, as the only affordable housing is hours away outside of the city center. Is this a humane way to live?
The collision of housing crisis, work, public transport. The everyday pain of it.
Saskia Groneberg’s pictures of plants filling offices, curving towards light, peering round blinds. They start banal and by the end of the series have given you a feeling more ominous than that, as though humans are not just absent but gone.But I think that is very much my own impression, too many movies, too many references to the Triffids.
Benny Lam’s pictures from Hong Kong, staring down at people in tiny rectangles — the length of our vertical axis — only enough room to sit and barely enough to lie down. The rooms’ heights stacked vertically, the sum of people’s possessions around them. I remember my tiny room in London on New Park Rd, spacious in comparison (you could have got three or four people lying down in there, a new spatial measure), similarly stacked high, this feeling of being trapped yet also of safety because it is still yours… Nothing to this. I am humbled. Again we must question just how this is the world we have created.
The tiny space in this house compels you to do everything on or around the bed: sleeping, washing vegetables, having meals, writing letters, and watching TV. For some people, it is also where the children do homework and play games. Living here is like being trapped in a cage. Dilemma is what it’s all about. If you need to catch your breath, stay in this trap and entertain yourself.
Sohei Nishino’s amazing montages of London and San Francisco, space expanding again. Myriads of images collaged together into a larger sense of the city, a vertiginous wandering through cityscapes that resemble the city you know but with some jarring differences.
Rapid cultural and economic development creates a continuous process of amplification and accumulation within cities. I walk through these cities, camera in hand, capturing multi-facetted [sic] views that I then combine,in accordance with my memories, arranging them into a map that portrays all the singular aspects of the place. The result is quite different from the denotative expression of a map; it uses photographs of concrete objects or shapes as units to recreate a geographical representation, expressing the city through human memories and images. This means that the finished work is anything but an accurate map, it is simply the town as seen through the eyes of a single individual, a trace of the way in which I walked through it, an embodiment of my awareness, a microcosm of the life and energy that comprise the city.
Fascinating exercises in psychogeography, though perhaps a little too stripped of situationist rebellion…
There is earth being scorched by fire, tied to agricultural ritual and both literal and cyclical space in Rinko Kawauchi’s pictures. I loved this hill, this sense of rebirth and the barrier between life and death, the theme of connection across space in this kind of time.
Beate Guetschow. Brutalist concrete crumbling against landscapes that I had to be told were composites to create new landscapes. That needing to be told…that fascinated me.
Her statement brought together a lot of the things I have been thinking about (I mean, she quotes Georges Perec, she is clearly playing with the idea of city here as well…):
Cities grow, and in doing so they occupy increasingly large amounts of space – the built environment is the greedy counterpart of the natural realm. A space is defined only by differentiation from another space, for which it needs walls that serve as barriers or borders. These are mainly conceived and put in place by man. The walls and virtual boundaries around spaces usually have some form of opening that define one’s own position and allow one to enter a different space. Georges Perec describes this perfectly in his book Species of Spaces: “To live is to pass from one space to another, while doing your very best not to bump yourself.”
In the S series I investigate urban space, whereby I am particularly interested in architecture as a representation of ideology and in the international equality of built structures. My photographs present cities that do not exist in reality. I use computer software to assemble new cityscapes from buildings I have photographed all over the world. The resulting images are visual utopias that reflect modernist thinking, its desire for structure and its idealism. A key characteristic of modernity was an unshakable belief in progress – the idea of a process of sustained growth that would ultimately lead to a perfect society. In terms of its clarity and functionality, modernist architecture symbolises this faith in rationality. In my images, these very structures are shown to be crumbling; their substance is rotten.
Mandy Barker’s study of plastic, a Victorian labeling within a tiny glass cabinet combined with these pictures of wonderful circles — views through a microscope, new views on the plastic that is filling the earth and all the living things within it beginning with plankton.
Micro to macro, Thomas Ruff’s pictures of Mars. Proper space:
The chosen area of land in this series is a mere observer of nearly a hundred years of land disputes, which saw colonization, 1947’s divide of the Indian subcontinent and mass-migration with Partition, and 1971’s liberation war of Bangladesh which created the current border tension with the neighboring country, India. Absence of any profound identity for its existence never diminishes its presence, and its body carries the wound of aggressive industrial acts, such as stone collection and crushing. … Wasif’s work is not a definitive act of understanding the totality of deeds, rather deliberately ignorant of them with the help of an unconscious camera, to merely show land’s lone existence over a period of time.
