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Monday, 14 March 2011

Book Design

I should be finishing up my first dissertation but I keep reading and this continually opens up new angles. Over the past few days I have been following up a few ideas about the significance of fully-integrated book design in Jones' poem The Anathemata. Part of my argument is that the physical book of The Anathemata becomes a sign in itself, an object which the reader uses to perform an 'anamnesis' , like the transubstantiation of the Eucharist. It suddenly occurred to me that treating the book as a utile sign in itself has its roots in a far deeper history. Gill and Jones were involved with the private printing presses of Hilary Pepler and Robert Gibbings; The St. Dominic's press at Ditchling and The Golden Cockerel Press. Anyway this has led me down the criss-crossing history paths of further research. This further 'research' mostly involves requesting the most beautiful books from the stacks and absorbing every minute detail of its design. I have been reading about the history of these two presses, feeling the quality of its paper choices beneath my fingertips, seeing carefully selected typefaces which have been handset, and perhaps best of all admiring the specially commissioned wood cuts and engravings which revived a dying art.

Eric Gill, Four Gospels

There are two masterworks I have been studying. The first is Eric Gill's Four Gospels for the Golden Cockerel Press. Gibbings gave Gill the typeface as a framework and the engravings grew from this. As I looked through the pages I could sense the perfected unity which this process of working had produced. The letters are interwoven with the designs, so that story and illustration are an integrated and fluent whole.

I am very tempted to take this page and head my dissertation with it, at the moment I have a simple quotation 'In the beginning was the Word [...] The Word made flesh.' but perhaps this invokes so much more?

It is clear from these pages and excerpts the extent to which Gill was experimenting with typography, layout and the relationship between visual and linguistic arrangements of meaning. This is one of the side effects of my dissertation, that suddenly I have this overwhelming appreciation for typography. Typography which once seemed the most incidental of things has become this vessel of resonant meaning.

I read somewhere that copies of Gill's The Four Gospels now sell for around £5000. This moment in the University Library, touching vellum and hand-pressed paper, is the closest I will ever get to such essential perfection!

For David Jones' masterwork of Book Design I looked to the Chester Play of the Deluge which he produced woodcuts for in 1927 for the Golden Cockerel Press. The collaboration with Robert Gibbings on this project enabled him to take more of an interest in layout and to produce woodblocks of an even greater complexity. The engravings are dark, compact knots of energy. They capture the chaos and power of the biblical story of Noah. My attention was directed towards The Deluge mostly because of a scholar called Thomas Dilworth who writes that Jones's Anathemata takes its spatial structure from an artistic development that Jones made in these same woodcuts.

The Deluge, David Jones

Building the Ark, Jones

After the Deluge, Jones

While I agree with Dilworth's description of the spatial structuring in these woodcuts, the point I want to make about David Jones' and his involvement with book design is something very different. But I'm not going to give anything away in that regard...

This remains as a glimpse in to my afternoon of discovery, I hope you have a feel for something significant and exciting in this.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Sunday Selections

It feels lovely to decide to return to Kim's Sunday Selections even if in England I find myself a little late. This week I have chosen some photographs from a very vivid memory of a walk in China. One evening I went to get fruit and food from the nearby village. It was a short walk away from the school along a road, through emptiness to the eventual buzz of small, local streets. It was so incredibly humid outside that my camera lens, directed at the hazy scene, immediately was coated in a shiny layer of wetness. This short walk became an intrepid adventure and the poor quality of the photographs capture something of the magic of the feeling, the hesitation and curiosity.

Shop front

Passing cart

Street Scene

Shop Front

Grocery store

Saturday, 12 March 2011


Two months ago I worked at the private view of Lucia Noguiera's exhibition at Kettle's Yard. While serving drinks to Noguiera's beautiful daughter, various essayists, curators and organisers of the exhibition and Cambridge's most cultured crowd I had a few minutes to tour the exhibition. As I left, clutching a copy of the exhibition catalogue, I promised myself that I would return to think about the exhibition properly away from the excitement of the evening. Today I finally followed the promise back to the gallery space of Kettle's Yard.

