Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Monday, 31 January 2011

The Pigeons 1957

'At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is.' T.S Eliot, Burnt Norton

This is about living for the moment, this point here, this moment of dancing and joy. Barcelona already feels like a distant memory but these lines from Eliot's Burnt Norton were with me as I walked the streets. I met an odd man named Mino Bambino who gave me some simple, yet important advice; 'past is tears, future is fears, live for now'. As he said it I remembered Eliot and how he had written it with such great eloquence and with so much more magic than Mino Bambino. It is this painting by Picasso: The Pigeons, Les Pigeons, Els Colomins, which captures this wisdom for me.

In the Museu Picasso Picasso's pigeon painting was displayed with photographs of Picasso on a balcony surprising pigeons from some branches. The photograph captures the pigeons in flight and a mischievous glee in Picasso's eyes. The painting was itself a window in a room filled with ceramics and light. Those Mediterranean years, and then, finally, there is the sea and the birds looking out. Art is all about our associations, our stories and emotions. When I saw this painting I mapped a set of stories on to it which are now inextricably a part of the fabric of the canvas.

First I saw my own surprised joy at discovering that it was canaries making the music in the trees in the park:

And then, my own pigeon story which happened a few days later, when I stumbled upon this square in which the pigeons appeared to levitate, shifting with the secret forces of crumbs and kindness laid out on stone:

And finally of course, there is the Barcelona sea, and me looking out:

I wonder if I have done what T.S Eliot and Mino Bambino asked me not to. Am I locking memory and past all in to the moment? But these memories are so much about moments, about flights and liberations, that I don't feel guilty for doing it.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Sunday Selections- Home

In general I don't get very sentimental about 'Home', my parents take offence but they shouldn't. It is just that I come from a very small world and I enjoy my taste of freedom too much to let it go. But it's my final year and suddenly I am appreciating more and more what that Home means. So I have enjoyed trawling through photographs for this Sunday Selection and tried to find some images that capture the feeling of that place.

Looking up out of my garden from the sky-bed of the trampoline.

In the summer I always photograph the flowers.

A summer view from my bedroom window, the shadow of my house in fields.

Autumn hay bales in the field. When they stack the bales I go with my friends and brothers and we climb up in to them.

My reflection in a puddle out in the lane; when I was younger so many stories came from pacing the lane (my first bit of freedom) and staring in to those reflective expanses of puddle. It is this wetness, bringing snails out and make stones glitter, that I remember best of all.

In the snow the quiet houses fade.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Rock Drill

I think I have already mentioned the Royal Academy's Wild Thing; it was an exhibition which profoundly changed my perceptions and it continually creeps in to my thinking in intangible ways. Looming 7 feet above me, half-man, half-robot and straddling his drill, it is Epstein's Rock Drill which haunts me when I consider women and the machine-age at the turn of the century.

Surrounded by studies in the exhibition, it was impossible to escape the phallic implications of the drill. Plunging in to the ground with an excessive energetic enthusiasm I did not stand long in its shadow. What an aggressive attack on womanhood it seemed. When Jessie Dismorr describes her 'arrogant spiked tresses', 'the new machinery that wields the chains of muscles fitted beneath/ my close coat of skin.' I can't help feeling that she is considering herself in relation to this intimidating masculine machinery.

The Rock Drill returns us to primitivism, it is totemic and archetypal masculinity. Incorporating actual machinery Epstein's sculpture warns of the advent of a new age where even humanity and that most human of actions, sex, has become automatised. But for the man there is an exciting rush of power that comes with it. Whereas as a woman I retreat from the sculpture, to the back of the room where I can't hear the clamour of the drilling any longer.

In my research I am learning new things about Richard Cork, the curator of the exhibition who has also written about Vorticism, there is a glimmer of a suggestion of his misogyny, of his exclusion of Dismorr and Saunders from his discussions. It only sharpens the light thrown on Rock Drill; its use as the exhibition poster, book front and back cover, its centrality to the thinking and overall impression of the exhibition.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Le Corbusier's City of Tomorrow

Walking the city has somehow wandered in to the realms of town planning in my second dissertation. In 1924 Le Corbusier published The City of Tomorrow, an architectural polemic against the modern city and proposing a new Contemporary city. I love Le Corbusier's book because of its scrapbook quality; architectural plans are combined with photographs, aerial views of towns and sketches.
‘A TOWN is a tool.
Towns no longer fulfil this function. They are ineffectual; they use up our bodies, they thwart our souls. The lack of order to be found everywhere in them offends us; their degradation wounds our self-esteem and humiliates our sense of dignity. They are not worthy of the age; they are no longer worthy of us.’

