Review of HIAA Keynote Lecture by Talin Grigor

The final keynote of the HIAA conference was delivered by Professor Talinn Grigor of University of California Davis Arts. Entitled ‘Modernism as (a)Politics: Marginality and the Autotomizing Discourse on Architecture in Pahlavi Iran’, Professor Grigor charted the pivotal involvement of architects from religious minority backgrounds in the construction of a new Iran during the 1930’s to the 1960’s. The talk began by setting the scene that surrounded the advent of Iranian involvement with Modernist architecture. Grigor introduced Gabriel Guévrékian (b.1892/1900 – d.1970), an architect of Armenian heritage who became instrumental in the Congrés International d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM) (founded in 1928 and disbanded in 1959) alongside Le Corbusier. CIAM’s manifesto on architecture suggested an ambivalent relationship to the state: although there was a split between design and politics for many Modernist architects, there was an overriding belief that social problems could be remedied by urban planning and these mega projects needed the patronage of those in command of the state. In a political atmosphere where the Bauhaus met its end at the hands of the Nazis in 1933, architects needed to shape the nature of their relationship with power. As leaders of the Modernist movement dispersed to climes beyond Europe, Guévrékian accepted an invitation in 1933 from Reza Shah Pahlavi (r.1925-1941) to act as the chief architect who would erect a contemporary vision of Iran. This was a project that entailed superseding the ad-hoc quotations of Safavid (1501-1736) and Victorian decorative styles which comprised the urban schema of the previous Qajar dynasty (1785-1925) with a distinctly modern update.

Talinn Grigor

Grigor then took the opportunity to posit the key questions which informed her research into the subject of this talk. Firstly, why, given the staunch nationalist prerogative of Reza Shah did the most eminent Modernists emerge from Iran’s ethnic and religious minorities? And secondly, how did these figures come to pursue architecture in the first place, and then succeed in realizing the Pahlavi Modernist vision?

During the interwar years, those from Armenian, Christian, Zoroastrian, Jewish and Baha’i backgrounds came to serve as the pioneers of Iranian Modernism and built a secular vision for the country. Despite the homogenising policies of a new, burgeoning Pahlavi nationalism, marginality could be seen as a privilege: those on the periphery could enjoy both a degree of separation from the masses in belonging to a small community whilst taking a space on the international stage of Modernist architecture. This was also a process of integrating modernity into the larger Iranian polity. In an expansion on the structure of modernity laid out by Naser al-Din Shah Qajar (r.1848-1896), Modernism gestated in the schools which were set up for minority communities. Vartan Hovanessian, the second Modernist architect to return to Iran after having trained at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, set out on building an arts academy for Armenian girls to serve the needs of the arts and women’s education. Institutions like this set the contemporary standards for architecture and attracted the attention of the Pahlavi cultural elite.

Meanwhile, Guévrékian worked to apply the Modernist aesthetic to all public structures. This new modernity was primarily articulated in the spaces of the bourgeoisie – spaces of middle class leisure, from swimming pools to cinemas such as the Metropole and the Diana that ushered in a new aesthetic. Innovation and interaction went hand in hand. The wealthiest families of Northern Tehran, however, interpreted Modernity though their own commissions, which created a clean minimalism of columns and dissected tiers that was informed by an enduring upper-class affection for the Neo-Classical. At the highest rung of society, imperial projects displayed an eclectic and revivalist style which borrowed from an inheritance of Qajar buildings, Sassanian motifs and Safavid conventions. Tehran’s green and white marble palaces within the Sa’dabad complex displayed this fusion of old and new, whilst the likes of Karim Tehrarzadeh Behzad oversaw projects for the north façade of the parliament building and the mausoleum of Ferdowsi in Tus, north-eastern Iran in an imposing, monumental style.

Bank Melli, Iran, Sandogh Pasandaz

The readiness of patronage, Iran’s economic buoyancy and its rich social atmosphere made it the ideal soil in which to plant an idiosyncratic, localised Modernism. The likes of Hovanessian, Mohsen Forughi and Keyqabad Zafar tried to remain apolitical, tussling between an Avant Garde spirit and the parameters set out by official endorsement. In journals such as L’Architect, practitioners set out architecture as a solely technical endeavour. Many even went as far as refusing the residual attraction to historicism; the past was not seen as the direction in which to approach the future, with the motifs of lions and cows – as quoted from the capitals of the columns of Persepolis – being perched outside the building of Tehran’s national bank being seen as implicit in “turning the capital into a zoo”.

Grigor ended her erudite assessment of the Modernist project within Iran with a broader consideration of how it then fostered the emergence of an influential elite of intelligentsia ‘from the margins’ during the 1960s. Artists, architects and poets associated with minority populations in Iran, from Marcos Grigorian, Behjat Sadr and Forough Farrokhzad to Houshang Seyhoun, all emerged as the next generation who oversaw the future of Iran’s modern incarnation, with women having a particularly pivotal role.  Encompassing some thirty years of Iran’s modern history, Grigor’s talk considered Iranian Modernism in its capacity as a ‘regional’ phenomenon as per the principal theme of the 2016 HIAA biennial. Not only this, but it located its genesis within an even smaller social geography, that of those figures at ‘the margins’ who embraced a novel aesthetic project and tried to maintain its distinctly apolitical philosophy within what were hierarchical structures of patronage and a distinctly nationalistic administrative atmosphere.

Review of HIAA Keynote Lecture by Jeremy Johns

On the second day of the Historians of Islamic Art Association’s Fifth Biennial Symposium, Jeremy Johns’ keynote speech offered a poignant and critical analysis of the state of affairs of the art historical field. Johns, a professor at the Khalili Research Centre at The University of Oxford, began his speech with news clips about the recent abolition of art history from A-level testing. Johns relayed the argument put forward by journalists and pundits that, “art history is too posh,” which he illustrated with a photograph of The Duchess of Cambridge admiring an Old Masters’ painting.

This introduction asked the audience to consider why art history is not easily shared with the public and why art history of the Islamic worlds are even more obscure to the general public? Between this cohort of renowned scholars, we often forget that this discourse has relevance and urgency for people both inside but also outside of the Courtauld Institute of Art’s Research Forum. Johns’ keynote examines these questions thoroughly. He hypothesized that art history has diverted from the actual object. He posited that studying visual culture is actually just the practice of studying “things” and the “making of things.” Johns asserts that art history must return to this rudimentary goal in order to succeed in today’s trying times

Johns focused his first example on the famous Umayyad frescos of Qusayr Amra. He asserted that the new studies of these images and inscriptions were only made possible after the extensive cleaning and restoration of the site. This cleaning allowed for previously held beliefs on the iconographies of early Islam to be debunked. He then compared this issue with a well-researched site – the 12th century Capella Palatina in Palermo, Italy. This royal chapel, although well known and studied by art historians, is consistently confronted with breakthrough discoveries. As historians return to the architecture itself, they are finding more missing pieces to the puzzle. Ironically, the answers were right under their noses the entire time. In comparing these two historical sites, Johns demonstrated that the constant reexamination of objects and the ways they are produced can shed new light on human civilisation and tradition.

