In 1917, Marcel Duchamp signed a urinal and declared it a work of art, baptising it Fountain. Before patenting his own shade of blue (International Klein Blue), Yves Klein (see above) went one step further than Duchamp by adding his signature to the sky itself. The atmosphere was his ready-made. One of the problems we have, if we have a problem, with Found Art is an inability to trust the artist who has set himself or herself up as a trickster or a charlatan. We don’t mind being fooled but we don’t want to be told in advance. In this sense, it’s not the object we have the problem with in some tight-arsed philistine sense of “that’s not art.” What unsettles is the thought that the object isn’t the focus of attention and credulity but rather we are. We are feeling the anxiety of what Lacan called the Gaze. Continue reading
Given the recent calculated furore over Faber’s cover for Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, it’s probably a moot point to say that book covers can be deceptive. The near chick-lit (I almost spew at such a vile term) cover for Deborah Levy’s Swimming Home, a writer I’m currently interviewing, gives little indication of the subtle, layered brilliance within. Admittedly this seems to have been the intention, given one of Levy’s many remarkable skills as a writer is her ability to construct literary Trojan Horses. She’s working undercover behind enemy lines.
If we regard book covers as unreliable narrators in themselves (there’s an incredible collection of them here incidentally), we might equally view film trailers with the same degree of scepticism. Editors, by their very definition, are liars, through omission and inclusion. So too are writers. There are three films due for release soon based on novels that I happen to love. Given the cliché that mediocre books tend to make for better adaptations and vice versa (the exceptions such as Heart of Darkness, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Roadside Picnic are so notable and prevalent as to suggest that’s not true), I’ve been intrigued but slightly hesitant about seeing them. Watching two of the trailers has had the effect of lowering my expectations to such a abyssal degree that I can only be pleasantly surprised by the end result, even if they were just hours of hideous droning feedback and footage of people weeping and rocking back and forth. Continue reading
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Tagged Audrey Tautou, baz luhrmann, big sur, books, boris vian, cinema, film, Fitzgerald, gatsby, kerouac, literature, michel gondry, the great gatsby
In German there’s a one letter difference between ‘living room’ (‘Wohnzimmer’) and ‘mad room’ (‘Wahnzimmer’), as pointed out by the Goethe Institute. A single disputed vowel that might just be enough of a gap through which to capture light, like a pinhole camera. The photographs of Anna & Bernhard Blume are funny, laugh out loud so at times, until you consider why you’re laughing and who the joke is on. We diminish creative works by comparison but we have to; it’s the same impulse we have in language or mapmaking. We’re pareidolic mammals programmed to discern form from chaos. With photographs like these that evade understanding, we are forced to orientate ourselves elsewhere. Surrealism. Dada. Fluxus. Beckett. Bacon. Švankmajer. A surrealised version of Richard Billingham’s Ray’s A Laugh perhaps. Beyond grim humour and aesthetics, they seem closer to Malevich’s ikons. They are poetry where most other photographs are prose, existing in and of themselves, containing something indecipherable and inexplicably unnerving. They have attempted the seemingly impossible dream of Flaubert, “What strikes me as beautiful, what I should like to do, is a book about nothing, a book without external attachments, which would hold itself together by itself through the internal force of its style.” We might wonder what they mean, why a jug should levitate or poltergeists run riot in a kitchen or why an old man should spin around a room with a look of terror on his face or an old lady, pinned to the wall at an unnatural angle, be bombarded with potatoes. Maybe the question we should be asking, the question that separates critics from artists, is why shouldn’t they? At the very least, we might have a laugh at someone’s (our own?) expense.
It’s been something of a secret but, between creating one-eyed shrieking monstrosities in the laboratory and bouncing Tesla death rays off the moon, I’ve been working on the Return of Colmcille project for Derry’s City of Culture extravaganza. I’ve been mainly interviewing local people about the city to uncover less well-known stories of a marvellous, macabre and melancholic nature, which will then be incorporated into festivities lined up for the 7th & 8th of June. If the blueprints and people involved are anything to go by, it will be an event destined to melt peoples’ faces off, in the best possible sense. I was on BBC radio yesterday morning talking about the project, which I gather you can listen to here (I’m not sure how far into it we appear as I’m hobbled with embarrassment at the thought of listening to myself, lovely as the radio people were). The account I referred to is by a fascinating and very charming man I had the joy of getting to know called John ‘Red’ Doran, a man who has lived a hundred lives and been a gentleman in each one.
