Issue I - November 2013
Editorial Contents Features
4 The Art of Advertising 6 Art and the Mind 8 The Masterpiece 9 Art & Words 10 Untitled
Reviews 11 12 14 16
Slade Interim Show Art under Attack Australia Mira Schendel
18 Roxanne Blake 20
Departmental Events Society Events
© Azmina Abdulla
Design and Layout Anna Tomlinson
& Azmina Abdulla
Welcome to the first issue of HARTmagazine for the academic year 2013/2014.
We are the UCL History of Art department’s magazine, featuring our department’s talent. This first issue, on the theme of Words is an experiment and we’re looking forward to hearing your comments and ideas. Our aim was to bring together students from the department to critically engage with art historical issues. We want to create a forum for discussion in our department and provide a platform where you can voice your opinions and grow as a writer. Flipping through the pages, we’ve got features, reviews and a profile on the wonderful Roxanne Blake. Each issue will have a theme and the next one will be Controversies, set to come out at the end of term. Finally, we would like to thank the 2012/2013 History of Art Committee, especially Marta Krokosz and Alex Daish, for helping us with the transition!
Heart from HART, Anna and Azmina
Contributors Roxanne Blake, Adèle Bourbonne, Lisa Clarke, Helen Cobby, Emily Mangione, Grace Nalty, Agnes Valencic, Chiara Maria Villa and Kitty Whittell.
Art & Advertising
... or is it the Art of Advertising? Agnes Valencic S
earching through V&A’s online collection of Graphics and Advertising images can instantly lead to the contemplation of the relationship between the universe of traditional arts and the alluring world of modern advertising. The latter is now particularly appealing thanks to AMC’s Mad Men, portraying the world of advertising in an era of redefinition. Now, we are again in such an era, as the world of advertising must adapt to the digital age in an ongoing creative revolution. One of the main parallels between visual art and advertising is perhaps the component of communication. Fine art communicates. Advertisements, printed, video or even digital animations, also communicate. There is a clear overlap in art historical theory and criticism.
“... Advertising images can instantly lead to the contemplation of the relationship between the universe of traditional arts and the alluring world of modern advertising.
What we now call advertising and visual arts have been, since the ages of old Mesopotamian rulers, mostly connected through the art of political propaganda, usually used to glorify the state leader, his conquests and even his divine role in society. Needles to say, the Roman sculptors and the 20th century Soviet avant-garde artists reached their cultural and artistic pinnacle through the art of propaganda itself.
However, the rise of capitalism and 19th century industrial boom required, as a logical consequence, a new kind of publicity, the one that would persuade costumers to run after whatever the commodities market was offering. It made them want more and more, it established relationships between brands and consumer, often involving an element of storytelling and undoubtedly a tool to make people embrace it and accept it into their lives. Selling became an art of manipulation, a psychological game, revolving around a brand more than an actual product. That’s how it all began – insatiable modern consumerism. The love for materialistic goods, around which lifestyles were created and destroyed. It is the love of chosen brands that nowadays defines our taste, and so does the love of chosen art. Is it therefore a coincidence that some of the most notable modern advertising campaigns were inspired by artworks or powerful images that have already earned their place on art history’s wall of fame? Do advertising campaigns adopting more refined and sophisticated visual communication strategies influence consumers differently? Will people recognize “good taste” and link sophistication of an ad with the one of a brand and a product? Here, it might be useful to look at the example taken from one of the most famous advertising-meets-art campaigns of our time. In 1983, Charles Saatchi, co-founder of Saatchi & Saatchi creative agency (and later Saatchi M&C, after the Saatchi brothers were voted out of the original one) paired up with agency’s slightly
eccentric and brilliant-minded art director Paul Arden to create a campaign for Silk Cut cigarette brand. Saatchi, otherwise an enthusiastic art collector, also partially responsible for the rise of some young British artist, including Damien Hirst, was first inspired by a painting from Italian artist Lucio Fontana (1899-1968). The purple-colored sheet of silk with a single straight cut in the middle expresses a contrast between the softness and the gentleness of a fabric and the violence of a cut into it. What is more, it has also been argued that the cut resembles a stylized female body, linked to the sexuality of which the explicit usage was restricted in the adverts. And finally usage was restricted in the adverts. And finally the Silk Cut campaign does not include the brand name, a picture or a slogan. It is relies solely on the power of image. With this kind of approach, Arden succeeded in creating, arguably, one of the most iconic advertising campaigns, also helping the brand gain a sophisticated aura and become even more desired by costumers. An art-like communication with rather hidden, multi-dimensional meanings and primarily visual appeal behind it here resulted in a project-turned-legend. The aesthetic power achieved when fine art and advertising work together is evident from the Silk Cut cigarette campaign, exemplifying the successful coexistence of the traditional arts and adverting. The lines could be blurred between where one ends and another begins and in the end, this leads us to a point where we can start wondering whether advertising can be considered a visual art in its own right.
