Bill Dane: ‘Vision from Victory by J. Conrad’

Bill Dane   Vision from Victory by J.Conrad
Acrylic on Canvas   1964   20.5 X 26.5″   (Click for a larger view)

Editor’s note:
I reproduce this marvellous 1964 painting by the eminent photographer Bill Dane as an example of ‘Reverse Ekphrasis’. I coined* this term informally to comment on the painting elsewhere and a subsequent exchange led me to consider: ‘In what way would ‘reverse Ekphrasis’ differ from ‘Illustration’ – why complicate matters?
My answer is that Bill’s painting transcends illustration in the same way that the best Ekphrastic writing transcends simple description – it has qualities and dimensions all its own which supplement and develop at the highest level its subject – ‘Victory – an Island Tale’ the rich, odd, flawed late novel by Joseph Conrad.

*So I did, before a quick Googling revealed I’m far from the first to do so, although the sense of its use varies widely…

Le Tombeau de Couperin

In the year that we are celebrating the end of WWI (1914-1918, it is relevant to remember the artists who participated and some of whom perished in ‘the war to end all wars’ .

This is an invitation to listen to and to appreciate Maurice Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin, composed for piano between 1914 and 1917, and premiered in 1919. Tombeau was a form of memorial composition used by French composers of the Baroque period as a way of paying tribute to a prominent personality or respected musician colleague and which was rediscovered and revived by a number of twentieth century composers. In Le Tombeau de Couperin, Ravel has a double purpose: an homage to the French composers of that period and in particular, François Couperin, and an in memoriam to a number of his friends who perished in the great war.

During the period that he is composing the suite, Ravel also serves as an ambulance driver, endures health problems resulting from constant exposure to danger, and, most tragically, suffers the loss of his mother, all this taking a severe toll on his health. It is undoubtedly a very dramatic and difficult  time in his life.

In spite of everything, he composes lively and playful music, perhaps due to his Basque roots and relation to Spain. He writes colourful, childlike, playful sounds flowing from movement to movement, reminding us of the brighter side of life and its happier moments (but nonetheless, with a complex demanding and unique technical demands for even the most able pianist). This is in  sharp contrast with the forms that many other composers of his time were using, mainly dramatic pieces with strong, war-like sounds. Ravel wanted to celebrate his friends’ lives and his memories of them positively. When he was criticised for the resulting music not being sombre and dramatic, he replied: “The dead are sad enough, in their eternal silence”.

Ravel embodies the impressionist style with an admixture of neoclassical features ( although he disliked being labelled an impressionist.) He works on the edge of tonal harmony, adding ostinato motives and harsh dissonances. The piece resembles a Baroque dance suite with six movements:

Prelude: to the memory of Lieutenant Jacques Charlot who had transcribed some of Ravel’s music for solo piano at the composer’s publishers.

Fugue: to the memory of Second Lieutenant Jean Cruppi, whose mother helped Ravel get his comic opera L’heure Espagnole performed.

Forlane: to the memory of Lieutenant Gabriel Deluc, a Basque painter whom Ravel had met in a small town in the Pyrenees.

Rigaudon: to the memory of the brothers Pierre and Pascal Gaudin, friends of Ravel’s family; they were killed with the same shell on their first day at the front.

Menuet: to the memory of Jean Dreyfus; Ravel recovered at the Dreyfus family home after being relieved from the army due to poor health and after the death of his mother.

Toccata: to the memory of Captain Joseph de Marliave, who died at the start of the war. He was a musicologist and the husband of Ravel’s favourite pianist Marguerite Long, who premièred ‘Le Tombeau de Couperin’ on the 11th of April 1919.  

