Its been a while. Its not that I havent anything to say its almost I have too much to fit into a screen sized blog. A lot has happened this year at such a pace that I haven’t been able to interrupt myself to reflect. I’ll unravel my thoughts and will return. In the meantime, to indulge my exploration of colour and form, here’s a painting of a a blackbird and a barrier from my current series of work.
I noted this: ‘We are capable of believing in things that have proven to be false’ – This may well be the title of the next body of work.
I listed to this: http://johannhari.com/2012/02/24/the-religious-assault-on-free-speech/
I saw this:
I saw two really interesting shows this week both of which left me reflecting on the passing of time and how it is recorded. Firstly I saw the Hanne Darboven show at Camden Arts Centre. Her work I find interesting but also intense. Carefully ordered and displayed are numerous manuscripts, doodles marks and calculations that mark the structure and repetitive nature of time. Complex number systems and patterns are laid out in a methodical way and the last room of the exhibition links these patterns to a musical score.
It was the work second room of the exhibition that I really engaged with. This is a series of prints from a film calendar on which Darboven has for each date made a repetitive scribble that closely resembles a written form. The contrast of the Hollywood image and these repetitive scrawls is quite marked and it feels as if Darboven is highlighting the banality of this constant film making and that a drawn mark is as valid as marking time as a hollywood blockbuster. It is as if each day becomes another scribble as the uniformity and repetitive nature of time is marked out.
The second show I saw this week which also engaged with the use of drawing to mark the passage of time was work presented by IC-98 at Beaconsfield, a great space near Vauxhall. I had the privilege to watch three fantastic animations by Markus Lepisto, ‘A View from the Other Side’ can also be seen here. Lepisto’s work engages with the passing of time through detailed and absorbing animation. ‘A View From the Other Side’ engages the viewer with observing the passing of time for one neo-classical building in Turku, Finland. The animation takes us through the buildings change of use over time and meditatively reflects on how time and politics can influence public and private spaces. There is a melancholy to the work and a overwhelming sense of loss with the passing of time. This is heightened buy the organ music and certainly watching the animation projected onto the big screen in the dark desolate arch space of Beaconsfield with the trains rumbling overhead added to the sense that I was witnessing the documentation of a lament to a building that had perhaps lost is soul. A very moving afternoons viewing.
“We see with memory. My memory is different from yours, so if we are both standing in the same place we’re not quite seeing the same thing. Different individuals have different memories; therefore other elements are playing a part. Whether you have been in a place before will affect you, and how well you know it. There is no objective vision ever – ever.’ (Hockney 2009 in interview with Martin Gayford, RA)
I have written about recent interruptions on Artists Talking. Art and life are so intertwined. Sometime life gives a breathing space for creativity to flourish and at other times the demands of life close the window of making time. But the creative thoughts and ideas continue to be nurtured. They will be realised when time and space permits.
With some initial hesitancy I feel the need to reflect on my latest painting ‘Red Detachment’. I don’t necessarily want to talk for the work – it is important that it holds its own autonomy and I doubt that words will be sufficient to summarise my thoughts and feelings generated by this work. But this work has surprised me on many levels. It is as if it is has come from deep inside me and holds so many meanings with layers of personal and political histories.
I recently rediscovered a few postcards sent to me by my father from his time in China in the early 1970’s. The cards he sent to me were of the Chinese State National Ballet – in particular images from the dance ‘The Red Detachment of Women’. I suspect that he was taken to this ballet as part of the business hospitality that he received when there.
The cards always intrigued me – beautiful images of dancers in bright colours, some holding weapons and wearing uniforms leaping across the stage, some in unison, others dancing solos. Even at an early age I was aware of how different and perhaps exotic these images seemed in comparison to Western contemporary ballet.
On rediscovering these images I became motivated to do some further research in to these dances and have uncovered a number of interesting articles about these dances and their significance in recent Chinese history.
