THE TUFTS UNDERGRADUATE JOURNAL OF ART HISTORY VOLUME I
Editor-in-Chief Annalie Aplin Head Editors Emily Gruzdowich Natalie Naor Madeleine Onstwedder Ashrita Rau Marketing Team Emily Gruzdowich Madeleine Onstwedder Raquel Shoshani Selection Committee Scarlett Engle Emily Gruzdowich Ashrita Rau Raquel Shoshani Amanda Walencewicz Editing Team Emily Gruzdowich Grace Hoyt Patrick McGrath Natalie Naor Madeleine Onstwedder Raquel Shoshani Layout Team Natalie Naor Amanda Walencewicz
Cover Image: Kapp, David (American, b. 1953) Looking Up Broadway, 2000 Oil on linen, 50" x 50" Tufts University Permanent Collection: Gift of an Anonymous Donor 2007.036
Contents Contents 2
Letter from the Editor-in-Chief
Letter from the Head Editor for Reviews
Letter from the Head Editors for Formal Papers
The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao Leili Ghaemi
The Contradictory Void: Representations of Emptiness in Muromachi Period Zen Painting Nolan Jimbo
Reclaiming History for the Contemporary: Winter Selections: A Group Exhibition of New Works at Arcadia Contemporary, New York Courtney Chiu
Robert Heineckenâ€™s Periodical #5: Living Now Erin Dimson-Doyle
The Way We Live Now: Modernist Ideologies at Work Nolan Jimbo
Letter from the Alumnae Interview Head Editor
Interview with Carly Boxer Ashrita Rau
Lamentation over the Dead Christ: Analysis through Anatomy Danielle Kupfer
Touching Skin: A Material Call to Action through the Guise of Leather Bookbindings Natalie Naor
Medium Volume I !
Letter from the Editor-in-Chief: On behalf of the entire Medium team, I am excited to present the inaugural volume of Medium, Tufts Universityâ€™s first undergraduate art history journal. With this journal we aim to establish a formal outlet to showcase the great talent of Tufts undergraduates in the spheres of art, art history, film, and architectural critique in Boston and beyond. We hope that you enjoy our first volume that features the work of six talented undergraduates. This diverse body of work reflects the great breadth of subjects that Tufts undergraduates are engaged with in the arts, and out of the many high-caliber submissions we received, we found these works to be the most compelling, thought-provoking, and passionate. We are also excited to present an alumnae interview with Carly Boxer, Tufts Class of 2013 and a current PhD candidate at the University of Chicago. This journal would not have been possible without the help of Ikumi Kaminishi, Rosalie Bruno, Christine Cavalier, and the entire Tufts University Art History Department. We thank Laura McDonald and Lissa Cramer at the Tufts University Art Gallery. Special thanks also go out to our art history friends at the University of Southern California, especially Ani Mnatsakanyan, an editor of Impression, the USC Art History Associationâ€™s undergraduate journal, whose tips and advice were instrumental in the production of our first volume. I would like to extend my deep thanks to the entire Medium team, whose hard work over the past few months made this journal come to fruition. Lastly, we would like to thank the talented writers who submitted their works and collaborated with us during the peer review process. Thank you for reading! Best, Annalie Aplin Class of 2015
If you have comments or questions about Medium, or would like to be considered for the Fall 2015 volume of Medium, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. !
Medium Volume I !
Letter from the Head Editors for Formal Papers: The term “art” is inherently fluid. It incorporates artist, audience, context, and medium – each with its own set of variances – into one entangled assemblage. It is a subjective entity, forged by the artist and judged by the viewer. Though it adopts many guises, it constantly functions as a conduit. How do we as art historians, then, harness this dynamic concept? Perhaps one way to ground this conversation is to recognize that there is an underlying motif: art attempts to physically capture the incorporeal. It strives to fix our perceptions, emotions, and values to a tangible world. Through this process of creation, art unveils such ephemeral ideals. Coincidentally, this physical attitude towards art history is apropos for the formal papers section of our inaugural volume of Medium. The discussions that follow concentrate on a range of mediums, delving into both the objective materiality of the works under analysis and the subjective responses that they evoke. In Touching Skin: A Material Call to Action through the Guise of Leather Bookbindings, Natalie Naor examines medieval leather bookbindings as a means of advocating for a new, materially based approach to art history. Erin Dimson-Doyle’s Robert Heinecken’s Periodical #5: Living Now comments on commodity culture by discussing Robert Heinecken’s physical circulation of doctored magazines. Nolan Jimbo, in The Contradictory Void: Representations of Emptiness in Muromachi Period Zen Painting, considers the application of ink in rendering negative and positive space to evoke Zen beliefs. Finally, in Lamentation over the Dead Christ: Analysis through Anatomy, Danielle Kupfer scrutinizes the body, investigating the hands, feet, and faces within a Renaissance painting by Carlo Crivelli. We are honored to offer a selection of work that celebrates the tangibility of art. Each author included in this volume offers a unique perspective that seeks to define art in accordance with its physical presence. Our hope is that in publishing this diverse spread of student work we will inspire others to approach art history from new angles, sparking a conversation among readers that considers not only motif, but also medium. Creatively yours, Natalie Naor, Class of 2015 Emily Gruzdowich, Class of 2017
Medium Volume I !
Lamentation over the Dead Christ: Analysis through Anatomy Danielle Kupfer | Class of 2018 | Computer Science Major The Renaissance brought about a dramatic change in artistic style: lifeless and emotionless figures became realistic and passionate, elongated models began to occupy space, and unknown artists became self-aware and drawn to the classical past. Italian painter Carlo Crivelli demonstrates these changing norms with his painting Lamentation over the Dead Christ, a fifteenth century altarpiece located in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. His work depicts a scene of emotional turmoil as the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Saint John support a recently crucified Christ. Each figure has a different reaction to the crucifixion, and by focusing on specific body parts such as heads, hands, and feet, Crivelli illustrates not only the relationships within the painting, but also the relationship between the viewer and Christ. The Virgin Mary and Christ appear to have an intense mother-son connection, as evidenced by their hands and faces. While former religious art suggested a sense of separation and emotional detachment between the two, Crivelli portrays a tender moment in what seems to be an intimate familial relationship. Mary’s hand on her son’s chest immediately attracts the attention of the viewer. Emphasized by the long, narrow fingers, the hand looks as though it is clutching Jesus’s body, as if the Virgin is using Christ to steady herself. This thought is ironic, as Mary is the one supposedly supporting her son’s lifeless form, and only serves to emphasize her overwhelming and
Lamentation over the Dead Christ, Carlo Crivelli, 1485, Tempera on panel, 88.3 x 53 cm. Photo credit: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
unbearable grief. Mary’s hand hovers dangerously close to the gash on Christ’s chest, suggesting a motherly instinct to soothe and protect her son. Yet the most jarring element is Mary’s face, as seen through her contorted features. With her mouth agape in what seems to be disbelief and unwavering eye contact, the Virgin abandons the former convention of impassivity, reacting as a normal mother would in this horrific situation. It almost feels as though the viewer ! 4!
Danielle!Kupfer! ! is intruding upon a private moment between mother and son. Mary’s extreme face contrasts directly with Christ’s serene one. While her expression conveys irrepressible emotion, his appears almost wistful, projecting a feeling of comfort on behalf of the distraught Virgin Mary. Christ’s hands serve both to emphasize his relationship with his mother and to reveal the state of Saint John by comparison. His left arm is intertwined with that of the saint, allowing for the juxtaposition of their hands. While Saint John’s human hand is stiff with anguish, Christ’s rigid one seems ghoulish or monstrous with its off-colored, elongated fingers. The two hands reveal an intersection of life and death; both are tense, one as a result of death and one as a result of the subsequent emotions. Another interesting comparison is that of Christ’s hands. While the aforementioned hand is grotesque and lifeless in nature, the other grips Mary’s shoulder in what might be interpreted as an act of reassurance. With his soothing, human-like hand, Christ assumes the role of the caring and affectionate son, further elevating this novel concept of an intimate mother-son relationship. While a close look at Saint John’s hand reveals the tension of pain and loss, his face betrays all emotion. Though his feelings might be similar to those of Mary, both figures react in distinct ways. These separate manifestations of grief reflect the emerging Renaissance ideal of humanism, or individualism, as each figure is both recognizable and characteristic in his or her actions. Contrary to Mary’s need for proximity and a direct connection with her son, Saint John raises his face upward and cries out towards heaven. While Mary turns
Medium Volume I ! towards Jesus, Saint John turns towards God. Tears stream down his face as he laments the death of his mentor. Aside from Christ, Mary Magdalene seems to be the only composed figure in the painting; her calm face reflects none of the uncontrollable emotion that the other two mourners exhibit. Unlike the others, her mouth is closed and her strong gaze appears almost tranquil. Though she looks longingly towards Christ and her expression is by no means happy, she seems to be in control of herself and her sentiments. Her hands merely support Christ; they do not frantically grasp at his body as if trying to revive him. Mary Magdalene exudes a sense of acceptance or resignation. If the Virgin Mary and Saint John represent the initial, instinctive reaction to Christ’s death, Mary Magdalene appears to be coming to terms with this tragic event. Having reached this understanding, Mary is the one who helps to lift Christ’s leg over the barrier, as if she wants to share this sentiment with the worshipper by bringing him into the human world. Crivelli’s presentation of feet helps to communicate the painting’s sense of space and the scene’s interaction with the viewer. Yet much of the meaning is lost without first understanding the established space within the work. Crivelli creates an ambiguous setting through his use of intricately designed gold in the background, evoking a sense of otherworldliness. Since the painting lacks a well-defined earthly space, it suggests that the figures exist in a heavenly realm. As a result, there is a degree of separation between the scene and the viewer, which is highlighted by the ledge at the bottom and its interaction with the figures’ feet. Saint John has propped his ! 5!
Danielle!Kupfer! ! foot against the barrier, implying a limitation or an inability to reach the human sphere. He, along with the other figures, is distinctly in the heavenly realm and reminds the worshipper of this fundamental differentiation. Christ, or specifically Christ’s foot, is the only element of the scene that crosses the barrier and thus enters the human realm. Though Mary Magdalene supports his leg, it is almost as if the foot is flexed and he is taking a step, as if there is a vitality that carries him forward. Christ is suspended between the human and divine worlds, rendering him at least partially accessible to the viewer. As this painting served as an altarpiece, we must ask how the viewers were impacted by the different relationships in the scene. What is the purpose of displaying the agony and grief of the Virgin Mary and Saint John, while depicting Mary Magdalene as a relatively serene figure? With which emotion is the viewer supposed to identify? While the overwhelming emotions of mother and saint tend to be the most striking elements, they serve more as a historical depiction of the event. Crivelli attempts to convey the significance of Christ’s crucifixion and the genuine reactions of those present. He also strives to reflect the changing Renaissance norms through his portrayal of Mary and Christ’s intimate relationship. However, the work goes beyond a sole representation of a biblical story; its implications reveal its pertinence. Though the scene takes place in another realm, the viewer sees Christ’s confident step towards the human world. As the eye travels upward, following the vertical line created by the central tapestry, the viewer sees the comfort and subtle hope that Christ provides for the sake of Mary. Worshippers
Medium Volume I ! would approach the altar and see the figures presenting Christ’s body, gaining a renewed sense of confidence in their savior. ____
Nolan Jimbo ! !
Medium Volume I!
The Contradictory Void: Representations of Emptiness in Muromachi Period Zen Painting Nolan Jimbo | Class of 2015 | Art History and French Double Major Within the practice of painting in Zen Buddhism, particularly during Japan’s tumultuous Muromachi Period, there exists a fundamental contradiction between Zen philosophy and its modes of representation. Imported from China, where it was known as Chan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism infiltrated Japanese borders and rose to prominence during the Muromachi Period, renouncing the reciting of holy scripture and discussions of metaphysical theories in favor of meditation and mindfulness as the paths to i enlightenment. Zen Buddhism places a conceptual and spiritual emphasis on emptiness, whether it be emptiness of form or emptiness of the illusory qualities of the external world, in seeking enlightenment within one’s internal world. However, within the realm of the visual arts, most notably in Japanese ink painting, Zen Buddhism has generated the creation of physical works of art that exist in three-dimensional space – that is, in the external, illusory world – in order to communicate this very notion of emptiness. Here exists the conundrum: within Zen Buddhism, form has been used to express emptiness. This essay seeks to rationalize this apparent tension between Zen Buddhism’s internal focus on emptiness and external manifestation of ink paintings through considerations of emptiness as a state of mind, emptiness as context, and the function of ink painting within Zen Buddhist ideology. Ultimately, the formal representation of
emptiness within ink painting is justifiable due to Zen Buddhism’s recognition of painting’s limited ability to embody internal, subjective experience.
Figure 1: White Heron on a Snowy Willow, Soami, 15th – 16th century, Ink on paper, 36.4 x 92.9 cm. Photo credit: The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Empty Context In Soami’s White Heron on a Snowy Willow (fig. 1), emptiness is expressed as a visual context that fluctuates between the external realm of reality and the internal realm of nothingness. In this ink on paper, a gnarled willow branch and white heron are contextualized within a subtly shaded grey sky. Although the heron is ostensibly a secular subject matter, several bird species were often ! 7!
