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Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Snowdrifts and Winter light

Last night I came out of a Carol service in to snow blizzards in the dark, with only the Christmas lights to guide our slippery way home I considered the beauty and merits of snow. Here are some photos of my little village looking very magical in the snow last year, I love the quality of light in these photographs. I'm not going to write very much about them, today it is all about the visuals. Let the images speak for themselves.

It felt to me, taking these photos, as if I had discovered some other quiet world, as if the snow had metamorphosed everything.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Pedro Almodovar 'Yo Queiro ser una chica Almodovar...'

A little while ago I posted a video which professed my very nearly obsessive love for Spanish film director Pedro Almodovar. But I left you with little explanation as to why I love him and when his films include a murderer and murderess who alternately play the role of bull and bullfighter (Matador), a woman who gets raped by the brother of her cleaner while her voyeur boyfriend watches from the window of an apartment opposite (Kika) and another girl is raped whilst in a coma (Hable con Ella), an explanation might be necessary.

Almodovar is a genius of modern film directing, his work is explosive, theatrical and deeply cultured, particurarly engaged with Madrilenian culture and the Movida movement which followed the fall of Franco's regime. He directs, creates, writes all without reservation, tackling issues such as tranvestitism, drug use, STI's and the darker aspects of the criminal mind but all with a touch of cabaret and burlesque (the singing, drug addicted nuns in Entre Tieneblas or Dark Habits is a brilliant example of this).
Women on the Verge, is a brilliant and early introduction to his film making, a female drama which becomes an epic chaotic comedy as the gazpacho laced with sleeping pills is passed around the cast members.

As you watch Almodovar's films things which first shocked you become commonplace details, the quirks of a director who likes performing transvestites and shots of women peeing. There is an Almodovar culture as well as Madrilenian culture to be observed. The same goes for his particular obsession with certain female actresses, who have become icons of his films, cult figures. This is what the song in my earlier post was about; Carmen Maura, Victoria Abril and Penelope Cruz have all been favourites of Almodovar. But it is Cruz who he has a lasting and unusual love for.

Dark Habits, the heroine-shooting Mother Superior pictured above, is a brilliant but often misrepresented comedy, in which refuge for lost and rebellious young women is manipulated to fit the particular desires of the Mother Superior and her twisted theology which makes her love the sinner above all others!
Anyway now I can only recommend his films. My favourites are; Todo Sobre Mi Madre (All About my Mother), Attame! (Tie me up! Tie me Down!), Women on the Verge of A Nervous Breakdown, Volver and Entre Tinieblas (Dark Habits)

Sunday, 28 November 2010

The Beauty of Lettering

Travels combined with dissertation research has given me an appreciation for the beauty of lettering. It is particularly striking when you go to a country or a experience a language with an entirely different alphabet. The inability to recognise these forms or read them leads to an appreciation of their form and music alone. Letters contain an inherent beauty in their function, and Eric Gill certainly approved of this. Here are a few photographs to stir your own interest. In China I saw a few examples of people writing on the streets in water, it is still a mystery to me why they were doing it, although I like to imagine it was spontaneous park-poetry! Above you can see a calligrapher in the Temple of Heaven park and below in Beihai Park, Beijing.
Unfortunately in this picture you can see the spots of rain threatening to erase the whole work of art and labour before its time. But this poetry has to be fast and fleeting because in the heat of Beijing it quickly disappears. Words in to air without a trace.
In Marrakech I discovered an appreciation for the incantatory forms of Arabic lettering, mysteriously marking walls and the sides of buildings. I experience these letters as the deaf do, blind to the richness of intonation and suggestive meaning, left soothed by their most basic aesthetic appeal and grasping nothing more.
There is a kind of magic to these unexplained letters, perhaps they are as mundane as road signs and shop fronts, but while I don't understand and can't know the answers they hold all the power in the world.
A little research has yielded an answer to the mystery of water-park-calligraphy in China;
It seems my instinct wasn't so far off when I guessed it might be poetry, but this isn't intended as performance art, but just practice! Just another example of why parks in Beijing are so beautiful, hives of afternoon activity.

Friday, 26 November 2010

'between poetry and painting'

More reflections on the Dissertation, I hope they seem interesting. These are inscriptions from David Jones' long poem The Anathemata, they are all made by a similar process using watercolours, gouache, ink and sometimes crayon. With quotations from the Latin Mass, Rome and even Finnegan's Wake they represent the breadth of the referential network, of the 'vast wooded Quarry' from which Jones takes inspiration and direction.