The barricades are architectural elements that instantly appear and change existence around them. They are made out of tiles, barrels, blocks, and sacks of sand against which human beings seem to blur And become insignificant.
The barricades are the instant, moment-to-moment, concretization of separation of lives, identities, and ways of being. It is here that political, social and above all, religious believes are conjured up into a violent confrontation frontline made out of piles and multitudes. These barricades become turbulent focal points in the landscape where space is constantly reshaped and re-conquered and always remains chaotic.
Brilliant exhibition, and we caught it on the last day and almost didn’t see it at all as there were lines to main entrance — the security guard we were talking to told us of the other entrance round the side — not a soul around. good thing too, as who wanted to see fucking Pink Floyd or the Balenciaga exhibition? Everyone else apparently, which was all the better.
We also took this opportunity to enjoy a view of Tipoo’s Tiger. Worth stopping by even if you don’t see anything else there at all.
This was accidentally a London weekend full of references to Lenin and 1917 — both in the (planned) visit to the art of the Russian Revolution exhibition at the RA, and in the (impromptu) attendance of Tom Stoppard’s play Travesties. (Tom Hollander in the lead as the aging Henry Carr! Brilliant! British Consul in Zürich in 1917, when that city was host to Tristan Tzara, founder of Dada, James Joyce, and Vladimir Lenin! Amazing!)
Here we have Lenin as the ideal:
As a human being he did not live up to this ideal, no one could. I am in agreement with those who tire of hearing (leftist) people cite him chapter and verse. I loved Stoppard’s gleeful Brechtian treatment of him through consul Henry Carr’s fading memories. Loved the brilliant physical acting of Forbes Masson as Lenin (even at this grand moment when he is being called back to Russia) tossing his beruffed head when dismissed in a huff. Sticking his neck through a window to sing. Working hard at the library writing his book. Loved the socialist burlesque scene, the whole of the witty repartee, the sudden hilarity. The limericks. I admire Lenin. I am still troubled by him because I never did agree with his vision for achieving the revolution. Because he was conservative in many ways, his taste in art and music among them, and he had no right to stamp down on the wild flourishing of creativity that the revolution both inspired and made possible.
I think his praxis arguably set the stage for what happened in Russia under Stalin. And of course Stalin was inexcusable, unforgiveable, unforseeable, caused the death of millions. He betrayed everything the revolution stood for.
But goddamn, wasn’t the Russian Revolution glorious for a while? Didn’t it end the terror of the Okhrana and desperate lack of nutrition/education/health care/housing/women’s rights/right-to-anything-at-all-especially a decent life or a dream for the future that comprised existence for so many existing, just existing, under the tsar? Didn’t it open up conversations about democracy and the rights of workers, women, ‘colonised subjects’, writing, art, space travel, architecture? Didn’t it go beyond survival to start thinking about the meaning of a full life for all and create a moment when suddenly the whole world stopped and wondered if that were possible?
Yes, yes it did. We still fight for that possibility. People all over the world have been inspired by it. Still believe that there is an alternative. Still believe that revolution doesn’t lead inexorably to Stalinism. Surely the question becomes how do we strive to reach it without this streak of authoritarianism emerging through our struggle — an authoritarianism that only mirrors what we face. How dare that be forgotten by those who are comfortable in an ever-more unjust world full of hunger and want and bombs falling. To collapse revolution itself into Stalinism is fairly intellectually sloppy, but that was much of the message I received from the exhibition’s written commentary (as opposed to the art itself). Another blogger, whose beliefs run rather counter to mine as far as I understand them, seems to have got something of the same message:
The show arrives, I think, at a particularly timely moment, when artists here in the West have fallen in love all over again with the idea of supposedly avant-garde art as a vehicle for promoting supposedly leftist political causes. As such, the event at the R.A. offers a spectrum of what can only be described as awful warnings.
— Restless Revolutionaries: A Timely Look At Russian Art By Edward Lucie-Smith
I’m not quite sure what that means exactly, staring at it doesn’t help. I’m not sure if the awful warnings are for artists to beware left politics because that leads straight to the gulag (as if art weren’t always political already), or that those fighting for a better world should avoid the avant-garde at all costs. (I’m rather sure that’s not what she’s saying, but makes me laugh all the same.) There’s a similar dire warning of something or other in the Guardian. Do not celebrate this art it says. It rather turns my stomach.