As the world was changing; with war, industry, and traffic, architects and town planners believed that the city needed changing too.

New York :Congestion, a damning condemnation.

Hausmann's restructuring of Paris meant that it was the ideal space for new plans and aesthetic debates. Corbusier wants the city to combine green space with functional, efficient networks of labour.

But Corbusier's city appears to me to be just another kind of a machine, with skyscrapers that 'thwart our souls' and our green spaces by looming above them. The women in my dissertation walk the city, map human emotion upon it and react against such drastic destruction and restructuring. After all isn't human emotion more like the labyrinthine palimpsest of London than the open boulevards of Paris?

Leonora Carrington- Labyrinth

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Artist's Jewels

We all need a bit of light relief. After hours of slow chippings and scrapings at my dissertation (channelling D.J's poetical method), a few glasses of wine and some distractions along the way, panic begins to set in. I haven't finished the draft yet, it is dragging on and edging towards my next deadlines...genuinely impossible deadlines. So no talk of work today, just a little surrealist escape.

In Barcelona I saw an exhibition of over 300 works exploring artists, from Modernism to the Avant Garde, who found themselves straying in to the world of jewellery design. With pieces of jewellery displayed in conjunction with sculptures, paintings, and photographs the exhibition was fabulously curated to suggest the relationship between 'art' and 'craft'. Upon reflection these pieces of jewellery became small scale sculptures produced by artists such as Alexander Calder, Georges Braque, Picasso and Salvador Dali.

Salvador Dali's jewellery was fantastically bejewelled and often focussed upon iconic images from his paintings so that they become dream objects.

“My art encompasses physics, mathematics, architecture, nuclear science – the psycho-nuclear, the mystico-nuclear – and jewelry – not paint alone,” Dali wrote in 1959, “My jewels are a protest against emphasis upon the cost of the materials of jewelery. My object is to show the jeweler’s art in true perspective – where the design and craftsmanship are to be valued above the material worth of the gems, as in Renaissance times.”

Alexander Calder's jewellery was my highlight, casting fantastic metal silhouettes and echoing the motion and flight of his aerials. Calder began making jewellery for his sister's dolls at the age of 6, for the rest of his life he carried wire and pliers in his pockets because he claimed he thought best in wire.

Angelica Houston wearing a piece of Calder's jewellery

Mark Rosenthal described the work perfectly when he wrote: 'In a lot of ways, this stuff isn’t very wearable at all, I think of the wearer as being sort of bewitched by the wearing of it but also like something surreal come to life, a surreal manifestation. There’s something so extravagant about these pieces, they almost transform the person wearing them.”

I will admit to only being able to offer you a small glimpse in to what is clearly a rich and largely unexplored topic, but I enjoyed doing a little research, a little light relief. And, breathe...

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Cardozo Kindersley Workshop

Quotation from John Donne- letter-cutting is literary as well as visual

There is nothing like discovering discovering that something exciting and useful has been right under your nose all this time, unnoticed. I was making a passing comment to somebody about how perfect a location Cambridge was for my dissertation; there is Kettle's Yard, David Jones's letters to Jim Ede, a Divinity Fellow with a secret stash of relics from Ditchling and then the resources of the UL. She agreed, but didn't mention any of these things, just the Kindersley workshop.

In 1934 David Kindersley was apprenticed as a stone-cutter to Eric Gill at Pigotts. Eventually, frustrated by the religious strictures of Gill's working practices, he left to start his own workshop. Now located in Cambridge (a five minute walk from me, who knew?) the workshop is passed between generations as it takes on dedicated new apprentices who have fallen in love with letters. The Kindersley workshop produces headstones, memorial plaques, street signs and a whole range of commissioned work which at times moves towards being (although 'Art' is a dangerous word for Lida) lyrical, inscribed sculptures of immense poetry.

A quotation from Salvador Dali, which comes with a story Lida is keeping alive. 'Making is breaking' she says, this is what their work is all about. In order to make an inscription they break the surface of a stone that has existed for thousands of years. The minutest of errors destroys the work.

I have just returned from my visit to the workshop, gifted with books and postcards and thoughts and ideas, which my head is brimming and swimming with. I have a love and respect for Lida Cardozo Kindersley (David's widow) who currently the runs the workshop with passion and precision but also with the spirituality of alphabets; of lines, forms and characters which have a relationship amongst themselves, with stone and with the environment they are eventually placed within. She takes me to see a headstone which will be laid out on the ground, with a sweeping gesture and the reflection of sunlight in her eyes she explains how the light of the day will change letter and stone surface, bring everything to life.

