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Thursday
Oct222015

Gordon Matta-Clark: Splitting, 1974

 

Gordon Matta-Clark Splitting (detail) 1974 322 Humphrey Street, Englewood, New Jersey courtesy of David Zwirner, NY and the Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark

Gordon Matta-Clark had such a brief career, but what he did was so influential.  For Splitting, 1974, he took an abandoned house and cut a channel through it as if with a cheese cutter.  The house didn't fall down although the attack on its structural integrity would have been drastic if it hadn't then been subsequently demolished.  Splitting actually refers to the set of photographs Matta-Clark made of the rooms slashed by light from the narrowly sliced outside wall.  

One doesn't cut through a woodframe house as if it was a piece of cheese.  It took a chain saw to cut each roof shingle, sheathing board, beam, joist, floorboard, lathe, plaster wall, plumbing pipe, window frame, chimney breast, stair tread and riser.  The thought is conceptual, the act is laborious.  

His beautiful film:

Splitting By Gordon Matta-Clark from GM Clark on Vimeo.

Matta-Clark's work is generally seen as 'a critique of bourgeois American culture' which makes little sense to me now.  It seems what he was doing was classic modernist sculptural technique, in the way David Smith assembled and welded steel sheets and then sometimes cut the piece in half and rearranged it.  My source for this is an ancient film I once saw on his working methods where he was working with steel the way the rest of us were working with cardboard.  The difference between working with mild steel and walls of a building is perhaps financial: abandoned houses and warehouses were available the way wrecked cars were for John Chamberlain.  But because both these materials fall into the category of detritus, or found materials, or salvage, their history leads to a set of particular and peculiar narrative arcs for the sculpture made from them.  


Peter Eisenman, House VI, Cornwall, Connecticut, 1975. photograph NJITPeter Eisenman's House VI of 1975, just one year after Splitting, famously had a glazed slit in the bedroom from ceiling to wall to floor.  At the time it was discussed as an illustration of the wilfulness of the architect, forcing his clients to sleep in twin beds to preserve the slipping planes of the design process that at one (arbitrary) point stopped, was built and occupied.  Although Eisenman's slice out of three planes of the room appropriates Matta-Clark's slice out of a house in New Jersey, it comes from completely different reasoning.  

Here is a video by Steve Trefois and Laurent Arnoldi on House VI, if one has the patience.

Peter Eisenman - House VI Steve Trefois - Laurent Arnoldi from AlICe lab on Vimeo.

 

Monday
Oct122015

John Chamberlain: HAWKFLIESAGAIN, 2010

John Chamberlain, HAWKFLIESAGAIN, 2010. Painted and chrome-plated steel, 270 x 311 x 221 cm. Artwork Copyright John Chamberlain. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery, photo by Mike Bruce

I'm wondering if there isn't an over-reliance on narrative in much of sculpture today.  Hirschhorn's 2015 In-Between spells out a narrative of building collapse: what it might look like, were it to happen.  As such it doesn't really look like buildings in collapse, which fall apart along structural lines unless helped by a lot of semtex.  However, it is the narrative that is important.  Jeremy Deller's 2009 It Is What It Is, has a more journalistic narrative: the bombed car is a bombed car, importantly from a specific time and place.

As a correlative, I find myself thinking of John Chamberlain's crushed car sculptures of the 1960s which, in his own words, had no weighty narratives attached, he only said they were about detritus, as that is what they were made from: 'individual pieces that are divorced from their material past' which have certain aesthetic qualities – colour, shape, shine, rust, but little 'historical indexical meaning' (these notes from a review by Anne Blood on Chamberlain's 2011 show at the Gagosian, London, the same year that he died).

However, over my adult life, these sculptures have had a zillion narratives and meanings projected on to them; even Anne Blood sees them as 'works formed like a piece of jazz improvisation, the separate pieces meeting like notes in the air, striking harmonics and chords – atonal or harmonious – but ultimately coming together into a pleasing whole' – a projected narrative of working methods, which may or may not be true.  For decades Chamberlain's sculptures were said to 'represent' the excesses of American throwaway culture, its love of big cars, speed, freeways and accidents.  They were, at one time, included in the Pop Art canon, because they used the products of American consumer culture.  They have occupied a subsection of American Arte Povera, because they investigate found materials and re-present them in a way that makes the commonplace a thing of marvel.  The archive of his works at Marfa's Chinati Foundation almost automatically enters the sculptures as land art: assemblages of stuff picked up in the landscape of dead cadillacs. But even at Marfa Chamberlain's works share space with Dan Flavin's neon tubes and Donald Judd's chrome-plated steel boxes, all industrial processes together, in various stages of assembly and decay.

