Saturday 28 May 2016

The politics of hope - Owen Jones

The politics of hope: Owen Jones at the Royal Spa Centre, Leamington.

An inspiring evening at the Spa Centre on Thursday evening. Owen Jones was articulate, inspirational and funny. There was no podium, no notes, he just walked up and down the stage delivering a message of hope. He started off by congratulating Leamington residents on our activism in the last few months, citing the demonstration in support of junior doctors, the work on refugees, the anti-racist work, the exhibition of paintings and drawings by children from Syria, and many more.

Some of the points he made in his speech:

  • The gap between rich and poor is getting wider. Most people living in poverty are in work - they earn their poverty by going to work.

  • The government and the powers that be want us to believe that injustice is like the weather - there is nothing we can do about it. But this is not true, we can effect change by organising and resisting. He used the example of the Suffragettes, the Trade Union movement, and more recently, the demonstrations against TTIP across Europe.

  • Polarisation is the defining feature of politics today. On the one hand we have progressive movements, fuelled by anger at increasing inequality, movements like Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, the election of Jeremy Corbyn by a huge majority of Labour Party members. On the other hand the rise of the right and the fascist parties, Golden Dawn in Greece, the Jobbik party in Hungary, Austria's Freedom Party. This polarisation is evident in the USA by Trump versus Sanders.

  • Governments use the politics of fear which in effect means kicking those at the bottom and a deliberate redirecting of people's justified anger at the rich and the banks, towards the neighbour next door, the so-called benefit scrounger down the road.  In fact, the lavish benefit claimants are the banks. The real problem is tax avoidance which costs the UK £69.9 billion a year, while benefit fraud costs £1.2 billion a year. The politics of fear have another target, the refugees and immigrants.

  • Those who want to improve society are branded as unpatriotic - the enemy within. The media frenzy against Jeremy Corbyn is a good example of this. And yet, what's patriotic about attacking the NHS and the BBC?

  • The politics of hope is about building societies run in the interests of working people, not run as a racket for the mean and the greedy at the top. By looking at some alternatives across the world, we can challenge the inevitability of widening inequalities and injustice. The problem is that we have lost the confidence for an alternative, and this is what we need to build on. Everything we have, our rights, the welfare state,  the vote, were not given to us, they were  fought for. The Suffragettes were hated, reviled, tortured - their struggle is the perfect example of how to effect change. We stand on the shoulders of giants and we have to continue their work and not let them down.

  • The Right use stories in their arguments and propaganda, while the Left use facts and figures. We are subjected to a constant stream of stories and this is what people respond to, people need stories: the refugee crisis came to the forefront of people's consciousness after the body of Aylan Kurdi was washed up on a Turkish beach. This should be a lesson to the Left.

Jones' one hour speech was followed by questions from the audience. The one that made me chuckle:  'if we were French, we would not be here listening to you, however pleasant that is, we would be out burning things. Why do you think that is?' The reply was that Britain has a  long history of resistance, starting from the Chartists to the recent strikes by the junior doctors.

A stimulating and uplifting evening.

Wednesday 25 May 2016

Erwin Bohatsch

Erwin Bohatsch at the Albertina, Vienna.

This was the fourth (!) exhibition we saw in one day at the Albertina, and by the time we got to it we were totally 'arted out'. We did not linger long, just long enough to get a general idea and to take some photos. But, I am glad we did because I did not know the work of this artist, and seeing my photographs again has been a pleasure.

Erwin Bohatsch was an influential member of the Austrian group known as the New Savages, an 1980s movement whose aim was to counter the Conceptual art of the 70s, leading to a renewal of the aesthetic phenomenon of painting. Reflecting on Classical Modernism, the group's themes were guided by an interest in approaches to ethnographic research and the theories of Claude Levi-Strauss.

Since the 1990s Bohatsch has increasingly devoted himself to Colour Field painting. With his technique of applying bands of colour to create almost monochromatic paintings, of partially sealing off layers of the image and veiling them with paint, he focuses on colour and light, the determinant aspects of painting.

Untitled, 1999-2001

Untitled, 2014

Untitled, 2014

Untitled, 2014

Untitled, 2009

Untitled, 2009

Untitled, 2002

Untitled, 2004

Night Picture, 1992

Untitled, 2015

Untitled, 1996

Untitled, 2009

Untitled, 2006

Untitled, 1997

Monday 23 May 2016

Contemporary Japanese art

Yoshitomo Nara at Stephen Friedman Gallery, Mayfair, London.

This work is very different to what I usually choose to go and see and I am still not sure what my response to it is, but I am glad we went as it's given me food for thought.

'Yoshito Nara is one of the leading artists of Japan's Neo Pop movement and is best known for his depictions of simultaneously cute and devilish children and animals. Informed by elements of popular culture ranging from manga and anime to punk rock, Nara fuses Japanese visual traditions and Western Modernism to create adorable but menacing characters that possess a startling emotional intensity'. (Text taken from here )

The work we saw is painting and drawing in picture-book style depicting children with staring eyes, with little or no background. But these  children who appear at first to be cute and even vulnerable, sometimes brandish weapons; their wide eyes often hold accusatory looks that could be sleepy-eyed irritation or could be undiluted expressions of hate. Nuanced depictions of alienation, anger and curiosity are expressed in each work. The apparent naivety of the characters Nara depicts are juxtaposed with slogans and often strong language. The contrast illustrates the angst of adolescent experience. The characters are at once cheeky, vulnerable and threatening.