Nolan Jimbo ! ! times used symbolically within Zen painting to communicate isolated moments of enlightenment and meditative focus. In White Heron on a Snowy Willow, Soami only applied ink to the “negative” spaces of the composition, including the sky and the underside of the emerging branch, and thereby utilized the white paper itself as a medium to define the forms of the heron and the snow. The form of the heron, then, was delineated using a “negative wash” technique, which subtly tints the areas surrounding the outline of the bird.ii Black ink accents the eye, beak, and legs of the heron within an otherwise subdued and pale grey background. This gradient between light and dark – accent and subtlety – sheds light on the empty context in which the heron is situated, as the intensity of shade in certain areas (such as the legs of the heron) of the composition exaggerate the light, nearly transparent shading of other areas (such as the outline of the mountain behind the heron). In relating these visual differences in the painting to Zen Buddhist philosophy, the alternation between heavy and light shading emphasizes the external, tangible quality of certain depicted elements while simultaneously highlighting the internal, non-being quality of others. For example, the dark and heavy shading of the heron’s legs suggests that they exist in the fleeting external world of reality, as they are clearly grounded within the picture plane. In contrast, the thinly outlined body and head of the bird, with the exception of the sharply rendered eye and beak, seem to fade into the empty background, implying that the heron exists in a thoughtful state of enlightenment – one that transcends a distracting and ultimately ephemeral reality. In
Medium Volume I! this sense, the emptiness in the background of the composition, devoid of representations apart from a faintly rendered mountain, creates a silent, peaceful context in which enlightenment – an individual’s experience of absolute transcendence – is made possible. Forms created using delicate pale-grey ink lines, sparingly accentuated with deep black ink, and contextualized within an empty ground reflect a Zen Buddhist ink technique that was traditionally used in figure painting, and which Confucian scholar Lou Yo described as wang-liang-hu (Japanese: mōryōga), or “ghost painting.”iii As noted by Helmut Brinker, “figures executed in such a pale ink tone that they appear almost formless and unreal represent the pictorial embodiment of a concept of ‘being and non-being,’ images of the paradoxical Zen philosophy regarding reality and illusion.” iv In other words, this gradation between staccato black, pale grey, and empty white was used to visually embody the contradictory nature of the representation of formlessness within Zen Buddhism. Additionally, the use of an ink painting technique traditionally reserved for human figures imbues the depicted heron with a human association. Rendered in a pensive and upright posture, the heron is captured in a quiet moment of complete stillness, which is only accentuated by the visual silence of the empty background. However, when considering the connotations of the “ghost painting” technique, this heron could personify a Zen Buddhist practitioner, caught in a moment of stoic and solitary enlightenment. In Gyokuen Bonpō’s Orchids and Bamboo (fig. 2), the empty context in the background of the painting is inextricably ! 8!
Nolan Jimbo ! ! linked with the symbolic meaning attached to orchids and bamboo within Zen Buddhism. When considered in conjunction with these two subject matters, as well as the
Figure 2: Orchids and Bamboo, Gyokuen Bonpō, 15th century Muromachi period, Ink on paper, 35.5 x 84.4 cm. Photo credit: The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
homogenously pale grey hue in which they are rendered, the emptiness portrayed in the background becomes a representation of a transcendent realm. In this fourteenth century painting, Gyokuen Bonpō, a Zen Buddhist monk and abbot of Kinninji and Nanzenji, two sizeable Kyoto monasteries, rendered a picture of bamboo and orchids with long, narrow leaves that reach upwards towards a blank space in the canvas.v In Zen Buddhism, the orchid, blossoming in variant and unexpected directions, was regarded as a symbol of feminine elegance, joyous elation, and restrained nobility. However, the expression of emptiness within this orchid-bamboo motif lies within bamboo’s association with Zen Buddhist ethical values: its straight, vertical growth parallels the upright character of an
Medium Volume I! exemplary gentleman, and its simultaneously firm and flexible nature evokes a noble spirit. These qualities of exterior strength, however, contrast with the bamboo stalk’s hollowness, which corresponds with the Zen ideal of “inner emptiness,” or kū in Japanese.vi Therefore, the concept of emptiness is conveyed symbolically in this painting through the nature of bamboo as a subject matter. Emptiness is also communicated through the blank background within which the orchids, bamboo, and rock are situated. Compared to the previous image of White Heron on a Snowy Willow, Orchids and Bamboo presents a treatment of ink that has a more narrow fluctuation between dark and light shading. In other words, the pale grey ink lines maintain a more consistent hue and intensity all throughout the composition, drawing less attention to the differences between dark and light and focusing more on an even distribution of color. This more homogenous treatment of ink gives equal visual weight to the orchids, bamboo, and rock, though the subtle and pale grey tone of the strokes, which exists in between the heavily defined black forms of reality and the thinly outlined and nearly transparent forms of emptiness, suggests that the subjects depicted exist in a realm between material reality and immaterial transcendence. The grey tones dominating the composition render the orchids, bamboo, and rock in such a way that these subjects appear to be nearly formless and transparent, seemingly in the process of fading away into the empty background, and similar in this way to the thin, grey outlines of the heron in White Heron on a Snowy Willow. The near-emptiness of the orchids, bamboo, and ! 9!
Nolan Jimbo ! ! rocks in Bonpō’s painting illustrates the fade in and out of being and non-being, a quality described by Dietrich Seckel, who wrote: …in the same way the realm of depicted objects fades gradually into the realm of the empty ground, from which they seem now to emerge and into which they now seem to fade back, dream-like and shadowy: a ground which seems to shine through their very transparency. Here we are taken close to a limit where the limitless looms before us, and where contradiction is transcended.vii In other words, the orchid-bamboo subject’s apparent alternation between fading into the empty background and fading out of it reflects a state of transcendence, which suggests that the inherent contradiction between presence and non-presence that characterizes this image is justified through its association with Zen Buddhist enlightenment.
Figure 3: Blossoming Plum, Setsugai, 15th – 16th century Muromachi period, Hanging scroll, Ink and wash on paper, 143.5 x 40.5 cm. Photo credit: The Allen Memorial Art Museum.
Medium Volume I! In Setsugai’s Blossoming Plum (fig. 3), which falls into the genre of ink plum blossom painting called momel, a flowering branch sweeps upward towards the sky in curving forms that are rendered using shades of brown, black, and pink. In contrast to Orchids and Bamboo and White Heron on a Snowy Willow, this ink painting utilizes color and a more homogenously clear and sharp line to outline the forms being depicted. Whereas the pale grey tones that pervaded Bonpō and Soami’s paintings alluded to notions of emptiness and non-being through their stylistic qualities, the brown, black, and pink hues in Setsugai’s work do not appear to communicate the idea of the void at all. Instead, emptiness is expressed completely symbolically in Blossoming Plum through the depiction of the flowering plum blossom branch. In The Eye and Treasury of the True Law, Kiegen Dōgen writes, “A plum tree blooming in the snow is the manifestation of the udumbra flower [which Sākyamuni held up before Mahākāsyapa]…We should know that flowers and the earth transcend life and death. Since they transcend life and death the enlightened eye transcends life and death. This is called supreme Buddhist enlightenment.”viii In this passage, the plum tree blossoming is associated with Zen Buddhist transcendence, a state that moves beyond the human realm of life and death. The plum blossom’s close association with enlightenment can be more specifically described as an association with the purity of spirit that is equated with the Zen enlightened state, and this meaning was often expressed through images and descriptions of plum blossom, bamboo, and rock grouped together as the “Three Pure Ones.” ix The notion of purity is undoubtedly associated with ! 10!
Nolan Jimbo ! ! the idea of emptiness, as a purified entity is one that exists without having been impacted by external forces. Purity is aligned with Zen Buddhism’s ultimate goal of returning a practitioner to a pre-conceptual state devoid of external social concerns – in other words, a pre-conceptual state of purity.x In the context of Blossoming Plum, then, emptiness exists only through the symbol of the plum blossom and is not visibly alluded to in any other aspect of the painting. Therefore, emptiness does not take literal form in this painting and is, instead, communicated silently through a codified symbol that alludes to, rather than embodies, the concept of purity. Empty State of Mind In Zen Buddhist ink paintings, emptiness could also be communicated nonliterally as an enlightened state of mind, either one evoked by a kōan or one evoked by a chance encounter within everyday life. In Taikō Josetsu’s Catching Catfish with a Gourd (fig. 4), emptiness is communicated in multiple forms, one of which is a Zen kōan. Josetsu rendered a man standing along a bank holding a gourd in both hands and simultaneously attempting to capture the catfish swimming in the stream below. The majority of the scene takes place in the foreground, in which stalks of bamboo anchor the lower left-hand corner of the composition, the central figure dressed in peasant clothing occupies the lower center, and the elusive catfish swims in the stream towards the lower right-hand corner. While the composition is arranged to draw attention to the central scene of the figure, gourd, and catfish, the majority of the painting’s upper region consists of a nearly empty space in which a mountain range
Medium Volume I! is rendered without clear outlines and is suffused in mist, which creates a dreamlike, otherworldly ambiance in the background. The painting is primarily rendered using a monochrome ink palette with the exception of the gourd, which is accented with a touch of red – another indication that Josetsu intended to focus the viewer’s gaze on this narrative portion of the hanging scroll.
Figure 4: Catching Catfish with a Gourd, Taikō Josetsu, 15th century Muromachi period, Hanging scroll, Ink and pigment on paper. Photo credit: Taizo-in Temple, Kyoto, Japan.
Displaying the clearly impossible and nonsensical task of attempting to capture a catfish using a gourd, Josetsu’s painting visually communicates a kōan, translated from Japanese as a “public case,” a sequence of dialogue that end up in surprising, inscrutable acts, which is intended to jolt the receiver’s mind out of his accustomed perceptual habits and into a more enlightened state.xi Following the completion of the painting, thirty-one leading Zen monks were invited to write poems in response to the perplexing situation proposed by the painting. Daigaku Shusu’s contribution was as follows: With a live touch of his hand / The gourd will capture a catfish / And should you seek an even more impressive sight / Try it with a dash of oilxii
Nolan Jimbo ! ! In this poem, Shusu responds to the impossible task of catching a catfish with a gourd by proposing that the situation be made even more difficult, thus exemplifying the nonsensical, non-rational approach that was taken in responding to Zen kōans. Within the context of this particular painting, the reading of the gourd and catfish depiction as a kōan suggests that this picture, in itself, is an embodiment of emptiness in that it is intended to elicit an enlightened response from its viewer. In other words, Catching Catfish with a Gourd, in acting as a kōan, demands a patient and tranquil response from the viewer and reveals the absolute nothingness, or mu in Japanese, that lies beyond the form and color of the illusory world.xiii In this way, Josetsu’s hanging scroll is a transmitter of the emptiness that exists in the state of mind of the perceiver. Therefore, emptiness can exist within Zen Buddhist art not only as a context in the background of paintings or as a symbol, but also as a state of mind that is evoked by perplexing kōan ink paintings. However, this empty state of mind is not only expressed in Catching Catfish with a Gourd through its role as a kōan, but is also communicated through the mental state of the central figure. When read as a narrative, this painting describes the momentary enlightenment of the figure faced with the impossible task of catching a catfish with a gourd – a kōan in itself – that pushes him to think nonlinearly. In this sense, this picture is characterized as a zenki-zu, or a “picture of Zen encounter.” xiv However, this painting gives multiple descriptive details that generate a more drawn out narrative, which emphasizes the momentary and unexpected nature of the
Medium Volume I! figure’s enlightenment. For example, his modest clothing suggests that he is a member of a low social class, which implies that even Zen Buddhist practitioners at the base of society have the capability of finding transcendence within their everyday lives. xv Contrary to Orchids and Bamboo and White Heron on a Snowy Willow, Catching Catfish with a Gourd locates the figure within a more clearly defined context rather than a completely (or nearly) empty background. This context, which includes an undulating riverbank, a collection of rocks across from the figure, stalks of bamboo on the opposite bank, and a subtly defined mountain range, situates the figure within a visible landscape that serves as a pretext for his moment of Zen enlightenment. In other words, the landscape serves as a descriptive introduction to the narrative in which the figure, immersed in the task at hand and fully concentrated within the realm of everyday life, unexpectedly encounters a moment of enlightenment when presented with his impossible task. Essentially, this painting reveals more descriptive details in an effort to emphasize the context of the depicted enlightened moment: the context of everyday life. Therefore, in addition to being transmitted to the perceiver through this painting, emptiness is present, as well, in the state of mind of the depicted figure during his instant of nu – that is, within the narrative of the story. Catching Catfish with a Gourd conveys emptiness as a state of mind through its transmission of a kōan to its viewer (which, in turn, theoretically incites an emptiness of mind within the viewer), as well as through its depiction of the central figure’s sudden
Nolan Jimbo ! ! moment of enlightenment, during which his mind becomes a field of emptiness. In Copy of Self-Portrait (fig. 5), emptiness is again expressed as a visual context, though in this instance, it is set in contrast to the more detailed communication of the Zen master’s physical and emotional being. This portrait fits within Zen Buddhist
Figure 5: Copy of Self-Portrait, Sesshū Tōyō, 16th century Muromachi period, Hanging scroll, Ink and pigment on silk. Photo credit: Fujita Art Museum.
painting practice in a portraiture genre called chinsō, in which the depicted Zen master is typically shown in a three-quarter profile view, facing either to the left or to the right, and against an empty background.xvi Additionally, this painting is a copy of the original selfportrait, which was rendered by Sesshū Tōyō near the end of his life in the winter of 1490.xvii Accompanying this portrait is an inscription by Qingxia, a Chinese scholar, which describes Sesshū as an artistic and Zen Buddhist master:
Medium Volume I! The argument goes: a flower in the void originally has no material appearance. But if it has no material appearance, how can it be worshipped and handed down for hundreds and thousands of years? One day I tried to visualize this. Ah! This is the aspect of the Master when he concentrates his thoughts on writing, or when he takes up his brush to paint a banana tree in the snow! As for what is hidden within, it is freedom and independence. Since he is completely empty of human passions, there is no one superior to him.xviii In this inscription, painting is justified as a means of passing down the “material appearance” of visual phenomena that are significant to Zen Buddhism. In addition to describing the suddenness of inspiration for the master painter (expressed by the “Ah!”), akin to the sudden and unexpected quality of Zen Buddhist enlightenment, this inscription also describes the presence of emptiness within the portrait. In describing “what is hidden within” the master painter as “freedom and independence,” and in rendering him “empty of human passions,” the inscription creates an emptiness that exists within the state of mind of the depicted master. This notion of an internal emptiness is reflected within the self-portrait itself, as Sesshū’s expression is blank and indiscernible, suggesting that he is being caught in a moment of intense spiritual truth – a moment of enlightenment. In this sense, the emptiness portrayed by Copy of Sesshū Self-Portrait is one that exists internally as the state of mind of the painted subject. Role of Painting ! 13!
