Remember, Christina Rossetti

In among all of the academic reading I don’t have much time for fiction at the moment, as the dissertation deadline fast approaches. Poetry, however, is nice to dip in and out of. One of my all time favourites is Remember by Christina Rosseti. I discovered it years ago, I think when I was about fourteen or so, and it has remained precious to me ever since. It took on new significance when I read it at a funeral last year.

Not only is it a beautiful piece of poetry prose with a perfect sonnet structure, but it also has a tragically meaningful story behind it. Towards the end of her life Rosetti suffered from a thyroid disorder. Knowing the disease would be detrimental to her lifespan, she wrote this poem for her partner.

Remember, Christina Rossetti

Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann’d:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.

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Antoni Gaudi

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Architecture is a field I know very little about, mainly due to the fact I instead dedicate my time to art. I do however greatly enjoy visually absorbing the architecture of a city – one of the reasons I love living in Edinburgh so much! Everywhere you look there is an interesting element within the urban landscape. Whether it’s squatted gargoyles and intricate statues, or William Henry Playfair’s beautiful neo-classical designs; it’s an incredibly visual city. The same can be said for many of the others I have visited. Oman in the Middle East and various parts of India – both are incredibly unique with their architectural shapes, religious buildings and mosaic patterns. I spent several years in Oman, so it was lovely visiting Whitechapel in London a few months ago; as amid the city high-rises was a sprouting mosque – absolutely beautiful and such an interesting contrast to the rest of the city’s architecture.

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Seeing the work of architect Antoni Gaudi has long since been a dream of mine, and was one of the main motives for my recent trip to Barcelona. His famous works include the Guell park, the Guell house and of course, the Sagrada Familia – all of which fall within the design umbrella of Catalan Modernism. Highly embellished and brightly coloured, even for the architectural novice like myself they are a sight to behold. Drawing on both organic and Gothic influences, Gaudi’s work is a unique blend.

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Without his friend and patron, the entrepreneur Eusebi Güell i Bacigalupi’s support, many of Gaudi’s works would not have been realised. Gaudi in fact designed the crypt for the Guel family; a church which encompassed all elements of Gaudi’s experimental design techniques. This I did not see on my visit given our time limitations, however it is a site i will bear in mind for my return to Barcelona.

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Public/Private

 

20213861_288816651524137_2451059444084113408_nMy recent research is forcing me to think a lot about technology and its affects – it’s incredibly interesting, as it’s full of contradictions. On the one hand, technology brings us closer together; we can communicate instantly with anyone on a global scale and expect a reply within hours, if not minutes. We can conduct long distance relationships more easily, with the support of Skype and WhatsApp. We can even call our friend who’s running late to check how much longer they’ll be! Yet, in a sense, we are also distancing ourselves from one another. People can be sat together at dinner in a restaurant, not speaking for some time, but instead with the attention on their phones. The demands of cyberspace, have in some social situations come to outweigh the demands of reality. Our need to document our private lives online, again in some incidents takes precedence over simply enjoying the moment.

Considering this in relation to Hannah Arendt’s reflections  has been interesting. Her book, The Human Condition, was published in 1958 and reflects on human behaviours throughout Western history. An extract I found particularly poignant:

To live an entirely private life means about all to be deprived of things essential to a truly human life: to be deprived of the reality that comes from being seen and heard by others’ p.58

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Is our impulse to connect, be seen and heard virtually, simply an expression of our most basic human desire? Throughout Arendt’s discussion, she delves deep into the histories of public and private life; the public and private domain, as well as private ownership and how these entities affect our modes of thought. Through this she asks why ‘it has always been the bodily part of human existence that needed to be hidden in privacy, all things connected with the necessity of the life process itself’? (p.72) Why is it that activities such as breastfeeding one’s child, a vital component to life, are taboo? Is our impulsive need to document life in the digital era simply a component to moving beyond such taboos?

As more and more of our lives are uploaded online, our private spheres are rapidly diminishing. What was historically hidden, chores and hidden labour of  the domestic – have now come to light. People proudly wear an apron and washing up gloves as they smile for the camera, the ironing is laid out, washing up bubbles fill our phone screens as we scroll. Is our need to share more than simply a demonstration of production? Are we in fact, embracing life and human instinct; throwing away outdated notions of what is deemed publicly acceptable?