The ‘Red Detachment of Women’ was choreographed and performed at the time of the Cultural Revolution in China. It was a state supported art form and was very much written and performed within strict parameters to support government propaganda. My understanding of the story is that it is about a peasant girl that escapes from the evil landowner, with the help of a communist agent and then joins the red army to seek revenge on the landowner. Mao Zedong evidently loved it. The score was devised using a number of traditional Chinese folk songs and some of the dance postures were taken from Chinese Martial arts – when not holding guns many dancers have clenched fists in opposition to more western forms of ballet in which the hands are open and softer. There is plenty more reading that I am uncovering on this and if anyone has a film of these ballets do let me know – I ‘d love to watch them.
This piece of work has uncovered a whole new line of enquiry for me – how dance and art are used and sponsored by governments to support their own power objectives – the influence of patronage. It is a beautiful image to work with but what lies behind the beauty is complex – there is confinement and control within what initially appears to be a free powerful movement across the space.
I have had the privilege recently to see the current exhibitions of Gerhard Richter at the Tate and Wilhelm Sasnal at the Whitechapel. Two contemporary masters of paint; their ability to use it to create an illusion of an image while being honest about its materiality I find overwhelmingly seductive.
My enthusiasm and emotional reaction to these works has prompted me to dig deeper as to what it is that makes a good painting and why I continued to be enticed and beguiled by this art form. How is it that some works have such presence that they make me want to stop still and look and can even create an emotional reaction. It is almost as if they vibrate at a different pace to the everyday.
These artists have the practiced skill of being able to place paint on the surface in such a manner that it creates an illusion of an image, event or feeling that moves beyond the flat surface. A gesture that communicates so much and moves beyond what is the present. In Sasnal’s ‘Robert Smithson’ the use of black white and grey tone and brush stroke creates such a seductive image that steps beyond the materiality of its existence. The black paint of where the boot merges into the dark background baffles me. The full shape of the boot is not illustrated, it is not visible, but we know it is there. Similarly in another work (which I will locate the title of) the leg of the figure is only made visible through the highlights, the leg is also part of the background but we know its shape through as much as what is not there as well as what is painted. ‘Kackper’ is another of Sasnal’s work that I truly think is beautiful. His subtle ability to create the illusion of light streaming through the canvas is mesmorising.
Recently I have been reading ‘Painting is not a Representational practice’ by Barbara Bolt in ‘Unframed: Practices & Politics of Women’s Contemporary Painting ed. Rosemary Betterton (2004 IB Tauris) in which Barbara Bolt analysis her paintings ‘Reading Fiction’ and ‘Reading Theory’: “…at some indefinable moment, the painting takes on its own life, a life that almost seems to have nothing to do with my own conscious attempts to ‘control’ it. The ‘work’ takes on its own momentum, its own rhythm and intensity…. The painting takes on a life of its own. It breathes, vibrates, pulsates, shimmers and generally runs away with me. The painting no longer represents, nor does it merely illustrate reading. It performs it. The painting transcends itself and becomes a dissembling presence…” (p42)
Bolt raises the question “If a painting comes to perform rather than merely represent some other thing, what is happening?” (p43). Without citing her whole article on this, which is very worth reading, I think she raises some interesting theories on what a painting does. What it performs is beyond that of paint on a surface. A ‘good’ painting, i.e. one that has the power to stop me in my tracks, is one that successfully excels beyond that of its materiality and communicates on a very different level to that of its material substance; it transmits a resonance or vibration beyond its objectness.
I am excited that painting continues to inspire me and will no doubt continue with this investigation into its perfomativity and resonance, although I wonder if language and cognition will ever truly be able to sum up our fascination with the painted image.
I arrived at Selfridges today with some trepidation. I find department stores, especially on a Saturday afternoon, overwhelming. Their labyrinth like qualities with bright lights, shiny things, synthetic smells and people jostling in all directions is my idea of a surreal hell. Everything seems distorted and unreal. I was relieved to find that the entrance to the Selfridges Hotel where the work of Judith Scott was on show and the discussion around ‘The Art of the Studio’ was up a separate staircase from the street.
When I entered the gallery I was pleasantly surprised by the space. It was like an industrial warehouse with exposed concrete walls and rough flooring. It seemed far removed from the commercial bustle of Oxford Street.
The lighting and the surrounds showed off Scotts work fantastically. These labouriously wrapped sculptures suspended in the space seemed to tightly hold so many stories and emotions. There was tranquillity in the curation of the work that balanced out the seeming endless passion entwined in the making process of the sculptures. I felt honoured to have encountered Scott’s work.
