Tuesday 31 October 2017

Engaging with the Future

Engaging with the Future: Aleksandra Mir Space Tapestry: Earth Observation and Human Spaceflight, at Modern Art, Oxford.

Space Tapestry is a drawing project on an epic scale that tells a visual story of Space exploration and its impact on our day-to-day lives.

On display at Modern Art Oxford are two chapters of the project, Earth Observation and Human Spaceflight. These focus on the possibilities for future civilian space tourism, and the satellites that look down on our planet to provide communications and observations on earth. In the Faraway Missions chapter, on parallel display at Tate Liverpool, the focus is on faraway planets and the probes travelling to the outer reaches of our solar system and beyond. The drawings celebrate and ask questions of today's advanced technologies.

The work synthesises a broad range of artistic, scientific and historic references, from the depiction of Halley's Comet in the Bayeux Tapestry, to the innovative visual structure of graphic novels. The work assumes the environmental scale of theatre backdrops and echoes 1960s conceptual and minimal art through Mir's use of the grid, repetition and collaborative forms of working.

From the efforts of collective labour, the drawings' realisation over time assumed a performance-like quality. The work was executed by multiple 'actors' on the stage-like area of the vast unfurled canvas. In Mir's studio, her young collaborators sat or knelt on yoga mats.

The background music in the studio was important, and everyone took turns to choose it. 'I only use Sharpies, which were invented in 1964, so most contemporary to my lifetime. In the 15 years that I have explored this simple marker I have yet to see the same stroke repeated twice or be bored with it'. 

We Believe Communication is a Basic Human Need, 2015-17

'This drawing combines the views from two satellite network control centres, sources brought to lie based on my site visits to two of the main satellite operators in the UK - Inmarsat in London and Catapult in Harwell. They are fantastical spaces filled with screens, blinking lights, all sorts of monitoring systems and advanced technologies that transmit information. While the main business focus is on day-to-day communications, they also monitor sea traffic, from providing emergency relief to tracking down on piracy.... (Aleksandra Mir)

looking closer

Get on da Spaze Buz, 2015-17

'This space bus travels past a depiction of Halley's comet drawn 1,000 years ago by the anonymous artists of the Bayeux tapestry who drew the comet in a pictographic style. As the original inspiration for this work, the Bayeux Tapestry's frieze-like progression and dramatic narrative arc are transformed into a contemporary manifestation of the common space shared by art and science. In this particular drawing, I am using the bus as a metaphor for where we are heading; the democratisation of space travel, at the cost of the romance currently vested in its exclusivity.  Eventually, the trip back and forth to our permanent outpost - the European Space Agency-planned moon village - may come to resemble a regular commute on a bus'.

This is not a Satellite, This is an Educated Nation, 2015-17

'This is the largest work in the series, 14 metres long. Twelve people worked on it for two months. It depicts a series of satellite designs, starting with the very first, Sputnik, which has a very recognisable round shape that makes it look like a spider.

The work's title is a satellite industry slogan aimed at the developing world. With over 2,000 satellites orbiting the Earth today and 70 Space-faring nations, the industry is now a fully global operation; a costly yet effective way of improving a country's infrastructure.

This drawing reflects on how satellite technology has changed the world we live in and how much complex Space technology is taken for granted in our everyday lives. We are all 'using Space' every time we use our mobile phones, check the weather or make a bank transaction. I thought it would be interesting to place this drawing in Oxford, a seat of higher learning, but also a town with social problems and inequality as well'.

looking closer

'In 2015 I was invited as the first ever artist speaker at the UK Space Conference in Liverpool. The event brought together 1,000 delegates from the Space industry and academia to give talks and listen to each other's presentations. There was also a whole trade show floor where companies from the largest to the tiniest entrepreneurs and university departments, showcased their innovations. I walked around and photographed all the slogans I could find, mostly banal catchphrases about future progress in slick corporate fonts. I then brought these lines back to the studio and had my workshop participants rewrite the lettering in their own wonky and creative styles. The whole ensemble is a poetic and personal response to the Space industry lingo, rendering these young artists' ideas and hopes for their own futures. So now, even these young humanists are 'Proud to be part of the UK Space industry'.

Monday 30 October 2017

Margarete Kubicka

Margarete Kubicka at the Berlinische Galerie.

Because women were not permitted to study fine art, Margarete Kubicka trained to become an art teacher at the Royal Art Academy in Berlin from 1911 to 1913. 

This series of watercolours from 1925 is a typical example of Kubicka's approach to form that
encompasses elements of Expessionism and Constructivism. They are based on Alfred Doeblin's 1916 novel The Three Leaps of Wang Lun. Set in 18th century China, the novel tells the story of Wang-Lun, who followed the religious philosophy of Taoism and its teachings of Wu Wei, literally non-action or non-doing. In his fight against the government and the custodians of the state religion, Wang was transformed into the leader of an armed insurrection. After the revolt was suppressed, he found his way back to the principle of non-action. Kubicka evidently saw parallels with her own political views.