'My way of thinking is very much from Brazil: my way of picking up objects comes from there too. It is something connected with childhood and also with the Brazilian psyche. Our way of thinking is not as linear as it is in Europe ... In art you obviously have a background in art history that is very rich. We don't have that in Brazil at all ... We just do everything in a very empirical way, even art.'

The gallery has been filled with Mischief now for a long time but the trails of red cord have not lost their sense of play. Noguiera's work asks, what can we do with material? And more pertinently for the current curatorial climate, what can we do with sculpture? As I follow trains of carrier bags, fibres, salvaged furniture and wasted materials the answer continually evades me, disappearing in to a hole in the floorboards or fading in to white wall space. However this is Noguiera's strength. She can lead us on this sculptural dance, this trail of discovery, which leaves cupboard doors ajar and unsettled, but never need offer us that final release. She is the cruel parent who leaves her children hiding in the game of Hide & Seek. Left in the dark alone we begin to doubt our purpose, we forget the point of the game and eventually come out in to the light with only our questions reaffirmed. As Adrian Searle wrote with such precision 'Her work reveals, it does not explain.'

If there was one sculpture which came closest to lucidity, to elucidating, then it was this Untitled sculpture (1989) made from metal, glass lenses and gauze. Through the lens on the left we see nothing more than what is there. In the right lens a deep tunnel has been created, a small glimpse in to the creation of an otherworld. As people view the exhibition they creep up close to the gauze and wire and peer in to this limitless abyss held in the small, round eye of the lens. The two possibilities are juxtaposed; sculpture that means and sculpture that does not. But if we are led towards a clear judgement here how do we apply it to the rest of our experience? The answer is that we can not, there is no one formula for interpretation and comment.

The watercolours were poised in an expert tension with the brutal, barrenness of the sculpture. Bright, fluid shapes performing a dance of a different kind on the walls. Still a search for incidental and intentional forms persists, introducing a new means of mischief and continually stretching the capacity of its audience.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

International Women's Day

Today is International Women's Day. Which seems like the kind of day which deserves acknowledgement. The transition from Secondary School to an all girl's college at Cambridge cemented the beginnings of a feminist sentiment. I spent my first two years at university writing incessantly about women in novels, poems and stories from the Middle Ages to contemporary literature. The Feminist fervour all culminated in a dissertation on Angela Carter, fairytales and mothers. The one thing I had to lament, was that I had failed to justify illustrating my dissertation with Paula Rego's paintings and etchings, the ones I had studied in school and which had ignited the initial fire of interest.

Paula Rego is an amazing woman; as I read interviews and see powerful portraits such as this, my admiration for her only grows. Rego is brave and defiant and so is her work. It is afraid of no subject, no boundary or taboo. I wish I had more time to devote to Rego today, but I have to rush off to a supervision. So I will leave you with a series of paintings based on Snow White and let you read your own subversions in to it. The thing I love is the way Disney's vision of Snow White has been absorbed in to this contemporary reading of the relation between daughter and step mother.


Monday, 7 March 2011

The Omnibus

So I succeeded in waking up on the right side of my bed this morning. The sun is shining with an intense brightness so that all of Cambridge is a reflective surface. I cycled in to town, gliding down quiet roads without tourists and went to Sainsburys hungry. I splurged and then typically couldn't fit my gluttonous load in to my bike basket. It didn't matter though, because the sun was shining and this meant that I was able to walk home. This expanded preface means that today is a good day.

Anyway today I am trying to complete my dissertation draft. I am currently writing about Omnibuses as I stare out of my tall window through the great bare tree on to all the impetuous traffic.

On the Omnibus, 1880, Maurice Delondre

I did a quick google search in an attempt to find a painting which would capture Woolf and Dismorr's exciting sense of the freedom of the Omnibus. Delondre's painting of polite Victoriana is exactly the opposite of what I was looking for but it does give an illuminating glimpse in to that 'unmannerly throbbing vehicle' which Dismorr eventually escapes from. Woolf's omnibuses are 'garish caravans, glistening with red and yellow varnish' which 'swooped, settled, were off' and Dismorr's is a floating 'luminous balloon' 'all lit from within' by advertisements. True motifs of modernity which capture the excite of movement and its ultimate freedom. The closest I can get to representing this visually is Dismorr's The Engine, which I imagine pulsating at the heart of these Victorian ghosts:

Apologies for my recent blogging silence...

