ust that; I hoped for 3 the best. My daughter and my son-in-law may have similar concerns today but as a grandfather, untroubled, I look at my grandson and I see the comforting irrevocability of my being. I was afraid of dying before I could become a memory. Now, I would potentially become a distant one, but I am concealed and consider this matter satisfactorily settled. As a result, my fancy has now changed. Lately, I’ve been wondering if he can understand that I once was a child.He says that he does but I can’t help but thinking that it would take a tremendous effort of imagination for him to even conceive it. How could he when, with the utmost sincerity, he extends his hand to me when I struggle getting up? So today, I’ve brought a picture of me at his age. I handed them to my grandson at breakfast this morning but before I could say a word, my daughter who had been tipped off by her mother intervened: The storm had passed, and we smiled as we looked at his stupefied face. He thought it was him. I must say that my dried-up heart melted away. As the whole family started commenting on the incredible resemblance, I remained quiet. Where to start? The preciousness of such a picture when they take fifty a day? The fanciness of these holidays by the lake when the beach has become the norm? Does he understand that it’s me right there? I didn’t dare insist. Could he even fathom that just before that picture was taken I was climbing up trees to the great displeasure of my mum? that I was coming back down in her arms? that I was looking at her the same way he looks at my daughter today? Could he imagine me dancing with her in the garden’s fresh lawn or waiting for her kiss each night after being read stories that are still to this day the mosbreak, and off we go. Three…two…one…that’s it! My reward: the smell of leather…at least some things don’t change. I’ve always loved that smell: my desk, old books bindings… I have to put this cane somewhere, but where? Oh, I can very well have it between my legs for a moment. This cane…an old man extravagance really: 19th century, precious wood, sculpted silver handle. Why not? I’ve always had this dream of being an elegant old man after all. And to be fair, even younger I was taking care of my appearance. Being the one who’s here is worthy of the effort, isn’t it? The clattering of glasses and plates. They seem to be working extra hard to clear that bust that; I hoped for 3 the best. My daughter and my son-in-law may have similar concerns today but as a grandfather, untroubled, I look at my grandson and I see the comforting irrevocability of my being. I was afraid of dying before I could become a memory. Now, I would potentially become a distant one, but I am concealed and consider this matter satisfactorily settled. As a result, my fancy has now changed. Lately, I’ve been wondering if he can understand that I once was a child.He says that he does but I can’t help but thinking that it would take a tremendous effort of imagination for him to even conceive it. How could he when, with the utmost sincerity, he extends his hand to me when I struggle getting up? So today, I’ve brought a picture of me at his age. I handed them to my grandson at breakfast this morning but before I could say a word, my daughter who had been tipped off by her mother intervened: The storm had passed, and we smiled as we looked at his stupefied face. He thought it was him. I must say that my dried-up heart melted away. As the whole family started commenting on the incredible resemblance, I remained quiet. Where to start? The preciousness of such a picture when they take fifty a day? The fanciness of these holidays by the lake when the beach has become the norm? Does he understand that it’s me right there? I didn’t dare insist. Could he even fathom that just before that picture was taken I was climbing up trees to the great displeasure of my mum? that I was coming back down in her arms? that I was looking at her the same way he looks at my daughter today? Could he imagine me dancing with her in the garden’s fresh lawn or waiting for her kiss each night after being read stories that are still to this day the mossoft light of knowledge, of beauty. They all tell a story, remind me of a person, a moment. Their sum is my being, they are a story of my life.This shattered violin, for instance, has the smell of Provence and its endless lunches.This gigantic painting is the retribution of a long and difficult trial. I have always wanted to be surprised by an artwork may it be by its visual impact, its concept or its history. I’ve missed out on some so-called opportunities though. I couldn’t bear the fire of Yves Klein or as I was reminded by a friend the other day: ‘You met Giacometti several times and never bought anything from him?’ do remember very well these encounters. The surprise was definitely there triggered by the disproportionate presence of these crushed bodies, their astonishing breadth, their alarming existence. I was introduced to Giacometti’s through his plasters or should I say these beings made of flesh whose flayed skin pass on a universal pain violently thrown by the artist into matter. To this day, they enchant, they bewitch. To this day, I cannot bear their might.Overall, only art has managed to catch me by surprise or should I say only art did until recently. Exactly six years ago, against all odds, a new light has started shining in my life. My surprise is turning six today. Before the meal, the cake, the gifts, he has come to the living room and plays with a train on the ornamented rug, not far from grandpa. I am not as mobile as I once were, so I look at him. He is a real chatter box; he might become a lawyer one day, who knows. As of now, I have the privilege of being his captive audience. He comes to me from time to time to show me a toy, an image, an atlas, to ask me a question and have a story read. My children’s birth brought me indescribable joy, but it was tempered by dreadful anguish. Beings, in this world, were depending on me; their very lives, their survival. I’ve always been told that children are our future. Was I now in charge of a better future for all? My fears faded over time. I had to live and who wants to live is condemned to hope. So, I did just that; I hoped for 3 the best. My daughter and my son-in-law may have similar concerns today but as a grandfather, untroubled, I look at my grandson and I see the comforting irrevocability of my being. I was afraid of dying before I could become a memory. Now, I would potentially become a distant one, but I am concealed and consider this matter satisfactorily settled. As a result, my fancy has now changed. Lately, I’ve been wondering if he can understand that I once was a child.He says that he does but I can’t help but thinking that it would take a tremendous effort of imagination for him to even conceive it. How could he when, with the utmost sincerity, he extends his hand to me when I struggle getting up? So today, I’ve brought a picture of me at his age. I handed them to my grandson at breakfast this morning but before I could say a word, my daughter who had been tipped off by her mother intervened: The storm had passed,and we smiled as we looked at his stupefied face.He thought it was him.I must say that my dried-up heart melted away. As the whole family started commenting on the incredible resemblance, I remained quiet.Where to start?The preciousness of such a picture when they take fifty a day? The fanciness of these holidays by the lake when the beach has become the norm? Does he understand that it’s me right there? I didn’t dare insist. Could he even fathom that just before that picture was taken I was climbing up trees to the great displeasure of my mum? that I was coming back down in her arms? that I was looking at her the same way he looks at my daughter today? Could he imagine me dancing with her in the garden’s fresh lawn or waiting for her kiss each night after being read stories that are still to this day the most beautiful I have ever heard? Would I find the words to explain? It all seems so simple. He would probably be surprised or ill at ease listening to these banalities.It all seems so simple indeed,so natural…until the day your mum whispers:‘Children,take your belongings,we are leaving tonight.’ Half asleep, I grabbed the little bag she had prepared and with my concerns typical of a 10-year-old, I stuffed a tin soldier in my pocket. My sister, who is two years younger than I am, looked like a somnambulist. I was trying hard to be the big boy, to be strong for my mother who ust that; I hoped for 3 the best. My daughter and my son-in-law may have similar concerns today but as a grandfather, untroubled, I look at my grandson and I see the comforting irrevocability of my being. I was afraid of dying before I could become a memory. Now, I would potentially become a distant one, but I am concealed and consider this matter satisfactorily settled. As a result, my fancy has now changed. Lately, I’ve been wondering if he can understand that I once was a child.He says that he does but I can’t help but thinking that it would take a tremendous effort of imagination for him to even conceive it. How could he when, with the utmost sincerity, he extends his hand to me when I struggle getting up? So today, I’ve brought a picture of me at his age. I handed them to my grandson at breakfast this morning but before I could say a word, my daughter who had been tipped off by her mother intervened: The storm had passed, and we smiled as we looked at his stupefied face. He thought it was him. I must say that my dried-up heart melted away. As the whole family started commenting on the incredible resemblance, I remained quiet. Where to start? The preciousness of such a picture when they take fifty a day? The fanciness of these holidays by the lake when the beach has become the norm? Does he understand that it’s me right there? I didn’t dare insist. Could he even fathom that just before that picture was taken I was climbing up trees to the great displeasure of my mum? that I was coming back down in her arms? that I was looking at her the same way he looks at my daughter today? Could he imagine me dancing with her in the garden’s fresh lawn or waiting for her kiss each night after being read stories that are still to this day the mosAfter that I stopped seeing. I was blinded by an annihilating light; it erased everything, swallowed it all. A projector? A flashlight? Men in uniforms opened the doors and signalled us toget out; they caught some of the passengers, pushed them, kicking and striking them, forcing them into another van and off we went. New bumps. I am looking for my mother’s eyes. I want her to talk to me, to reassure me; I want to be in her arms where everything gets better, but this light prevents me from finding her.
ABS ENC E
Editor’s note Welcome to the Courtauldian’s first issue of the academic year: our final publication before the temporary move to Vernon Square. Anticipating this change on the ever-closer horizon, our writers and illustrators explore the theme of absence. With the dispersal of the Courtauld’s collection to institutions across the world, leaving the Courtauld Gallery empty, and the imminent departure of Courtauld students from Somerset House, this concept seemed apt to explore. Over the following pages, our writers meditate on the theme in varied and exciting ways. We hope you enjoy our mix of features, creative writings, interviews, and reviews. Don’t forget to find us on social media and at our website, www.courtauldian.com for more. This publication wouldn’t have been possible without our team of editors, graphic designers, and of course our contributors, both writers and illustrators. Thank you for all your work on this, we look forward to the next issue! Tessa Carr
Editor Deputy Editor Features Editors Reviews Editors Interviews Editor Literary Editor Assistant Literary Editors Head of Illustrations Graphic Designers Copy Editors Head of Digital Digital Team
Tessa Carr Alfred Pasternack Jacqueline Lucente Alisanne Meyers Flora Loughridge Isaac Huxtable Chloe Hyman Lydia Earthy Annabelle Hondier Rosie Fitter Nia Thomas Farah Dianputri Crystal Sagady Sara Quattrocchi Febles Bea Fomin Naomi Jennings - O’Toole Hollie Hilton Thea Voyles Rosie Fitter
The Intrigue of Absence:
The Subjectless Subject in Giulio Campagnola’s Reclining Woman Chloe Bazlen Few things are more frustrating than the unidentifiable subject, especially for those of us trained to analyze and categorize the images we see. What is to be done with an image that resists categorization and displays a complete absence of identity? Giulio Campagnola’s Reclining Woman, c. 1510-1515 is one such example of a piece that has successfully evaded the epistemological grasp of art historians for centuries. Stripped of iconography, clothing and narrative, we cannot firmly identify this print using typical art historical methodology. No unique objects or traits enable us to understand what narrative the subject belongs to, or who Campagnola was trying to capture. The landscape surrounding our recliner suggests a pastoral Arcadian scene, leading some to believe she is a nymph and others, Venus.1 Following another common line of analysis, many write Reclining Woman off as a copy of Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus in an effort to give Campagnola’s print a subject.2 Compounding the mysterious content of the piece, Campagnola’s stippling technique, in which an image is constructed out of infinite dots, only adds to our frustration. In her essay ‘Asleep in the Grass of Arcady: Giulio Campagnola’s Dreamer,’ Patricia Emison radically dismantles previous attempts to identify the subject and boldly welcomes the reclining woman’s anonymity.3 She demonstrates how the depicted woman lacks both the iconography of Venus and the typical characteristics of a nymph. Further, a quick revisit to Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus shows the gaping disparities between Giorgione’s and Campagnola’s women, most clearly manifested in the unusual fact that Campagnola’s woman has her back to us. Following Emison’s example, I embrace the ambiguity of this print. Instead of defining her, I’d like to examine our urge to define her. To address this anxiety, I borrow theory from psychoanalytical visual analysis.