After all these decades (four) can it be that a sculpture is simply the end product of its means of production (from which it derives its deep description) and not a production projecting a meaning, a lesson, a story, a parable?

Thursday
Oct082015

Thomas Hirschhorn: In-Between, 2015

Thomas Hirschhorn. In-Between. Photograph: Mark Blower

Thomas Hirschhorn's In-Between at South London Gallery has been reviewed in The Guardian under the title: 'Things fall apart: the beautiful Marxist bomb that's hit south London;  Artist Thomas Hirschhorn plays on our manic pleasure at seeing ruins by making a whole building collapse in on itself'   

But not really, it is in a gallery, which is still standing.  This is a simulacrum of a building collapsing in on itself.  Whatever he is doing, and it is explained in Adrian Searle's review, one has to ask whether or not such an installation does give us manic pleasure.  I'm not sure.  Hirschhorn quotes Gramsci's note, from Prison Notebooks, 'destruction is difficult; indeed, it is as difficult as creation'.  Well, whatever.  What is strange is that this art installation must be taken seriously in the light of the fairly simple destruction taking place in Palmyra, and the very similar images seen every day from Aleppo and Damascus.  Or even the destruction of the MSF hospital in Kunduz, which although it took half an hour, was relatively quick and one might say simple.  

Hirschhorn's ruins are actually made of cardboard and styrofoam standing in for concrete and steel, so technically, I suppose, a maquette, or a model.  He says, 'a ruin stands for a structural, an economical, a cultural, a political or a human failure' and it is failure he is giving form to.  Art is used here as an intermediary between real ruins and the causes of the real ruins, as if the lessons need to be spelled out.  Indeed Adrian Searle appreciates this.  If this exhibition is popular, does this indicate some sort of disaster fatigue amongst the general gallery-going first world public?  'oh god, another front page photo of a bombed building with little kids playing in the rubble. Can't take it in. Let's go look at Hirschhorn's ruin instead.'  

Compared to Jeremy Deller's It Is What It Is, his exhibition of the bombed car that killed 38 people in Iraq in 2007, In-Between is a limp thing, lacking in commitment and urgency,  It remains a maquette, and as such doesn't ask for much from the viewer.  Of course it is unfair writing about any work one hasn't seen, but I hadn't seen Deller's piece either, but I got it, or at least got what I needed to hear out of it.  And that is the point.  What, and how much, in any piece of art, passes a critical point whereby viewers find something to engage with, not just gaze at. In-Between seems a gesture, only. 

Thursday
Oct012015

Battle of Jutland

Three drawings of The Battle Cruiser Action in the Battle of Jutland during WWI. Taken from History of the Great War - Naval Operations, volume 3, Spring 1915 to June 1916 (Part 2 of 2) by Sir Julian S Corbett. London: Longmans, Green, 1921.

From History of the Great War - Naval Operations.  God this is exciting reading.  The first drawing above shows the movement of all the battle cruisers in this engagement from 2:45 to 3:00 pm. The next from 3:15 to 3:30, and the thrid from 3:40 to 4pm.  The speed is evident.  How quickly things moved.

Trafalgar was set up along Army lines: two opposing forces arrayed facing each other except that Nelson changed his line to two perpendicular arrows.  By the Battle of Jutland in the North Sea, May 31, 1916, opposing forces appear to operate parallel to each other, in feints and parries.  These were battle cruisers, weather not an issue but speed, torpedoes and range were.  It looks like a deadly dance chart.