Following the interesting and international contributions to the discussion on ‘The Art of the Studio’ I got the courage up to battle the crowds and enter the show in the ‘Museum of Everything’ show in the basement of Selfridges.
I thought the labyrinth qualities of the show suited the department store yet was a welcome contradiction to the objects being sold in the store. On viewing the show I became completely overwhelmed with emotion as I encountered the work of Harald Stoffers. I could feel the tears welling as I stared at the density of his lines of words weaving and wondering across the pages before me. It held such passion and frustration.
“A thought, a word, a sentence, Stoffers daily art practice speaks on his behalf in letters written to a fictionalisation of his mother” was written next to these works. I could not ‘read’ these letters, they are in German, and I am not sure if I spoke German I could read them, or if they are ‘readable’. But the art of Stoffers is a language that communicates beyond the written word. It is visual, emotional and says so much more than the words written. The fact that these are letters to a mother is loaded in itself. It is almost as they represent the so many words that we would like to say to our mothers but are unable to utter. They say so much.
“There is such pressure to remain true to the facts, and it seems so important somehow, so vital to preserve events and people as they really were. But he knows how memory can make a shattered dream come true. Sometimes he loses the strength and vigilance to stand up to its forces, and thinks he would do just as well to let it transform the past as it wishes.” (Harvey p127)
I had the joy of reading recently Samantha Harvey’s novel ‘The Wilderness’ (Random House 2009). It is the humourously melancholic story of a man experiencing Alzheimer’s in his later years and the increasing liquidity between what is real, what is remembered and what is fantasy as the disease erodes his ability to deal with the reality of presence. It is tragic but Harvey explores so beautifully the themes of memory and what could be real or even fabricated.
I never think you can trust memory, it is fluid, it changes; things are lost or found. As the ages increase it is no longer possible to retain years of information and experiences.
Jane Boyer wrote and interesting introduction to the Core Gallery Open Exhibition Catalogue reflecting on how many artist selected are grappling with ideas around memory and the distortion of time and space. “…These works speak of fractured and fragmented experiences; the search for meaning between the two selves; private/public; a bombardment from technology and media images; place which is no longer actual but has become a representation, a symbol, an icon; a preference for constructed memory because real memory has become suspect…… Constructed memory becomes as defence against an invasive barrage of technology.” (Boyer 2011)
It is increasingly hard to engage with the present when we are communicating with numerous people on line, being subject to thousands of images, sounds, personal stories, expectations and demands for our time. If we cannot be aware of our present how can we possibly have a consciousness of our past? Our minds are powerful things and our ability to create, fabricate and believe is incredible. Why would we not want to create for ourselves a more romantic, interesting, intelligent, fun and care free past?
I have just finished reading Marie Darrieussecq’s ‘My Phanton Husband’ (Faber 1999). An exceptionally rich and absorbing short novel about a woman emotional turmoil resulting from the unexplained disappearance of her husband. It brought me back to the themes that ran through my MA thesis entitled “Framing an Absence: An exploration into how artists and practices work with absence to create a presence.”
Had I come across this novel then I am sure I would have referenced Darrieussecq also. Below is an extract that reiterates the notion of how the presence of objects can illuminate an absence.
“The emptiness around me was starting to settle like a paving slab, like cement stiffening and becoming firm, with a certain quality to the air, to the shadows, to the silence, the way the walls stood still, the way the doors stood up straight and the windows. The lampshade we had chosen, a fake tortoiseshell lampshade that went with the wicker furniture and the yucca plant, hung from the ceiling like a drop about to fall, pure concentrate of catastrophe hanging over my head…… It wasn’t a question of my husbands taste or my own, but the angles of furniture, the reflection of the bulb, the hollow walls, the sheen of the television, the smoothness of the skirting boards, the tortoiseshell, the carpet: the simple presence of these things, the empty space they defined. I am not talking about shared memories, or about the connotations of certain objects; I’m talking about the solidification of empty space.” (Darrieusecq p76)
Somehow her words take me to the still life’s of Giorgio Morandi. The way she uses the description of tangible objects to create a gaping absence. With her word Darrieussecq paints the negative space that surrounds the material world and draws us in to see the void.