Turning first to the female form in Reclining Woman we notice several startling aspects. With her back towards us, face in profile and eyes softly closed, she has little interest in the viewer, or even voyeur, who can gaze at her nude body without knowing who she is. Indeed, the most visible aspect of the woman is her skin. She is fully nude with only a cloth draped loosely over one leg. Her nudity is crucial to our desire to place her character. Exposed and vulnerable, we observe her from behind, possibly without her knowledge. Perhaps because of this very vulnerability, we expect to read her and are surprised when we cannot. While little of her body is concealed, her narrative remains
Giulio Campagnola, Woman Reclining in a Landscape, Italy, 1508-09, Engraving on paper, 119 x 182 mm, John H. Wrenn Memorial Collection, ref. 1932.1331, Art Institute of Chicago [online]
I embrace the ambiguity of this print. Instead of defining her, Iâ€™d like to examine our urge to define her. 3
hidden. Though defenceless against our eyes, she is impervious to meaning. This desire to penetrate to her interior is not a new phenomenon. When considering the role of skin in identity formation, French psychoanalyst Didier Anzieu states: ‘Since the Renaissance, Western thought has been obsessed with a particular epistemological conception, whereby the acquisition of knowledge is seen as a process of breaking through an outer shell to reach an inner core.’4 Anzieu, a follower of Freud, coined the term ‘Skin Ego’ to explain skin’s role as a mediator and barrier between the interior and exterior.5 This theory ripens when applied to the art historical context of analyzing a visual shell in pursuit of underlying meaning. Art historian Bronwen Wilson applies Anzieu’s theory to art history when she considers the role that skin and clothing play in our selfpresentation and interpretation of those around us.6 The skin mediates the inside and the outside, forming a threshold for social and cognitive experience. Not only do scars, wrinkles, and unique marks make our skin identifiable from the outside, but skin is the tool we use to contain our inside, becoming both a psychological and material distinction between self and other.7 Following Wilson’s adaptation of Anzieu’s theory, it is significant that we are faced with so much flesh in Campagnola’s print. And, as Anzieu predicts, we experience frustration with this printed image because we attempt to use her skin as an entry point to her ego. Her nudity, which we initially read as a vulnerability and therefore a place to begin our search for her interiority, in
the end, matches her posture - closed. As Campagnola’s print displays an absence of identity, it likewise experiences a material absence. Few copies of it exist due to the stippling technique and delicate nature of paper. All engraved plates produce a limited amount of prints because the pressure of the printing press eventually wears them out. Uniquely, Campagnola forms his image not out of lines or cross-hatching, but from infinite dots. However, out of all marks to be made on an engraved plate, stippling is the most delicate, the first to be worn out by the printing press. Due to this limited capacity for reproduction, artists rarely employed the stippling technique. Campagnola, however, lay practicality aside for Reclining Woman and stippled the entire plate with hardly a solid line included. Campagnola’s counterintuitive decision heightens both our desire and inability to read his subject. The very technique Campagnola uses to create this print only increases our frustration. Patricia Emison quotes A. H. Mayor when she describes the stipple marks as ‘gnats on a summer evening.’8 The print has a fuzzy quality to it, gentle on the eyes and welcoming to a lingering gaze. The woman’s delineation is neither sharp nor forceful but soft and nuanced. Our eyes are forced to follow the stipples towards her core, where the dots eventually fade out. Like her nudity, her rendering seems to be an invitation to decode her trope. In other words, Campagnola’s very style encourages our eyes, and therefore mind, to seek the interior of the woman. However, the woman’s pictorial interior cannot be mistaken for her psychological
interiority. Though the stipples invite us into the depiction her body, we are no closer to determining her subject. She is as fluid as the demarcation of her form; her identity is as unfocused as her stippling. Her skin, although permeable and grainy, is ultimately, as Anzieu suggests, a barrier. Undoubtedly a point of interaction between viewer and subject, the skin refuses answers, only solidifying our inherent exteriority. Indeed, the stippling ‘photoshops’ the woman by erasing any wrinkle, scar, or mark that might betray individual quirks.
Even more frustrating is that Campagnola’s identity-less woman demonstrates to the viewer that, though we will always be exterior, she herself is interior. Her hand reaches into the dark recesses of the cloth that drapes over her leg in what appears to be an autoerotic moment. Following Anzieu’s theory, ‘by touching oneself…the subject experiences itself as both subject and object, the double sensation of the ego as both ‘I’ and ‘self.’9 Her gesture is an expression of ownness, a flaunting of the fact that she has an interiority we cannot access, forever blocked by the skin. Campagnola’s print frustrates viewers because it simultaneously invites them in and closes them out. The woman’s posture and nudity signal vulnerability, while the stippled mark blurs edges and draws the viewer into her body. This teases the viewer, ultimately creating surprise and frustration when, despite the appearance of vulnerability and permeability, the reclining woman remains impenetrable.
Patricia Emison, ‘Asleep in the Grass of Arcady: Giulio Campagnola’s Dreamer,’ Renaissance Quarterly 45, no. 2 (1992), p. 271. Emison, ‘Asleep in the Grass of Arcady,’ p. 271. 2
Emison, ‘Asleep in the Grass of Arcady,’ pp. 271-292. 3
Didier Anzieu, Skin Ego (New Haven, 1989), p. 9. 4
Anzieu, Skin Ego, pp. 3-4.
Bronwen Wilson, The World in Venice: Print, the City, and Early Modern Identity (Toronto, 2005), pp. 127-132. 6
Anzieu, Skin Ego, p. 97.
Emison, ‘Asleep in the Grass of Arcady,’ p. 274. 8
Wilson, The World in Venice, p. 130.
Woven in Time: the importance of Anni Albers The idea that only weaving and ceramics art is suitable for women would not stand today, yet this was a belief that held true at the Bauhaus school, known for its radical, modernist design. To Walter Gropius, founder of the school in 1919, there was ‘no difference between the beautiful sex and the strong sex’, except for the fact that the former could only think in two-dimensions; whilst the latter was able to think in three. Such an assertion would suggest that Gropius was never faced with a handloom. For it is a 1950s handloom, similar to the ones that would have been used in the weaving workshop, that first confronts visitors to the Tate’s exhibition of Bauhaus alumna, Anni Albers. As the work on display shows, weaving is an incredibly tactile process. As the various samples and pattern diagrams demonstrate, it is by no means two-dimensional. Joining the school in 1923, Albers had originally wanted to study painting but alas was led to weaving as ‘merely the least objectionable choice.’ The class was known as the ‘Women’s Workshop’. During her time at the Bauhaus, Anni would develop a mastery for the craft.
Anni Albers, Study for an unexecuted wall-hanging, 1926, gouache on paper, ARS, New York/ DACS, London (Photo: Josef and Anni Albers Foundation)
In 1933, with the forced closure of the school by the Nazi regime, Anni and her husband Josef Albers – a fellow student, and later teacher at the Bauhaus – took positions at the Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Here, Albers took influence from backstrap looms inspired from her travels to South America, encouraging her students to engage with the nature of the materials. She also began to create ‘pictorial weavings’, as exemplified in the intricate geometrical skyline in pieces such as City (1949) and Pasture (1958). Albers was clearly an innovator; from the seeming complexity of the techniques used in pictorial weavings from the 1950s to the visual simplicity of the openweave casement fabrics she designed for the American firm, Knoll, as coverings for modernist windows. Her approach to material and texture is illuminating and technical, manifested in feats such as the sound-proof material designed for an auditorium (her diploma piece for the Bauhaus), to time spent in the 1940s mastering the depictions of knots. Towards the end of the exhibition, much of the source material relating to her book, On Weaving (1965) gives an insight into the attention Albers put into researching and relating the history of weaving over the past 4,000 years. Next year will mark
the centenary of the Bauhaus school, and whilst assumptions of the fair and the strong sex have been dismantled, there has been an overwhelming absence of women in the history of design over the past 100 years. The exhibition does justice to the work of an artist whose career spanned across the modernist period – but it should not be celebrated for its recognition of someone who happens to be a woman. For, in the words of Gropius, ‘there shall be absolute equality but also complete parity of obligations - no concessions to the ladies; we are craftspeople all when it comes to our work.’
Anni Albers, Knot, 1947, gouache on paper, 43.2 x 51 cm, Tate Modern, London (Photo: Tate Modern)
Anni Albers, Open Letter, 1958, ARS, New York/DACS, London (Photo: Josef and Anni Albers Foundation)
The Forgotten memory a short story by Reine Okuliar
‘I’m going to the living room.’ ‘Ok, Dad. Do you need help?’ She asks with this unconvinced tone. I’m not sure she truly realizes I’ve aged and I’d rather her not, so I answer: ‘Nooo...absolutely not.’ From the door to the armchair...about...10 steps. It shouldn’t be that hard and truly, if they were behind you, you would walk, even run! A foot, slowly in front of the other, that’s all it takes as long as my leg doesn’t do one of its caprices... Only five more steps before the club chair embrace. A little halt by the window, a dignified look outside so they don’t see I need a break, and off we go. Three...two...one... that’s it! My reward: the smell of leather... at least some things don’t change. I’ve always loved that smell: my desk, old books bindings... I have to put this cane somewhere, but where? Oh, I can very well have it between my legs for a moment. This cane...an old man extravagance really: 19th-century, precious wood, sculpted silver handle. Why not? I’ve always had this dream of being an elegant old man after all. And to be fair, even younger I was taking care of my appearance. Being the one who’s here is worthy of the effort, isn’t it? The clattering of glasses and plates. They seem to be working extra hard to clear that breakfast table. Noise and conversations get me quickly tired these days. They demand more focus from me I guess but I do prefer the house full of this noise, full of life as one might say, and I can always have a little nap right here.