Tuesday
Sep292015

The Battle of Trafalgar drawn after the fact

A lightly edited (by me) description from the website this print was found on: This is a popular print from about 1812. HMS Victory, followed by HMS Temeraire, is at the head of the left-hand column of British ships, which had been sailing for some considerable time into the teeth of the French and Spanish broadsides without being able to fire back. In the French line, just to the right of where HMS Victory's column is aiming, is the French flagship Bucentaure, and behind it the Redoutable. HMS Victory cut in between them and delivered a broadside into the stern and down the length of Bucentaure. Minutes later, a shot from high up on Redoubtable struck Lord Nelson with a fatal wound.

Nelson's enigmatic little sketch formalised into a historic account: mathematical, geometric, correctly military; theory rather than practice.  This is, perhaps, the danger in all writing after the fact. The narrative is clarified, made correct.  It is a design exercise, making a coherent object out of a melée on the sea with cannonballs breaking ships into splinters, people being killed, drowned, wounded.  In this allegedly 'popular' print, the sea is like the table tops of battles between lead soldiers.  By this time, seven years after Trafalgar, the battle had become mythic, as had Nelson.

Sunday
Sep272015

Nelson's battle plan for Trafalgar, 21 October 1805

Captain Horatio Nelson. Battle plan for the engagement with the combined fleets of the French and Spanish Navies, during the War of the Third Coalition of the Napoleonic Wars off Cape Trafalgar, Spain. 1805 © National Maritime Museum, London.

A wall of ships, the British ships sail toward it planning to cut the line in three, taking out the flagship first, i.e. no signals.  Not being a naval historian, and reading a brief summary, it appears that part of the English fleet was at Gibralter, weakening the total Navy, and so the French and Spanish thought they could defend Cadiz by forming a long line in front of it.  However, weather will intervene.  Little wind and contradictory orders to the French and Spanish to turn resulted in an extremely slow reformation leaving clumps of ships over a loose five-mile line.  In come two tight arrow-like British lines.  As they all were no doubt luffing around in the same calm weather, the battle must have seemed a bit like slow-motion.  However, outnumbered, outgunned and out-shipped, the British won, Nelson was shot and died, and storms that blew up the next day sank several of the wounded ships of the day before.  

If there is anything that endears one to Nelson's 'England expects that every man will do his duty' spelled out in signal flags flying from his own flagship, it is this scrap of a battle plan on the back of what looks like a bit of blotting paper.  One must never be seen to be trying too hard, but duty is done nonetheless.

Does this kind of thinking exist any more?  I only come across it in British espionage novels, those thrilling, complicated, but allegedly deeply conservative tales that pass these days as my escape reading.  Ex-SAS men gone rogue sort of stuff.  Not really rogue, in the end one finds they are on the side of right and duty.  Of course.

Anyway, beautiful little drawing.  It moves me to tears for some reason.

Wednesday
Sep162015

Bahamas: Please Forgive My Heart, 2013

This particular video is of the recording studio units that were used for Bahamas's Please Forgive My Heart, evidently a rare 1967 Germanium Neve console, which means nothing to me, but they also show a tiled shower stall for reverb.  I know about this because Eon Sinclair wrote an article in On Site review 28:sound 'Singing in the Rain', p43, about all the music recorded in washrooms in the 50s and 60s. Please Forgive My Heart is a Bobby Womack song, but that is by the way, other than his version of 2012 sounds pretty electronic – I don't think a shower played a part.

There were a lot of sound links in Eon's article which aren't linked in the ISSUU pdf, but are found here: www.onsitereview.ca/28/p43  We had to take off a few for copyright violation, but what's left is a half dozen videos with beautiful reverb.

It is always encouraging to find a substrata of creative activity that actually prefers the old techniques: vinyl lovers is one – a richer sound supposedly.  As I never get rid of anything, I still have my old vinyl collection, but without a system anymore to play it on, other that the Philips portable turntable I got for my birthday in grade 11, but which turns slightly faster than it should having had the belt replaced by Philips in London to suit the change in power delivery.  A long sentence, but one could do such things once. 

Tuesday
Sep012015

the freestep

Freestep bicycle

Having ridden a bike from the age of six, I've had in total four beloved bicycles in my whole life ending up with a quivering azure racehorse of a 10-speed that simply has a fit at each pebble in the road. I love it dearly. In this column I have written about bamboo bikes, ash bikes, carbon fibre frames, build-your-own bikes – it is a huge field: bicycles, bicycle lanes in cities, street bikes, bike-shares, bike couriers, bike paths, and the variety of bikes themselves is seemingly endless.  A long way from having to choose either a CCM or a Raleigh.  