The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City

This is Diego Rivera’s mural The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City. Completed in a month in May 1931, it is in the San Francisco Art Institute. You can just walk in off the (very steep – this is San Francisco) street to see it (800 Chestnut Street, 9am to 7pm). That makes it probably the most accessible of Rivera’s murals for this project’s readership – most of whom, I guess, are more likely to make it to San Francisco than to Mexico City or Detroit.
Art history hasn’t been entirely fair to Rivera. When the story of modern art was seen as the shining path to abstract expressionism, Rivera together with Jose Clemente Orozco and David A Siqueiros, the other ‘big three’ great Mexican muralists, were often conveniently left out as being ‘social realists’ and too concerned with politics. More recently he is often assigned (probably unjustly) an inglorious bit-part as Frida Kahlo’s feckless other half.
Rivera is also not well served by art museums, though you can find plenty of his works there. Before his murals he spent more than a decade in Europe (1907 to 1921) and became an accomplished modernist (particularly cubist), but also missed the Mexican Revolution (1910-20) he later did so much to celebrate. During his international glory days in the 1930s he did some great portraits (including one of Edsel Ford, who also commissioned magnificent Rivera murals in Detroit). And he painted numerous pictures of Mexican popular life, most famously flower sellers (personally I find these a bit on the sentimental side). The problem is that easel paintings, however good, don’t do justice to Rivera’s extraordinary talents. To really experience them you have to see the murals – and walls, by and large, don’t travel.
Making of a Fresco isn’t by any means the biggest of them – Rivera complained that the wall offered to him was ‘a small one of only 36 square metres’ (in fact the total area of the finished mural is 43.2 square metres) ‘not at all suitable to my purpose, which was to present a dynamic concerto of construction – technicians, planners and artists working together to create a modern edifice’.
But it is easily big enough to see what makes Rivera so good. First there is the way he fills the space – not a square centimetre wasted – with absorbing and utterly comprehensible interlocking narratives. Then there is the way he deals so easily with modern life – socially but always preserving individuality. The big bum on the trestle in the middle obviously belongs to Rivera himself, but the other painters with their backs to us are his assistants – Matthew Barnes on his right; John Hastings next floor of scaffolding down on his left; and in the lower panel on the right, hard at work at the trestle table, the trio of designer Michael Goodman, Art Institute lecturer Geraldine Colby Fricke and engineer Alfred Barrows. Rivera’s hugely distinctive work applies all sorts of techniques and ideas from the Renaissance, from his use of fresco (paint applied to wet plaster) to the prominently featured ‘donors’ reminiscent of so many fifteenth and sixteenth century European religious paintings – in this case the hatted and suited trio examining plans, Timothy Pflueger, the architect who invited Rivera to San Francisco to paint a mural in the stock exchange, William Gerstle the chairman of the San Francisco Art Commission who commissioned the Art Institute mural, and Arthur Brown architect of the Institute.
And finally, there is Rivera’s ability to master a commission, while still maintaining his own, social and political concerns. This is a mural for an art school, so it is a fresco about making a fresco. It is a mural in a dynamic North American city of the 1930s, so it is about design and construction in such a city. But alongside that it celebrates the dignity of workers by hand and by brain.
Generally, Rivera got away with it – with satisfied patrons including Edsel Ford and the Mexican government. Once, famously, he didn’t, when Nelson Rockefeller discovered that Rivera’s Man at the Crossroads for the new Rockefeller Centre in Manhattan included a portrait of Lenin. Rockefeller promptly paid Rivera off and – to the eternal loss of New Yorkers – a year later destroyed the not-quite completed fresco. When Rivera re-created the work the following year at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, Lenin was firmly there, this time alongside Trotsky and his call to create a Fourth International.
If Making of a Fresco whets your appetite, and I am sure it will, then half an hour’s drive away and a bit off the tourist track at City College of San Francisco (50 Phelan Avenue, check opening times but probably 10am to 4pm Mon to Sat in term time), is another, bigger and altogether wilder Rivera mural. Pan American Unity: The Marriage of the Artistic Expression of the North and South of the Continent was painted for the 1939-1940 International Golden Gate Exposition in San Francisco. Across ten panels and covering a total of 175 square metres every aspect of the title, and more, is explored: from the recently constructed Bay Bridge to pre-Conquest Aztec craftsmen and women; Simon Bolivar alongside Abraham Lincoln; Charlie Chaplin and Frank Lloyd Wright; the murderous trio of Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini; and a statuesque Frida Kahlo ( who remarried Rivera in 1940 in San Francisco) rather curiously standing right in front of Rivera himself, who has his back to her and is holding hands with the Hollywood star Paulette Godard.
And if Pan American Unity whets your appetite even more, there are of course flights to Detroit, and a few days holiday in Mexico City to be planned.

Peter Goodwin

The Battle of Endor

Luke:

Father… I know you’re there, watching from above
I feel your presence and your might
Because I chose the light.

I stand alone, in this forest of old
I’ve brought down many—is this to your delight?
Because I chose the light.

He’s coming straight for me
Wanting my blood, to wish me a goodnight
Because I chose the light.

A flash of green (though I know yours is red)
I may be young, but I am a knight
Because I chose the light.

Steadily I breathe, in and out.
Swinging with focus. I smite,
Because I chose the light.

I watch as he spins, repeatedly
Now it’s my time to wish him a goodnight
Because I chose the light.

Father… I know you’re there, watching from above
The path I follow—I know it to be right
Because I chose the light.

When we stand side by side
Will you help me fight?
Because you once too chose the light

Stormtrooper:

Now’s my chance, I’ve got you alone
I’ve got you in my sight
You and your silly green light.

Aboard my bike, I have the power of flight
Whilst you stand around in the mud
That will soon be covered in your red blood.

Do you think I’m afraid?
Cause, guess what—I’m not.
Not by a long shot.

Fire one! Fire two!
Why aren’t you dead yet?
Are you even breaking a sweat?

Twist the throttle, to give me a boost
Leaves fall and twigs break as I past
Sending you another blast.

I can see your eyes flicker
What are you thinking in that little head?
You won’t need it soon because you’ll be dead.

You swing your light sabre and though I feel no pain
I start to spin and turn
To my stomach’s surprise, as it begins to churn

A tree comes into view
I have no control, this is the end
Too late for amends.

I’m sorry my love, I won’t be coming home
Kiss the kids goodnight for me
Goodbye Empire, now I’m free.


 

 

 

 

Urd, Werdandi, Skuld (Die Nornen)

Anselm Kiefer
Urd, Werdandi, Skuld (Die Nornen)
Oil paint, shellac, emulsion and fibre on canvas  1983
420.5 x 280.5 x 6 cm

The title is inscribed in a spidery fashion at the very top with white chalk. It refers to the three females in Norse mythology who represent past, present and future. They are traditionally represented in a hall.

Kiefer’s paintings of this period were increasingly based on Nazi architecture. He used old photos and plans, morphing them into paintings of derelict, broken buildings.

We see a long stretched-out passageway, pouring into a dark mysterious distance. This, on its own, leaves a lot to the imagination of the viewer. Where does it go? Where is it? What can be expected?

I can imagine feeling as if there is a slow but intense dripping sound on a continuous repeat, never stopping. But, as you go further into the passageway, the dripping would get louder and louder and almost like a horror movie, you would be stuck in absolute despair. No sense of normality or feeling. Alone, so alone, trapped in this pit of darkness.

The colours in the painting are essential to the taste that it brings, the way in which the painting is so refined but yet feels so lost and despairing and menacing.

Many people don’t see the fire that is burning in the painting, even though it appears near the centre, seeming to float above the stacked paving stones, perfectly positioned in the eye’s focal point.

The flames flow and spiral upwards as they dance towards the darkness beyond the fire. But looking closer at the fire itself, we see that the colours used there are also themselves dark, almost unnatural, as if the surrounding darkness has consumed the only warmth in the crumbled Nazi building.

