April 4, 2013 § Leave a Comment
This article in Antennae (Issue 24) discusses the religious portrayal of Warsaw Zoo and Baghdad Zoo in the books The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman, and Babylon’s Ark by Lawrence Anthony (both 2007), after the wartime bombing of both zoos. I have only read the latter book so far, and it was quite a while a go at that, but it was a very moving story that I still remember very well. I don’t think zoos figure very highly in anybody’s priority during wartime, but Anthony really highlighted that there are people who really do care and will do whatever it takes to succeed. In this essay by June Dwyer she discusses the cultural effect of zoos during peacetime and wartime, and uses Edward Hicks’ (1780-1849) to illustrate her points.
Zoos are places for “looking”, for “guided and manipulated observation”. As Nigel Rothfels observes “zoos are not the world as it is, and the animals in them are not as they are but as we, or at least the designers of zoos want them to be”, and points out that the inhabitants of the zoo are in a framed enclosure that is designed so that we are most likely to see the animal and we are always provided with information telling us what it is. Originally when zoos first came about in the 18th C (I’m not sure where this fact came from as ‘menageries’ have been in existence for much longer than this), it was typical to just put an animal in an empty cage; Dwyer argues that this is like a portrait of the animal. The idea of bringing an external environment into the cage (what we might now call enrichment) was first introduced at Carl Hagenbeck’s Tierpark near Hamburg in the early 1900s, and this became a widespread model by the 1970s, this might be viewed as a landscape in which the animals are present.
In Edward Hicks’ paintings he shows carnivores, herbivores and children peacefully co-existing, but whilst the children and herbivores stare into the distance, there is always one carnivore – a tiger or a lion “whose gaze directly engages the painting’s spectator”. Dwyer likens this feature of Hicks’ paintings to the last colour image in Anthony Lawrence’s book, titled “the Tiger”. It is evidently not the starved Malooh, a 14-year-old tiger that Lawrence and his team nurtured daily and struggled so much to keep feed and watered, but was sadly shot by drunk US soldiers after Anthony left for home. This photograph is meant to conjure the idea of Malooh – the cat stares directly into the eyes of the spectator, neither pet nor predator “this tiger is a fellow creature, whose gaze seeks our engagement and recognition”, and in this gaze “the wildness of the animals is supressed, but not erased”. I think there is a kind of knowing about the tiger’s expression, it has a god-like power over the viewer, making us feel like wrong-doers and also like we are walking on the edge of losing something that matters very much to us. Which of course we are.
April 4, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Douglas Gordon is a Scottish video artist that my tutors at college have suggested that I look at. In the above interview he explains how he isn’t involved with cinematic film or commercial art, and that his way of making videos is much more primal. In an essay by Michael Darling his work is described; “through video, film, photography, and text he has wrestles with the complexities of representation, raised questions of authorship, exposed the vagaries of memory and perception, and examined the pull of popular culture…the use of mirroring, an affinity for doppelgangers, and predilection for polar opposites complicates the communication of a message and the creation of meaning”.
His series of photographs in which he burns out the eyes of various movie stars is a very simple yet effective means of exploring the role of “the gaze” in cinema. Without eyes we as admirers of the celebrity can no longer recognise this image as a real person, and so cannot gaze upon them, just as the actor/tress in the image cannot use their gaze within their cinematic environment. Viewers are at a loss – what would be the result if the eyes were removed from every character in an entire film? It might look like some kind of budget zombie film, but it would undoubtedly raise questions about the importance of ‘celebrity’ and our ability to form a connection with the person we are watching on the screen. I find this interesting as in my work filming animals I often wonder why some animals have a much greater and more powerful presence on film than others. It must be related to the connected that we feel with them because of the way that they look at us.