Nolan Jimbo ! ! The final section of this paper will address the function of painting within Zen Buddhist practices, considering its use as a didactic tool for Zen practitioners, as well as its seamless integration within larger Zen discourses on the relationship between reality and illusion. In synthesizing these two strands of analysis, this section will illustrate how the formal representation of emptiness is entirely justified within Zen Buddhist practice and philosophy. Ink painting served as a visual aid on a practitioner’s quest for Zen enlightenment. Rather than substituting reality itself, the illusory qualities depicted within the painting are simply contact points between the worshipper and the enlightened thought, which is being sought. For example, Catching Catfish with a Gourd is not intended to inspire a Zen practitioner to attempt to complete the impossible act of using a gourd to capture a swimming catfish. On the contrary, the painting is intended to incite a Zen state of mind – a nonlinear and non-rational way of perceiving the world as illusory and seeking truth internally. Additionally, this passage alludes to the subjective experience of viewing Zen Buddhist paintings and implies that reactions and takeaways from the visual experience will vary from practitioner to practitioner. In other words, the Zen Buddhist image does not prescribe one narrow and specific impression to be left uniformly on each viewer, but instead it allows for a multiplicity of impacts. For example, two Zen practitioners viewing Bonpō’s Orchids and Bamboo could have slightly differing reactions: one could perceive the painting as an image that encourages his or her own Zen Buddhist practice, while the other could
Medium Volume I! perceive it as a general statement of Zen ideology. Therefore, this insistence on the image being a visual aid for practitioners justifies the formal expression of emptiness within Zen ink painting. Zen Buddhist pictures are not intended to wholly and literally embody the philosophy of the religion, meaning a painting that gives form to emptiness is not contradicting the Zen desire for enlightened internal emptiness. Instead, the emptiness depicted or symbolized in Zen images alludes to the ideological emphasis on nothingness rather than claiming to manifest that nothingness. A belief in images having the capability to behave as the emptiness of enlightenment is cautioned against within Zen Buddhism, as the Tang Zen master Huang-po once cautioned, “These days those who study the Way do not find enlightenment in their own minds, and so they become attached to form and are caught up in objectifications. These [practitioners] all turn their backs on the Way.”xix In other words, those who begin to seek enlightenment within images, as opposed to within their own internal selves, are losing their focus within Zen Buddhist practice since images do not substitute one’s internal world – they can only allude to it. Lastly, Zen Buddhist ideology views the illusory quality of painting as a positive factor, for the medium is therefore the ideal way to visualize and communicate the illusory qualities of the external world. In the inscriptions of the painting Dream Journey along the Hsiao and Hsiang Rivers, which was created for a Chinese Buddhist monk named Yun-ku during the twelfth century, the painter wrote, “the great earth and the mountains and rivers are illusion, and painting is an illusion ! 14!
Nolan Jimbo ! ! of an illusion, while this explanation of illusion is yet another illusion.” xx Therefore, when painting is viewed as an extension of the illusory world in the eyes of Zen Buddhists, it can never truly capture and communicate the internal and private experience of enlightenment because it is inherently ephemeral and external. Essentially, in recognizing the limits of painting’s ability to fully represent and embody the experience of enlightenment (and therefore, the experience of emptiness), Zen Buddhism uses the medium’s inability to render complete truth to emphasize the shortcomings of the illusory world. For example, Josetsu, in Catching Catfish with a Gourd, was not attempting to construct a new reality within the picture and he did not intend to replicate the experience of enlightenment. Instead, he recognized the illusory limits of painting as a part of external reality that could never achieve the clarity and intensity of a purely internal, private, and empty enlightenment experience. Therefore, the representation, symbolism, and allusion to emptiness within Zen Buddhist painting could rightfully exist within the ideology because the limits of ink painting’s powers of illusion were clearly understood by practitioners of the religion. Conclusion Within Zen Buddhist painting practices, emptiness is articulated as a context, as a state of mind, and as a symbol through the illusionistic application of ink on paper. Having explored the various ways in which these manifestations of emptiness have been articulated, this paper ultimately maintains that these expressions of nothingness do not contradict Zen Buddhism’s ideological
Medium Volume I! emphasis on the empty internal state due to the religion’s perception of painting as inherently limited in its powers. __
Joan Stanley-Baker, Japanese Art (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2000), 124. ii “White Heron on a Snowy Willow,” The Arthur M. Sackler and Freer Gallery of Art, accessed November 3, 2014, https://www.asia.si.edu/collections/singleObject.cfm?O bjectNumber=F1977.2 . iii Helmut Brinker, Zen in the Art of Painting (Arkana: New York, 1987), 153. iv Ibid, 153-154. v “Orchids and Bamboo,” The Arthur M. Sackler and Freer Gallery of Art, accessed November 3, 2014. vi Brinker, Zen in the Art of Painting, 118. vii Dietrich Seckel, Buddhistiche Kunst Ostasiens (Stuttgart: Verlag W. Kohlhammer, 1957), 236. viii Kōsen Nishiyama and John Stevens, trans., Shōbōgenzō: The Eye and Treasury of the True Law (Tokyo, 1977), 146. ix Brinker, Zen in the Art of Painting, 38. x Nancy Hume, ed., Japanese Aesthetics and Culture: A Reader (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995), 80. xi Stanley-Baker, Japanese Art, 126. xii Yukio Lippit, “Japanese Zen Buddhism and the Impossible Painting.” (Lecture, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, CA, September 23, 2014). xiii Brinker, Zen in the Art of Painting, 1. xiv Ibid, 99. xv Yukio Lippit, “Japanese Zen Buddhism and the Impossible Painting.” xvi Brinker, Zen in the Art of Painting, 96. xvii Yukio Lippit, “Of Modes and Manners in Japanese Ink Painting: Sesshū’s Splashed Ink Landscape of 1495,” The Art Bulletin (2012): 62. xviii Richard H. Brower and Shen-fu Lin trans. Of Water and Ink: Muromachi-Period Paintings from Japan, 1392-1568 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1986), 118. xix Iriya Yoshitaka, trans., Denshin hōyō, Enryōroku, Zen no goroku 8 (Tokyo:Tsukuma Shobō, 1969), 13. xx Joseph D. Parker, Zen Buddhist Landscape Arts of Early Muromachi Japan (1336-1573), (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999), 178.
Erin Dimson-Doyle ! ! ___________
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__ Robert Heinecken’s Periodical #5: Living Now Erin Dimson-Doyle | Class of 2016 | Art History and Philosophy Double Major
Imagine you’ve just purchased a copy of the latest edition of Living Now, the popular home design magazine. You open the first page, expecting some design suggestions and images of new ideas for home layouts. But instead you find, on every page, an overlay of a Cambodian soldier holding two dismembered heads. This was precisely the experience of anyone who happened to purchase a modified copy of the Spring 1971 issue of Living Now, courtesy of Robert Heinecken (fig. 1).
Figure 1: Robert Heinecken, From Periodical #5 (Living Now), 1971, Offset lithography on found magazine with repurposed cover, 12.25 x 9 in. Collection of Philip Aarons and Shelley Fox Aarons. Photo credit: Eva Respini, Robert Heinecken: Object Matter, 2014, plate 38.
Robert Heinecken was a paraphotographer who was active from the 1960s until his death in 2006. Heinecken, like many of his contemporaries, was concerned with commodity culture (although he is often not located as their contemporary, due to his location on the west coast and more explicit
critiques). Specifically, his work examined the effect of commodity culture on our perceptions of war and sex. From the late 60s to early 70s, Heinecken was particularly concerned with magazines and focused most of his work on them, for example in the series Are You Rea? along with his modified periodicals. Heinecken’s work modifying periodicals lasted from 1969 to 1972. The Living Now piece became one of the most well-known, along with the rest of Periodical #5, the series of magazines including Living Now and others in which Heinecken reproduced the soldier photograph on each page. Heinecken took three approaches when it came to modifying magazines: he either overlaid images, cut out pieces, or inserted entirely new pages.i Like his contemporaries, Heinecken worked primarily with photomontage. In examining the work of many related artists (Birnbaum, Kruger, Rosler, Levine, etc), Benjamin Buchloh produced one of the most thorough analyses of photomontage as a form of critique of commodity culture. As he theorizes, photomontage works allegorically. Within commodity culture, signs are depleted of their meaning; they are used in service of commodity while removing them from any original context. By mimicking this process, photomontage draws this recuperation into relief. As Buchloh says, “the allegorical mind sides with the object and protests against its devaluation to the status of a commodity by ! 16!
Erin Dimson-Doyle ! ! devaluating it a second time in allegorical practice. In the splintering of signifier and signified, the allegorist subjects the sign to the same division of functions that the object has undergone in its transformation into a commodity.” ii In Periodical #5: Living Now, this allegorical effect is particularly relevant for the image of the soldier. The image itself is nuanced and powerful, but when viewed in Heinecken’s piece, it is nearly impossible to grasp, instead taking on a feeling of always being just out of reach. The image, the photograph, the sign is depleted of its meaning, just as it had been when it was originally published alongside a story in TIME Magazine. To end at Buchloh’s analysis of allegorical photomontage, however, would do a disservice to much of Periodical #5: Living Now’s true effectiveness. The piece contains extensive direct critique of commodity culture’s treating of war beyond replicating the depletion of meaning. Published in connection with a story detailing the Vietnam War, the photo is meant to demonstrate the horrors of the war. And while it no doubt does so, the context of the piece within a commodity culture raises concerns. Today we live in a culture of sensationalism. Newspapers and magazines do not wish to convey facts, arguments, or accounts, but rather seek to create a spectacle. The requirement of the spectacle itself is a direct result of commodity and capitalist culture. When the goal is not truth but rather money, sensationalism seems logical because it sells. In the creation of a spectacle, though, this content is simultaneously normalized and othered. It is read as expected, due to its inclusion amongst
Medium Volume I! other day-to-day news, as well as separate, due to the spectacular nature of it, the sense that it could never happen within the reader’s personal sphere of existence. It is these two processes that Heinecken’s work hopes to highlight. For this reason, his selection of a particularly gruesome picture and a particularly safe magazine is key. The combination calls into doubt the idea of otherness in its drawing together gruesome violence and the literal home. It is not meant to be a logical connection and worry, so much as an emotional one. The reader, seeing the image in Living Now, is forced to feel discomfort at the thought of war invading their home space, a reality for those in Vietnam. Yet this combination also draws out the normalization. Images of the war feel completely expected in a specific context, but when placed in a context that it does not belong, all feelings of expectation disappear. The magazine rejects the image, failing to incorporate it, a process necessary for the normalization of the image. A closer look at Periodical #5: Living Now elaborates these analyses. Looking at the cover, in the bottom corner is the note “Special Feature: The Safe Home and Safety in the Home.” As stated earlier, the concept of safety is central to the juxtaposition Heinecken is making. Moving through the magazine, the image is replicated with varying opacity, serving to create an almost ghostly effect. The soldier quite effectively invades the homes portrayed. The smile on his face undeniably increases the discomfort of viewing the piece. Home is a pleasant space, one which ought to make a person smile. Yet, the idea that the soldier is smiling is utterly disturbing, given ! 17!
Erin Dimson-Doyle ! ! the actual context of the event being depicted. The thought that someone would enjoy decapitating others is unpleasant at best, but more likely something closer to repulsive. A connection is immediately made between enjoyment of the home and enjoyment of war and murder, concepts which, although not traditionally connected, are in fact brought together through magazines in our commodity culture. The juxtaposition enacted in Periodical #5: Living Now brings to the forefront the effects of our commodity culture on images of war. –––
Figure 2: Martha Rosler, Cleaning the Drapes, from the series House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home, 196772 (printed 2011), Pigmented inkjet print (photomontage), 17 1/16 x 22 3/8 in. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo credit: Eva Respini, Robert Heinecken: Object Matter, 2014, page 15.