 

 

 

 

 

The Natural History Museum

 

Designed by architect Alfred Waterhouse, the Natural History Museum is an architectural marvel; the building’s interior equally engaging as the exhibits it houses, due to the intricate mixture of Gothic Revival and twelfth-century Romanesque-style architecture.

The attention to detail is what strikes me as most interesting; the vast number of indentations and layers add up to create an almost mechanical seeming structure. It comes as no surprise, then, that Waterhouse was also responsible for the likes of Manchester Town Hall, Eaton Hall, Rochdale Hall and numerous other historic buildings. Striking detail is a consistent feature of Waterhouse’s work and this element is underscored by his fondness for symmetry. By providing interesting forms at all angles it means that, regardless of viewpoint, one always encounters an impressive level of meticulous detail. The addition of stone monkeys traversing the pillars of the museum is a very nice touch, an intriguing tribute to the exotic wildlife skeletons and exhibits, and may possibly even be an oblique reference to Charles Darwin. Amongst other appearances in the museum, Darwin is given a statue, a reminder of the museum’s involvement not just in exhibiting the past, but also its eagerness to support scientific studies in the future. Interestingly the building was completed in 1881, just a year before Darwin died.



What springs to mind is: what if every building looked like this? What if the level of quality found in its walls was evident in even the most basic of structures? The idea of a city as large as London, for example, with skyscrapers, shopping centres and bridges sharing the stone intricacy of classical buildings, is both a thought provoking and curious concept. This kind of attention to detail was usually reserved for religious buildings or locations of other particular prestige. Thus the notion of walking into a grandiose and visually astounding Tesco’s would be surprising to say the least, as noble and dramatic aren’t common connotations of such an establishment.

Moreover this idea also poses an interesting question: what if, to accompany the large steel contemporary buildings we have now, brand new classical buildings were constructed. Now, much of the success of such a proposal would depend very much on the location of such a structure and even then one could argue that the very fact that the building would be made in the 21st century would detract considerably from the whole point of making it. The intellectual atmosphere and level of technique of the time a building is constructed are fundamental to the soul of its creation, its essence, and to ignore this would undermine its purpose and indeed its integrity. A project vacant of soul is a project void of purpose. Why build something out of its time? If what we seek is architectural artistry, then that is abundant in many of today’s modern designs. That said, it’s worth reflecting upon just how much modern architecture still draws inspiration from all that has gone before. Not to mention that what makes a building truly great is not when it was built, but rather its quality: the coherence of its conception and the success with which it is realised.

 

Man holding a boy’s head, boy holding a toy gun

Andrew Z.Glickerman Man holding a boy’s head, boy holding a toy gun from the Tuscan Street Work series 1996


Who shall I shoot? I have that bird in my sights, as it flies under the café table.
If I aim I can hit it now but it has to stay still.
I can see a target through these people; I can follow her from shop to shop
As I lie here waiting.

Who shall I shoot? Nonno might know. He’s told me about when he was a soldier,
He would wear a uniform and carry a gun.
Did he shoot anyone? That, he never tells me
As I lie here waiting.

Who did he shoot? If I close one eye I can see further, past the top of that building,
Nonno showed me two photos of when he went to war,
He doesn’t like to talk about it
As I lie here waiting.

Who did he shoot? Did he shoot the bad men? Men with bigger guns?
He hums to himself and just strokes my hair
With his rough hands that smell of hair grease and soap
As I lie here waiting.

Nighthawks

Nighthawks: Edward Hopper, 1942, Oil on Canvas, 33.1 x 60″

The viewer must really look into deep into this painting to discover its secrets. Look. You will gradually begin to notice a number of things that you may not have spotted straight away. I was drawn to Nighthawks because of this sense of mystery. Painted at the height of the Second World War, in 1942, this piece is a perspicuous expression of wartime isolation.
The surrounding streets feel cold and alienated, the only source of brightness coming from the diner’s vast windows, a harsh yellow light seeping through the glass and onto the pavement. In a window across the street it obliquely and uncannily illuminates a lone cash register.
Inside are four figures, the picture’s only human presence. Listen. You can almost grasp the quiet, muffled conversation. Then, suddenly, it strikes you—where is the door? How did the four enter and how will they leave?
You think about them, sitting there, within the diner’s walls and windows and of how they came to be there. An array of unsolved questions floods into your mind. The (we assume) couple, the waiter, the man sitting on his own—what are their stories?

Cindy Sherman Untitled Film Still #48, 1979

gelatin silver print 18.9cm x 24cm

This is a photograph by Cindy Sherman, part of a series called Untitled Film Stills. In these, Sherman role-plays as stereotypical female characters to recreate “iconic snapshots” which aim to show that show that “self identity is often an unstable compromise between social dictates and personal intention”.

The photograph is shot from behind Sherman’s character by the side of a stretch of road which disappears left, around a bend. There are no vehicles to be seen. To the left of the image, the road is bordered by a steep hill with trees. On the horizon we see yet more hills, trees and what appears to be a river which parallels the road almost back to the solitary figure. Apart from the road, the landscape is entirely natural and free from manufactured items. Everything works to evoke a powerful sense of, somewhat eerie, isolation.

Sherman’s character looks like a stereotypical housewife of the 1950s. She is well-dressed with a relaxed and casual air, but this is contrasted with the feelings of isolation and dependency that this image offers. She is dependent on someone with a car to pick her up and must wait for this person entirely alone. I feel this image represents the negative aspects of being female in a patriarchal society. There is a need, often felt by women, to have a beautiful and manicured image while being totally dependent on men. Many people will see a woman who appears to be fine on the outside, and yet they don’t see the internal pressures that she has to deal with.

