31 October 2012

Happy Hallowe'en

Book du jour - three generations

A quick look through some family photos on file found these images of myself, my mother, and my (paternal) grandmother at various ages; hence the working title "three generations". Some of the resulting photos are too small and fuzzy to use, and I do have other photos that can be scanned in to get better quality images, if fuzziness turns out to be undesirable. Or, the blur might be part of the "story".

The idea for the book is still vague, but it involves printing onto tracing paper. Or, maybe not... though the first idea involved overlaid images. But as I think about it, more possibilities emerge.
Helga Paris's self-portraits 1981-1989
The seed was planted while I was looking at the self-portraits of Helga Paris in the "photography in the DDR" exhibition last week; I started thinking about a similar project, ie looking at yourself from this photographic distance ... and I thought about how the photos we already have on file also contain that distance; was there a way of removing the extraneous parts of the image... (This short blog post tells how Helga Paris got started making her self-portraits, and how taking the pictures became cathartic.)

I'm trying to untangle two strands that feed into the project. The act (and residue) of looking into the camera (or not) is one. This leads to thoughts about how looking back at that image, especially if it's yourself (your earlier self), is a very strange experience - who was she, then...who is she now? who was the woman who was your mother, your grandmother ... did you really know her? did you know your younger self, and what do you think of her now?

The other strand is perhaps less elusive, more concrete: the mistaken belief that covering the eyes, eg in medical photos, will preserve the subject's anonymity. Thought, by hiding their identity - in effect, it is meant to erase the person, leaving just their disease. So ... what happens if the opposite is done - is showing just the eyes going to reveal the identity, preserve the "person" ... even, remove the dis-ease? what will seeing "just" eyes show a viewer, someone who knew the person or who did not ... is that person recognisable, and if so, does it matter?

Is it relevant that "The eyes are the mirrors of the soul" - or does that sort of revelation need duration and presence, which a momentary photo can't supply?

These sort of swirling questions will settle down once the work is real-ised - made real. The format, though, brings its own questions!

Coincidentally (or perhaps - tangentially), the book of short stories I'm reading (Penelope Lively's "Making It Up") yielded this:
"The distorting feature of anyone's perception of their own life is that you are the central figure. Me; my life. But nobody else sees it thus. For others, you are peripheral. You may indeed be of significance to them - of great significance perhaps - but equally you may barely make an impression; either way, you are not the seeing eye. You are an adjunct, a bit player."

Scenery on speed

Quilt inspiration

These marvellous medieval mosaics are in the Bode Museum in Berlin. From its description (sculptures, coins, medals, Byzantine art), you might be tempted to give it a miss, but its collection contains many wonderful things!

Via the magic of photo manipulation, here are closeups -

30 October 2012

Book du jour

Isn't it a good feeling to finish a project? This bit of over-writing was started in the spring, and now that the clocks have gone back to winter time, I've finally finished it.
The work used is Pamela M Lee's essay about the temporality of drawing, in an exhibition catalogue from the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles -- "Afterimage: Drawing Through Process", loaned to me by Jean (thank you!) -
Lee looks at three aspects of time in relation to drawing: entropy, transitivity, and contingency. The latter includes chance and uses the "blind drawings" of Robert Morris - who set himself a drawing task to do with eyes closed for a predetermined duration - and William Anastasi, who drew in his pocket or with a pen in each hand on the New York subway on the way to play chess with John Cage every week.

I was also interested in what Lee said about the Wire Pieces of Richard Tuttle, which traverse genres, being both drawing and sculpture at the same time. He drew lines on a wall, then traced them with wire unwound from a coil, held with a screw at both ends. "The very presence of wire confirms the marks of the pencil, which are rendered with such quietude that they threaten to pass unnoticed." And the shadow is important, confirming the impermanence of the work:
Copying the article in handwriting, I find that at some points I'm paying attention to the words and what they are saying, and at other times my focus is on making the writing "look nice" - which can lead to mistakes in the copying, leaving out words or using the wrong word. But later the line is covered over with another layer of writing, and not only the sense is lost to the viewer, but the imprecision of the handwriting is transformed into a different kind of mark. This individual, selfish labour leaves only a quickly-viewed, easily-dismissible trace.

But is this project really finished? When starting, I hadn't thought through to the end, the presentation; perhaps I'd assumed it wouldn't be "worth" presenting. What can it offer a viewer? Only the aesthetic qualities of the writing - the physical handwriting, not the careful conjunctions of words - and the choice/use of materials [felt pen on "satin" letter paper], and the puzzle of "why do this in this way". I'm still puzzling on the Why. Is there more to this copying, this overwriting, than the pleasure it gives me? can that be "shown" somehow?