Johns speech then changed tone to examine his most recent collaborative project with the Labratory of Tribology and Dynamic Systems in Lyon. The project analyses and reconstructs archaeological techniques of artistic production. He found in his research on rock crystal art forms that there is a divide between practice of craft and knowledge of art. He asserts that there is an inextricable link between the physical labour of making art and the beauty, soul and originality of the finished product. In the Islamic sense in particular, this difference has a spiritual and divine context, elevating the art to a new level of importance. Johns closed with a touching anecdote about his family, more specifically, his grandfather who was an antiquing man. He taught Johns the importance of the tangibility of items and the desire for humans to work with such things.

As art historians, we have a duty to travel through time and different cultures and translate these past desires for the present. Johns’ speech truly resonated with the audience, from the most accomplished art historian in the room to the most junior like myself. His speech showed to me that the history of art is both reliant on the previous studies of others, but it also can and must evolve.

Breathing Consciously: Exploring Sensory Experience in Art

By Dr Elisabeth Reissner (The Courtauld Institute of Art)

Sensory tour led by Professor David Howes at the Courtauld Gallery

Sensory tour led by Professor David Howes at the Courtauld Gallery

A connecting thread between the events that have taken place under the umbrella of ‘What Sense is there in Art?’ over the past year has been the requirement that participants bring not only their intellect and visual perception, but also their sense of hearing, smell, touch and taste. At the start of the final workshop, held on the 26th of September, it was fitting therefore that speakers and audience were invited by the research project organiser, Dr Irene Noy, to take part together in a short meditation which encouraged a sense of being present in our bodies.

There are further reasons why the five minutes spent paying attention to our breath and listening to the sounds around us were apt. One is the quality of risk, experimentation, even transgression – so unusual is the introduction of a practice stemming from the yoga tradition into an academic space. It was experimental in the way its possible effect upon the discussion that was to follow could not be known beforehand. Reflecting back it is interesting to consider whether things might have been thought, noticed or said that otherwise would not have been. The space it created, or the tone it set, has certainly had a bearing on what I have felt able to express in this text.

Sensory tour led by Professor David Howes at the Courtauld Gallery

Sensory tour led by Professor David Howes at the Courtauld Gallery

The conscious breathing and listing mediation may subtly have ‘conditioned’ how participants engaged or attended. ‘Conditioning’, or the cultivation of sensitivity, was later touched upon by Dr Valentijn Byvanck in the introduction he gave to the ongoing program of installations/immersive exhibitions devoted to the senses at Marres, House for Contemporary Culture in Maastricht. Groups of visitors have been invited to remove their shoes before starting, and facilitators have guided their experiences. Accompanying the exhibitions are a series of lectures and also a program called ‘Training the Senses’. This training includes walks, workshops and presentations in which artistic practices, bodily reflexes, mental states and conditions are examined.

Jan Brueghel the Elder and companions, Hearing, Taste and Touch, c. 1620, Madrid, Museo del Prado

Jan Brueghel the Elder and companions, Hearing, Taste and Touch, c. 1620, Madrid, Museo del Prado

A quality of experimentation and risk was something that Professor David Howes addressed in his keynote lecture ‘Coming to Our Senses: The Sensory Turn in Contemporary Art and Ethnographic Museums’, as he gave examples of ‘sensory museology’. These included the permitting of a traditional indigenous practice of ‘smoking’ Iroquois false face masks and the handling of artifacts. He also commended Tate’s ‘Sensorium’ and the National Gallery London’s ‘Soundscapes’ – exhibitions that last summer Dr Irene Noy used to begin the year-long, exchange of ideas about art and the senses, which she has led. Experimentation and risk characterized the work of Jessica Akerman in her sound art exhibition, which was curated by Dr Noy and took place in June this year, at the innovative ‘Museum of Portable Sound’. It was present too in Professor Joanna Woodall’s paper when she proposed thinking about the pictorial fields of the pendant paintings of the Five Senses, made under the aegis of Jan Breugel the Elder, not as allegories or representations of the discrete senses, but rather as analogous to an embodied human subject.

Mary Bauermeister, Untitled (Blue Honeycomb), 1958, layered paste on wood, 18 x 24 cm. Collection Mary Bauermeister

Mary Bauermeister, Untitled (Blue Honeycomb), 1958, layered paste on wood, 18 x 24 cm. Collection Mary Bauermeister

The proposal that pictorial fields can be analogous to ‘human-like presences’, as well as the idea that boundaries between interior and exterior spaces within Breugel’s pictures had a liminal quality, suggestive of sensory portals, was contextualised historically. These thoughts took on a contemporary relevance, however, when expressed in a workshop that had begun with a meditative focus on breath and in which a question emerged regarding Art’s role in helping to facilitate/develop a sense of wellbeing, or of being present to the world around us. Whilst in 17th century Antwerp Breugel’s exploration of the senses may have expressed a hope for divine harmony, ‘What Sense is there in Art?’ has questioned the ethical dimension of present day explorations. In 2016 we can at least hope that a more creative, dynamic and ethical relationship between ourselves, the communities we live in and the wider natural environment becomes a little more possible when we are sensitively attuned to our own bodies, the world we live in, and the connection between the two.

 

Heave and Flow: Jessica Akerman records soundscapes of labour and play

By Elina Suoyrjö (Independent curator, PhD candidate at Middlesex University)

Jessica Akerman, Untitled (2016)

Jessica Akerman, Untitled (2016)

On a late Friday afternoon on June 17, a bunch of us gathered at the entrance of London College of Communication in order to be escorted to a private view at the Museum of Portable Sound. The current exhibition at the museum is Heave and Flow: Jessica Akerman records soundscapes of labour and play, guest curated by Dr Irene Noy who runs What Sense is there in Art? series at The Courtauld. After a short round of introductions, we were guided through the labyrinths of the school into an auditorium, where the museum and the artist awaited.