While my reading of this image is through a feminist lens, I believe that it could also be interpreted in the broader sense that most people only ever see others as they are on the outside while never seeing the occulted issues that they may have.

The author Brad Meltzer once said, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” Linking this back to Sherman’s words, our appearance to others is a compromise between the things that society expects from us, what we are, and what we wish to accomplish in our lives.

Inventing Father

Diana Markosian Untitled from the series Inventing My Father 2013 Inkjet Print 20 x 24″.

You are seven. You move to a new country and your Father is left behind. No warnings, no goodbyes, no way to contact him. All reminders of him are removed out of your life. He is cut out of every photo you own. Those around you don’t admit his existence. All questions are met with silence.

How long could you hold onto his image in your head? How long can you keep the memories of him alive? What would you do? Do you do as your mother says and pretend he’s dead or do you start inventing a father?

New realities form, sprouting from a need to be wanted, to be a daughter, his Daughter. Your childish mind explains away his absence. His image becomes heroic, he’s a spy, an astronaut. He’s saving the world! He becomes bigger and stronger in your mind’s eye. Imperfections are smoothed away or forgotten. Idealised dreams now become memories, memories squirreled away and gorged on in moments of loneliness. They keep you going, but only just.

What would happen if fifteen years later you meet him again. Who will he be? Your father? Can he even be your Father if your father has been someone else all this time. Granted, this father had been created and built in your mind, but he had still been serving the purpose of a father for so many years. Could you even be his daughter? He must have, consciously or not, created an image his mind of who his daughter is.

It might not be you

 
 
 
 
Sarah Joy Hay

Claudio Parmiggiani – Senza Titolo

Senza Titolo 2016
Smoke and soot on nine Panels 94.5 x 425.25 x 1.125″ (overall)

In the nineteen seventies, whilst clearing a dusty space given to him to exhibit his work, Claudio Parmiggiani was struck by the clear definition, preserved in dust, holding a memory of time, of an image outline where a removed object had previously stood.

Inspired, he began to develop his Delocazioni – his fire and smoke pieces.

He creates clearly defined images in sooty tones by making arrangements of objects against white paper or board in a sealed space and then burning tyres. The ritual quality of burning adds another layer of drama to the final visual creation. In this nine panel ‘library’ installation, the untouchable book outlines suggest the fragility of existence and the light and shadows left by the soot deposits are familiar and yet mystifying.
Those soft elegant outlines gently evoke memories of a ‘time lost’ leaving the viewer to write the tale. The library’s subtle tones are very beautiful as are the shapes themselves; some books upright, some half fallen, some with pages splayed open, all these images somehow suggesting the knowledge and culture that was held within. The fragility of the artwork itself only deepens our sense of mystery and wonder. The ‘once books’ whose pages were thumbed through to reveal their riches now are simply ghosts of the past.

Nicola English

A photo by Roger Mayne

Roger Mayne Two Boys Smoking, Southam Street, 1956
black and white photograph 39 x 26.5cm (paper size) 34.1 x 22.7cm (print size)

This image appears in the first major exhibition in eighteen years of the British photographer Roger Mayne, at the Photographers’ Gallery in London.
Shot from above, from a passing adult’s perspective, two boys, seated on a worn Victorian doorstep, are tightly framed, even somewhat cropped. The horizontal lines behind emphasise the characters’ vertical disposition and this, in turn, underlines their hierarchy.
The older boy (are they siblings perhaps?) wears the trousers, both metaphorically and literally, and the viewer notes, by contrast, the vulnerability of the small boy’s bare knees and short white socks. A privileged glimpse of a corner of the street where teenagers are made, in a world of hard knocks where everyone knows their place. A rite of passage into adolescence, a seated adventure in a grubby existence, the younger exhilarated by the attention of the older, the thrill of the ride, dipping a toe, forbidden pastures, driven by the nervous energy of the the chance to and the short lived but sharp thrill of brief intoxication. The initiation is acknowledged with a smile of approval as the older boy looks down with apparent pride.

Mayne, like other photographers of the era, saw the importance of documenting urban working class communities before they were destroyed by the ever accelerating modernization of the second half of the twentieth century. The viewer with the benefit of hindsight anticipates the approaching changes to the area and a sense of sadness is felt. Nevertheless, Mayne did not aim to be a social realist, nor did he have family links to the people of the areas that he photographed. He described the work as a ‘choreography of human life’, ‘the embodied experience out in the street’, ‘the way that people seemed to live through their bodies’.

The curator of the exhibition Ann Douglas suggests Mayne’s ultimate intention was to impart a ‘feeling state’ between photographer and the viewer. He undoubtedly, and very movingly, achieves this.

Vicky Burch

Sophie Calle – End

Sophie Calle from ‘My mother, my cat, my father, in that order’ 2017

Sophie Calle’s exhibition* in the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2017 is a selection of works entitled My mother, my cat, my father, in that order. It comprises a series of photographs and short passages of text, all mounted in sleek white frames and either hung on, or propped against, the wall of the gallery. Calle recalls the everyday minutiae surrounding the death of each of those named in the title, in a way that is businesslike and yet poignant.

The entry in her mother’s diary noting the death of her mother, Calle’s grandmother, is starkly presented before Calle’s own diary entry, twenty years later, recording in turn her own mother’s death. This is followed by the brutal observation that nobody will remember her in that way. It is a beautifully straightforward way of alluding to the sobering suspicion of anyone who isn’t a parent that they will somehow not be remembered; that their life won’t matter to anyone and nor will their death.

Caught up in loss and grief we can lose perspective and focus instead on incongruous details. Calle’s recollection that a friend asked her to pick up some leeks in the same message in which they expressed condolence for her loss of her cat elicits a wry smile.