The paintings are super flat.

Marching on the Butterbur Leaf, 2016 (acrylic on cotton mounted on wood panel)

Knife, 2015, (pencil on paper)

 I don't Want to Grow up, 2016, (acrylic on cotton mounted on wood panel)

Fuck U, 2016, (acrylic on cotton mounted on wood panel)

Miss Margaret, 2016, (acrylic on canvas)

Dead of Night, 2016, (acrylic on canvas)

Anxious, 2016, (acrylic on canvas)

Hey Girl, 2016, (ballpoint pen on paper)

I have to say that the Dylan lyrics made Ken very happy....

Younger Than Now, 2016 (ballpoint pen on paper)

How Many Words, 2016 (ballpoint pen on paper)

Below two of Nara's books that were also on display:

We then walked across the road to the second Stephen Friedman gallery: 'Horizon That Appears Out of the Sleepy Woods' , a group show of younger Japanese artists, all four selected by Yoshitomo Nara.

Takanobu Kobayashi:

'I want to depict existence. Everything has a characteristic attribute and that's where its meaning comes from. Once you take away the meaning, you get down to the essence. My idea is to paint vessels, people, pillows or trees, all in the same way as 'things'.'

Inverted Vessel, 2015 (oil on canvas)

Block, 2014, (oil on canvas)

Block, 2015, (oil on canvas)

Pillow, 2016, (oil on canvas)

Kuomo Murase:

'It seems as if I am depicting a moment, but the image includes multiple histories including times of doubt and uncertainty, which may indeed be a kind of entry into the work. Even if you enter the work, however, you may find that things are in flux, which can be simultaneously comforting and disturbing'.

Plant the Flowers (Two Girls), 2013 (gouache, coloured pencil on paper)

Sloop (Orange), 2014 (gouache and coloured pencil on paper)

Sandy, 2012 (oil, crayon on cotton).

Friday 20 May 2016

Suture, Berlinde De Bruyckere

Using the body as a starting point,
I address universal themes.
In this way, the body in my work
refers to humankind in general.
Berlinde de Bruyckere.

Suture, by Berlinde De Bruycere, at the Leopold Museum, Vienna.

Ever since we saw the exhibition of Berlinde De Bruyckere's work in London (which you can see here ) I have wanted to see more so I was extremely pleased to find that there was an exhibition of her work in Vienna. It did not disappoint.

The exhibition catalogue tells us that:

'With her seemingly timeless figures, De Bruyckere addresses existential questions of life and death, pain and suffering but also of love and compassion, and emphasizes how human existence is anchored in the flesh. The fragmented bodies of her waxen sculptures, which at times exhibit an uncanny realism, appear charged with historic, cultural and iconographic references. Looking at De Bruyckere's work we are made aware of ideas and emotions issuing from the traces of our own memories and fears as well as from the contents of our collective memory.

This exhibition has been based around the concept of the suture as a metaphor for the artist's sculptural thinking. In terms of her motifs, the frequently appearing seams show the 'stitching up' of individual realistic or amorphous body fragments to form a new artificial and abstract whole which is so characteristic of her oeuvre. In the figurative sense, the suture is symbolic of the artist's desire to 'tie together' the raw physical appearance of the body with thought levels in order to depict mental states via the corporality of the sculptures. Finally, the suture also implies the aspect of connectedness central to her oeuvre - whether it be the interconnectedness of human beings or the connection they have with the world'.

The Wound III, 2011-2012 (wax, epoxy, bankets, iron, leather, horsehair, cloth)

'The wound is a sign of being... Through the wound our insides become visible to the extermal world, which represents a fundamental existential experience', de Bruyckere says about her 2011 series The Wound, which is testament to the artist's increasing interest in depicting inner, organic structures.

Met Here Huid VI, 2014 (wax, leather wood, iron cloth, blankets, ropes, epoxy)

looking closer

Inside Me II, 2011-2012, (wax, epoxy, wood, cloth, rope, iron)

Inside Me II confronts us with waxen formations reminiscent of entrails. Loosely fastened onto a framework, the interior is virtually pulled over the exterior in this work. The ambiguous title of the work reveals that the artist seeks not only to visualise the organic inner life of the body but also to articulate internal emotions This corresponds to De Bruyckere's general handling of the organic body, which she perceives and utilises as a means of expressing inner feelings.