The Troubles of the Artist - Art and the Mind Lisa Clarke Art and the Mind Throughout history, and continuing to this day, we have the luxury of being able to experience first hand some truly inspired and astounding works of artistic genius. Whether the works of Turner, Pollack or Picasso, all broke the boundaries of their time and set the stage for the future of art, becoming a source of inspiration that draws many to delve into world of painting and art whatever their age, education or artistic preferences. There are a number of historic accounts and stories involving many famous artists, about their erratic behaviour perhaps, excessive drinking in some cases and so on, but what is it that gave them their edge? While talent and genius were
certainly at work in many of these artistsâ€™ minds, we are increasingly discovering, in tandem with our own insights into the difficulties of those suffering with mental illness, that many of the visionary artists whose works we have come to treasure may have been suffering from a wide range of, nowadays, identifiable mental illnesses.
The Troubled Greats Perhaps the most famous artist with mental health problems was Van Gogh. While even those not particularly well acquainted with the art world know of his own self mutilation, there is of course, much more to the story, and Van Goghâ€™s illness, than this isolated incident. While it is known that he suffered from epilepsy, most likely brought on by his excessive consumption of absinthe, studies by art historians of his personal letters also indicate a deeper rooted problem. Many of his letters for example, conveyed that he went through both extremely depressive states of mind, often followed by manic passion and extreme elation with regards to his works and life in general. Nowadays, this would perhaps be diagnosable as bi-polar disorder. It has also been suggested that he suffered from schizophrenia. When we take these illnesses into account, we cannot help but see the reflection in not only his excessive drinking and sometimes intense behaviour, but also in his works themselves. Clinical depression, self doubt and obsessive compulsive disorder were the bane of many other great artists. Michelangelo, for example, is reported to have locked himself away for large amounts of time while working, refused to ever take off his boots, and had furious bouts of anger - all common symptoms of OCD. More recent
held so dear to many of the troubled greats, and why painting was so fundamental to them. Art therapy, and painting and drawing in particular, is also being used to help patients recover from more recently identified problems, such as post traumatic stress disorder. Again, it is highly possible that a number of artists, such as Munch, suffered a traumatic event which came to dominate their artistic and physical lives. At the time of course, the common signs of these problems were not widely known, and so remained hidden from both the sufferers and the medical community.
The Curse of the Creative Mind?
artists such as Jackson Pollock also suffered from clinical depression, went through a nervous breakdown and had a long running problem with substance abuse. In general, we can certainly say that these conditions not only affected the works of these artists, but in many ways are a fundamental part of their works, making them what they are.
Expression and Catharsis Interestingly, this leads us to raise the question of what real impact practicing art had on these artists mental well being, and why often, despite everything else in their lives falling apart around them, art remained the one constant. Edvard Munch, another sufferer of depression and alcoholism, called his paintings â€˜his childrenâ€™, having devoted his whole life to them alone - the one constant that kept him going. In fact, in recent times, there has been a large amount of research undertaken on how painting and drawing as a form of self expression can be a healthy and beneficial undertaking for those with mental illnesses. Art therapy has seen widespread use by both psychologists, addiction recovery centres and counsellors, who have all found that the benefits are striking. It is no surprise then perhaps, that this is possibly the reason their works were
Unfortunately, there does seem to be a strong correlation between creativity and mental illness - of course not all creatively minded people will suffer the extremes of these conditions, but are certainly more likely to experience bouts of anxiety, depression and self doubt as a result. This of course, can affect anyone in the creative spheres, whether art, music or literature, and in addition to the hard evidence, we can see from numerous visionaries and pioneers of their field, that the price for such talent can unfortunately often be difficult and painful.
