By Carlos Kong
“Sound Art Curating Conference: Histories, Theories, and Practices of Sound Art” (15-16 May) brought together an interdisciplinary community of curators, artists, and academics to discuss the philosophical, aesthetic, and practical challenges of curating sound art. The conference, held across three days at Goldsmiths, University of London, and The Courtauld Institute of Art and co-chaired by Lanfranco Aceti (Sabanci University), Janis Jefferies (Goldsmiths), Martin Sørengaard (Aalborg University of Copenhagen), and Julian Stallabrass (The Courtauld), fostered interdisciplinary conversations that explored sound art at its curatorial, theoretical, and sociopolitical intersections. Sound art has recently emerged in circuits of public space and art institutions, evident in exhibitions such as Revolutions Per Minute: Sound Art China (Shanghai, 2013), The Heard and the Unheard (Taiwanese Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale), and Her Noise: Feminisms and the Sonic (Tate Modern, London, 2012), and Soundings: A Contemporary Score (MoMA, New York, 2013). Despite its ontological absence, sound is accruing a significant presence at the forefront of contemporary art and media culture. Its elusive materiality, unstable objecthood, and relational aesthetics are expanding both the parameters of art historical discourses and the social engagements of curatorial practices, which the conference participants discussed and debated throughout a lively weekend of sonic musings.
The conference featured a variety of compelling sessions and panel discussions, examining diverse audiovisual interstices that ranged from sound art and globalized politics, the spatial considerations of curating sound, writing about sound art, the philosophy of listening and audibility, sound art and issues of conservation and copyright, sound art and the mediatization of the artist, and the relation of sound art to other forms of visual, performance, and digital art. One r session that I found particularly fascinating was “Event Making and Identity Politics Beyond the Dirty A-Word of Authenticity: The Case of ‘Sound Art’ in China”. The speakers, professors and curators from China and Taiwan, problematized the politics of curating nonwestern sound art. Their papers challenged the western, orientalized formation of a distinctly “Asian” soundscape and questioned the possibility of authenticity in the transnational politics of Asian art. Through analyzing various case studies of recent sound art exhibitions, “noise” festivals, and multimedia installations throughout China and Taiwan, the panel participants (one of whom included Dajuin Yao, curator of Revolutions Per Minute: Sound Art China) concluded that curators of nonwestern sound art must maintain a sensitivity to the geographical and material conditions of the work of sound to prevent the spectacularization of nonwestern culture that pervades globalized networks of artistic exchange. The speakers advocated that the relational intervention and social praxis of curating sound art could potentiate a reversal of the “ethnographic ear” of sonic orientalism- an idea that I found particularly compelling, as sound so potently bears the politics of nationality and identity despite its lack of a representational referent.
Another highlight was a keynote address by Atau Tanaka, Professor of Media Computing at Goldsmiths, University of London. As a practicing electroacoustic musician and multimedia artist, a curator of sound and media art, and a scholar of media studies, Tanaka discussed the curatorial instability of sound in his talk, “Curating and Exhibiting Performative Systems”. Tanaka drew on specific examples from his prolific career in electronic audiovisual art to thematize both the risks and richness of sonic performances across networks and spaces, utilizing interactive systems as musical instruments. His anecdotes and artworks emphasized hybridity, complicating the distinctions of physical, virtual, immaterial, and embodied, while collapsing the epistemological divides of data, sound, and image. Tanaka’s virtuoso installations and curatorial projects posit interactivity across geographical cities and continents, and formulate temporal simultaneities of the art event, at once live, re-performed, online, aired on the radio, and networked across galleries and time zones. By expanding and experimenting with the responsiveness of the “embodied audiovisual interaction” of sound with other forms of digital and performative media, the artistic and curatorial practices that Atau Tanaka presented captivatingly gestured towards the redefinition of contemporary aesthetic experience as we know it.
The interdisciplinary conversations at this year’s “Sound Art Curating Conference: Histories, Theories, and Practices of Sound Art” reflect the exciting, albeit challenging developments of incorporating sound art into curatorial programs and academic institutions. Sound- its elusiveness, intangibility, and ephemerality- is emerging to the globalized forefront of contemporary art, exposing the productive, transmedial spaces for curating and scholarship. The conference’s discussions signified a stimulating start to the examination and curation of sound art towards its affective, sociopolitical potential.Categories: Research Rhythms | Tags: art, contemporary art, Sound | Comments Off
‘Pangaea: New Art From Africa and Latin America’ is a moving, intriguing exhibition of wide-ranging art from sixteen contemporary artists, often with complex socio-political influences. The diversity of media and raw talent of several of the artists on display promised a successful, unconventional display, something achieved in part. Unfortunately, something is missing.