This one, the Freestep, comes they say from the skateboard world. Well, only in the shape of the non-pedals really. Instead of pedalling, one pumps the boards as on a step-master thing (clearly out of my depth here).  No seat, you will notice. You stand and pump your way along, and in the process get very very fit.  

This model, above, has a nice fat retro frame, all gentle curves and cream enamel.  It is a curious blend of soft 1950s styling and 2010s auto-mobility here – we seem to want autonomous travel, without rules, just to be able to get about under our own steam seemingly without tradition, except for a sweet nostalgia that companies such as Best Made, or Labour and Wait promote.  It is a feeling that things were better once, that you could trust things when they were more solid, more straightforward, more utilitarian. Does this feeling exist in direct inverse proportion to how much time our minds spend in the virtual, ephemeral, complex world of our devices, while our bodies sit inert, in thrall to a preoccupied brain?  And somewhere after a long day at the screen face, we would like to take our clunky childhood bike and tool around the neighbourhood?

 

Tuesday
Aug042015

motels

Vincent Lamouroux. Projection: time and site-specific intervention on the Bates Motel, Los Angeles, 2015

No doubt everyone has seen this, the whitewashing of the old Sunset Pacific Motel slated for demolition on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles.  Vincent Lamouroux is the artist, there are several videos out there about the process (big machines spraying the trees, the ground and the building itself); it was open as an installation from 26 April to 10 May, 2015 and then left to the weather, again.  

Much has been made of the informal reference to the motel as the Bates Motel and Hitchcock's Psycho, despite the motel in the film being one of those old auto courts beside a lonely stretch of highway, and not in a city at all.  But whatever, a motel is a motel, evidently.  Does any derelict and empty building become sinister because it no longer functions in society?  And are motels particularly susceptible to this? Motels in film always offer anonymity for antisocial plot and action, it is a building type that exists outside the narrative of law and order, family homes and settled, normative lives. 

The Lorraine Motel, Memphis, TennesseeMartin Luther King was shot at the Lorraine Motel, now part of a Civil Rights museum in Memphis.  As it stands, un-whitewashed, it seems conventional, disengaged from its history.  If it had been painted white, or black, or any detail-obliterating colour, would that have transformed it, empowered it, or rendered it exceptional?  This touches on a discussion in On Site review 33:land about the limits of architectural expression; how much of architecture is form, how much is typology, how much is programmatic history. 

The Sunset Pacific no-longer Motel has become a 1:1 white gessoed model piece in the greater model that is the actual city: its form is both heightened and made meaningless, its typology is lost along with its function, but its history is alive in both its nickname and in its original, hopeful, end-of-Route 66 name: Sunset Pacific.  This is old California, the palm trees, the deco assemblage of building parts, and it is middle California of Sunset Strip, sleaze and screens that got small – all clichés that made a derelict building very attractive for the transformative processes of art.   Now it is a French art installation in an arid city in an urban desert in a four-year drought.  

Friday
Jul312015

Christine Hiebert: charcoal, 2009

Christine Hiebert. Untitled (rd.09.1), 2009. ink, charcoal, graphite on paper. ca. 18" x 23.5" from New Work by Robert Harms, Christine Hiebert and Jane Wilson. The Drawing Room, Easthampton, NY. February 6 - April 11, 2009

There are Christine Hiebert's blue tape drawings, lovely masking tape lines on large walls, and there are her charcoal drawings.  Her website shows drawings that are transparent and layered: the clarity and high-contrast of tape on painted drywall translated to charcoal mark-making.  One of the addictive tendencies of charcoal is its smudging – a clear mark made by a stick is then made ambiguous by the hand, but Hiebert uses an array of charcoal, ink and pencil lines precisely as they hit the page, each of which outline a space on the page that intersects and overlaps other line-drawn spaces.  

The wide bands, the width of a char-kole stick, or a graphite stick (each giving a different density of particles on paper) reveal both their own qualities plus the qualities of the paper.  They are laid down by a hand on an arm that follows its own rules. 