The Masterpiece Emily Mangione T
his all started, innocuously enough, with a surveyor at the National Gallery in London and her question: “What do you think of when you hear the word ‘masterpiece’?” She wanted a one or two word answer, but I think the concept is important and yet naturalized enough in the way we interact with art to warrant a slightly longer response. Why is it that we call certain works of art “masterpieces,” or, in the National Gallery’s parlance, “must-see paintings”? In particular, what does this distinction provide or detract from the museum-going experience? And what does the proliferation of guidebooks and pamphlets detailing the “highlights” of museums say about the function of museums and how we view tourism more generally? In a fashion similar to how photography normalizes and provides structure to the tourist experience in general, the masterpiece can be seen as a way of organizing the experience of visiting a museum in particular. The National Gallery prohibits photography of the collection, but it’s extraordinarily visible—and frequently exasperating—how the concepts of the masterpiece and tourist photography can work in conjunction in any major “destination museum” worldwide. The title of masterpiece and their listing tell us what we should do, what we should see, when we visit the museum, lest we “waste time” (this preoccupation with the use and misuse of time may be seen as the result of the transformation of time—even leisure time—into capital in an industrial society and its afterlives). The masterpiece becomes a device by which perfect strangers—art historians, curators, travel writers—are allowed to dictate the meaning of our museum experiences and usurp the autonomy of our vision. Moreover, this very idea that someone or even a disciplinary body could somehow decree that one
work of art is somehow objectively more masterful than others seems grounded in an impossibly antiquated idea of the type of art knowledge, a throw-back to a Kantian disinterested observer. There has been a lot of noise made recently about moving to make the museum a public space in the broadest sense of the term. It’s difficult to think of an institution that, within the last two decades, has not greatly ramped up its family events, educational programming, and amenities designed to attract the broadest possible public. Counter intuitively, these same museums’ fixation on and perpetuation of the masterpiece bespeaks a (supposedly) anachronistic bourgeois public sphere operative in the space of the museum and a notion of the museum as an institution geared primarily to disseminate notions of authorship and originality (and this even in an age of the Google Art Project and the artwork’s virtual reproduction). And so the visit to the museum under the aegis of the masterpiece becomes the parallel of “teaching to the test” in secondary school; the experience is not about pleasure or really even learning, the experience is about being told what is important. So let me put a proposition forward to you for the next time you visit a major national art collection or encyclopedic museum: Don’t allow anyone to tell you what the masterpieces are. Don’t look at labels hoping to recognize an artist’s name. Go to room 56 at the National Gallery and ignore “The Arnolfini Portrait” in favour of Rogier van der Weyden’s “The Magdalen Reading” fragment. Go to the Louvre and ignore the Mona Lisa. Just look at art, art that intrigues you, art that you find compelling, no matter what the survey says.
Art & Words Adèle Bourbonne W
ords and art can both be seen as abstract concepts. Words are everywhere: on papers, street signs, phones, in books, and shops. Yet, so is art. Both words and art have a history. While identifying each of these concepts, some similarities have occurred, forcing us to question if there is a relationship between art and words. At first glance, art and words seem unrelated. Furthermore, art seems to be able to convey what words cannot, because the words are too hard to choose or too hard to say. The Austrian Art Nouveau movement, in which Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka took part, exempflies a moment in which feeling overpowered the viewer, a moment in which words were superfluous. In Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss (1908/1909, displayed at the Galerie Belvedere, Vienna), the spectator is facing a scene where the woman kneels before the man suggesting a ritual of offering. The decorative background of shimmering gold and abstract patterns evokes peacefulness, and the embrace evokes a powerful passion. Here, art appears to hold power over words. When we enter an exhibition, one of the first elements that we can notice is the wall labels. In this case, words have the power to influence our way of seeing and experiencing the artworks. For instance, let’s take “Untitled – Violet, Black, Orange, Yellow on White and Red” (1949, displayed at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York) by Mark Rothko. Without a clear explanation a spectator cannot guess that the suggestion of a dark horizon in the centre of the painting evokes universal feelings of distance and proximity, journeys and outcomes. In René Magritte’s “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”, the spectator finds himself faced with a controversial representation. Magritte managed
to transcribe his thoughts into images. This can be seen more clearly with “The Palace of Curtains” (1929, both Magritte works on display in the current exhibition Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938 at the Museum of Modern Art, New York), in which two shapes are placed on the ground next to each other: one contains the word ciel, the other is filled with a light blue sky. Both are representations, one working with language while the other deals with arbitrary association. These two works of art show that sometimes words and art can be on equal playing field, sharing and fulfiling each other. Magritte’s aim was therefore to display each medium’s unique reach. Even though art and words first seemed to be unrelated, we realize they are in fact inseparable and intertwined. They are both tools of communication, thereby shaping our ideas and a collective way of life, and ultimately each acting as forms of self-expression.
Kiss, 1908/1909 Oil on canvas, 180 x 180 cm © Belvedere, Vienna
Untitled Grace Nalty A Short Exploration of Namelessness Where would we be without names? How would we refer to places, people or objects? Life would be a lot harder and disconnected if we did not have names, however this is a reoccurring trend within the art world. Modern and contemporary art is littered with ‘Untitled’s. This creates an unsettling show of mass productivity of art, leading us to question whether or not art still carries the same passion and meaning as before. For artists now there are a few problems that bring around the need for a nameless artwork. The first of these problems is the mass production of artworks by famous artists, so much so that the paintings are repetitive and almost identical to one another. Think Mark Rothko, unquestionably a very talented artist who had his own distinct style, and since his fame everyone wanted a Rothko hanging in their house. But there are only so many Rothko’s in circulation, and when people are paying an average of $41,000 for a piece of the action, Untitled seems to be the fall back for art that has an infinite amount of brothers and sisters and is being produced to demand. The art market has reached an ever increasing peak, with fine art sales reaching $7 billion in 2012, so its unsurprising that artists would like to create as much art pieces as they can. Whilst his art is worth lots of money, we can not purely pin point the reason for his untitled works on this. Rothko’s extensive use of vibrant colours were symbolic of religious and political experiences and through the colour he wanted the viewers themselves to feel emotions and take away their own experiences without being told what to feel. Rothko used his own opinions and emotions as his inspiration for colour, but left us to feel something of our own.