This issue could relate to the vague curatorial purpose of the exhibition, evident in its very name; Pangaea refers to an ancient supercontinent, which united most continents in one landmass, and began to separate around 200 million years ago. The word roughly translates to ‘all lands’: an alarmingly wide theme to cover. Latin American and African art is rapidly gaining wider recognition, with recent art fairs such as 1:54 setting precedent for further platforms in London, and it is refreshing to see such art on display in such a prominent gallery. However, Saatchi Gallery offers no explanation for the specific combination of Latin America and Africa, other than their roles as former ‘sister continents’, and the ‘parallels between their distinctly diverse cultures and creative practices’. This puts the exhibition at risk of ‘otherising’ its contributors; emphasis is placed upon continent-of-origin rather than preventing generalisation by selecting a narrower curatorial theme.
Despite this, many of the actual works on display counter generalisation. This is exemplified in Aboudia’s powerful canvases, carried out upon collages of newspaper clippings, including images of hair braiding techniques and African masks. This, juxtaposed with the violence of over-painted imagery of childlike figures brandishing guns, displaces simplistic understanding of culture by bringing to light the trauma of the political state of his native Republic of the Ivory Coast. The cacophony of vibrant colour, combined with an unsettling naivety of figuration, challenges Western expectations of primitivism, displaying instead politically charged imagery of the complexities of contemporary urban life.
This challenge to the viewer is also evident in the series of large-scale photographs by Leonce Raphael Agbodjélou, entitled ‘Desmoiselles de Porto-Novo’. These works present semi-nude female models in a colonial mansion, addressing the viewer from behind wooden ceremonial masks. The series’ title suggests a play upon Picasso’s ‘Desmoiselles d’Avignon’, referencing the influence of African art and masks upon the development of cubism, yet with a melancholic realism which draws the viewer back to the social reality of life in Porto Novo, and the impact of colonisation.
Further highlights include work from Oscar Murillo, who draws on his experience of emigration from Colombia to London to create a chilling examination of class, cultural coding and migration of materials, and Rafael Gómezbarros’ simultaneously playful and macabre installation of oversized ants, referencing the plight of displaced immigrants. However, the exhibition’s overall effect is shaken by curious juxtaposition of such powerful and unconventional works with garish Pop Art inspired canvases and somewhat derivative abstraction. Having said this, any questionable curatorial choices are more than made up for by the quality of several of the artists on display.
Izzie Hewitt is a third year BA at the Courtauld.
Pangaea: New Art From Africa and Latin America is at the Saatchi Gallery until the 2nd November 2014Categories: Courtauld Critics | Tags: Africa, contemporary, installation, Other, painting, Sculpture, South America | Comments Off
As part of the pioneering Persian and Islamic arts lecture series at the Courtauld, eminent Persianist scholar Dr Eleanor Sims examined the case of ‘people from parts unknown’. The works in question were two suites of almost life-size oil paintings from the second half of the seventeenth century, which, being unsigned and un-dated, have both ambiguous origin and purpose. Their style is eclectic, and the subject hybrid, fusing the technique and pictorial conventions of contemporary European ‘prospect portraits’ with anonymous subjects dressed in luxurious Persian, Georgian and Armenian fashions. The suites are further paired off into couples of men and women who turn to each other from the left and the right.
The works are the subject of Sims’s current research, but both scholar and subject have been well acquainted throughout her career. Having originally catalogued the paintings for an exhibition in London in 1975, Sims’s talk presented new ways to think about the emergence this material, which has often been a subject of scholarly disagreement. Questions of who painted these figures is an issue which is perhaps no longer as relevant now as it may have been in the more connoisseurial atmosphere when the images surfaced in the 1970’s. Instead, Sims focuses on the possible intention of the paintings though an expert analysis of the costume of the figures, the curious nature of the objects that adorn the interior settings, any stylistic similarities to European equivalents and the cultural context in which they were produced.
