Lovely post by Ann; the portrait of a marriage…?
Excellent. A timely re-visiting of an era when we thought things couldn’t get worse…
Though Gillian Wearing doesn’t re-enact the work of a scientist to make art, arguably she does nonetheless take on another role: that of the confessor. In a number of different works, Wearing allows those she encounters – either through approaching strangers on the street or by advertising – to express their innermost thoughts in one way or another.
For the series of photographs Signs that say what you want them to say and not signs that say what someone else wants you to say, made in 1992-3, Wearing asked people to write a sign that said something they really wanted to say and hold it up for the camera. Some of the signs comment on the wider political situation of…
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“We are living in a world of collage.”
The more I think about it, the truer it feels.
Maybe it’s an ‘age’ thing: the awareness that there is no over-arching narrative; there’s just stuff happening, one thing and another.
A world of jarring juxtapositions, odd contiguities; dislocation; disjunction; fractured and fragmented.
“Something is eating a hole… There are too many names in my head. PINS… And a friend. In the Nut House told me. That insanity is not all that it’s cracked up to be.”
David is Canadian, a published writer and artist; that’s about as much as I know. We ‘met’ in the blogosphere; his posts, combining haunting, surreal collage/photo montage with prose poems (micro-fictions?), struck a chord; no callow, eager-eyed youth he; here was a man who has Seen Life.
“At the bottom of the stairs. I used to wait for you. To come down. Head first… I can take heart ache. Who doesn’t want to find their husband. Jerking off. Over the dishes?”
His style is spare, staccato, disruptive. No ‘thens’ or ‘becauses’; nothing to imply coherence and understanding, rationalisation; just the piling up of words, phrases, sentences, their only connections being those which we, as we do, read into them.
Like a collage.
” For old men. Who still pine… I have to wonder if my liver. Would have outlived. Yours.”
Life; relationships; time itself, experienced not as linear progression, but through snapshots of memories, flitting back and forth; past, present and future commingling uneasily to form an idea of ‘now’:
“Every moment around me. An ambush. Of memory.”
“I sat alone in a restaurant. Eating snitzel. And reading the New York Times. Across Church Street. She stepped out of an apartment building. Swimming. In the arms of her lover. Who looked like he’d just taken her. For a test drive.”
“Jesus is a wrist watch. That never keeps time. But at least it distracts you from. The point of getting older. My only concern about time. Is how much I have left… The glass is too frail to be half full. Turn my head back to the table. I thought you should know. That isn’t pudding on your plate.”
Just bits and pieces.
We, it, words, images are discrete quanta, bumping up against each other yet remaining forever separate, abstractions in a composite; and this thing we call ‘life’ is something far more grotesquely absurd, far less orderly, than we like to think.
A jigsaw that will never – quite – fit:
“The scars from the war. Were still waking him up. In the alley. Between those condominiums that were being renovated… The President is handsome. Aren’t they all.”
“The condition of the world. Has sucked off my soul. And you’ve got to get over the feeling. That this has been said. Before. I leave. That the girl in my heart. Is the one. Over there. Her head on my shoulder. Her hand in my pocket.”
Multiplicity and heterogeneity.
No sense of things hanging together comfortably.
Not at all. (At least not to me. Absurdity is always blackly humourous, I’ve found.)
If art – the arts – have one purpose it is surely not to ‘explain’ but to record in a way that we recognise and yet makes us think differently.
David’s work does this, for me.
I’ll leave the last thought to him:
“There are 2 things.
If there is no God, then the universe is like a haunted house. And freakin’ scary.
And if there is a God. He’s a prick.”
See more of David’s art and writing here:
First up, apologies to Miles Davis fiends for getting you here on false pretenses: to you I can only say So What.
Secondly, thanks to Geoff at Gorgeous Company, from whom I shamelessly nicked these images, for bringing them to my attention. They’re probably all over the internet by now, but if you haven’t seen them allow me to share the beauty and the mystery; they are by someone known only as bbe022001 on flickr.
I wish they were mine.
“A moon bridge is a highly arched pedestrian bridge, which in its wooden form may require the walker to initially climb (as one would a ladder) and also when descending… The moon bridge originated from China and was later introduced to Japan…
As part of formal garden design the bridge will be placed where its reflection is seen when the water is still. The half circle is intended to reflect in the calm water below the bridge, creating a full circle between bridge and reflection, a reference to the shape of the full moon.” (Wiki)
Now Ms/Mr Bbe is clearly someone well-versed in Chinese/Japanese aesthetics (I’m not; please feel free to correct me); she/he has used the camera to create something wonderfully, gorgeously ‘new’ that nonetheless resonates with references to ancient traditions.