Christine Hiebert. Untitled (rd.09.3), 2009. ink, charcoal, graphite on paper. ca. 18" x 23.5" from New Work by Robert Harms, Christine Hiebert and Jane Wilson. The Drawing Room, Easthampton, NY. February 6 - April 11, 2009

Wednesday
Jul292015

David Birchall: Sound Drawings, 2012-2013

David Birchall. Bird Song Drawing for Psychic Dancehall Magazine 5. Drawn in Leicester August 2010

Drawing to birds as the sound track.  David Birchall's Bird Song Book uses pencil marks on paper to write the sound of birds.  There is text, in english, a running commentary of being out where birds are, and then it all becomes clusters of small noises.  

Another series, Sound Drawings (white ink, black paper) also uses the small scratch mark written language of birds combined with english language notations of place and mind; bird song and bird presence punctuate Birchall's thoughts, which in turn intervene in the continuity of bird life.  

These drawings inform Tacita Dean's inscribed cloud drawings — phrases from books, from everyday speech interrupt the process of drawing – they interrupt the perception of the drawn image as representation, returning the chalk marks to just that: marks, like letters that we ascribe value to.  Birchall's drawings are of sound, not the things that produce sound, so in looking at them, the degree of representation is not visual but audial.  

I'm no longer sure whether we are a logocentric people, where language and parole, text and textuality, register all the layers of meaning and interaction we need to know about.  Although both Dean and Birchall are film-makers, not writers in the traditional sense, both are drawing a language, one in english, the other in bird.  

David Birchall. b11, Sound Drawings (Leicester, Skipton, Edale) 2012-2013 (white ink, black paper) Made between August 2012 and October 2013 all the drawings record passing of time and sounds as heard from single spots in the midlands and north of England.

Monday
Jul272015

Tacita Dean: Clouds, 2014

Tacita Dean. Detail, Sunset, 2015. Courtesy the artist; Frith Street, London and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, Paris & London. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen

Tacita Dean. Insstallation view, Sunset, 2015. Courtesy the artist; Frith Street, London and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, Paris & London. Photo: Fredrik NilsenTacita Dean, on a residency at the Getty in 2014, produced a number of very large drawings of clouds: chalk on blackboard paint on 4 x 8 sheets of masonite assembled to wall-sized 8' x 16' panels.  Some are written upon: Sunset has a phrase from Lord of the Flies,  'fading knowledge of the world' written across a Constable-like sky of clouds illuminated not by the immanent presence of god or nature, but by sun on the ocean off Los Angeles.  Thinking of Constable, there is something quite dead, thunderous, leaden, ominous about these clouds.

This is such meditative work, done by hand, slowly moving chalk dust around – lots of time to think.  Does the antithesis of action painting mean figurative work?  One is working slowly to some visual end, which seems different than working physically in some process that ends when the action ends.  I might be saying it badly, but drawing a cloud is very different from drawing an existential shape, previously un-visioned.  We know what clouds look like, even though they are never the same.  

And then to undercut the cloud-like nature of the cloud drawings, they are written upon – these are blackboards – flattening the spatiality within the drawing.  These aren't clouds, they are diagrams. Of course. In this they are like Keifer's mountains, Twombly's Greek myths: annotated marks on a surface.  

Does the annotated drawing reveal a distrust of the image, and the images, manufactured, photographed, designed and assembled, that swamp our visual field? Estimates of how we see thousands of ads a day makes images in general unreliable; there is no such thing as the innocent image, it all means something.  How does one make a drawing then that is without reference?  Perhaps it is to reference something abstract in itself, such as a cloud, draw it with care and then make your own notes on it that keep it from being a palimpsest for other people's projections.  

I only think this way because I like reduction, stripping away, limitations, abstraction – early training in modernism that launched me totally unprepared into a world that was layered, complex, rich with contradictions and reference.  

Friday
Jul242015

Llorando se fue

All right, it is late July, it is hot, it is almost the weekend.  Yesterday, the ice cream van tootled down the street playing Lambada, a great advance on last summer's Theme from The Sting, over and over and over.