What a perverse ray of sunshine! Straight into my eye but how glorious! The absolute splendour of the room flooded with light. The book spines lined up on the shelves like so many promises, the shadows of a mobile sculpture, an unexpected colour tone on this canvas. All thanks to light. Lights...yes...lights. Lawyer, art collector... to enlighten my life I’ve chosen those of Voltaire, of the stars, of the arts. I’ve chosen to bury under a kaleidoscope of colours the white and crude light of violence. A good choice I reckon. A day like today, comfortably seated in my living room, I get to enjoy the artworks and objects from which emanate the soft light of knowledge, of beauty. They all tell a story, remind me of a person, a moment. Their sum is my being, they are a story of my life. This shattered violin, for instance, has the smell of Provence and its endless lunches. This gigantic painting is the retribution of a long and difficult trial. I have always wanted to be surprised by an artwork may it be by its visual impact, its concept or its history. I’ve missed out on some so-called opportunities though. I couldn’t bear the fire of Yves Klein or as I was reminded by a friend the other day: ‘You met Giacometti several times and never bought anything from him?’ I do remember very well these encounters. The surprise was definitely there triggered by the disproportionate presence of these crushed bodies, their astonishing breadth, their alarming existence. I was introduced to Giacometti’s through his plasters: these beings made of flesh whose flayed skin
pass on a universal pain violently thrown by the artist into matter. To this day, they enchant, they bewitch. To this day, I cannot bear their might. Overall, only art has managed to catch me by surprise or should I say only art did until recently. Exactly six years ago, against all odds, a new light has started shining in my life. My surprise is turning six today. Before the meal, the cake, the gifts, he has come to the living room and plays with a train on the ornamented rug, not far from grandpa. I am not as mobile as I once were, so I look at him. He is a real chatterbox; he might become a lawyer one day, who knows. As of now, I have the privilege of being his captive audience. He comes to me from time to time to show me a toy, an image, an atlas, to ask me a question and have a story read. My children’s birth brought me indescribable joy, but it was tempered by dreadful anguish. Beings, in this world, were depending on me; their very lives, their survival. I’ve always been told that children are our future. Was I now in charge of a better future for all? My fears faded over time. I had to live and who wants to live is condemned to hope. So, I did just that; I hoped for the best. My daughter and my son-in-law may have similar concerns today but as a grandfather, untroubled, I look at my grandson and I see the comforting irrevocability of my being. I was afraid of dying before I could become a memory. Now, I would potentially become a distant one, but I am concealed and consider this matter satisfactorily settled. As a result, my fancy has now
changed. Lately, I’ve been wondering if he can understand that I once was a child. He says that he does but I can’t help but think that it would take a tremendous effort of imagination for him to even conceive it. How could he when, with the utmost sincerity, he extends his hand to me when I struggle to get up? So today, I’ve brought a picture of me at his age. I handed them to my grandson at breakfast this morning but before I could say a word, my daughter who had been tipped off by her mother intervened: ‘I’ve never had the chance of seeing these!’ she said. Her upset tone made me wonder if she was tapping her feet onto the floor. I simply shrugged, avoiding telling her that I had never seen the point of showing them to her. At this very moment, my grandson, who had had all the time he needed to examine the images, turned to his mother: ‘Where was I Mum?’ he asked her. ‘But, it is grandpa darling’ she replied. The storm had passed, and we smiled as we looked at his stupefied face. He thought it was him. I must say that my dried-up heart melted away. As the whole family started commenting on the incredible resemblance, I remained quiet. Where to start? The preciousness of such a picture when they take fifty a day? The fanciness of these holidays by the lake when the beach has become the norm? Does he understand that it’s me right there? I didn’t dare insist. Could he even fathom that just before that picture was taken, I was climbing up trees to the great displeasure of my mum? That I was coming back down in her arms? That
I was looking at her the same way he looks at my daughter today? Could he imagine me dancing with her in the garden’s fresh lawn or waiting for her kiss each night after being read stories that are still to this day the most beautiful I have ever heard? Would I find the words to explain? It all seems so simple. He would probably be surprised or ill at ease listening to these banalities. It all seems so simple indeed, so natural...until the day your mum whispers: ‘Children, take your belongings, we are leaving tonight.’ Half asleep, I grabbed the little bag she had prepared and with my concerns typical of a 10-year-old, I stuffed a tin soldier in my pocket. My sister, who is two years younger than I am, looked like a somnambulist. I was trying hard to be the big boy, to be strong for my mother who was carrying the baby. ‘We are going to meet your father!’ she said enthusiastically. Why in the middle of the night? Why now? Why was is he not with us? All these questions we didn’t ask. Why? Because we blindingly trusted her, our mother. Just like you now, hanging on my daughter’s every word. You two are so beautiful on the armchair in the morning light. A good thing that you arrived last night. You are well rested today, in a merry mood and the trip must have been easier for your parents. You fall asleep at the engine’s first roar. I might have slept too in the van that night. Yet I remember the thin silhouette that
took off its beret to show us our seats in the back. I remember the bumps on the road. We most likely complained since we had already walked a fair amount; we might have asked if we were there yet. For sure, she must have hoped for us to sleep. Or were we completely still in the darkness? Honestly, I don’t recall. I can only remember her smile; that I remember vividly as if it were yesterday. After that, I stopped seeing. I was blinded by an annihilating light; it erased everything, swallowed it all. A projector? A flashlight? Men in uniforms opened the doors and signalled us to get out; they caught some of the passengers, pushed them, kicking and striking them, forcing them into another van and off we went. New bumps. I am looking for my mother’s eyes. I want her to talk to me, to reassure me; I want to be in her arms where everything gets better, but this light prevents me from finding her. Outside, everything felt familiar. Have they just taken us back home? Why are we in the town banquet hall? Are we going to dance, Mummy? I finally saw my mother. She smiled at me, but her eyes were not laughing anymore. A loud noise resounded in the room followed by the fall of a mass. A chair? A table? A body? Once again, I can’t tell. I was looking at her, only at her, as if to absorb her and when I realised that despite the composure of her face the hands of my tower of strength were shaking uncontrollably, I felt lost. What was going on? Was it that bad to go see our dad? The men in uniforms disappeared for a short moment. My mother stayed
there, transfixed under the grand siècle chandelier. A heavy silence squashed the room. Everything was absolutely still. Only the cheeks of the angels blowing their horns on the ceilings seemed to be alive. Everything else was already dead. We heard what should have been an imperceptible creaking. Behind a door I had not yet seen, a woman waved to come to her. Was she addressing me? My mother’s eyes were begging me, and, in a murmur, she said: ‘Go, my love, I’ll meet you later.’ I wanted to run into her arms but her whole being was throwing me towards this woman. Darkness again. I walked. One hour? Two? Ten? Another door, a modest house and this woman that I had still not seen, looked at me and announced with gentleness: ‘This is now your home.’ I can’t remember whether I cried, whether I questioned her. I simply cannot remember these years; they all collapsed into an instant and of there on, I’ve just lived. Three years were necessary for the war to be over, for our father to find us, me at Mrs Debard’s, my sister and my brother at the headmistress’s home. Three years were necessary to know that my aunt and uncle had been executed, that our home had been plundered, ransacked. Another five months were necessary for the Lutetia to close its doors, for us to understand that there will be no return, that my mother, alone amongst others, took a train to hell. A lifetime has proved insufficient to understand I had been deprived from a mother because I was myself and not
another. *** The meal is over. Under the applause of the assembly, your have blown your six candles and I feel foolish to be so moved by your slightest gestures. You’ve received beautiful gifts. A blue scooter, a remotecontrolled car...all wrapped in colourful gift-wraps. Timidly, I gave you a tin soldier. An old man fancy? I didn’t tell you it’s story. I couldn’t. So here I am now, by the window, looking at you. The shape of the tin soldier transpires through your pocket as you’re flying by on your scooter, light as the wind, having picked up the heavy torch of a to-be-forgotten memory.
Orpheus a poem by Rose London
We are creatures made ill; by the decision to remember or forget our many exhausted selves, familiar faces worn from the weight of self birth. I often see sights of familiar eyes a memory fresh birthed in wet palms appearing most often at night when the barriers to duality falter andmomentarily, our hearts align. Most likely, it is just the pulsing of flesh that feels to us like presence. So young to have the misfortune of a rot. a sepsis caught from the spit of the past asked falsely back by laments cast into your own ether, at self-expense. Easy. Wonder, where that shade hides, for it’s true, we grow and shed, but keep our baby eyes. I didn’t perform my own last rites, so then perhaps it is my own shadow, cast by two lights. Self-poisoned by the act of non-burial. That younger girl I cannot see forming a shadow of her own and killing my Eurydice In growth and rebirth, I know the danger of Calliope’s hyperbole
Banksy, Love is in the Bin, 2018 (Photo: Sothebyâ€™s)
One Line Reviews:
Banksy, Love is the Bin
This is what you said: ‘Mindless and spotlight-hogging' ‘An even more desperate attempt at irony than Dismaland’
‘I hope they put Banksy in the bin’ ‘A welcome kick in the teeth to the commercial art world’ ‘Where can I buy it?’ ‘It is empowering to see this artist reclaiming his work for the public’ ‘Legend, that showed them’ ‘How can this be “Art” – even Banksy’s binned it?’
‘Inshredible’ ‘Iconic’ ‘New’
‘It’s a bit of a waste of money really’ ‘A back-fired attempt to prevent commercialism’ ‘Fixed advertising’ ‘Can’t wait for the merch’ ‘Incredibly ironic’ ‘Publicity stunt’ ‘Surprisingly original’
Jenna Burchell: Musing on memory and mending edited by Fred Shan One of South Africa’s earliest new media artists, JENNA BURCHELL scorns the rigidity of artistic disciplines and transitions from performance art to sculpture with fluidity. For ‘Songsmith,’ Burchell mends broken pieces of rocks through the Japanese technique of kintsukuroi. As the viewer draws her hand close to a Songsmith, it senses her presence and begins to hum. Burchell is concerned with memory. Of nature, of individuals. Of nations and peoples. She is even concerned with computer hard drives. Life grinds us down and shatters us into a thousand pieces, but the memories we stubbornly cling to – both the good and the bad – define us and how we relate to our surroundings. Memories, like the golden lacquer in ‘Songsmith,’ bind together fragmented parts of the self, instilling in us a voice so that we might, in spite of everything, sing. Environment Sitting in my studio I realise why my assistants tease me about it – it is not grand, lofty or even spacious, it is a modest space that took some ingenuity. Everything I built for the studio is on wheels so that it can shapeshift based on my needs; in the morning it could be a bustling work area, by the evening a pristine photographic studio. I have rows of tools, speakers, circuit components, nuts and bolts of all
possible and impossible sizes. Intertwined on the shelves are rocks, bones and oddities that I collect on my expeditions. I like this space, it’s ergonomic. It also allows me to experiment late into the night. Around my studio is my home. The boundary between home and studio blurs; I like to live and work seamlessly. Outside I can hear lawn mowers and trucks passing – a weird mixture between the industrial and residential. My studio sits on what people argue is the edge of Pretoria or the start of Bronkhorstspruit. Which one exactly is something like a mood swing; each delivery-man argues their case and fees. I’m flexible. I like to think that this place is similar to my practice; it is a place that fits between other places, linking them together.
Lillies, Interactive Installation. Wire, audio, computer software, circuits. 1070 x 1571 mm, 2011 ÂŠ Abound Photography
Nation The depths to which I am shaped by my country and its politics could fill a whole book. It has taught me how to think, see, feel, empathise, act, love, communicate, make a plan, create something from nothing, and even mourn. It has pushed and pulled my life to its absolute depths and re-forged me. The causality of political shifts was there when I first decided to work with technology in my practice to express themes like home, land and belonging. This is a major theme in South African life after Apartheid as we negotiate how we all fit together. For me, it is my exploration into how do I fit into this cultural mosaic as a third generation South African born of grandparents who fled to South Africa during WW2 in order to survive starvation.