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Dreaming in the Grey House

I have to start by apologising for all these dreams, memories, glimmers of sentimentality, and, for using T.S Eliot again. As I write I am listening to Nat King Cole...that's the perfect nostaglic atmosphere completed. I am still writing my essay about dreams and performing my own wandering daydreaming of another kind simultaneously. Today Chagall's blue dreams are haunting me.

The Grey House, Marc Chagall

' If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion.'
T.S Eliot, Little Gidding

In The Grey House Marc Chagall was returning to and painting his hometown of Vitebsk. I wonder to what extent Chagall, painting on the outskirts on the route in to the town, is putting off 'sense and notion' and how much of this is a reminiscent indulgence. I remember seeing this painting in the Bornemisza Thyssen Museum, Madrid when I was ten and being particularly interested in the small, blended-grey figure of a man in the left corner. Is it Chagall himself? Memory certainly has the power to split the self, between here and now, there and then. We have a sense that Chagall's memories have gained the status of folklore; the cobbled path, the wooden cabin, could all be a part of the scenery of Hansel and Gretel.

As I write this I remember that what I wanted to talk about was the dream-like qualities of Chagall. I am also realising that my knowledge of his work hinges on a single painting seen in Madrid and The Bride which Julia Roberts gives to Hugh Grant in Notting Hill. So although it may seem like an obvious choice here is The Bride.

There is so much in this painting that recalls the medieval dream. The upward motion of the composition in which gravity appears to have dissolved is very evocative, I can't help but feel myself freeing from the world and floating in to the canvas. The Bride is illuminated, her red dress and ethereal veil drawing her from the blue even as she is absorbed in to it. At her veil is her dream guide, coaxing and encouraging. Then there is the small bestiary of animals that accompany her stiff dance in to the sky. This is like the anxious pre-wedding dream of a bride; it contains all of the fear and all of the excitement of this impending celebration. The blue of the painting is the typical dream-scape on which Chagall creates, but I think I need to do more reading before I can say more on this.

Dreaming with Chagall is a beautiful, soothing diversion.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011


So perhaps I had the blogger burn-out, maybe I was just too busy, perhaps I got too tired. I do feel I have been in one place too long though, I have seen no exhibitions to write about, I have Art burn-out, the Cambridge burn-out. My absence has still been relatively brief, but it feels like a long time to me.

Anyway I have come to the crux of my essay for the week, I need to start writing but I'm not sure I know how to say what I want to express. I find myself dissecting my blog statistics as procrastination and discover some poetry in Google searches which have brought people to me; 'I need a book wandering bleak' is one, 'Secret Saturday dream space Thames' another. I feel I have a glimpse in to an anonymous soul. I see a woman wandering along the Thames on a Saturday searching for a secret place to sit and dream. Beneath a bridge perhaps? Where the steps lead you down to a small rocky section of beach, maybe?

Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song.
The river bears no empty bottles, sandwich papers,
Silk handkerchiefs, cardboard boxes, cigarette ends
Or other testimony of summer nights (T.S Eliot, The Waste land)

Anyway that will suffice as a daydream.

I am struggling with my essay because of the anachronism of an argument which comes from my own post-Freudian experience of dreams and how this relates to Chaucer's medieval dream in The House of Fame. I am trying to write about language and inscriptions; because this is something which interests me about my own dreams. When I talk in my sleep it is often nonsense, I have dreamt in other languages and I have dreamt of writing poetry and reading. My dreams like Chaucer's are often literary. But as I wake the language I have encountered in my dreams always breaks down and is finally reduced to incomprehensibility. Rembrandt's painting of the vision of Belshazzar from the Book of Daniel is a wonderful example of the way conventional language eludes us in our dreams.

This dream inscription, written by a disembodied hand is beyond the reading of most viewers and this puts us in the position of Belshazzar and his feasters, who are equally perplexed. We are drawn in to the sudden disruption of festivities and implicated in the questioning of and searching for meaning.

So then what does it mean to be a writer of dreams? How do you inscribe a dream, when language is so difficult to grasp within it?