Jessica Akerman’s practice focuses on processes of drawing, through exploring different kinds of materials and gestures. She works with a vast range of materials from playdough to mud to song, as the work takes shape as sculpture, installation or collaboration. The exhibition at the Museum of Portable Sound presents excerpts of three of Akerman’s earlier works focusing on sound, and especially song. After a presentation from the museum director John Kannenberg, we got to listen to Akerman’s works. This was followed by a discussion between Akerman, Noy, and the audience. During the talk central topics in Akerman’s practice were brought up, such as exploring relations between gender and labour, sound and song as material of work, and working processes with different kinds of communities.

Jessica Akerman with Frankie Armstrong, Waulking Songs (2014)

Jessica Akerman with Frankie Armstrong, Waulking Songs (2014)

While the exhibition focuses on Akerman’s sound based work, a certain sense of tactile materiality appears to push through her practice even in these pieces. Two of the works, Songs of Salt (2010) and Waulking song (2014) deal with traditions of song functioning as part of labour; as part of working processes where song, gestures and rhythms enable people to work together, and in synch. The songs and sounds are entangled with physical movements of the singers, and their handling of physical materials. The third piece, Darlinghurst playground songs (2013), features play songs the artist composed in collaboration with pupils at Darlinghurst Primary School in Southend. The recording is a lively playground soundtrack, which transmits not only the sounds of the playground songs, but also the echoes of acts and movements synchronized by the children along with the singing.

The Museum of Portable Sound is a project by John Kannenberg. The museum has collections consisting of sound as well as physical objects, an exhibition program, a gallery guide, and a board. The museum doesn’t exhibit artworks only. The collections present for example animal sounds and soundscapes from different museums. The immaterial sound collections of the museum are located on an iPhone. Despite its portable character, the museum does not exist online, but on one portable device only. In practice, you get to visit the museum by booking an appointment. Visiting the museum becomes an experience in itself through scheduling an appointment, arriving at a given place, encountering the space of the museum one on one, within a certain kind of intimate setting, through headphones.

4As a curator, I can’t help but think what does it then mean for an artwork to be exhibited in this museum? Is there a difference to how artworks are presented in non-portable museums or white cubes? In the case of Akerman’s work, all of the pieces presented are parts of larger installations. During the discussion we got to hear in more detail how, and in which kind of settings, the work has been exhibited earlier. Presenting the sound of the work can thus be seen as presenting one part of the work, not the work as a whole. In the case of Heave and Flow, I do not think the presentation of the work exactly takes anything away from the work, while on the other hand, it doesn’t show the work in its whole richness either. The encounter with the work is very different from their original settings, and through this the museum might offer new entrances to the work. The Museum of Portable Sound seems to offer interesting possibilities in terms of distribution of sound based art, and different and engaging visitor experiences. There exists a slight danger of diminishing the work into this peculiar encountering experience, but through careful curation, as in the case of Heave and Flow, this too can be avoided.

Close Encounters: Perceptions of SoundArt

On Tuesday 14th June 2016, the Sackler Research Forum at the Courtauld Institute of Art hosted a talk by Dr Kersten Glandien (Brighton University), which was part of the What Senses is there in Art? series organised by Dr Irene Noy (The Courtauld). Two artists/curators responded to the talk and the issues raised in the discussion that followed.

By Dr Matt Lewis (Call & Response)

Dr Kersten Glandien begins by charting a neat trajectory through the key points in the development of our relationship with artistic endeavour. However a temporary interruption occurs when our speaker gives a Cageian nod to the presence of the fountains outside the seminar room. We are then launched from the starting point of 15th Century art and architecture into 17th Century western art music, journeying through Dadaism to the Avant Garde, before touching down in the later half of last century. Here we arrive at the point where we inevitably scramble around trying to find the roots of what we call Sound Art. Missing from the journey are explicit references to key political and social movements and struggles associated with the above historical points of reference.

Berhard Leitner, Sound Chair (1975)

Berhard Leitner, Sound Chair (1975)

The talk then holds a temporary gaze on our contemporary relationships with digital culture in general and throws up some extremely important issues. The use of the term ‘compression’ in relation to our digital experience is well chosen and reminds me of Jonathan Sterne’s work around the MP3, which he uses as container to explore the issues of our digital generation.

Glandien’s critical stance in relation to an online and device fixated society is important as it tacitly prepares us for some of the later artistic examples that point to ways in which artists might test new possibilities for technology and remind us of our historical connections with these tools. This history of our relationship with the development of technology is one of constant feedback. For Matt Fuller one of the tasks of media ecologies is to carve out unaccounted for potentialities from “standardised media-objects” such as the MP3 and i-pod. The “affordance of possibilities” (Gibson), offered to us by standardised media-objects, systems and processes, reflects and reveals our differing relationships to listening itself. TFL, for example, may typically transport both middle-class commuters, who choose to listen to MP3’s on their i-pods and young people who “spit” “bars” over MP3’s, played out through the small speakers of their phones. The later practice is sometimes referred to by some academics with the derogative term “sod-casting”.

Kersten very usefully acknowledges the multi-modal/sensory nature of Sound Art and the second half of the talk turns our attention in four interconnected directions:

Seeing Sounds

Feeling Sounds

Spatial experience of with sound through Installation Art

Interaction through Sound

Historical examples include Bernhard Leitner’s Sound Chair (1975). This piece connects us to an important group of other works that embrace the haptic qualities of sound. Examples include the Music For Bodies project by Kaffe Matthews:

Kaffe’s Sonic Bed, part of this project is most interesting in that it was designed as a musical instrument, which can be played live, or pre-automated through a software interface using JavaScript.

For me the sited work with the greatest potential to offer new affordances of possibilities across our multi-sensory, digital practice is the final example of the talk, Jon Rose’s Giant Ball 2011.

Jon Rose, Giant Ball (2011)

Jon Rose, Giant Ball (2011)

By encouraging communal interaction with a physical interface in the form of a ball this project both looks forward to the potentials of digital interaction and backwards to the social nature of sound based creative practice. Most importantly it reminds us of the unbreakable nexus between sound art and music; way before humans were producing closed experiences in bourgeoisie palaces of fun we were getting together in rooms and fields and making the air move.

The final question from the floor brought us right back to the opening Cageian acknowledgement of the sound of the fountains outside the seminar room. The questioner commented on the importance of understanding the effects of sounds on our health. Fountains, yes a long established form of Sound Art, way before such conceptions existed are also an easy go-to for developers looking for a seductive way of diverting our attention away from the dangerously high levels of construction noise. Fountains! Surely we can do better than that!