To me, this exhibition rather avoided a full understanding of those early years, being rather too full of phrases expressing sentiments like this one:
Many Russian artists, philosophers and writers were nostalgic for the beauty and charm of the old Russia, rapidly disappearing under the boots of the proletarian masses.
I lie, that was the most extraordinary of the sentences the exhibition exhibited.
As if the poor had not been systematically shut out from beauty and grace in the previous centuries of exploitation. As if the artists on display here were backward looking. As if they were not propelled by excitement of what suddenly became possible with the overthrow of a violently repressive aristocratic order. As if that violently repressive order did not underpin the ‘beauty and charm’ for a limited few in old Russia. As if the true tragedy of revolutionary Russia was not the immense hope and promise which flourished, only to be crushed in what was not an inexorable process sparked from the moment Russia dared dream of a true revolution, but something rather more complicated. A complex historical process, just as the Bolsheviks and their part in a wider revolutionary movement was complex, full of contradiction as they themselves were full of contradiction.
I suppose we were sat in Burlington House in the West End. Heart of the Empire. What did I expect.
The period leading up to the revolution was full of struggle and heady new ideas full of what was possible, and then it came and what artists created was extraordinary. How could the art of the exhibition not be most wonderful? The inspiration for the exhibition no less exciting:
Taking inspiration from a remarkable exhibition shown in Russia just before Stalin’s clampdown, we will mark the historic centenary by focusing on the 15-year period between 1917 and 1932 when possibilities initially seemed limitless and Russian art flourished across every medium.
Fantastic…and indeed, one of my favourite rooms was that of Malevich recreated from photographs of the exhibition of 1932 ‘Fifteen Years of Artists of the Russian Soviet Republic’, with his white architectural forms and brilliant faceless farmers (his nod to the demand that he be more ‘representational’ — I share the frustration at such a demand. In the here and now the frames have all been reworked to a plain Ikea style, though the picture of the original exhibit gives a sense of the different feel of it).
Then we discovered the Suprematists made food coupons! Amazing. We saw Kandinsky, one of my very favourite artists, The Blue Crest (1917):
Another favourite, Marc Chagall. The painting description notes how Chagall was inspired by his wife pictured here, and said she floated above all of his work. How wonderful:
This exudes the happiness of those early days.
They were showing excerpts from Vertov’s Man With A Movie Camera, and other clips including a manic one from Eisenstein showing thick and disturbingly spurting milk all over peasant hands and faces.
I especially loved the mixture of paintings, posters, ceramics, textiles and film. I mean, could there be anything more awesome than the phrase ‘agitational porcelain’? Followed by Konstantin Yuon’s New Planet?
Another room that contained El Lissitzky’s design for a new apartment, rebuilt here in all of its streamlined glory. I know Owen Hatherly disapproved, writing
This reconstruction of El Lissitzky’s putative design for a flat in Moisei Ginzburg’s Narkomfin building, made for the Revolution exhibition at the Royal Academy (RA), has a similar discomfort. Lissitzky’s room wasn’t laid out in real space when the building was constructed, between 1928 and 1930; he made a photomontage to show how the duplex flats of this collective apartment building could be furnished.
I see his point, it almost looks shabby hovering in cardboard over the gleaming parquet, but I rather loved it.
The textiles were awesome, like Andrey Golubev’s Red Spinner.
Pavel Filonov — how did I not know Filonov before this? How was he not in Janson’s History of Art, which continues to reverberate through my life with wonder as I finally get to see the originals of those pictures I only ever dreamed of?
But he wasn’t there. Nor was Sofya Dymshits-Tolstaya’s cool glass paintings — This lovely thing Peace to the Sheds, War to the Palaces. How much did I love that?
To end…Vladimir Tatlin’s Letatlin, a model glider that was … impossible to say it was my favourite thing in this exhibition full of wonderful things, but. Well. Wondrous.
So to go from this to Stoppard’s Travesties was pretty awesome.
I knew all about Vienna in 1900 but had no idea what was going down in Zürich in 1917, even though I have chased Lenin in Krakow and elsewhere in Europe. Just a way to explore the city. I chased Joyce in Dublin and Paris. I’ve never chased Tzara, however, despite having chased Aragon and Breton. If I go to Zürich I will start. Of course I will go.
Still, how lucky I am to have been able to see the gallery, these paintings, and then rest my weary feet here, in the eagle’s nest. The only time I love gilded anything is in the theatre. The more there, the better.
And this wasn’t even everything we saw in London. I wanted to say more about Stoppard, but think I will have to read the screenplay. And write more later perhaps.
