Review: Cindy Sherman at Spreuth Magers, Berlin

Cindy Sherman is an icon. Her career, in my opinion, deserves the level of gratuitous attention and emphasis in art history the likes of Picasso and Caravaggio receive. Having made literally hundreds of works throughout a career spanning over 30 years, she is a monumental figure in the rich history of multimedia and female art – while also epitomising the postmodern practice of cultural pastiche. Her photographic work is a labyrinth of cultural identity; she has transformed from Hollywood B-movie star, to grotesque fairy tale villains and clowns, even to the face of MAC’s 2011 beauty campaign. Her chameleon-like pop-culture transformations and sly, subtle humour make her work an effortless visual delight. Yet, despite this illustrious history, much of Sherman’s post 1980s work remains persistently neglected. This was demonstrated in my second year history of art module - where her entire career in art seemed to boil down to one measly feature of her film stills series, in the only lecture on postmodernism we received. Blinked, and you may have missed her.

 

To prove her relevance in an age beyond postmodernity, in early March I went to see Sherman’s latest series, Untitled 2016 in Berlin. In this 2016 collection, Sherman has returned to the mythical narrative of Hollywood’s ‘Golden Age’. However, unlike her 1970s endeavours into the world of film representation, these characters are not placed in a freeze-frame of a movie, but are set in a representation of a formal photoshoot.  The works portray a visually indulgent cast of characters – all reminiscent of the ‘grande dames’ of a 1920s movie realm. Printed onto metal in decadent, jewel-like colours, they immediately evoke the visual code of glossy magazines or film posters. Sherman is dressed in rich velvets and silks, her face plastered in coats of glistening, transformative makeup, as her characters reside on decadent furnishings behind backgrounds ranging from pastoral gardens to glistening cityscapes.  On a monochromatic gloomy wet day in Berlin, the prints look almost illuminated in the white cube space.

 

The aesthetics of Sherman’s work, however, do not just glorify the mainstream norms of ‘beautiful’ female representation. Feminist critics such as Laura Mulvey have argued that these fragmentary splices of feminine identity intertwine to form an elaborate narrative of exclusion, hatred and even violence towards women in cultural representation.

Now aged 63, it is clear that Sherman’s projections of a culturally fabricated feminine identity have shifted to address depictions of older women. Perhaps, in this new series, we can consider the misogynistic ageism of the contemporary art industry. Sherman is being treated like a figure of the past, romanticised yet displaced out of reality and into history books. I believe this is paralleled in these works of mythical, ageing Hollywood women - yet in the true postmodern fashion of her earlier works, they do not claim any overarching narrative or political agenda. The pieces are typical of the ‘sort of blank irony’, as put by Frederic Jameson, that postmodern art offers to us; a commentary-less simulacrum of the visual culture we blindly ingest. Work such as Sherman's awakens us from these realms of cultural signifiers and draws our attention to the illusionary set up of these images. Like mainstream media, everything is staged, and as the artist and model, Sherman is the puppeteer of this postmodern parallel realm.

 

We need to stop treating Sherman like an already deceased artist. Sherman’s work has not only gone on to influence prolific contemporary artists such as Rachel Maclean, but her own continuing practice still holds relevance to the (sadly) still misogynistic high and low cultures of the western world. As long as we have these feminine tropes within mainstream media, Cindy Sherman’s work will prevail as essential dissections of society.

Review by Florence Richardson, 2nd year Fine Art. 

Images from Cindy Sherman's Untitled 2016 series, edited by Florence Richardson. 

For more examples of Florence's work, please visit: http://flawliet9.wixsite.com/florencerichardson

‘Pity the Poor Keris’: A Metamorphosis of a Dagger

In July 2005, the Youth Chief of the United Malay National Organization (UMNO), Hishammuddin Hussein, delivered an inciting speech that showed Malay pride and persistence in the Malaysian political arena. His bombastic words were prefaced by an event that cemented the symbolic value of the keris as a political weapon. Hussein waved and kissed the dagger while his entourage chanted, “Long live the Malays”.[1] Today, we see the keris taking on a painfully dominant political meaning, which denotes Malay-Malaysian (henceforth Malay/sian) radical ethnocentricity.[2] However, historically speaking, the keris has long been part of a non-political, traditional culture of the Malays. The keris was (and is) often used in ceremonial events such as weddings and coronations. So how did the keris end up deep in this ethno-political controversy? I argue that the answer lies in the metamorphosis of the keris form from being a tool to a cultural symbol to a political weapon parallel to the history of the Malay/sians.

 

The keris form is iconic: the slanted and pointed hilt, the curvilinear blade and the embellished sheath. When the three parts are assembled, most kerises span between twelve to sixteen inches from hilt to tip.[3] However, the peculiar form of the keris is not just an advantageous accident. During the Hindu-Buddhist period of the Malaysian Peninsular (c. 800), the keris was introduced through silat combat and its form was conceived to maximize utility.[4] Consider the average keris: its one-foot length is optimal in the close-quarter martial style. The curvilinear blade inflicts a wider wound, which is harder to heal; the slanted hilt was for convenience when drawing and for quick stab-and-withdraw moves with straight, forward thrusts.[5] The dagger’s notorious reputation did not originate from its efficient form though. The wrath of the dagger manifests due to its ability to poison its victims, making dying by the blade of a keris  an excruciating one.[6] But fashioning the keris requires skills and knowledge beyond the practical; it requires the knowledge of magic.

 

Legend has it that a keris is a living entity. Various literary sources refer to the keris as having an animus, a “temperament” and agency.[7] One such keris in Perak Museum, Taiping, is known for its thirst for blood. After dusk, it is believed to “sneak away, kill someone, wash and wipe itself” before returning back to its place of safekeeping.[8] Similarly, the fifteenth century Hikayat Hang Tuah tells us that Hang Tuah’s keris, the ‘Taming Sari’, was noted for its ability to unsheathe itself and attack the opponent whenever the owner was in danger. While these legends are extravagant as historical sources, they provide a window into the world of the Malays with regard to the cultural status of the keris.

 

The keris’ supernatural powers are believed to be rooted in the syncretic worldview of the Malays: having mixed traditions from its indigenous, Hindu-Buddhist and Islamic periods. Particularly, the wooden hilt of a keris makes for prime example. The hilt is often carved from a strong wood, which carries the most life essence.[9] Furthermore, the making of the hilt would not be attempted by anyone other than a master carver.[10] The magnificent task is to match the life essence of the wood to that of the owner, thus binding man and dagger together. So close was the association between man and his keris that the dagger became an ethno-marker during colonial British Malaya (from the mid-eighteenth to mid-twentieth centuries). As a result, the keris became a cultural symbol for Malay identity (as opposed to the Chinese- or Indian-Malaysians). In other words, the keris not only became integral to the Malay image but also began to metonymize the individual.  Even today, the dagger makes an appearance in Malay ceremonies that involve a strong sense of self: id est weddings, royal coronations.

 

Returning to Hussein’s keris-waving act, it is misleading to think that this was the first incident in which the keris was incorporated into Malaysian politics. One only needs to examine the national heraldic design and logos of Malay/sian political parties to understand the political role of the keris. Take the Malaysian coat of arms: five kerises are encased in the top horizontal section of a central escutcheon. UMNO’s flag also employs the silhouette of a keris as its sole and central subject.[11] More recently, in 2015, UMNO released a new logo with two kerises forming an ‘X’ in the centre. The implicit message is that Malay identity is integral to the Malaysian identity today. The obvious critique, then, is the fact that Malaysia has long been a multicultural nation.

 

The multicultural aspect of Malaysia can be noted in its Hindu-Buddhist, pre-colonial and colonial pasts. At every significant turn of Malaysian history, the people have been well exposed to foreign exchanges. Therefore, the assertion of the keris as an ethno-nationalist symbol for the Malays ultimately disregards the people’s experience of  pluralism. Reacting to this revisionist stance, Farish Noor rightly noted that the keris is “the most apt and oldest signifier of a plural cosmopolitan Malaysian that we have today”.[12] The urge, then, is to understand how objects retain all of their histories.