Another problem facing new art’s possibility of a name is, widely speaking, the sheer randomness of what we today can count as art. You only have to stumble into the minimalist section of the Tate Modern to come face to face with a room full of ambiguously unnamed art works. Robert Morris, Larry Bell and Donald Judd (among many others) give their work the ever so uncreative name of ‘Untitled’ – where has modern creativity gone? Artists are creating piece of art that sit in world class galleries like Tate and MoMA but they are unidentifiable by name, making the viewer question if these objects had any inspiration behind them, or what the ‘meaning’ of art actually is. There are so many people in this world who look at art and say ‘that’s not art’, and for people like this a name would help them identify with a piece of art and be able to take away an intended message. Minimalism however has always had a trend of naming (or not naming) works Untitled. The lack of definition given to artworks opens up the experience of viewing to the public, letting them form a personal emotional connection. By giving a piece of art a name in reference to a political, religious or social group or movement, the artists closes the piece of art off to other members of society. Whilst a name of a painting offers a kind of completion to a piece of work and is indisputably a powerful tool of influence on the viewer, nameless work opens itself up to the audience and makes art broader and accessible to people of all races, religions and languages.
Slade Interim Show Anna Tomlinson T
he 2013 Slade Interim Show held at the Slade Research Centre, Woburn Square, is an investigation into the boundaries of various mediums. The artists create works that juxtapose the medium with emotional questions, thereby also questioning our involuntary psychological reactions.
draws on the art historical tradition as he takes recognisable printed copies, and drapes them across wooden stands. He takes what we accustomed to, and through his display and the arrangement of the images asks us to question the emotions we associate with the display of the masterpieces.
Renate Weberberger’s installation is a material realisation of boundaries. The installation feels ethereal, as Weberberger “deals with the process of categorising,” and through the physical divide she comments on the mental obstacles we face.
Milou van der Maaden
A Pile of Bodies: Interviews and Pieta, 2013 Video and Print, Installation © Slade Interim Show
Equilibrium, 2013 Oil on canvas © Slade Interim Show Equilibrium by Robbie Fife creates a dreamlike feeling of instability on his canvas. The falling figure contrasts with the dark background, plunging us further into our own insecurities as we question the almost surreal painting. With an almost dreamlike quality, the painting draws us into its depths and throws us off balance. The provoking video, print and physical installation produced by Milou van der Maaden
Kendall Helland continues the questioning of what we associate with paintings and its associated tradition, in her work Wet Paint. At first, her work seems blatantly obvious in its remarks and in its colours, and thus evokes a response from the viewer to confront their definition of painting. The theme throughout the 2013 Slade Interim Show is one of questioning, as each artist, as for example the selection mentioned above, tries to force the viewer to redefine, to question and to think. The show as a whole, although seemingly disjointed, was united in its drive to demand the viewer’s involvement in each work.
Art under Attack Tate Britain
Severed heads, a portrait hanged up-
side-down, fragments of stone ... a nightmare? Certainly not! It is in fact the fifth room of the exhibition ‘Art Under Attack’ at Tate Britain, dedicated to Politics and Public Space. The exhibition has opened to the public the 2nd of October and you will have the chance to go and take a look until the 5th of January 2014. And you should indeed take a look, since the exhibition is an incredibly informative and dynamic display of works of art that have been attacked in Britain over the past 500 years. The structure of the exhibition is chronological but has also formal qualities pointing to the reasons for assaulting art; and it is thus divided into three sections: Religion, Politics, Aesthetics. As you enter the exhibition you will encounter works attesting to the religious iconoclasm of the 16th century. Whether you are interested in art or not, the display of these works, often accompanied by documentation, are an incredible testimony of historical facts that still today may trigger emotions of indignation towards artistic loss. The organization of the works speaks for itself in showing the change of religious convictions about iconic worship through the different kinds of damages visible in the images. The ‘sparing’ of Jesus in the wooden panel shown in the exhibition’s poster attests to Henry VIII’s less radical Reformation policies; while immediately after one might gasp at the look of a crucifixion panel painting with the eyes and faces of all human figures scratched away, proclaiming the new radical Reformation reforms by Edward VI in 1548. The element of transformation, a main theme of the last room, is actually a recurrent concept which pervades the entire exhibition. The only certain thing is that nothing remains fixed as time passes: works dissassembled, destroyed
Chiara Maria Villa or re-purposed, governments, ideologies, policies and sentiments continuously changing, developing and bursting against materiality. This is a feast of the materiality of art and the immateriality of ideas and you are kindly invited to participate. The section about politics shows the phantoms of past rulers in the form of bodily members of statues. But political opposition can take forms other than violent breaking of stone. The painting hanging upside down was the first thing I saw when entering the room and for a second I thought the museum personelle had some clear eyesight problem, but as I read its provenance, the simple rotation of an image on the wall was transformed into a harsh political statement from a monarchist against the revolutionary Oliver Cromwell depicted in the work. But the politics does not end here! Feminist action in the 1913-14 to obtain voting rights for women expressed itself in iconoclasm over works of art in museums. The fight was on, and the enemies were represented by the idealized female images in art objects, treated with more respect and consideration than their real counterparts. Iconoclastic action is the de-mystification of images that threaten to substitute or even outclass the thing they represent. Believers worshipping the statue of Christ and not the God himself, society idealizing female representations in masterful artworks and not giving attention to real women...
