Acceleration

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Recently I have been exploring a great deal of philosophical thought concerning time and temporal lineages, including Henri Bergson’s theories of duration, in which time and duration vary according to the individual but remain the same for science. Kant’s notions of time and the sublime experience have also featured, as have several other discussions of the abstract qualities of time.

I have also been reading a lot about the history of time which is incredibly interesting, particularly given the evolution of the instruments we have employed to measure it; which range from sun dials to stop watches. Yet philosophical ideas and the science of time have not been my only major influence; I have  recently become fascinated by geographer David Harvey’s notion of the ‘time-space compression’. This is, as the name indicates, the collapsing of temporal and spatial distances. This compression is triggered by technological innovations and means of communication; the ease of which contributes to today’s shrinking geographies.

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In light of this, my considerations of time in contemporary art and culture have therefore inevitably led to a focus on this idea of acceleration. With the introduction of the internet in 1990s, a paradigmatic shift occurred not only in our abilities to communicate, but also in our economic climate. The internet allowed for the acceleration of capital exchange and production modes, the opening of new markets and an entirely new social sphere. With online banking, Google calendar, alarm notifications, WhatsApp groups, it could be argued that today we exist just as virtually as we do physically. It also heavily impacted artistic production, leading to what is termed as ‘post-internet art’ – a term I personally cringe at using. Although more broad and ambiguous perhaps, I feel ‘the virtual’ is far more encompassing and apt a term to describe online modes of production. Post-internet compartmentalises it too much for me and even the inclusion of the word ‘internet’ is narrowing. However, I feel ‘the virtual’ allows for connotations of various virtual spheres (whether that is social, political or economic), virtual worlds, virtual technologies, virtual communications, etc. It seems far broader and more applicable to my explorations. Having said that, it may just be my aversion to conventional ‘post-internet art’, as with the work of Ryan Trecartin, see here. I am not disinclined towards post-internet art exactly, or to Trecartin’s practice, in fact I think it is a wacky mass of crazy. I think however, my apathy lies in the fact that more articulate practices have since developed.

maxresdefaultRyan Trecartin, Any Ever, 2012, film still

I personally have far greater affinity with the work of both Hito Steyerl and Melanie Gilligan, mostly because both practices and bodies of work are interesting and thought-provoking commentaries on capitalist society. Gilligan’s work takes the form of realist/sci-fi reality TV dramas as an abstract representation of capitalist conditions and social commentaries and Steyerl’s work adopts a more documentary and video essayist approach. I was in The Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow yesterday and so popped in to see Steyerl’s piece Abstract (2012) for the second time, as it is an incredibly interesting film in discussion of weaponry, globalisation and warfare.

I think the success that underpins both of their works is the strength of their theories and research methods; both are incredible writers who I would highly recommend reading.

HT-crop-827x463Hito Steyerl, Abstract, 2012, film still

You can watch Melanie Gilligan’s sci-fi piece Popular Unrest free online here

You can read some of Hito Steyerl’s texts for e-flux journal by clicking the links below:

‘In Free Fall: A Thought Experiment on Vertical Perspective, e-flux, #24, April 2011

‘In Defense of The Poor Image’, e-flux, #10, Nov 2009

 

 

 

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Dissertation

02/06/17

Recently I have started my dissertation period. I say recently, it’s been about a month. Having changed my idea several times however, I am finally making headway. The issue about studying art – and contemporary art in particular, is that I want to write about everything! The same problem happened with my artistic practice and in my studio on my Undergraduate; I had a notebook filled with so many ideas that I wanted to pursue every single one. Naturally, I realised this was not possible.