That in itself is no mean feat.
At the very heart of this aesthetic is, it seems to me, an appreciation of nature, not merely of its beauty but of its changeability, its transience, both of which make it more precious. It is not ‘in your face’ fireworks; it is contemplative, subdued, melancholy even, qualities here achieved through that soft, sad, subtle blue ‘palette’; it inspires not awe but a kind of serene humility, a gratitude that for a fleeting moment you have been privileged to share something quietly, unassumingly extraordinary in its ordinariness.
The Japanese term for this ‘beautiful impermanence’, the appreciation of the ephemeral, is wasi-sabi, and it derives from Zen Buddhism; the moon bridge itself and its reflection surely reference the concept of ensō, Japanese for ‘circle’ and signifying the absolute, enlightenment, and “in Zen Buddhist painting… symbolis[ing] a moment when the mind is free to simply let the body/spirit create.” (Wiki)
None of which, of course, you really need to know.
You just have to look at the images, relax, and let them speak for themselves; there’s a lot going on and yet nothing going on: captured snippets of time in which to contemplate the timeless.
Whoever you are, bbe022001, thank you for sharing.
My Modern Met:
Following on from my last, vaguely controversial post:
I would crawl over hot coals to save this lad’s bed from a Naples-style inferno before anything in Antonio Manfredi’s gallery, and certainly before anything created by Damien Hirst.
An Iraqi orphan, the child – how old is he? Seven? Eight? – has drawn a picture of his lost mother to cuddle up to.
Are you moved?
You should be.
This image works on many levels. Unbearably poignant as it stands, the fact that the child is described as Iraqi raises questions, for me at least, about how his mother died; about the ‘collateral damage’ that is inflicted on the innocent during a ‘just war’ and its aftermath. Of course she may have died from entirely natural causes but the inferences are there to be drawn.
How can they not be?
Two works in one: the photographic image, and that terrible, beautiful bed.
Beautiful because it’s True.
A solace and a provocation.
This is Art.
“One does not look at the dead, one lowers one’s eyes before them.”
In 1989 I purchased a copy of Granta 27: Death. Inside was a series of photographs by Rudolf Schäfer, taken from his book Der Ewige Schlaf: Visages de Morts. The photographs – they have to be photographs; only photography can do this – hit me hard, and they haunt me now. Are they portraits? No. They are still lifes, stilled life, each a silent, eloquent memento mori, reminders that what makes us human is not our awareness that we are, but that we will cease to be.
In Schäfer’s own words:
“There is no direct experience of what death actually looks like…this notion that it must look terrible…”
“These are ordinary poses. We are constantly bombarded with…violent, extreme pictures – but we diffuse one of the implications of these images – our own mortality. With these…you simply do not have that option”.
“These people all died of natural causes…they all look very peaceful…The peace of this moment, this coming to rest…”
“…some people react with moral outrage…but you have to reach beyond it to see…the questions the pictures raise in our own minds about ourselves…”
“To me the pictures have a terrible beauty…[they] show what will surely become of us all one day, and we should therefore take a little bit more care over our lives.”
A “terrible beauty”.
How do these photographs make you feel? I find them inexpressibly poignant in their extraordinary ‘ordinariness’; I also feel as though I’m intruding on something very private, very intimate: we are seeing the dead exactly as their loved ones would have last seen them. Furthermore, the subjects of these photographs, as far as I know, had no say in the process, there was no ‘prior agreement’; as Schäfer notes: “…sometimes I obtained the consent of the relatives; in other cases that wasn’t necessary.”
Is that enough? I’m not sure, not sure at all. But I do know this: the article tells us nothing about these people, they are anyone and everyone; this is how and why the photographs ‘work’. When I look at them they fill me with an empathy that reaches out beyond the individual, the personal, beyond religion and ‘morality’: it reaches out to all of us.
This is Art.
“We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.”
Rudolf Schäfer’s words taken from an interview conducted and translated from the German by Piers Spence, and published in Granta 27: Death, 1989.
“..the camera is only a tool in the same way that the brush is a tool, and one capable in the hands of an artist of conveying thought, feeling, expressing individuality, and also the usual attributes of art in their degree.” ~ Henry Peach Robinson.