The surface of the rock already has the sea, the beach, the sky and its birds written on it.

The whole workshop is a visual palimpsest (photos will have to follow) of tablets, sculptures, rubbings, words which are pure poetry or those that become doctrines for work, postcards, drawings and a whole collage of materials collected to form a part of the workshop's atmosphere, its creatively focussed energy. I sit at a great wooden table in the centre of the workshop as coffe break begins, biscuits are passed around, everyone is reading newspapers or books, there is light chatter. Then the break is over and the whole workshop is filled with the chippings of chisel on stone, the hum of deep concentration. Lettering is a language, Lida asserts, each letter has its own character, and she goes on to talk about the joy of the letter 'Y'.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Jessie Dismorr- Vorticist Streets

At the end of last year, blindly searching through obscure art and literature magazines in the University Library, I made a discovery. Jessie Dismorr. I absorbed every contribution she made to Wyndham Lewis's Vorticist magazine, Blast!, and decided that I wanted to write about women walking in London and that I wanted to write about Dismorr. She brought me the revelation of my dissertation. Six months later and I am still clinging to Jessie but I have found nothing more of her than my first fruitless trip to the library had to offer.

Vorticism was a British avant-garde movement which was formed in 1914. It's manifesto stated that 'The New Vortex plunges to the heart of the present! We produce a new living abstraction!' and it aimed to 'blast' contemporary art by revolutionising it. Interested in the aesthetic of machines Vorticist paintings were about bold lines, striking contrast and powerful abstract shapes. (In June of this year the Tate will open an exhibition of Vorticist work!)

Contribution to Blast! The Engine

A largely neglected Vorticist artist, Dismorr was one of the 'little lapdogs who wanted to be Lewis's slaves and do everything for him' (Kate Lechmere), there was only one other Lapdog, Helen Saunders. There were only two female Vorticists; as a woman Dismorr's contributions and notoriety are limited. There are a few details which keep repeating in my searches; one is that she once stripped naked in the middle of Oxford Street. This makes me love her a lot.

But it is Dismorr's experience of London which really interests me. In a small vignette called June Night she writes of a bus journey with a man called Rodengo who is 'too conspicuous for daylight'. Dismorr escapes the 'unmannerly throbbing vehicle' of the bus to 'take refuge in mews and by-ways'. Her experience of this sudden night-time freedom in the streets is exciting and surreal;

'I wander in the precincts stately urban houses. Moonlight carves them in purity. The presence of these great and rectangular personalities is a medicine. They are the children of collossal restraint, they are the last words of prose. (Poetics your day is over!) In admiring them I have put myself on the side of all the severities. I seek the profoundest teaching of the inanimate. I feel the emotion of related shapes. Oh, discipline of ordered pilasters and porticoes.'

Abstract Composition, 1915

I know that she made contributions to Blast! magazine, and to Axis and Rhythm magazine. I also know that I am not the only person interested in her, but I can count the others on my hand. The first is a man named Quentin Stevenson who is writing a biography of her (which has not yet emerged). The second, Catherine Heathcock who wrote an unpublished PHD thesis on her and has the holy grail, the catalogue of all her work, (my supervisor wants me to write my own catalogue but as an undergraduate I am floundering). And finally, a journalist named Mark Archer, who is the only reason I know about any of these other people because he has made his own desperate pilgrimage for knowledge about Dismorr and has covered all of the tracks that I must now cover. My only problem is that I don't know any magical tricks for finding the email addresses of biographers, former PHD students at unidentified universities and journalists at the FT. So in part this is a kind of appeal, for help!

Here is a brilliant article, and the most information you will find written about Dismorr on the entire internet.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Dreams and Visions

I have decided that a little bit of my blogging energy needs to be redirected towards my degree. It is my final year after all! Anyway, for the moment I am not ready to give up the blog so you will just have to deal with posts with a slightly more limited theme. Nevertheless I can't help the distractions and inadvertences which naturally come after hours of study. So the links between what I write and my degree will sometimes be tenuous, perhaps exciting.

Women, bird and snake in front of the sun, Joan Miro

I've just started my work on a new paper, Medieval Dreams and Visions, and I have been reading a lot of dream theory and a lot of debates about the relationship between dream and art, truth and fiction. I can't help thinking back to Joan Miro in Barcelona. Beginning in 1925 Miro painted around a hundred dream paintings in an attempt to represent the unconscious.