I think however that the process of refinement is really interesting. It teaches you what your core interests really are. So for my dissertation I have been toying with multiple ideas across several weeks, all of which encompass similar themes, which are listed as follows:

Contemporary art
The virtual
Capitalism
Spectatorship
Consumerism
(The archive)
Documents
Virtual representations
Art production online
The internet
The social
Social media
Politics
Ephemerality
Dissemination

I would have to say the core areas of interest are contemporary art, the virtual and capitalism. Finding a way to incorporate these very broad themes has been incredibly difficult, but the more I read and the more my research trajectory was shaped, a theme emerged quite organically; the theme of time. I found myself writing it several times over in my notes:

‘time as commodity’, ‘space and time’, ‘viewing time’, ‘acceleration of time’, ‘relation in time’, ‘temporal instability’…

It kept occurring and it was perfect. It also came as no surprise that this was the theme to emerge. I read Whitechapel Gallery’s Documents of Contemporary Art book on Time two years ago and it had a truly profound effect on me. I could not stop thinking about it or referring back to it. At that point I was exploring Performance Art, so notions of duration and performance time were more my focus. However the themes and threads of the book were incredibly thought-provoking and long lasting. So of course, I have returned to this collection of essays to explore the theme of time in contemporary art and capitalism for my Masters thesis. One of my favourite quotes I have extracted so far is:

‘The clock turns time from a process of nature into a commodity that can be measured and bought and sold like soap or sultanas.’ – George Woodcock, p.65

The reason I believe I am so interested in contemporary time, is that the notion of memory has always intrigued me. Ways to record, ways to remember, was to recapture. Memory and time are inherently bound up. Over time my interests have evolved from purely fixating on ideas of memory and counter-memory, to also encapsulate this idea of acceleration in capitalist culture. Although humans have always segmented their days with set time scales – morning, lunch, afternoon, evening; the working day, it is only in this century that we have become so governed by time. We have people getting up at 5:30am for a morning yoga or bootcamp session, eating a hurried breakfast on the go, grabbing a take out coffee, cycling, driving, or using public transport to get to work to start their day. Email calendar appointments, emails coming through on our phones, notifications on our Fitbits. Leisure time, work time – they are all blurring into one. You can be sat doing work emails at 11pm after only having finished the domestic tasks that needed doing. The lifestyles of late-stage capitalism and neoliberalism have enabled these accelerated timescales. As has the consumerist impulses, which are present not only in commodity goods and shellac nailpolish, but also in today’s ‘scrolling’ society. We are consuming images and information at rates never imagined. We skim and flit between links and articles, but how much are we really absorbing?

It is all comes back to time. Time spent scrolling, time spent listening, time spent planning. Time dictates our body clocks – and I am not referring to this purely in the sense of biological time, but in the time constraints we have established for ourselves as a society. What is an interesting paradox however, is that although time governs so much and so many of our lives, it is an elusive term which no one is able to define. There are several renditions of time, each relevant to a variety of fields; metaphysics, technological time, biological time, Newtonian time, time in philosophical thought, etc. All these grey areas but nothing concrete. I suppose there is the morbid element however; how many of us actually want to think about time? It is a reminder of our own mortality, our own fragility, our own time scales. Is our need and impulse to govern and segment time an attempt to conceal this?

Time will tell.

MARK WALLINGER MARK

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Last night I attended Fruitmarket Gallery’s preview of MARK WALLINGER MARK. It is an unconventional exhibition in the sense that it is split between Fruitmarket here in Edinburgh and Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee. I am not particularly familiar with Wallinger’s work, until last night I was only aware of the basic facts. He is an artist who has been creating work since the 1980s and in 2007 he won The Turner Prize with his State Britain installation, a recreation of peace campaigner Brian Holmes’ Parliament Square Protest. This was Mark Wallinger’s second Turner Prize nomination, the first of which occurred in 1995 in response to his A Real Work of Art. History, personal and national identity are some of the themes that run throughout his work. As I was not very familiar with his practice, I found the Artist Talk last night incredibly helpful in my understanding of his artistic oeuvre. I think attending artist talks is one of my favourite things to do, as although you can read and learn plenty about an artist online or from books and journals, nothing quite compares to hearing them discuss their work in person. It is an incredibly intimate moment I believe, for an artist to reveal and describe their process in front of a crowd and so I attend as many artist talks as I can. They are the best way to learn about interpreting both the artist and an artwork.