________________________________________________________________________________________

By Evgenia Emets (poet and artist)

Dr Kersten Glandien presented a brief overview of specific moments in Western history when a perception shift in culture occurred. According to Glandien, these developments made us re-tune our senses to specific new ‘harmonies’ which are mirrored in art from those periods. She describes three shifts:

1) the arrival of bourgeois mind-set in the 15th century, 2) the avant-garde and the new industrial society at the start of the 20th century and finally, 3) our own time of hyper connectivity in all spheres of life and a globalised world. She showed how these shifts feed into the development of the human psyche, society and are reflected in art practices, Sound Art in particular.

Ryoji Ikeda, Test pattern {100m version], Duisburg, 2013

Ryoji Ikeda, Test pattern {100m version], Duisburg, 2013

15th century shift in architecture fostered by Brunelleschi’s invention of linear perspective connected with developments in mathematics, pushed the shift in artist’s perception towards rationality as a dominant value and realism as its expression. In music, a new system of temperament was implemented in the 17th century and continued to develop into the beginning of the 20th. This created a transition from music filled with natural harmonics and dissonances to an equal temperament system with its mathematical, ‘correct’ spaces between notes. This lead to new developments in instrument building and music development, imposing a set of perceptions governing classical music up until today. That established a specific way of listening to music, which was widely supported by the institutions; there was an increase in separation between audience and professional musicians.

In the early 20th century avant-garde art saw the next shift in perception – away from object based to process based works, including an emergence of works which engage multiple senses, involve spontaneity, chance and wider audience engagement. Hence a growing interest in visual music, haptic art, interactive performance and technology based work, with new forms emerging in the crossover between traditional genres.

Douglas Henderson, Fadensonnen (2009)

Douglas Henderson, Fadensonnen (2009)

It feels as though we are undergoing another shift in perception under the influence of constant media penetration into our lives – growing confusion, shrinking attention spans and inevitable and largely forced media interactions, which are common markers of our daily reality. Art and especially Sound Art addresses these issues via a set of tools available in new art forms. These offer us experiential and immersive situations and question the way we interact with the environment created by the hectic media world.

The physicality of sound alone gave rise to a whole number of adventures, a lot of which have been focused on sound as a phenomenon prone to interpretations via sensory apparatus. Haptic inaudible vibrations and visual sound through the science of cymatics activate two more senses beyond hearing – tactile and visual (see for example the installation by Thomas McIntosh, Ondulation).

It is possible to reproduce recorded or generated sound in space through geometric mapping. This creates immersive spaces, which addresse directly the field of perception (Bernhard Leitner’s sound spaces). Sound sculptures by many artists, including Douglas Henderson, present sound as an object with active tangible presence in space rather than ephemeral abstract music. Artists have even used amplification of inaudible waves in the environment of the cities to make us aware of what is going on around us in the electrical field (see electrical walks by Christina Kubisch).

So are we facing another shift and if so what will this shift feel like? I thought of just a few aspects, which could be part of this shift in perception and perhaps deserve further investigation:

Jeppe Hein, Appearing Rooms, SBC London, since 2007

Jeppe Hein, Appearing Rooms, SBC London, since 2007

  • Life in cities forces us to deal on a daily basis with noise pollution. This has become political and environmental issue, which adds to the stresses of a city life. How can Sound Art help, and can sound artists contribute with new ideas to help with this issue?
  • How exactly does sound affects our mind, body and emotions. Sound used thoughtlessly can have detrimental effects on the health of the audience (in an art gallery/museum/concert). How many sound artists are aware of these effects and use sound consciously and responsibly?
  • The modern system of equal temperament could be an interesting field of exploration, questioning the institutional base of most of the music composition and performance. How does Sound Art relate to this system?

It would be interesting to see how in other cultures shifts in perceptions happen in relation to development of thought, economic conditions and how it is supported and reflected in the arts. I believe there is great deal of examples in both aboriginal cultures and some industrialised societies, which preserved older musical traditions, where sound and music are seen from wider perspective as a medicine, a carrier of knowledge or core of spiritual practice.

 

Opening Art History to Science and the Humanities: How and Why

By Julia Secklehner (PhD candidate, The Courtauld)

The Duck-Rabbit Illusion

The Duck-Rabbit Illusion

On 1st June 2016, Professor Whitney Davis asked ‘What would a post-culturalist art-history look like?’. ‘Post-culturalist’ in this context is concerned with an inclusive art history and study of world art that can be simultaneously multi-, inter- and transcultural. It can focus on the decentring of one narrative over the other in what Davis has compared to post-colonial trains of thought. It is thus possible to understand culture as ‘shared sense-making’ in relation to ideas developed by Gottlob Frege and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Using this as a starting point, Davis interrogated existing approaches to non-cultural art history in an attempt to bridge the nineteenth century divide between Naturwissenschaften (the sciences) and Geisteswissenschaften (the humanities). As such, he aimed to show that our understanding of art history can be broadened with the inclusion of Naturwissenschaften into art historical theory.

The example used in the talk to visualise these abstract theories was the so-called ‘Mondrian stimulus’, a neurological experiment Edwin H Land developed in 1971 as part of his ‘retinex theory’, which questioned why we can see colors consistently even if light levels change. In the experiment, test subjects were shown a display resembling paintings by Mondrian, checking which brain cell complexes were activated by looking at certain patterns. The cell complex V4 (an area tuned for colour in the visual cortex) ‘lit up’ with all the test subjects. As Davis highlights, regardless of whether the subject was an ‘avant-gardist’ or a ‘philistine’, V4 would have been stimulated. This is because the experiment was not about cultural understanding, but the physical activation of particular cells by looking at colour patterns.

Mondrian Apparatus

Mondrian Apparatus

What does it mean, then, that cultural differences (the avant-garde philistine dichotomy) are not registered neurologically? As Davis suggested, this result had a series of implications. From a scientific point of view, the question ‘but is it art?’ turns out to be less significant when it comes to looking at art objects – creating an opposition between what can physically be seen of a work and what can be seen in it (interpretation). Meaning thus can be differentiated from our physical experience of seeing colours and structures: while the former is culturally conditioned, the latter is physiological. As such, a consideration of scientific methods for a new art historical understanding shows the simultaneous value of different interpretations. This helps to forge an art history that is no longer limited by the constraints of ‘seeing culturally’, which means that our understanding of an object is restricted to the ways we learn about it in our cultural environment.

