Saturday, 31 December 2011
Thursday, 3 November 2011
Friday, 19 August 2011
Tuesday, 9 August 2011
Constellations, an exhibition on at the Cornerhouse in Manchester until 11th September, brings together four artists who all deal with the ephemeral and the transitory. The exhibition is split over two galleries with two artists in each gallery. The first gallery shows the work of Kitty Kraus and Takahiro Iwasaki. Kitty Kraus shows one piece and Takahiro Iwasaki shows four.
The piece by Kraus, Untitled, is a repetition of a previous work first shown in Berlin in 2008. It comprises of a light bulb encased in ink filled ice which over the course of the exhibition melts to leave a black inky trail on the floor. It sits somewhere between sculpture, intervention, installation and drawing, where the artist controls the initial parameters and leaves the work over time to make itself. Although in itself quite pleasing and fitting the mood of the exhibition it is the least interesting piece on show.
The works of Iwasaki are all mini landscapes constructed from everyday objects. In Out of Disorder (three of Iwasaki’s works are so named) tiny towers and buildings rise out of landscapes of socks, towels, dust and hair utilising the threads and fibres of each material. And in Differential/Integral Calculus the landscape is made up from carved erasers and electrical tape while it is filled with telegraph poles made from technical pencil lead. The works in their materials and subject matter are a metaphor for the human struggle to construct solid objects of permanence in an ever changing natural wilderness. But the fragility of the works and their towers is a reminder that nothing human beings will construct is ever going to last forever, except for maybe the detritus, the socks, the towels, the dust and hair. Just consider the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York, an incident which the work of Iwasaki rather abstractly and unexpectedly brought to my thoughts.
It is in the second gallery of Constellations that, to my mind, the best work is contained: two works by Katie Paterson and one by the best known artist in the show, Felix Gonzalez-Torres. In Earth-Moon-Earth an automated piano plays an altered version of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. For this work Paterson translated a portion of the Sonata into Morse code and transmitted this translation to the moon. The signal was then reflected by the moon back to earth losing some of the information on the way. The version of the Sonata played by the piano in the gallery is the result of this process, with gaps where the information is missing. With this process of reduction Paterson has composed a new piece of music. Watching the ghostly player-piano I found myself wondering: where did the missing notes go? Is there somewhere individual musical notes floating through space waiting to be intercepted by someone or something? How far will they travel? Our picture of the universe is incomplete, just like Paterson’s Moonlight Sonata.
In 100 Billion Suns Patterson replicates a Gamma Ray explosion with a confetti canon and thousands of small coloured circles of paper that look like the residue of a hole-punch. The array of paper on the floor of the gallery resembles a star map with a mixture of dense and thinly distributed patches of colour. The precise physical force of the canon results in a random dissipation of matter resembling the seemingly random dissipation of stars in our galaxy. Paterson succeeds in her use of simple recognisable objects to make us consider the cosmic.
Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ posthumous contribution to Constellations is a re-showing of his 1991 Untitled paper stack, large scale reproductions of a photograph of the surface of water, an ephemeral moment captured and mass produced, which visitors to the gallery are invited to take away. This work balances perfectly with Paterson’s with its uses of reduction and again random dissemination. The paper is disseminated depending on who goes to the gallery, where they live or choose to exhibit it - if they exhibit it at all. There could be many copies of this image rolled up, sitting in corners, gathering dust. For those that take one, the image is a physical embodiment of memory, a reminder of their visit to this exhibition.
Other than Iwasaki’s all the works on display are the result of some random process instigated by the artist. Choosing the initial parameters and the process, the artists have all taken a step back from the work, allowing the process to unfold of its own accord, thus distancing themselves from the result. Only Paterson’s work directly relates to the title of the exhibition, Constellations, although Kraus’ work could be seen as a drawing of the inky black night sky, but the curators Karen Gaskill and Michelle Kasprzak have succeeded in creating a quietly contemplative exhibition from the work of artists who use the small and the everyday to provoke thoughts of the grand and the cosmic.
Wednesday, 6 July 2011
In the preface to his book Either/Or Soren Kierkegaard, through the name of another, speaks of a deception. Either/Or is a two volume work, written under three pseudonyms, the Either being written by the aesthetic ‘A’, the Or written by ethical idealist ‘B’, and the whole presented to the reader by its impartial and equally pseudonymous editor Victor Eremita. Either is a series of essays extolling the philosophy of a young romanticist, Or is a series of letters written as a critical response directly addressed to the author of Either. Kierkegaard regularly published his aesthetic works under a number of pseudonyms, saving his own name for his religious philosophy.