Isfahan, Persia’s seventeenth century capital, was an international showplace populated by a cosmopolitan community including farangi envoys and missionaries from Europe as well as a prominent Armenian community established in the New Julfa quarter of the city. Sims’s analysis of these works interprets them as having been made in Persia, possibly by a European artist working there or within a dedicated atelier producing this type of image. They function then as the grandest of postcards representing the diverse ethnic groups that one would encounter in early modern Isfahan: a souvenir for the European traveller to take home from his Eastern grand tour. Similar large scale figural paintings were not unusual at this time, but could be found around the city in niches of buildings (such as Armenian houses or on the exterior walls of the Chehel Sotun Palace, which also turned a hand to the depiction of the exotic foreigner but from a Persian point of view). The intention of a European clientele is derived from the rectangular shape of the canvas, which hints at an element of portability. These suites lack the architectural jigsawing of their Persian equivalents that have intentionally arched tops in order to fit snugly to a façade.
The parallels drawn with Mannerist inspired image series including those by Spanish artist Francisco de Zurbarán (Jacob and His Twelve Sons, c.1640-44) placed the Isfahani oils in a context of contemporary practice. Sims’s identification of quotations from European sources, including those from portraits of Charles I and his wife Henrietta Maria that were owned by Shah Safi (r. 1629 – 1642) amongst others, further demystified stylistic elements within the Safavid canvases and made direct connections with their possible sources. The two suites of ‘people from parts unknown’ still pose more puzzles for the viewer, particularly the enigmatic blonde male which remains without a matching female equivalent but who possesses a strikingly individualized face. Their abusiveness is however an enduring factor in their fascination, and some of the pairs recently provided the grand finale to the exhibition Sehnsucht Persien in Zurich earlier this year. They have too evidently provided a fertile riddle for Sims to decipher, but one that she eloquently unravels to great effect.
Categories: Research Rhythms | Tags: Islam, Islamic, Persia, Research Forum | Comments Off
Squeals of delight slip from the lips of students, older ladies and a few gentlemen at the Victoria and Albert Museum’s new exhibition of Italian fashion from 1945 to the present, a show promising to be both comprehensive and glamorous. And, like a good stilista, or fashion designer, the V&A delivers with great taste.
Displaying Italian trends chronologically, the exhibit is divided into five sections. Each section is designed differently and provides a palette for the clothing on view. Wood covers the walls and the floors in the first room that is dedicated to Giovanni Battista Giorgini’s fashion shows in Sala Bianca, or ‘White Hall’ in Florence’s Pitti Palace in the 1950s. When the gowns are displayed in front of this organic material, rather than standard white walls, they take centre stage.
The next section, ‘Tailoring,’ is a room with black walls and black felt-like floors bringing the viewer into the designer’s studio. The wall text is displayed on an oversized wooden textile spool, subtly reminding the viewer of Italian fabric factories. In the 1960s, the popularity for ready-made suits and garments tailored to individual clients increased. As much as the stitching of skirts and non-matching menswear suits impressed me, I could not help but examine the unexpected wallpaper. A detail of a pattern for tailoring (1960) covered the walls, marrying historical documents with contemporary design.
The third room, ‘Made in Italy,’ demonstrates the campaign of the same name that ensured style. In the new fashion capital, Milan, manufactured fashion became wildly popular in the 1970s. The wall text notes that a stilista ‘aimed not to create the perfect outfit but the perfect style.’ The floor-to-ceiling mirrors in this section enable visitors to gape at and appreciate each detail of each outfit from multiple angles. More importantly, the mirrors reflect the viewer and their style in tandem with the fashion on view. The mirrors force the questions: What is your personal style? How does your ensemble measure up to the ones on display?
The showstopper is the section about The Cult of the Fashion Designer. Since the 1990s, designers have become celebrities, often more photographed than their own designs. Upon entering this room, paparazzi cameras flash and click on a large video screen in the white circus tent that hovers over the runway-like display. The dressed mannequins’ shadows grow larger-than-life against the white fabric echoing the image of the celebrity designers who made them.
This exhibition reminds the public of a time when fast fashion was not consumed daily. The way in which the show demonstrates Italian designers’ dedication to each stitch is with its own attention to exhibition design. Like all the shoes that are displayed with one foot slightly in front of the other, as if the mannequin is taking a step forward, Italian fashion is leaping into the future. The question is not whether Italian fashion has a future, but how other designers will keep up with the Italians’ pace.
Aimee Rubensteen is an MA student at the Courtauld.
Design to the T: The Glamour of Italian Fashion is at the V&A til the 27th July 2014.
After an eleven-year interlude, the works of Matisse return to Tate Modern. After the Matisse Picasso exhibition in 2002, the focus is now solely on Matisse and his now iconic, paper cut-outs, and related works of his late period. Not surprisingly for one of the most celebrated artists of modern times, the show was heavily marketed as a ‘blockbuster’ and predictably, the crowds are flocking to Bankside. And rightfully too, for the objects here engage on a profoundly material level.