A crazy, packed weekend in London, that involved the launch of the 4th issue of Salvage and meeting Andreas Malm (and friends, lots of friends), catching up with my friend Tucker who just passed his viva with no corrections, The Robots exhibition at the Science Museum and much more… and still there was much left undone, friends not seen, stones left unturned.
Throughout history, artists and scientists have sought to understand what it means to be human. The Science Museum’s new Robots exhibition, opening in February 2017, will explore this very human obsession to recreate ourselves, revealing the remarkable 500-year story of humanoid robots.
It did make me realise that the closer we get to actually making robots real, the less I am fascinated by them. Really it is the old automata and clockwork things I most love. It opened with old clocks, and this, on the subject of orreries:
Possessing a model of the universe became a mark of politeness and respectability in the new, rational world of the 18th Century.
I almost laughed out loud. As I did seeing this:
An incredible and absurdly intricate automaton which they called ‘rose engine’ lathe created about 1750 — this produced a small complicated pattern cut into a round piece of wood. The exhibit notes it was made for someone wealthy – no shit.
I spent a while staring trying to work out where they could add another flourish of metal.
But even better was this automaton monk, made in Germany or Spain about 1560:
This monk prayed, walking across a tabletop while moving his lips, raising a crucifix and rosary, and beating his breast in contrition. He was built as an offering on behalf of King Phillip II of Spain, in thanks for his son’s recovery from a bad injury.
Just one of a whole collection of wonderful (and absurd) Catholic automata, that I suppose given the current state of catholic decorations for the home should hardly surprise me:
In this crucifix above, Jesus’s head would roll from side to side and shed wooden tears of blood while the Mary’s and other mourners raised their arms up to him.
They had this amazing, tiny, mechanical spider
They had the wondrous Silver Swan finished in 1773, originally found in the Mechanical Museum of James Cox, and with an internal mechanism by John Joseph Merlin:
These little silver fish swim up and down when the mechanism is in motion, and the swan endlessly succeeds in catching them, releasing them (you can watch it here, I am sad we did not see it in motion):
But on to the real robots. Maria, from Metropolis, happiness:
Cygan, George and Eric (Britain’s first robot, rebuilt here):
These mad composites of plastic and metal and wood and wire:
And on to a present that is feeling like the future:
In chatting over what we had seen, I realised Mark had the same nostalgia I did walking through the space for the utterly amazing Cosmonauts exhibition, which is the last thing we saw there. Not even robots could displace the memories of awe and wonder. But it was pretty awesome.
We went to see Strange Worlds: The Vision of Angela Carter today at Bristol’s RWA — I love Angela Carter, one of the true greats. Her amazing words snake round you, drag you in so it is impossible to emerge from the spectacular quality of the worlds she builds and the strangeness of the images that she gives you. No one is whole, no one normal. The struggle of the surreal, the damaged, the hybrid, the brilliant linger long after the novel is done.
She has always filled me with wonder, love and extreme envy in equal measure. Ah, to write like that.
It is hard to imagine what could do justice to her, but this exhibition came close, it was such a pleasure to be in such an evocative space, to encounter these wondrous things. was curated by Dr Marie Mulvey-Roberts of UWE, and the artist and writer Fiona Robinson of the RWA. Friday evening we’d been to an event at the Arnolfini — a talk about Ken Adam by Christopher Frayling and then a showing of Dr Strangelove, which Adam had worked as set designer on. We then had a lovely night of it over dinner and drinks with Marie and a few others. It felt like serendipity to come to this today.
A major exhibition that celebrates the life, work and influences of Angela Carter twenty five years after her death.
In bringing together art and literature, Strange Worlds: The Vision of Angela Carter explores the enormous impact of author and journalist Angela Carter – one of the most distinctive literary voices of the last 100 years.
Echoing Carter’s recurring themes of feminism, mysticism, sexuality and fantasy, the exhibition includes historically significant works by Marc Chagall, William Holman Hunt, Paula Rego, Dame Laura Knight, Leonora Carrington and John Bellany, on loan from major national collections.
One large room is full of art influenced by Angela Carter, some of it recently commissioned. I confess this was my favourite room because rarely have I loved so much so deeply. It makes me long for disposable income as few things do.
A few of my favourite pieces. Like Sarah Woodfine‘s ‘Untitled‘ (Forest).
She had three pieces in the exhibit — I always feel a bit constrained in taking pictures, so I am missing the other two, but loved them equally. I would buy anything she did.