 

Understanding the 18th-century social context of the keris should not abrogate its more-distant past. The keris, as perceived by Malay/sians has indeed morphed through time but it is precisely this metamorphosis that should be embraced. The point is to not to do away or replace the narrative. If anything, the composite biography of the keris epitomizes how historical linearity may be harmful to a nation’s healing. For this reason, the keris and the histories that it signifies ought to be comprehensively taken into account to appreciate its place in current society. If not, then, in the words of Noor, “pity the poor keris”.[13]


 

Footnotes

[1] Liew Chin Tong, ‘A Decade after Hisham Waved His Keris...”,  Malaysia Kini, Monday 20 July 2005, <https:// www.malaysiakini.com/news/305590>.

[2] This article focuses on the history of the Malaysian Peninsular as it houses the nation’s seat of government and capital city. It is pivotal to note that the perception of the keris may differ in the Bornean (East) Malaysian societies, whom experienced a slightly different history.  As for the term “Malays” used in this article, I refer to the individuals with a legal Malay status, as stated in the Malaysian constitution.

[3] A.H. Hill, ‘The Keris and Other Malay Weapons’, Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 29 (1956), pp. 7-60, (p.10).

[4] G. C. Woolley, ‘Origin of the Malay Keris’, Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 16 (1938), pp. 36-39, (p.37).

[5] Hill, p.10-11.

[6] Edward Frey, The Kris: Mystic Weapon of the Malay Weapon (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1988), p.23.

[7] Frey, p.12.

[8] ibid.

[9] The Malays  tradition has been called the Cult of Wood due to their reverence for the forest and its organic materials. For more info see Farish A. Noor and Eddin Khoo, Spirit of Wood: The Art of Malay Woodcarving (Singapore: Periplus Editions Ltd., 2003), p. 30.

[10] ibid., p.119-120.

[11] The Malaysian coat of arms was adopted in 1963 & UMNO was founded in 1949.

[12] Noor, Farish A., ‘Pity the Poor Keris: The Transcultural Origins of the Keris and How it was turned into an Ethno-Nationalist Marker’, What Your Teacher Didn’t Tell You: The Annexe Lectures Vol. I (Malaysia: Matahari Books, 2009), pp. 20-55, (p.55).

[13] ibid.. p. 19.

Bibliography

 

Frey, Edward, The Kris: Mystic Weapon of the Malay Weapon (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1988).

 

Hill, A.H., ‘The Keris and Other Malay Weapons’, Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 29 (1956), 7-60.

 

Noor, Farish A. and Khoo, Eddin, Spirit of Wood: The Art of Malay Woodcarving (Singapore: Periplus Editions Ltd., 2003).

 

Noor, Farish A., ‘Pity the Poor Keris: The Transcultural Origins of the Keris and How it was turned into an Ethno-Nationalist Marker’, What Your Teacher Didn’t Tell You: The Annexe Lectures Vol. I (Malaysia: Matahari Books, 2009), 20-50.

 

Tong, Liew Chin, ‘A Decade after Hisham Waved His Keris...’, Malaysia Kini, Monday 20 July 2005, <https:// www.malaysiakini.com/news/305590>.

 

Woolley, G. C., ‘Origin of the Malay Keris’, Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 16 (1938), 36-39.

 

 

Essay by Irina Ridzuan, Postgrad, MSc in Late Antique, Islamic and Byzantine Studie

Review: Damian Ortega, States of Time

Upstairs in the Fruitmarket Gallery, shadow-like images of a medley of objects sit upon a table. Diligently placed by Damian Ortega, these works are mirrored onto the facing wall. To view these images is to enact a miniature tableau of Plato’s cave: you might walk behind the table, placing yourself between it and the wall: the real ‘ideal’ forms behind indiscernible to you, leaving you privy only to the crude, pale grey figures plastered on the wall.

 

Except those objects on the table aren’t really real are they? They are clay models painstakingly crafted by Ortega, and consciously arranged to construct a sort of utilitarian anatomy of humankind through the permanent objects he/she leaves behind. The Fruitmarket explains that, “all of life is there – we are what we make, how we make it, and what we make it with”. The shadows shown here are impressions of impressions.  

 

Indeed, this whole exhibition is subsumed into the word ‘impression’. Ortega has created sculptures that focus on how the elements act on the earth. He explores the ‘impressions’ left on the earth by the intersection of human intervention and natural forces: both the ripples of sand left by the kiss of a wave and the cavity on the shore resulting from a toddler’s sticky-fingered excavation.

 

However, he does this in a perverse way, by meticulously re-creating nature. Making ‘impressions’. The literary theorist Victor Schlovsky said that the purpose of art is to make a ‘stone stony.’ Is this the condition of humankind as it stands now? Are we at the point that we so firmly habit the cerebral sphere and are so removed from our physical surroundings that we need to consciously go to an art gallery to be reminded of them?

 

Take ‘Eroded Valley’ for example, in which Ortega “track[s] the eroding power of a river on a sequence of planes made from brick” blurring the boundaries between the natural and the manmade. The form of the bricks extends out to the form of the piece. The progressive erosion is cleaved out of a rectangular block. The mark of skilled craftsmanship in Classical sculpture was for the viewer to be unable to discern the block of marble the statue was carved from. This sculpture is rather a manifestly self-enclosed artefact, an object whose confines are clearly delimited.  

 

The block-form of ‘Eroded valley’ echoes the fact that the whole exhibition itself is constricted in the space of the gallery. For example, Ortega notices that the contours etched out to create the work ‘Tripas de gato/ Isobaric map’ “look like a map of air or ocean currents”. We automatically conceive of this as something snaking, sprawling and it seems incongruous for it to be contained in the flat surface of the exhibition room’s artificially geometric walls. Furthermore, if we become lost in and enthralled by the aesthetic pleasure of the centripetal scattering of blobs of clay in ‘Broken Sac’, the jutting pillar that interrupts this motion, abruptly reminds us of where we are.

 

A sort of uniformity runs through the exhibition courtesy of the medium of clay, used for all the sculptures. Indeed, Ortega stretches this classic medium of artifice to its material limits. It would seem difficult to represent something as transient as a wave with such a dense substance but the artist achieves it in ‘Lava Waves.’ Ortega is able to capture the essence of the natural object in motion, condensing an organic entity into a visual image. In the work in which he moulds clay with his hands, the title and action is supported in the texture and physicality of the piece.

 

These pieces of raw clay, are literally ‘hand-moulded,’ with the clear impressions of Ortega’s fingertips. This piece has a sense of artist’s touch, a feeling of human intervention. He tried to achieve this delicate tone in other works, such as ‘Broken Sac,’ but he instead worked with local blacksmiths to create unique tools for the project.

 

Throughout his practice Ortega has had a keen interest in tools-- exhibiting works that have contain signs of having been fashioned with machinery to even presenting actual tools as art-pieces. We return to the table of ‘abrasive’ (read: impression-leaving) ‘objects’. We might give pause to thought here, as Ortega has said he wants to explore the forces of nature, and we may also note that this exhibition is called ‘States of Time’ and the ‘state’ of these ‘natural forces’ is perpetual and indifferent to the destructive but temporally fleeting interventions of humankind.

 

Downstairs, the ‘special tools’ used to create ‘Broken Sac’ loom in the corner of the room, gazing with parental pride over the work they have created. It is perhaps an accident of similitude, but nonetheless a very meaningful one. The circular loops atop long sticks which constitute these tools appear like two humans. The Fruitmarket curators masterfully explained this exhibition: ‘All of [human] life is there’. The tools are us. In the kingdom of nature, natural forces will always reign supreme. In an exhibition that is encapsulated by impressions we might wonder what it says about us that the only traces left by humans independent of nature in Ortega’s ‘restaged’ universe are our ‘abrasive objects.’

Damian Ortega, States of Time exhibition view, Fruitmarket Gallery

Damian Ortega, States of Time exhibition view, Fruitmarket Gallery


Damian Ortega, States of Time ran from 9th July to 23rd October 2016 at the Fruitmarket Gallery. 