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Last night’s discussion between the artist and Fruitmarket Director, Fiona Bradley, was no exception. With a nice introductory discussion of his State Britain work, the talk then led into more recent pieces which included a performance work Wallinger completed in Berlin, as well as his beautiful id Paintings. These were by far the most stunning works in the exhibition for me, mainly because it felt as if I was observing the gestures of a private moment in the studio. It was also a refreshing moment for me to view them in all their tactility and impressively large scale, as seeing them on the website had created a digital interpretation for me. I therefore very much enjoyed studying the studio aesthetic of them in person. Wallinger revealed that they were created during a dark period as he was “not the happiest of people at the time” (notes made during Artist Talk). This to me is evident in the intensity and tactility of the paintings. What I love about them is they are merely traces of a gesture; light and delicate marks of a few studio moments. Wallinger made a total of sixty-six of these, which proves the release he must have felt in their creation. I believe this is evident in the gestures themselves, as they seem to conflict between smooth flowing marks and more frantic, hesitant ones.

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The show is very much orientated on this notion of mirroring and identity, particularly given the title of the show and Wallinger’s Self Portraits (2007-14) which take the form of the capital letter ‘I’, in various inky renditions on canvas. These are hung on the bottom floor on the same wall that the id Paintings occupy upstairs; a rather satisfying curatorial parallel which again ties into the idea of mirroring. This is furthered by the split format of the exhibition between two cities, the fact the id Paintings are mirror images on either side of the canvas and double the artist’s height, as well as several other features.

I sometimes find it difficult to absorb the work fully in a preview environment, as there is the distraction of conversation, constantly flowing movement and of course the bar! However what I love about previews is the conversation and questions that arise in response to the works and how this environment enables people to engage with one another and respond to interpretations. It is always interesting, following these discussions, to return to the exhibition at a later point and view the artwork in contemplation of the ideas that were generated at the preview.

To find out more about Mark Wallinger’s exhibition, click here to visit Fruitmarket Gallery’s website.

To read and learn more about State Britain, click here to visit Tate’s website.

Self-Deceit #1

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Self-Deceit #1 (Roma), Francesca Woodman, (1977-78)

In December 2015, I visited Amsterdam for the first time. It was a truly memorable experience, not only because it was such a magical time of year to go, but because it was the first holiday in which I was able to dedicate entirely to viewing art. I went with my boyfriend and I am must say I am delighted to have a partner who is equally enthusiastic in spending countless hours in a gallery setting. We were fortunate enough for our visit to coincide with a major retrospective, On Being An Angel (18th Dec 2015- 9th March 2016) of American photographer Francesca Woodman’s work. This was exhibited at Foam, an institution dedicated solely to photography.

It was a show which I will remember for the rest of my life. Woodman’s work is incredibly raw and her photographic portfolio is composed predominantly of self-portraits. Walking around the exhibition was like peering into the soul of Woodman. Not only was her physical body exposed in multiple works, but so was her innermost self. Viewing the photographs was like catching a glimpse into her mind and world. Her aura was infectious and I was still thinking about the photographs long after I left the gallery; they truly made an lasting impression on me.

And so when the opportunity to write and research Woodman’s work arose within my current role as Digital Content Writer Intern for the National Galleries of Scotland, I was delighted. You can view the link below to read my piece and learn more about Francesca Woodman and her influences (in order to view this essay, you must first scroll right to the bottom of the page and click on the ‘plus’ sign at the right hand side, adjacent to the ‘more about this artwork’):

Self-Deceit #1 (Roma), (1977-1978)

See also my publications page for more.