Kierkegaard says of his use of pseudonyms that they are more than a mouthpiece for his own views, “behind each pen name lies a “subjectively actual personality””, a view that sounds very similar to Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa’s use of ‘heteronyms’. Over the course of his writing career Pessoa utilised over seventy names, preferring the term ‘heteronym’ to the more familiar ‘pseudonym’, “since they were not merely false names but belonged to invented others, to fictional writers with points of view and literary styles that were different from [his own].”
Fernando Pessoa’s most celebrated book, The Book of Disquiet (a series of reflective vignettes, or Texts), was ‘written’ by Bernardo Soares, who, in Text 193 of that book, says: “I am, in large measure, the selfsame prose I write...I’ve made myself into the character of a book, a life one reads.” Another of Pessoa’s heteronyms, the poet Alvaro de Campos says “Fernando Pessoa, strictly speaking, doesn’t exist.”
One of the reasons Pessoa, an intensely private man, used heteronyms, was to hide, from the public and from life. But it was also a philosophical stance, as he believed each person to be capable of holding many contradictory thoughts and opinions, and he didn’t want his works to be limited to the one self. Each name provided him with a different voice. He wrote, through Soares: “Each of us is several, is many, is a profusion of selves. So that the self who disdains his surroundings is not the same as the self who suffers or takes joy in them. In the vast colony of our being there are many species of people who think and feel in different ways.” And again, Alvaro de Campos: “Be what I think? But I think of being so many things!”
Is Pessoa’s deception then more honest than Kierkegaard’s? Kierkegaard’s deception is most clearly carried out in Victor Eremita’s preface: “I, who [has] simply nothing to do with this narrative, I who am twice removed from the original author.” And again, “I am neither an author nor a professional literary man.” But, like Pessoa, Kierkegaard’s work also contains a confession: “During my constant occupation with the papers [of Either/Or], it dawned on me that they might be looked at from a new point of view, by considering all of them as the work of one man...Let us imagine a man who had lived through both of these phases, or who had thought upon both. A’s papers contain a number of attempts to formulate an aesthetic philosophy of life...B’s papers contain an ethical view of life.”
Kierkegaard seems to agree with Pessoa’s view that a self is comprised of many selves, and that each self may carry within it contradictory beliefs. This, surely, cuts to the quick of what it is to be a human being. We are all of us a mass of contradictions. And the ‘I’, this seemingly singular identity we so stubbornly cling to, is the sum of these contradictions. This can be expanded, I believe, to include the creations of human beings, such as the work of art and the text. (Again this can be extended to encompass the whole body of an artists’ work or the entire oeuvre of the writer.) Why should the work of art or the text be considered to be the work of a single author? Surely a large part of the point of a work of art is to explore and expose these contradictions, these multiple selves.
In his seminal essay on authorship and authenticity, Roland Barthes states “…a text is…a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash. The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture.” Our work is the culmination of all we have read or witnessed or lived. It follows that this is an ever evolving process. And the same, I believe, can certainly be said of the self.
 Howard A Johnson, quoted in his Foreward to the Princeton University Press 1971 paperback edition of Either/Or
 Richard Zenith, from the Table of Heteronyms in the Penguin Classics 2002 paperback edition of Fernando Pessoa The Book of Disquiet
 Quoted in Richard Zenith’s Introduction to The Book of Disquiet
 Text 396, The Book of Disquiet
 Quoted in Richard Zenith’s Introduction to The Book of Disquiet
 Preface to Either/Or
 Roland Barthes, The Death of the Author
Friday, 6 May 2011
The dance that Bausch worked with is very physical. In her ensembles performances there is no clear plot, no direct story or narrative, there is no definitive meaning. Like all successful art it is about nothing, and it is about everything. There is joy, pain, suffering, the intricate interplay of relationships, power, control, love, loss, none of which is explicitly stated, all expressed through movement and the human body and all interpreted by the viewer. It is simultaneously funny and serious, meaningful and pointless, profound and ludicrous, and it is always obsessive.
I am reminded of a scene in the film Factotum, a fictionalised account of the life of Charles Bukowski, where Matt Dillon’s character Henry Chinaski is in the office of his boss and his boss has discovered that Chinaski is a writer and is working on a novel. The boss asks Chinaski what his novel is about. Chinaski replies “Everything.” To which the boss asks “Is it about...cancer?” Chinaski: “Yes.” Boss: “How about my wife?” Chinaski: “She’s in there too.”
Saturday, 16 April 2011
Spanning the duration of his film career Places, strange and quiet is an equally hit and miss affair. Some of the images are striking but many are simply average. The strength in most lies in colour, bright and bold primary colour. But the misses are such that when he does produce a successful composition, such as his shot of a street corner cut neatly into three bands of colour - the right hand third is red, the top third of the rest is bright blue, and the remainder a sandy yellow, you feel it is merely the happy accident of an amateur.