Review by Eleri Fowler, third year English Literature

Apocalypse Envisaged: Goethian Allusions Lent to Franz Marc’s The Fate of the Animals Through Richard Strauss’ Metamorphosen

The fleeting brevity of this essay necessitates a presentation of its aim at the outset. What follows below are by no means thoroughly worked through solutions, but rather, merely ideas in their first state. Metamorphosen, a ‘study for 23 solo strings’, was composed by Richard Strauss during the closing months of WWII.[1] It appears that no connection has hitherto been made between this work and visual art, excluding its frequent use in accompanying documentary footage of German cities in rubble. The connections that shall be made stretch back to Bosch, Grünewald, and Dürer, with the genre of the grotesque, which in turn relates to 20th century caricatures. The validity for such an approach can be argued on the grounds that German cultural identity, albeit a post-unification construct, is a collective memory, with reference points (trees, even) such as Goethe and Beethoven, which are constantly recurring, much like a Nietzschean cycle. Indeed, this arboreal metaphor would be apt in the burning down of cultural symbols during the war, and Peter Vergo has responded to such ideas in adding Anselm Kiefer to this list of German artists, for whom trees act as a constant reference. However, for the sake of brevity, this essay will focus on The Fate of the Animals by Franz Marc, another product of kultur in extremis. Drawing on Timothy L. Jackson’s essay ‘The Metamorphosis of the Metamorphosen: New Analytical and Source-Critical Discoveries’, a summary of his reading is followed by its application onto the painting. Whilst Marc’s painting dates from 1913, my attempt is to see if any of Jackson’s reading is applicable onto Marc’s animal symbolism.

 

Since the immediate post-war era, the subject of Metamorphosen has been accepted uncritically to be the destruction of Munich. This was based on the close proximity of sketches for Strauss’ 1945 revision of the waltz München, which is an overt response to the outward, physical destruction of Munich. The snap rhythm of the Metamorphosen was accepted to have been derived from a sketch labelled Trauer um München, providing ‘definitive proof’.[2] In turn, this sketch is supposed to explain Strauss’ quotation of the EroicaTrauermarsch’ at the end of the Metamorphosen.[3] With a short supply of convincing symbols of German anguish and suffering, such a reading fulfilled a ‘deeply rooted contemporary need'.[4]

 

Undeniably, the Metamorphosen relates to the war in a general sense, but this reading is now untenable. In reconstructing the compositional chronology, Jackson has shown that much of the work on the Metamorphosen predates the Trauer um München sketch.[5] Thus, ‘Strauss first arrived the musical-poetical idea of the Metamorphosen well before encountering a compositional impasse and interrupting work to turn to other projects’, including the revision of München, to which the Trauer um München sketch properly belongs.[6]

 

The relationship between Strauss and the Third Reich is an ongoing debate, but the complexity of the issue has now become clearer. Strauss was an elderly man for whom emigration posed greater difficulties, and the safety of his Jewish daughter-in-law, Alice, and grandchildren, was an urgent concern. Whilst Strauss had initially been involved with the National Socialists ‘in the sincere if ultimately misguided hope of preserving the great German cultural tradition from within’, it was only at this late juncture that he realised the full enormity of Nazi criminality.[7] Burying himself in Goethe, that pinnacle of German culture through whom Strauss could seek ‘continuity with a tradition that appeared to be dissolving’, he came upon a poem, Niemand wird sich selber kennen.[8] With its emphasis on self-examination and self-judgement, Strauss seems to have been affected personally by the line ‘No man can know himself’.[9] It was from a sketch for a choral setting of this poem that the seminal idea for the Metamorphosen originated. This incomplete Goethe setting was put aside in August 1944 when Strauss received the Metamorphosen commission, but the essential poetic and motivic idea was retained, being reworked into the Metamorphosen. This reworking seems to coincide with Strauss’ ultimate disillusionment with the National Socialists, carrying the confessional aspect into the Metamorphosen.

 

Thus, the Metamorphosen is a philosophical, ‘Goethian probing of the underlying cause of war’, unrelated to the programmatic allusion of the revised München.[10] Goethe’s view of metamorphosis is essentially optimistic, but Strauss grotesquely inverts this, whereby man descends to the bestial through self-knowledge, no longer affirmed as a means of discovering the divine within. Whilst at least one critic had misinterpreted Strauss’ caption ‘In memoriam!’ above the Eroica citation, claiming the work to be a Grabgesang for the Hitler regime, the caption could still refer to Hitler, ‘not as a true hero, but as a false hero who aspired to greatness but descended to bestiality.’[11] Borrowing Beethoven’s ‘ironic, premature ‘burial’ of the still-living Napoleon’, Strauss too sought to repudiate a tyrant whom he had once supported.[12]

 

Let us now turn to The Fate of the Animals, where animals shriek in terror in a mythical forest, foreshadowing the cataclysm of WWI. Through this arboreal motif, Marc’s image finds a connection with the German cultural tradition with which he is part of. But is there an underlying philosophical concern with the society that was rapidly disintegrating? Whilst we have established that the Metamorphosen is not concerned with outward destruction, is there anything to be learnt from superposing Strauss’ inversion of Goethe’s classical metamorphosis concept onto the painting?

 

Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s ideas, filtered through Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche, may provide a connection. Poisoned by bourgeois culture, man has descended to become a ‘degenerate’ animal, lacking the freedom of instinct.[13] The pre-war Expressionists, feeling the constriction of the deteriorating Wilhelmine society, desperately sought the ideal of primitive instinctual life. Thus, for Marc, the animals represent a transfiguration on the other side of the scale, whereby man could ascend to the divine through self-knowledge, and reconnect with nature. At its most basic level, The Fate of the Animals is a meditation on the chaos and brutality of war, a theme that is shared by the Metamorphosen.

 

 

Appendix:

 

Niemand wird sich selber kennen,        No one can know himself,

Sich von seinem Selbst-Ich trennen;        Detach himself from his Self-I;

Doch probier’ er jeden Tag,            Yet, let him put to the test every day,

Was nach aussen endlich, klar,         That which is objectively finally clear,

Was er ist und was er war,            What he is and what he was,

Was er kann und was er mag.            What he is and what he may.

 

Franz Marc, The Fate of the Animals, 1913

Franz Marc, The Fate of the Animals, 1913


 

Footnotes:

[1] Metamorphosen, amongst works that include the Oboe Concerto and Vier letze Lieder (Four Last Songs), was written towards the end of Strauss’ life, when he experienced a prolific surge in his output. This period between 1942 and his death has come to be termed Strauss’ ‘Indian Summer’.

[2] This reading received support from an early (1951) study of the Metamorphosen sketches, which has been uncritically accepted by Strauss scholars and general audiences since. Ludwig Kusche and Kurt Wilhelm, ‘Richard Strauss’ ‘Metamorphosen’’. Tempo 19 (1951): 19-22.

[3] In the coda of the Metamorphosen, Strauss quotes the opening of the funeral march which forms the second movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 ‘Eroica’.

[4] Timothy L. Jackson, ‘The Metamorphosis of the Metamorphosen: New Analytical and Source-Critical Discoveries’, in Richard Strauss: New Perspectives on the Composer and His Work, ed. Bryan Gilliam (Durham: Duke University Press, 1992), 194.

[5] See Timothy L. Jackson’s essay for the full argument. By drawing upon analytical and musicological investigations, he shows that the Trauer um München sketch cannot be the source sketch for the seminal idea in the Metamorphosen. A detailed view of the Trenner Sketchbooks, and a reconstructed chronology is given in the Source Evidence section of the essay.

[6] Jackson, ‘The Metamorphosis of the Metamorphosen’, 198.

[7] Jackson, ‘The Metamorphosis of the Metamorphosen’, 196.

[8] Jackson, ‘The Metamorphosis of the Metamorphosen’, 199.

[9] Jackson, ‘The Metamorphosis of the Metamorphosen’, 200.