The exhibition consists of fourteen rooms, beginning with a video of an elderly Matisse cutting curved shapes into a piece of blue-painted paper. This emphasis on the physicality of the works as well as the creative process is continued in the presentation of the works through each room, despite the additional roughly chronological lay-out of the exhibition itself. This proves highly effective; visitors are able to walk through each room and feel the development of the works by engaging visually with the exhibits.
The displays are also sensitive to the content and colour palette of each, although not always. For example, a cabinet shelf is used in the third room to display all of the bright pages of the printed JAZZ book (1947), with some of the key prints framed above in their original paper cut-out form. The following room is appropriately much smaller and emptier, displaying Matisse’s more spontaneous, less colourful ‘Oceania’ cut-outs as they would have been in his apartment where they had first been pinned. Less inspired is the display of works in the eighth room, where cut-outs like ‘Zulma’ and ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ are simply hung around the white room.
In my mind, the exhibition rightly supports an entirely visual experience. There are of course information labels with the title, date and extra information about each work, but the placement of these labels means the viewer does not see them and the works; instead the labels and titles, to this end often coloured a more subdued grey, are there as a reference should the viewer wish to engage with them. If not, all the main texts throughout the exhibition are usefully included in the free exhibition information booklet.
Many key pieces are displayed, in particular the Blue Nude cut-outs (which are given their own room and comparing them to some of his earlier sculptures) and The Fall of Icarus, building up to his larger and more abstract cut-outs such as The Snail. But, what ultimately makes this exhibition well-worth visiting is the chance to see the smaller details often lost in reproductions of them: to see every little pin-hole, and every crease on the painted paper.
Tijana Todorinovic is a first-year BA student at the Courtauld.
Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs is at Tate Modern until 7th September 2014.Categories: Courtauld Critics | Tags: Late works, Materiality, Modern | Comments Off
This exhibition, showing at the gallery alongside renowned Regency architect John Soane’s pile in Ealing, features photographs of work by two 20th century architects: Konstantin Melnikov and Le Corbusier. Eloquent text panels introduce each architect and individual images. The photographer Richard Pare depicts buildings in three distinct ways in this exhibition: architecture as objects, buildings and landscapes, or rooms. People are not the subject of the photographs. There are a few individuals lurking in the backgrounds of some prints but these images are mostly forgettable.
Only one building designed by Melnikov is present. The Melnikov House, a suburban villa formed by two interlocking cylinders with hexagonal windows. Two large prints – side by side – to form a sort of interior panoramic of the house’s studio, but fail to create any sort of coherent image. Sunlight from several windows makes for a harshly lit interior – too intense to view all at once. Another diptych, this time of the salon, is photographed diagonally from interior stairs in the left background, stacked paintings by the architect’s son, and onto a desk in the right foreground. The viewing axis of the photographs suggests a spectrum from the intensity and privacy of the desk which reduces across the room and onto the staircase: this room is connected to others and can be left freely. Diffuse light softens the lilac painted walls and reveals scars in the plasterwork where light-fittings used to be. Perhaps comfort isn’t the right word for the effect but there is certainly a lack of anxiety in this image.
A range of Le Corbusier buildings are displayed, from early projects like the Villa Le Lac, to later work such as the priory of La Tourette. Here Pare demonstrates the anxiety between landscape and building in the work of Le Corbusier. A photograph of the rooftop of the Unité d’Habitation shows the contrast between the building’s garden with the Mediterranean in the background. Photographed orthogonally, the seated enclosures of the middle-ground are reflected in a manmade pool in front of them and the coastline is reduced to mere scenery.
Another photograph, this time of Villa Le Lac, has the familiar composition of Pare’s photographs of Corb’s buildings: the landscape is photographed orthogonally with the building shown obliquely at one side of the image. But rather than portray the building an object, Pare allows us just a little portion of it: a pocket of covered space and a doorway which connects back into the open-plan villa. The lakefront wall runs along a boundary marking the threshold between site and landscape. On the left edge the wall rises up to form a garden room with a frame-less window at its centre. Underneath this opening are two chairs either side of a concrete table. Compared with the plan libre and ribbon window of the villa’s interior, this window frames a fixed subject (the landscape) where all chance is abolished. Perhaps like one of Pare’s photographs.