#today’swashingcombo

#windowcleaning

#queenofclean

Reflections on recent reading

22/07/17

Last week I participated in Collective Gallery’s annual Summer School, which was an incredibly rich learning experience. Not only given the range of speakers in discussion, but also due to the mix of participants who created an interesting and dynamic workshop environment. It was a great week to ease me back into thinking critically following my holiday in Spain. Collective are a contemporary visual arts organisation in Edinburgh which support new and emerging artists who are at a pivotal point in their career. Collective Gallery employ collaborative working methods, often producing new commissions for exhibitions. The Summer School they hosted last week had a selection of speakers and given her relevance to my current dissertation research, most notable to me was Angela McRobbie; a feminist cultural theorist and Professor at Goldsmiths. In her workshop, themes discussed included the gender of Post-Fordism [1], the artist as human capital, neoliberal enterprise, precarious labour and project-based work. Through my dissertation, I have exploring ideas of labour uncertainty and precarity, paying close attention to the temporal dimensions of these facets.

In contemporary society and within the economic framework, work and leisure boundaries are blurring. Work no longer sits exclusively within the 9-5pm paradigm, but instead all forms of slippages occur, most noticeably through technological communication in the form of Google calendar notifications and constant email exchange. We have become increasingly programmed to think not only in physical, but also in virtual time. As well as trying to balance work, domestic and social life, we are now forced into constant interconnectivity and network awareness. How many Facebook messages require replies? Have you checked the latest uploads from your friend’s holiday? Have you replied to their tag of you in a funny video? Technology is putting an increasing amount of demand on our lives – to the point that it is beginning to massively affect our sleeping patterns as well as our waking hours. According to Jonathan Crary, there are individuals these days who wake themselves up in the middle of the night for the sole purpose of checking their phones. Even in the sanctity of sleep therefore, we are still switched on to working life. There is no escape. We are no longer certain of when we are or are not working.

This is particularly evident in the creative industries, a field awash with neoliberal enterprise in the form of blogs and Etsy shops. Within the creative economy, working is increasingly flexible, freelance, uncertain and project-based, with little protection or welfare for workers. Angela McRobbie charts this in her book, Be Creative; a study examining the creative economy in the post-Blair years. In her discussion she also proposes ‘project-based’ models for future work, which are more considerate of such precarious labour. Further to this, I have also been reading Isabell Lorey’s State of Insecurity: Government of the Precarious, a very interesting and comprehensive read which draws primarily on Michel Foucault’s notions of biopolitics [2]. Throughout her analysis Lorey examines various dimensions of precarious labour, paying close attention to ideas of protection and inequality.

Tying these ideas to the work of the performance collective Eastern Surf [3] who I am studying for my dissertation has been very interesting and helpful. Through explorations of performance works such as ‘ilovemyjob‘, which examines the boundaries of working life, paying close attention to the domestic realm in which ‘hidden’ labour is carried out, I have been able to greatly refine my ideas from my broader readings (listed at the end of this post) and apply them within an artistic context.

**

[1] Post-Fordism is the theory that modern industrial production should change from the large-scale mass-production methods pioneered by Henry Ford towards the use of small flexible manufacturing units.

[2] Biopolitics can be understood as a political rationality which takes the administration of life and populations as its subject. According to Foucault: ‘[A] power that exerts a positive influence on life, that endeavours to administer, optimize, and multiply it, subjecting it to precise controls and comprehensive regulations.’ (Foucault, The Will to Knowledge: The History of Sexuality Volume 1, 1976)

[3] See: http://easternsurf.net 

Recent reading:

Be Creative, Angela McRobbie, 2016

State of Insecurity: Government of the Precarious, Isabell Lorey, 2015

24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep, Jonathan Crary, 2013

Graffiti Diary, Madrid & Barcelona 2017

Recently I went on holiday to Madrid and Barcelona. What has developed into a natural impulse for me is documenting the graffiti in foreign cities. I never realised how much I liked graffiti until I went through photos on my camera and phone, only to find I am slowly gathering a personal archive of street art. I was in Berlin last summer and absolutely fell in love with the street art there, with the streets and pavements filled with vibrant colour and beautiful art. A lot of people have mixed feelings about graffiti; some thing it is defacing the urban landscape, others think it brings life to the streets. I am of the latter opinion, as I believe creativity should flourish in the most unexpected places. I particularly love chalked graffiti on the pavement, as the transience adds a melancholy to the experience of viewing. I also feel art is an integral part of life, so what better way for it to be integrated into our lives than through the streets?

Since reading John Berger’s ‘Ways of Seeing‘ (2008) a couple of years ago, I have become an advocate for what he terms the ‘visual essay’. Dispersed throughout the essays in this book are images collected and formulated into essays themselves. Devoid of text, yet united thematically, the visual essays force you to look and think for yourself. They allow you to reflect on the content of Berger’s essay and then apply visuals to his discussion. I find this way of looking and reading incredibly inspiring, so below is my visual essay of graffiti found whilst in Madrid and Barcelona.