She describes the time when her father was dying and how she wanted to believe his last words would be meaningful. When he said ‘petrol’ one day, she was convinced he would live through the night because petrol is too ugly a word with which to end one’s life. Two things can be absolutely unconnected but we often create conditional links in our mind to fool ourselves that we have control over an uncontrollable situation. We cannot control the agony and guilt of waiting for a loved one to die and this is perfectly and yet comically summed up in Calle’s fixation upon the last word her father would speak.

The final piece in the series is a photograph of a road sign at a cliff edge. Between cliff edge and horizon stretches a calm, gently rippling sea. Above the horizon is the golden glow of a fading sunset, deepening into a clear azure sky at the top of the photograph. The yellow diamond-shaped sign is rather bent and battered, and its message ‘END’ is pock-marked with what appear to be multiple bullet holes. The sign sits on a short pole and the juncture of sign and pole is perfectly in line with the horizon, which bisects the image.

The juxtaposition of the worn sign and its blunt message with the otherwise calm vista speaks to me of conflicting emotions of grief – the release and freedom of eventual loss combined with the utter wrenching pain of those last moments.

One of my companions told me they did not like Calle’s exhibition. They thought it was too personal and that grieving in this way should be done in private. Whilst many of us would struggle to share the details of such private thoughts and moments, I think she was very brave to do so. C.S. Lewis said, ‘we read to know we are not alone’. I think the same can be said of art. We look at art to know someone else sees the world as we do, that they feel the world as we do, and that they too sometimes suffer as we do.

Sonya Bones

*although she was in fact nominated for a set of postcards in photobook form entitled ‘My all’

Formula of Petrograd Proletariat

Pavel Filonov Formula of Petrograd Proletariat 1920-21 Oil on Canvas 154 x 117 cm.

Intrigued by Formula of Petrograd Proletariat from afar, I inspect it more closely, with my leg touching the wire; every second there, I notice something new, something else emerging.
The kaleidoscope of red, blue, pink and white shapes, like crystals forming together, mystically growing.
It’s difficult to know where to look first. With so much going on within, it almost makes me dizzy.
Formula of Petrograd Proletariat, was about the great victory for the working people—the Russian October Revolution. The reality after, however, was, like the painting, an imaginary vortex.
Filonov created his own idiosyncratic style, Analytical Realism, which was set up as an opposition to Cubism. He wrote in his diary

‘I cannot take commissions. I am a researcher. A commission leads to other commissions, and I must do my own works.
I cannot follow the path of official art. I do not need fame. My ideology will find its own path.’

I see a splintered figure, nearly touching both top and bottom, absorbing the canvas, shaking his head, leaving imprints of many eyes, ears and hands. He has hair, unlike the peasants who, stony-faced and glum, are moving towards the stacked three-dimensional buildings, hands pleading.
Emerging fragments of green shards pierce through; then a boot, then another, all painted with expert precision.
Sharpened pencils create minute beginnings; many truncated fingertips and hands peek through. These details overwhelm and undermine any sense of a single, coherent meaning.
To my right, circles spin, swirling, exploding into sharp shapes, cascading down like a waterfall, breaking and shattering into thousands of pieces, the whole strangely resembling a modern-day ‘mindfulness’ colouring book.

I wonder if the Russian revolutionaries would have used mindfulness to zone-out during this unsettling period, as we can in 2017, with Brexit, Trump and North Korean nuclear tests.

Lisa Godfrey

A Drawing by Richard Serra

Richard Serra Elevational Weights, Black Matter 2010 paintstick on handmade paper 82 × 68″

On your screen is….
a photograph…
….of a printed image in a book
…which itself is a photograph of the drawing.
The absence of any detail and referential elements leave us looking but not really seeing and actually, the more you look the less you see. You see, what you need to really see is just not there.
It’s the same with the endless reproductions on tea towels, biscuit tins and laptop sleeves of iconic works such as Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. We’ve looked at it of course, in all its guises. It’s instantly recognisable, but probably rarely really seen.
If you get to really see this work by Richard Serra you’ll notice that it’s large, at 82 x 68 inches, and in its own way as monumental as his sculptural works. Standing in front of it, it’s so much more than just a black rectangle and it plays with your perceptions every bit as much as his sculptures.
It’s a drawing on handmade paper so there is the texture of the paper showing in places. It’s made with paintsticks held together to produce a block for covering areas in a sweep. So there are distinct strokes and also a lot of variation in texture and depth. The paintsticks produce a surface which seems to play with the light, both absorbing it and reflecting it. It has a real feeling of depth and volume and earns its title.
I’ve never seen black as a negation of colour, or negative in some way. Because it contains all the colours its feels complete and one can spend time just being with it, understanding it and being excited by its possibilities. Its all there. It always was, maybe we just couldn’t see it.

Keron Beattie

Rosewood

Caitlin McCormack Rosewood 2015 crocheted cotton string & glue 24.5”h x 18.75”w x 2”d

According to her website, the artist Caitlin McCormack uses cotton string to make her skeletal forms, for the specific reason that, “the act of stiffening crocheted cotton string with glue produces material that is structurally similar to delicate bone tissue”.

I find this piece appealing because of the simultaneous suggestion of birth and death; the obvious skeleton implying death but then the almost fetal position at which the piece is angled, along with the fragile bones—those of a young, newborn animal suggesting birth. The way the frame captures the harmless creature’s remains in a rounded, protective way reminds me of the way a mother is depicted when pregnant, encasing and wrapping round the baby, within a shielded sphere.

McCormack has created an entrancing scene through the use of stark colours—the white cotton against the bold, black frame—yet despite this simple and straightforward technique, the piece looks sophisticated. It contains large amounts of information within the realms of the frame, absorbing the viewer, and forcing them to observe each segment of the skeleton.