Steve McCurry is known as, and refers to himself, as a ‘photojournalist’; he went to Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion, embedded, dressed as a native, and took photos: that was his job; he was there to document. One day in 1984, in a Pakistan refugee camp, he came across this girl and took her picture. Happy accident? No. Go to his website and look at the other portraits filed, tellingly enough, under ‘Fine Art Prints’. The man may like to see himself as a jobbing snapper, but he knows he’s not. He’s an artist, and he can’t help it.
The image caused a sensation when it appeared on the cover of National Geographic, and its unknown subject (she was not identified as Sharbat Gula until 2002) soon became a poster-girl for Amnesty International and the plight of refugees world-wide. But why this one, one of so many? Apart from an obvious emotional response to what we were told in the accompanying article was an utterly dispossessed young girl ( a far more emotive subject than a boy), our primary response is surely to beauty, to that of the girl herself and of the image as a whole. But the ‘aesthetically pleasing’ does not trump the ‘moral’, it gild’s it. Only art does this. The piece has been compared to Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, but a Raphael, with its vibrant pallette, still grace and clarity, would be more apposite. Conforming in compostion to the ‘rule of thirds’, it is a symphony of jewel-like reds and greens from the back-ground to the dress to the skin-tones to those dazzling blue/yellow-flecked eyes, all thrown into relief by the dark mingling of hair and shadow. Red and green: diametrically opposed on the colour wheel, and used always to bold effect. Compare Raphael’s Portrait of Pope Julius II:
And bold she certainly is, expressing to the full Robinson’s ‘feeling’ and ‘individuality’: the eyes, the firm set of the mouth, all betoken such defiance, such dignity; she’s a tattered Madonna (that girl thing), future mother of proud and, as we in the West remain acutely aware, indomitable warriors. Down she may be, but never out.
All of which is a great deal to hang on the shoulders of a twelve year-old girl, but of course we don’t, we hang it on the image. We invest the image and we invest in it; we respond to it as art, and this, in the end, is what makes it such.
A very fine photographer, Steve McCurry: http://stevemccurry.com/
Interview with Steve:
(Thanks, Tha Dubdiggah)
The other day I posted an excellent article from Fluster Magazine about Robert Mapplethorpe. Needless to say, it featured a big cock or two.
Someone surprised me by suggesting that his use of the human body as a subject was somehow exploitative, demeaning the owners of said cocks and thus, by implication, us the viewers.
I beg to differ. Strongly.
“I search perfection in form. I do it with portraits, with penises, with flowers. A subject is not different from another. I try to catch what seems sculptural to me.” ~ Robert Mapplethorpe.
“A subject is not different from another.”
There should be no taboos in art, no ‘rights’ or ‘wrongs’: it’s about art, about why and how you make it. It is not to condone the gratuitously offensive; it is merely to state that everything in nature, ie everything, is open to the (female or male) gaze of the artist, and all has an equally valid claim on her/his attention. Compare this, from Rodin:
“To any artist worthy of the name, all in nature is beautiful, because his eyes, fearlessly accepting all exterior truth, read there, as in an open book, all the inner truth.”
Go down the ‘exploitation’ route and you may as well say that Mapplethorpe exploits calla lilies.
The fact is, all art objectifies.
It takes a thing, an idea, a scene, an emotion, and turns it into something else: the art object. This holds as much for solipsistic, expressionistic abstract art as it does for traditional representation. Good art is transfigurative; it contemplates the subject and then, crucially, says something about it, presents it to the viewer afresh. Mapplethorpe’s classical, clean, sculptural photography does exactly this: never have a cock and balls, or simple flowers, been raised so high. Far from demeaning his subjects, he puts them, often literally, on a pedestal.
All of which is quite a different thing to pornography, which is unquestionably exploitative of both subject and viewer. Porn never has anything new to say; indeed, it relies on repetitive sameness, the pressing of the same buttons, in order to find its market. And it does so by by-passing the intellect entirely and homing straight into one’s pants. This is real commodification.
Mapplethorpe’s art is not only beautiful, it is also, like anything worthwhile, deeply considered, deeply intelligent.
It pays to engage with it on something like the same level.
Fluster Magazine article : http://flustermagazine.com/2012/01/31/photography-special-robert-mapplethorpe-flowers-penises-and-portraits/