[10] Jackson, ‘The Metamorphosis of the Metamorphosen’, 195.

[11] Jackson, ‘The Metamorphosis of the Metamorphosen’, 202.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Frederick S. Levine, The Apocalyptic Vision: The Art of Franz Marc as German Expressionism (New York: Harper & Row, 1979) 104-119. The origins of the idea of degeneracy in the 19th century are well explored by now, from Max Nordau’s book ‘Degeneration’, which attacks the decadence of the Fin de siècle phenomenon in Europe, through Charles Darwin, to other examples, including Friedrich Nietzsche and Richard Wagner. These ideas grew steadily in use towards the 20th century, mainly in German speaking countries, and were transferred onto a reaction against avant-garde modernism. For further reading on the topic, Christian Weikop’s extensive publications provide a good starting point.

 

Bibliography:

 

Journal Articles

Birkin, Kenneth. Review of Richard Strauss: New Perspectives on the Composer and His Work, edited by Bryan Gilliam. Music & Letters 75, no. 2 (1994): 287-291.

Graydon, Philip. ‘Rückkehr in Die Heimat’: Postwar Cultural Politics and the 1924 Reworking of Beethoven’s ‘Die Ruinen von Athen’ by Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal’. The Musical Quarterly 88, no. 4 (2005): 630-671.

Kennedy, Michael. ‘Strauss’ Autumnal Glory’. Tempo, New Series 210 (1999): 17-19.

Kusche, Ludwig, and Kurt Wilhelm. ‘Richard Strauss’ ‘Metamorphosen’’. Tempo 19 (1951): 19-22.

Youmans, Charles. ‘The Private Intellectual Context of Richard Strauss’ ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’’. 19th-Century Music 22, no. 2 (1998): 101-126.

Youmans, Charles. ‘The Role of Nietzsche in Richard Strauss’ Artistic Development’. The Journal of Musicology, 21, no. 3 (2004): 309-342.

 

Books

Hefling, Stephen E. ‘Miners Digging from Opposite Sides: Mahler, Strauss, and the Problem of Program Music’. In Richard Strauss: New Perspectives on the Composer and His Work, edited by Bryan Gilliam, 41-53. Durham: Duke University Press, 1992.

Jackson, Timothy L. ‘The Metamorphosis of the Metamorphosen: New Analytical and Source-Critical Discoveries’. In Richard Strauss: New Perspectives on the Composer and His Work, edited by Bryan Gilliam, 193-241. Durham: Duke University Press, 1992.

Kennedy, Michael. Introduction: The Warmer Climate for Strauss to Richard Strauss: New Perspectives on the Composer and His Work, edited by Bryan Gilliam, xi-xviii. Durham: Duke University Press, 1992.

Levine, Frederick S. The Apocalyptic Vision: The Art of Franz Marc as German Expressionism. New York: Harper & Row, 1979.

Potter, Pamela M. ‘Strauss and the National Socialists: The Debate and Its Relevance’. In Richard Strauss: New Perspectives on the Composer and His Work, edited by Bryan Gilliam, 93-113. Durham: Duke University Press, 1992.

 

Essay by Toshi Ogita, graduate History of Art and Music

Recreating a Masterpiece: The Glasgow School Of Art

On the 17th of October, the Glasgow School of Art hosted the ‘State of the Mack,’ an event where the university’s restoration team provided an update of their work on a Charles Rennie Mackintosh masterpiece. Following a devastating fire in 2014, the building received widespread news coverage in regard to the destruction. As of this summer, the two-year journey of recovery is underway, and the process will be just as interesting as the result.

Aftermath of the fire as seen in the Composition Room of the Glasgow School of Art, 2015

Aftermath of the fire as seen in the Composition Room of the Glasgow School of Art, 2015

It is hard to imagine the restoration of any other building requiring the same level of painstaking research into the architect’s original intentions, but such is the fame of Mackintosh that the designer arguably takes precedence over the building itself. ‘Restoring a Charles Rennie Mackintosh Architectural Gem From The Ashes’ was the headline of the New York Times as restoration commenced.[1] As if the portrayal of Mackintosh’s life as an ignored artistic genius was not tragically romantic enough, the fire has provided another opportunity for the city of Glasgow to give love to its favourite architect in the face of adversity. The project is therefore far more significant than any ordinary restoration - and this was a message conveyed at the ‘State of the Mack’ talk, which frequently acknowledged the building’s important aura.

Brian Park, director of Page\Park Architects, gave an example of the continuous nature of research the team requires in restoring the Glasgow School of Art. Initially the iconic Hen Run connecting the two phases of the school’s construction was considered a relatively simple task to restore. However, photographs came to light revealing that the original design differed significantly from the sloping glazing which we know, and the detailing is thought to have been altered in the 1950s.[2] While the original flat glazing above the Hen Run would have been prone to leaking, contemporary glazing will allow Mackintosh’s vision to be realised using modern techniques. This is in line with a recurring statement from the team-- to recreate, and even improve, the original Mackintosh designs.

View of the Hen Run prior to the fire, 2014.  Image rights: Collections Trust.

View of the Hen Run prior to the fire, 2014.  Image rights: Collections Trust.

Some evidence of original work is harder to come by, but no effort has been spared in seeking it out. Investigating the original glass plate negatives of photographs of the then newly-constructed School has revealed that cables running through the library were manipulated to be removed from photographic prints. Robyne Calvert, Mackintosh Research Fellow at GSA, adds that the original photographs also show a lighter tone to the finishing of the famous library lights, which will return in the restoration; the original drawings by Mackintosh requested them to be ‘made in brass finished antique,’ before they were presumably painted over at a later date.[3] The priority is to restore the building in ‘Mackintosh’s direction,’ and once again the design will not only be a recreation of the original but an improvement, with the lights to be brighter than before.

A small number of practical exceptions are to be made contrary to the desire for recreation. This includes the expansion of a lift shaft to accommodate wheelchair use, and the addition of an unseen fire suppression system for pertinent reasons. But the overall outcome will perhaps be closer to how Mackintosh had designed it than even before the fire.

Interestingly, Article 11 of The Venice Charter for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites describes the international framework for restoring a building which has had a history of changes: ‘the valid contributions of all periods to the building of a monument must be respected, since unity of style is not the aim of a restoration.’[4] Is the aim of the Glasgow School of Art to restore the building, or to create a shrine to Mackintosh? And is the team in fact adding another layer of distortion to Mackintosh’s work by invalidating his building’s historical evolution? Part of the reason why the building is so revered is due to its functional arrangement, which it will still require as a working institute. Muriel Gray, chair of the board of Governors, explains that the school, ‘will die if it becomes a museum.’[5] And yet this seems to be the route that the restoration team is taking by glorifying the original above all else.

At the talk, Liz Davidson, Senior Project Manager of the Mackintosh Restoration at GSA, suggests that the team will be going even further by constructing Mackintosh’s unimplemented design for additional lighting above the studios, which has been identified in original design drawings. There is the danger that in implementing previously unconstructed designs, the restoration team will presume to understand the intentions of Mackintosh. The amendments to the Mackintosh historiography, from being presented as a Modernist pioneer in Thomas Howarth’s influential book Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Modern Movement in 1952, to being depicted within the context of the Symbolist Movement in Timothy Neat’s book Part Seen, Part Imagined in 1994, suggest that attempting to conclusively characterise Mackintosh is unwise.

Both financially and stylistically, Mackintosh had faced opposition in his design of the Glasgow School of Art. ‘It is but a plain building that is required,’ the Governors had pleaded in 1896 as the competition for its design took place with a budget of £14,000.[6] But now, with an incredible level of fame and appreciation, the restoration team are devoted to recreating Mackintosh’s stylistic vision at the estimated cost of £35 million.[7] The concept and spaces will for the most part remain the same, but the antithetical circumstances of the restoration ensure that it will not be a repeat of the past.