Being fairly hermetic, it’s been a genuine pleasure meeting and talking to people I wouldn’t have encountered otherwise and of course to work alongside Frank Cottrell Boyce (being blown away by the Olympics Opening Ceremony and a fan of 24 Hour Party People especially) and the brilliant Walk the Plank team. Rather than reinforce preconceptions of the areas I grew up in, the project has made me realise that I never really knew my hometown and just relied on the tiny radius of my own street-urchin experience. In a way, it’s because there isn’t one city to know but instead there’s thousands of perspectives of the city from within, a many-angled cubist perspective of history and geography. There are as many Derrys as there has been inhabitants; they might be complex and contradictory or ghostly or almost forgotten but they come alive when reawakened by memory, myth or even fiction. Walking around streets that have been familiar since childhood, it’s possible to view them in an entirely different light with knowledge of what was there before. For want of a better word, it seems a form of psychogeography, as well as time travel. Continue reading
they forgot drunks, depressives, narcissists…
The late Robert Hughes is best known perhaps for his wonderful television series on modern art The Shock of the New (available to watch in its entirety on UbuWeb). His writing may be slightly less well-known but it is no less brilliant; whether his studies of Goya, Lucien Freud, Frank Auerbach, of Heaven and Hell in Western Art or his introduction to Barcelona, which made me fall in love with that glorious Catalan city before I’d set foot there. His brutal and haunting account of the birth of Australia The Fatal Shore and his highlighting of art, folklore and poetry such as Barcroft Boake’s Where the Dead Men Lie make Nick Cave, for one, seem not quite as atypical an Australian. Contrary to popular opinion, there were other Australias and they were dark.
I’ve recently been reading Hughes’ Things I Didn’t Know which, though I’d avoided it due to an aversion to the prevailing grief tourism of childhood memoirs, is a characteristically lucid, eloquent and open-hearted book. Hughes was an outsider in the sense he was too much of a barrel-chested Antipodean for the mouth full of marbles British arts establishment and too much of a rootless cosmopolitan for the Australian scene. In fact you get the sense he was deliberately mistranslated by both. Alfred de Musset’s “Great artists have no country” may have been partially true, in terms of great art critics it was spot on. Hughes was accused of being abrasive when he was a very generous and open-minded critic. Even when he was damning, and he had a merciless turn of phrase, he was never close-minded. He was accused of being elitist simply because he trusted and respected his audience enough to assume they had more than an amoebic brain capacity (a trust that Waldemar Januszczak and co sorely lack). Hughes’ writing is actually deceptively accessible whilst being heavyweight. He had little time for trash admittedly; if he had one failing, it was in having insufficient interest in why people like trash. But then life is short and there seems barely enough time for the things of worth. When Hughes discussed art, you didn’t get the sense he was ever condescending or hectoring, rather he was enthusing about and sharing something he genuinely loved (or indeed hated). It was as if a fellow discerning guttersnipe had sneaked in the back door and was unloading the contents of High Art to the rest of us. Continue reading
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Tagged art, australia, books, criticism, da vinci, de chirico, futurism, literature, nostalgia, robert hughes, solitude
Asger Jorn died forty years ago tomorrow. If he ever received a Google doodle, the only fitting response would be to deface it. He was a Danish painter. That’s one of his above. It’s called The Avant-Garde Doesn’t Give Up (1962). He was a member of the Free Jutlandish Painters, CoBrA, the Lettrist International and the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus. He was also a Situationist. Then he wasn’t any of them. He grew up in a grim Christian household and narrowly survived several bouts of T.B. before discovering the paintings of Edvard Munch and Emil Nolde. He translated Kafka into Danish. He drove down through Europe on a motorcycle pilgrimage to meet Kandinsky. He worked for the Spanish Republic during the Civil War. He studied art under Fernand Léger, with whom he decorated Le Corbusier’s Pavillon des Temps Nouveaux at the 1937 Paris World Fair. He smoked a pipe. Here is a brief clip of him painting. He painted dreams, myths, emotions, madness, automatist emanations from the subconscious. He believed Realism to be unreal, “True realism lies in the search for the expression of forms faithful to their content. But there is no content detached from human interest.”
Jorn wrote and illustrated the book Mémoires with his friend Guy Debord. It had a sandpaper cover (“an auto-destructive jacket”) to destroy books it was placed alongside and the shelf it was placed upon (an idea Tony Wilson borrowed for The Durutti Column’s first album), yet it was itself a thing of beauty. It began with a quote by Karl Marx, “Let the dead bury the dead, and mourn them… our fate will be to become the first living people to enter the new life.” Continue reading