 

Susan Sontag ‘On Photography’

dscn8042   Cover photograph: Dan McCullin

I am currently half way through ‘On Photography‘ by Susan Sontag (1933-2004), a collection of essays which were first published in the New York Review books between 1973 and 1977. Sontag received her BA from the College of The University of Chicago and did graduate work in the realms of philosophy and literature at Harvard University and Saint Anne’s College, Oxford. Throughout  her career she published four books, wrote and directed four full-length feature films, directed several plays and was a human rights activists for nearly two decades. A highly accomplished woman who has also won multiple awards including the 2003 Peace Prize of The German Trade. I know it’s slightly unconventional to review a book whilst you’re only half way through it, however Sontag’s writing is not only incredibly  inspiring and insightful, but also executed in such a fashion that I felt the urge to share my appreciation.

The book was first published in 1977 and this only heightens my admiration for the publication and the author. Sontag is writing about themes way ahead of her time; she essentially predicts the selfie-age, claiming humans since the Victorian era have been narcissistic with their photographic portraits. Of course, cameras have been available to the general public since the 19th century and therefore a history had been fully established by the time Sontag was writing. Throughout her essays, she discusses the power relations conjured through photography, the concepts of truth and fiction, the dissemination through magazines and bourgeois circuits as well as photography as a political and social tool. One of my favourite lines so far is

‘To photography is to appropriate the thing being photographed. It means putting oneself into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge – and, therefore, like power‘ (Sontag, p.4)

The reason I think this phrase appeals to me is because it is incredibly relevant to our Social Media dictated society today. There is a constant interplay between power and knowledge online, feelings of superiority created through social posting. Interestingly, Sontag also dissects the cultural attitudes to photography; discussing how incredibly hard-working societies such as the Americans and Japanese use the camera on holiday as a supplementary tool. Given the fact the pace of life is incredibly fast and constantly moving in these societies, Sontag claims that as tourists, they do not know how to slow down. The camera therefore becomes a substitution to satisfy the work ethic; it becomes a tourist device which allows them to click away with multiple shots, easing their work-free, holiday-going conscience.

As well as insightful remarks about society in relation to photography, Sontag of course goes into some of its histories, with particular focus on Diane Arbus with her documentation of freaks and outcasts, who claims ‘photography was the liscense to go wherever I wanted and to do what I wanted to do‘ (Sontag, p.41). Walk Evans and James Agee are also discussed in depth with their famous Let Us Know Praise Famous Men, as are other varying photographic documents of America. Given the author was not only writing in a post-World War, post-atomic, but also during the Cold War era, photography’s role in war plays a prominant role throughout the essays. As does photography’s artistic roots in Surrealism, the parallels of which are drawn and perfectly encapsulated in this quote – another favourite of mine

America, that surreal country, is full of found objects. Our junk has become art. Our junk has become history.‘ (Sontag, p.67)

It is a truly brilliant book (so far!), both for those familiar and unfamiliar with the history of photography.It can act as both a starting point and and a furthering of reader’s knowledge. I would also say it is worth reading for the simple pleasure of admiring Sontag’s revolutionary thinking, given the context in which she was writing.

Self-Deceit

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Self-Deceit (Roma), Francesca Woodman, (1977-78)

It has been a long time since I have posted on this blog. For me, this has always been a platform for expressing my creativity and although I am inherently and without question a creative person, my creative impulses have recently been more dominated by my academic ones. The reason for this is I am currently doing a Masters in Modern and Contemporary Art History at The Edinburgh University. I therefore spend most of my time reading, an impulse that has always been natural to me, but until now one I have never been able to nurture quite to this extent! Already, in the time since September, I feel I have gained so much knowledge and learnt so much. We are constantly learning in our day to day lives of course, but I feel so privileged to be able to dedicate this time to my specific field of interest. This university course, although incredibly challenging at times, is perfect; I get to combine my love of reading, art, history and writing in one.