 

Footnotes

[1] Christopher D. Shea, “Restoring a Charles Rennie Mackintosh Architectural Gem From the Ashes,” New York Times, July 11, 2016, accessed October 20, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/12/arts/design/restoring-a-charles-rennie-mackintosh-architectural-gem-from-the-ashes.html.

[2] David Page, “Voices,” Page\Park Papers, May 13, 2016, accessed October 20, 2016, http://pagepark.co.uk/papers/voices.

[3] Roger Billcliffe, Charles Rennie Mackintosh: The Complete Furniture, Furniture Drawings & Interior Designs (London: John Murray, 1986), 207.

[4] The Venice Charter (Paris: International Council of Monuments and Sites, 1994), Article 11.

[5] Oliver Wainwright, “Things we found in the fire: Glasgow School of Art’s restoration brings surprises,” The Guardian, April 20, 2015, accessed October 20, 2016.

[6] Glasgow School of Art Archives: Governors' minutes, GOV 2/5.

[7] Wainwright, “Things we found in the fire.”

 

Bibliography

Billcliffe, Roger. Charles Rennie Mackintosh: The Complete Furniture, Furniture Drawings & Interior Designs. London: John Murray, 1986.

Page, David. “Voices.” Page\Park Papers, May 13, 2016. Accessed October 20, 2016. http://pagepark.co.uk/papers/voices.

Shea, Christopher D. “Restoring a Charles Rennie Mackintosh Architectural Gem From the Ashes.” New York Times, July 11, 2016. Accessed October 20, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/12/arts/design/restoring-a-charles-rennie-mackintosh-architectural-gem-from-the-ashes.html.

Wainwright, Oliver. “Things we found in the fire: Glasgow School of Art’s restoration brings surprises.” The Guardian, April 20, 2015. Accessed October 20, 2016.

 

Essay by Alborz Dianat studying Architecture MSc by Research

A Manifestation of the Divine: Michelangelo from Drawing to Execution in the Sistine Chapel

One of the most iconic and written about artists in history, Michelangelo (1475-1564) was surprisingly private about his artistic practice.[1] Trying to discern the process behind his famous Sistine Chapel ceiling proves to be a challenge, as he is noted for having his assistants burn his sketches.[2] As a result, much of the ‘evolution’ of the design remains elusive and the painted frescoes appear to the viewer as seemingly spontaneous acts of creation. Fortunately, a small number of sketches remain, or have come to light in the centuries since the Sistine Chapel was painted, illuminating some of Michelangelo’s processes and demonstrating the narrative of continuity and change that led to the creation of the masterpiece.

It is thought that a sketch of the hand of Adam in the British Museum is the earliest consideration for the design.[3] Although it only shows a single spandrel and some vague outlines for the framework of the narrative, it shows an early preoccupation with geometric panels, which would be consistently present and which dominate the final work.[4] There is also an interest in creating a fictive architectural frame, which did not coincide with the physical structure of the Chapel, another factor which would remain until execution.[5] Finally, this initial sketch shows Michelangelo’s early intention to seat the twelve apostles in the spandrels, a highly problematic section due to its concavity as the transitional area between the wall and vault.[6] Despite the difficulty of this surface, some continuity can be seen even from this basic initial sketch, as the frontal view of the figures is maintained through to the reality seen in the Sistine Chapel today.

A second design, in the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts, shows some progress for the same area of the ceiling.[7] The lozenge was enlarged and transformed into an octagon: this enlargement in particular demonstrates a strong interest in divided narrative scenes.[8] Such compartmentalisation is now one of the key features seen in the Sistine Chapel, with strong fictive architectural features allowing and encouraging individual contemplation of single scenes. Furthermore, the band of geometric motifs seen in the first design has been moved to the area above the spandrels thus creating a new directional focus for the viewer, spanning the vault.[9] These two initial designs show little interest in precise measurements, which highlights how early in the creative process they were to have been received.[10] Nevertheless, the fact that aspects of these can be seen in the ceiling as Michelangelo painted it, even if these be ideological rather than literal transference, proves the importance in every step of the evolutionary creative process.

A more direct use can be seen in a sketch held by the Cleveland Museum of Art (1511). Its origin was long questioned after it was published in 1938, but Edward J. Olszewski convincingly argues for its authenticity.[11] Many historians argued that it was a copy of the nude above the prophet Daniel, but, as Olszewski indicates, the lighting of the sketch is vastly different from the figure on the ceiling, making the argument of it being a preparatory sketch by Michelangelo much stronger.[12] Alongside the figure are several sketches of feet, indicating its status as a schizzo or pensiero (‘working drawing’): one of these feet sketches can be seen in the painted figure of the final work.[13] Moreover, the unfinished quality of the head in the Cleveland sketch proves interesting. Firstly, this suggests that there was an ongoing process of change in Michelangelo’s mind and even though he obsessively sketched the feet of the figure, he gave less precedence to its face, which one might assume would be an initial consideration.

Furthermore, there is a clear interest in the torso which has been elaborated upon and detailed to a far greater degree than the head. This is an indication of a wider tendency in Michelangelo’s sketches in the preparatory process. Studies for the Libyan Sibyl (1511) in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Study for the Nude above the Persian Sibyl (1511) in the collection of the Teylersmuseum of Haarlem both illustrate similar preoccupations with anatomical accuracy, particularly the formulation of musculature. However, as Olszewski indicates, it is also noticeable that many of these secondary figures are not as fully defined or elaborated in the painting of the ceiling itself.[14] This creates an interesting contrast with the aforementioned loose sketches of the ceiling formulation which become more detailed in their execution, again leaving a suggestion about the intricacies of Michelangelo’s artistic practice.

Michelangelo began working on the Sistine Chapel ceiling in January of 1509 after six months of contract negotiations, presumably when he was considering the design.[15] The dates of the early sketches formulating the ceiling design are unknown, indeed their order is due mainly to what is seen as a logical progression.[16] Nevertheless, when art history and, as in this case, the artist, are so concerned with end products, there can be a tendency to forget or ignore the creative process in favour of wonder of the final work, often resulting in a mythos of spontaneous execution. However, with a project as large and as iconic as the Sistine Chapel, it is as important as it is fascinating to examine the evolution of artistic ideas as they move towards the physical finale.

 

References:

[1] Anthony Hughes and Caroline Elam. "Michelangelo." Grove Art OnlineOxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T057716

[2] Edward J. Olszewski ‘A Design for the Sistine Chapel Ceiling’ The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art vol. 63 no. 1 (Jan. 1976) pp12-26

[3] Charles Seymour Jr. Michelangelo: The Sistine Chapel Ceiling (1972) London: Thames and Hudson

[4] Simona Cohen ‘Some Aspects of Michelangelo’s Creative Process’ Artibus et Historiae vol. 19 no. 37 (1998) p50

[5] ibid p49

[6] ibid p45

[7] ibid p46

[8] ibid

[9] ibid

[10] ibid p48

[11] Olszewski p15

[12] ibid

[13] ibid p17

[14] ibid p20

[15] ibid p21

[16] Cohen p45

 

Essay by Hannah Green, 4th year History of Art and English MA

Review: Rob Kennedy, acts of dis play, Talbot Rice Gallery until 17 December 2016

Rob Kennedy’s ‘acts of dis play’, currently on view at the Talbot Rice Gallery, presents visitors with a chaotic and jarring series of encounters with material culture, challenging the ‘typical’ exhibition experience in every way. Upon entering the gallery, viewers are plunged into what appears to be the debris from a working building site. Scaffolding juts out into the space and chunks of wood lean precariously against the walls. At the heart of the room, an enormous living tree springs out of a pile of rubble on the ground and stretches right up to the ceiling, forming a central axis around which visitors circumambulate nervously. Several people have asked me whether the exhibition is still in the process of being constructed or whether it has already finished. 

Quotes painted on the walls throughout the gallery warn the viewer that “true life takes place when we're alone, thinking, feeling, lost in memory, dreamingly self aware, the sub microscopic moments…”, D. DeLilla, 2010. They seem to be telling us to embrace the mundane as we walk amongst this scattered collection of everyday objects. ‘acts of dis play’ questions the very nature of both art and exhibition culture by providing a new context for cardboard boxes, packaging, and litter. The functional by-products of everyday living, the aesthetics of which are normally ignored, are here placed in a space which allows them to be reconsidered.