The meaning of the particular text is erased, transformed such that the mental state of the viewer parallels the simultaneous mental state of the writer, having written out the words some time ago - and now forgotten their exact meaning. It becomes a matter of what can be salvaged from this wreckage - some gist, or a starting point for a conversation.

Meanwhile the pages are gathered, the source noted; the folder sits in a drawer with other "finished" over-writing projects. 

Some buildings, Berlin

We passed the "geranium balcony" every day on the way into town
The Litteraturhaus (nice caf!) and the Kathe Kollwitz museum (on left) were built as villas with gardens in 1872, before new zoning regulations were implemented in the centre of the city, and before the population doubled between 1890 and 1900
The grillework gives a medieval look
On Kolonnenstrasse

Repairs on columns of the Dom
Charlottenburg palace, minus its wings

What a surprise to see a "tiny" house

Book Arts Fair - Hadleigh, 3 November

On Saturday I'll be showing my inky books and memory balls (but probably not the printed feathers) at the HOFS book art fair, so if you're out Essex way, do drop by! The official info is below.

Hadleigh Old Fire Station is on High Street, Hadleigh, Essex SS7 2PA, and the fair runs from 10am to 5pm. Hadleigh is located on the A13, six miles west of Southend-on-Sea ; map is here. Nearest stations are Benfleet and Leigh on Sea, with frequent buses from Leigh and Southend (I hope so, because I'm planning to get there by train and bus!). Info on the venue is here; info on the fair itself, and the exhibitors, is at  www.thebookartsfair.weebly.com.

The Book Arts Fair at HOFS (Hadleigh Old Fire Station) 

This event brings together 24 diverse artists, all of whom demonstrate a rich and varied response to working with art and the book. Each artist has a unique perspective in understanding this medium. The event will offer the visitor much to think about - from the craft of a traditional hand bound book/journal, to the book as a sculptural object.

The event takes place on Saturday 3 November 2012 at the newly refurbished Hadleigh Old Fire Station, now home to 15 artists' studios and a large exhibition hall.

Entry is free, with parking  available.
The event will offer an opportunity for artists to meet, and form a network within the South East area. Participants will be attending from London, Essex and Suffolk. We are delighted by the interest shown by artists wanting to be part of what promises to be an exciting event.

Please come and join us; we look forward to meeting you!

Reading art press releases

Should artspeak make sense? Or should that question be ... who understands artspeak?

what art press releases need ... photo via here
An article in the online magazine Triple Canopy looks at "International Art English". Alix Rule and David Levine say: “This language has everything to do with English, but it is emphatically not English.” It has always cultivated a "pointed distance from English." The article's analysis is based on a corpus of 13 years of online press releases, under the headings of vocabulary, syntax, genealogy, authority, and finally, implosion.

The authors set the scene with a quote from ER Leach's 1954 book,  Political Systems of Highland Burma: A Study of Kachin Social Structure:

"Of this English upper-middle class speech we may note (a) that it is not localised in any one place, (b) that though the people who use this speech are not all acquainted with one another, they can easily recognise each other’s status by this index alone, (c) that this elite speech form tends to be imitated by those who are not of the elite, so that other dialect forms are gradually eliminated, (d) that the elite, recognising this imitation, is constantly creating new linguistic elaborations to mark itself off from the common herd."

Click through the article to the poetic denoument. And enjoy the artspeak while you can. (Or should that read ... if you can ...?)

[update, 29 Jan 2012]
The Guardian newspaper has picked up on the beleaguered topic of artspeak -
http://m.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2013/jan/27/users-guide-international-art-english. It says: "With its pompous paradoxes and its plagues of adverbs, its endless sentences and its strained rebellious poses, much of this promotional writing serves mainly, it seems, as ammunition for those who still insist contemporary art is a fraud." Then it lucidly recapitulates the Rule and Levine article.

"Sometimes this language is just pure front; sometimes it's a way of hedging your bets in the labyrinth of art-world politics. ... The showy vagueness of IAE can also be commercially pragmatic: "The more you can muddy the waters around the meaning of a work," says Levine, "the more you can keep the value high." "

29 October 2012

The Big Draw, 2012

Missed it! But what a cool poster...

Then and now

Our corner store while in Berlin -
The same scene in the early 1940s -
The streetname signpost has been moved ... and a few other things have changed.