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Quote Extracts

16/06/17

I find myself developing a magpie tendency whenever I see a good quote. Whether it’s for personal or academic use, I have a compulsion to document and accumulate them. I always remember my old art teacher having a book of quotes that inspired him. He was a fantastic man, full of energy; who still wore a waistcoat with a pocket watch. I should probably be more religious with my quote gathering and compile them all in one place, as they are currently haphazardly scattered across various notebooks, sticky notes, old receipts and train tickets. Anything I can write on in that moment, I will use to scribble notes. At least I always have a surplus of pens on me as being pen-less is my worst nightmare given I am such an avid note taker.

Although most of the time they are gathered for personal reflection, these are some I thought I would share…

‘To be modern is to find ourselves in an environment that promises adventure, power, joy, growth, transformation of ourselves and the world and at the same time to destroy everything we have, everything we know, everything we are.’

– M. Berman, All That Is Solid Melts into Air, (1982), p.15

This I felt was a very poignant quote; as it is both at once filled with promise and hope, whilst simultaneously filled with tragedy and sadness. It signifies the disrupted and chaotic equilibrium of life. It exposes both the beauty and virtue of humans, whilst also displaying our destructive and careless nature. I think it is also very beautifully written; the more I read the more I am refining and realising my reading taste. I really do love visual language which drips with life. Along with my new found love for Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi’s writings, I have come across another writer  whose texts are truly brilliant. Although he’s an urban geographer in practice, which might appear a boring working title to some, or a tedious field to others, David Harvey is in fact one of the best writers I have come across in a while. His grasp of literature and his ability to convey and discuss his ideas in an engaging manner is enticing. Ignoring for a moment his staggeringly accurate and perceptive analysis of capitalist culture – he coined the term ‘time-space compression’, which discusses the shrinking of temporal and geographical distances as a result of technological and communication advances, see image below – his writing in itself is beautiful and full-bodied, like a good red wine.

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A quote of his I discovered recently that struck me:

‘Capital is a process and not a thing. It is a process of reproduction of social life through commodity production, in which all of us in the advanced capitalist world are heavily implicated…The process masks and fetishises, achieves growth through creative destruction, creates new wants and needs, exploits the capacity for human labour and desire, transforms spaces, and speeds up the space of life.’ 

– D. Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity, (1989), p.343

Berardi

12/06/17

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I have been reading a lot of Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi recently. He is an Italian Marxist theorist and activist in the autonomist tradition, who is widely published.  One of his most famous works is The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy (2009). He has also written extensively on Felix Guattari, ideas of capital and acceleration, society, the future, the worker and a variety of other dense topics. Berardi is perhaps my new favourite writer – or, given I prefer not to categorise into mere favourite divides, it’s probably more accurate to say he is a new favourite of mine.

His name kept cropping up in multiple bibliographies I was skimming and then I found a fantastic article by him on e-flux which could not be more relevant to my current research. The article is title ‘Time, Acceleration and Violence’ and it opens with this:

What do you store in a bank? You store time. But is the money that is stored in the bank my past time—the time that I have spent in the past? Or does this money give me the possibility of buying a future?’

– Berardi, e-flux journal #27, Sept. 2011

Out of all the articles I have ever read, this one has really stuck in my mind and left a lasting impression on me. I keep thinking about it and experiences or news articles I come across remind me of it too. For me, a Berardi read is always incredibly thought-provoking and at times, slightly unsettling. This read is one of those interesting yet unnerving ones. The article is a discussion of capitalism’s integration into our daily lives, into our cores. It talks about time in relation to the philosopher Henri Bergson; his ideas of duration versus modern days of perception. It discusses the Futurists and their war mongering attitude, Marx, war, competition, money, production, surplus. Its contents stick in your mind for days.

Why it was so prevalent to me?

Firstly, because reading about time is always a prevalent experience. Mainly because it forces you into an awareness of your own mortality. Yet this article goes further, as it links biological time to technological time and the time of capital. A comparison between the two is of course disturbing, as the biological can never compete with the economic. Particularly not in the digital age, where everything is immaterial and carried out online.

That was not the only disturbing element however. Extracts in discussion of the Futurists  were perhaps the most worrying given their accurate analysis:

Also in 1977, “competition” became the crucial word for the economy, whose project was to submit human relationships to the singular imperative of competition. The term itself became naturalized to the point where saying “competition” was like saying “work.” But competition is not the same as work. Competition is like crime, like violence, like murder, like rape. Competition equals war. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari say that fascism is “when a war machine is installed in each hole, in every niche.” And I would say that an economic regime based on competition is fascism perfected. But how does this violence arrive in the economic sphere?’

– Berardi, e-flux journal #27, Sept. 2011

Competition equals war. 