“... the exhibition is an incredibly informative and dynamic display of works of art that have been attacked in Britain over the past 500 years
The last section of the exhibition, diverting to modern and contemporary art, brings us back to the present, where attacks on art have continued to occur for ideological contrasts, but also where the actual destruction of art, and its unstoppable transformation, has been aestheticized to the point that it constitutes the very essence of a work. This can be seen in the image of the melted family slide by the Boyle family from the series ‘Projection’, produced in occasion of the DIAS (Distruction in Art Symposium) of 1966 in London. An initial object is thus taken and transformed to produce a completely different work. Transformation produces a new meaning. When the destructed object is as personal to the artist as a family slide, the opposition is at the lowest degree but what happens when a work of art which might be considered of wide cultural importance is disfigured? Works like One day you will be no longer loved (2008-2010), in which Jake and Dino Chapman modify Victorian portraits to make them people resemble skeletons and corpses, raise some issues about how far can art go in aestheticising the transformation of art. What is intriguing about this work is the critique that stands behind it, concerning the position of the sitters as people that are no longer loved because the portraits have been sold and reworked. This looks also as a self-criticism, as the artists have themselves altered the work in the most dramatic way to bring up this issue.
This exhibition is interesting exactly for this reason: that there is no final principle or ‘formula’ about iconoclasm that is given to the visitor. The truth is that the exhibition presents to us a world, and with it an artworld, that is in constant change and that questions everything, without giving anything as granted.
“... iconoclasm is not only an
action, but also a statement ... we have to remember that are not only facing a disfigured image, but also a new born piece of art
What, I believe, this exhibition teaches the viewer, is that iconoclasm is not only an action, but a strong statement; and whether we are facing a scratched altarpiece or a noblewoman with skeleton eyes, we have to remember that we are not only facing (maybe also with resentment) a disfigured image, but a new born piece of art.
Royal Academy Kitty Whittell A
ustralia is a vast place, both in terms of terrain and character, encapsulated in the Royal Academy’s latest exhibition. A loosely chronological retrospective of the past 250 years of Australian art, addressing the key relationship between the artists and the vast wilderness they lived in. The scale of Australia in terms of terrain is immediately addressed by Shaun Gladwell’s ‘Approach to Mundi Mundi.’ This seven minute long video shows a panoramic vista, a vast desert in which a lone motorcyclist rides on an endless road stretching off into the distance. He raises his arms creating a crucifix with his body, perhaps referencing the spiritual nature of the road to Australia’s heartland, Adelaide.