Heinecken’s work bears similarities to many of his contemporaries, but none quite so much as Martha Rosler, in particular her series House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home (fig. 2). In this piece, Rosler combined pictures of the Vietnam War from Life magazine with pages from House Beautiful, an interior design magazine much like Living Now. Both worked to juxtapose the safety of the home with the horrors of war, as portrayed through the
Medium Volume I! commodity medium of magazines. Yet, the slight variation in form is indicative of the difference in approach and theory between the two. In Rosler’s pieces, the war images are skillfully placed into the magazine page, seeming as though the magazine were never in fact modified. Heinecken’s, on the other hand, makes no effort to conceal the manipulation enacted upon the magazine. Both pieces contain shock value, but Rosler’s incorporations create a completely different effect from Heinecken’s. Rosler forces us to see these images of war not as a jarring rupture from our daily comfort, but instead points to the way in which they already pervade our daily lives. In Rosler’s analysis, the point of focus is the way in which our daily lives constantly allow, and even re-inscribe, these horrors of war, using the smooth incorporation of images to illustrate this. In contrast, Heinecken works to bring our attention to the fact that these magazines have been modified. Perhaps Buchloh described Rosler’s approach best when he said: Rosler's seemingly naive attempt at recycling exhausted photographic conventions to clarify their historical meaning and their inadequacy for contemporary documentary production insists on maintaining an element of individual practice. In the futility of that naive attempt and in the revelation of its shortcomings she disqualifies the ahistoricity of abstracted photographic ambition all the more.iii Heinecken throws aside this seeming naivety. He is sympathetic to Rosler’s goal, but disregards much of her approach in terms of ! 18!
Erin Dimson-Doyle ! ! “individual practice.” Heinecken’s work reeks of a mixture of wry, sarcastic humor and demanding seriousness, lacking much of the activist tilt of Rosler.
Figure 3: Robert Heinecken, Periodical #3, 1970, Found magazine pages, collated and bound by the artist, with plain heavy paper stock cover, 11 x 8.5 in. Collection of Philip F. Denny. Photo credit: Eva Respini, Robert Heinecken: Object Matter, 2014, plate 42.
Ironically, this difference was indirectly addressed by Rosler. In response to what she perceived as a mixture of apathy and complicity with oppressive structures, she called it “pussy porn.” iv Obviously not in reference to Periodical #5, Rosler was addressing the bulk of Heinecken’s work on sex, such as Periodical 3 (fig. 3) or Time (fig. 4). While not directly relevant to our discussion of Periodical #5, it is impossible to understand Robert Heinecken without looking at his work on sex. Heinecken worked to show the internal contradictions of commodity culture, to problematize what had become normal. He worked to do so through explicit imagery, displayed in a context that discomforted the viewer. Heinecken did not use sexually explicit imagery out of pure desire, but rather because that is what society provided him with. Doing this work
Medium Volume I! effectively, so as to make the viewer realize the underlying mechanisms of commodity culture in media portrayals of sex and sexuality, is difficult. Heinecken often failed but when successful, he forced the viewer to realize just how bizarre the existence of such images in our media is. Ironically, by at times changing his approach, creating images which have the well-put-together feeling of Rosler’s work, Rosler’s critique of Heinecken feels startlingly relevant (such as figure 3). But at other times, using the approach we see in Periodical #5: Living Now, Heinecken draws out these commodifying effects. In this way, Rosler and Heinecken used similar methods to approach similar subjects, with a few instrumental differences, and as a result, Heinecken’s work draws out the commodifying of war and sex which is often absent from Rosler’s work.
Figure 4: Robert Heinecken, Time (1st Group, November 28, Raquel Welch), 1969, Offset lithography on found magazine, 10 ¾ x 8 ⅛ in. Collection of Philip F. Denny. Photo credit: Eva Respini, Robert Heinecken: Object Matter, 2014, plate 40.
––– When considering Heinecken’s Periodical #5: Living Now, it is crucial to consider the context and experience of the viewer. Heinecken circulated his modified ! 19!
Erin Dimson-Doyle ! ! periodicals in two ways: by placing them back on magazine racks for later purchase, and by leaving them in places such as doctors offices, to be read by waiting patients.v Given his goals and motivations, these two distributions are far from equal in effectiveness. Heinecken’s work, in its critique of commodity culture, is inherently tied to our economic world, a relationship emphasized by his placing of his modified periodicals on magazine stands for purchase. The viewer, having spent money on the modified periodical, no doubt feels a certain degree of outrage at receiving what is essentially an unreadable magazine (or, at least, unreadable as was intended). But, the exchange of money for the magazine is particularly interesting because all the images are from magazines. Had the viewer purchased TIME, they would have seen the soldier picture, but it would have been in the expected context. As discussed earlier, this change of context is central to Heinecken’s work. This, though, is the problem with leaving them in doctor’s offices. The magazine had to be purchased at some point, but the connection to commodity culture is not blatant in the same manner, in particular for the viewer. Heinecken’s choice to circulate them in this manner robs them of much of their power. While many works by other artists at the time used photomontage to demonstrate problems of commodity culture, few did so by incorporating themselves so completely into said culture (until later when the work of culture jamming began as a movement).vi Periodical #5 and the rest of Heinecken’s periodicals were never meant to be displayed in a museum, gallery, or other formal context. The redistribution was their
Medium Volume I! only distribution. For this reason, the question of audience is particularly pertinent. When it comes to art that exists outside of a formal space, we must always consider the necessity of drawing in audience. This is particularly true for Heinecken, because his work requires a certain length of contemplation, especially in comparison to contemporaries like Rosler. It is hard to imagine many viewers purchasing a copy of Periodical #5: Living Now, opening the magazine, and spending the next few minutes contemplating the images. But in replicating the soldier on every page other than the cover and back, Heinecken solves this problem. There is no way for the viewer to escape the image of the soldier. This image is made to be the center of focus through its repetition, and while the specifics of the magazine may not last long the feeling of it persists. In this way, the magazine breaks through the viewer’s desire to simply ignore it. The persistence of the image of the soldier in the magazine mirrors the persistence of the image in the viewer’s mind. The viewer would experience the magazine as if they spent time viewing and contemplating it. ––– Heinecken’s Periodical #5: Living Now strives, and succeeds, to demonstrate the problems of commodity culture’s treatment of war. The viewer/purchaser is forced into these examinations by the juxtaposition of the safety of home with the danger of war. And yet the experience of Periodical #5: Living Now is one which we are not truly capable of accessing. The physical magazine is on display at the MoMA, and much of the details surrounding it have been described and inscribed by Eva Respini, who wrote the ! 20!
Erin Dimson-Doyle ! ! accompanying book for the exhibit. I saw it, I read about it, and yet I cannot experience it. Then again perhaps no one did; the account of Heinecken’s periodicals from a piece by David Pagel states that the soldier was overlaid on an issue of TIME from 1969. vii The historical reading of such a work is, clearly, inherently flawed and flexible. It is impossible to set in stone, so to speak. But it does not need to be, for we are not the audience. The only relevant audience is the consumer of the magazine in its unmodified form. We, the art-phile, are familiar with similar critiques of capitalism. The brilliance of Periodical #5: Living Now comes in all its specifics and contexts, and as such is inherently tied to the audience it was meant for. Still, we can examine it now and hope that it worked.
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Eva Respini, Robert Heinecken: Object Matter (New York, NY: Museum of Modern Art, 2014), 14. ii Benjamin HD Buchloh, “Allegorical Procedures: Appropriation and Montage in Contemporary Art,” Artforum 21, no. 1 (1982): 44. iii Buchloh, “Allegorical Procedures: Appropriation and Montage in Contemporary Art,” 53. iv Respini, Robert Heinecken: Object Matter, 20. v Ibid, 15. vi Mark Dery, “Shovelware › Culture Jamming: Hacking, Slashing, and Sniping in the Empire of Signs,” accessed May 6, 2014, http://markdery.com/?page_id=154. vii Robert Heinecken and Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago, Ill.), Robert Heinecken, Photographist: a Thirty Five Year Retrospective (Chicago, IL: Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 1999), 27.
Natalie Naor ! !
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Touching Skin: A Material Call to Action through the Guise of Leather Bookbindings Natalie Naor | Class of 2015 | Art History Major | Medieval Studies Minor “The skin had not decayed nor grown old, nor the sinews become dry, making the body tautly stretched and stiff; but the limbs lay at rest with all the appearance of life and were still moveable at the joints.” i These words, written by an anonymous monk of Lindisfarne, tell the story of St. Cuthbert, a monk and hermit from the seventeenth century whose body, after being buried for eleven years, was found entombed miraculously intact and incorrupt. A manuscript illumination from The Life of Saint Cuthbert (fig. 1), presents three monks staring amazed at the unspoiled body, their hands occupied with St. Cuthbert’s shroud and tomb cover. ii Such emphasized symbols of death, physically lifted and touched with bare hands, make St. Cuthbert’s defeat of decay all the more poignant. Indeed, incorruptibility against death was inherent in the sacred canonization process where extraordinary spiritual radiance was reflected by the body. iii Skin that should have been rotted and putrid in death remained just as flawless and fragrant as it was in life. St. Cuthbert, however, was not the only organic object found in such pristine condition. After his body was relocated to Durham Cathedral in 1104, St. Cuthbert’s tomb was opened yet again and within it “near the head of our blessed father Cuthbert lying in his tomb,” iv writes chronicler Symeon of Durham, lay a book. Sacred books in medieval culture “were imbued with similar properties of indestructibility” as their saintly
counterparts. v The immaculate gospel found within the tomb of St. Cuthbert, spared from
Figure 1: Illuminated miniature from The Life of St. Cuthbert, 12th century, Folio 77r, Pigment on vellum, British Library, Shelfmark: Add. MS 39943. Photo credit: British Library Online Gallery.
the ravages of time, reinforces this. Whether one chooses to take this mythology as true or not, the St. Cuthbert Gospel (fig. 2) remains the earliest European manuscript, explains James Freedman, “‘to retain its original appearance, both inside and out’” though it is “an outwardly modest thing – encased in a plain binding of red leather, and measuring at only 14x9 centimeters it is small enough to fit comfortably in one’s hand.”vi Here, it is the ! 22!
Natalie Naor ! ! book’s leather binding that captures Freeman’s attention, though only so far as its physical condition is concerned.vii He ignores the
Figure 2: St. Cuthbert Gospel, 7th century, 138 x 92 mm, Vellum, pigment, and leather, Original binding, Shelfmark: MS 89000. Photo credit: British Library.
virtuosic tooling and gilding that would have required incredible patience and skill. He disregards the suppleness of the leather, burnished over the years to give this “modest” book a seductive physical presence begging for the caress of a reader’s hand. Thus the St. Cuthbert Gospel and our contemporary championing of its preservation, whether that be in a museum or digitally rather than the actual physical material, stands in the center of discussions about necessary new approaches to art history. In bringing up the mythology surrounding the St. Cuthbert Gospel, I wish to bring two issues to light that call for a new, materially focused examination of cultural and artistic vestiges of the past. The first deals with the disconnection between medieval and modern attitudes towards touch and decay; what was so fundamental and unique to medieval identity has become
Medium Volume I! anathema and feared today. The second issue concerns the prominence we give to sight over our other senses, which underlies an overdependence on text and image.viii Herbert Kessler, a renowned medieval art historian, asserts that “medieval art is much more than iconography,”ix and while it has its uses, care has to be taken not to allow it to extinguish other methodologies. Consider this image of a visitor to the British Library (fig. 3). He stands at a long stretch of manuscripts protected behind a wall of glass. His body is uncomfortably curved as he attempts to look past his opaque reflection to the open manuscript below. You can tell that he wishes to bend over for a closer look, but with the glass all he can do is try to crane his neck down at an awkward angle to find a better vantage point. Distressed by his bodily contortion, he might move on quickly rather than engaging in any sort of sustained looking.
Figure 3: Andrew Motion visiting the British Library, 2010. Photo credit: Andrew Motion.
Today, most precious artifacts like these manuscripts are separated temporally and spatially by such enclosures while digitized copies, partaking in that same marginalized spirit, are put forward as valid substitutes for the real thing. “Sight,” writes Constance ! 23!