'For by the mystery of the Word made flesh the light of thy brightness has shone anew into the eyes of our mind Minerva has sprung from the head of Jove.'
The Inscriptions appear to us as relics which the poet may have unearthed from a burial site or discovered and done a rubbing of. They are just one of the material forms which the poem takes in an attempt to collapse the boundaries and distinctions between the literary and the visual, between the word and its physical manifestation. Ultimately the poem moves towards this action of making 'the Word flesh'.

This inscription is taken from Joyce's Finnegan's Wake; the highlighted words link 'thing' with 'place' so that every object is tied with its locality but also every object embodies its 'place'.
The Letters do not follow a strict pattern or formation but are separate entities in themselves, designed by an artist to fit their purpose, their meaning, their place within the word and in order to communicate their particular message.

‘To my parents and their forebears, and to all those indigenous, the whole family for the fair island of the Britons.’

They are the stone markers in our journey through the history of our culture, through the history of the world; suggesting direction and our own stumbling upon significance.

Text from a lost inscription put up by Pope Leo IV over a gate in the Vatican Wall, ‘Rome head of the world, its splendour and hope, golden Rome.’ –‘

Really what these show is the scope of literature to be more far more active than just words on a page. These words have physical presence and they also begin to map out a typography of reference and cultural foundations.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

I LOVE Paula Rego

Here's a little tribute!

These are some sketches in biro that I did a fairly long time ago now of some of Paula Rego's work. If you know anything about modern art you will have heard of Rego, her work is powerful and bold, so that modern women painter's must all struggle in her emasculating shadow. She recently had a show in London called The Oratorio (I wrote a short post about it in July), but I still hold out hope that she will be back for a retrospective exhibition at some point. I would love to see all her work, which I spent so much time with during A-levels, in the flesh.
Looking at these sketches makes me really miss drawing, I wonder when I will get the chance to do my own art again or if I am destined to just spend my life with other people's (not that this is a terrible thought at all!)

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Chinese Vogue- 5th anniversary September Issue

My blog got a hit from a google search for Chinese Vogue. I was the fourth search result, this excites me a lot but also made me realise how unsatisfying my first post may have been. Here are some sneak peak scans from the issue to satisfy any searches a little more sufficiently. Here is a sneak peak at some of the pages inside the issue, remember you can click on the scans to see a bigger image.

The issue features some gorgeous photoshoots which really explore asian identity and beauty.

This picture reminds me of some of the numerous fabric markets that were dotted around Beijing, in China tailored clothing is affordable to just about any Western tourist as long as they have savvy bartering skills.

This scan shows the full-range of a make-up shoot featured in the magazine, i love the way the chinese characters look on the page.

This scan didn't come out very well, you can still see the rainbow of the laser as it moves across the page. But I couldn't resist trying to show you this page, the black and white photoshoot of female Chinese celebrities is my favourite in the magazine. It really plays with ideas of western elegance and glamour. I think Asian beauty wins out in the end though.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Wu Guanzhong- retrospective

First of all I have to apologise for the extremely cropped scans, it is difficult trying to get good scans whilst protecting the spine of your book! When I was in China I saw a retrospective of the this giant of Chinese Modern Art, Wu Guanzhong. These examples may look like fairly typical of Chinese painting but placing them within the context of the rest of the museum it becomes evident that Guanzhong's delicate diversions from the traditional model make him stunningly modern.
'Exploring in the world of art is just like hunting tigers and panthers in deep mountains or shooting eagles. If they do not catch their preys, both artists and hunters will be greatly depressed and have nothing to fall back on. An artist may use up all of his energy for persistent hunting in the field of art. But his spirit is reviving.' Wu Guanzhong.
Only the Chinese can get away with being quite so imagistically poetic.
After I saw his exhibition I couldn't look at China without seeing it through the lyrical brush strokes of Guanzhong. His paintings have come to represent for me what I love about that country.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

It's about time we rediscovered the 90's

A whole decade has past, it is time to rediscover the nineties. All the horror I felt when I looked back at photos of what my mother was dressing me in has dissipated. There is nostalgia and comedy in those memories which convince me that times were better then.