Broken television sets flicker on the gallery floor like wounded animals. A faint electrical current still pulses through them, creating shimmering petrol patterns on the screens. It is strange to see objects, which are generally treated with so much care, deliberately smashed and lifeless. Kennedy talks with disdain about the low quality technology with which they are manufactured and describes how putting them into a new context allows them to be viewed as beautiful visual artefacts in their own right.

Two paintings from the gallery’s Torrie collection lean against makeshift walls in the main gallery space, a seventeenth century genre scene by David Teniers – Peasants Playing Bowls – and a copy of this work. Kennedy describes his intrigue in identifying the absence of a number of elements from the original in the copy: a tree, a plume of smoke, and a shadowy figure urinating against a house at the back of the image. He has taken these missing elements and drawn our attention to them by physically manifesting them within the gallery space. On Saturdays the shadowy figure comes to life in the form of a dancer, comedian or actor and roams around the exhibition in costume, interacting with the public. 

Upstairs, a disjointed film plays in a dark room where a series of chairs lie flung around for viewers to reposition. A series of amateur videos provides illustration for sections of abstract text, hesitantly narrated by a group of non-native English speakers. Kennedy explains that he gave the texts to his participants only a day or so before filming in order that they, and the listening viewer, would learn them as they are spoken. As they repeat the words with growing certainty, our understanding of the concepts expressed strengthens. The slow-dawning clarity, which emerges out of the video’s initial ambiguity, works as an apt metaphor for Kennedy’s vision for the whole show. Discussing his hopes about the impact of the exhibition, he talks about his own experiences of reading philosophy, describing how his understanding of complex concepts solidifies as he repeatedly reads over them. In the same way, this show, whilst initially confusing and potentially alienating, should gradually settle in the viewer’s mind as they move through it.

This exhibition is an attack on the senses. Precarious piles of cardboard boxes which threaten to fall to the gallery floor at any moment, an enormous video screen merges fast moving blocks of brash neon colour, disjointed phrases and patterns of strobe lighting emanate from signs around the space and an intrusive electronic sound-track permeates throughout the gallery, spliced with the loud banging of steel workers. Kennedy’s aim is clear: to force us to reexamine our relationship with gallery culture. Kennedy criticises exhibition culture for its insistence on “filtering the idea of experience through a series of coded instructions relating to historical or cultural frameworks.” The pamphlet for ‘acts of dis play’, a satirical intellectual discussion between the artist and curator, pokes fun at museum culture. The work itself however, refuses to exist within the confines of the traditional exhibition, neither imposing nor expecting any art historical knowledge or academic understanding of the viewer.

Kennedy wants to encourage viewers to interact with art in new ways and form personal responses to it. Many seem cautious and unsure of how to act in the space. Here is a show to take non-art lovers to – those for whom traditional gallery settings may appear stuffy and intimidating. Here, art is fun, free and whatever you want it to be. The power of the show comes less from any individual work and more from the experience it provides. There are no preconceptions, no prescribed responses or experiences. What counts are instinctive reactions and personal encounters. A refreshing change – not your typical exhibition.

Rob Kennedy (2016) and David Teniers the Younger, 'Peasants Playing Bowls', c.1635. Credit: Talbot Rice Gallery

Exhibition review by Rebecca Heselton

Review: Ella Kruglyanskaya at Tramway, Glasgow October 8th - December 11th 2016

Upon stepping into the gallery space of Tramway, Glasgow the viewer is thrust into Ella Kruglyanskaya boldly saturated world. Acutely conscious of the representation of women in art, Kruglyanskaya’s practice takes a very tongue-in-cheek approach to confrontational femininity. Born in Latvia in 1978, Kruglyanskaya studied art from a young age. She moved to New York to study at the Cooper Union school, later receiving an MFA from Yale School of Art in 2006.

Drawing upon a wide range of source material, Kruglyanskaya pulls pieces from a long lineage of drawing and gestural mark-making to reinvent the notion of woman as an artistic subject. Her paintings of women are loud, bold, and often confrontational, threatening the boundaries of the canvas. The mark is immediate and aggressive, but the stars of the works are equally forceful. Depicted as curvaceous bombshells, Kruglyanskaya’s women are reminiscent of the 1950s pinup stars. Wearing tight tops and patterned skirts they are bursting out of their garments, while the greater scene is bursting from the edges of the frame. Kruglyanskaya’s style is not subtle, it is very much a shock, yet it is extremely self-aware and thoughtful. The gestural stroke is immediate and forceful, but it carries the weight of an artist who is conscious of the art historical canon that precedes her.

The bright colour palette and sense of action are visually fun to look at, and the cartoony aspect of rendering acts as a playful channel to enter into a greater dialogue about the act of looking. There has been a great deal of literature on the notion of gaze— the male gaze on the female subject, and more recently the reclaiming of the female gaze and subject by the female artist. Many female subjects exist as a projection of their creator, and in that sense Kruglyanskaya seeks to ‘imbue [them] with some agency, making [them] the protagonist’ of the scene. In her world the women aren’t merely pretty things to be gazed upon, but rather capable beings that act. Kruglyanskaya creates a theatrical world in which the paired women engage in gossip, leisure activities, and outward argument, or they stand solo and confront the viewer. In Lemons and Lips (2011) two figures are disagreeing, with the woman on the right scolding her distressed contemporary. The inclusion of lemons over the breasts, coupled with phallic-shaped bananas, and bright red lips on the shirt makes the image sexually charged. In clashing prints and loud colours, the figures are outlined in white and reminiscent of cartoon strips.

The theatricality of the encounters are loaded with cinematic meaning. Kruglyanskaya speaks in a cinematic language, stressing the importance of atmosphere and dialogue. She is very interested in the notion of a close-up, where the face is a platform for expression. The sense of seduction, suspense, and conflict is tied to films of the 1950s and 1960s. Equally important is Kruglyanskaya’s attention to fashion and textiles and her visual reinvention of the sexy film vixen and fashionista. Her women are often layered in flashy patterns or exposed in a suggestive manner. In Bathers (2006) the protagonist scowls over her shoulder. Dressed in a cheeky swimsuit, the attention is drawn to her back and the breasts of her fellow bathers. With a fashionable haircut the figure is depicted as a strong, savvy woman who will confront whoever gazes upon her. With the abundance of women it becomes obvious that men have been placed in the inferior position. With women at the forefront, the only depiction of men is either as a distorted body or a mere silhouette in the corner.

As important as narrative is to Kruglyanskaya’s practice, the physical aspects of painting such as materials, scale, and technique are equally significant. The large size of her canvases make the works confrontational, but they are still approachable. The artist uses a mixture of painterly styles, often working with oil paint which has been a dominant mode for centuries, but also plays around with egg tempura. This medium is often associated with medieval and early renaissance works, and is not an obvious choice for a contemporary artist: it gives the art a shiny lustre and ties her into the context of a wider visual history. Simultaneously fluid and choppy, Kruglyanskaya’s psychological works preface the importance of drawing. As a source material, a note, and a way to work out painterly qualms drawing is instrumental in Kruglyanskaya’s practice. Beginning with gestural marks, if the work has enough substance she will transform it into a painting. Putting drawing higher up on the hierarchy of artistic mediums she often includes drawings into her works. She also alludes to previous sketches through her loose mark and often her works are reminiscent of contour-line drawings. With parallels to German Expressionism and Pop Art, her style is a reinvention of a strong mark that has calculated immediacy.