'Dream is something quite separate from reality as experienced in the waking state; one might almost say it represents a hermetically sealed existence, divided from real life by an unbridgeable gulf. It detaches us from reality, erases normal recall of the same in us, and places us in a different world and in a quite different life-story, which deep down has nothing to do with the real one.' Hildebrandt

The Surrealists were constantly trying to expose deep, hidden meanings in their art by using methods such as automatic writing and the 'Exquisite Corpse' which involved choosing words at random from the dictionary. Miro's dream paintings reduce the world to symbols and archetypes; stars, women, birds, fish and animals drawn together in a constellation of representation.

The question in the medieval period was whether any truth or prophecy could be extracted from the unstructured images of the dream. This question still seems relevant in Miro, beyond the poetry of his canvases is there any higher wisdom being communicated? What can the dreamer, the viewer of Miro's painting, bring back in to the real world? A sense of beauty, a thing close to comprehension perhaps, but not the full knowledge of the thing.

The other question (which I might have to answer today in my seminar) is whether there can be art about an insignificant dream? Doesn't the pure communication of it make it significant? If you have a dream and tell no one, it is more than likely that it will disappear, when you try to recall it at the end of the day you find that it has dissolved. But if you repeat the dream, the articulation of it usually means that it resists that dissipation for a while longer.

Chaucer reading to the court

Chaucer is not quite as abstract as Miro, perhaps his meaning is easier to read.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Sunday Selections- Ode to Light

So, although it isn't quite Sunday here in Britain, I don't want to miss the Australian Sunday fun at Frogpondsrock. As you may or may not have noticed I am obsessed with light; the way it creates shadows, blinds white, filters through glass and is channelled by constructions. Here are some photos of the light doing all the work for me and making everything beautiful.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Anna Maria Maiolino

'It is a territory marked by the fragility of life
Guardian-embryos enclose the male/female
The egg coupled
Is on the plate
On the valuable pedestal
In the middle of the space
Lies the threat of death in the false step that crushes
In treading upon this field of seeded lives
In religious silence feet walk under the unfolded canopy
This is a portion of heaven determining the amount of earth
That will be occupied
Thus we relive that which had been forgotten
And step-by-step we recall that which is known'
Poem by Anna Maria Maiolino accompanying her egg sculpture.

At the Antoni Tapies Foundation in Barcelona I went along, lacking sleep, to the first major retrospective of Brazilian artist Anna Maria Maiolino. Working with installations, videos, sculpture, photography and just about every modern material available and engaging with the political climate of her country, I will try to do Maiolino and her work some justice.

Because I don't think I can say it better; 'Seen as a whole, her work unfolds like a rhizomatic structure where all the different pieces, like semiotic steps charged with linguistic, perceptive, social, gestural and cognitive acts establish transversal connections with each other.' Wow, lets be honest I could not say that in any of the words I have.

But I do understand what the curator means; Maiolino is constantly challenging her medium, asking for new ways to communicate and experimenting with the boundaries between mediums in order to express the inexpressible. Her 'Mental Maps' and 'Secret poems' play with the powers of visual linguistics. Words can be read in any direction, as associations and voids. Locating and mapping words leads to the emergence of a narrative of the artist's life.

Experimenting with paper and ink in Marcas de Gota 2, Maiolino describes herself as 'Like a ship's captain at the helm, I move the drawings decisively in the air' so that the ink moves about the paper to make Rorschach ink blots where I find incidental letters and objects. That is the other notable thing about Maiolino; she is engaged with words. A lot of the information in the gallery is written by her, she can explain her working practice, which is a skill not every artist can claim.
Her sculptures in clay explore the organic qualities of her material; a huge landscape of thumbed clay fills an entire wall as though it were a child's obsessive experiment. The entire first floor is filled with earth colours; three tables are laid out like production benches in a pasta factory with identical clay shapes laid out. The works from the 70's explore absences and spaces. Rips and holes in paper and in rocks gape as if she is reaching towards something incommunicable.

In her photography Maiolino becomes more blatantly political. She describes a 'difficult moment for Brazil' where 'fear had gripped the country' and people were 'blindfolded'. Her photographs and portraits speak out against this blindness in their gesture towards self-mutilation.

In her Super8 films she creates what she calls 'photopoemaction' , articulating a 'totally new alphabet of images' (everything she writes is poetry.). She says that she tries to find in the 'act of poetic freedom a resistance to the establishment'. This is the problem with Maiolino, that I have to step down and admit that words defeat me, although they have not defeated her.