Matthew Wells is an MA student at the Courtauld
Categories: Courtauld Critics | Tags: Architecture, Le Corbusier, Modernism, photography | Comments Off
Iran’s Generation X, known as Nasl-e Sokhte, encompasses those born between 1963 and 1980. They are known as ‘The Burnt Generation’, born to an epoch bookended with the events of The 1979 Iranian Revolution and the Iran/Iraq war. The human and material spoils of conflict and talismans of everyday life appear scattered through the images in the Terrace Rooms. The spheres constantly encroach on one another in a display that aims to show the inner realities, both public and personal, of modern Iranian society. The featured contemporary photographers, each of whom has lived and worked in Iran, operate through varied means: from documentary and photojournalism, to portraits and more conceptual work. They unite in a bleak neutrality of palette, lining walls in shades of brown, grey and black. It is punctured only by the suspended bulbs of green from Abbas Kowsari’s Lights series, the traditional colour of Islam in glowing neon, which line the neighbourhoods of Tehran in festivity.
Burnt Generation opens with two voyeuristic glances into this interior world. Ali and Raymar’s series We Live in a Paradoxical Society shows scenes from a life glimpsed through the doorframes of Iranian families. Characters enter and leave vignettes of kitchen-sink realism. Pathos is located unexpectedly in the half eaten watermelon on the arm of the chair and the act of a father breaking an egg into a pan whilst cooking with his sons. The series is mirrored by Newsha Tavakolian’s Look, whose solitary unhappy birthday party for one distils the dissolution of the burnt generation itself. The element of social documentary in Look attests to Tavakolian’s vocation as a photojournalist, turning her experience as an eighteen-year-old chronicler of student uprisings to the subject of her neighbours. From the window of her apartment block in Tehran, the interior pictures were captured at precisely 8pm over a period of six months. The newspapers, shirts and handkerchiefs that litter the furniture of the subjects’ homes are as crumpled as their expressions. Looking closely at the cold-toned portraits, you can see the men have been crying too. The domestic thread is culminated in Babak Kazemi’s affecting Khoramshahr Number by Number: a series of double exposures of number plates from a town located on the Iran/Iraq border that experienced eight years of war.
Azadeh Aklaghi’s restages dramatic and mysterious deaths from modern Iranian history in the series By An Eyewitness. The scenes combine the dimensional compositional tricks of a Caravaggio with the dramatic juncture of Goya’s The Third of May 1808. Sadegh Tirafkhan grazes the curves of the male body with calligraphic brush strokes, inspired by body painting practices amongst ancient pre-Achaemenian kings. Letters follow the lines of movement across the masculine form, evoking traces of traditional gymnastic ritual practiced at a Zoorkhaneh. Tirafkhan’s work is perhaps the most traditionally referential and least bleak on display. Overall, Burnt Generation presents a dark but innovative look at the growing pains of the Nasl-e Sokhte.
Natasha Morris is an MA student at the Courtauld.
Burnt Generation is on at the Terrace Rooms at Somerset House until 1st June 2014.Categories: Courtauld Critics | Tags: Photography Contemporary Iran Youth | Comments Off
Veronese: Magnificence in Renaissance Venice is the first monographic exhibition of the artist’s work to be held in the UK. The expansive selection of works clearly aims to reposition the master alongside his better known Venetian counterparts Titian and Giorgione; not only to introduce him spectacularly to the British public, but also to emphasise his importance in an art historical context.
The artist’s deft navigation of the colore/disegno (colour/line) debate is immediately striking. The poetic, colour-loving Venetian Renaissance tradition is apparent, but Veronese doesn’t trump line with colour. Instead the exhibition highlights his characteristic depiction of bright, jewel-coloured figural groups against soft-hued background scenes and pale stone architecture. Perhaps Veronese’s early beginnings as a stone cutter can account for his intense interest in these detailed settings. The bold juxtaposition of colours cordons-off the registers of foreground action and background location to imbue the figures with a heightened presence, saturated with life, particularly evident in works such as The Supper at Emmaus (c. 1555) and The Family of Darius before Alexander (c. 1565-7).
The exhibition describes these chromatic juxtapositions in terms of the “theatricality” of stage sets, as if Veronese’s figures have congregated in tableaux against pastel-hued backdrops. There is certainly a sense of contrivance to Veronese’s colour choices, however beyond the “pomp” and “magnificence” which the National Gallery describes the artist’s continual contrasts produce bodies that are suffused with life and fabrics that are illusionistically tangible.
