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Friday, 29 October 2010

Cambridge Zoology Museum- Bonesong (New Student Opera)
I knew this would sell out, I could sense it. The 400 confirmed facebook guests may have had something to do with my instinct...but anxiety dreams and predictions aside I was going to go to the Zoology museum in the dark and rain, and try.
'in the darks halls of the Museum of Zoology
long after closing time
an underground opera club night.'
It all just sounded too tantalisingly dark, too much like childhood nightmare turned bitter fantasy, to be missed. And the papers just kept going on and on about it, clearly, a little bit too much. Capacity was 195 people and with 'guestlist' VIPS continually ushered to the front it became clear that hundreds of people were going to be turned away.
Oh the ache of being just so close, and yet just so far...
I held out until the very last second of orchestral tuning, the colossal skeleton of a Whale illuminated above my head as consolation. As people began peeling away one man in blue overalls could be distantly heard suggesting an alternative viewpoint. With £3 still in my purse I walked around the side of the building, up some concrete stairs. Now level with the mammoth whale, I pressed my face up against the glass and looked down upon a flickering collage of projections. I felt like a child from my birds-eye-view, lusting after things which are faraway and adult. One day... I felt a kind of triumph countered with the stabs of jealousy I recognised as I saw people I knew down below, with programmes, friends and drinks from the bar.

Another kind of Opera was witnessed up here; it was communal and participatory as we huddled against the cold, vast window panes and partly imagined the story. Were they singing in English? All was unintelligible. In the soft musical interludes and the moments of quiet, subtle anticipation we heard only the silence of expectation fogging up the glass. It became a mime, with brief glimpses of Opera appearing from between the animal skeletons and specimen the end we decided, it must have been good, they are clapping a lot, and walked away in to the empty streets, half-satiated, knowing that we had made a valiant effort to witness something vibrant and new.

Monday, 25 October 2010

'Aching Joy'

The 'aching joy' of youth.
Tintern Abbey, William Wordsworth.

There was not much I took away from studying Wordsworth, but this one phrase has resonated with me.

To celebrate Vonnie's parents emigration we snuck out of the party and escaped to Roydon park. It is a strange feeling walking in to the landscape of your past, as if at every moment you might discover a fleeting ghost of yourself. Roydon Park is filled with so many of my teenage evenings and lost dramas. Vonnie and I hold hands and I feel giddy again as if I am drunk on cider. The darkness holds the same shapes and together we recall them like summoning spirits. I point to a bench or a tree and sketch out with my fingers absent friends, forgotten revelations.
Then I remember something else, in the fun of recounting and the fun that we once had, suddenly I remember that I was sad. The 'aching joy' of my past returns. Only when you are young (perhaps?) can 'joy' ache.

In 2008 on the discovery of Wordsworth's words I wrote 'when you laugh so hard your stomach hurts and you feel as though you might die from lack of breath. When you are waiting for him to text back. When you go on loving him even though it hurts. When you listen to, watch things, talk about things which make you cry. Running, dancing, spinning, until your stomach hurts. 'Aching Joy' is longing, it is knowing that the ache is suitable sacrifice for the joy. It is Barclay park, it is Ollie, it is Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley, it is Moulin Rouge and the end of Duke of Edinburgh.'

I don't think I was right back then, some of those things are the real thing, genuine 'aching joy' like laughing so hard your stomach hurts. But I was also a little confused about that particular joy of taking pleasure in pain, this is not the joy Wordsworth means.

'Aching Joy' is when you throw everything you have in to something. You ache because it is all so beautiful, because it all cost so much. It is also something which comes from memory, from distance. I feel only 'aching joy' now when I remember those beautiful things, beautiful days and nights, beautiful moments of my past. It aches to know that they are gone, but there is joy in the memory that they happened and joy in the possibilities for the future.

Friday, 22 October 2010

The Sculpture Diaries- Watch It!