Undoubtedly, there is still some resistance to the closing of the Naturwissenschaften and Geisteswissenschaften divide, given how entrenched this split has become over the past few centuries. Yet, the important point to highlight here is that any inclusion of ‘neuroarthistory’ does not replace conventional forms, but adds to them and provides a broader perspective that is no longer solely reliant on cultural understandings of art, which are always conditioned by social aspects as well.

Piet Mondrian, Composition with Large Red Plane, Yellow, Black, Gray and Blue Painting, 1921

Piet Mondrian, Composition with Large Red Plane, Yellow, Black, Gray and Blue Painting, 1921

In a way, Davis’s approaches seem, crude to ‘avant-gardists’. This is not surprising. By approaching artworks from an opened-up perspective that embraces naturalistic and universalising sciences, the hegemonic status of art that is often ascribed to it by avant-gardists is diminished. With this new approach, art objects have to withstand scrutiny not only from cultural interpretations, but also scientific ones, which liberate them from the ‘sacred’ space of art and white cube institutions and place them into an all-encompassing worldview, where art is just one of many things that provokes physical reactions. There is a clear politics behind this, namely that of embracing multiplicity and of decentring hegemonies (be they humanistic or scientific). Davis suggested ‘post-culturalist’ positioning, which opens up art history to a non-cultural discourse. This becomes much more than ‘a new way of looking at objects’: it encourages a multi-dimensional way of seeing the world and supports diversity – which is just what we need at times that toy with a return to nationalism and conservativism, like today.

Art & Matter: The Politics of Time

By Julia Secklehner (PhD candidate, The Courtauld)

Questioning the values of art historical writing, Professor Keith Moxey (Columbia) addressed the value and understanding of time at a lecture at the Courtauld Institute on Tuesday 17 May 2016. Tracing the time of material objects, from petrified wood over Maya relief sculpture to Albrecht Altdorfer’s Dead Pyramus (1510), Picasso’s Collage with Violin (1912) and Spencer Finch’s Sunlight in an Empty Room (2010), Moxey highlighted the different times objects relate to, and can be understood within. For example, the Maya sculpture, Stele I, depicted King Chaan Muan (776 CE) and in Mayan belief, images of the king were an extension of himself, allowing him to exist throughout different times. Simultaneously, the object itself is made from limestone, derived from the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs. In relation to these two particular histories alone, the object has a variety of significances and meanings, depending on what time we focus on: it can be an anthropological artefact, a sacred sculpture, or a geological example, all at the same time. Each of these interpretations is also dependent on the beholders, of course, who, again, live in their own time, which they transpose onto the object. As such, depending on where we are, and which aspect of the object in question we look at, multiple interpretations arise considering time alone, though there are undoubtedly many other aspects that would lead us to different conclusions – gender perspectives for example.

Chalice-cover. Aztec-feather work, Hidalgo-Mexico, ca.-1540.

Chalice-cover. Aztec-feather work, Hidalgo-Mexico, ca.-1540.

 

The structure of the lecture itself, however, was chronological, showing that any given time brings certain ‘conventions of storytelling’ with it. These are put in place even when we question them: in order to interrogate the heterochrony of objects in the lecture, we followed a chronological interpretation, exemplifying that heterochrony exists ‘through time’. Concurrently, all the stories connected to the stones and shells and prints and sculptures assessed show that the very act of ‘storytelling’ is crucial to an understanding of time itself. The best example for this is Moxey’s mentioning of the ‘invention’ of regulated time itself, when the Industrial Revolution made standardization necessary, and led to the time we live ‘after’ now.

While thinking about time and its relation to objects is an intriguing exercise in thought, the question is what the wider implications of these ideas are. We will hardly ever have the time, means or understanding to approach material objects from all the different temporal parallels that are tied to it: we are inevitably caught up in our own time, which is an amalgamation of our subjectivity and us as a product of the society we live in. Therefore, we have to choose one time over another and, in so doing, deny other interpretations that have no place in our ‘current’ understanding of the object. A vicious circle, is it?

petrified-wood-600x600

Quite on the contrary: the impossibility to escape our own time (as much as some of us may try to), means that we are forced to make conscious decisions about what to focus on, and why to choose that particular angle over another. In the process, our awareness of all the different times and interpretations we exclude can shape what it is we want to say. In other words, we need to consciously choose our own standpoints on art, society and politics as a consequence of the fact that, we will unavoidably overwrite other interpretations of the materials we look at. Moxey’s argument about ‘Material Time’ thus becomes much more than a theoretical exercise in (art historical) thought: it is an appeal to use art history more consciously, and to show awareness for the fact that the passing of time denies the possibility of objectivity. Rather than trying to remain detached therefore, we must emphasise the subjectivity of our own art history.

 

 

 

…And Wishing You Were Far Away exhibition at The Lloyds Club

By Madeleine Brown (M.A. student, The Courtauld)

 

In the monochrome depths of the City, reside two enchanting surprises for art-lovers. The first is The Lloyds Club, a private member’s club housed in a grade II listed building; the second – and most important – is the exhibition, …And Wishing You Were Far Away, currently on show within.

Susie Hamilton, Three Hens, 2015. Oil on canvas.

Susie Hamilton, Three Hens, 2015. Oil on canvas.

Spread across all three floors, the show exhibits contemporary works by three artists, Roxy Walsh, Susie Hamilton and Persi Darukhanawala. Structured by the curatorial collective, Patch, and curated by their founder and director, Katie Heller, and exhibited artist, Darukhanawala, the exhibition combines great organisation of diverse artworks with a creative raison d’etre that results in a superbly synthesised and meaningful show.

The title comes from Darukhanawala’s love of Paul Weller and The Jam; “…And Wishing You Were Far Away” are lyrics from the 1980 hit That’s Entertainment. Regardless of how familiar you are with the song, this phrase ignites the imagination, encouraging the beholder to think about what it means to be somewhere else. Interpreting the artworks through this thematic prism means that the exhibition is highly interactive – a highly personal response can be elicited. Indeed, such musing should be all too easy for those stepping off the streets of rat-race London.

The exhibition really is a feast for the eyes: Daruhanawala’s use of geometric shapes and single lines executed in brightly coloured paints is highly appealing. With these minimalist markings on white backgrounds, the pieces powerfully encourage the viewer to look within themselves and consider what they can take from this image. ‘Wishing you were far away’ in front of these works has the capacity to transport you emotionally and imaginatively.

Persi Darukhanawala, My mind goes ablank, 2015. Watercolour on paper.

Persi Darukhanawala, My mind goes ablank, 2015. Watercolour on paper.