I have a list here of various versions of Llorando se fue, the song first recorded by the Bolivian group Los Kjarkas in 1981.  Kjarkas taught Andean folk in both Peru and Ecuador and they and the music travelled far; in the 1990s a little Andean group could be found in most North American plazas or busy street corners:  the one outside The Bay on Granville and Georgia in Vancouver was a solid fixture, eternally good-humoured while playing on the grey streets in the rain. 

Llorando se fue was recorded in 1989 by Kaoma in Portuguese whereby it became the Lambada and a huge pop hit.  I first heard it the first morning I was in Barcelona where two gitanos (always up on the absolutely latest tunes) with an accordian and a guitar were playing it at triple speed under the balcony.  I was entranced.

This is an early video version of Llorando se fue, where Gonzalo Hermosa González looks about 15.


and then what happens when it goes French:  Kaoma and Brazilian Loalwa Braz and two rather brilliant child dancers. 


 Honestly. The eighties. They were fun.  in places.

Wednesday
Jul222015

Anna Meredith: Nautilus, 2012

Something about this wall of sound inspires this kind of prose:  TheAndrewc5120's YouTube comment — everytime i listen to this song it surprises me. it's so aggressive and monstrous. it makes me think of the most intense, insane movie trailer ever. like something that you can't even imagine. bombs going off. colors everywhere. people yelling with everything they have in their bodies. until blood fills their lungs and starts pouring out of their eyes and ears and mouth. and then they metamorphose into humanoid butterfly monsters that can shatter plains of existence in a single stroke of their infinitely coloured wings.and they do. and all we can do is watch. and listen.

For some reason both the music and the video make me feel so optimistic.

I'm sure this won't last.

Monday
Jul202015

Kidd Pivot | Crystal Pite: Dark Matters

A different take on dark matter, and its metaphoric corollary, dark matters. Crystal Pite and Kidd Pivot take the sense that dark matter, the 95% of everything that exerts force and gravity but cannot be seen or even measured, pushes us around in ways we often do not understand.  As do dark matters, those pulls and pushes of irrationality that have our rational selves, our known world, bouncing around in a kind of Brownian motion.  

Here dark matter is not visualised in an act of control, instead its own controlling force field is explored.  Dancers are particles busy, busy, folding and stretching, pulling and falling, seemingly random, in the end using dark matter as an analogy of free and unfree will.

Pite explains it thus: Dark Matters is structured into two distinct acts: Act One portrays the tension between creation and destruction through a decidedly theatrical fable; the players are manipulated by anonymous puppeteers who drive the narrative yet subvert its artifice. Act Two is pure dance, with choreography that aspires to the impossible purity and grace of a marionette, while grappling with the essential question of free will, and the conflict inherent in manipulation. The revelations of Act One inform the way we view the dancing in Act Two.

Max Wyman has written, Dark Matters does what great art always does: encourages conjecture, invites reflection on what it means to be human.  Thank you Max. 

Friday
Jul172015

issues of representation

“Representation of Dark Matter,” mixed media 2015. Abdelkader Benchamma. (Jose Andres Ramirez/Courtesy of The Drawing Center)

Modernist me, in love with reduction and minimalism, I am suspicious of this drawing.  It is called Representation of Dark Matter, which isn't the same as a drawing of dark matter, which no one has ever seen, being a molecular void and therefore visually absent.  No, this is a representation, not of dark matter, but of Abdelkader Benchamma's idea of what dark matter ought to look like, which is a particularly subjective, layered, autobiographical presentation of one person's idea of cosmology.  So I find it not as interesting as, say, Christine Hiebert's work which makes no claims to represent anything.  

Here is a discussion between Benchamma and Maryam Modjaz, an NYU astrophysicist:  


The Benchamma drawing addresses the confusion I experience when watching almost anything on the news to do with space, or medicine or science: the text being presented is always a voice over a graphic which turns, for example, DNA into the helix, all striped and coloured with falling telomeres.  I don't actually know or understand whether the helix is a representation of a set of molecular relations that make up proteins, or if these make actual helixical structures.  I could look it up I suppose, but it isn't just this instance as graphic representations of all sorts of things abound, and whose veracity I mistrust.  