Alongside this Masters, I am doing an Internship with The National Galleries of Scotland (NGS). Another creative outlet which allows me to express love of writing and research. Below therefore, I attach a link to one of my written texts which has been published on the National Gallery’s website. My focus was American photographer Francesca Woodman, b.1958. Although most of the works in the National Gallery’s collection are co-owned by Tate under the umbrella organisation of Artist Rooms (see more information here), there were five works in NGS’s collection which I had permission to write about. See link below for more (in order to view this essay, you must first scroll right to the bottom of the page and click on the ‘plus’ sign at the right hand side, adjacent to the ‘more about this artwork’):

Self-Deceit, (1977-1978), Francesca Woodman

See also my publications page for more.

Nostalgic for Newcastle

Someone came up with the fantastic suggestion when I was leaving Newcastle in July, that before I say goodbye to the city I should document what have become my favourite and fondest places over the last three years. I thought this was a wonderful idea, especially given how cities change and evolve over time, how interiors get renovated, or places close down. I might come back some day and not be able to go to my favourite little wine bar! I therefore felt taking a few  documentary photos was the perfect way to remember the good times. I’ve had them on my hard drive for a while, but it wasn’t until I revisted the city yesterday that I remembered I’d taken them. I was just visiting for the day to work with the Newbridge and Newcastle-based artist Rosie Morris for her upcoming exhibition at The Laing Art Gallery (preview Friday 30th September, 5-7pm with a live performance at 6pm). It was a fantastic today and I am very excited to be a part of her work (more on this next week or on The Laing Gallery’s website, click here to view).

I only realised yesterday however, how lacking my photographic documentation of Newcastle is. I’ve got the Quayside and it’s pubs – the beautiful river front, all of which I frequented often, The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art (sometimes I kick myself for not keeping track of how many visits I paid there, just for the sake of curiosity!) Grainger Market where I bought all my fruit and vegetables (how I miss it!) Flares, the cheesiest club you will ever enter, but always with the gurantee of a good night! Blakes, one of my favourite cafes, mainly because you can get the yummiest breakfast served as late as 2pm (never miss your breakfast!)

However, I now realise I’ve only really captured the exteriors. The buildings and architecture are of course beautiful, but the interiors are what I want to remember more. I want to remember the dim light of the pub where I was laughing madly with my friends, I want to remember the coffee shop where I had to take my shoes off, I want to remember the chandelier of spoons that hangs in Quilliam Brothers tea house. I suppose, if you have read my previous posts, I am contradicting myself. In the previous statements I mentioned the lack of necessity with imagery, how words can satisfy and be enough. However, in nostalgic projects like these and in the act of remembering, I am definitely a visual person. I feel another few trips down to Newcastle may be needed, for me to complete my collection of memories.

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Milk and Honey

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You may or may not have heard of Rupi Kaur. I discovered her through Instagram a while back and have since been hooked. Kaur is a Canadian contemporary feminist poet and writer. Her first collection of poems have recently been publishes in an anthology titled ‘Milk and Honey‘. I feel the softness of the title is the perfect allusion to the book’s contents. Kaur’s writing is honest, pain filled, heart filled and strikes a true chord with the reader. There is something within the book that everyone can relate to. Whether it is love, break ups, childhood, loss; Kaur touches on most core themes which signify what it means to be human.

I have not been this taken by poetry since I discovered W.B. Yeats five years ago. Yes, her work is unconventional and does not hold the kind of poetry structure I was taught about in school. There is no punctuation, no capitals, she does not use stanzas and there is often no distinct rhythm. Yet I think this is why I am so fascinated by it. Although it does not conform to poetry traditions, the visuals it conjures are beautiful. The raw quality of the writing does not need these formal restrictions. Instead, the words proudly conduct themselves and you cannot help but be drawn in. You can almost hear a tongue whispering these poems quietly to you, feel the pain pour out of the pages, feel the momentum of the emotions spilling out. Not only are the words strong and honest, but the visuals are striking. It is beautiful how through even the most simple use of language, Kaur is able to create a lyrical scenario within your imagination. The text is accompanied by simple line drawings, devoid of colour or much detail. These are absolutely delightful and their simplicity almost amplifies the strength of her writing.