Natalie Naor ! ! Classen, author of the book The Deepest Sense: A Cultural History of Touch, “requires distance to function properly, detaching the observer from the observed. Touch, by contrast, annihilates distance and physically united the toucher and touched.”x Our desire for perfectly preserved objects demands an absence of intimate experience and understanding for fear of allowing any further damage to accrue. While such preservation tactics are of course worthwhile in the hopes of allowing future audiences to have access to such culturally valuable artifacts, medieval individuals who were the intended writers, binders, and readers would have used them in a heavily sensual way that would have resulted in damage over time. This deterioration was instrumental to them and is equally as useful to us today. By maintaining such contemporary sensibilities in consideration of medieval manuscripts, we are in danger of losing out on so much valuable information about how medieval individuals interacted with the objects around them. To pick one example, what someone today might dismiss as mere damage could actually be a wear pattern left by devotional kissing or touch,xi a trend that might be more difficult to discern from painted illuminations. Indeed, that brings us to the second issue facing modern audiences today. Jane Bennett, a renowned political theorist, articulates that assemblages “are ad hoc groupings of diverse elements, of vibrant materials of all sorts. Assemblages are living throbbing confederations that are able to function despite the persistent presence of energies that confound then from within.” xii These energies are the individual identities and
Medium Volume I! associations that each material or object employed within the assemblage despite coming together to form one entity. The book is perhaps one of the most model examples of this, composed of wood, parchment, leather, ink, pigment, fibers, and metal. To favor one and ignore the other, however, denies the very nature of the book, which is, fundamentally, an assemblage. “While it is entirely possible to fragment the whole and discuss components individually, in order to acquire what [Elaine Treharne] call[s] textual fulfillment or optimal interpretive potential it is essential to acknowledge that this, and possibly all, TEXT must include the thing itself in its entirety.”xiii Returning to the image of the visitor at the British Library, one notices that all of the manuscripts on display are open. A lot of stress is put on medieval manuscripts when they are open, and conservators and curators have to be meticulous in the angle of the opening, how much light is in the room, and how long each book is open to a particular page. Would it not be easier to simply keep the books closed? Our modern championing of the interior, however, makes this impossible. No one would want to see the exhibit if all the books were closed and their lustrous leather bindings were the main attraction. And so we see in this image how every binding is angled towards the ground or wall. If an interested visitor happened to be curious, they would need to squat down and press their cheek flat against the glass to have any hope of gaining the briefest glimpse of the binding. The shelf on which the visitor rests his hand, however, prevents that. With the ever-increasing crusade to digitize manuscripts, too, the bindings are ! 24!
Natalie Naor ! ! often left out. In an attempt to find images for this foray into medieval leather bookbindings, I had to personally email two premier special collections libraries, and came away with hastily taken, low-quality images. Since many original leather bindings have been either replaced or destroyed over time, one would think that their rarity would prompt a greater interest and care in them no matter their present condition. Nonetheless, despite the use of animal skin both inside and out, scholarship talks only about the bindings superficially or structurally while most of the heavy-duty analysis is devoted to parchment and its role as a support for inked text and image. Thus, in the face of such subjectivity and bias, a change in mentality and scholarship needs to be made that favors a more materialist approach. Karen Overbey and Ben Tilghman have perhaps best articulated this need in their introduction to the fourth issue of the online journal Different Visions, in which they announce that there is a “new fervor for the objecthood of medieval art. This is work that takes materiality as its starting point, rather than artists, patrons, or beholders, and which explores networks of things rather than power structures or social conditions or the relationship between word and image.”xiv By using medieval leather bookbindings and their transformation from matter to material as a lens for this “New Materialist”xv approach, we can make more transparent the sensually destructive nature of medieval society and perhaps point out a needed change in current methodology along the way. To effectively examine leather’s materiality we need first to understand its life as matter which, as Herbert Kessler eloquently
Medium Volume I! states, “mattered during the Middle Ages.”xvi Medieval audiences would have taken it into account when crafting physical rituals and symbologies around skin’s subsequent role as a material. If we are to get into any sort of medieval frame of mind we must do the same. Indeed, “the materials of medieval art had their own histories that, together with their inherent qualities, imparted meaning to the objects and images constructed of them.”xvii Anne Harris, in her recently published article Hewn, seconds this when she asserts, “works of art, no matter how high the pedestal, contain and embody their raw materials.”xviii Let us then take a moment to examine the foul, grueling, and wonderfully physical task of converting skin to leather, a process which manages to defeat death and decay. While there were a variety of animals from which viable skins for books could come from, bookbinders generally covered their wooden boards in calf, sheep, or goat. xix Ronald Reed, author of Ancient Skins, Parchments and Leathers explains, “the best hides for leather purposes usually come from those animals which are bred for beef production.” xx This might account, then, for the ubiquity of leather and the scarce amount of information on any sort of leather trade in the Middle Ages. Most towns would have been outfitted with a local butcher from whom skins could be acquired. A proficient multitasker, skin helped to “control form, shape and size whilst making direct contact with the external environment. It is involved in the regulation of body temperature, storage of food materials, protection, excretion of waste products (as in perspiration), sensory detection and the communication of changes in the ! 25!
Natalie Naor ! ! environment.”xxi As an organ that both protects the identity of its bearer by separating interior from exterior and is involved in such a variety of processes integral and indicative of existence, there is perhaps no matter so symbolic of life as skin. If it is so vivacious in life, then its character in death must be equally animated. Skin at the molecular level is composed of a series of collagen fibers and fiber bundles which weave together to create a robust structure kept intact by a variety of chemical linkages. This complex structure affords skin “flexibility; a relatively high tensile strength with particular resistance to shock load; resistance to tearing, puncturing and abrasion … good heat insulation … mouldability, resistance to wind and liquid water, and an ability to be stretched and compressed without distorting the surface.”xxii As it is a ubiquitous material with a plethora of favorable characteristics, it makes sense that bookbinders would use this material to protect their work. The problem is that once the animal dies, bacteria begin to sever the chemical links keeping the molecular structure intact, functional, and useful. This is where the tanning process, which is “described as man’s first manufacturing process,” xxiii comes into play to bequeath leather its most fundamental characteristic as a material: protection from decay. Tanning works to replace the dissolved chemical links between collagen fibers and imbue the deceased flesh with all the characteristics inherent in life. Unlike parchment and any animal product that undergoes a curing process, leather will not degrade unless acted upon by outside forces
Medium Volume I! like humans or insects. In the medieval period, tanners generally used vegetable tanning that relied on “leaves, fruit, twigs, bark, wood or roots of a large number of plants,” though they had the choice of using animal fats or mineral sources. xxiv The tanner applied a variety of gruesome procedures in an attempt to remove any hair and bloody meat left over. Then it was soaked for several months in a vat filled with vegetable tannins. Deemed acceptable by the tanner, the sopping and tannin-saturated skins would be removed to receive a selection of post-tanning treatments that would complete the process and create a material desired by a multitude of artisans.xxv Harris writes that the hewn actant “lurches its way from one state of being to another: first the violent hewing gesture, then the care and refinement, the shaping into human ritual and pleasure.”xxvi The slaying of the beast and the beginning of the tanning process is visceral and primitive, a process in which we pay homage to the animal life of matter and material. Once the material has been resurrected from the tanning pits, it becomes a tactile feast for the senses. “Take my word,” writes Reed, “there is nothing like leather.” xxvii “Leather,” he defends, “is pleasant to handle, often with natural irregularities of surface pattern and roughness, capable of much manipulation and processing in that it may be colored, polished, decorated by embossing, incising, punching, or stitched. In use it ages slowly and…retains a beauty of its own.” xxviii This tactile receptivity and magnetism is well in keeping with the relationship between animal and human during the Middle Ages:
Natalie Naor ! ! Familiar animals were eminently touchable (furry, sleek and warm) – and their speechlessness made touch an essential medium for human-animal interaction. Humans pulled and prodded and patted animals; animals bit or nuzzled, kicked or carried humans. A whole system of tactile arts, with associated meanings, animated the network of human-animal relationships.xxix In considering leather and its origins as matter, we have set a solid foundation for a survey of medieval society steeped in materiality. As we shall see, bodily materials demand a bodily response. Thus, as materiality requires an assemblage of material and symbolic engagement, imbued with all of Jane Bennett’s theorizations, let us consider what Harris dubs “the maker’s gestures.”xxx By this I mean to claim, if I may be so bold, that touch was one of the primary bridges between medieval leather bookbindings and their human handlers, perhaps even more so than sight. While the St. Cuthbert Gospel may be celebrated for how un-touched it is, medieval society in reality fostered a very intimate, physically grounded relationship between books and those who interacted with them. “The Middle Ages wanted to touch,” writes Classen.xxxi Medieval individuals of all sorts lived together in a world where illiteracy was the norm and interactions between them generally relied on non-verbal or spoken cues. As such, “to convey knowledge forward and assure its future readability over the long term they used a medium that was readable by eye, interfaced by the reader alone, and physically accessed by direct manipulation.”xxxii Though
Medium Volume I! those who were worthy enough to handle priceless literary treasures were literate, in general there was a cultural trend that set the precedent for a more intimate, bodily communication between people and objects. Touch was impossible to avoid and its reach was incredibly vast. Thus touch was present anywhere from cosmology to theology to philosophy. Medieval intellectuals accepted that the universe was composed of “primordial qualities” that were expressed by dynamic relationships between hot, cold, moist and dry forces. “All of these qualities,” asserts Classen, “could only be experienced through touch, making touch the only sense open to the fundamental nature of reality.” xxxiii Aristotle, who many medieval scholars looked to when working through their own theories, made the claim that touch was the most important sense: … since one can do without any of the others, but without feeling, one cannot be considered living. Furthermore, every other sensation is a form of being touched, since all sensory stimuli must strike the body in some way. This most basic sense does not, therefore, exist in any one special part of the body, but is a property of the entire organism, interior as well as exterior.xxxiv Moreover, in contrast to our own value systems today, touch was esteemed over sight because it was believed that sight was a form of touch, based on the physical impact of viewer and matter. Touch was the vital force behind a medieval individual’s identity. As skin was fundamentally connected to such an essential ! 27!
Natalie Naor ! ! element of medieval life and “allow[ed] touches between the human, the divine and the animal, the dead and the living – mak[ing] them contiguous,”xxxv it was deemed worthy of integration with objects that aided medieval individuals in determining their place and role within their world and the next. The book, containing the revered word of God within its fleshy pages, is one such object. Indeed, Sarah Kay has discovered that when book production began to increase in the Middle Ages, discourse on animal skins similarly increased. xxxvi As such, the materiality of medieval bindings and its intimate relationship with the body was subconsciously, if not consciously, recognized. Kay also contends that parchment, and I would argue also leather bindings, “could serve as a ‘double of the reader’s skin,’”xxxvii which would suggest that the medieval book and its use of leather as the primary covering concentrated medieval ritual, concerns, and identity within one tactilely lush material. Having set the scene, I’d like to turn to some actual instances where it is evident that medieval binders and readers were tempted into physical interaction with medieval leather bookbindings.xxxviii The St. Cuthbert Gospel is part of a small corpus of Irish pocket gospels that were common in the early Middle Ages up to the tenth century. The largest gospel, The Book of Dimma, is only 175x142 millimeters in size.xxxix Compared to larger insular books like the Book of Kells, pocket gospels were very informal and didn’t pursue any attempt at grandeur. Rather, they were most likely private manuscripts meant to be kept on the owner’s person and carried around. What is so interesting about these pocket gospels is that
Medium Volume I! their size facilitated and compelled a very tactile and energetic relationship. Patrick McGurk, in his essay “The Irish Pocket Gospel Book,” recounts a temporal progression leading up to these petite gospels. He writes: At the council of Ephesus in 431 the Gospel Book was placed in the center of the gathering. At the coronation of the Visigothic kings, the Gospel Book was carried first in the procession from the Palace to one of the basilicas in Toledo…With the Irish saints they appear as personal gifts from master to pupil or from pupil to master, as tokens of union or as relics.xl Notice that the word “read” is never actually used. These gospels were processed, carried, and gifted in their daily use, creating an active relationship between bodies. They were carefully cradled in the palms or stroked by questing fingers that could not resist the pull to touch.
Figure 4: Girdle book from Yale University Library, 15th century, England, Boethius, De consolation philospphiae, Shelfmark: MS084. Photo credit: Sofus Larsen.
Natalie Naor ! ! Girdle books (fig. 4), a late medieval construction that has piqued the interest of paper conservator Jim Bloxam, are similarly concerned with touch through bodily movement. Due to the sheer number of extant
Medium Volume I! round and handled a good deal.’” xlii It is interesting to note, however, that in these representations the book is rarely affixed to the belt but instead the surplus leather is tightly grasped in hand. For example, a painting dating to 1470 by Martin Schöngauer (fig. 6) shows St. Anthony gripping his girdle book in his fist, the excess materials overflowing over his hand. This reveals that touching the book, and more specifically touching the book’s leather binding, was a common and valued practice.
Figure 5: The Cambridge Terrier, 14th century, Cambridge University Library, Shelfmark: Add 2601. Photo credit: Jim Bloxam from “The Beast, the Book and the Belt” in Breaking and Shaping Beastly Bodies.
representations of such structures, Bloxam believes it is safe to assume that they were very popular during their time.xli Characterized by a leather binding that extends past the edges of the outer boards, girdle books revel in their constructed materiality. With such a sumptuous excess of material, the reader could tie the book to his belt, extending his own boundary of skin to include the book while its swaying weight below provided a constant reminder of its presence. The owner would then lift the book from his belt and make use of it while it was still physically attached. The Cambridge Terrier (fig. 5), a girdle book used by Bloxam in his case study, features wear patterns and stretching confirming this practice and supporting the statement made by Hall and Ravensdale that a girdle book was “‘a document that was expected to be carried
Figure 6: Saint Anthony, Martin Schöngauer, 1470, Wood and tempera, Currently at the Musée d’Unterlinden de Colmar, France. Photo credit: Musée d’Unterlinden.
If touch was really so integral to the medieval practice of reading, shouldn’t there be more depictions reflecting this? Books were central to Christian identity, and as such they were a common sight in art. Generally, ! 29!