Charles Meere, Australian Beach Pattern, 1940 Australia 21 September 2013 to 8 December 2013 © Royal Academy of Arts
Progressing through the exhibit it becomes clear that there is a stark contrast between the different artist’s attitudes to the Australian landscape, displayed perfectly as you enter the main rooms where aboriginal is played off against colonial. The large scale canvases of aboriginal artists working in the 1980s are exhibited on bright white walls, setting off the textural dotted brushwork and the rich earthy colours of the paintings. A sensitive, respectful relationship is clear; these artists are working with, not against the land. This is accomplished by interpreting the sweeping shapes of the hills and rocks through swirls of colour and void spaces on the canvases. In the second half of the room heavy frames are hung on dark green walls, these canvases are clearly painted by Western settlers. Images of colonial outposts and naturalistic botanic records of the different settings of Australia’s vast array of environments show a desire to categorise and control the wilderness. A canonical example is John Glover’s, ‘A View of the Artist’s House and Garden, in Mills Plains, Van Diemen’s Land,’ 1835. Here he shows his control of his land, planting seeds transported from England in neat rows leading up to the front door of his stone cottage, demonstrating his pride in taming the uncultivated land. A key issue in the exhibition is that there is simply too much to see. The majority of the attention falls on the earlier rooms, encouraging the viewer to consider the significance of Colonial influence on the development of a National style of art. This results in a weaker representation of modern and
contemporary Australian artists. Key works such as Sidney Nolan’s ‘Ned Kelly’ 1946 stand out as a recognisable name but overshadow many lesser known artists in the category and the exhibition remains weighted in representing the Royal Academy “gang” who feature heavily in previous rooms. There is a thematic undercurrent in the changing relationship between Britain and Colonial Australia in terms of art which appears mostly positive, particular in the progression in style from impressionism to abstraction where there is a clear collaboration in ideas. One work however does address the negative and oppressive nature of Imperialism on the native aboriginals head on, namely Fiona Foley’s ‘Bliss,’ 2006. This 11 minute video creates a pleasant yet poignant coda to Shaun Gladwell’s video at the beginning of the exhibit and draws the viewer’s attention to the way in which aboriginal workers were treated by their white masters, as they were often paid in narcotics such as opium in order to keep them under control. White opium poppies sway on the screen as excerpts from Rosalind Kidd’s 1997 book, ‘The Way We Civilise,’ appear, reminding us of the brutality these workers were subjected to. Alistair Sooke describes this exhibition in his Telegraph review as; ‘man’s heroic relationship with the thrilling but unforgiving Australian landscape’, it seems however that the landscape
Sidney Nolan, Ned Kelly, 1946
Australia 21 September 2013 to 8 December 2013 © Royal Academy of Arts
Arthur Streeton, ‘Fire’s On’, 1891
Australia 21 September 2013 to 8 December 2013 © Royal Academy of Arts has triumphed. The strongest works in the exhibit come from those artists who possess a deep, intrinsic relationship with the land, who paint in an abstracted, fluid and expressive style but represent this relationship far more accurately than those painting with academic scrutiny. Having said this one painting in this academic style does display the greater power of the bush, Frederick McCubbin’s ‘The Pioneer’ 1904. Displayed like a triptych altarpiece this series of paintings tells the story of an unsuccessful pioneer, who leaves his home in search of new discovery only to lose his wife and be left to raise a young child alone in his harsh surroundings. What this teaches us is that Australia was and continues to be a place where humans will always struggle to come to terms with the land and what better way to express this than through their art.
Mira Schendel Tate Modern
he current exhibition at Tate Modern traces Brazilian artist Mira Schendel’s increasing obsession with words, letters, prose and poetry in her experiments with abstraction and installation. Geometric sketchbook drawings, spray-painted slogans, abstract still-lifes in oil, words executed on rice paper, and bold prints and collages are included in the exhibition, indicating the diversity of the artist’s practice. Schendel uses literary influences to both guide the structure and themes of her work. This creates a playful interaction between words and images, function and form, sound and silence, and art and life itself. In this way, the artist inquires into the very fabric and seams of human life and explores philosophical questions of being, believing and voids. This focus is reflected in the types of literature she draws upon, as it is mostly philosophical being by the British theologian John Henry Newman, and the philosophers Ludwig Wittgenstein and Jean Gebser. In Schendel’s work words often dissolve or fragment, suggesting that nothing is transparent and that there is no stable form of expression or meaning. This poses questions such as how can we adequately express and represent ourselves, and what really gives meaning and substance to our existence? The unstable and baffling nature of these questions positions Schendel’s work in a liminal space, occupying thresholds of uncertainty, mystery and intrigue. This allows the work to place itself on the edge of life and ‘readable’ signs – or even inbetween forms of expression – in a way that enables critique of the human existence. Indeed, the work plays with the notion of voids,
Helen Cobby of being and non-being (which is partly conveyed in the use of monochrome and recurring juxtaposition of black and white colours). Despite the artist’s experiments with the dissolution of form, there is always a return to words in her work. The words are presented as beautiful, transient, playful, teasing, suggestive, and even threatening in their resistance to being ‘decoded’. It is as though the paintings create half-worlds, or ‘present’ voids, which are just out of our reach.
Mira Schendel 1919-1988 Untitled from the series Discs, 1972
Tate. Presented by Tate Americas Foundation 2012
© mira schendel estate
Schendel’s increasing use series allowed her to further deconstruct or experiment with the forms of letters and words. This methodology also suggests her work is self-conscious and obsessive in its inquiry, and aims for perfection or answers to a problem. This serial work additionally points towards the artist’s use of multiplicity, in both form and theme, as she uses multiple vessels of human expression.