27 October 2012

Postal delivery

Is it inevitable that cities have graffiti? Or is it something about the 1950s buildings in Berlin that attracts it? But that wasn't the point of this photo - it's about the postman's cart, and how the mail gets delivered. The postie has keys for the buildings on the route and takes the mail to each door on the staircase. That can add up to a lot of stairs.

The bike is presumably for routes that cover more ground -

Travelling project

A mark-making bit of fun - my working title is "Speech marks" as the stitching arose from listening to an annoying one-sided telephone conversation ... how could the inflections of this unknown language be represented? Then it evolved into cryptic writing systems (perhaps). I've found that the simpler the better.

Over time the patches accumulate. Excellent for long train journeys, if you get tired of looking at the passing landscape.

Berlin breakfasts

The first time we went to Cafe BilderBuch for breakfast, I had "Hase und Igel" - hare and hedgehog - which consisted of a hard cheese and two kinds of cream cheese to spread on those yummy seeded rolls, and amid the usual breakfast vegetables of tomato, cucumber and carrot (and lettuce to rest a huge pat of butter on) are olives.The fruit consists of grapefruit, orange, and pineapple. What lets it down rather is the packaged portion of jam. The cost? €4.50; coffee is extra.
On another visit we had two kinds of cheese, two kinds of sausage, a slice of ham, the usual veg, and plum, melon, orange, grapes and pineapple. We both struggled to finish (those rolls are substantial).
The view from my seat in the back room, before the place filled up. By 10am you needed a reservation, and the room was buzzing with conversation.

They serve breakfast till 11pm ... see the menu here. I wish you could get breakfasts like that in London - it sure beats a greasy fry-up!

Back home

Yesterday morning we were heading home after an intense time in Berlin - visiting many museums and art galleries, walking lots&lots, enjoying being in a new city. The weather was mostly wonderful
and we were staying in a small, comfortable, older flat (this is the courtyard of the building) -
 in a pleasant part of town - on this street, Akaziestrasse, is our favourite cafe with its amazing breakfasts -
Somehow I have accumulated about 800 photos, in the streets and in museums, along with some series that are intended to become books ... that seemed like a good idea at the time. But when you get home, it's like waking from a dream, isn't it? - so we'll have to see whether they survive the reality-check.

25 October 2012

Poem for the week - by Li Bai

Something exotic this week, full of images. The poet, Li Bai, lived in the Tang dynasty (a period of progress and stability) - his dates are 701-761.  In New Poems on the Underground 2006 the poem is illustrated by calligraphy -

Listening to a Monk from Shu playing the Lute

The monk from Shu with his green lute-case walked
Westward down Emei Shan, and at the sound
Of the first notes he strummed for me I heard
A thousand valleys’ rustling pines resound.
My heart was cleansed, as if in flowing water.
In bells of frost I heard the resonance die.
Dusk came unnoticed over the emerald hills
And autumn clouds layered the darkening sky.
translated by Vikram Seth

I also found the poem here, where there's a lovely photo of "emerald hills". Mount Emei (Emei Shan), a Unesco World Heritage Site, is one of the Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains of China, and the location of the first Buddhist temple built in China.

23 October 2012

Down by the riverside

 On a recent Sunday, after revisiting the "meteorite" section of Patrick Keiller's show at Tate Britain (that's Full Stop by John Latham at the back), and the Vija Celmins room with her drawings and prints of infinite things, like the surface of the sea and the sky at night -
we walked into town along the river, past the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Bridge, and found some things we'd not seen before.

In order of appearance - a huge monument to the Battle of Britain -
 another huge monument, topped by a golden eagle, to the air forces of the Commonwealth and Empire in WWI and WW2 -
The view under Hungerford Bridge -
We have Joseph Bazalgette to thank for the sewers, drainage, and pumping stations -
 And WS Gilbert (it was Sullivan, the composer, who got the knighthood; Gilbert's words did not please people in high places...) - "His foe was folly and his weapon wit".

21 October 2012

Northala Fields

As you head west out of town on the A40, through the flat conurbation, you see some great green hillocks beside the road. They were formed from the rubble that once was the old Wembley Stadium (1924-2000) and from (I read somewhere else) the soil dug out in the construction of Westfield Shopping Centre, of which the less said the better.
Walking round the hill to the top, you suddenly hear the noise of the road; walk on, it gets quiet again.
 On the other side of the hillocks is Northala Fields, opened in 2007, with walks and ponds and bits of art - a maze, carved logs, that sort of thing.
 Another view from the top, of one of the adjacent hills, with its "desire path" made by sliding -
An aerial view, from the internet (source lost) -