Friday, 21 January 2011


Last night, having succeeded in finishing my dissertation plan, I felt too tired to work but too guilty not to (this is how Cambridge trains you to be!). The situation was resolved as I curled up in bed with a book that had only arrived in the post that day, Breton's surrealist text, Nadja. I stayed up and finished it. Breton's novel is the story of an encounter with a woman, who calls herself Nadja, and their subsequent rendevous in bars and walks across Paris.

Nadja is an illustrated novel; containing photographs of locations along the walks, the facades of bars they go to, objects found at flea markets, important surrealist works which Breton and Nadja discuss including Chirico's paintings and the drawings which Nadja herself makes for Breton. These drawings are the most exciting part, and these are the images I have included in this post. Nadja imagines herself as a mermaid with her back to the viewer, she draws strange symbols like a tribal mask which can't be explained and Breton describes them with his affection for her. Why can't all novels be illustrated? It turns it into this beautiful thing, this book object.

In terms of my dissertation, Breton's pursuit of the woman in the street is something the women I am reading are reacting against. I should condemn his fanciful affair with a woman whom we are later told ends up in an institution. Breton without sympathy or nostalgia wavers all responsibility for pushing her over the brink. But in a way its surrealism has captivated me, I think its romantic.

'Beauty is like a train that ceaselessly roars out of the Gare de Lyon and which I know will never leave, which has not left. It consists of jolts and shocks, many of which do not have much importance, but which we know are destined to produce one Shock, which does. [...] Beauty, neither static nor dynamic. The human heart, beautiful as a seismograph. [...] Beauty will be CONVULSIVE or not be at all'

Thursday, 20 January 2011

ARTchitecture for the Art Gallery

Perhaps it is just that my eye has only recently become interested in architecture, but the space in which art galleries were housed in Barcelona amazed and excited me as independent works of art.
Eventually the old streets of art shops and restaurants spilling out on to the pavements opened out to the Placa de Angels, an open space of art and a clear white light. MACBA is the Museum of Contemporary art in Barcelona and commands a whole square of converted spaces. Richard Meier was the American architect responsible for the main building, famous for his rationalist designs and his use of white, this is a blinding construction.

'Abstraction allows architecture to express its own organizational and spatial consequences, it permits the creation of space without confusing its volume with any superimposed system of meaning or value.' Richard Meier

I spent forever in awe, circling and encircling as I held my camera up to the sky and framed new shapes, discovered hidden geometries. The building frames and channels light, patterning, creating and distorting, utterly absorbing. Its great white surfaces obliterate the sun and draw everything towards it. I was genuinely captivated and wonder if it is that I have never seen architecture like this before, or that I have just never noticed it?

Here is an amazing video, which expresses the detailed abstract qualities of the building:

Here are some of the other impressive gallery buildings I saw.

Crowned by a barbed wire sculpture, Antoni Tapies designed the building which now hosts his gallery himself. The wire called 'Cloud and Chair' is supposed to adjust the difference in height between the Foundation and the buildings which surround it.

In 1975 architect Josep Luis Sert completed the building for the Joan Miro Foundation and modern art gallery. It was conceived as an open space and the white surfaces, broken by courtyards, do open up spaces. The highlight is the low roof which is open to the public to explore the sculptures which spill out of the museum.

When I went nobody seemed to be going out on to the roof, but I pushed through the tinted doors and escaped in to the sun to explore. Nobody stopped me and it felt liberating!

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Texture and Tapies

Like Vicky in Vicky Cristina Barcelona I found myself doing a little research in to Catalan artists while I was in Barcelona. I think that is potentially one of the most annoying things I have written, ever, because I found that film and all of its inane attempts at cultural immersion very annoying. Did you know that Woody Allen didn't know any Spanish music before his film so his soundtrack was just a selection of chance discoveries? I don't think that says anything meaningful about his creative practice, it just explains the hollow, fickleness of his film. Anyway this is not supposed to be a rant about Woody Allen, it is about my discovery of Tapies.

Tapies struck me with his vast, textural landscapes of canvases which attack and arrest the viewer. Tapies is part of the school of materie painting or Art Informel which is interested in the materials of painting. In a world where artists are continually abstracted from that original medium of paint and canvas this return to the fecund possibilities of paint and its textural richness is refreshing.

Tapies' work draws you in to that earthy dream world where paint has the power to create and destroy. Using stone, sand and other bits of detritus his canvases become tactile landscapes. I got in trouble the other day for comparing Tapies with a contemporary Spanish Artist, Miquel Barcelo. Barcelo is less abstract, his work combines the organic qualities of paint with organic forms, but it plays with paint in the same liberal and confident way.

Are they comparable?