Friday 27 October 2017

The W. Michael Bluementhal Academy

The W. Michael Bluementhal Academy, Berlin.

We went to the Academy after our visit to the Jewish Museum as it's located across the road. The building opened in 2012 on the site of the former wholesale flower market which was refurbished based on Libeskind's 'In-Between Spaces' design. It's made up of three tilted cubes and two office wings that have been built into the existing structure.

The building is home to the museum's library with a public reading room, the museum's archive, an event hall and seminar and workshop rooms where educational programmes for children, teenagers and teachers are held.

The cubic form is a variation on the theme found in the museum's Garden of Exile. Daniel Libeskind has thus linked the Academy to the existing museum architecture both in context and in expression of form.

The first cube, which forms the entrance to the Academy, penetrates the fa├žade of the building and creates a counterpart to the frontage of the Libeskind building across the street.

The cube is illuminated by skylights in the form of alef and bet, the first two letters in the Hebrew alphabet, referencing the research and educational work done at this site.

In the hall's interior, the two other cubes, tilted towards one another, house the auditorium and the library with its adjacent reading room. Between the three tilted cubes a space emerges that allows views both into the interior and outside.

These 'In-Between Spaces' visually link the Academy to the museum.

The wood-panelled cubes are intended to evoke transport crates on the one hand, and Noah's Ark on the other. The cubes symbolise the bequests that come to the Jewish Museum from around the world, which are kept in the Academy to make them accessible to a wider public.

One can get a good view of one of the tilted cubes from the Diaspora Garden.

In the inner courtyard is the Diaspora Garden. Designed by artists from the 'atelier le balto' landscape architecture studio, the garden reflects aspects of life in the Diaspora.

Four steel 'plateaus', or planting beds, seem to float in the air, each surrounded by a wooden platform. The plateaux can be arranged and used in a variety of ways. Each one is planted according to a different theme: landscape, culture and soil, and nature and humanity. The fourth one serves as a testing ground for the participants in educational programmes.

The plants thrive in an unusual environment - with no direct contact to the earth, little natural light, and artificial irrigation. Selected from different climate zones, the plants have to adapt to their new environment. They live scattered across the world, in the Diaspora.

Most of these plants have a special connection to Jewish life. Some, bear the names of Jewish people, others play a role in the Jewish holidays, and some of the plants' folkloric names refer to anti-Jewish sentiments.

Wednesday 25 October 2017

The Jewish Museum in Berlin

The origins of this elongated, sharply angled and folded building are manifold and various. Libeskind derived its zigzag contours in part from imaginary lines on the city map which connect the site with the street addresses of great figures in Berlin Jewish cultural history: Heinrich Heine, Mies van der Rohe, Rahel Varmhagen, Walter Benjamin, Arnold Schoenberg. A recurrent basic motif of the design are long parallel or intersecting lines without beginning or end that define sharply pointed, dramatic bodies or spaces. Libeskind himself has entitled the project 'Behind the Lines', implying that it is in this intermediate zone where the essential lies. 

In some of his explanatory texts and sketches of the ground plan Libeskind also alludes to a distorted, fragmented Star of David, even though this configuration is not visually evident in the completed structure.

The first thing we did was walk around the block so that we could appreciate the exterior of the building. Having visited the museum during our previous visit to Berlin, six years ago, we knew that this was essential.

The zinc-clad exterior with its intersecting window bands, and seemingly interspersed gaps and apertures oriented neither to the horizontal nor to the vertical is unusual indeed. The most striking feature of this is that the arrangement of the windows and lighting silts does not follow floor levels or even internal, vertical elements such as stairwells or dividing walls. Judging from the outside, the buildings interior might just as well be a hangar-like hall.

The concrete columns of the Garden of Exile and Emigration present a 7x7 square tilted square.

More about this when we enter the building.

Having completed our walk round the block we came to the entrance. The new building does not have a separate public entrance. Access to the Jewish Museum is provided by the entrance it shares with the Baroque-style Museum of German history.

But not only does the visitor have to symbolically pass through German history in order to reach the story and exhibition of Jewish culture, they also have to walk down a flight of stairs, down to the basement to go underground before having access to what they went there for.

Going down the stairs we get our first experience of how the slits work.

We reach the main subterranean corridor which gradually ascends.

Two corridors lead off the main corridor. These three axial routes,  cross the lower level: the Axis of Exile, the Axis of the Holocaust, and the Axis of Continuity - each tells its own story.