The photographs are large in scale and considerately spaced throughout several rooms. One of the best images is of an empty outdoor stage in front of which lies row after row of bright red plastic chairs, a palm tree growing out from the middle of them to the right of the image. Another is of a disused and delapidated ferris wheel standing alone in a wide expanse of waste ground, misty low hills on the horizon. On the opposite wall of the gallery is the same ferris wheel seen from the other side and close up, through which a tired looking housing estate can be seen in the background. One of the strongest technically is of an old car in what could be a desert or simply a quarry with a dog standing on the roof. The dog is a pure black silhouette, wild and threatening. This is one of the few photographs in the collection to inspire an emotion other than melancholy.
The subject matter comprises mostly of abandoned places and forgotten things, objects that have seen better days and lost their usefulness. Some suggest narratives, such as the woman in the red dress standing before military battlements and the wall pockmarked with bullet holes that have since been painted over in red (Wenders is obviously drawn to red). But most are simply mundane. Many, unsurprisingly I suppose, have the sense of film sets about them, stumbled on accidentally by an opportunistic collector of images. There is no accompanying information, none of the photographs are provided with titles or indications as to where they were photographed, but it is clear that these images have been collected over a long period of time and from all corners of the globe.
I'm not saying Wenders' photographs are bad, I have seen plenty which are worse and one or two of them are exceptionally beautiful, I just wonder if he would have been given such a large and prestigious exhibition with the interest that this garners if he didn't already have a reputation as a respected film director to back him up.
Saturday, 26 March 2011
I am rather fond of films in which nothing much happens. Police, Adjective, by Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu is such a film. In it the main protagonist, a policeman by the name of Cristi, spends most of his days alone, outside in the cold, desolate urban Romanian landscape, following suspects and attempting to be inconspicuous. The case he is on concerns a teenager suspected of supplying hashish to his school friends, a petty crime, but one which carries a potential prison sentence of seven years. Cristi is troubled by his conscience. He sees his target as just a kid who smokes a bit of pot, who poses no harm to society, but Cristi's superiors want the teenager arrested.
The majority of the film shows Cristi in silence pursuing his victim along city streets a discreet distance behind, hands in pockets, head hunched, long grey shots where nothing much happens. When he is not walking Cristi is standing outside buildings, smoking cigarettes, waiting for his target to emerge. We discover his character through his movement and body language. Other scenes show the drudgery of the Police offices, meetings Cristi tries to avoid, paperwork and bureaucracy he can't avoid. It would be tempting to describe Police, Adjective as Kafkaesque, because it deals with bureaucracy, but that would be too easy. This is not as sinister as Kafka, merely bored people going about their daily routines, keeping busy with meaningless tasks because that is what they have to do to earn a living.
Our hero attempts to delay the inevitable sting operation by trying to prove the kid is not the supplier, it’s his older brother, who is out of the country at the moment, and they should await the brother’s return before acting, but in a crucial and brilliant penultimate scene where Cristi faces his Captain and his conscience we learn through a Romanian dictionary the meanings of the words ‘conscience’, ‘law’, ‘moral’ and ‘police’, and Cristi is finally convinced he has no choice but to carry out the sting. Police, Adjective is a beautifully shot, superbly paced study of absurdity and bureaucracy and the traps in which we all allow ourselves to be placed within our ordinary everyday existence.
Tuesday, 15 March 2011
A film, directed by James Marsh, Man on Wire, uses interviews with the protagonists, contemporary photographs and film footage, and reconstructions to tell the tale of the heist like build up to Petit's incredible wire walk. I recently watched Man on Wire a second time, the first being last year at the cinema when it was initially released. It is a beautiful film of a beautiful act.
In the film Petit, a street performer from Paris, refers to himself as "a poet conquering beautiful stages." The word 'death' occurs frequently throughout, Petit says the act was "framed by death". As does the word 'passion'. "If I die," he states, "what a beautiful death, to die in the exercise of your passion." There is a fire in his eyes and a seemingly limitless energy to the man as he tells his story. Those close to him are visibly touched by the experience, a number of them weeping at the recollection. His girlfriend of the time, Annie, says "everyday was a work of art to him", and his American accomplice, Albert, says of when he saw Petit practising on a wire "he had an ageless mask of concentration...he became a sphinx." A childlike joy and a childlike seriousness pervades the group of collaborators.
The images of the wire walk itself (there is no surviving film footage, only photographs) are so intensely poetic, the fragility of this tiny human being surrounded by the vast expanse of air and the enormity of the steel and glass of the Towers themselves, that the first time I saw the film I thought to myself 'no matter what I produce in this life as an artist I will never create anything so profoundly beautiful as this act.' One of the most common questions Petit has been asked regarding his wire walks is 'why?' Why does he do it? Why does he risk his life for something so apparently pointless? His answer to this question is an answer only a true poet or artist would offer or maybe even understand. His answer is simple: "There is no why."