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I had been following her work for a while, but the other day when I was in WHSmith buying a book for my boyfriend, I saw ‘Milk and Honey‘. I was paying at the counter and there it was sat alongside the usual counter clutter. I knew instantly I finally had to buy a hard copy so that I could enjoy her work in my bed and on the move. Below are some excerpts I have picked out from her book:

the next time you
have your coffee black
you’ll taste the bitter
state he left you in
it will make you weep
but you’ll never
stop drinking
you’d rather have the darkest parts of him
than have nothing
p.89

i’d be lying if I said
you make me speechless
the truth is you make my
tongue so weak it forgets
what language it speaks
p.61

i like the way the stretch marks
on my thighs look human and
that we’re so soft yet
rough and jungle wild
when we need to be
i love that about us
how we are capable of feeling
how unafraid we are of breaking
and tend to our wounds with grace
just being a woman
calling myself
a woman
makes me utterly whole
and complete
p.169

i didn’t leave because
i stopped loving you
i left because the longer
i stayed the less
i loved myself
p.95

the very thought of you
has my legs spread apart
like an easel with a canvas
begging for art
p.57

 

Images sourced from:

http://www.amazon.co.uk

http://www.tumblr.co.uk

Words Speak To Me

Given that I would consider this blog post to be almost a continuation of my previous one, I would advise you  to read my most recent post on imagery and the Self-Portrait prior to reading the write up below. Click here to view the previous article.

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13687179_1140432052704433_1840139293_n1As well as recently thinking about the ‘necessity’ of images, both in life and on my blog (particularly alongside larger chunks of text), I have also been thinking about the lack of their necessity. About how the text in itself can become an entity through it’s strength. About how presently, I am more drawn to writing and to reading than to the creation of visuals. This is a shift which has occurred quite naturally, it has not in any way been a conscious decision. However, over summer I found myself merely dabbling in the making of artwork and instead ripping through several books as I devoured the words on the pages hungrily. I think this is an interesting transformation of interest, as I have always been immersed in the making of art and the documentation surrounding the process. However, I am now content to retreat and instead observe the process from afar. Watch others conceive and create. Take a practical sabbatical if you can call it that.

13741013_554567611334947_978616461_nWords have become my substitute for the studio. They have become my addiction. I think working so conceptually over the past three years is much to blame for this. Often, my notebooks were more precious than my sketchbooks. All of my thoughts and ideas that were so hastily sketched out as they entered my head, soon became a sacred collection for my own creative reference. Sol Le Witt and Eva Hesse were huge inspirations to me in their reliance on writing in relation to their studio practice. Sol Le Witt because he was a conceptual artist and his work would not exist without his words. Hesse because her diaries were her own backdrop to her work; her words were her refuge and respite from what could at times be quite a consuming mode of art making. Artists never stop. Their minds never turn off. They are always thinking, seeing, looking, observing. It is only natural therefore, that words on a page can become an escape and a freedom from the frantic energy of being an artist. I know that I myself feel unburdened when I write. That once my thoughts and feelings are down on paper they no longer physically inhabit my body. I believe Hesse must have felt the same.

14350434_198530390560672_4054096995940302848_n1Following her tragic death from a brain tumour at the premature age of 34, her diaries were published. I am very conflicted over this action. On the one hand, I am sure it is amazing to have specific insight to her work and thought process. On the other, it is an invasion of privacy which reduces her work given the direct translations and observations the diaries provide. For Hesse, the diaries were a document of art and life. To her, the two were inseparable. However, I feel it is slightly tragic that her work is always read with this trajectory. In some cases her death and diaries inform her pieces almost more than the materials, colours and spatial relations do. Which of course is wrong, as no art piece should be spoon fed to its viewer. I could never read her diaries. It is my belief that they belong to her, were for her own sake and so I should find my own way of interpreting her life and work. I think this stance is probably because I sometimes keep a diary myself. Not often, just when I feel like it and need some form of release. Or I have had such a brilliant day that only words will do the justice of documenting properly. Either way, the diary is a personal entity which I feel should remain that way.