I doubt that veracity is the goal; a turning impossible-to-wrap-your-head-around concepts into graphics is.  As with the radio piece which is determined to introduce the topic in a slangy, non-threatening, cheery sort of way, I feel vaguely patronised.  The act of thinking about dark matter, its invisibility and its power, is full of possibilities and so rich compared to fixing just one idea of it in a giant drawing. However, in the absence of a million other images of what it might look like, this is the one that begins to represent it, that fixes it.  This is a disservice.  

Thursday
Jul162015

Christine Hiebert's blue drawings 2003-4

Christine Hiebert. Wall Drawing / The Drawing Room, Easthampton, NY 2004; blue adhesive tape, glue on wall. 11'-4h x 20'w

This is an artist who has made drawings with blue masking tape since 2000.  in this 2012 conversation she mentions when working graphically before computers learned how to draw everything for us, she would make curves using very thin tapes.  Yes, I remember this, a physical relationship between hand, tape and eye that was sensual and scaled to the arm: the automatic marks of the anthropos.

On her own website she talks about how the lines are flung out into space as a negotiation of the unknown, or the unexperienced.  It seems that how they land on the wall is not unlike a map that precedes experience, indeed, frames experience.  The selection of certain marks, the choosing of certain widths of tape, of placements, draws a map of desire and intention.  These are landscapes – they follow mapping conventions that are difficult to ignore.  However, just because they look like maps does not mean they are maps.  They are drawings that delineate planar areas where the borders of each territory are made significant: nothing is blurred, or ambiguous.  Some are strong, some weak – have I slipped into metaphor again?  Yes.  They are pieces of blue masking tape on white paper and white walls that spur us to think of things.

Christine Hiebert. Wall Drawing / The Drawing Center (view #4)

and a very small image, but showing that the scale is way beyond the hand and arm, it is now the wall, the ladder and the whole body. 

Christine Hiebert. RoundTrip. A wall drawing for the Pinakothek der Moderne, 2005

 

Tuesday
Jul142015

Anna Akhmatova

Anna Akhmatova Museum, the Sheremetev Palace, St Petersburg.

A beautiful room, the Anna Akhmatova Museum in Petrograd/Leningrad/St Petersburg.  It was her apartment in the Sheremetev Palace, a 1750 palace that included a hospital, a theatre and orchestra and a formal, fountained estate.  Akhmatova's apartment was in the south wing, and she lived in it from 1925-1966. 

Akhmatova's second husband was a tutor to the Sheremetev family; they stayed on in the north wing after the family fled during the revolution.  Her third husband was assigned an apartment in the south wing and there she stayed.  

There is Akhmatova's history, her poetry, her modernism; there are her intellectual husbands – poets, art historians, artists; there is the trajectory of the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union: all was well with her poems and her affairs until 1921 when her then first husband was shot as part of the Kronstadt rebellion.  With the loss of Lenin and the ascendance of Stalin that hardened the Russian commune, all the promise of the Russian avant-garde was turned: the Suprematists, Malevich, el Lissitsky slid into a perceived counter-revolutionary bourgeois activity.  She lived through it all, biographies list her countless affairs – intellectual, political and physical.  She wrote, sometimes published, often not, she wrote against Stalinism, confusingly she was deemed a soviet poet with czarist leanings, a promiscuous classicist in revolutionary times; she lived on in her beautiful apartment.

Please, just give me a room with these proportions. I'd take out the fluorescent unit in the ceiling.

Friday
Jun122015

I seem to have forgotten how to write this journal

Blogs, or daily journal entries such as this one were once a clean platform, before the rise of facebook and twitter and all the other kinds of messaging, before phones and the massive conversion to mobile specs for all websites.  They were expansive, and there are a number I still check in with every day: publishers who run their blogs as separate strings that run parallel to their main function which is the selling of books.  Others sit on vast collections of material: photos and art works and keep drip-feeding this material into the public realm.  On my long list of bookmarks are sites that were once really vital and now have become conventional, repetitive – they exhausted their topic.