The boundary between home and studio blurs; I like to live and work seamlessly. Collaboration My form of collaborationâ€Żis focused on the conversations between people. For example, during my extensive research and development phases, I often find myself inside factories learning about their production methods, sitting with
electronic engineers and software programmers discussing systems, or raising conversations with historians and geologists. Art naturally evolves with the times and right now we have so much knowledge at our fingertips, we no longer exist in a closed vacuum. I like to think that my work attunes to this zeitgeist by allowing the creation of meaning to shift from a singular ‘artistic genius’, to a dynamic flux of meaning creation. The creative subject now becomes the collaboration between myself, as an artist, the local community, the industry specialists I consult and the audience that interact with a piece. Mending Christy Bartlett wrote in the Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics, ‘the vicissitudes of existence over time, to which all humans are susceptible, could not be clearer than in the breaks, the knocks, and the shattering…”’ Geophysicists from Open Ground capturing GPR data at Songsmith rock site
I created the noun ‘songsmith’ to refer to the golden sound instruments that I embed into broken objects that I find; especially those with a sense of the passage of time. To create a songsmith, I draw inspiration from the Japanese art and philosophy of Kintsukuroi. Kintsukuroi is the art of repairing pottery with gold lacquer, treating breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. It embraces the flawed or imperfect and offers a sense that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken. I borrow from Kintsukuroi both visually and philosophically to allude to the passing of time in my work. However, the songsmith repair also plays a vital, functional role in the final artwork; the way the songsmith is forged together with objects creates a sensor. It is because of this that I am able to create a time capsule holding within a song of memory and time: a song that can be revealed when an
Songsmith (Cradle of Humankind) (2016)
audience member brings their hands near. The Songsmith artworks are created as if they are ancient museum artefacts. I like to position their audience as an imagined future audience wherein they discover the artefactâ€™s past use and meaning. They decipher the work through visual clues such as the golden repair and the hieroglyphic engravings on the artworkâ€™s plinth. The work has an almost primordial ritualistic element to it in the act of revealing and veiling the song within, all centred around the repair.
This article is extracted from an interview with Jenna Burchell, read the full interview online at courtauldian.com All images courtesy of the artist.
I think we can all relate to the feeling of brokenness at some point or the other in our lives: a moment of sudden demarcation between the whole and the shattered. The act of restoration in my work is perhaps an act of restoration in myself; an ode to the smaller moments of time that I have lost to the fragility of memory. Perhaps it is even a form of repentance.
On the 27th May at about 8pm, I stood trembling before my bedroom mirror and cut off 7 inches of my hair with kitchen scissors. My head now 80 grams lighter, I held the two short fat plaits, which sat soft and somehow fishlike in my still shaking hands. The act of slicing had been impulsively destructive, but it was ultimately an act of liberation. Something was released, and I sprang up and out from the torpor of those past couple of months into perhaps the most intense period of creativity I have ever experienced. Over summer I would go forth to build an entire project centred around the plaits I had severed, reimagining them as holy relics, essentially transforming myself into a saint. I created a host of patterned books, boxes and paper bags in a sort of commemoration or encapsulation of my experiences, good and bad, my troubles and the turbulence of the past year. It was a gesture towards closure I suppose, preparing boxes in which to stow away pieces of my past self and move forward. I planned to eventually stage a ceremony, a sort of funerary enterrement of all the boxes, building cathedrals of sand up and around them, before eventually unburying them, thereby ‘unburying my head from the sand’. These reliquaries are all made from cardboard boxes that I had gathered in my room, since moving to London, so too were the bags into which I cut patterns, like windows, to be strung up surrounding the boxes. I made myself a crown out of jam tart cases to wear during the ceremony and intended to write an order of service and officiate the eventual ritual, marking the occasion properly. I am aware that I may not necessarily come across in the sanest of lights here, and that this whole project really takes the concept of self-absorption to its zenith, though I must emphasize that there was generally a faint hint of humour and self-satirisation to the whole endeavour. Through the ‘Book of Saints and Angels’ in particular, there is often a slight mocking of that kind of excessive, and fundamentally adolescent, self-involvement that could easily lead others to accuse one of ‘playing the martyr’: self-isolating and self-dramatizing. There is usually at least a thread of irony in my work and words, which I hope is detectable, though it is often hard to tell where this starts and ends, and admittedly a lot of this project really was made extremely earnestly, in a fervent frenzy of emotional zeal, as well as just an urgent need to make marks and generally create something. That need to draw, cover surfaces and decorate can be compulsive, a need to fill in some
kind of emptiness, it is comforting and reassuring and feels like survival. The rhythm of repetitive patterning is both soothing and cathartic. It comes from a primal part of oneself and can feel like seeking protection and security, as if the drawings take on some kind of magical, talismanic quality. Likewise, when you spend a lot of time in your own head, you often create a kind of mythology around your life, similar to a childâ€™s world of play. It becomes easy to form certain rituals and superstitions and ascribe symbolic meanings to the most mundane of situations, from within the narrow (and at times, distorted) perspective of your inner world. You become saint and saviour and sinner all at once. Where the world is intense and overwhelming and chaotic, where there is an absence of connection or purpose or order in your life, you can fill in the gaps. Sometimes the implications of this can be benign or even beneficial, other times the mechanisms are more maladaptive, but as ever, the line can be quite fine. There is something fascinating about the idea of relics, and as someone who forms (often excessively) strong sentimental attachments, the idea has always made sense to me. It seems instinctive to hold onto and believe in the power of objects: fragments that represent a greater whole and may stand in where there is absence or loss or separation. They can essentially function as transitional, intercessional objects. To me, at least, it feels like relics are about negotiating closeness
and distance, humanness and divinity, or the interplay between complex reality and higher ideals, with an ambivalence about oneâ€™s own position. Sometimes the power of a venerated fragment encapsulating the envisioned ideal, feels more real than the real thing: often I feel closer to people when separated from them, more connected when expressing myself from a distance, through words on a page; I can sometimes feel more present when I am absent from a situation. In a way that is what making art is all about. The reality of real-life humans and the world is complex and can be painful and sometimes it seems simpler to withdraw to a place where you have sole control, where complex people and complex situations can become symbols. Here you can collect and hold onto certain aspects of them, creating your own safe, protective vision from these pieces. Of course, this can be very unhealthy, but I think to some extent it is a universal instinct. Many of the boxes I created are filled with a
over the last 10 years: a withered old daisy chain made one school lunchtime in the summer of 2013; a necklace I received on my 11th birthday, now broken - its tiny heart locket dented; several scraps of paper, originally presented to me jokily: ‘here a gift for you!’ by someone who drifted away and which I clung onto as a flimsy connection to her. I have always referred to these items as relics and in many cases, they are more relics of someone else than myself, representing others and reflecting that abstraction of someone into a symbolic figure. I illustrated these objects to create the ‘relic scroll’ to accompany the reliquaries. They are drawn as a group a
selection of odd objects that I have collected but isolated from and not scaled to one another, on a flat black and gold background. In this way they are detached, representing absences and losses, fragmentations and distancing. Even the most frivolous, amusing, or trivial objects: a hair grip made with varnished polo mints, a small rubber goldfish toy, are loaded with nostalgia and a reminder of past moments and the loss of those moments. By holding onto these objects, I am partly using them as a way to detach myself from the pain they represent, storing the discomfort in the tangible things, whilst still not quite letting go. There is that simultaneous pain and pleasure so distinctive of nostalgia. Drawing them was somehow a way of both detaching further and holding closer. This project was mainly a response to my first year at university, but it felt right to incorporate these objects, as representative of the accumulation of experiences and moments that have resonated: of the materiality of emotion. I like to work with quite simple materials, pens and coloured pencils, free from the pressure of ‘proper’ technique. Making is basically just play - a lot of my work has a touch of the primary school craft project
about it, but I find a lot of comfort and control in this. Sometimes I do wish I could commit to something more ‘proper’ and traditionally skilled, but I like the playfulness and juxtaposition of expressing rather grandiose ideas through common and perhaps almost comic media. At times I certainly take myself too seriously but then I catch a glimpse of myself wearing a crown that has been made of jam tart cases stitched together, surrounded by boxes emblazoned with my own face and have to laugh at the absurdity of it. I like the fact that instead of precious metals and jewels, my materials are cereal boxes and sweet wrappers, I like the ambiguity of it: am I nobly honouring and revering the everyday struggles and successes and mundanities of daily life? Or am I mocking the self-indulgence of believing that this banality is worth honouring? I’m not sure. Maybe a bit of both. Though perhaps more fundamentally, the reason I used cardboard boxes was simply the fact that those were what I immediately had to hand when I was struck by the urge to draw. As for the ceremony I had planned, it never quite materialised. The project is still unresolved to an extent, but I do intend to stage the burial and un-burial ritual at some point in the future, when the time feels right. And ultimately, I think this will be an ongoing project, growing and evolving alongside me: following life’s pattern of losses and renewals, the shattering lows and rhapsodic highs, driven by drawing. All images by Jemima Hook
The Krisha temple stands blazen On the night watch, Around it a silken sea of gold. She looks with longing, a vessel; a guardian. A relic perhaps. Flecks of green scatter across the landscape and crowd the trees, And a noble peacock surveys the scorched landschaft. Apathetic trees hang low and give no shelter beneath the solder. A cool breeze turns over the quilt of night Feet cold, palms warm The pomegranates retire to the silent ground Palliating the broke back. We met on the promenade, it was raining, seven to the hour. The warm musk of the rain carried the age of the stone chapel so well. At least it felt that way. Paris is nicer in the autumn they said. But I can remember The look in her eyes, the look I saw remains the same Each and every time.
The Promenade a poem by William Jack Snape
I always wanted to go to Paris. At least it felt that way. That was then, and this is now, Retirement remains to be, to me Inconclusive. How? A retrospective cacophony of Why was it so? Yes? No? I hear it echo. And as it is, Frustration tolls deep Wanting souls weep Disconsolation creeps Judgement perhaps sleeps. But that was then and this is now. Emotional incontinence befalls those who seek the ideal visage Those who feed the heart with hope, Who burn the brightest. To whom the marks of woe scold with Elijas tread. And yet it remains, Devolved of itself Absence tints the tree-lined promenades we see from time to time And those who saunter along them looking, hoping. For at his behest, the throes of life stutter amongst the footfall. Lifeâ€™s unrelenting passeggiata twists and turns To where? I still would like to go to Paris this time of the year.