The minimalism contrasts with the thickly applied and luscious brushstrokes of Susie Hamilton’s representational yet abstract work which – with their colour, texture and content – are commanding for the eye and, at the same time, relatively certain in terms of where the artist wants you, the beholder, to end up when viewing these painted scenes.

Roxy Walsh’s pieces are similar to Hamilton’s in terms of their abstract representations although the medium is more varied, with use of gesso and linen fabric. The visual field of the exhibit pieces is relatively small too, inviting close-up inspection and personal contemplation.

Beyond exercising the beholder’s eyes, a plurality of the senses is engaged by the exhibition. On the top floor where Darukhanawala pieces are situated, music plays in the background. The experience of viewing becomes totally immersive, further provoking a mindful response from the viewer. It also reminds us that wishing we were somewhere else isn’t just about picturing somewhere else, it can be about smelling it, hearing it, touching it.

The lack of wall labels contributes to the personal meditation facilitated by this exhibition too. It is rare that a show can be so personally satisfying both in terms of aesthetic experience and the poignant meanings elicited in the beholder. With summer just around the corner, venture far away by all means; but do stop off at The Lloyd’s Club too – you’ll be surprised how far away you can get simply by experiencing the panelled walls and works that hang upon them.

*The exhibition runs until 1st July 2016.

Art and Terrorism Symposium Review

On Saturday 27th February 2016, the Sackler Research Forum at the Courtauld Institute of Art hosted a day-long Symposium on Art and Terrorism, a collaborative event organized by Professor Julian Stallabrass and Dr. Anna Marazuela Kim of the Courtauld Institute, and Dr. Noah Charney and Lynda Albertson of the Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA). Bridging disparate sectors and audience, the event brought scholars of image and violence into dialogue with practitioners in the field of conflict antiquities and the destruction of cultural heritage, and featured the premiere of a UNESCO-funded film on Syria and the work of an award-winning photographer on sites of extraordinary rendition.

The event was also captured on storify.

Session I by Gene Borkoski (BA1 student, Fine Art, Central Saint Martins) 

The first session covered topics ranging from IRA art heists to the Freudian uncanny, and set up several problematics that were developed further throughout the day. Courtauld professor Julian Stallabrass, who co-organized the event and presented later in the day, chaired the session.

Noah Charney, a co-organizer of the symposium and founder of ARCA, opened the session by giving a Very Brief History of Art and Terrorism.  The starting point for this history was that art crime is an “under-served area within criminology” due to the fact that most of the information in the case files is missing. (Michael Will of Europol elaborated on the challenges of investigating art crimes during the second session).

Palmyra Destruction by IS in Damascus, Syria

Palmyra Destruction by IS in Damascus, Syria

Charney went on to explain that art crime, as it pertains to terrorism, generally falls into one of two categories: iconoclasm and selling stolen art to raise funds. Illustrating the former category, Charney pointed to members of the Irish Republican Army scratching “IRA” into the surface of Rubens’s The Adoration of the Magi, and to the Taliban dynamiting the Buddhas of Bamiyan. As examples of the latter, he mentioned Rose Dugdale and Martin Cahill stealing old masters paintings, and touched on Mohamed Atta’s unsuccessful plan to sell antiquities as a means of raising funds for a plane to fly into the World Trade Center. (Mike Giglio and Sam Hardy presented on the illegal antiquities trade in more detail during the second session.)

Charney ended his presentation by giving examples of valiant efforts to protect cultural heritage from destruction, including museum staff in Timbuktu smuggling manuscripts out of Mali, and museum staff in Bagdad strategically confronting inevitable destruction by placing less valuable artifacts in prominent locations, thus sparing objects considered to be more valuable. (Giovanni Boccardi of UNESCO presented on the preservation of endangered cultural heritage in the third session.)

The first casualty of 9/11, Father Mychal Judge (Ground Zero Pieta(

The first casualty of 9/11, Father Mychal Judge (“Ground Zero Pieta”)

Jennifer Good, Senior Lecturer in History and Theory of Documentary Photography at London College of Communication, presented next. Good’s topic was Totalizing Narratives of 9/11, and she focused on photojournalistic and memorial images from the aftermath of 9/11. Good posited that within these images a redemptive, transcendental narrative emerged as a way of rationalizing feelings of despair left in the wake of the attacks.

Two of her examples included an image of Friar Mychal Judge (the first recorded fatality) who was referred to as “Ground Zero Pieta,” and the cross that was recovered from the rubble of the gigantic towers, “as if waiting to be born from the destruction.” The human-sized cross, Good suggested, came to redeem the Towers’ “purposeless giganticism” (quoting Lewis Mumford) that made them a target.

Good concluded by suggesting that both the enormous towers and their incredible destruction were uncanny in the Freudian sense. In the aftermath of the attacks, Americans thus turned to religious narratives “to make the un-tolerable tolerable.”

Anna Marazuela Kim, Andrew W. Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Courtauld, co-organiser of the event, later session chair, addressed The New Image Wars. Kim focused on the long-standing link between violence against bodies and violence against figurative art that represents, or even presents, bodies and persons.

Drawing parallels between IS and the Protestant Reformers, Kim pointed out that both groups were adept at deploying new technologies to disseminate their message through images. During the Protestant Reformation that technology was printing, presently it’s the Internet, but the underlying tactic is familiar, as she demonstrated by showing an IS image of a Jordanian pilot being burned in a cage next to a Reformation image of a bishop being burned at the stake.

Bishop Hooper's execution, 1555

Bishop Hooper’s execution, 1555

Kim also drew parallels between the Christian imperative against desecrating icons and the Islamic imperative against representing the Prophet Muhammad. Turning to Charlie Hebdo, Kim suggested that cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad are offensive not only because they represent the Prophet, but also because of how he is presented, given that such images are understood to contain the real presence of the Prophet. It is therefore a category mistake, Kim argued, to reduce affective images to an issue of “free speech,” as happened in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo shooting.

What is “new” in the new image wars or “visual terrorism”, Kim concluded, is that the images merge and become fused with the flow of our consciousness more readily than ever, and, citing the images of Palmyra being blown up with people tied to its columns, the images do so with a violence that constitutes a form of violation.

Francesco Rutelli, Former Italian Minister of Culture and former Mayor of Rome, was the fourth and final speaker in the first session. Rutelli focused on “iconoclasm as a matter of power.” As a starting point, he described Napoleon’s quest to fill the Louvre with the best masterpieces to demonstrate France’s cultural superiority.