Also included were two of her exquisite linocuts. I would buy any of them too. Then there was this extraordinary mobile, called ‘The Forest Assassins‘ by Tessa Farmer. The label reads that it is created of banksia seed pods, crab claws, crab eyes, wormshells, birds’ legs, fish jaws, insects, plant roots, crocodile skulls, bird skulls, snake ribs,snake teetch, mouse bones, taxidermy birds, Portugues man ‘o’ war plyps, hedgehog and porcupine spines, whelk egg cases. There is more going on here. Everything is manned by tiny winged figures and ants.
Off there to the right there on the wall is ‘The Follower‘ by Simon Garden. Amazing. One of our other favourite paintings in the room, and on his website, well, I love all of his work.
Then there was these illustrations by Juli Haas, with windows to open on other worlds…
There was Lisa Wright’s ‘After the Masked Visitor‘, which is the featured image here, and Eileen Cooper’s ‘Tail of the Tiger’:
Then there was the amazing Ana Maria Pacheco, particularly ‘The Banquet‘, a massive sculptural installation, which appears incredibly and terrifyingly surprising as you open a dark curtain:
I am leaving people off this list not because they were not brilliant, but because my mind is full to bursting. Because after leaving the great room of art inspired by Angela Carter, you continue on to a second room of art that inspired Angela Carter. Like Marc Chagall, ‘The Blue Circus‘:
The “Quarrel of Oberon and Titania” (1846) by Joseph Noel Paton, that only became interesting when you look quite closely:
Some Leona Carrington — my favourite ‘The Amateur of Velocipedes‘
Then there was still more and even more — another room of illustrations and covers for Angela Carter’s own books. From the presentation as written on the wall:
Angela Carter was a writer who proclaimed to ‘think first in images, and then grope for the words’, embracing the complex relationship between words and images — art and literature.
I loved Eva Tatcheva‘s cover artwork for Sea Cat and Dragon King.
This very cool collection of posters produced in a contest:
It has been a long time since I enjoyed an exhibition this much — and it was particularly exciting to have so many artists still working that I now know to watch out for. And so many of them women. This fails to do it justice and to name all the necessary names, but there is a book available to you.
Walking up the great hill we stopped in the remainder store, and I just happened to buy Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘The World’s Wife‘. The first poem in it is Little Red Cap, and I read it waiting for our post-gallery cake and coffee and what another piece of serendipity, because it brought poetry to the prose and to the art we had just been drinking it. I felt lucky to read it for the first time like this.
At childhood’s end, the houses petered out
Into playing fields, the factory, allotments
Kept, like mistresses, by kneeling married men
The silent railway line, the hermit’s caravan
Till you came at last to the edge of the woods
It was there that I first clapped eyes on the wolf
He stood in a clearing, reading his verse out loud
In his wolfy drawl, a paperback in his hairy paw
Red wine staining his bearded jaw. What big ears
He had! What big eyes he had! What teeth!
In the interval, I made quite sure he spotted me
Sweet sixteen, never been, babe, waif, and bought me a drink
My first. You might ask why. Here’s why. Poetry
The wolf, I knew, would lead me deep into the woods
Away from home, to a dark tangled thorny place
Lit by the eyes of owls. I crawled in his wake
My stockings ripped to shreds, scraps of red from my blazer
Snagged on twig and branch, murder clues. I lost both shoes
But got there, wolf’s lair, better beware. Lesson one that night
Breath of the wolf in my ear, was the love poem
I clung till dawn to his thrashing fur, for
What little girl doesn’t dearly love a wolf?1
Then I slid from between his heavy matted paws
And went in search of a living bird – white dove –
Which flew, straight, from my hands to his open mouth
One bite, dead. How nice, breakfast in bed, he said
Licking his chops. As soon as he slept, I crept to the back
Of the lair, where a whole wall was crimson, gold, aglow with books
Words, words were truly alive on the tongue, in the head
Warm, beating, frantic, winged; music and blood
But then I was young – and it took ten years
In the woods to tell that a mushroom
Stoppers the mouth of a buried corpse, that birds
Are the uttered thought of trees, that a greying wolf
Howls the same old song at the moon, year in, year out
Season after season, same rhyme, same reason. I took an axe
To a willow to see how it wept. I took an axe to a salmon
To see how it leapt. I took an axe to the wolf
As he slept, one chop, scrotum to throat, and saw
The glistening, virgin white of my grandmother’s bones
I filled his old belly with stones. I stitched him up
Out of the forest I come with my flowers, singing, all alone
I’ve loved this building since before I knew who Margaret Macdonald (1864-1933) and Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) even were. Glasgow Boys and Whistler inside. Almost as great as heading to dinner with my brother and sister-in-law and on to the pub with the incredible Mitch Miller and getting my own copy of Nothing is Lost. To be discussed further, but the coolest thing I’ve seen in forever. You could own it too.