CLARA PEETERS ON HER OWN TERMS Aniko Petri
‘Absence’ is not the first word one thinks of upon seeing a seventeenth-century Northern European still life painting. Filled with exotic flowers, porcelain-ware, gold cups, curiosities and food items, the canvas is densely involved with the daily life of the burgher society. By employing heavy symbolism along with material riches, still life paintings warn their audience of the fleeting nature of earthly pleasures. In the early 1600s, the genre developed and flourished in the Northern and Spanish Netherlands in response to the increasing urbanisation of cities such as Antwerp, Haarlem, or Leiden. Still life painting is detached from the human form, existing in a timeless state that enables the artist to collate plants and other such objects that would never be able to coexist in real life. The usual function of the presumed artist, therefore, is one of the divine collector, who remains out of frame to better showcase the ‘materials’ – both in terms of subject matter and in a more literal sense, of paint and canvas. However, Clara Peeters, a Flemish artist working at the genre’s peak, rebelled. Clara Peeters was born into this newlywealthy, newly-transformed society in Antwerp, 1594. She is noted by art historians as the only female Flemish artist specialising in still life painting in the seventeenth century, and although it appears that her career was wellestablished, hardly any information survives about her life. As such, she is an ‘absent’ figure of the era. This is well exemplified by her omission from the
records of the Painter’s Guild of Antwerp and more uncertainties about the exact place, or even, date of her death (placed around 1639 in most accounts). And yet, the most striking feature of her work is an apparent determination to make herself present by inserting her own form into a genre that is characterised by the total absence of the human figure. Still life was one of the only available fields for women artists to pursue professionally because they were barred from studying anatomy, thereby unable to advance to the ‘higher’ genre of multi-character history painting. Even without formal training in figure studies, Peeters frequently portrayed herself looking out to the viewer, reflected in the polished metal and glassware objects dotted throughout her painted banquet pieces. A great example is Still Life with Nuts, Candy, and Flowers (1611) where Peeters appears as a reflection in both the silver pot and the gold cup. These tiny self-portraits serve as an affirmation of her presence in the male-dominated art world of the era. A simple brushstroke, thus, carries the radical implication that a woman is as capable of divine, creative invention as a man. And Peeters, never demure, openly confronts her audience and flips expectations on their head, sneaking up on us in a place we least expect: amongst the assortment of tulips and almonds. By contemporary standards, this might seem a subdued rebellion, but Clara Peeters pioneered a way for women artists to assert their presence at a time when women were more objectified than the fruits in a still life painting.
On previous page: Clara Peeters, Still Life with Nuts, Candy, and Flowers, 1611, Oil on panel, 52 x 73 cm, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, Spain (Source: www.museodelprado.es)
Although shocking that it took them so long, it is no wonder that the Museo Nacional del Prado devoted their first monographic exhibition on a female artist to the still lives of Clara Peeters in 2016. In their abstract for the exhibition, the curator proclaims ‘… all the information we have on Clara Peeters comes from her paintings,’ and whilst this means she will always remain a mystery, a slightly absent figure from art history, at least what we do know of her was presented on her own terms. To celebrate Peeters, I’ve combined my penchant for still life paintings with my passion for baking. The cross-over between the two led to the creation of the following recipe inspired by the plate of dried figs, raisins and almonds in Still Life with Nuts, Candy, and Flowers. This cake is perfect for autumn and winter. It is rich but not overbearingly so, and relatively easy to make. I recommend it for afternoon teas or as a pick-me-up between readings and essay submissions.
Clara Peeters Inspired Almond and Fig Cake Preparation: approx. 30 minutes Baking time: 30 minutes Batter makes around 16 slices (depending on size of cake tin) Ingredients: 150 grams of unsalted butter 200 grams caster sugar 4 medium eggs 300 grams ground almonds 1 teaspoon baking powder Whole almonds Dried figs Fresh figs Raisins Gingerbread spice mix to taste
Method: 1) Preheat oven to 170⁰C 2) Line a round cake tin with baking paper. It is better to not cut the baking paper to a circle as we will be caramelising sugar in it first, and it may become very runny. The excess paper will catch any of the caramel that seeps out from the tin. If you can, place the lined cake tin into a larger tin to prevent the caramel dripping onto the bottom of the oven. 3) Toss two tablespoons of caster sugar into the lined cake tin and place inside oven. Keep an eye on the sugar so it doesn’t burn. When ready, it should turn a golden yellow colour and become runny in consistency. 4) Meanwhile, beat room temperature soft butter and the remainder of the sugar together with a whisk. Then add the 4 eggs one by one, whisking continually. You may want to scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula to get all the batter evenly mixed in. It is very important to add the eggs individually as this creates a fluffier batter. Eventually, the batter will become smooth. 5) After adding all the eggs, add the 300 grams of ground almond in small portions, continuing to whisk. Add the teaspoon of baking powder and desired amount of gingerbread spice mix. At this point, the batter will become quite thick.
6) Finally, add roughly 1 teaspoon of chopped dried figs and 1 tablespoon of raisins into the batter. Mix the dried fruits in evenly. 7) By the time the batter is ready, the sugar should be nicely caramelised. Take the tin out of the oven and place whole almonds and the halved fresh figs face down into the tin in any decorative pattern you would like. This will become the face of the cake when baked. 8) Once you have arranged the almonds and the figs, start spooning the batter into the tin. You need to add the thick batter in little chunks because adding it all at once may accidentally dislodge the fig-almond pattern you just laid down. Once all of the batter is in the tin, you can smooth out the cake’s top using a spatula. 9) Place the tin back onto the other, larger tray and place in the preheated oven, continuing to keep the heat at 170⁰C. Bake for roughly 30 minutes, although times may vary depending on the oven. One way to test when the cake is done is to insert a clean toothpick into the middle. When it comes out clean the cake is fully baked and ready. 10) Leave to rest in the tin for 5 minutes, then put out on a cooling rack.
Suddenly you have changed, my friend, from what you were formerly. Telemachus, Book 16, The Odyssey. Bodies and borders, breaking, and hair, and skin, and deep-in fear of a flock never returning Or returning. Cold and grey, like our mountains, like pain like open plains, and pain, like greeting a desperate and dying Ulysses bearing serpents, stuffed with dead sheep and treasures smelling like death, scarred and rain-weathered. Time iridescent. Scaled. Wet and dark The sun grows old and weary, so we’ve been told, and it won’t protect the shepherd and the flock that feeds the table. Their wool and breath feels different now the hellebores are old. He can’t remember the years that took his days away, and it’s my skin that’s cold.
He returns, salt flecked and serpentiNe a poem by Rose London
SMIRNA KULENOVIĆ: In the Absence, the artist is present
Bosnian artist SMIRNA KULENOVIĆ was born in Sarajevo in 1994 during the siege. Today she is one of the most interesting artists within the contemporary Bosnian art scene.
Interviewed by Claudia Zini
Someone Washed My Face. Smirna Kulenović, August 2018, Sarajevo
Smirna Kulenovic by Samuel Berthet
My bleached portrait, exhibited in the abandoned church of Saint Augustine, is so representative of the whole feeling of ‘nothingness’ 36
As a young artist working in Sarajevo, what does absence mean to you? In the past three months, absence has been one of the most important topics in my life. My current absence within the Bosnian legal system derives from one specific event that happened in my life that I could not control. Last August, I came back home from Portugal and both my passport and ID were stolen at the airport in Sarajevo upon my arrival. Since then, I am incapable of doing anything legal within the system, since I don’t exist anymore. I am feeling my absence in my own country, but also in the rest of Europe where I was supposed to go and exhibit and where I currently can’t travel because I don’t have any documents. What happened to your documents and why has it taken so long for the state to issue new ones? I thought that requesting new documents was going to be a standard procedure, but it turned out to be difficult since the police discovered that there had been an attempt to forge my passport and steal my identity, most probably to enter the EU. In the last year, the refugee crisis in Bosnia and Herzegovina has worsened… a large number of documents were stolen. My passport was found nine days later together with nine others, but my ID was not, so it was additionally complicated. Police believe that someone is using my ID in some EU countries which sounds so ironic - I apparently exist outside my country but not inside! I immediately applied for new documents but, since I refused to declare whether I am Bosnjaks, Croat or Serb; I stated that I am ‘nothing’.
My application is still ‘in standby’, and I don’t know when I will be able to receive a new passport. In refusing to declare my nationality, I was protesting against the Bosnian ethnically-divided system which insists on strict ethnic definitions. I never consider the word ‘nothing’ to be dangerous; I could not imagine that such a tiny word would create such big problems. The government blocked the process of issuing my papers because I’m disrespecting the Bosnian constitution which recognises only three constitutive ethnic groups: Bosniaks, Croats, Serbs. The ‘Other’ category exists, but it is usually used by ethnic minorities or those who reject being labelled by ethnicity. You can declare that you are ‘other’, if you are of Roma origins or if you are a Jew, for example. At the end, what is important is that you declare that you are ‘something’. If you could give a different definition, how would you describe yourself ? I don’t want to be anything; I want to be nothing. I know the Bosnian system very well, and I know that whatever I declare, I will always be discriminated [against] in some forms. I grew up in the aftermath of the war in Sarajevo and since I was a kid, people would tell me how ethnic divisions within the Bosnian society impacted the conflict at the beginning of the 1990s and the atrocities that followed. I don’t want to take part in this imaginary division between people. My protest may look childish and utopian, but nationalism ruined my life as a kid. Now, as an artist, I want to protest as much as I can, even if to eventually get my documents, I will
be forced to declare that I am ‘something’ in the end. Last October you were invited to take part in the Fuori Visioni Festival in Piacenza, Italy with a performance, but you could not travel there because your documents were not ready yet. What did you decide to exhibit in the end? When they found my passport, I discovered that the photo was bleached because of the chemical process used to forge it; only some traces of my face were left, like pupils or facial contours. When I saw my portrait had almost completely vanished, I decided to scan it and enlarge it to a B0 format poster and I called the work Someone Washed My Face. This way I discovered that there was a star over my face, underneath the passport layers, which was funny, since the Bosnian flag is a copy of the EU flag; we use the same colours, blue, yellow and white, and we also have stars to feel more European. So, it was ironic to find a star over my face! A few days after my documents were gone, I was invited to perform in Italy. The festival’s topic was ‘surveillance’ and I thought that my story was the best way to respond to the festival’s theme. My bleached portrait, exhibited in the abandoned church of Saint Augustine, is so representative of the whole feeling of ‘nothingness’ within the system; not just the absence from the system, but also the absence from the EU – Bosnia and Herzegovina is not in the EU yet – and from a larger system that tries to control people’s identity. But, by the time I was supposed to travel to Italy, my passport was not ready yet, and I could not leave Bosnia. I felt so frustrated, as I had already missed being part of two other exhibitions, one in Athens and one in
Berlin, where they installed my first solo show without me being there, thanks to instructions that I gave the curators on Skype! At some point, I also thought about crossing the Bosnian border together with refugees. But in the end, I wrote a long e-mail to the organisers in Italy, explaining why I could not participate. I realised that writing that e-mail was a real performance, the only way I could be present at the festival. So I suggested that the curator place an empty chair next to my photograph instead. How did the audience react to your absence? The audience gathered at the time when my performance was scheduled. I wanted to create a feeling of frustration. People were waiting for the artist to come and start the performance but the artist was not coming. The organisers printed out my e-mail and distributed it among the people who eventually understood why I was not there. They sent me many messages of solidarity. I was happy to receive some positive support from people from Italy, Germany and other countries. My impossibility of being abroad led to the creation of a residency program; I am inviting artists to come and see me. If I can’t leave Sarajevo, I am inviting people here. An artist from Italy responded to my call and she was here for two weeks; I’m waiting to see who will be the next!