Rutelli made two main points. First, the history and biography of objects matters; he cited the case of the Goddess of Morgentina, a 5th century BC Greek statue, which made its way to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles under questionable (mob-related) circumstances, and was recently returned to Sicily, as an example of the rectification of improperly removed cultural heritage. And second, the intentional destruction of art and artifacts sends a powerful message about power and cultural dominance. Therefore, restoring sites of destruction is more than symbolic gesture, but a crucial moment in the ending of a war.


Session II by Sarah Farman MA (MPhil student, University of Bristol)

The second session, chaired by Noah Charney, featured Mike Giglio, investigative journalist and war correspondent based in Turkey; Michael Will of Europol; and Sam Hardy, an archaeologist who researches cultural property crime. The combined presentations offered personal perspectives and information about facets of the trade in stolen art and antiquities, especially in a war zone such as Syria.

The Tel Abyad (Turkey-Syrian) border. Photograph by Mike Giglio (2015)

The Tel Abyad (Turkey-Syrian) border. Photograph by Mike Giglio (2015)

Mike Giglio gave the human overview and reasons for the looting of cultural antiquities in Syria today and the link to survival. The trade in antiquities fuels a wartime economy. The business structures of emergent, armed groups since the collapse of the infrastructure of the country are self-supporting in part due to revenue obtained from trafficking stolen artefacts. Equally for the ordinary people having to adapt and survive in this present chaos, the sale of a piece of antiquity can buy food to feed an often-extended family. Objects are smuggled across the border not just as part of a financial trade between dealers but also hidden in the personal effects of fleeing refugees. Such objects are currency for trade and barter for refugees on the move through other countries. The desecration of Syria’s cultural sites and disappearing of objects is damaging to the cultural and human psyche and, as Giglio stated, the looting of artefacts has become a microcosm of the conflict.

Following on from this fascinating insight into the human side of such trafficking was Michael Will of Europol and a former Chief Inspector investigator in the field for the Berlin C.I.D. He is now based in Rotterdam, Holland having joined Europol in 2013. Will gave an interesting outline to the organization explaining that it acts more as an advisory and supportive vehicle for the twenty-eight Member States (aka MS) of the European Union. Officers at Europol are drawn from all the MS. Major issues that perhaps hinder them from carrying out and collating more investigations information is lack of funding – a typical problem today.

The Great Mosque of Aleppo – 1300 years old. Still from The Quake by Matteo Barzini (2015)

The Great Mosque of Aleppo – 1300 years old. Still from The Quake by Matteo Barzini (2015)

Sam Hardy of the American University of Rome presented an interesting insight into the problem of fake cultural artefacts being sold via the Internet – even Skype – adding to the dilemma of “conflict antiquities”. Lack of concrete evidence is the primary problem. Hardy defined the difference between state- driven trafficking (imperialism) for example, the British Empire, Ottoman Empire, and German Third Reich (Nazis) and non-state led trafficking that is the present situation. Across Afghanistan, Israel and Palestine, Libya, Pakistan, Syria, Turkey, Ukraine and Yemen the looting and illegal sale of cultural arts and artefacts, especially antiquities, is widespread and hard to control. Armed groups exploit this often for their own violent objectives. Getting governments to regulate trafficked sales, fake or not, is a problem too as offloading the problem to the discretion of auction houses, for example, is an easier path to take. Some cultural property is looted to order from Afghanistan to Honduras to the EU. Selling fake items is not difficult along with disinformation. Sam Hardy’s blog is an interesting read with an (open access) article on state-organised trafficking.

Khalid ibn al-Walid Mosque – 800 years old. Still from The Quake by Matteo Barzini (2015)

Khalid ibn al-Walid Mosque – 800 years old. Still from The Quake by Matteo Barzini (2015)

Session II ended with the UK premiere of a short but powerful UNESCO film, The Quake (2015) by Matteo Barzini of the Feel Film Production and music by Ennio Morricone. A poignant music and visual collaboration as narrative about the Syrian war and the destruction caused to both people and cultural sites.

In summary, it would seem that although cultural looting takes place outside of wartime it seems to accelerate when conflicts ignite and perhaps the greatest concern is what will be left in the aftermath.


Session III by Dr Anna Marazuela Kim (The Courtauld)

The third and final session, chaired by co-organiser Anna Marazuela Kim, featured three papers unified by a focus on photography and issues of representation, bringing into compelling dialogue case studies within the domain of insurgency.

Julian Stallabrass presenting

Julian Stallabrass presenting

Julian Stallabrass, writer, photographer, curator and lecturer who publishes widely on documentary photography and war, presented a paper titled Representing the Iraqi Resistance. Stallabrass began with the provocation that the definition of those constituents who fought against the US invasion and occupation of Iraq was itself heavily contested. Were they terrorists or a resistance movement, the remnants of the old regime, foreign insurgents, or a new Iraqi force?

Given this politically charged issue, the very act of representing them photographically entailed a certain risk: it was an act that could eventuate in being targeted by US forces or accusations of collaborating with the enemy. Bringing into comparison images from independent photojournalism versus those in embedded photojournalism, as well as images used by members of the resistance themselves, Stallabrass probed the political and representational limits of the civic medium of photography.

The second presentation featured award-winning photographer Edmund Clark, the author of acclaimed books on Guantanamo and Afghanistan, among others. Clarke’s work compellingly links history, politics and representation, particularly focusing on spaces of control in the global “war on terror”. In an extremely thought-provoking, and at times disturbing, presentation, Clarke described his most recent project, Negative Publicity, co-written with counterterrorism investigator Crofton Black. A collection of photographs by Clarke and redacted documents from court cases gathered by Black, the work engages the nature of contemporary warfare, making visible the otherwise “invisible” mechanisms of state control. The focus of the current project, Negative Publicity, is the representation of what is called “extraordinary rendition”:  the disappearance of persons, without legal process, into a network of secret prisons organized by the US Central Intelligence Agency from 2001-2008. As part of George Bush’s sanctioned war on terror, prisoners were taken to ‘black sites’ around the world, where many of them were subjected to torture. As Clarke notes, some were eventually sent to Guantánamo Bay or released, while others still remain unaccounted for.

Negative Publicity book cover

Negative Publicity book cover

In order to recreate this covert network and its operation, Black and Clark traveled worldwide to photograph former detention sites, detainees’ and pilots’ homes, and government buildings implicated in this activity. Unlike the highly graphic images that emerged from Abu Ghraib, Clarke’s are eerily empty of figures. Moreover, violence is not represented, but rather implied via its erasure, much like the redacted documents in which the photographs stand in productive dialogue. Rendered with extreme clarity, the often banal subject matter plays upon ideas of opacity, surface, and testimony in relation to this process, to reveal a system “hidden in plain sight.” In ‘showing,’ in a negative way, what cannot be seen, the work raises important questions regarding the limits of photography, and also challenges traditional notions of representation in an age of increasingly secret, invisible, state control.