Veronese’s depiction of light is also shown to be crucial to his work. Throughout the exhibition, contrasting light depictions emphasize the different exquisitely rendered textures of luminous silks, plush velvets and the soft, powder-finish of skin. In the final room, Veronese’s late works of the 1580s emphasize the joyous use of light in his earlier works, as somewhat dulled, enigmatic figures, such as Lucretia (c. 1580-5), now emerge from dense and darkened backgrounds. These works seemingly signal a general move towards a fashion for darkened scenes, most famously taken up by Caravaggio in the 1590s.
Overwhelmingly, the exhibited works seem to present Veronese as an important transitional figure, whose life and work spanned the artistic developments of the High Renaissance. The influence of Titian and Raphael are clear; as is Veronese’s impact on the work of Rubens. A wander through the National Gallery’s display of Rubens after visiting the exhibition is certainly recommended; a pity that this isn’t suggested in the exhibition itself.
Besides his Venetian colore influences and the move towards chiaroscuro, a number of “split paintings” are on show, in which extra narrative scenes or symbolic registers are included in the background of paintings; the earlier Dream of Saint Helena (c. 1570) is an intriguing example. Predominantly these signal the close links between Northern Italian art and that of the Low Countries during the early modern period, as this was a popular narrative device in the Netherlands, intended to stimulate contemplation.
Veronese is rewarding viewing, both for its insights into the artistic developments of the 16th century and the artist’s enthralling visual rhetoric of colour and line.
Susannah Smith is an MA student at the Courtauld.
Veronese: Magnificence in Renaissance Venice is at the National Gallery until 15th June 2014.Categories: Courtauld Critics | Tags: painting, Renaissance, Venice | Comments Off
Professor Carol Tulloch’s talk The Quintessential Billie Holiday explored the different ‘style narratives’ created by the famous jazz singer Billie Holiday (1915-59) during her career. As defined by Tulloch, a ‘style narrative’ is a form of ‘self-telling’ which uses specific beauty regimes and forms of dress to articulate the self within daily life. Tulloch noted that style choices are significant both when they depart from contemporary fashion, and when they appropriate mainstream elements, a useful concept when studying Billie Holiday.
For Holiday’s style choices were always both hyper feminine and modern. Accessories such as her iconic gardenia corsage were common in 1930s eveningwear. Even more contemporary was the twinset, which Holiday adopted whilst recording Lady in Satin in 1958. Popularized by Hollywood actresses in the 1930s, the two-piece outfit became a staple 1950s dress. Evidently, the singer favored styles which, in Tulloch’s words were ‘completely appropriate to modernity.’ They identified her as a female dandy. Yet contrary to the association of foppishness usually carried by the term ‘dandy,’ Tulloch argued that Holiday used hyper-feminine dress to turn her decorated black body into a site of social contest.
Tulloch’s analysis of Holiday’s style as a site of contest concentrated on Holiday’s performances of Strange Fruit at Café Society in 1939. The song’s lyrics, originally a poem by Abel Meeropol, are a moving protest against lynching:
“Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.”
Holiday’s heartrending performances made the song unforgettable. Her performances can be analyzed though Roland Barthes’ concept of ‘grain of the voice,’ a form of sensual communication which circumvents the limits of the linguistic sphere through the intimate connection of body, music and words. Body, in Holiday’s performances, meant face. At the beginning of Strange Fruit all stage lights were dimmed to a pinhole, concentrating the spectators’ gazes on the singer’s lineaments, hair and gardenia corsage.
The legend goes that Holiday first wore the corsage to cover a patch of burnt hair which she had burnt preparing for a show whilst drunk. This story chimes with the popular myth that Holiday could not sing without alcohol or drugs. Arguing against this interpretation, Tulloch presented the corsage as integral to Strange Fruit’s performance. Drawing attention to the singer’s face, the flowers gave visibility to the tears Holiday always shed when performing. Thus, they emphasized the song’s resonance with Billie Holiday’s own life, especially the death of her father. Tulloch further explored the song’s sense of tragedy with reference to Yinka Shonibare’s Addio del Passato film (2012) and Fake Death pictures (2011).
This lecture clearly demonstrated, in line with the overarching theme of the Documenting Modernity lecture series, that non-fiction films (such as music videos) and documentary images can provide new ways to understand dress, style and visual culture. Yet as the audience’s questions underlined, a wider contextualization of Billie Holiday’s dandyism would have made her conscious style choices easier to register and unpack.Categories: Research Rhythms | Tags: Billie Holiday, Carol Tulloch, dress | Comments Off