The entrails-like structures encountered in the work can also be read as the branches of a tree. The focus is thus placed on the human body and its surface not only as a sensitive, permeable membrane between the exterior and interior -  the aim is also to achieve a synthesis between the organic and emotional inner life of the body, its surface and its surroundings.

looking closer

Invisible Beauty, 2011, (wax, epoxy, wood, iron, leather, wool, rope, horsehair)

a different view

looking closer

Invisible Love, 2011, (wax, wood, iron, leather, rope, horsehair, cloth, epoxy)

looking closer

looking closer

Les Deux, 2011, (horse skin, polyester, trestles)

De Bruyckere takes her exploration of suffering to animals as well, showing how vulnerability and fragility are neither individual nor specifically human, but are closely related to life itself. With the purposeful blurring of borders, De Bruyckere takes her exploration of suffering not only to a more general level but also expresses her desire to emphasise mutual connectedness. 'We are all flesh', according to the artist, who with her works seeks to refer to an original sensitivity that humans share with all other living beings.

Into One-Another V to P.P.P., 2011 (wax, wood, glass, fibers, iron, epoxy)

Although De Bruyckere's works primarily reflect pain and suffering as fundamental certainties of humankind, the artist stresses that she places the same emphasis on life as she does on death. The polarity of life and death represents one of the ambiguities that characterise the artist's oeuvre, particularly in those works that address the theme of mutual connectedness.

looking closer

Een (One), 2003-2004, (wax, wood, glass, iron, epoxy)

Een (One), 2003-2004, (wax, wood, glass, iron, epoxy)

a different view

Pieta, 2007-2008, (wax, cushions, wood, iron, epoxy)

The outstretched body evokes the image of Christ taken down from the cross, while Mary's loving embrace is hinted at by means of the cushions on which the sculpture is gently lain to rest. Drawing on pictorial forms from society's cultural images; from the canon of art history; and from the wealth of motifs found in Christian iconography, and the culture of pain reflected in it, De Bruyckere gives expression to human experiences that are valid throughout time - such as the vulnerability of human beings manifested in suffering and pain.

looking closer

San S. 2003-2004, (wax, wood, epoxy, iron)

St Sebastian? The pictorial language could also evoke the image of Christ crucified.

The Muffled Cry of the Unrealisable Desire, 2009-2010 (wax wood, glass, epoxy, iron)

Aaneen-genaaid, 2002 (blankets, wax, jesmonite, wood)

Aaneen-genaaid, means sewn together or sewn to make a whole. In this series De Bruyckere uses waxen fragments of human bodies enveloped by blankets - the question of whether these blankets, which only allow us to imagine the physiognomy underneath them, serve a protective or rather an oppressive purpose is intentionally left open.

The suture as a central motif of De Bruyckere's oeuvre thus not only refers to the artist's method of 'sewing together' individual body fragments with different materials but also serves to emphasise the vulnerability of human beings as one of the most important themes of her work Through her art De Bruyckere addresses general questions of human existence and our existentiality expressed in emotions such as grief, suffering, pain and fear.

Wezen, 2003-2004 (wax, blankets, wood, iron, epoxy)

Glass Dome with Cripplewood II, 2013 (wax, wood, cloth, glass, polyester, epoxy)

                                                          *   *   *

Much later when we visited the Wilhelm Lehmbruck exhibition, still at the Leopold Museum, we came across two more sculptures by De Bruyckere, and some work by Egon Schiele - a bringing together of the three exhibitions that were staged during that time. This is how the curators explained this:

'From Antiquity to Classicism, depictions of harmonious and unscathed bodies were upheld as ideals.  But with the arrival of Modernism in the late 19th and early 20th century, artists radically broke with this concept of completeness and introduced the fragmented body, as examples by Rodin, Archipenko, Brancusi and Lehmbruck illustrate. What is confusing about these bodily fragments is the ambivalence of presence and absence, of wholeness and brokenness, of life and death. The fragmentation does not only have a destructive element to it but also refers to the vulnerability and thus the finite nature of human life. Finally, these body fragments may also signal the instability of identity in need of constant reassurance, as illustrated by Lehmbruck's expressive sculpture Head of a Thinker.

This reduction of the body to a fragment is also a characteristic of the works of Egon Schiele and Berlinde de Bruyckere, albeit with different connotations both formally and in terms of content. In his exploration of existential conditions Egon Schiele often dispensed with depicting the body in its entirety... The Belgian artist Berlinde De Bruyckere also addresses fundamental questions of human existence. With her fragmented, often headless sculptures she does not seek to depict individuality or identity, but rather the mystery of the human body and its exposure to constant danger and vulnerability'. 

Pieta, 2008, (wax, wood, epoxy, metal)

The curators again:

'Like the oeuvre of Wilhelm Lehmruck, the sculptures of Berlinde De Bruyckere also address existential themes of human existence. In her quest to depict timeless human experiences, the artist dispenses with identity-evoking bodily features such as hands and heads, and draws on pictorial forms handed down from art history - in this case the motif of the Pieta. Contrary to classical Pieta depictions, De Bruyckere does not focus on Christ's body but rather on Mary's embrace symbolised by the crossed-over legs of the two huddled figures. This compassionate gesture serves to highlight the vulnerability of human beings as a central theme of this sculpture'.

looking closer

Hanne, 2003, (wax, horsehair, wood, iron, epoxy, resin)

looking closer

and a different view.