Leaving a few of the strands within the crochet is an organic method of working and an interesting technique, emphasising the theme and increasing the detail amongst all the bones.Thinking about this piece of work as a scientific diagram or illustration, the excess pieces of material act like veins, once again highlighting the ideas of birth and death and giving the piece a sense of life.

McCormack has laid out the different parts of the skeleton in a deliberate manner, giving the artwork a ghoulish effect, particularly with the way the hands and feet are tucked up the ribcage is bent and the tail looks to be in an unnatural position. With the slightly open mouth, and somewhat tensed bones in the hands there is also a sense of a creature’s animal nature and way of being.

Compared to the way I respond to some of McCormack’s other pieces, the way this is laid out and presented makes me feel more comfortable, because there is less of a ‘preserved’ approach. Some of the other items in this collection look as though they are being contained in a glass cabinet, away from humanity, like museum exhibits, whereas Rosewood gives me the impression that this is how the skeleton of this animal would be found in the natural world. This is what I find appealing about this work in particular.

Lara Hooke

Papers in a Striped Brown Paper Bag

1

The brown certificate with its notices and crossings-out
its crisp fonts and faded signatures
Dutch, not French ‒ we knew this ‒
words waiting for translation
safely folded inside a striped, brown
card store bag ‒ brittle with age
guarding history

The brown paper did not certify a birth
but rather authenticated the certificate of a birth
prepared for immigration
carrying signatures of the Consul General for Aliens
signatures of other civil servants based in Paris
guaranteeing other signatures

(This we knew. This we surmised.)

2

“This Dutch girl, Jeanne Wolf, had brothers in Paris,
but were looked very much down on,
as being cheap tradesmen”

penciled words in 1942
written on yellowed backs
of Uniform Standard New England Forms No. 648
Smoke Endorsement No. 1
Stipulations, Limitations, and Conditions Applicable to Smoke (10-38)

footstep to a future we didn’t know

3

Late-19th and early-20th-century vernacular architecture also occurs along Clinton Avenue east of
Piermont Avenue. Two to two-and-a-half-story three-bay by two-bay residences with front porches are located at 40, 44 and 50 Clinton Avenue. These residences provide a rich visual counterpoint to more high-style architecture along the road east of Piermont Avenue
. . . . ‒Allison S. Rachleff

We lived at number 50 ‒ not rich, not poor
It’s the 1950s and the family
secure in its colonial Protestant identity
linked to Presidents
(though not all are the good ones)
lives on a street of mixed ethnicity
where children play baseball in the street
and all the parents rush out of their houses
to break up the fights
and the children do not date
once the baseball games conclude
but rather
seek their own kind
at separate lunchroom tables
and the father comes home from the ecumenical
breakfast at the synagogue and says
“I had the most curious roll this morning
It’s called a bagel and it was tasty.”

4

Jeanne Wolf safe in America died of consumption
in 1883 at 44 in New Bedford, Massachusetts
her husband died at 45 in 1889 in Philadelphia
their two sons also dead before their 40th birthdays
one dying mysteriously in New Orleans,
the other of consumption in Oran, Algeria.

(This we knew. This we surmised.)

5

A nephew long lost to us was found
in Colorado with DNA. He wrote,
“I am curious about what appears
to be our Sephardic Jewish roots.
Was Grandpa’s mother Jewish?”

armed with dictionary
devoid of idiom or grace
the birth certificate gave up its dates
its names
its towns
and occupations

                From the Register of Births
                is extracted that in the year 1839
                on the twenty-fourth of December was born
                Jeanne

                Daughter to Benjamin Wolff, 29 years old
                shopkeeper resident here [Zuid-Holland, Gravenhage]
                with his housewife, Antje Pillar”

and a cousin we’d never met
from Brooklyn and Massachusetts
found our Dutch family group

All living in 1942
all dead in Poland by 1944

(Our Mayflower descendant’s note
“cheap tradesmen” ‒ code for Jew)

Betje Piller, an aunt, age 86
Alice Blitz, her grandchild and our cousin, age 20
an entire family line erased
Sobibor, Auschwitz

Relatives we did not know
captured, killed
in a family where ‒
safe across the ocean ‒
my memory of World War 2
was falling down a wooden staircase
bouncing on the landing
turning, sprawling
howling in the dark
of an air raid drill at night

Uncles sent off to war returned
(a cousin did not ‒ a rare
long-distance phone call
sticks in my mind ‒ distress)

brown paper
crisply folded into a striped brown bag that held
the birth certificates and a promissory note
left for us to preserve our past
footstep to the future
leading to the day
when “they”
became “us”


Martha Deed October 12, 2016




References:

Allison S. Rachleff. South Nyack [New York] Historic District. October 2005, Revised 2011.

https://www.erfgoedleiden.nl/collecties/personen/zoek-op-personen/weergave/akte/id/ab091c0b-bad6-83c5-8789-a91581b8b68c

Two Photos

This is a photo of me when I was about 25. It was taken by my good friend Pat Dagler, a wonderful photographer who died very young from a horrible illness. She was a black woman with enormous charm, passion and deep personal/political commitments. I loved her dearly. I don’t know what has happened to her amazing collection of photos.

I remember very vividly when this photo was taken. It was during a softball game in Central Park in 1969. That’s a baseball glove on my lap and I think I am eating a flower. What struck me most about the photo when I first saw it was how sexy and alive I looked, at least to myself, when in actuality I felt worn out and beyond depressed when it was taken. I had hit rock bottom.

Pat gave me two other photos she took that day. One was of my girlfriend Charlotte Hastings. Her face glowing with a smile that lit up the universe. The other photo was of me and Charlotte embracing, with my closest friend Arnie Sachar walking on a small hill in the background carrying his briefcase. The game was organized by another friend, Peter Wolff. All are dead now.