Mira Schendel 1919-1988 Untitled 1963
Tate. Presented by Tate Members 2006 © mira schendel estate
The use of abstraction places emphasis on form, allowing the words to take on a life of their own and become objects in their own right. This prevents absolute ‘readings’ on the part of the viewer, and instead gives way to an initially more aesthetic and ponderous engagement with the artwork. Certainly, Schendel’s art works on us over time so that impressions and ‘meanings’ are released slowly. In this way, aesthetics and philosophy are intertwined. Additionally, the objectification of words appears to question whether ideas are external or internal to our beings. Do words and systems of meaning exist without us? Do words convey their own lives and work to their own agendas? By combing abstraction, which is removed from everyday experience, with words that are the most common method of communication, the artworks ask us to look again at how we construct our reality. Everything is put into question and defamiliarised. Due to this, the work presented in this exhibition prompts a fresh engagement with life and the philosophy it alludes to.
Mira Schendel 1919-1988 Untitled 1963
Tate. Presented by Tate Members 2006 © mira schendel estate
It is interesting to see her increasing involvement with abstraction of pure letters and form, and how this tips into profound meditation on philosophical questions when combined with installation. Even though the work is progressively abstract, the viewer and ‘reality’ are kept in mind through the nature of the philosophical questions as well as by the characteristics of installations, which require people to actively walk around them and notice forms from different angles. Maybe due to an initial miscalculation of its popularity, this exhibition has been extended; a phenomenon the curators at the Tate cannot remember ever happening before.
RXY Promotional Pictures
© Aks London Photography
How would you describe your music/style?
What influences the songs you write?
I don’t really intend my songs to sound a certain way until after I have written the lyrics, which dictate the atmosphere of the song. But my music does have a consistent style I suppose because my writing has a style and this affects the sound. In terms of a genre, I’d probably call it experimental synth pop/electro if anything, but the main thing for me when writing music is building an atmosphere, in the same way I would paint a picture so maybe you could call that my style! Genre doesn’t overly matter to me.
My main influences are thoughts and people I think. I often use literature as a basis for my songs, or literature that’s been visualized. For instance, I saw Luhrmann’s remake of ‘The Great Gatsby’ and was struck by how he’d painted his own picture of how it looked and how Fitzgerald’s words worked into this. I love this dynamic between the arts. So I played on the visualization in the film and drew words from it, ending up with the track ‘Love Grows’. It’s similar with ‘Havisham’ and ‘Icarus’. Like, these characters have been immortalized with fiction as they aren’t real people, but they are conjured out of the imagination so are intensely human. Imagination is the key!
How do you perform/record them?
Out of Time, and Into Space Front and Back Cover © Astrid Vancraeyenest
How did you get started singing and writing songs? What inspired you? I started off playing guitar at around the age of 10, but didn’t start singing until 15. I found it much easier to be inventive with music when I started singing; latching words onto music made more sense to me personally. Before I started singing I felt a lot like I was stabbing around in the dark and I was getting frustrated with myself. Inspiration however, changes all the time. It could be anything! I suppose I wanted to see if I had something worthwhile to contribute to music.
I’m lucky to have some very talented friends. My friend Henry, who studies Music Technology in Leeds, recorded the album for me. He also programmed the drums, and contributed some instrumental parts. I wrote the core tracks, we talked about how I wanted the words to sound, and really I just saw it as painting. The ending point for me came when word and sound worked together! In terms of performance, I go back to acoustic, because it’s practical, and refreshing to change ‘genre’. It’s nice to change the songs a little with every performance; it makes them seem more alive, fresh, and imaginative, which is what I try to portray with the words.
“I often use literature as a
basis for my songs, or literature that’s been visualized.
Do you have a favorite song on your album? The hardest thing as a songwriter (I think) is knowing when a song is finished. I probably could have just kept going with most of them. ‘Dystopia’ was the easiest to recognize as finished so is probably my favorite. It was also the one I found easiest to visualize too. When I listened to it and knew it was finished it grabbed me and told me to paint a picture of it. So then the music video came, And Aks (the director/camera lady/ excellent person) did an amazing job of visualizing my thoughts, which for me, was amazing to see done by somebody else.
How much do you value the lyrics in comparison to the music? They coexist. The lyrics would just be thoughts without the music and the music would just be atmosphere with no real assertions. I labor over both a lot, but the lyrics aren’t experimental, the music is. That’s where the balance is. Words though, are great really!
Can you explain the thinking behind the title of your album, “Out of Time, and Into Space”? I can give it a go! Running ‘Out of Time’ (in more ways than one, this isn’t a memento mori thing) to do the things you need to do and want to do is a scary thought, and it makes the experiences and things we fill our time up with seem more essential, stressful and important. ‘Into Space’ responds more to the fact that I use atmosphere in my music to paint a picture, and to make an atmosphere there’s a sense of filling a space with it…
What have you planned for the future? My next step is to see if I can ground my words and sounds in image, and keep this dynamic going. I’m thinking of making a series of prints that respond to the album… it could go either way to be honest! So I’ll have to be tentative.
