An overview of current interests (clockwise from left):
The Complete Paintings of Giotto, Andrew Martindale; Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London. 1969.
This is Modern Art, Matthew Collings (from the Channel 4 series); Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London. 1999.
Misdirect Movies, Andrew Bracey and John Rimmer (exhibition catalogue of touring exhibition on collage in moving image); Cornerhouse Publications, Manchester. 2013.
As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh. Diaries 1964 - 1980, Susan Sontag; Penguin Books, London. 2012.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Penguin Classics. 2001.
All That is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity, Marshall Berman; Verso, London. 2010 (1973).
Article from The Times 21/09/13 on Hans Ulrich Obrist. ‘The Serpentine’s Star Attraction.’
All that is Solid Melts into Air, Jeremy Deller (catalogue for current exhibition at Manchester art gallery); Hayward Publishing, London. 2013.
The broken faces of ancient marble statues and a bronze statuette from The Portraits of the Greeks by G. M. A. Richter; ‘The Face of War’, photograph published on front cover of Die Freie Welt (The Free World), 1920, and subsequently published in the hugely informative book Dada by Leah Dickerman; photographs as they were recovered from the famous disarray of Francis Bacon’s studio following his death.
Collage: Assembling Contemporary Art. Blanche Craig (ed.). Black Dog Publishing. London, 2008.
'No one [Freud] announced, lives in the real world. We occupy a space of our own creation - a collage compounded of bits and pieces of actuality arranged into a design determined by our internal perceptions, our hopes, ours fears, our memories, and our anticipations.'
- W. Galin, Feelings, 1979.
This book offers an interesting look at the significance of collage practice today, as well as its use as an umbrella term to encompass a variety of medium, by considering its shifting definitions throughout the 20th century, from Picasso and Cubism to contemporary installation and assemblage work.
'At the turn of the twentieth century most forms of human expression turned inwards, abandoning realistic representation towards a foregrounding of technique and materials…The modern individual was no longer a coherent subject; identity was fragmented and multiplied, experience lost its unitary character…Abstract art was, at its core, an attempt to respond to the seismic changes of the time, probing into the human psyche and the disconnectedness of modern experience. As Kurt Schwitters wrote:
In the war, things were in terrible turmoil. What I had learned at the academy was of no use to me and the useful new ideas were still unready…Everything had broken down and new things had to be made out of the fragments; and this is merz. It was like a revolution within me, not as it was, but as it should have been.
To better accommodate modern experience art had to re-create its syntax; and collage was in essence the natural consequence.’
John Stezaker offers a definition of collage in opposition to montage, which is interesting:
'Montage has become mainstream. It was radical in Eisenstein's day, but now it is facilitated in the editing of colour supplements, it is the cut and paste method that everyone uses, the standard way of working. I see collage as acting in opposition to that. It it an exposure of and a resistance to the seamlessness of montage…a desire to expose and to hold on to the seams whereas, in montage, the seam is hidden and universal.
Collage offers a perspective on the essential condition of the image in our culture: the existence of an image perpetually in relationship to another.’
The book is divided into 5 sections: Construction/Abstraction, Surrealism/Fantasy, popular Culture/Mass Media, Body/Identity and Environment/Geographies. Above are some of my favourite images from across these chapters.
above: a collage of stills from various documentaries by Adam Curtis
I’ve been drawn to looking closely at Hans Ulrich Obrist’s interview technique recently. I want to start a series of conversations with emerging artists that focus in particular on the experience of the individual in art school now. As a largely self taught artist myself I’m kind of fascinated by art schools. I’m also just always fascinated to know where the story begins for creative people.
There’s a great interview with Adam Curtis that you can read in full here. Below is a favourite section of mine.
HUO: You’ve said in a recent interview that we are “living in a conservative age, and it produces cowardly art.”
AC: Well, I think that a lot of art has been captured by, again, academic stuff. I find it fascinating these days that you need to know the references behind a lot of art in order to understand it. Someone will, say, put something on a wall in a gallery and to “get it” you have to know that that the image is of a place where something extraordinary or terrible happened. I’m not saying that this is wrong—but it’s also not very dissimilar from an academic putting a footnote in a book. A lot of art is absolutely surrounded by footnotes at the moment.
HUO: The artist Paul Chan says that in art, and in general, we should just stop quoting. Would you agree?
AC: Yes, he’s absolutely right, because my working theory is that we live in a managerial age, which doesn’t want to look to the future. It just wants to manage the present. A lot of art has become a way of looking back at the last sixty years of the modernist project, which we feel has failed. It’s almost like a lost world, and we are cataloging it, quoting it, reconfiguring it, filing it away into sliding drawers as though we were bureaucrats with no idea what any of it means. They’ve got nothing to say about it except that they know it didn’t work. It’s not moving onwards—we’re just like academic archaeologists. It’s terribly, terribly conservative and static, but maybe that’s not a bad thing. Maybe in a reactionary, conservative age, that’s what art finds itself doing. The problem is that it pretends to be experimental and forward-looking. But to be honest, in some ways I’m just as guilty. What I do is not so different—using all sorts of fragments from the past to examine the present. Maybe this is simply the iron cage of our time—we’re like archaeologists going back into the recent past, continually refiguring it, surrounding it with quotations. It’s a terrible, terrible prison, but we don’t know how to break out of it.
Penguin books concept work and design by Jan Tschichold
Pages from the Frieze Masters art catalogue. As always, too much text and not enough imagery, but on the whole good enough to fork out for.