Natalie Naor ! ! however, they were static placements meant to be understood symbolically. But while it is a more selective pool to choose from, there are depictions that record how the medieval reader actually read. An illumination from a French
Figure 7: Two monks reading in a library from Le Livre de bonnes moeurs by Jacques Legrand, 1490, Illuminated miniature on parchment, Folio 41v, 22.4 x 17.0 cm, Currently at the Musee Conde, Chantilly, France, Shelfmark: MS. 297. Photo credit: René-Gabriel Ojéda.
manuscript dating to around 1490 (fig. 7) shows two monks reading in a library.xliii The books are chained to their lectern, but instead of resting the undoubtedly heavy books on the desk in front of them, each monk has his hand underneath the book touching the binding. They are actively lifting elements of the book so that they may run their fingers over the supple texture of the binding and bosses. Medieval readers did not read passively but rather fostered an interaction that upheld touch rather than sight exclusively. In a manuscript miniature from the fifteenth-century Viennese Hours of Mary of Burgundy, we find ourselves looking into an intimate scene of a noble female reader (fig. 8).xliv She sits to the side of the composition reading from a chemise book of bright green
Medium Volume I! while her little dog sits contentedly on her lap. Her hand, however, is held underneath the excess leather, as if this ritual of prayer requires the book in one hand and the binding in the other. The fact that she lifts her hand so we might see its weight encased in the ripples of the leather while her eyes gaze demurely down on the page emphasizes the dual nature of the medieval individual’s experience.
Figure 8: Full-page miniature of a woman holding a prayer book through a chemise, Hours of!Mary of Burgundy, 1477, 230 x 160 mm, Vienna, Sterreichische Nationalbibliothek. Photo credit: Kathryn Rudy in “Dirty Books.”
Medievalist Karl Steel, in responding to a series of essays on skin in medieval literature and culture, asserts that touch “cannot be avoided or deferred; it can only be mediated.”xlv In other words, touch is the most fundamental of senses and in order to interact with something requires some form of touch. It is only the degree to which things merge that negotiates the experience. Steel also declares that “skin often speaks of its reversibility, how ‘skin touches and lets itself be touched,’” and that at its most basic “to touch means to be touched in return.”xlvi Here Steel is jumping off of object-oriented ontology, in which an individual’s agency on an object is reflected by the object’s agency on that selfsame individual. So if we return to medieval leather ! 30!
Natalie Naor ! ! bookbindings, then, we can see a similar exchange between reader and material. Each brings something to the table, and each comes away different for having participated in the contact. Perhaps there is no better example of this than MS 19 of the Bruges Public Library (fig. 9), which features a plain leather binding save one unusual form of ornament: hair.xlvii
Figure 9: Medieval leather binding with hairy patch, date and provenance unknown, Bruges Public Library, Shelfmark: MS 19. Photo credit: Jenneka Janzen.
During the manufacture process from skin to leather, it seems that a tanner got distracted and overlooked a spot. Luckily for him, the bookbinder and patron didn’t mind. What most attracts my interest is the location of the hair, which is situated on the upper foredge. Both from our own experiences as readers and in looking at the images of medieval readers in illuminated manuscripts, it is evident that this patch of hair is in the perfect place for a medieval reader’s hand to rest during his use of the book. Kathryn Rudy, known for her examination of medieval manuscripts using a densitometer in order to quantify where medieval readers engaged with books, assumes that “a single reader holds his book in the same manner each time he picks up his book to perform devotions.” xlviii In
Medium Volume I! analyzing her data, Rudy has furthermore determined that “most readers handled an area of the page near the outer corner, [though] not everyone did.”xlix This patch of hair then was not necessarily randomly placed, but rather was situated in the very area a reader’s hand would lie. Imagine opening the book to a favorite image or page and your fingers rest underneath on the binding, enjoying the supple, buttery texture of the leather before coming across this discontinuity of surface. You’ve touched the hair and it touches you back, seducing you with its bristly, course texture to continue. It has acted on you at the same moment you’ve acted on it, providing an opportunity for physical ritual and meditation which authors like Kathryn Rudy and Jennifer Borland have both upheld as a major facet of medieval Christian devotional practice and which Anne Harris’ hewn, following the “maker’s gestures,” receives its “owners’ desires.”l Medieval Christianity was profoundly tactile. It relied heavily on the role of the body as an instrument of faith both in its mythology and identity. “It was through the practice known as the laying on of hands that believers were admitted to full communion,” writes Classen, “[that] priesthood was conferred, and rites of healing performed. Everyday religious practice involved a number of essential ritual gestures: crossing oneself, kneeling, placing one’s hands together in prayer, and giving the kiss of peace.”li Relics, too, were central to the faith and attracted many hands hoping to be healed or be closer to God. Through touch, material objects acted as icons. They served as portals directly to heaven, fostering a more intimate relationship with the divine. Thus ! 31!
Natalie Naor ! ! Hadewijch of Brabant spiritedly asserts that divine “’[love’s] most secret name is Touch.’”lii Based on the idea that God became flesh, Christianity centered on the understanding that the divine could be accessed in a “realm of human experience and tangibility.” liii Indeed Christ impels us to “’touch me with the hand of faith, the finger of desire, the embrace of love.’” liv And touch they did, with the medieval manuscript as their mediator, the word of God made flesh. Though tanneries were relegated to the outskirts of the city due to the horrible smell and for want of a large water supply, “people’s proximity to and familiarity with the treatment of and trade in skins made its associated terms and techniques ripe for figurative use.” lv Principally, the defeat of dead skin in favor of a newly risen incorruptible body harkened to Christ’s resurrection. Thus leather bindings played an important role in aiding the medieval handler with determining his or her spiritual condition and merit. “Skin serves as a barrier, dividing the body from the soul,” writes Virginia Langum, but it also “serves as a linguistic platform upon which the condition of the soul is revealed.” lvi Indeed medieval penitential texts have been found to advise confessors to “read” the condition of their confessant’s skin to ascertain their sinfulness or moral vigor.lvii If the skin played such a fundamental role as a symbol, its active role in the medieval individual’s quest for spiritual augmentation and reinforcement was equally at play. As leather retained its past character as a dead material, medieval bookbindings might have served as a form of momento mori where every time the reader’s finger dragged across
Medium Volume I! the textured surface his or her own mortality was called to mind. Karl Steel supports this claim when he responds to the rest of the writers in Reading Skin in Medieval Literature and Culture, trying to “remind us of skin’s materiality, of real skin’s ‘dry outer surface, already dead, whose cells flake off.’”lviii And perhaps this flaking off is exactly the point. As our hands lay pressed against leather bookbindings, our own body heat diffuses across the infinitesimal interval between its skin and ours, pooling into the dead flesh to reanimate and activate it. Leather as matter fought against corruption and won, and like relics, by touching them we might imbue ourselves with the same divinely bestowed might. Furthermore, when we continue to rub our own bodies against the bindings, accruing a microscopic amount of damage at each instance and linked as we are through heat and tactility, each active movement against the leather might serve to transfer our sins over and hence we become all the more untainted and incorrupt for it. Holly Crocker assures us that this is part of the natural order of things, as “the flesh is meant to bear more harm, since it is exposed to more material sources of contamination.” lix We gradually return the bindings to their original memory as matter through prayer and physical meditation, while we leech away the power that imbued it with such immortality in the first place for our own benefit. Karl Steel credits skin with the power to let “things touch, while also getting in the way of their touching fully.”lx In this case, the leather bookbindings also bar us from fully embracing the holiness of the word kept ! 32!
Natalie Naor ! ! within. As such, one must wear away the barrier to achieve salvation and become one with God, something that can only occur through constant ritual touch and engagement with the material and its object. Perhaps that is the case with MS B.40 (fig. 10), a fifteenth century bestiary currently housed in the Pierpont Morgan Library. lxi The leather has been blind tooled to create a centralized scale pattern with surrounding rectangular rings of various decoration. While initially frustrated that the animal ornamentation was so worn as to be almost incomprehensible, I realized that this wear signified particularly heavy loci of use. Though insects could be the cause of much of the degradation, the center is for the most part perfectly whole. Instead it is the portions of the bindings where human hands would have rested that are the most worn.
Figure 10: Original goatskin leather binding of medieval bestiary, 1466, 23.4 x 17 cm, The Pierpont Morgan Library, Shelfmark MS B.40. Photo credit: Maria Isabel Molestina.
Thus, the physical ritual of touch manifests itself in damage. And so wear and
Medium Volume I! tear should no longer be feared, but rather celebrated for what it illuminates about the medieval devout and their ritual practices. With purely iconographic analysis, “it is often difficult to study the habits, private rituals, and emotional states of people who lived in the medieval past” lxii while “material aspects of [the] book fosters new ways of thinking about how medieval manuscripts moved their viewers and, conversely, how the viewer’s touch affected the manuscript as well.” lxiii Rudy explains that as “medieval manuscripts carry signs of use and wear on their very surfaces [they] provide records of some of these illusive phenomena…images were abraded through devotional kissing and rubbing that was directed at a particular image, or even a particular area of an image, or occasionally directed at a text.” lxiv She continues by revealing, “material was often inadvertently added to manuscripts through handling.”lxv Using densitometrical analysis to examine discoloration and surface grime on manuscripts, Rudy is able to determine which areas were most popular and interacted with. I wonder, however, what we could glean if Rudy had used her densitometer on the bindings as well. While there are logistical issues in that the interior of manuscripts are better preserved, densitometrical analysis of the leather might show where and how often medieval readers physically engaged with the binding. Did they touch the areas that proudly bore defections and tactile interruptions of the leather? Or did they prefer the smooth glide of a fingertip without any impediment? The touch quantified by Rudy on the interior provides evidence for similar devotional touches on the
Natalie Naor ! ! outside but I think that there is still a lot of room for exploration.lxvi As someone who has begun training to become a rare book and manuscripts conservator, my awakening to an art historical methodology based on materiality coincides with the current upheaval between physical and digital along with the shifting understanding of how the individual and the institution fits within such a binary. “The Lindisfarne monks,” writes Cynthia Turner Camp, “were so paralyzed by Cuthbert’s unanticipated flesh ‘that they hardly dared to say anything or even to look upon the miracle which was revealed, and scarcely knew what to do.’” lxvii It seems like our attitude hasn’t departed far from this, and indeed current practice is desperately in need of adjustment. I would argue that there is an ever-growing need to recognize the proficiency of the material, in this case leather bookbindings, in “expressing the human condition as well as attending to questions of the relation of the human to the other in its various guises: the divine, the cultural or racial other, the animal, the monstrous, the inanimate or the dead.”lxviii To ignore the outer in favor of the inner, the formed in favor of the formless, the damaged in favor of the preserved, keeps us from aligning ourselves with those who we find so much pleasure in studying. By placing my fingers on any extant medieval binding I am entering myself into the history of this object, adjusting both spatially and temporally. Whether this comes from simply physically engaging with extant artifacts or undergoing the effort to construct facsimiles by hand, I have touched these materially charged entities and come away all the better for it. We must
Medium Volume I! move past the fear of their demise and appreciate that they are stronger than they appear to be still with us today. Medievalists and book historians, conservators and digitization experts should begin to revel in the ability to still handle, hold, carry, smell, and hear these objects that have come down to us. Indeed, as a few scholars have already begun to do, we must expose ourselves to a more physical methodology and allow the material to touch us back.
Bede, Two Lives of Saint Cuthbert: Texts, ed. Bertram Colgrave (Cambridge [Cambridgeshire]: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 130-3. ii Discovery of St. Cuthbert's Incorrupt Body from Add. MS 39943, 1180, The British Library, London, UK, accessed December 19, 2014, http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/durham/prince bish /stcuth/lifestcuth/030add000039943u00077000.html. iii James Freeman, "Intact And Uncorrupted: The Gospel Book Of St. Cuthbert,"Centre for Material Texts (blog), entry posted April 17, 2012, accessed December 19, 2014, http://www.english.cam. ac.uk/cmt/?p=2366. iv Freeman, "Intact And Uncorrupted: The Gospel," Centre for Material Texts (blog). v Ibid. vi Ibid. vii J. A. Szirmai, The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding (Aldershot, Hants.: Ashgate, 1999). viii Erwin Panofsky, Studies in Iconology: Humanistic Themes in the Art of the Renaissance (New York: Harper & Row, 1972). ix Herbert L. Kessler, Seeing Medieval Art (Ontario: Broadview Press, 2004), 15. x Constance Classen, The Deepest Sense: A Cultural History of Touch (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012), 141. xi Jennifer Borland, "Unruly Reading: The Consuming Role of Touch in the Experience of a Medieval Manuscript," in Scraped, Stroked, and Bound: Materially Engaged Readings of Medieval Manuscripts, ed. Jonathan Wilcox (Turnhout: Brepols, 2013).