Beyond Caravaggio – a wonderful exhibition, though I wanted more paintings by Caravaggio and more, and more. Because it was incredible to see this after having just read Graham-Dixon’s Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane.
To see Caravaggio’s work, the paintings themselves… They are stunning, the brushwork is invisible creating pieces so luminous they almost glow. They are bigger than I had expected them, so when I stepped forward everything shifted. The figures emerged from the darkness, fingers stretched towards me from the canvas. The scenes enveloped me. Jostling crowds behind me could almost be forgotten (and I may have to beg their forgiveness, but I never was so rude to stand right in front). I realised too, that these paintings must have been even more wondrous in that first decade of the 17th Century, imagine them candlelit, and without the bloating I sometimes feel of having all art immediately available at the search of the internet to create a jostle of periods and wonders so that novelty is hard to come by.
No wonder Caravaggio had the impact that he did, no wonder that so many copied his style – this exhibition was full of truly inspired examples of that. Orazio Gentileschi, his daughter Artemisia, my other favourite Jusepe de Ribera.
Caravaggio remains apart from the wealth of talent that innovated with his use of darkness and light, not just for the power and skill of his work, but for the common faces bearing their lives in the lines of their skin, the stances that reveal their character, the gestures and the spaces they create that invite you into the paintings. The rips in the sleeves — I wanted to reach out to trace the torn fabric in Supper at Emmaus, itching for a needle and thread. There is also the extraordinary beauty of the object, the crystal glasses and decanters, the baskets of fruit that are incredible perfection of detail. They were unexpected, despite having read of them, seen the reproductions.
The poverty, the dirt encrusted around fingernails and into hands. Caravaggio’s own hand, none too clean, appears in the Taking of Christ, thrusting the lantern above the grouping, his face staring a bit wildly, beetled brows and he has done himself no favours – but impossible to guess at his emotion beyond curiosity. Seeing this as a picture on the screen hides the way that details leap out at you, how much you can see emerging from the darkness…
Caravaggio’s commissions were so often religious, he had little choice in his subjects, yet he clearly felt deeply that these men and women surrounding Christ were poor, old, sick, faltering, doubtful, poor. Their feet bare and tired.
Caravaggio was also a painter of intense violence, matter-of-factly inflicted here upon John the Baptist, a curious, complex expression of Salome’s.
There was one enormous surprise – Cecco. Also from the town of Caravaggio, and Caravaggio’s model, housemate, probably lover, the one who stayed with him until that last flight to Malta (and I imagine that scene of farewells, driven undoubtedly by Caravaggio’s ambitions for a knighthood and the unwillingness of the Colonnas to sponsor him alongside Caravaggio into the very closed society of the Knights of Malta). Nowhere does Graham-Dixon mention, I am almost certain, that Cecco too was a gifted painter. Suddenly their relationship shifted, a collegiality and a greater touch of equality shapes it.
He still remains the laughing boy of Caravaggio’s lighter paintings in my mind — not part of the exhibition sadly, though Mario Minniti appears in Boy Bitten By a Lizard. But here Cecco is the model for a youthful John the Baptist:
Not so surprising as Cecco’s paintings were that the luminous works which draw on Caravaggio’s influence from Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, almost all use the chiaroscuro but with rich cloth, wealthy patrons. Many of them copied his two paintings of cheating – the card shark and the gypsy. I was sad they were unable to bring these paintings by Caravaggio to be part of this temporary exhibition. But the small touches seemed absent from the paintings inspired by Caravaggio’s. The humanity, the necessity, the feeling that the next meal requires winning.
Perhaps this is why Jusepe’s work stood out so much to me, though his works were all religious in nature. This one was extraordinary
As was this beautiful painting of Susana and the Elders from Artemisia Gentileschi
I loved the exhibition. I will end on one of the more beautiful of Caravaggio’s paintings, one of a series of John the Baptist in the wilderness. It lingers with you as you leave the final room for the hum of the National Gallery
Just communities, just cities, Just connections between country and city. Also, the weird and wonderful.