Smirna Kulenovic at Fuori Visioni installation view photo by Carlos Campos
The Gwangju Biennial: Traumatic Memory and Absence of Stability Eleanor Stephenson Celebrating its 12th anniversary, the Gwangju Biennial began as an arts festival to commemorate the young lives lost during the Gwangju Uprising. The Uprising was a mass protest against the repressive military government which took place on the 18th and 27th May 1980, in the small provincial city of Gwangju in South West Korea. Freedom from oppression is a recurrent theme seen throughout the pavilions, celebrated through an array of thought-provoking artworks and site-specific installations. Most of these spaces are reused, recycled and borrowed from the city, encouraging visitors to engage with local culture and cuisine. This interaction brings to the fore the collective traumatic memories and subsequently a cold, isolating sensation of absence. This experience, combined with the works on display, presents a raw and unfiltered picture of the hardships faced by suppressed people, not just in Korea but globally.
Student protesters gather in the square in front of the provincial government building of South Jeolla Province in Gwangju, May 18, 1980. Courtesy of the May 18 Memorial Foundation
Okin Collective, Referring to Lee Jae-eui,Â Gwangju Diary: Beyond Death, Beyond the Darkness of the Age, trans. Kap Su Seol & Nick Mamatas, Gwangju: May 18 Memorial Foundation, 2017, Banner on Jeonil Building, 12th Gwangju Biennial (2018). Photograph by Eleanor Stephenson 07/09/2018
One of the main venues for the Biennial is the Asian Cultural Centre. This building complex previously housed the regional government offices that students gathered around in protest on the morning of May 18th, 1980. This black and white photograph was taken only hours before thousands of these students were murdered by the military in this square. The harrowing memories surrounding the struggle for democratic freedom are
felt in the city and are visible in its very infrastructure. Directly above the square is another former government building, however, it is disused and depilated, marking these unresolved traumas. Korean artists Yejou Lee, Joungmin Yi and Shiu Jin, have utilised the juxtaposition of past and present by hanging an enormous banner from the top of this multistorey office. The absence of visible life in buildings such as this, reiterate the death and destruction incurred by the
signifies the lives lost in 1980 and the lack of life in the hospital since then. Walking down the dimly lit corridor, was as much of a thought-provoking installation as the site-specific sculptures.
Okin Collective, Passages and an Amorphous Map, the Asia Culture Centre(ACC), Section Exhibition curated by Sungwoo Kim, 12th Gwangju Biennale (2018). Photograph by Eleanor Stephenson 07/09/2018
military government during and after the Gwangju Uprising. Rather than be explicitly narrative, the Okin Collective have taken abstract descriptions and quotes from witnesses, creating an eerily real connection with the victims of this tragic event.
A short drive from the Asian Cultural Centre was the GB Commission, whose venue was another reminder of the brutality of the military government. In the Former Armed Forces’ Gwangju Hospital, artists Adrián Villar Rojas, Mike Nelson, Kader Attia, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul created site-specific installations. French artist, Kader Attia, placed monolithic planks of wood in the centre of a few disused rooms. The presence of these pieces in the dilapidated hospital reminds the viewer of the beings that would have been there, either as casualties or as wounded captives. This is a literal and metaphorical representation of absence: manifesting through the object which
The title for this year’s biennial is Imagined Borders, adopted from Benedict Anderson’s book about nationalism: Imagined Communities. This theme was explored through a variety of avenues and issues, such as immigration, border conflict, colonialism, race and environmental politics. One of the most impressive explorations was by the Helsinki International Artists Program (HIAP), curated by Jenni Nurmenniemi, showing six artists, including Maelee Lee, Mire Lee, and Elina Vainio, in the Mugaksa Temple. Finnish artist Nestori Syrjälä discussed the psychological effects of global warming experienced by environmental scientists. The quotes gathered by the artist from
Kader Attia, Eternal Now, GB Commission, Former Armed Forces’ Gwangju Hospital, 12th Gwangju Biennial (2018)
Nestori Syrjälä discussing his series Stele (2016), Helsinki International Artists Program (HIAP), Mugaksa Temple, 12th Gwangju Biennial (2018). Photographs by Eleanor Stephenson 07/09/2018
scientists had been carved onto re-used plastic car windows and placed on rocks found in the local area. The subtlety of the works spoke of the silent torture faced by environmental researchers whose daily routine involves bearing witness to the earth’s self-destruction. This evoked an absence of stability, within the context of an uncertain, undetermined future for mankind. The message conveyed leaves the viewer feeling hollow inside, knowing that this future reality is unavoidable. Despite the heavy themes and issues raised by this year’s Gwangju Biennial, there was a sense of enlightenment upon departure. The feeling of absence in the city and in the lives of citizens has to an extent been filled with hope, joy and education through the celebration of art. This biennial allows people to come together
to discuss and learn about issues which are often too difficult to approach within a normal context. Since 1995, the South Korean government has set-up, funded and promoted a celebration of democracy through this annual contemporary arts festival. This represents both its progressive outlook and enables a unique opportunity for other states to discuss freedom of expression, in the past, present and future.
We trace the shape of ghosts And ignore the shadows Cast upon the wall. The semblance. Faint, but by no means invisible, Hidden in the dark half-light, Waiting for the sound of wings. Pale grey tatters, the hymn of footfalls, Prayers for rain and the muted moonlight Sleeping in the ripples of broken glass. In the absence of others, I find myself On the other side of silence.
a poem by Lightfoot
Finding AgnÈs Varda
Still from The Gleaners and I (2000, dir. Agnès Varda) public domain via Cine-Tamaris and Zeitgeist Films
Still from The Gleaners and I (2000, dir. Agnès Varda) public domain via Cine-Tamaris
We find Agnès Varda and an anonymous man in a field in rural France, gleaning for potatoes left to rot by industrial agribusiness. The man: “There are deformed ones, heart-shaped ones” Varda: “I was glad. I immediately filmed them up close and set about filming perilously with one hand, my other hand gleaning heart-shaped potatoes.” These heart-shaped potatoes, ‘deformed’ to some, draw clear parallels with Varda’s own hand, the hand of an ageing woman, something she is oh so aware of in much of her work. Yet these hands are fragile and are so frightfully overlooked, much like the subjects of Varda’s films; for it is with tenderness that she depicts the singularity of the human condition. Time again we see Varda’s subjects (so often women) in incorrupt scenes, some staged, some genuine. It is this genuine nature to Varda’s craft that draws me back to her. The Gleaners And I, the film from which the above scene is taken moves me ceaselessly.
Finding Varda is like the part in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy steps into technicolour. Amidst a seemingly endless sea of male directors, Varda’s warm, inquisitive interest in the otherwise unseen shines out, just like her aubergine and white hair. I’d like to identify
Varda first and foremost as a pioneer of the New Wave, as opposed to the reductive and patronising ‘grandmother’ label often tagged on her. Her first film La Pointe Courte made in 1955 predates Godard’s A Bout de Souffle by 5 years and her most recent film Faces Places (2017) arguably outdates Godard’s last great film by decades. I find it disquieting that I probably only heard of Varda 5 or 6 years after I first saw Godard’s film, and only saw my first film of hers around 2 years ago. It is this absence of a femaleness within the filmic canon and within the repertoire of film that I am familiar with that concerns me about a medium I have grown to love.
performer, she conflicts what we know about cinema and transforms it into a style entirely her own. Thus, her affiliation with the New Wave maybe starts with La Pointe Courte and ends with Cleo from 5 to 7, but the extension of her craft into documentary, into storytelling, photography and experiment goes beyond the stifling, patriarchal name of the Nouvelle Vague.
Still from Cleo from 5 to 7, (1962, dir. Agnès Varda) public domain via Cine-Tamaris
Agnès Varda directing La Pointe Courte, 1955 public domain via Frieze
We see Agnès both behind and in front and above the camera throughout her long and varied career. Always the director, the voyeur, but often the recounter or
First, we meet Cleo, her visage sleek, striking, romantic, but flawed. Her eyes address us from our seats in the cinema or, today, from the screen of our computer. She commands our attention, she is formidable, and she finds herself in 2 hours in Paris. This is Varda’s doing. Cleo gives us what Godard’s ‘all you need is a girl and a gun’ does but without the gun. Varda doesn’t need a gun. It exhilarates me to think that Cleo comes just two years after Foucault’s Madness and Civilisation and the influence of this work as well as the Algerian War are potentially visible in the fraught 120 minutes of the film. However, Cleo from 5 to 7 is sacredly female! Cleo is a woman and so is Varda. This is distinctly the female condition, and this is 1962, the subject is not an object but a woman.
Still from Vagabond, (1985, dir. Agnès Varda), public domain via Cine-Tamaris
Then we see Sandrine Bonnaire as Mona in Vagabond. This is 20 years after Cleo and we have reached a technicolour status too. Mona, austere and beautiful, contradictory and complex, deserves our attention. The film is riotously nonconformist, feminist and still searingly relevant today. I imagine it as an antithetical Cleo, the two films have much in common, the key being the prosaic lives Varda covers. She rejects the ‘girl and a gun’ sequences of her counterparts, and without Varda, would these narratives be rendered absent in cinema? Now back to The Gleaners and I, or Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse in its native French. Here, Agnes moves me more than ever. I’m touched by her love for discarded potatoes and I’m touched by her willingness to embrace the unexpected (namely, an accidentally filmed sequence
of her lens cap, set to music: the dance of the lens cap). She playfully blurs the lines between the prosaic and the prodigious, and the honest relationships she has to her subjects prove to me how magical and transcendent this film is. Varda has said: ‘I love filming real people; I love to connect with the kind of people we don’t know so well.’ A fact so obvious, so attractive and so endearing in all of her work. Cleo, Vagabond and The Gleaners are seen as classics, with a concrete place in the filmic canon. Then why is Varda only now becoming ‘present’ in the film industry? This summer we saw a retrospective of her work at the BFI and at Curzon cinemas around the country, her work was shown at the Liverpool Biennial, and Faces Places, her most recent film, was widely shown and is held in justified critical acclaim.
But Varda is ninety years of age. Is this all just too little too late? Or should we revel and rejoice in the attention she is now being paid, even if it is decades later than her male contemporaries? So often in the creative industries, we see women eclipsed by their male counterparts, and so often they are only celebrated, or accepted years too late, despite being constantly critically successful. I think of Rose Wylie’s paintings, only responded to in her old age, I think of Angela Schanelec, a wonderful German director still working today, and I think of Chantal Akerman, the courageous Belgian director, of whom so many films are lost, and why? For she is a woman and the absence of the woman in front of the camera perhaps changes the direction the film’s legacy will take. Or is it Varda’s willingness to sidestep the deification her peers were given that demystifies her, and thus has rendered her only present in the canon 6 decades after she began? I can only say that when I found Varda, I fell in love, not just with her, but with Cleo, Mona and the many anonymous figures in her films. I adore the transient quality of The Gleaners and the sophistication of Cleo from 5 to 7 and devastation of Vagabond. I must confess that I cried watching Faces Places, and I cried selfishly, and awkwardly and for myself. I cried because I only found Varda so recently and I feel such a guilt for that, for not seeking out what is now so special to me beforehand.