Gordon’s “Play Dead” video installation takes this idea to another level with elephant-sized projections of, well, an elephant. Whilst I have never seen the real installation, the feeling I get when I look at the images is one of sadness. I think the viewer feels a connection with this animal, feels sorry that it was forced to inhabit the same space that the exhibition proceeded to take place in – the video of the elephant’s eye is particularly moving because it is so similar to a human eye, and we find it easier to forge a link with the subject. Whilst I will never agree with using trained wild animals in art, and therefore think this piece is, for want of a better word, disgusting (unless by some miracle she was trained using positive reinforcement), Gordon’s installation makes a valid comment about human-animal relationships and the degree to which the general public who view these exhibitions can relate to an animal that is not physically present, and in an environment that is far removed from where one might expect to face this image.
March 19, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Richard Serra is not an artist I often look at because, to be honest, I don’t really enjoy his sculptures. However, in the spirit of learning I had a flick through Richard Serra: Drawings Zeichnungen 1969-1990 (Benteli) and it has to be said that his drawings are very relate able to his sculptural work – this may seem like I am stating the obvious; surely all artist’s drawings relate to their studio practice? I don’t think this is true, a lot of artists sculptural work is very different in outcome and appearance from their drawings – Louise Bourgeois for example – I would regard her drawings as distinct, and almost created in a different mind set from her sculptural installations. With Serra, on the the hand, his drawings are very sculptural in execution – they are “the subject of spatial experience“. As Serra himself describes his own work in Notes on Drawing: “my drawings began to take on a place within the space of the wall. I did not want to accept architectural space a limiting container. I wanted it to be understood as a site in which to establish and structure disjunctive, contradictory spaces. By the nature of their weight, shape, location, flatness and delineation along their edges, the black canvases enabled me to define spaces within a given architectural enclosure”. He uses layers in his drawings, piling medium on top of itself until the drawing is a multi-faceted creation, yet to look at it it appears as a very two-dimensional form. Whilst Serra’s drawings are a tad…aggressive? for my taste, I appreciate the imagination that is required to transform your sculptural perception of something into a drawing, and in turn being able to regard this image as sculptural in itself.
March 19, 2013 § Leave a Comment
This hefty book of sketches by Antony Gormley (pub. by Centro Galego de Arte Contemporanea) is a brilliant insight into the artist’s working method and ideas. I love that they have all been compiled together, with no information about what sculpture they might relate to – if you know his work you can definitely pick out some Angel of the North drawings! But I think this is an interesting way in which to present drawing work, as it often is done (or mine is anyway!) on odd scrappy bits of paper, that come assessment time have long been tossed into the recycling bin or had something drawn on the back of them. Because they are all simple, monochrome images, they look fresh and clean in this publication, without losing their expressive quality that is very personal to the artist. Some pages have text on a page opposite an image – I don’t think the text relates to that image specifically, but some of the phrases are very poetic and I wish I had the skill to write something similar! Words and drawings can both convey expression and I think this is a very interesting way in which to explore and compile a portfolio of ideas. I often think of short sentences, or single words that I associate with my video work, or words that continuously come up when discussing the pieces with others, and perhaps I could utilize this by combining them with drawings as is done in this compilation.