Interviewed by Anna & Azmina
Dystopia Stills from the music video
© Aks London Photography
https://www.facebook.com/RXYUK http://rxyuk.bandcamp.com http://www.youtube.com/user/Roxannesays Dystopia Still from the music video
© Aks London Photography
HoA Society Events Gallery Events This month the Whitechapel Gallery will be showing an installation by the French artist Kader Attia. This multi-media commission tells the story of Jacob’s Ladder through Christian, Islamic and Judaic texts and drawing on the gallery’s history of exhibitions and former function as a library. This promises to be a great show, telling of forgotten and suppressed histories and reflecting on anthropology, politics and science through the means of art. On the 27th November there will be an artist’s talk with Attia at the gallery along with the Chief Curator Magnus af Petersons.
Opens: 16th November Admission: free/£8 for Conversation: Kader Attia (6 with concessions) Museum Events November seems to be a month looking East for inspiration. With the British Museum, V&A and The Old Truman Brewery showing prints and ink scrolls by Japanese and Chinese artists. Shunga, Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art, shows 300 years of a liberated and enlightened attitude to sex in Japan and demonstrates how influential these typically taboo paintings have been, inspiring people from Toulouse-Lautrec to modern Japanese manga anime artists. Hokusai Exposed, at the OTB is a collection of woodblock originally by the old master, Katsushika Hokusai, digitally remastered and printed again to give an impression of what they looked like fresh from the press. This is a great show to see in conjunction to the British museum exhibition and gives a fresh perspective to techniques of printing, whether it is the woodblocks of the 18th century or a state of the art digital style. Last but certainly not least are the Chinese paintings at the V&A, showing original masterpieces from the 7th to the 19th century. Seeing the development of styles and subjects over a 1200 year period gives a chance to chart the creation of a culture that in some cases have never been seen before.
British Museum Shunga, Sex and Pleasure in Japanese art Closing date: 5th January Tickets: £5 for full time students. Old Truman Brewery Hokusai exposed Closing date: 17th November Tickets: £5 V&A, Masterpieces of Chinese paintings Closing date: 19th January Tickets: £8 for full time students Tate Britain, House Warming Party With the completion of Tate Britain’s renovations they are holding a house warming party on the 13rd November, with free admissions and a series of events going on throughout the day such as artist’s talks and live music. The live programme will guide you through the newly laid out galleries and Tate’s rearranged collection, hung to demonstrate its full historical range.
Date: 23rd November, Free admission, events in the afternoon and evening. Victoria Miro Gallery Idris Khan Beyond the Black Idris Khan has branched out from his photography to create a series of paintings exploring the metaphysics of creativity. The vast canvases display the writings of Agnes Martin, Jean-Paul Sartre and Khan’s own work in hazy abstracted forms created by layering text over and over until the strands of words are barely distinguishable. The complex meaning of these paintings can only really be appreciated after standing approximately 2cm away from the canvases and trying to decipher the small lines of text and then standing back to get an impression of the scale. It is well worth the trip to Old Street to see these thought provoking and calming paintings.
Free admission, closes 9th November.
Department Events Monday, 11 November 2013, 6pm
HumAnimality Bob Mills “Cows, Martyrs and Other Animals” Petra Lange-Berndt “Swarming Fever” Related text for discussion - Giorgio Agamben The Open, trans. Kevin Attell, pp. 1-3, 13-16, 33-38. We invite you to join our visual culture research seminar in which we hope to share and explore recent concerns with the past and its place in the present, a present increasingly over-invested in the value of the contemporary. With the critique of official histories and the conjoining of history and fiction behind us, we now confront new imperatives for what is at stake in thinking across historical, current and future perspectives. We start from the premise of the verb tense ‘past imperfect’, in which a past that is unfinished constantly challenges the idea of the ‘new’ and embraces the presentness of the past. We will experiment with format and practice and hope to engage with current debates on changing conceptions of time, including history, modernity and memory.
Event around the Michael Landy “Saints Alive” exhibition at the National Gallery Details to be announced
Friday, 13 December 2013, 2-6 pm
Workshop Posthumanism and the Viewing Subject Steve Baker (Emeritus Professor of Art History, University of Central Lancashire) Jason Edwards (Professor of Art History, University of York) Jamie Lorimer (University Lecturer, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford).
9th Nikos Stangos Memorial Lecture This lecture has been established in memory of Nikos Stangos who was one of the directors and senior commissioning editors for Thames and Hudson publishers. He was probably the most important art editor of the late 20th century and was responsible for facilitating some of the most ground breaking art books of our generation. Nikos was a published poet and started his career in London as a poetry editor for Penguin. He was a philosophy graduate from Harvard and collector and commentator on contemporary art. He died in 2003. The Department of History of Art gratefully acknowledges the ongoing support of Thames & Hudson for this lecture series.
Published on Oct 29, 2013