13768303_181033652308440_1820311018_nRecently I have had an urge to write in my diary again, mainly because I am feeling slightly lost. Although I am happy about my accelerated interest in the theory of art as opposed to the practicing of it, I am also left feeling slightly guilty. For someone who has been making art for as long as they can remember, it is strange to suddenly be left without the urge to make. I would go as far as to say I have an artist’s guilty conscience; that moment where you are not creating in your studio, mainly due to an inspiration dry spell, resonates with how I feel right now. I suppose however it is just a shift in focus for the time being. I am currently starting a Masters at Edinburgh University in Modern and Contemporary Art: History, Curation and Criticism. So being more drawn to reading, like bees to honey, is only a natural consequence of this. I think it is just strange for me, yet another thing I am unfamiliar with at the moment. However, instead of having the urge to draw and drip paint from giant canvases in a studio, I just need to adjust. I will now dedicate my time to reading my theories and prose in a quiet little Edinburgh cafe or the gardens and fully absorbing the context to contemporary art making, knowing that in time I will start making again.

 

Self-Portraits

I’ve been thinking a lot about imagery lately.

I have an exhibition that I keep meaning to return to so that I can write about it, as wherever possible I far prefer sourcing my own images. Otherwise it kind of feels like stealing. Especially when I have the chance to photograph work in the way that I, as opposed to others, see it. Photographing and capturing something visually is as much a language as a piece of writing. This urge to document and provide my own source work has led me into thinking about the necessity of images and how we use them to frame both our written texts and our lives. Particularly in terms of how people constantly feel the need to document not only the world around them, but themselves. The way in which we can convey, warp and shape the reception of our persona through our careful selection and sensoring of our own imagery. How, through specific choice we can create the perfect presentation of ourselves. A facade that once the spell is broken and the true self becomes revealed, can never return to the idealised perfection. Once the mask has been removed, there is no return.

I find this very interesting, as in the sea of images out there, people attempt to make their own mark; to create an identity for themselves and a projection for the world. I think this way of thinking and my interest in this peeked following my visit to the exhibition at the Portrait Gallery. ‘Facing the World: From Rembrandt to Ai Weiwei’ is an exhibition that I have now visited…four times. I would highly recommend going more than once. Or even, like myself, splitting your visits into two so that you view only half the exhibition at first and then return another day to view the rest of it. I have never done this before, however I found it incredibly fulfilling, as it enabled me to better absorb the artwork as my mind was not too saturated with it all at once. It gave me more time to reflect and made me realise the works that I was truly interested in. It’s difficult, as there is so much to gain from every work in the exhibition, however the self-portraits that really struck a chord with me were Andy Warhol’s and Robert Mappleforth’s. You could argue I am cliched in my Warhol orientated interest, he is after all, renowned for his self-portraits. However these were works that I have never studied up close and they had quite the impact on me.

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Warhol in drag. Yes, I’ve come across it before, but there was something about it in the context of the exhibition. The scale I should have realised were small poleroids, whereas when I’d seen the work in books, I’d mistakenly imagined it more A4 or even large scale. The size of course, changes the meaning of the self-portrait entirely. In my imagination, the large scale of the portrait was garish and intruding to the viewer, cocky even. However, when I viewed it during my ‘Facing the World…’ visit, I was struck by the intimacy that the poleroid scale allowed. I had to stand up close to study it. There were four of these small self-portrait’s of Andy’s on the wall and from afar all you could see was the stylish black frame, you could not make out the facial features. Yet upon close inspection there was so much to see and draw out, a rawness and an insight which felt personal and floor shattering. Almost as if I was an intruder catching Warhol in a moment which belonged only to him.