I recently discovered a singer called Mazzy Star. It should probably be termed a 're-discovery' but I was far too young to discover her in the first place. The music is beautiful, like a glass of wine in a wintery warm room, it is just what I need. But the most interesting thing as you search through her videos on youtube are people's comments. All of these memories of being young and happy in the nineties. The nineties has finally gained enough perspective to have developed that golden hue. There was no recession then, no war. That's what everybody writes. Somewhere inside I believe them, why can't I have lived properly through the nineties?

I've got love for you if you were born in the 90's!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

My Dissertation- summarised in pictures

This is my dissertation pinboard. Whatever it may suggest, my subject is not Art or Art History, but Literature. The exciting thing about the dissertation is that I am exploring the ways in which literature and art are interconnected, that words themselves can be material objects, can be individual works of art.

From top left to bottom right, a list of the dissertation ephemera;

*A postcard from the Fitzwilliam museum Cambridge of a Neolithic female (David Jones explores the first examples of art in his poem The Anathemata)

*Leaflet from an exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts where I first saw work by Eric Gill.

*A post it note reminding me that 'Neo-romanticism' might be an important idea.

*A postcard of the Kettles Yard house, where there are archives of David Jones' letters.

* A quote from Eric Gill 'Beauty is independent of ethical association', to remind me that Gill can still shock me!

*A postcard of Eric Gill's Ecstasy, it is going to be impossible to avoid the subject of sex in my dissertation when it comes to Gill.

*A quote from Paul Klee which expresses a similar theory of Art to that which Jones and Gill preach (I just happened to pick this up in library, but it is excitingly relevant)

*A picture of the Willendorf Venus, another example of early art, early sensual art to be more precise. Jones alludes to the Willendorf in his epic poem...

*A painting by Paul Nash, (the postcard is from the Fitz again) Nash belongs to the same school of artists as Jones, he is using watercolours and the perspective has been flattened.

*An inscription by David Jones...I should have more inscriptional work on my pinboard as this is the heart of the dissertation, 'The word made stone!'

*Another painting by Paul Nash...purely for decorative purposes!

*And finally another quote found in the library from Ralph Waldo Emerson, he also agrees that words can be material objects.

Of course there is a lot more to my dissertation than meets the eye in my collection of images, but the pinboard begins to map out some of my thinking and some of my inspiration!

I am sorry about picture quality, I have been using the camera on my blackberry which is fast, efficient and easy but the photos don't turn out as beautiful as they would with a little more effort. Still they are only here as a little visual aid.

798 Art District Postcards

Just more random scribbles on the backs of postcards!

Maggi Hambling

I have been feeling a bit ill, and there is nothing like a bit of creative nostalgia as comfort. Anyway I have a habit of buying hundreds of postcards and never sending them anywhere or to anyone, but I do usually write things on the back of them. I suppose you could call them notes to myself, postcards from daydreams far away! Here are some from a Maggi Hambling exhibition I saw at the Fitzwilliam at the beginning of the summer. On the second post card I have copied out a poem by Hambling from the exhbition.

I didn't get to the beach properly this year, oh how I still long for the sea!

Monday, 15 November 2010

Every day is a good day

On Saturday my mother came to visit. We had lunch, shopped and then sipped pur takeaway coffees as we made our way across Jesus Green in the pink sunset for the last fading minutes of the John Cage exhibition at Kettles Yard. I have been meaning to get this exhibition all term and finally arrived, with my mother in tow. I made it a day before it finished, to realise that it was brilliant and that the 20 minutes we got before closing were never going to be enough to listen to all the recordings, watch all the footage of Operas in performance and enjoy the highlight of the exhibition and place a plant.

I enjoyed the plants a lot. As you enter the exhibition the curious network of potted plants pave the exhibition floor and they are what strike you and endow the space with a homely feel. You can pick up a plant and place it anywhere you like in the exhibition. Audience participation and exhibition interaction always excite me, I am easily pleased. However as some visitors have pointed out, you can't put your plant anywhere, you are in fact restricted to the floor. The neat position of some of the pots on the fringes of the rooms might also suggest the restrictions on plant-placing freedom. John Cage's prints are beautiful; ethereal, full of movement and subtle qualities, but they almost become peripheral to the plants. Some are accompanied by explanatory notes, 'This plant is definitely not happy here, it would like to be on the ceiling.'. The suggestion is that the plants direct and not visitors, that we might think we are contributing, but ultimately the artist is directing us.
My mother was unimpressed by the plants, she says she is too old for that kind of thing, she has seen it too often!