Here are a few interesting unrelated fragments, removed from context:
'The true intellectual refuses to take part in contemporary debates because reality is always anachronous.' - Jorge Luis Borges
Expressing greater pride in the books he read than the books he wrote, Borges was certainly one of the best (most committed, curious, imaginative, sensitive, thorough and grateful) readers of the 20th century. Immersing himself in the literature, philosophy, poetry and theology of Spanish, English, French, German, Italian, Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse traditions, he also followed contemporary Argentinian writers and read translations of texts from across the Arab world. But he wouldn’t have approved of the divisions made in that last sentence: he read everything as coevally alive in the present, loathing the idea of categorising a book according to date, place, or literary school. In the same vein, the essays and stories he wrote form extraordinary links between obscure thoughts and images of disparate origins that shared no commonality in time or space, demonstrating his insistence on the oneness of things beyond the illusions of individuality.
'I'm just a kitchen-table artist.' - Felix Gozalez-Torres
'I am the author of my own world with its internal logic and with its value that no one can deny.' - Louise Bourgeois
In 2001, when more than 7,000 objects from Bacon’s studio at 7 Reece Mews in South Kensington - what the artist called his ‘compost heap’ - were relocated to the Hugh Lane Gallery, a team of archeologists was enlisted to excavate and catalogue the chaos.
An article in The Guardian by Madeleine Bunting touched on a trait I’ve been noticing in myself and others. Her piece was about how in talk about the global war on terror the European Englightenment is often wheeled out as an opposing force to fanatical religious fundamentalism. She questioned the way it was used to validate arguments against religion. She was surprised by the vehemence with which contributors to her blog discussion defended what they believed was a correct history of the Enlightenment.
Faith in cool reason seems to arouse as much irrational passion as religious zeal. Intellectuals have their own testosterone-soaked equivalent of who has the biggest biceps: ‘I know more than you’ - the machismo of knowledge. A lot of emotion gets invested in becoming The One Who Knows Best. Oh what bliss it is to be so sure, so right.
We all have a part of ourselves that cries out for certainty and meaning. If we encounter a contemporary artwork one of the first things we ask is: ‘What does it mean?’ We can be uncomfortable with not knowing, not being sure, not having the safe ground of authorised, correct interpretation. When encountering an artwork we seek the explanatory panel. All the art historians and curators coming out of the ever-expanding universities are keen to explain. Knowing what they think it’s all about may increase our enjoyment of the artwork but perhaps that can also lead to us devaluing our own personal uninformed response. This is typical of the way we can discount the things we learn in life that don’t get us a GCSE. We are all equally well qualified to say yuk or wow.
Alan Bennett thought there should be a big notice up at the entrance to the National Gallery that says ‘You don’t have to like everything.’ We are sometimes coy about expressing our tastes for fear of appearing ignorent. I am still educated enough to know how much I don’t know. I gave up at school as soon as I made my decision to become an artist. I feel insecure around knowledge and maybe this as led to me having a reverence for academics that may be misplaced.
Susan Sontag said: ‘Interpretation is the revenge of the intellect on art.’ Perhaps she means that heady types are mystified and a bit jealous of artists’ ease with creativity and free expression so they theorise the fun out of art. Excellence at book-learning is only part of being truly bright. I sometimes feel that there is a sliding scale of emotional intelligence that starts high with women, then goes intellectual women, men, intellectual men, Asperger’s syndrome. Often it seems as if dubious theories get trowelled on to an artwork to shore up some intellectual’s personal emotional response.
I am asked to talk about my work sometimes. I sense that hunger for understanding within the audience. I used to feel pressurised to come up with answers to satisfy that hunger. I have learned that it can lead to me coming up with hurried and spurious interpretations of my own work. Such is the status that meaning can have over feeling that I bow to the pressure and engage what Steven Pinker calls the ‘Baloney Generator’. This is our rational self that is so uncomfortable with the potential ambiguity of an emotional motivation that is will try to pin things down with desperately formulated rationales. The cleverer we are the better we are making up more convincing meanings and reasons. Nowadays I employ a more open strategy and talk about the things I was looking at and thinking about when I was making a particular piece and leave it up to the audience to make their own direct connections. This feels more satisfying and true than any nailed-down explanation.
As humans, we have a constant discussion going on in our brains. On our right sides we have instinct, emotion, intuition; on the left, intellect, language, reason. As an artist, I feel that it is from this dialogue that inspiration comes. If a decision about how to proceed with a work is a too-up between watertight concept and sensual intuition I tend to give in to intuition because of its track record.
My intuition will say: ‘I fancy drawing an aeroplane.’ My intellect will ask: ‘Why?’
'Because I liked aeroplanes when I was young and they remind me of happy times playing.'
'Drawing aeroplanes is childish; we should not give in to your boyish hobby whims; this is the grown-up world of contemporary art.'
'But I really want to draw one, and in the past you must admit I've had come great ideas.'
'Well I do concede that, and aeroplanes do have some interesting meanings these days, what with 9/11, the war on terror, global warming - these will give the drawing academic weight.'
'Yippee. It's gonna be a wicked jet fighter.'
I wonder if a similar dialogue went on in someone’s head that started: ‘I fancy invading Iraq in the name of enlightened democracy.
Egyptian Sculptures. T. G. H. James. Fontana Unesco Art Books, Italy. 1966.
Memphis Sakkara. Lehnert & Landrock. Cairo. undated.
Things in isolation: Giacometti and Rodin.
Giacometti Sculptures. Roaeul-Jean Moulin. The Little Library of Art, Methuen. 1964
Auguste Rodin. Henri Martinie. Les Editions Braun, Paris. 1955.