This is a complex structure, full of symbolic meaning - difficult to navigate your way through the building, but even more difficult having to describe it. Libeskind called his design for the Jewish Museum 'Between the Lines'. The floor plan is shaped like zigzag that is intersected by a single straight line. The intersection points are marked by the  six 'Voids' - empty spaces that run the entire length of the building and extend from its top to its bottom. They represent the absence of Jews from German society. They evoke the gap that evolved in German and European culture and history by the destruction of Jewish lives on every floor of the museum. The museum is pervaded by this absence. Only three of the Voids can be physically entered - the other three are inaccessible, though they can be looked into from the upper floors, through windows resembling gun slits.

The Axis of Exile. In 1938, a Jewish newspaper wrote: 'For every Jew living in Germany today, probably the most urgent question is: 'When and where can I emigrate?' Between 1933and 1941, some 280,000 German Jews fled the Nazi regime, heading for the USA, Palestine, Great Britain, South America, Africa and other parts of the world'.

The Axis of Exile leads to the Garden of Exile. This is the only path leading to the outside world from below ground -evoking the idea of exile as the only way to freedom.

The 49 tilted columns stand on a sloping plot of ground.  The columns contain earth and an underground irrigation system which permits willow oak to emerge and bind together at the top. 48 of these columns are filled with the earth of Berlin and stand for 1948 - the formation of the State of Israel. The one central column contains the earth of Jerusalem that stands for Berlin itself.

The columns which are perpendicular to the sloping paving induce a feeling of dizziness, and make the surrounding buildings appear to totter.

The Axis of the Holocaust.  When the National Socialists took power in 1933, the Jewish population in Germany numbered 560,000. Hitler's regime deported and murdered 200,000 Jews from Germany and the other Western European countries to which they had fled. In all of Europe, six million Jews fell victim to the Nazi Genocide. The Axis of the Holocaust presents personal documents, photographs and keepsakes that have been donated to the museum. They tell of the donors' murdered parents, relatives and friends.

This sewing machine belonged to the master tailor Paul Guterman, who, together with five assistants, created 'elegant fashions for men and women' in his shop at Luetzowstrasse 11 in Berlin. Because of his Polish nationality, Paul Guterman was expelled to Poland in 1938. His wife, Emilia, and their daughter Regina, continued to run the tailor's shop without him until they were forced to go into hiding to escape deportation. One of his assistants took two sewing machines from the shop, wanting to give them back to the family when they returned. Emilia and Regina Guterman survived the war in Berlin. Paul Guterman is believed to have been murdered in Auschwitz.

After receiving these postcards in 1942 and 1943 in Berlin, Adolf Wolffsky never heard from his deported relatives again. The card on the right was sent to him by his younger brother Fritz, who died in Auschwitz with his wife and six-month son. Fritz probably wrote the card while being transported to Auschwitz and threw it out of the train. The short message reads: 'Best regards to everyone! Don't forget us! Fritz, Ilse, Micki'.

Adolf Wolffsky was more fortunate than his brother. In 1938, at the age of 14, his daughter went to England on a children's transport. He survived in Berlin with his wife and son Jonathan because he worked for the Jewish community. After the war, the family went to Australia but returned to Berlin five years later.

The Axis of the Holocaust leads to a dead end - the darkness of the Holocaust Tower.

The austere space is dimly illuminated by daylight passing through a slit overhead. The closed, bare, empty and unheated space, its darkness penetrated only by a sharp beam from the single slit exerts an extremely compelling effect.

Libeskind called this the 'Voided Void'.

The Axis of Continuity. This is the longest of the axes and it leads to the

Stair of Continuity, emphasizing the continuum of history. The stairs lead to the exhibition spaces of the museum.

Concrete beams shooting obliquely through the space support the extremely high exterior wall.

We walked up one level and arrived on the ground floor and to a temporary exhibition titled 'Cherchez la Femme', which outlined the evolution of the headscarf and burqa - exploring how much religiosity secular societies can tolerate.

From here we were able to enter the Memory Void which includes the installation Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves) by Menashe Kadishman. More than 10,000 faces with open mouths, cut from heavy round iron plates, cover the floor of the ground floor void.

The second floor houses the permanent exhibition of the museum which is about Jewish history and Jewish life. Predictably, the section on the Holocaust was harrowing.

Through this narrow window we could look into one of the inaccessible Voids

and then further along the building we could look down at the Fallen Leaves installation in the Memory Void

In such a complex interior orientation is a key factor. It is provided by the frequent views of the surrounding city,

and the projecting sections of the building itself, which are visible often due to its zigzag shape.

I got lost twice trying to find the exit

but finally found the stairs

that lead to the exit.

I have visited two more of Libeskind's museums: the Danish Jewish Museum, that you can see here and the Imperial War Museum in Manchester which you can see here .