This second photo was taken about eight years ago when I was in my mid 60s. The great photographer George Malave asked if he could come over to photograph me. It was for a project he was working on. For the next couple of hours he shot me from various angles and from various locations in my apartment. Nothing came out right. I sensed his frustration. But maybe it was more mine than his. I hated how I looked in every one of the photos he took. Something drastic needed to be done. Suddenly I flashed on my downstairs neighbor, a strikingly beautiful, very thin, very dark woman from Zimbabwe. Someone in her late 20s or early 30s with real flair and charisma. Imagining myself being her, I put on a wide brimmed black hat that had a small red heart pinned on it and sat on a chair in the hallway. The very next photo was the one that he would use. Most striking to me was that I looked much, much younger than I had in any of the other photos. So much so I was embarrassed that people would think the photo had been touched up. Still, I seriously doubt anyone looking at it would see a breathtaking Zimbabwean beauty. But that is exactly who I see whenever I look at it.

Robert Roth

BHS sign

BHS storefront and signage Oxford Street, London, UK (2016)

Brands developed in market society (the term capitalism is far superior), attempting to distinguish essentially very similar commodities from each other by imbuing them with symbolism and all manner of social connotations. Some now genuinely believe the work involved in this process creates all value and that the labour involved in producing things in contemporary society is marginal. 

According to Marx (1990) the objects of our labour, the things we make, become commodities under capitalist social relations. As things which were made by workers to be sold on markets, not directly consumed by them, they can develop an unhealthy fascination for us. Rather than seeing these products as evidence of our social and creative labour power and the range of uses which can be met by what we make, commodities can come to dominate us. They seem in themselves capable of transforming our lives. This was what Marx meant by commodity fetishism

A lot of current theory argues we are now dominated not just by the commodity but by commodity signs. But when a brand collapses it becomes clear that brands as signs are socially worthless, mere empty shells. The value of BHS never resided in its semiotics or symbolic reach. Instead, like Woolworths before it, its value lay above all in the organisation of productive collective human labour. It was this which brought the store to life, filling its shelves with a range of familiar goods from sweets to clothes and furnishings.  

But take the workers out of the equation whether in the shop itself or in its supply chain or in the factories that made the goods on its shelves and what is left is nothing but an absent presence – a numbing sense of what was before but is no more. Dead brands/empty stores like BHS expose the madness of markets, the greed of capitalists and the emptiness of theory which discounts the centrality of social productive labour to all our lives. 

So when I look on this image of the now empty BHS storefront in Oxford Street it brings to mind something which Marx wrote with great prescience about the power of our collective social labour.
‘The wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails appears as an immense collection of commodities is nothing but the definite social relation between people themselves assuming for them, the fantastic form of a relation between things.’ (Marx, 1990: 165)

Tony Sullivan

Reference

Marx, K. (1990 [1867]) Capital Volume One, London: Penguin.

A photo by Michael Wolf

From Tokyo Compression by Michael Wolf (2010)

I have chosen one image from a series of photographs by Michael Wolf.

The first thing that struck me when I first saw this image was the presence of intense pain, struggle and suffering of the subject staring out at us from behind the glass.

We view the portrait through a filter of water droplets which are on the inside of the space which the focus of the image occupies. We do not know the nature of this space but the presence of the moisture is suggestive of a humid, oppressive environment calling our attention to the discomfort of the subject. This then leads us to believe that she is being kept in harsh conditions, perhaps even against her will. The backdrop is dark, implying an unhappy, unsafe location and indeed, the subject looks troubled.

Michael Wolf began his career as a photojournalist and the reason I have revisited this image from his series Tokyo Compression, is because I have been reminded of it in recent years. There have been many ‘similar’ images in the media in the reporting of the desperate plight of the Syrian refugees, all of whom are trying simply to escape danger and keep themselves and their families safe.

The photograph that I have chosen here is not that of an individual from a war torn community or of a desperately frightened refugee fleeing danger, but an image from a series of portraits of city workers on their daily commute on the subway in Tokyo. The subjects of these photographs, which I find compelling, are certainly likely to be suffering; that is of course by today’s standards of those of us living a relatively mundane, but almost certainly a safe life. The anguish felt is that of the everyday grind of the chore of the monotonous repetitiveness of going to work to pay the bills.

I can’t help but observe how this image presents a somewhat over dramatic alternative to the actual reality, in the same way as what often currently happens on social media. Perhaps, though, this has more to do with the viewer and how we are conditioned by the copious amounts of shocking images we are flooded with in our news feeds and timelines today.

Sam Humphreys

Be Faithful to your dreams

Tracey Emin Be Faithful to your dreams 1998 Neon 40.6 X 223.5 X 6.4cm

‘Music was my first love’.*
From an early age I obsessed with it, listening constantly, reading voraciously, dancing ‘my legs down to the knees’**. Whilst other boys lived for football and Match of the Day, I was all about Top of the Pops, Smash Hits and later NME. The elder brother of a close friend in his role as babysitter was particularly influential on my early tastes in the late 1970’s early 80’s with the mod and ska revival and then early synth/electronica and the New Romantic sound. Over the years different friendship groups and venues for socialising (pubs, clubs, festivals, friends and family houses) have exposed me to a wide variety of music. Whether the Specials, The Supremes, The Stone Roses, The Strokes, Sia, at different times, different artists for different reasons have dominated my listening. Conversely, Chicago, Cast, Cameo, Cardigans, Cocker have left me cold. Why so? Well I’ve never felt the need to explain, that’s just how it is, the rhythm, styling, vocal, lyric of some music connects, feels like mine, feels like me, feels important and some just doesn’t. And guess what? I’m rarely challenged on my taste in music, rightly so as I am invariably right, I am also highly unlikely to challenge others, I respect their choices, it’s not for me to judge.