Think about that in relation to history. Think about that in relation to 2003; when the US first entered Iraq, claiming it was a moral act of defence and liberation. Yet capital was in fact the dark motive at heart. When I say the article is disturbing, I am not disturbed by the article itself, as it is merely a commentary exposing ideas and observations. It is the observations which disturb and unsettle me, particularly in wake of the current political and economic climate, both of which are fraught with uncertainty.

Recommended reading:

Berardi, e-flux journal #27, Sept. 2011

 

Florian Hecker, Synopsis

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I was through visiting Glasgow at the weekend and made my way to Tramway. One of the exhibitions that was on display was Florian Hecker’s Synopsis. Installed in the amazing open space of what used to be the tram terminus, depot and factory, where railway lines still run through the ground, this installation is experiential to say the least.

This is what I have come to find appeals to me about Contemporary Art. Whereas Modern Art and the Renaissance works are aesthetically appealing and visually rich, I feel the emotive response is quite limited. You can love a Monet, adore a Piccasso or hate Kandinsky (I would like to clarify I am not speaking from a personal perspective here, I myself love the lyricism and colours of Kandinsky’s work). However, through my explorations and exhibition visits, I have come to find that it is the experience of the contemporary which I am drawn to. Sensory works that adopt more of a physical manifestation, such as audio or performance for example, are therefore interesting to me.

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I think this is due to the risk-element in art forms such as this. Whereas a painting can be satisfying and pleasing to the eye, it can very rarely be an obtrusive structure which warrants specific navigation of the room. Paintings hang safely on walls; you do not touch, you simply look. Sculptures on the other hand intervene with the space, video projections force you to move in certain directions so as to avoid shadow obstructions, video noise interferes and distracts. Your senses are challenged; you are not simply looking – you are thinking, critiquing. You are engaged. Putting on headphones to listen to a work, bending low to see the underbelly of a sculpture; these movements in themselves are performative and Contemporary Art encourages the view to transform from a passive spectator into an active participant.

Hecker’s installation, Synopsis, is a challenge to the viewer. Upon entering the room, the audio penetrates your very core, resonating in your chest as you feel the bass of the work swelling up inside you. The installation is composed of a conglomeration of sounds bombarding you simultaneously. These are technically manipulated and reverberate through the installation, which is composed of suspended loudspeakers, cables and acoustic panels, each detailing a different audio environment. Each sound piece presents a manipulated version of an original sound work, which is then played back simultaneously as one from the several hanging speakers, creating an immersive experience for the viewer.

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Now this may not be to everybody’s taste, but for me it was an interesting paradoxical experience of at once being overwhelmed by the excess of sounds yet simultaneously calmed by it. If I shut my eyes, I felt incredibly serene despite the pulsating rhythms. Navigating myself through the work at odd intervals added to this feeling of serenity, as if I stood close to a speaker, I was able to focus purely on that sound and drown out the others slightly. One sound which stood out for me in amongst the cascade of noise appeared to be that of a rhythmic heartbeat. Why I was drawn to this sound in particular, I can only assume, is because I was drawn to the human element in amongst an excess of the technological. I may be mistaken in my assumption of it being a heartbeat, perhaps that was my ears attempting to make a categorisation of the sound, which included the following: cars starting, an organ playing, heart pumping, train driving, air bed deflating, key board playing. These were the sounds my ears conjured up in the technologically manipulated landscape.

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It’s quite a contradiction in that I have photographed a sound work. Obviously, this is not accurate documentation at all. Whereas the installation installed moments of nervousness and a constant sense of momentum through the sound, the images do no such thing. They are flat and banal. They do however give some indication as to the environment and setting of the work. Although the experience and sensory components are what I love about Contemporary Art, they are also the highly problematic grey areas. The documents are not always able to – there are of course exceptions – accurately record an event. I would therefore highly recommend you visit this show and experience it for yourself!

Temporal Habit

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Félix González-Torres, Untitled (Perfect Lovers), 1990

 

The face of a clock,

Is no face at all;

But instead

a cake of quarters,

Four slices I count down through the hour.

 

The digits changing are like the full stops of my life.

Punctuating my day,

My routine…

 

 

A full stop at the mark of every hour,

The conclusion of a sentence to segment my day.

 

Seconds tick by that I can’t see,

they trail obliviously to me.

I can’t hold them in my hand, can’t taste them or touch,

Yet by the marks of the hands,

I know they have passed.

 

As evening comes and darkness arrives,

I elongate my day with the switch of a light.

 

Although I sit in peace and quiet,

I am still aware of the silent clock.

I can’t hide from it, as time will flow.

Tomorrow will come and I will rise;

My phone will ring with messages,

I will empty my breakfast into a bowl

And I will resume to the tick of the clock.