Agnès Varda and her digital camera filming The Gleaners and I, 2000, public domain via the BFI
The JAyabaya Prophecy a short story by Farah Dianputri
The Javanese have their own King Arthur: Ratu Adil. But he was more resourceful and better remembered. To this day, they still ask, “Is Ratu Adil here yet? He said he’d come again, when the cosmic wheel got jammed into chaos.” When the Just King left this world, in the form of Jayabaya, he renounced the throne and retreated into a cave. There, occupied by meditations and visions, he caught a glimpse of doomsday: “when iron wagons could drive without horses…ships could sail through the sky” Forget the melodramatic promises of the apocalypse like ‘The Harrowing of Hell’ and ‘The Four Horsemen’. It had begun long ago with the invention of the automobile and airplane. His reputation as an oracle was impeccable. Allegedly, he spoke of a future, now past: “The Javanese would be ruled by whites for three centuries and by yellow dwarfs for the life span of a maize plant prior to the return of the Ratu Adil…” Perhaps, even after all these years, he’s still tussling between moksha and reincarnation. But which came first, the prophecy or the circumstance? *** A circumstance arose at five o’clock in the morning. My eyes flickered open. My gaze strayed to a rubber tree, its blotched bark slashed with caramel wounds. Milk white sap dripped down from the gashes, into the tiny bucket strung crudely around it. I propped myself up. The sky glowed cobalt, encased by the twining silhouettes
of branches. Rubber trees were lined in pedantic rows that stretched on into infinity. A solemn breeze swept through the plantation-night’s last breath before suffocation by the equatorial heat. Like the rustling leaves, I swayed from side to side, wondering why the uneven earth had felt so deceptively soft. I followed the path between two rows of rubber trees. While checking my pockets, I felt the cold reassurance of my phone. I drew it out and was greeted by a string of messages, all asking “where r u?” all exclusively from my mother. Even if I felt bothered to reply, I didn’t have an answer. Maybe just to be dramatic, I would have typed: “Dispereert niet, ontziet uw vijanden niet, want God is met ons” *** I think that’s what I heard him say once in Malacca, amidst the tourist crowds and squeals of school children, the cannon fire and the war cries. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw galleons cruising down the river. Puffs of smoke blasted out with the flourish of trumpets. The helmeted Portuguese held harquebuses, taking aim as the stockades fell. The proud Malays gushed out of the breach, mounted on their war elephants. They bared their teeth at the armoured soldiers below. And yet the rickshaws kept zooming by, picking up overweight tourists to cycle away down Jalan Laksamana. There was also a huddle of Chinese kids playing by Victoria Fountain. But over the noise and havoc, I could have never made out what Jan actually said. My Dutch was rusty, the last I’ve heard it
years earlier was when my grandmother would utter its cadence in English. I forgot when I met Jan. He was a splendid, smiling Aryan. We strolled down to Dutch Square, where the colonial facades bled out crimson and bleached umbrellas lined the pedestrian walkway. I was reminded of a journey to Amsterdam I would take years later. Of the markets near the Rembrandthuis, where my brother and I ended up walking all the way, across bridges and cannabis perfumed streets. On one cobbled bridge, there was a statue: the weathered remnant of a moustachioed Dutchman: Multatuli. That was what he christened himself in Latin, after being stationed in the East Indies during the full throes of Cultuurstelsel. When he was new baptised “I have suffered”, he wasn’t talking about himself. Spurned by visions of Amsterdam, I asked Jan about the Dutch Golden Age and all the wealth and art that came with it. He said he knew little about The Old Masters. His face was burning sore pink in the Malaysian heat. So I inquired about the houses: why were they always leaning in awkward directions? Either teetering over the canal or slanting sideways like frozen dominos? He responded that the foundations would deteriorate, causing some houses to sink back into the marsh. Those houses were built on frail foundations; from tobacco leaves piled into hills and valleys, the terraced paddy fields that remained untouched and the famine brought with it. The whole of Java was Amsterdam’s orchard in those days, for them to play God in.
Jan asked me to tell him about my history. I found myself with little to say as the war raged on in front of me. The bricks of the church and Stadthuys erupted into flames. Bodies were scattered all over the streets. Tourists treaded carelessly over them. I decided against telling him of my Indonesian side, because my Aki lost his father when he was young, when a Dutchman shot him. Aki himself had diminished from another poison they peddled to the East. At the mercy of the ring of fire you’d find at the end of a kretek cigarette. I didn’t want to taint his hands with old blood. So I spoke about my Paktok, this was his story: When he was a boy in Kota Bharu, a man with a camera would lurk around the house. One day he stuck a scroll on the front door, scrawled with indiscernible markings. That early hour in 1941, the Japanese came riding on their bicycles. They stopped by. Their uniforms were moss green, each carried rifles stamped with a chrysanthemum seal. One after another, the soldiers disembarked. The boy sat by the window, watching. The soldiers all bowed like weary pilgrims; my grandfather would tell me years later, watching them by the window. I told Jan that the cameraman had done it because my great-grandfather was a doctor. He said, “They were going to need them.” I preferred homemade remedies: “Awoken from sleep 泰平の of a peaceful quiet world 眠りを覚ます
by Jokisen tea; 上喜撰 with only four cups of it たった四杯で one can’t sleep even at night.” 夜も眠れず Caffeine wasn’t the only thing keeping them awake that night. If you account for the turns of phrase, you can find the real reason for their restless slumber: “The steam-powered ships break the halcyon slumber of the Pacific; a mere four boats are enough to make us lose sleep at night.” *** I would probably need a better cure for my insomnia and my bruise. Later in the hotel room, he nibbled my neck, sucked on it like a leech. The mauve hickey had surfaced in the sickly yellow light. I’ll make it into a sentence in my own Bildungsroman, for when I turn fourteen in September. With the grace of a somnambulist, I stumbled towards the window, tilting open the shutters. Love Lane lay bare on her back. There was the odd Chinese merchant, who from second floor of the hotel, appeared as a bamboo hat that trailed into a bell-shaped robe. More popped in and out, they floated along the road. All disappeared underneath the five footways lit by vermillion paper lanterns. A Kancil zipped down, its headlines flickering as if it was struggling to stay awake. Yet even the humming of its engine couldn’t lull me back to sleep. I’d almost forgotten I was in Penang, on the street where nineteenth century sex scandals had taken place. Another of the many secrets buried here were the roots of
my clan. I still imagine little Kader, my precocious ancestor; thinking how far he must have been from Pondicherry and Porto Novo. When he first set foot in the port of Penang, he was a spritely boy, brown and lank with a mop of black hair. His nostrils flared, filled by the scent of salty air that had plagued him for months. Did he stand on his barge with the same dignity that foretold his elevation to Kapitan?4 But for now, he had made it as a pauper on Prince of Wales Island. I could see him stare at the East India Company’s galleons docking along side his boat. The flotilla of merchant warships reeled in, sporting portly sails that billowed in the breeze, and masts as high as the minarets. The sea and sky had melded together in aquamarine. How small his skiff must have been against those Goliath vessels. His entire destiny could have been divined in that moment: trade and the Company. Now, all those boats have rotted into splinters, scattered at the bottom of the Andaman Sea. I wonder how Kader came by this land I am meant to call home. If he were to meet me, he wouldn’t see his face in mine. He might find it distasteful that his skin had paled over seven generations and his eyes had been reduced to slits, cut like a pair of dark wounds on a face. A screech pierced the night. It wailed and cried, over and over. Lodging my fingers in my ears, I shrunk away into a corner. Over the tiled roofs, a magenta stain crept over the indigo night. The wound of the morning deepened and consumed. This
was a pain that transcended both time and bloodline: “And how does it happen that after the torture […] the unborn grandchildren grow to love that strange language.” 1 I grew to love the oppressor’s tongue. I let it squirm into my mouth and fester until its slime fermented into fine liquor. My mouth could not bear part from it. The worm had numbed my lips and lodged itself down my throat, robbing me of my semantic birth right. That’s what kissing him felt like. Raffles had a posh accent; I think that was why I was so attracted to him. At dusk, he annexed this mottled patch of grass and named it his own, laid the blanket over to claim sovereignty. But as I gazed at the tree looming above us: the trail of black ants crawling at its side, the azure kingfisher that stood still, just for a heartbeat, before fluttering away-I knew that none of this belonged to him.
longhouses. I ran. The gunshots chased me from behind. A small log caught my foot and I fell into the dirt. When I glanced up, I saw him. An English soldier was sitting on a blanket, drowsily stretching in his khaki shirt and pants, black boots laced up, his rifle propped up against the rubber tree. He smiled. Without a second thought, I grabbed the log and swung. Between each fell swoop, he yelled my name, as if it were a plea, as if it were a curse. His lily-white skin had blossomed into lilac lumps. Clumps of flesh peeled out like chrysanthemum petals. The log fell to my feet. My arms dangled by the side of my hips, yet my legs were restless, eager to journey in circles. After walking the length of seventy years in a minute, I collapsed. Another prophecy fulfilled.
I could have stayed in this moment forever, compelled by the cool breeze and my phone buzzing in my pocket. But the pounding footsteps wouldn’t grant me that peace. Sliding out of his embrace, I wandered, following their thunder. A scene opened up between the two rows of trees. The villagers were kneeling on the ground, their hands behind their heads, trembling. The jackboots circled them, rifles pecking and prying at their carrion. They spat slurs; each came with a jab to the head, to the shoulder, to the stomach. The remaining soldiers traced rings with flaming torches around the wooden
Excerpts from Sujata Bhatt’s ‘A Different History’
a poem by Rose London
We didnâ€™t used to breathe the same air as everyone else. I donâ€™t feel the hurt of what I felt And the rain outside your window was warm I like the art of your absence I like feeling torn And the rain outside your window was warm
‘I am Ashurbanipal: king of the world, king of Assyria’ Francesca Vine
‘I am Ashurbanipal, great king, mighty king, king of the world, king of Assyria.’ The British Museum’s new exhibition explores the reign of King Ashurbanipal, who ascended to the throne in 669 BC, ruling at the height of the Assyrian empire which then extended from the eastern Mediterranean to western Iran. ‘The greatest king you’ve never heard of ’, Ashurbanipal has been thus far largely absent from the canon and this exhibition is attempting to change that. The first/main part starts by looking at how the older South-West and newer North palaces at Nineveh, including their interiors, work as a display of the king’s power. These include panels depicting hunting scenes and protective guardian spirits such as The Sebetti gods that decorated the throne room. Both this and the Aqueducts and Canals panel are periodically lit up with projected colour that imitates paint in an increasingly popular form of non-invasive reconstruction. What differentiated Ashurbanipal from his predecessors was that, despite being just as skilled in warfare, he never personally led his troops into battle. Instead, he regarded knowledge as an equal means of controlling his empire. There are a large number of texts from his library on
display, including the most famous work of Mesopotamian literature, The Epic of Gilgamesh, which details the adventures of its eponymous hero. The exhibition then sets the king’s reign within a broader context of trade and shows how other areas, including the Aramaean kingdoms, were subsumed by the ever-growing Assyrian empire. One of these was Egypt, a war inherited from Ashurbanipal’s father, King Esarhaddon, which ended in the sacking of Thebes and the pillaging of its treasures. Another was the war with Babylon, when his brother, King Shamash-shumu-ukin, plotted an uprising. The Battle of Til-Tuba is a relief depicting the Assyrian victory over the Elamites, one of Ashurbanipal’s brother’s supporters. Different sections of the relief are alternately illuminated in outline by projectors and accompanied by a small section of explanatory text, thus effectively drawing the viewer’s attention to individual details. The next section describes the fall of Nineveh following Ashurbanipal’s death or abdication in about 631 BC. The Babylonian Chronicle and the Fall of Nineveh recounts how the Babylonians and Medes captured the city in 612 BC, resulting in the death of one of Ashurbanipal’s sons; the second and final king to hold the throne after his death.