So why is art different? Why do people, and I mean everyday people like myself, not artists, lecturers, students, feel the need to slate certain artists and challenge others’ tastes. Why do I feel the need to explain myself when I say I like Emin, Schiele, Weiwei, Van Gogh but find Bacon, Hirst, Dali, Monet far less appealing. Maybe it’s an insecurity in the validity of my own opinions, perhaps art feels like something other people understand, the great brains, the better off, the more creative, the better informed. But as I’ve got older, and more bolshie, I feel less inclined to follow others opinions and have started to value my own tastes. Thinking about it, there are good friends and family members, in the same way as my teenage babysitter, that have helped me to trust my instincts, or more honestly to just give less of a fuck. So I like some artwork, and some artists more than others, for some reason the colours, the styling, the idea, the message, just connects with me and that’s just how it is. I don’t have time to think deeply about it, I’ve got a job to keep, a family to support and a life to be lived, so let’s just say that something about my background, upbringing, experiences, education, makes some music and some art resonate with me. I’m not explaining that to anyone, it just is what it is.

I like the Emin image above, I like her work and I like her thinking, don’t ask me why.

Oh and by the way…

…art is my new love.

* John Miles ‘Music’

** The Smiths ‘Paint a Vulgar Picture’ #ironic

Ciaran Crowley

A work by Félix González-Torres



Félix González-Torres “Untitled” (Perfect Lovers) 1991

A white painted wall. Mounted on it, two identical clocks positioned side by side. They are ordinary, ‘every-day’ clocks that could be purchased anywhere. There is nothing ‘pretty’ or special about them, they are just functional. The clocks keep exactly the same time and as we watch, we see time ticking away in front of us. Perhaps, we are watching our lives passing us by, our time here slowly running away and there is nothing that can be done to stop it.
But, there are two clocks and they are positioned closely together, so perhaps this coupling represents a real connection, signifying a relationship between them both. This can all be surmised by just looking at the piece but then we notice the title, “Untitled” (Perfect Lovers). The clocks then, represent two lovers.
Now, the ticking of the clocks feels like the beating of two hearts. Each clock is a very separate entity, but although they are two very separate beings they are completely in ‘sync’ with each other. They are connected so thoroughly that their hearts beat together as if they were just one being, they are in love. The two clocks are placed as closely together as possible whilst still remaining individual objects , but also, they are too close to allow anything to come between them.
The complete functionality and ordinariness of the clocks now begins to appear differently. Love between two people, whether it be a partner, a parent and child or between two friends is available to everybody. Love is special, a gift, but you don’t have to be out of the ordinary or ‘special’ to receive or experience love. Love creates bonds between people that can’t easily be broken. Of course, as we look at the two clocks we must face the knowledge that it is unlikely the clocks will both stop at the same time. One day, one of them will stop completely, leaving the other to go on ticking alone.
Félix González-Torres created this piece after the death of his partner from AIDS in 1991. He wanted to create work that both allowed him to share this very personal experience but keep it from being vilified because of his homosexuality.
He writes,
‘Two clocks side by side are much more threatening to the powers that be than an image of two guys sucking each others dicks, because they cannot use me as a rallying point in their battle to erase meaning.’
With this piece González-Torres shows us a beautiful tribute to the concept of love. He has removed all the unkindness and judgement of human nature, stripping away the pettiness of life, that we are all guilty of, and showing us instead the essence of love in its absolute purity.

Shelly Crowley

John Baldessari – The Pencil Story

John BaldessariThe Pencil Story (1972–3)
[Colour photographs, with coloured pencil, mounted on board]

The work comprises two photographs of what we are told is the same pencil, side by side, before and after being sharpened. Underneath the photos, hand written in white ink directly onto the black paper that they are mounted on, is a short text about Baldessari’s relationship with the pencil.

The work’s composition suggests a ‘scrap book’ style, the photos aren’t uniform, they don’t appear straight, the text is hand written and all in capital letters.

There’s something about the writing, though, that doesn’t feel as authentically scrap book as a first glance suggests. Although the style of the text seems like a quick note it differs from genuine rough note style in that the text is very neat. The lettering is clear, and the letter shapes are rather consistent. Each sentence is roughly the same length, suggesting that the time and planning were involved.

The text reads:

“I HAD THIS OLD PENCIL ON THE DASHBOARD OF MY CAR FOR A LONG TIME. EVERY TIME I SAW IT, I FELT UNCOMFORTABLE SINCE ITS POINT WAS SO DULL AND DIRTY. I ALWAYS INTENDED TO SHARPEN IT AND FINALLY I COULDN’T BEAR IT ANY LONGER AND DID SHARPEN IT. I’M NOT SURE, BUT I THINK THAT THIS HAS SOMETHING TO DO WITH ART.”
 

The text records the performance between the taking of the two images.

The pencils in the photos face lead-point down, and although the edges of the photos are not mounted straight, the pencils in each are straight in relation to the black mounting. The point of each pencil is exactly the same length from the bottom border and both in the same placement slightly closer to the left photo.

The photos illustrate the story. The pencil on the left is un-sharpened with a ‘dull and dirty’ point, the image on the right shows the newly sharpened pencil with a clean sharp lead.

There is a balance, careful placement of each component creating a visual that to the eye looks a little like a page from a sketch book but following careful and time tested rules of composition.  Baldessari gives the viewer all the visual clues to read this as a quick sketchbook-style page, creating a very authentic story, the story ending “I’M NOT SURE, BUT I THINK THIS HAS SOMETHING TO DO WITH ART” further suggesting to the viewer that this wasn’t intended as a finished work of art to be viewed in a gallery.

This piece literally questions itself and creates an interesting parallel to the ideas behind the ‘readymade’ and the authority of the ‘artist’ and the gallery.

Here is a piece I recreated as a post to social media site Instagram in response to this work.

Liz Sterry