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Jane Bennett, "The Agency of Assemblages," in Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010), 23-4. xiii Elaine Treharne, "Fleshing Out the Text: The Transcendent Manuscript in the Digital Age," in "Premodern Flesh," special issue, Postmedieval 4, no. 4 (Winter 2013): 470. xiv Karen Eileen Overbey and Ben C. Tilghman, "Active Objects: An Introduction,"Different Visions 4, no. 4 (2012): accessed December 19, 2014, http://differentvisions.org/active-objects-anintroduction/. xv Ibid. xvi Kessler, Seeing Medieval Art, 14. xvii Ibid, 20. xviii Anne Harris, "Hewn," in Inhuman Nature, ed. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen (Washington, DC: Oliphaunt Books, 2014), 21. xix R. Reed, Ancient Skins, Parchments and Leathers (London: Seminar Press, 1972), 37-8. xx Ibid, 20. xxi Ibid, 13. xxii Roy, "Skin, Leather and Tanning: Some Definitions," in Leather Tanneries: The Archaeological Evidence, ed. Roy Thomson and Quita Mould (London: Archetype Books, in association with the Archaeological Leather Group, 2011), 3. xxiii Ibid. xxiv Ibid, 5. xxv Ibid, 4-7. xxvi Harris, "Hewn," in Inhuman Nature, 19. xxvii Reed, Ancient Skins, Parchments and Leathers, 15. xxviii Reed, Ancient Skins, Parchments and Leathers, 14. xxix Classen, The Deepest Sense: A Cultural, 93. xxx Harris, "Hewn," in Inhuman Nature, 21. xxxi Classen, The Deepest Sense: A Cultural, 31. xxxii Gary Frost, "Material Quality of Medieval Bookbindings," in Scraped, Stroked, and Bound: Materially Engaged Readings of Medieval Manuscripts, ed. Jonathan Wilcox (Turnhout: Brepols, 2013), 134. xxxiii Classen, The Deepest Sense: A Cultural, 27. xxxiv Lara Farina, "Wondrous Skins and Tactile Affection: The Blemmye's Touch," in Reading Skin in Medieval Literature and Culture, ed. Katie L. Walter (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 18. xxxv Katie L. Walter, "Introduction," introduction to Reading Skin in Medieval Literature and Culture (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 2. xxxvi Farina, "Wondrous Skins and Tactile," in Reading Skin in Medieval, 24. xxxvii Ibid. xxxviii Doyle, A. I. "Book Production by the Monastic Orders in England (c. 1375-1530): Assessing the Evidence." In Medieval Book Production: Assessing the Evidence, edited by Linda L. Brownrigg, 1-19. Los
Altos Hills, CA: Anderson-Lovelace : Red Gull Press, 1990. xxxix Patrick McGurk, "The Irish Pocket Gospel Book," in Gospel Books and Early Latin Manuscripts, by P. McGurk (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 1998), 252. xl Ibid, 249. xli Jim Bloxam, "The Beast, the Book and the Belt: An Introduction to the Study of Girdle or Belt Books from the Medieval Period," in Breaking and Shaping Beastly Bodies: Animals and Material Culture in the Middle Ages, by Aleksander Pluskowski (Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2007), 84. xlii Ibid, 87. xliii Two Monks Reading in a Library MS. 297, f.41v, 1490. xliv Woman Holding a Manuscript Prayer Book Through a Chemise, f. 14v, 1477, Sterreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna, Austria. xlv Karl Steel, "Touching Back: Responding to Reading Skin," in Reading Skin in Medieval Literature and Culture, ed. Katie L. Walter (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 187. xlvi Ibid. xlvii Jenneka Janzen, "Judging a Book by its Cover: Manuscript Bindings without Bling," Medieval Fragments (blog), entry posted May 30, 2014, accessed November 4, 2014, http://medievalfragments.wordpress.com/2014/05/30/ judging-a-book-by-its-cover-manuscript-bindingswithout-bling/. xlviii Kathryn M. Rudy, "Dirty Books: Quantifying Patterns of Use in Medieval Manuscripts Using a Densitometer," Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art 2, no. 1 (2010). xlix Ibid. l Harris, "Hewn," in Inhuman Nature, 21. li Classen, The Deepest Sense: A Cultural, 31. lii Ibid, 30. liii Ibid, 29. liv Ibid, 29-30. lv Isabel Davis, "Cutaneous Time in the Late Medieval Literary Imagination," in Reading Skin in Medieval Literature and Culture, ed. Katie L. Walter (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 99. lvi Virginia Langum, "Discerning Skin: Complexion, Surgery, and Language in Medieval Confession," in Reading Skin in Medieval Literature and Culture, ed. Katie L. Walter (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 144. lvii Ibid, 141. lviii Walter, "Introduction," introduction to Reading Skin in Medieval, 9. lix Holly A. Crocker, "In the Flesh," in "Premodern Flesh," special issue, Postmedieval 4, no. 4 (Winter 2013): 394.
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Steel, "Touching Back: Responding to Reading," in Reading Skin in Medieval, 187. lxi MS B.40, 1466, The Morgan Library, New York, JPG. lxii Rudy, "Dirty Books: Quantifying Patterns." lxiii Borland, "Unruly Reading: The Consuming," in Scraped, Stroked, and Bound, 98. lxiv Ibid. lxv Ibid. lxvi Rudy, "Dirty Books: Quantifying Patterns." lxvii Cynthia Turner Camp, "The Temporal Excesses of Dead Flesh," in "Premodern Flesh," special issue, Postmedieval 4, no. 4 (Winter 2013): 419. lxviii Walter, "Introduction," introduction to Reading Skin in Medieval, 3.
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Letter from the Head Editor for Reviews: One of the most exciting aspects of art history is learning skills that allow you to interpret works of art and other parts of visual culture that you encounter. This section gives students the chance to verbalize their reactions and thoughts about the works of art and exhibitions that they have seen, either in the United States or abroad. I hope that these reviews will encourage our readers to seek out exhibitions, perhaps at one of the many fantastic nearby galleries, such as the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, or the Harvard Art Galleries. I also hope that seeing how art history teaches a whole skill set of visual analysis will encourage students to take art history courses and learn some of these skills for themselves. In this issue we have three brilliant reviews that showcase different types of exhibitions. The variety in these three reviews is only a small snapshot of all the types of exhibitions and works of art that it is possible to see, so I encourage all of our readers to take the chance to visit current exhibitions in Boston, or even in our own gallery here on campus. Best, Madeleine Onstwedder Class of 2018
Leili Ghaemi !
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The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao Leili Ghaemi | Class of 2017 | Civil Engineering Major | Architectural Studies Minor When observing the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, the freedom of interpretation is apparent. One can see a large ship, a budding flower, or even an enormous whale outlined by the shape of the building. Originally a free-hand sketch by Frank Gehry, the Guggenheim is an exploding and undulating three-dimensional structure characterized by its eccentric shapes and irregular curves that spiral and tilt upwards. Arguably one of today’s “starchitects,” Gehry surpasses fundamental architectural concepts. In the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, as in all of his architectural creations, Gehry argues the necessity for expression in architecture. Advocating that structures must be responsive to their locations, he creates structures that feed the relationship between the people making the structures and the people using them. i To illustrate this responsive relationship, Gehry uses a deconstructive style – building non-rectilinear shapes and distorting geometry – to achieve his aim. During the Guggenheim Museum’s period of construction, many doubted the realization of the structure due to its complexity in geometry. However, defying the norm, Gehry utilized a three-dimensional computer sculpting system called Catia – originally used in the aerospace industry – to render his intricate architectural designs into numerics. ii The mathematical data was first translated into physical models made of wood and cardboard and then eventually into digital wireframe models. Using these models,
engineers were able to visualize a structure with juxtaposed volumes of different planes and curving walls, creating a grounded and free-flowing futuristic structure. The shifting perspective created from this conglomeration of materials and architectural planes produces a multitude of different views. The three different unorthodox types of materials – glass, limestone, and titanium – enhance this visual effect. iii The least significant material used in the entire assembly is glass. Creating a gallery atmosphere for visitors, Gehry utilized a specific type of glass that holds back the warmth of the sun, allowing only the light to filter through the panes. This lighting creates a stabilized ambiance inside the galleries, in which one can focus all of one’s energy on the exhibited art. Complementing the unusual use of glass, the orthogonal limestone on the south side of the Guggenheim is yet another unorthodox material employed by Gehry. The stone cladding emphasizes the monumentality of the structure as it is intentionally used in areas that are meant to be more stationary. It was of extreme importance to Gehry to create a uniform appearance throughout the structure. This monotony reflects the rectilinear architecture of the city’s apartment and office buildings, blending the revolutionary structure of the Guggenheim with the fabric of Bilbao.iv Strikingly contrasting with the rigidity of the limestone, the titanium-clad exterior is dynamic. Due to its chemical composition, titanium has levels of plastic, the property that defines its flexible and adaptable nature. This ! 38!
Leili Ghaemi ! composition makes it a highly effective element to use in the free-flowing sections of the structure which face the Nervion River, echoing its serene waves and ripples. Furthermore, the lustrous appearance of the metal was the second significant reason in its selection. Gehry exploited titanium’s capability to appear bright, while avoiding a dazzling glare, to create an exterior with a chameleon nature that blends the museum into the local backdrop. The images and reflections created on the titanium skin of the building are infinite; it holds every color while acting as a mirror for the surrounding water and sky above. This mélange of different materials creates a continuous evolution between solid and liquid forms for the museum that stands under the influence of its surroundings.v Bordered on the south by the Puente de la Salve, the north by the river, and the west by the railway station, Gehry faced the challenge of overcoming the site’s obstacles while harmonizing with the city’s fabric. To an extent, this requirement was accomplished through the use of materials, but ultimately fulfilled through the design of the structure. In the process of creating a building that experiments with natural and geometrically unconventional forms, Gehry pays homage to Antoni Gaudi’s Casa Batlló through his use of sweeping contours and rippling metal. Though they built in different centuries, both architects were inspired by the complex systems of the biological environment. Furthermore, Gehry’s deconstructivist style extends beyond the architectural realm, emulating the painting technique of cubism. Through arranging his amorphous and experimental shapes with no sense of pattern, he imitates Picasso’s cubist paintings,
Medium Volume I ! particularly his masterpiece Guernica. Acknowledging the sacrifices and struggles of the Basque province, Guernica portrays black, gray and white dimensions, ragged and asymmetrically cut, showing the fascist violence that came upon the people of Basque during the Spanish Civil Wars. In the same fashion, Gehry transforms his pieces of the museum into sharp protrusions that cut each other at angles. The fragments of protruding volumes produced by this technique symbolize the immortality of the suffering of the Basque people. This disjointed compilation of materials beautifies the Basque suffering, transforming their tumultuous and tortured past into a monumental symbol of progress and innovation. Moreover, one can also ascertain the museum’s resemblance to yet another masterpiece by Picasso, The Accordionist. This painting is characterized by the merging of solid and abyss throughout the foreground and background, which the museum accomplishes explicitly by dismantling and intersecting elements. Through disjointed elements that are placed on top of one another, Gehry resists conforming to the laws of nature. This perplexing spatial distribution and proportionality does not necessitate the natural expectations of spectators – instead it does not seek to appease the viewers by conforming to previous architectural standards. Mirroring Picasso’s cubist style, Gehry divides the structure into interpenetrating geometric planes and volumes while also referencing the tensions of past violence in the Basque region. While tending to the initial concern of relating the ultra-modern Guggenheim to the historical stitch of Bilbao, Gehry simultaneously merged an image of the ! 39!
Leili Ghaemi ! surrounding environment with the exterior of the building. The titanium cladding of the façade introduces a prominent nautical theme throughout the Guggenheim’s architecture, alluding to Bilbao’s historical shipbuilding industry. From afar, one can interpret the image of a large cargo ship or perched whale from the colossal edifice of metal. The curving and twisting titanium buttresses shimmer, creating the illusion that the structure has risen from the river itself. Thus, the extravagant Guggenheim has been embraced by the city of Bilbao. vi It has become not only an architectural marvel, but also a symbol of common suffering and subsequent collective unity.
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“Frank O. Gehry Biography – Academy of Achievement”. Academy of Achievement. 23 September 2014. Web. December 2014. ii Slessor, Catherine. “1997 Museum: Guggenheim Museum by Frank O. Gehry & Associates (Bilbao, Spain)”. The Architectural Review. April 2010. Web. December 2014. iii Lecuyer, Annette. “Building Bilbao”. The Architectural Review – 202 - 1210. Emap Limited. December 1997. Web; Trade Journals. December 2014. iv Attias, Laurie. “The Guggenheim Bilbao.” Art News Sep. 1996: 144. v Brandolini, Sebastiano. “The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.” Domus Nov. 1997: 10-19. vi Ibid.
Courtney Chiu !
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Reclaiming History for the Contemporary: Winter Selections: A Group Exhibition of New Works at Arcadia Contemporary, New York Courtney Chiu | Class of 2016 | Art History and Biochemistry Double Major
In the small, cobbled alleys of SoHo, New York, an abundance of galleries lie among the high-end boutiques and the unassuming cafes. In these galleries, pedestrians can accidentally come face-to-face with a Warhol or a Murakami along their morning commutes to work. Only in these galleries can you see a work by street artist Mr. Brainwash right next to the works of Damien Hirst. Gallery visitors can even learn about new artists and art styles in the contemporary art scene. One of the prestigious galleries in SoHo where you can do just that is Arcadia Contemporary. The current exhibition, Winter Selections: A Group Exhibition of New Works, brings something new to the table – a reminder that the techniques, themes, and elements found throughout art history are still being utilized in contemporary art despite the domination of conceptual art in the current art scene. True to its name, Arcadia Contemporary’s exhibit features many paintings that portray contemporary themes or subjects, but are reminiscent of styles that were influenced by academia. Academic portraiture, wispy impressionist brushstrokes, realist treatment of the subjects, and modern landscapes are in attendance at the exhibit. Arcadia Contemporary embraces the idea of the revival of more traditional styles in the contemporary in this exhibit. Last year, Arcadia Contemporary held an exhibit titled Contemporary Romanticism.