And news sites such as the Guardian, me being a faithful reader of the paper since the 1980s, have become desperate horses in the ratings race with endlessly punning titles, reader photo challenges and hot sexy leads: the final presentation of the world as entertainment. Even if about disaster, war, tragedy, economic collapse or politics, there will be a clever gimmicky title in case the readers aren't interested enough to read on.  It is exhausting, this participation in the snappy world of cool, so instantaneous and ubiquitous.  The other thing is comments: as with radio, one has a one-to-one relationship with the material, the writers, the hosts.  However, as soon as one starts to read the comments on, say, The Guardian, one finds a rather horrible constituency that I hope is not me – sexist, racist little Englanders. I was shocked and wonder if this kind of response is actually elicited by Guardian material and I am not clever enough to realise it.  I was happier not knowing about the comments.

This daily journal for the On Site review website was started simply so that the home page would be different every day in case anyone visited it twice.  At the time most magazine and journal sites filled their home page with subscription material and a cover image, simply because most magazines and journals were busy producing print copy and didn't have time or resources to run a separate online version.  It has been fast, the demise of print in favour of digital online magazines which are wider, cheaper, more interconnected and in the right hands, faster and more democratic.  Literary journals were first, the number of small literary online journals is legion, they are beautifully designed, and they start up and die like mason bees in the summer.  

In a weeding out of my bookshelves I have a pile of 1970s and 80s Capilano Review, Island, Malahat Review and small chapbooks which I can't bring myself to send off to Literacy Canada, where no doubt they would be better placed than in my bookcases of superannuated ambitions.  These are the small literary journals before computers, still here, the words are still in place on the page. And the writers then constitute a historical blue chip Canadian literature aristocracy now. They were immensely powerful influences on Canada Council and the CBC, today both headed for irrelevance.  Times are different; the responses to the 1949-50 Massey Report that were the foundation of a proposed Canadian identity, mainly the National Film Board, the Canada Council for the Arts, the cultural programming of the CBC have watched that identity atomise in the new century.  

Identity politics are transnational although very much inflected by local conditions; the sense that the arts could define a people and a nation is something that vaporised with the discrediting of nationalism as any sort of progressive future. Plus, writers, of any sort from poets to journalists can now self-publish and find a global readership that exceeds the capacity of any print journal.  There is, however, a technological lag in both the traditional funding agencies and political infrastructure, both based on pitting or uniting regions, pitting or uniting demographic categories, pitting or uniting disciplines.  How the word racism is based on a belief in race, so do regions perpetuate regionalism, nations nationalism, demographic division demography.  By even addressing the geographical constituent parts of identity, one perpetuates inequity.

All this said, there is a coloniality to architectural discourse which favours Europe, the USA, sometimes Japan.  The smattering of critical work from peripheral places: South Africa, Australia, is given a kind of honorary first-worldness while the professional vernacular of such places is indistinguishable from American conventional building dotted about with specimen Calatrava bridges and Foster office towers.  Someone such as Eyal Weisman does not write about Palestinian architecture, rather about the political geography of architecture, i.e. the material consequences of an unequal war.  Not sure anyone is doing this in the banal geographies of Regina that affects local thinking about architecture in any way.  Architectural discourse has all the hallmarks of uneven development, where there is a centre, or centres bound together by opacity and wealth, and semi-peripheries and peripheries rankled with degrees of false consciousness.  And the web facilitates this: I can watch Eyal Weisman lecture in London on my own computer in my own house.  I feel connected, but connected I am not.

Thursday
Apr022015

Richard Diebenkorn: planar terrain

Richard Diebenkorn, Ocean Park #79, 1975. Oil on canvas, 93 x 81 inches. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and with funds contributed by private donors, 1977. ©The Estate of Richard Diebenkorn

Diebenkorn's Ocean Park series, which extended over many years, put landscape into a set of geometric relationships: planes which align, or not, across a terrain. The etching below, #6, 1978 is like a working drawing for a landscape painting, even one as traditional as Berkeley #23 of 1955.

Richard Diebenkorn, #6 from Six Softground Etchings, 1978; etching, 39 7/8 in. x 25 7/8 in. (101.28 cm x 65.72 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Purchase; © Richard Diebenkorn Foundation; photo: Don RossRichard Diebenkorn, Berkeley #23, 1955; oil on canvas, 62 in. x 54 3/4 in. (157.48 cm x 139.07 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Gift of the Women's Board; © Richard Diebenkorn Foundation