March 19, 2013 § Leave a Comment
I am currently at the stage in my art practice in the run up to the Degree Show where I would like to produce some drawings to coincide with my video work. I feel that I have managed to make some really powerful films but I am struggling to express the feeling that you have when you watch them in any other way. I am going to hopefully set up an account on Vimeo so I can link some of my work from my blog. I have just read The Drawing Book, edited by Tania Kovats in the hope of gathering some divine inspiration regarding drawing, particularly expressive drawing, and the pictures I have included are all from this book. I particularly like Alison Wilding and Lucia Nogueira’s watercolour drawings as I feel they are full of emotion yet are simple and beautiful to look at. Some of the key points regarding some theory around artist’s drawings that were brought up in this book are:
- Drawings are not simply things to look at; they are a direct form of positive communication
- The act of drawing is associated with the act of seeing but the two things are not the same – nothing looks like a drawing
- Because of the directness of drawing, experiences or thoughts most difficult to express can be rescued from a place where they would otherwise be left inert
- The mental state when making drawings is most commonly one of total absorption, a withdrawing and removal of attention from anything other than the drawing; the sense of draw meaning to extract
- Richard Serra: “Anything you can project as expressive in terms of drawing – ideas, metaphors, emotions, language structures – results from the act of doing“
- The desire to draw nature is also the desire to master it: to show that the non-human world can be contained in the span of a single, Darwinian hand
- Henry Moore: “Sometimes you would sit down with no idea at all, and at some point you’d see something in the doodling, scribbling…and from then on you could evolve the idea…when one is young there are lots of possibilities that one hasn’t tried out; drawing is the means of finding your way about things“
March 18, 2013 § Leave a Comment
This event was my primary reason for going to London; as an art student interested in science, a conversation panel consisting of Mariko Mori and Professor Brian Cox (and yes, I am a HUGE fan of Wonders) promised to be interesting! I had a wander around Mariko’s exhibition before hand and I felt there was a huge difference in the standard of her work. Installations like Trancircle and White Hole were amazing, I felt drawn into them and probably stood watching them for a good wee while, whereas a large gallery filled with her (I hate to say it) quite tacky photographs/potentially drawings/not quite sure what they were of space-type things resembled something a spraypaint artist would make during the Festival on Princes Street for a fiver. Nevertheless, the good definitely outweighed the bad, and when I went to the talk and learned about the science behind her installations, it really heightened my appreciation of them. For example, Transcircle changes colour in relation to planetary movement, whereas Tom Na H-ui is hooked up to a big observatory somewhere that tracks particles called neutrinos which are emitted during a supernova.
In the panel discussion I was much more impressed by Mariko than I was by Coxy; she really came across as a very spiritual and intelligent person, yet she didn’t try to explain things she didn’t understand – she was very honest and I felt very relieved to know that even artists exhibiting in the Royal Academy feel slightly confused about their own artwork! She has a great interest in Japanese history, and related to prehistoric people’s notion of aesthetics, in which they are thought to have had more sympathy with nature as proven by stone circles dating to the Jomon period in Japan (2000-1000 B.C.). I generally got the feeling that Coxy had gone into this with his science hat on instead of his creative hat which was a shame because he kept wittering on about geometry. But he did make the (really quite obvious but nonetheless important) statement that science is too important not to be part of popular culture. What he also brought to light was the very Western fear of science – when he asked Mariko about the ‘Frankenstein effect” she didn’t know what this was. It is obviously very naive to judge the feelings of the entire Eastern world on the opinion of Mariko Mori, but if Mary Shelley’s famous monster never made it to Japan, then perhaps they have no need to fear scientific advancement. It could potentially be a religious issue – in the Western world, modern science is often seen to be ‘playing God’ (or worse, defying him), yet in the East, Buddhism takes a very different view – the world is in harmony, everything has an equal and opposite, ying and yang etc.
Essentially, what was important about this event was the it brought art and science together in the same room, and made it accessible to a popular audience. Art and Science are both derived and inspired by nature, and this should be understood by all!
March 18, 2013 § 1 Comment
I can honestly say I was completely blown away by this exhibition. I have always wanted to go to it but have had to make my peace with the Highlights brochure I get annually with my BBC Wildlife magazine, but the exhibition is beautifully curated – dark room with back-lit photographs, each with the photographer’s take on their image and interesting facts about the animals in the picture. The pictures I have included in this post were simply my favourite ones that were available as postcards, but there were so many fantastic entries!
Joel Sartore’s Lion in the Spotlight was taken in Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth Natural Park where lions are famous for staying in the trees during the day to avoid the heat and flies on the ground! Sadly, their numbers have plummeted to around 60 individuals due to increased cattle herding. Larry Lynch’s Warning Night Light is a truly spooky image of an alligator – they have a layer of reflective tissue (called tapeturn lucidum for the boffins out there), behind each retina, which bounces light back to the photoreceptors of the eye to make the most of low light levels, and it is this that causes the eerie red light shine. Richard Peter’s Snow Pounce features a fox pouncing on an unseen rodent underneath the depths of snow at Yellowstone National Park. Fox’s use their hearing to create a 3D picture of where the sound is coming from, and recent studies suggest that they use Earth’s magnetic field to help them judge how high to jump.