A plant cheekily nestled in a pair of head phones!

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Vogue China- 5th Anniversary

I'm going to write another retrospective post about China, internet censorship meant that a lot of this wasn't possible while I was there, so there are things to catch up on.

During our last few days in Beijing we tried desperately to get in to the newly opened exhibition for Vogue China's 5th anniversary. One night we were turned away, 'This is just for press!' they chided us and on another occasion they allowed us only a glimpse of the first floor, but eventually we made it in! All of this added to the mystique of the exhibition and the sensation that we were witnessing something vital in Chinese culture. Perhaps you don't think fashion is particularly important, but in Beijing's Chaoyang it is certainly beginning to dominant and direct the cultural atmosphere.

Vogue China is incredibly modern, the exhibition was the ultimate symbol of modernity and the rising power of the East. The exhibition, encased in a kind of space-age pod with white elevators and mirrored walkways, transported you in to a new elegance which celebrated Asian models and the Asian aesthetic. For a country which worships the strange power of western beauty and sells skin bleaching moisturiser at an alarming rate, the exhibition had a powerful resonance.

The exhibition was fabulously curated, so that every display curled in to elegance.

The Western dream may be pasted across the glass shop windows of Sanlitun and occupying empty shops which announce the imminent arrival of Chanel and Dolce &Gabbana, but at the heart of the shopping complex there is a sense of rebellion, of independence. The Chinese fashion industry has a power and momentum of its own.

Computer screens displayed some of the hundreds of photographs from the history of Vogue China's photoshoots.

China's fashion world is ultimately exclusive. As a Westerner I had access to a growing culture which would be completely alien to a large proportion of the Chinese population. 20 kwai or 2 pounds seems like a small price to pay for a fashion magazine in England, but in China it could buy four meals or a new item of clothing for your wardrobe. If you think British Vogue promotes impossible lifestyles then Chinese Vogue is the ultimate hyperbole!

The heavy tomes which tipped my luggage over the limit; Vogue China's 5th anniversary september edition and the special collection of photographs from the exhbition. For four pounds I couldn't resist sacrificing a few ragged clothes and well-leafed books to own two pieces of luxurious China.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

798 Art District, Beijing

This summer I spent just under 2 months living in Beijing. It is an amazing city, and it really felt like I was living in the midst of significance, rapid change and excitement. There are lots of things I miss about being in that vast city, but the thing I miss most is being able to take several buses and metro lines to the Art district in Chaoyang

The root of the rebellion lies in the manipulation and deconstruction of communist propaganda, although it is so common now in 798 that you can become a little saturated by the political satire.

Modern art in China, as 798's central Originalty Square might suggest, is a reasonably underdeveloped concept due to Chairman Mao and his stifling communist regime. But from underground Beijing's creatives rebelled, taking over an abandoned factory complex and transforming it in to a theme park of modern art. The art district is now a complex of commercial and fine art galleries, installation and outdoor sculpture, souvenir shops and western-style cafes.
It is a genuinely awe-inspiring place where a community of artists are working hard to promote and inspire modern art in China, giving everybody a platform to experience and create.

Civilised Chaoyang is the ideal location, it is Beijing's rich and up and coming district. Essentially it is the place to be.

There is also an absolute gem of an institution to be found at the heart of the district; UCCA, Ullens Contemporary Chinese Art hosts magnificent, if small, shows. While you can spend hours trawling through galleries and not finding anything of particular value, UCCA, once it has been located on the map, will never fail to disappoint.

An example of the graffiti which makes the complex a living and breathing canvas for art and statement.

In the short time I was living in Beijing I spent four days in the art district, and I wish I could have had more. It just had the right atmosphere, perhaps you would spend most of your time drink iced coffees in cafes, but it was enough that you had been there, in the midst of it all.

The old factories of an abandoned uniformed industrialism are the perfect setting for regenerative modern art.

There is information about 798 on wikipedia, it might help to search for 'Jiuxinqiao factory complex'. And if you want directions...take the 909 bus from liangmaqiao station and get off at Dashanzi lukounan, you can't miss the big red numbers!

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The View from Invigilating

Leaves on the water, my view

Glimpse of the library

The empty corridor

My little table; essay in progress, complimentary coffee

We had 11 visitors in total, things are indeed picking up. I will continue to bully friends in to coming down, it seems reasonably effective!