Ella Kruglyanskaya, 'Gossip Girls', 2010

Exhibition Review by Samantha Ozer, third year History of Art student

Hidden Worlds: Agnes Martin and the Unrepresentable

The Agnes Martin exhibitions at the Tate Modern in 2015 and at the LACMA in 2016 showed two explorations of the abstract artist, while both exploring questions of beauty and expression. Martin only decided to become an artist when she was around thirty years old and although her earlier works are more figurative, her development in abstract expressionism and a more minimalist style characterised her later and most iconic work. In 1967, Martin left her home in New York to travel across North America in hope of finding solitude and reflection, and later lived completely alone in a log house in New Mexico. This extreme reclusiveness largely influenced Martin’s art. In the 1960s she began to draw and paint grids: softly pencilled lines, mathematically proportioned on pieces of paper and then on larger canvases. But what did these repetitive lines mean?

Through lines like these, Martin expresses a kind of metamorphosis where simple depictions grow to have expansive meanings. Martin said that she had been thinking of the innocence of trees when the vision of the grid came into her mind. Although she was influenced by nature, her paintings don’t represent anything in the natural world; instead they are responses to how she saw her surroundings. Martin’s paintings do not represent concrete objects, rather she interprets her surroundings and transforms them into abstract concepts such as ‘summer,’ ‘aspirations’, emotions, and ideas that are made manifest through visual depictions.

For a newcomer to her work,‘The Islands’ room at the Tate, painted in 1979, can be the most impactful. The group of paintings consists of twelve large canvases of white acrylic and varying horizontal lines in graphite. The paintings demonstrate her transition of form to bands of parallel horizontal lines rather than the softer grids of her earlier work. The almost indistinguishable pencil marks and subtle palette of white and grey in the paintings defy interpretation. The paintings work together in the single room to hint at something ungraspable, like a fleeting emotion or memory.

Martin constantly questioned the objectivity of beauty. She asked if a rose was beautiful, and then asked if a rose was still beautiful if hidden from view behind her back. She then stated ‘it is not the rose that is beautiful, the beauty is in your mind.’ In her painting ‘The Rose’, the viewer must search their own imagination for what they think a rose should be to fill the blank canvas before them. This work, as well as the twelve paintings in ‘The Islands’ series demonstrates the notion of subjective beauty.

When looking at Martin’s paintings and drawings almost a year later at LACMA, the transformative nature of her work again struck me. Martin’s paintings may appear to be merely horizontal lines, yet they are subtle, beautiful, powerful, and honest all at the same time. Martin’s work represents her spiritual journey, her perception of nature and human happiness being pulled along by the horizontal pencil strokes on the beam of life. They show that beauty is an awareness in the mind and not created in the terms of the aesthetic standard of a public gallery. Both in the Tate Modern and LACMA the paintings work together to surround the viewer with emotion. Martin talks about her work as a combination of ‘merging and formlessness,’ images that connect with the viewer and that transcend constructs and form. Her works are ultimately a liberation; they make the viewer realise the ability to see anything as beautiful.

Agnes Martin, 'Rose', 1966. Credit: Guggenheim Foundation

Exhibition Review by Lili Fletcher, first year History of Art

Review: Anohni, Hopelessness, Edinburgh International Festival at Edinburgh Playhouse.

 

TRANSFORMING FEMININITY INTO POWER

Hopelessness is the most recent album from legendary singer and pioneer of feminist/LGBT+ culture and arts Anohni. Prior to the album, Anohni was best known for her work as the head of the Mercury-Prize winning band Antony and the Johnsons – a group that spellbound me with their poetic, orchestral chamber-pop compositions and Anohni’s distinctively powerful vocals; with heavy themes ranging from transgender identity and sadomasochistic love affairs, to mortality and death itself. She is also known for her collaborations with Bjork, performance artist Marina Abramovic – and most recently, being the second ever transgender Oscar nominee. 

In hopelessness, however, Anohni has metamorphosed from avant-garde poetic lyricism to brutal honesty in her outlook on our current socio-political situations, against a vibrant new backdrop of electronic dance music. Produced by ambient-Vaporwave pioneer Oneohtrix Point Never, and Scottish born Hudson Mohawke (who has worked with the likes of Kanye West and Drake), the album glides between glitchy and ethereal, aggressive yet accessible. The pop-influenced sound, as Anohni puts, serves as a ‘trojan horse’ of sorts to mask her true message – an emotional response to subjects such as mass-ecocide, drone warfare, torture and the death penalty.

After an eerie, surreal introduction of ambient noise accompanied by a black and white slow-motion video of Naomi Campbell (who was featured in the Drone Bomb Me music video) dancing seductively, the Edinburgh Playhouse theatre becomes Illuminated with white light and the face of performance artist Johanna Constantine – strikingly covered in blood-like red paint, appears on a large screen. Anohni’s velvety, falsetto vocals swim into the air in the first track, ‘Hopelessness’, and Constantine’s digitised face lip-synchs the words. Anohni then arrives onstage, shrouded in a black robe, a mesh hood entirely obscuring her face. Behind her, the screen continues to shift through female faces who serve as Anohni’s avatars for each song – as they lip synch in perfect synchronicity to Anohni’s vocals. The faces range from artists to actresses – each of which create a uniquely emotional, intimate atmosphere to accompany the devastating lyrics. The performance feels more like a post-internet art installation than a concert.

Anohni’s lyricism boldly covers themes mainstream pop would never dare to reach. In ‘4 Degrees’, She exclaims ‘I wanna hear the dogs crying for water/I wanna see the fish go belly up in the sea – it’s only four degrees’. This is an anthem hailing humanity’s complacency in considering the apocalyptic future of the earth’s ecosystems if the global temperature continues to increase – a sarcastic celebration of our utter selfishness. The subtle sarcasm continues in the track ‘Watch Me’ - where Anohni seduces the audience into perceiving a woman being stalked by a surveillance-state as a kind of Lana Del Rey inspired love affair – ‘Daddy, I know you love me cos you’re always watching me’ she croons soulfully over distorted, ambient chords.

There are also some beautiful and haunting tracks not featured on the album that stand out to me in the live show – Indian Girls, a song confronting our colonial past of raping and plundering the non-western world – with deeply graphic lyrics such as ‘tigers sighing’ as girls ‘bleed in sobbing lines’ –deeply affects me, as the startling contrast of beautiful chord arrangements and nightmarish visual language wash over me.

Yet amidst these tremendous horrors Anohni exults, we also see moments of utter beauty and empathy in against the harsh tide of deeply challenging themes. In ‘Why did you separate me from the Earth’, Anohni serves as a post-internet pagan goddess, and creates a glittering ode to the earth before human interference. ‘Crisis’ – arguably the most tender and sorrowful of the set, Anohni manages to make the most confrontational lyrics deeply personal and heartfelt, as she sings to the audience softly ‘If I killed your mother with a drone bomb, how would you feel?’ before reaching a crescendo of emotion as she repeatedly cries ‘I’m sorry’ with true passion against a backdrop of sparkling synths. ‘Drone Bomb Me’, the closing act, continues these deeply challenging themes of remorse and guilt left from the horrors of the Bush/Blair war campaigns, as Anohni begs ‘Blow my head off, explode my crystal guts – after all, I’m partly to blame’. 

I leave the concert dazed with emotion. Hopelessness takes the darkest evils of our modern world and weaves them into a tapestry of visual and audio splendour, from a uniquely feminine perspective. This is challenging music, but music for our time - calling for the audience members to be self-reflecting in our position on Earth as humans. Hopelessness should be seen as one of the most important artistic projects of the 21st century – one of true, if extremely cynical, honesty of the man-made perils of our contemporary world.

 
anohniedit2.jpg

Review and Artworks by Florence Richardson

For more examples of her work, please visit: http://flawliet9.wixsite.com/florencerichardson

The Drop by Anna Aron

 

"These paintings have a presence that I never thought I could have in the world. House paint, acrylic paint, ink, flour, salt, elephant snot, pixie dust…Instead of fearing the world, I used it."

 

 

Feeling like my words have no weight is a constant struggle of mine. The manipulation of tangible objects allows me to see my presence in the world. Realizing the inability to recognize my own face, the feeling of being trapped in silent chaos was unbearable. The internal need to scream was only satisfied by flinging paint at a wall. Color felt grotesque to me and the comfort of tapping into the abundance of poster paper and house paint allowed me to create without guilt.