With his pierced ear, a name that evades pronunciation and a tendency to caress his Willendorf Venus with a little too much natural affection, Waldemar Januszczak may not be the most endearing of narrators, but it is testament to the success of Channel 4's series that you will be compelled to continue watching despite him.
As a student with long hours in the day in which to procrastinate I occasionally find myself trawling the 4OD archives for something interesting to watch. If I can in some way convince myself that it has enriched my studies, even better! (This programme gave me all kinds of satisfying excuses by teaching me about the Willendorf Venus, and other prehistoric art forms!) With 'The Sculpture Diaries' I pride myself on having discovered a hidden, or at least forgotten, gem. In three parts, the diaries are an introduction to sculpture throughout history and across the world. It becomes a kind of travel documentary, in which sculpture features as the magnetic centre. The programmes are collected in to themes which have great potential to stir the imagination of the viewer to further explorations. The first is about women in sculpture, the second on power and sculpture and the third and final (and best of all) is about Land Art.
Sculpture is, I feel, the neglected art form. Associated with endless and unrelenting nudes in the cold halls of galleries, sculpture is misunderstood! Waldemar's programme will introduce you to the potent and profound possibilities of sculpture and to its existing monumental future in Land Art. If you are not sure what I mean by Land Art or you can't imagine how it might be exciting type Spiral Jetty, or Sun Tunnels, or Nascar lines in to google for a scintillating taster. Or do one better and devote three hours of your life to brilliant and worthwhile telly!

Oh yes, and it also has a fabulously rousing soundtrack...
On the subject of Land Art, I did wish Waldemar had taken a little time out of his travels round the deserts of the USA to mention Ian Hamilton Finlay's Little Sparta, a hidden gem on our own doorstep, an entire sculptural world lying just outside of Edinburgh.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Religion and Art

My dissertation has tangled me in all kinds of circuits and knots when it comes to the subject of Religion and its relation to or with Art. David Jones and Eric Gill; Artists, inscriptors, writers, both claim Catholicism as an important part of their background or what Gill would call his 'autopsychography'. I don't have an issue with religious art or religion informing or inspiring art, but I am unsure of how the topic of religion can be negotiated when it comes to these figures. My first problem comes from Gill's fruity (which amounts to a whole crop of fallen apples) sex life, as illuminated by Fiona Macarthy in her biography. It isn't simply that Gill's attitude towards sex is morally dubious (partner-swapping, incest and voyeurism are all included in his list of pleasures) but also that this sensuality infects and informs, what we appears to be, his religious work. 'We are all fucked by Christ' claims Gill, and this unexpectedly crude phrasing halts me in my tracks and begins to corrode my sense of Gill's genius.

Last weekend, at the Fitzwilliam museum in Cambridge, I stumbled upon a sculpture of Saint Sebastian by Gill. Its sensuousness lulled me back in to new contradictions. Before me was pure piety of form, the simplest of curvatures describing a Saint. Suddenly it seemed that Gill was merely the advocate of, what we all recognise deep down inside, the inherent sensuality of religion. For me the revelation of Saint Sebastian was that sex is an intrinsic part of religious iconography. The smoky incense which snakes in to the cold air of the cathedral, the echo of hymns in the vaults and caverns of the church, the ultimate consolation of Christ; all this is evoked in Gill's sculpture, not invoked. We aren't 'fucked by Christ' but perhaps within us all there is a hysterical Margery Kempe, asking to be, Bride of Christ.

In a recent episode of True Blood the blonde-girl-next-door-cum-leader of a fanatical Christian group, recalls the story of the Mary Magdalene washing the feet of Christ and then drying them with her long hair. 'Isn't that lovely?' she asks Jason in an attempt to justify her seduction whilst arousing him. It is more than lovely, it is an act which is both tender and sensual but at the same time human, instinctively natural. If we want a justification for our sexuality that is cohesive with our religion, the story of the Mary Magdalene seems the most potent. If we want to have intimacy with Christ, it is here in the Bible that it seems finally to be humanly possible. I'm not suggesting that the story of the Mary Magdalene can be used to explain away sexual indiscretion, but I'm pointing out that it is a story which is imbued with the kind of sensuality and sexuality which people often claim religion is against.

At 16 my Aunt took me to the palace of El Escorial just outside of Madrid and I remember being perplexed by her excitement and interest in a sculpture of Christ it housed, the only Christ with a penis. The Museum had attached a handy loin cloth to cover Christ's dignity, fabric which seemed utterly incongruous and facile when juxtaposed with the unblemished white of the stone. I remember my embarrassment as my Aunt desperately leant over in the hopes of getting a glimpse at that rare thing, Christ's phallus. But why? Why should it be embarrassing? If our prelapsarian state is one of unawareness, unconsciousness, then why shouldn't Christ wear his genitalia and still be allowed that same innocence? The problem is that Christ automatically becomes sexualised; he is feminised and given an androgynous status for the exact purpose of allowing us to write our own sexuality upon him.

As I had to reiterate to my curious Chinese students, sex is a natural thing, there is no need to mystify it with the status of religious revelation. Sensuality in religious art should be embraced as one of our natural ways of understanding Christ and God, it is an attempt to approach the kind of intimacy which God offers us in his human terms.