Opposite page: Ashurbanipal Image 1, 2018, British Museum (Photo by Francesca Vine)
The second/smaller part of the exhibition is divided in two. Firstly, it deals with both contemporary and later attitudes towards Assyria, the fall of which is recorded in the Bible and in Greek and Roman literature, and shows how these were tested by the archaeological finds of the nineteenth century. Secondly, a video made by the British Museum explains how, of the excavated and restored remains, 80% in Nimrud and 60% in Nineveh have been destroyed by ISIS. The three-month Iraq Scheme at the Museum takes Iraqi professionals from the countryâ€™s State Board of Antiquities and Heritage and trains them in the rescue and retrieval techniques needed to combat this destruction. They then finish their training on two excavation sites in Iraq before returning to the Mosul Museum to begin the mammoth task of preserving these extraordinary artefacts for the generations to come. The Ashurbanipal exhibition is subtly innovative in form and tries to contextualise both the ancient and modern, but without ever losing sight of its main, linear narrative. By taking a lesser known, but very important, figure as a starting point, rather than pursuing broader overview, the British Museum effects an inspired reimagining of the blockbuster exhibition. The exhibition runs until 24 February 2019.
Ashurbanipal Exhibition, 2018, British Museum(Photo by Francesca Vine)
Ashurbanipal Exhibition, 2018, British Museum(Photo by Francesca Vine)
Jewellery as Memento Mori
On a recent visit to the Royal Academy’s exhibition, Oceania (29/09/18 10/12/18), a necklace (Fig. 1) on display caught my attention for two reasons. Firstly, it was accompanied by the most basic description, including only a vague placement in time and origin with a simple list of the materials. It struck me as odd that there was so little to give the viewer a better understanding of what the object was, or what it was used for.Perhaps the limited description is accountable to the universal nature and understanding of a necklace as ornament. This particular piece was made in the nineteenth century by an unknown craftsman, on a small Pacific island untouched by the industrialisation which was tearing through Europe at the time. Nonetheless, if one were to place it next to the creations of contemporary nineteenth century European jewellers, like Cartier and Boucheron in Paris, or Phillips Brothers in London (Fig. 2), certain structural similarities would become apparent. The rough fibre stringing together long urchin spines forms an unevenly graduated pattern similar to a Phillips Brothers piece with sleek and even gold pins soldered to a torque of the same colour. Although their cultural contexts are far apart, the viewer can assume the function of both pieces from their familiar form. In other words, we can easily imagine the absent neck on which both the sea urchins and the gold pins once hung. Pick up any book about jewellery and its introduction will undoubtedly define it the same way; put simply, jewellery acts as an ornament to adorn the body. Its presence is often dazzling, and generally more noticeable than its absence. As Andy Warhol pertinently said, ‘Jewellery doesn’t make a person more beautiful, it makes a person feel more beautiful’. True, jewelleryrarely ever takes away from an appearance, and by its very nature, adds. Perhaps the transformative psychological power that jewels lord over
us is the key to their enduring presence in human society. However, the precise function of an individual piece of jewellery often dies with the wearer, becoming lost in time with the absence of the originalbody it once clung to. Taking the sea urchin necklace from Oceania as example, its precise meaning is now lost after being stripped from context. The museum displayremoves the life from the necklace, converting it to a limp flat circle where it might otherwise slink over the contours of human shoulders. The urchin necklace could have been worn and loved as an everyday ornament for a woman, or, as is more likely, worn only on a specific and special occasion. For instance, the row of unequal spines could have bristled around the neck of a man during a ritualistic ceremonyp receding war. When examining an object, from a
Figure 2: Gold fringed necklace, made by Phillips Brothers, c. 1855-69, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, CAT. NO. 13. In Ritchie, H. (2018) Designers & Jewellery, Jewellery and Metalwork from The Fitzwilliam Museum 1850-1940. London: Philip Wilson Publishers.
ring to a crown, the meaning is dependent on knowledge of the body that originally carried it.
Figure 1: Necklace, Tobi island, Palau, Sea urchin spines and fibre, c. 1912, Museum Fünf Kontinente, Munich. On display ‘The Spirit of the Gift’ room in Oceania, Royal Academy, London.
The commemorative power of jewellery is consequently derived from the strong link between a piece and its wearer’s body. The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art’s current exhibition, Jewelry: The Body Transformed (12/11/18 - 24/02/19), explores the relationship between jewellery and the human body by displaying pieces from the MET’s vast collection. The wide variety of locations and periods from which the pieces are drawn are connected thematically, into groups such as: ‘The Divine Body’, ‘The Regal Body’, ‘The Transcendent Body’, ‘The Alluring Body’ and ‘The Resplendent Body’. The key point of this exhibition seems simple enough, the enduring presence of jewellery
Figure 3: Spanish Reliquary, 36 rock crystal-covered recesses for relics, 15801600, silver, partly gilded, rock crystal and textile, bone and parchment. Hildburgh Bequest. V and A Museum, London. Museum no. M.153-1956.
on the human body. But understanding why gold, precious stones and other metals have maintained their value in society throughout the ages as markers of material and spiritual wealth is more complex.
Jewellery has also played a major role in adorning the absent body. The tombs of Ancient Egyptian Pharaohs exemplify the lavish practice of using gold and precious stones to bring the body of the deceased back into the minds of the living. An iconic example of gold marking the absence of the living body lies in the tomb of the infamous Egyptian Pharaoh, Tutankhamun, whose body was laid to rest in a gold sarcophagus inlaid with lapis lazuli. The durability of gold and gemstones has provided them with an
immortal status compared to the fragile human body which so quickly decays to dust. As Genesis 3:19 (King James Version) reminds us, ‘thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken; for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return’. Diamonds are ranked ten on the Mohs Hardness Scale and are ten times harder than corundum (sapphires and rubies) in the preceding rank. By contrast, the enamel on human teeth is ranked a mere five. The power to endure the wearing of time is perhaps the strongest reason thatjewellery is so consistently linked with the Gods and afterlife throughout human history. The contemporary New York-based designer, Erica Weiner, points out that
‘people started making memorial jewellery because there was no photography, and if your loved one died you wanted something as a touchstone to remember them every day’. Gold, silver and precious stones last longer than boneand are therefore appropriate materials to commemorate the absent, mortal body. On a more domestic level, it is common practice to leave jewellery to relatives upon death. This simple practice is part of the larger memorial role jewellery plays. Being left your grandmother’s ring is not only a way of ensuring the protection of the object’s material worth, but also preserves the memory of the absent. Adorning one’s body with an emblem has long signalled remembrance. In the west, these objects of adornment are frequently made from precious materials that last the test of time, however, this is not always the case. Each November, for a short period, the brooch returns to the UK. Brooches are by now a somewhat archaic piece of jewellery rarely worn by young people today. However, as a sign of remembrance for the bloodshed during the two devastating World Wars, young and old alike in Britain wear a poppy brooch for a few weeks preceding 11th November. This tradition is to mark the absence of those who suffered and perished in war. But these paper brooches are hand-made by the British Legion for charity and are intentionally as short-lived as the bloom of an actual poppy picked from the field. Their short lifespan, from being pinned to coat lapels to inevitably falling to the ground as victims of the wear and tear of moving, is deeply symbolic of the short lives of the soldiers. Although these paper brooches are very loosely categorized as
Figure 4: Paper Poppy Brooch, made by The Royal British Legion, 2007, (Photo by Phillip Stevens, public domain)
‘jewellery’, the symbolic function they serve in commemorating the dead places them in the long-standing phenomenon of mourning jewellery. Adorning the present body to commemorate the absence of another body after death has driven skilled craftsman across the globe for generations. The common choice of gold and gemstones for such objects is significant as it creates a striking paradox. The fragility of human life is placed in stark contrast to the enduring lifespan of the gemstones and precious metals. However, as the paper poppy and urchin necklace reveal, ornaments are not limited to rare and lasting materials. Perhapsthe ubiquitous presence of adornment in human society, whether rendered in precious stones, organic materials like urchin spines, or just paper, is a result of the human condition which wants to extend itself past the mortal body inevitably fading to dust. All that is to say that neither personal sentiment or symbolism in jewellery is rarely, if ever, absent.
Illustrations 8 The Forgotten Memory
Illustration by Charlotte Alderman
Collage by Nia Thomas
26 The Promenade
Illustration by Rose London
35 He Returns, Salt-Flecked and Serpentine Collage by Nia Thomas
a poem by Lightfoot Illustration by Rose London Collage by Nia Thomas
The Jayabaya Prophecy Illustration by Ruby Bansal
Liminal Collage by Nia Thomas
Jewellery as Memento Mori Illustration by Rosie Fitter
contents 2 The Intrigue of Absence: Identity Lost in
34 He Returns, Salt-Flecked and
6 Woven in Time: The Importance of
36 Smirna Kulenovic: In the Absence, The
8 The Forgotten Memory
40 The Gwangju Biennial: Traumatic
Giulio Campagnola’s Reclining Woman Chloe Bazlen Annie Albers Ellen Brown
14 One Line Reviews: Banksy, Love is in the Bin
16 Jenna Burchell: Musing on Memory and Mending Fred Shan
Serpentine Rose London
Artist is Present Claudia Zini
Memory and the Absence of Stability Eleanor Stephenson
44 Untitled Poem Lightfoot
46 Finding Agnès Varda Nancy Collinge
52 The Jayabaya Prophecy Farah Dianputri
20 The Project
26 The Promenade
56 ‘I am Ashurbanipal:
Jemima Hooke William Jack Snape
28 Clara Peeters on Her Own Terms Aniko Petri
Rose London king of the world, king of Assyria’ Francesca Vine
60 Jewellery as Memento Mori Ottilie Kemp
absence was produced by undergraduate and postgraduate students at The Courtauld Institute of Art, London. If you are interested in supporting future issues, or would like more information about the publication, contact: email@example.com. The Courtauldian is the editorially independent student publication of the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London. The views and opinions expressed herein are solely those of the individual authors to whom they are attributed and do not necessarily reflect those of the Courtauldian, the Courtauld Institute of Art Students’ Union, or any of their staff or representatives. Every effort has been made to avoid inaccuracies, to reproduce content only as permitted by copyright law, and to appropriately and fully credit the copyright holder(s) of any content reproduced.
The first issue of the 2018/19 academic team focusses on the theme of 'ABSENCE'. Writers mediate on the theme in various ways, including fea...
Published on Nov 30, 2018
The first issue of the 2018/19 academic team focusses on the theme of 'ABSENCE'. Writers mediate on the theme in various ways, including fea...