As my emotional needs evolved, the paintings and the materials I gravitated toward changed. The only constant was my fascination with drips. I would lie awake at night trying to figure out how to control the drips, without realizing I didn’t have to. What I really wanted was to embrace them.

 

Anna Aron is a 20-year-old painter, metal smith, potter, ceramicist, weaver, and amateur cake-maker from Connecticut. Her show 'The Drop' is on display in Stockbridge, Massachusetts from March 17 through the month of April.


The Scot who stole my soul

Is it your adventurous self?

Is it your generous words?

I cannot say what I like most.

 

It is your fruity voice

With those vowels in your speech.

It is your tone, fetchingly naïve.

 

It is your slender figure

And the turquoise butterflies in your eyes,

But also that you are closer to the sky.

 

Your novel, the kisses, your so comforting presence,

The kitchen, your laughs, the long awaited train;

Those promises will join our picture in a frame.

 

It is you, unforgettable vision,

All the details and the whole,

You, the Scot who stole my soul.

 

Poem by Edgar Rodríguez Sánchez

If you like what you see think again

It is easy to dislike a Francois Ozon film. The man likes his clichés; the consumable body, face, even temperament, is always there. The cute score and cinematography. The desirable dark handsome male. There is a reason why the conservatism in 8 Women (2002) is something one almost eggs on when by the tenth watch: the greater the pressure, the constriction, the propriety, the more beautiful and wild the oncoming eruption. The tighter the bun and the apron, the more sensuality is built in their undoing. Would Catherine Deneuve’s trophy wife really have lost it quite so, that is lying on her carpet with her sister in law on top of her, and enjoying every second, if she had not held herself to such high standards up until that very moment?

So in the context of 8 Women I forgive Francois’s choice on fixating on the most uninteresting aspect of a bit of a boring topic: the surface of the French bourgeoisie; the coiffes and clothing of the people and their values.

The contrast between a manicured setting and the ugly prejudices that keep the status quo alive – takefor instance, the ostracized sister-in-law on the basis of her profession, is what really brings the ugly prejudices to the fore.

Looks become a process in the most basic and cathartic of sense: you may not see the process behind Isabelle Hupert’s single female intellectual’s transformation, but you know the basis: a desire to be taken and therefore treated as what you feel inside of yourself, and not another’s limiting perception of you. So far so good. The ugly head rises when the look in question is the conventional, feminine aesthetic: why could the unmarried aunt simply not own her grating edge and heavy framed glasses?

Well, it would not be an Ozon film if the bitter medicine was not administered using a lot of sweetness. It’s that simple. We the audience, are children that need to swallow a bit of an unpleasantness for our own wellbeing. And what is sweeter than something either easy to like or that we like already? 8 Women may not have been made in the 50s for 50s women; but the era’s glamour still has it, like an aged but well-conserved forty-something.

Hence I also forgive him, and therefore take the unpopular opinion, on the count of Jeune et Jolie (2013), and its politically incorrect voyeuristic curiosity in the sexual escapades of young – excuse me, underage – woman of a beauty exuding the perfect dosage of palatability, excellence and disconcertion.

Jeune et Jolie can only be trite if read as an exploration of prostitution, the practice’s place and value in Western society and, in particular, in the morality of Western women and men. Especially women.  In Ozon’s social view, ‘It’s a fantasy of many women to do prostitution’ (Richford, 2015).  So maybe the film really is about exploring the appeal of prostitution and can be reduced to nothing but a time and space-sucking cliché. The world does not need yet another Peeping Tom piece of media with no other achievement than the thorough objectification of woman.

But as any good director, Ozon is a step ahead of you. Just enough to make you take a double-take. What is that gap, one might ask. The recurring theme of transgression. The ugly impropriety of human impulse; a mother’s affair, a little brother caught masturbating. But all in a very beautiful, Parisian décor, naturellement. The juxtaposition of the beautiful and improper sheds clarity as beautiful as daylight, as Ms Deneuve so famously demonstrated (had Belle de Jour been a reportage it might have garnered its subject notoriety in place of acclaim). What if Ozon had chosen to set his piece in the messier daily life of the Cité? What would our minds, hearts, loins, whatever, have latched onto then?

Even if we do subscribe to the view that the film is about what it depicts, prostitution, and we subsequently go about digging into it, we’ll find quickly that no, it is not about prostitution and its moral pitfalls – though the depiction of the heroine’s trauma as probably strongly coloured by grieving a human bond following the death of her octogenarian client is a much appreciated subtlety. To be young and beautiful is not, shockingly, everything.

Jeune et Jolie is about sex and its perpetual policing even in these oh-so-modern times. Pure and beautiful. Faced with all these rules, unspoken, hence as loud and clear as they could be, how could a young woman not become fascinated with exploring a deviant sexuality? And how could she be expected to actually find pleasure in the set path? After all, try she did. Midnight on a deserted Cote-D’Azur beach – check. Two perfect, young bodies – check. You can even push it and demand matching social backgrounds and future life prospects – check.

Feigned liberalism and very-real constricting structure. That is the moral chimera Ozon is really contending with. The eight women did not make any pretence of liberal thinking. Our times can boast two snakes as the lion’s tail. But we his audience, so concerned with being proper, perhaps not knowing how to be anything else unless under the influence, miss this reality entirely. It’s almost a comical extension of the film itself.

The comedy is stretched to its limits in Ozon’s latest offering – The New Girlfriend (2015), where the sugar- coated medicine of bourgeois social barb tastes more like a lemon sherbet than a candy-coloured, velvety macaron. Here too, seemingly inoffensive femininity, even and perhaps especially in its new androgynous influences in the straight lines and sharp edges of its heroine’s wardrobe, is juxtaposed with her transphobic value-system.

Will Francois Ozon ever give us a literal depiction of the ugliness of modern-day bourgeoisie? That would take the art away from his point. And why just say something, when you can whisper it mischievously? That is sometimes beauty and it is always art.

 

Bibliography

Richford, R. (2015). Cannes: Francois Ozon Says ‘It’s a Fantasy of Many Women to Do Prostitution’ (Q&A). [online] The Hollywood Reporter. Availaible at: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/cannes-francois-ozon-says-a525566 [Accessed 30 Dec. 2015]

 

Essay by Bruna Mondlane

 

The Homeless Man

This piece painted with acrylic on canvas, is inspired by the homeless that can be seen more and more on the streets of Scotland. Underneath the rugged appearance, this figure hidden by shadow, shares his possession. I wanted to capitalise on the idea that those with the least give the most. The possession the man holds is bread which evokes religious connotations. When you go to church, you are offered the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the shape of bread and wine. As one may notice the bread is in parts painted using a purple/ red colour to symbolise the body and blood of Jesus. There is also a yellow golden colour used throughout to highlight the divine aspect of God.

I wanted to highlight that while many may go to church and pray to God, they ignore acts of kindness and often demonise the homeless as dangerous and dirty. The deep blue oversized eyes portray the conviction of this character.

Painted during the run up to Christmas in which there is much celebration and the idea of giving is emphasised. This painting may act as a reminder to people that it is not about what or how much we give but the act of giving itself.

"It's not how much we give but how much love we put into giving" - Mother Teresa

The artist of this work, Calum Ferry, is currently studying Spanish and Business at the University of Edinburgh. 

Hair I Am? by Rachel Lee

Hair I Am is the performance piece that stemmed from the artists's proposal to "Have my mother my hair as she did when I was a child, then cut off my braids and shave my head. My braids will be gifted to my mother." Яachel Lee wanted to project a tone of genuine and raw care through an act of coming of age.

 

Proposal: Have my mother braid my hair as she did when I was a child, then cut off my braids and shave my head. My braids will be gifted to my mother.

Image of the Month - Tiffany Barber

Tiffany Barber is a 4th year painting student at the Edinburgh College of art.  Her work is based on the female form and the objectification of women through the use of media. She incorporates images from the internet with elements from Greek sculptures of the female nude.  This work is an oil on canvas painting.