Rounding out the session on photography, Neville Bolt, specialist from the department of War Studies at King’s College on communications in conflict and foreign policy with a wide-ranging and distinguished career in TV, journalism and advising governments, gave a conceptually-demanding paper titled Iconic Photographs & Geopolitics. Bolt began from the premise that while millions of images circulate each day in the global media space that connects social media to more traditional outlets like television and the press, occasionally some acquire “iconic status”, linking a local event to higher moral, perhaps even universal, beliefs. These iconic images have come to represent the way terror events are understood in the popular imagination.

Neville Bolt presenting

Neville Bolt presenting

In order to probe more deeply the nature of this linkage between iconic images and moral sentiment, Bolt analysed in depth two photographs which seem to belong to the same genre and to yield the same effect, but are in fact instructively different: the image of an alleged jihadist executing a prisoner, and a refugee child washed up on the shore in Turkey. On the surface, it would seem that both images are concerned with moral outrage. Through a subtle analysis, Bolt argued instead for a distinction between moral outrage, which is other-directed, and shame, a self-reflexive response. The image of the terrorist puts into play a binary of us and them, provoking moral outrage against the implied perpetrators, while the child invokes a sense of corporate shame. In both cases, Bolt argued, such iconic images have the potential to reach into the very heart of geopolitics, “threatening the liberal conscience”.

The symposium ended with a panel discussion, following a keynote by Giovanni Boccardi, Chief of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Unit of UNESCO’s Culture Sector. In a paper titled UNESCO’s Global Action to Protect Cultural heritage Under Threat, Boccardi described the scope of UNESCO’s current actions to protect heritage under threat; the challenges it faces in this ever-expanding and volatile arena; and areas of work to be explored through partnering with other International Organizations and stakeholders outside of the culture sector.

Unite 4 Heritage / UNESCO

Unite 4 Heritage / UNESCO

As Boccardi explained, a rapidly evolving global scenario and the continuous and increasingly violent manifestations of cultural cleansing, especially in the Middle East and North Africa, that include not only deliberate attacks against cultural heritage and widespread looting, but also persecutions against minorities and the expressions of their cultural identity, have highlighted the close link between culture, security and human rights. This situation is questioning many of the assumptions on which UNESCO, the only UN Agency with a mandate for the protection of culture, was operating. The Organization needs therefore to reassess its strategies and approaches. This is being done not only to protecting culture for its own sake, but also to ensure that culture’s potential for building resilience and social cohesion is harnessed in humanitarian and peace building efforts. Building on its wide range international legal standards, which need to be more streamlined and operationalized, UNESCO has recently adopted a Strategy and is in the process of engaging with new partners to deal with these unprecedented challenges. The strategy has two main objectives, which are: the strengthening of Member states abilities to prevent, mitigate and recover the loss of cultural heritage and diversity as a result of conflict; and the incorporation of the protection of culture into the scope of humanitarian action and security.

 

Bringing the margins to centre

by Julia Secklehner (PhD student)

Organised by the Courtauld’s Professor Sarah Wilson, ‘Drawing on the sidelines’ was a conversation between the South African artist William Kentridge, the art historian András Szántó, the Director of the Animation Academy at Loughborough University Paul Wells, and Professor Wilson, about the the Hungarian painter and animator György Kovásznai (1934-1983) in particular, and the role of political artists in marginalized and isolated societies in general.

The parallels between Kentridge and Kovásznai’s works, an attention to mining movements as creative inspiration and a sign for political action for example, provided intriguing starting points to the discussion. Is it possible that societies which operate under heavy censorship and limit civil liberties are the key to artistic freedom? This was one of the questions the discussion centred on. As Kentridge explained, when his native South Africa was internationally boycotted, the Johannesburg art scene was nonetheless thriving. Why? Because he and his peers were not under the pressure to create something that related to the international art scene and their ‘great artistic forefathers’. Rather, they could fully focus on their own ‘emergency of making’, reacting to the restrictive world they lived in without having to worry how their work would be perceived in the wider cultural community.

William-Kentridge-in-conversation

One particular way this development manifested itself in East Central Europe, Wells argued, was through animation. While the medium today is largely known through pop-culture giants like Disney, Wells pointed out that animation, as is slowly being uncovered, was also used in the fine arts, particularly in East Central Europe. Next to Hungary, where Kovásznai lived and worked, there was a surge in puppet theatre in socialist Czechoslovakia for example, which could operate as a critical force of culture and class consciousness within the popular sphere. Particularly in reference to caricature, animation has a longstanding relation to the fine arts, Wells highlighted, not at least considering cubist experiments. Humour, in animation as in caricature, can function as a means of ventilation in oppressive societies, and for precisely that reason was not always as strictly censored as may be assumed – thus affording artists a greater liberties of expression through the ambivalence inherent in ‘a good joke’. Animation as a form of ‘marginalised fine art’ could operate in those oppressed societies of the 1970s and 1980s as a new form of expression among artists, articulating their own social utopia.

Another, unpredicted, aspect was Kovásznai’s use of gender in his work in reference to a brief piece of animation about the artist, which was shown at the beginning of the discussion. In the film, a number of women with large breasts were shown, which provoked the question how and why the female body was used as a means of mediation for political issues, poignantly highlighted by Professor Tamar Garb (UCL). To a large part, this issue remained unexplored, highlighting the fact that, when uncovering ‘forgotten’ artists like Kovásznai, basic frameworks first need to be established before considering their wider significance in society – including gender. There clearly was a shift towards the erotic in critical works created under oppressive regimes, which some art historians, like Martina Pachmanová in the Czech Republic, have begun to uncover – making it only a matter of time until Kovásznai’s work will also be taken under the lens of gender politics…

The gender question highlighted the crux of the conversation on the whole: there is an entire Central European avant-garde, which still remains to be explored. As Wilson emphasised, Central Europe is so close by, yet remains a ‘riddle to be opened’. As a region of so much cultural and linguistic variety that has long been marginalised for its ‘political otherness’, its ‘rediscovery’ through the likes of Kovásznai and the recent attention paid to fine-arts animation at Loughborough paves the way for a more inclusive art history and may just change the way we perceive those societies on the whole.

The exhibition ‘Kovásznai – A Cold War Artist. Animation. Painting.’ is shown at Somerset House 3-5 March 2015.