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Suddenly, my assumptions of Warhol with his elaborate pop art flamboyancy melted away and I was left with this striking affinity I felt for the pieces. I have read Warhol’s autobiography ‘The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again’ and I must say that it changed the way in which I viewed him. I think changed is actually an understatement. It revolutionised the way I view him. I feel I have a far greater insight and understanding to both his methods and intensions of working because of this book. A lot of people like Warhol and his work. A lot of people don’t. It’s always the people who don’t like him to whom I recommend read this book. I can never decide as to how I feel about him exactly; I am fascinated by his life in the Factory and his relationship with celebrity icons like Eddie Sedgwick, his intentionally monotonous yet revolutionary films like ‘Empire‘, yet I am also reserved in my interest. His fascination and fear of death is perhaps what speaks to me most. Following the assassination attempt on his life and his near-death experience, Warhol began to explore this theme in his work. He created silk-screens of gruesomely smashed up cars wrapped round trees, he did portraits of celebrities like  Marilyn Monroe and Elvis, both of whom supposedly died of a drug overdose. In among his colourful depictions and his Campbell’s soup cans, lies tragedy in the work of Warhol. There is a personal undercurrent that hums quietly underneath the elaborate facade and  his artistic persona, which once exposed, is truly magnificent. It is this undercurrent and its subtleties which I am drawn to with Warhol. I found therefore found these portraits very touching and almost kind of melancholy.

robert-mapplethorpe-fashion-sh37415

I viewed the self-portraits of Robert Mapplethorpe with much the same air. It feels as if there is an inherent sadness to his work, one which you can’t escape from in the process of viewing. Perhaps it is his striking eyes, which pour so deeply into your soul that you can’t help feeling as exposed as he is in his portrait. Or perhaps it is the monochrome, the lack of colour an allusion to a lack of life. Yet his portraits are filled with life, with intimacy and with themes that are dictated by the erotic. Perhaps it his aura, the knowing tilt of the head and the carefully applied mascara. The sensual addition of the fur. Or perhaps it is merely the contrast provided by his opposing self portrait that was in the exhibition, which is infused with a reasserting masculinity. Mapplethorpe employs the same dark backdrop, yet creates an entirely contrasting presentation of himself. The hardened expression, the tough leather jacket. The casual cigarette protruding from his full-bodied lips. What is it about Mapplethrope that is so sensually infused? Is it the chiseled cheek bones? Or is it his defiance? His ability to present himself in an entirely modest, yet simultaneously proud way?

mappleforth

I think Mapplethorpe’s work has a solid beauty to it.You can’t ignore the sensual air, or the sculpted bodies. For me, the use of monochrome is a very striking elemt. It removes unnecessary details from the work, the fact that colour is absent forces you to focus more on the features. The depth and tone created through the clothing texture (or lack of it) and pure human flesh is striking. Given the iconic features of his work and the raw portrayal of himself and his subjects, I think it is safe to say Mapplethorpe is one of my favourite photographers.

‘Facing the World: From Rembrandt to Ai Weiwei’ is an exhibition unlike any I have seen before. Mainly due to the fact I have never before encountered a portrait-based exhibition. The range of work created quite the pictorial journey with incredibly interesting content, particularly given the evolution of the portrait itself. How these days, the full human body is as much a portrait as more traditional depictions which include only the upper torso. Yet for me, it was the works of Warhol and Mapplethorpe that stood out. I felt that they were the most successful in capturing the essence of themselves and conveying who they were or what they could be. I was spell-bound by their works to the point I felt as if there was a direct correlation between myself and their portraits. As if I, stood staring up at their work as I occupied the gallery space, ceased to exist for a moment. I disappeared into them; I became irrelevant. This ability to strike up such a close and inclusive dialogue with the viewer can be a rarity within an artwork, but in this instance I left with a lasting affinity towards the works and their subjects.

Images sourced from:

http://67.media.tumblr.com/ead8fd2dbfd137095a33ae12ed892ca3

http://theredlist.com

http://www.tate.org.uk