Romanticism in the early 1800’s was a movement that was rooted in the psychological toll on people after the French Revolution and the despondent outlook on the world that the Enlightenment caused. The themes that were pertinent in the early 1800’s resurfaced in the Contemporary Romanticism exhibit, but they were recontextualized into images that are relatable to us now. Depression, alienation, and the fear of the unknown are all feelings that people hundreds of years ago and people today feel. The foreboding undertones of the setting and the small scale of the subjects were also common among these works. Arcadia Contemporary utilized this exhibit to show that the romanticism movement that was prominent in the 1800’s is still very much alive now.
Figure 1: Double Bubble Gum, Romina Ressia, 2014, Archival pigment print, 58 x 38 in. Photo credit: Arcadia Contemporary, New York.
Courtney Chiu ! The current exhibit takes this idea one step further and casts a wider net throughout art history. One of the most telling works in this exhibit, Double Bubble Gum (fig. 1), is the epitome of Arcadia Contemporary’s theme. It is a photograph by the Argentinian artist Romina Ressia. The posed sitting of the subject, the focus on the creases on her face, and the highlighted detail of the sumptuous velvet and delicate lace collar all allude to a portraiture painting, like those of John Singleton Copley. The composition indicates a portrait painting, except it is in the modern medium of photography. The juxtaposition of the mature clothing and the spontaneous double bubble she is blowing is evocative of posed photo shoots of children that won’t sit still. The double bubble weakens the fake façade of the pose and the clothes that are reminiscent of the Copley portraiture look. The double bubble not only makes this portrait contemporary, but also provides a sense of truthfulness to portraiture. In a sense, Ressia takes a realist stance in this photo. Portrait painters gave power and beauty to their sitters, but the double bubble makes this portrait unique by pointing out the fakeness of that history. In addition, bubble gum is cheap and can be purchased by everyone, which allows Ressia to make the portrait relatable to everyone regardless of wealth and status. The exclusiveness of the portraiture genre slowly crumbles in the present day without sacrificing all of the elements of a portrait painting. Another work that is exhibited in Arcadia Contemporary is Facades by Nick Alm (fig. 2), which also epitomizes Arcadia Contemporary’s theme of old style but new subjects. The subjects in this painting are three women, whose body language indicates
Medium Volume I ! disinterest in each other. One looks away in boredom, another forms a gun from her fingers and points it to her head, and the last ignores the two previous women. They have a dysfunctional dynamic but their body languages can easily be read. The finger gun to the head is a distinctively twenty-first century gesture. However, the style is reminiscent of that of Degas and Manet. The paint strokes are wispy and there is a focus on the relation between the three women. In his artist statement, Alm mentioned that he preferred to “work directly from life.” The wispiness of the paint contributes to the ephemerality of the scene that happened in front of Alm. There is a sense of realism in the way he treats the faces and bodies of the subjects, but the visible brushstrokes of the background and the fleeting moment both allude to impressionism. Degas and Manet explored the psychological toll urban life had on Parisians. Alm is also exploring the psychology of people, but instead looks at more current people and actions.
Figure 2: Facades, Nick Alm, Oil on canvas, 30 x 40 in. Photo credit: Arcadia Contemporary, New York.
Both Ressia and Alm are perfect examples of the kinds of works Arcadia Contemporary chose to display in their exhibit. ! 42!
Courtney Chiu ! There is a mix of old and new themes among the other paintings. There are landscape paintings showing light pollution and traffic jams. There is a sculpture of a man that looks like it could have been made in the neoclassical time period. However, Arcadia Contemporary hasn’t limited itself to this particular aspect of contemporary art. There are two works that are without a doubt contemporary pieces. One of them, Conquerors of Outer Space (fig. 3), can be easily picked out as contemporary art. This acrylic on panel by the Spanish artist Cesar
Medium Volume I ! everything in the gallery is contemporary. The exhibition both challenges the stereotypes and clichés of contemporary art and reaffirms the historical lineage that would eventually lead up to contemporary art. Contemporary art isn’t limited to performance art or installations. It is also a revival of techniques, elements, and styles found in art history and reclaiming that to describe the current time.
Figure 3: Conquerors of Outer Space, Cesar Santander, Acrylic on panel, 40 x 40 in. Photo credit: Arcadia Contemporary, New York.
Santander depicts vibrantly-colored robots. This piece punctuates the row of works that are similar to those by Ressia and Alm. The curator arranged the paintings and sculptures so that the unmistakably contemporary pieces interrupt the space between the ones that directly acknowledge the Western canon of art history. The choice to do this rather than have them separated allows us to view pieces like Conquerors of Outer Space as an equal to works such as Double Bubble Gum or Facades. This decision reminds us that ! 43!
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Nolan Jimbo !
The Way We Live Now: Modernist Ideologies at Work Nolan Jimbo | Class of 2015 | Art History and French Double Major The experience of viewing The Way We Live Now: Modernist Ideologies at Work at Harvard’s Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts begins prior to entering the exhibition galleries. Situated within the 1963 modernist structure designed by architectural luminary Le Corbusier, the exhibition commences with the experience of the building itself. Composed of concrete and glass – material hallmarks of early twentieth-century modern architecture – the Carpenter Center embodies several of Le Corbusier’s modernist design tenets: the blurred divide between interior and exterior space, the open-plan layout made possible by concrete piers, and the use of brises-soleils to create filtered, soft daylight conducive for the creative work occurring in the building’s art and design studios. To enter the exhibition space on the third floor, the viewer must first walk up a curving concrete ramp, which creates both a physical removal from the bustle of Harvard Yard below as well as a metaphorical distance from the practical realities of everyday life. To walk up the ramp means to leave behind the imperfections of the real and to enter an idealized space of purity, progress, and rationality. Contextualized within this beacon of modernist ideals, The Way We Live Now simultaneously honors the visions of Le Corbusier and his contemporaries and critiques modern architecture’s perceptual, social, and political implications, calling attention to the shortcomings of the utopian movement through the work of thirteen contemporary artists.
The exhibition begins in the third floor Sert Gallery with Martha Rosler’s photomontage titled House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home, which immediately confronts the viewer with the disconnection between idealistic modernist design and the brutally imperfect reality in which it exists. Rosler’s work takes the form of a collage in which American magazine images of 1960s and 1970s home interiors have been laid over with journalistic photographs of the Vietnam War. This visual juxtaposition of the utopian American suburban home and the bloody savagery of war zones offers a pointed critique of the utopian vision proposed by modern architecture, framing belief in modernist design as an ignorant obliteration of difference: how can one believe in utopia in the midst of a deeply dystopian war? While Rosler problematizes modernism through difference and juxtaposition, Josiah McElheny offers a solution to the movement’s shortcomings through a synthesis of modernist ideologies in Bruno Taut’s Monument to Socialist Spirituality (After Mies van der Rohe), an eight foot tall architectural model made of birch plywood and hand-molded blocks of colored glass. Combining Bruno Taut’s 1914 Glass Pavilion and Mies van der Rohe’s maquette for his 1922 Glass Skyscraper Project, Monument incorporates Taut’s well-known (and often criticized) colorful palette into van der Rohe’s rigid structural aesthetic, creating an alternative modernity in which the disparate
Nolan Jimbo ! visual and political leanings of the architects are conflated into a single, unified structure. Continuing onto the first floor of the Carpenter Center, the building itself has been integrated into the logic and physical composition of the site-specific installations on view. Cerith Wyn Evans’ Untitled (Column), 17, a vertical column comprised of ninety glowing fluorescent bulbs, connects floor to ceiling and mimics the concrete pilotis, or pylons, that emblemize Le Corbusier’s designs and allow for the openplan layout. Although it does not actually behave as a weight-bearing mechanism, Untitled (Column) draws attention to the near 200 pilotis that already exist within the Carpenter Center’s architecture while also illuminating the first floor gallery space with cool, white fluorescent light. Also directly integrated into the Carpenter Center’s architecture, albeit in a slightly different manner, Amy Yoes’ ReMake/Re-Model, a large-scale installation composed of wood forms painted gray, blends organically into the concrete structure. These sculptural forms, located in the sunken plaza on the exterior of the building, serve as the background for animated digital projections composed of moving white lines, circles, and rectangles. Activating the external space of the Carpenter Center yet remaining properly visible only from within the building, ReMake/Re-Model fulfills Le Corbusier’s original intention to blur distinctions between interior and exterior space. The Way We Live Now successfully offers contemporary interpretations and critiques of modern architecture, though the diversity of artists represented within the exhibition feels limited, as all thirteen artists
Medium Volume I ! are either American or European. However, the exhibition does acknowledge modernism’s historical exclusion of women through the inclusion of eight female artists, who comprise over half of those represented. The Way We Live Now generates insightful dialogue concerning modern architecture’s contemporary legacy through a cleanly organized, tightly curated presentation. However, rather than the myriad of exhibitors, the focal point of the exhibition is instead the Carpenter Center’s innovative and provocative architecture.
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Letter from the Alumnae Interview Head Editor: I was very grateful to have the opportunity to interview Carly Boxer, a Tufts alumna and past president of the Tufts Art History Society. Carly is currently working towards her PhD at the University of Chicago, fulfilling her deep passion for art history that began in her high schoolâ€™s AP art history class. Right now, Carlyâ€™s main focus is on medieval art, specializing mainly in medieval Western European manuscripts. A couple of the artists that Carly mentions in the interview are not very well known, so I thought I would provide you with a little background information. Janet Cardiff is a Canadian artist who specializes in artwork that involves sound and sound installations, hence why Carly states that her work is difficult to admire unless you see it in person. Cardiff, who works with her husband George Bures, is best known for her audio walks, in which viewers are given an audio guide. The audio guide contains a set of directions that are spoken on top of a background of sounds. This combines with the noises that the viewers hear while walking through the installation. The directions and other sounds are supposed to blend seamlessly in order to give the viewer the full experience. Another artist Carly mentions, John Baldessari, works in many diverse mediums including printmaking, photography, sculpture, film, and video. He is most recognized for his work involving appropriated images and found photography. Specifically, Baldessari alters photographic materials, like film stills, by taking them out of context, reorganizing their form, and adding sentences or phrases. I hope you enjoy this interview! Best, Ashrita Rau Class of 2018
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Carly Boxer ! Interview with Carly Boxer
artists whom I had never heard of before. It was probably the first point at which I became aware of the ways in which curatorial and historiographical choices can alter our perception of the history of art, and that art historians can broaden the canon, or move beyond it. To go along with that, who is your favorite contemporary artist? Your favorite artist overall? Photo credit: Carly Boxer.
What made you interested in art history? When I was in high school I thought I might eventually become an architect, and I enrolled in my high school’s AP art history course thinking that it would be helpful to have some background in architectural history. At Tufts I continued taking art history courses, and I realized that I was definitely more interested in learning about the history of art than in designing it myself. You previously were a tour guide at the Tufts University Art Gallery. Is there a favorite exhibit or artist that you viewed during your time there? The first exhibit I gave tours of when I started working at the art gallery was Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists, 1958-1968, and it was definitely my favorite exhibit in my time at Tufts. The exhibit sought to undermine the traditional narrative of pop art as a maledominated movement, and introduced me to
I don’t really have favorite artists — just artists whose work I like at the moment. I saw a great video installation at the MCA Chicago a few weeks ago. I’ve been really interested in Janet Cardiff’s work lately, but that’s sort of difficult to admire unless you can get to it in person. I also have a soft spot for John Baldessari. What are you getting your PhD in and what are you currently researching? I’m getting my PhD in art history, and I’m specializing in medieval art (mostly later medieval Western European manuscripts). Right now I’m still in coursework, so the projects I’m working on are skewed toward the classes I’m taking. This quarter I’m writing one paper about a small sixteenth century etched-steel casket at the Art Institute of Chicago, and another about uroscopy charts and medical images functioning metonymically and diagnostically in thirteenth century England.
Carly Boxer ! Did you write a thesis for your art history major? If so, what was the topic?
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I wrote a thesis at Tufts, and it was on a topic that is not even remotely related to my current work. My thesis was about the problematic ways in which preservation theory is applied to digital art works; more specifically, it addressed the practice of lumping net art together with performance art and non-digital conceptual art in preservation theory, and the incompatibility of pre-digital media theory to digital cultural artifacts. What is your favorite museum? My favorite art museum is The Cloisters in New York City. I’m also a huge fan of the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. What is the most interesting work of art that you’ve ever seen? I saw (maybe encountered is a better word?) a piece by Tino Sehgal at Documenta 13 called “This Variation” that was truly great. It was a totally dark room filled with performers who monologued and conversed and sang as they moved around the space. They would interact with viewers who had wandered into the space, but the viewers were often still adjusting to the change in light. I think it was intentionally almost impossible to document, and it’s so hard to describe. That’s one of the reasons I found it so interesting. I think I spent over an hour inside this pitch-black room, and when I finally went outside, I had to sit on a bench to decompress for a long time.