The ‘Threads of Protest’ lecture provided a summary of Professor Julia Bryan-Wilson’s current book project entitled Craft Crisis: Handmade Art and Activism since 1970. Examining the issues of labour, hand making and process within late twentieth-century craft practices in the Americas and England, the project relates to Professor Bryan-Wilson’s earlier book Art Workers: Radical Practice in the Vietnam War Era, published in 2009. Art Workers discussed the redefinition of artistic labour in minimalism, process, feminist and conceptual art, structured around four case studies including the artistic practice of Carl Andre, Robert Morris, Hans Haacke and Lucy Lippard. The book discussed how these artists constructed their identities as ‘art workers’ through participating in the Art Workers’ Coalition, a short-lived organisation which agitated against the Vietnam War and for artists’ rights, as well as in the New York Art Strike. In Craft Crisis, Professor Bryan-Wilson once again examines the intersections between art and protest through discussing thread and yarn-based works. The talk was structured into two parts: the first mapped the intellectual and conceptual framework for the project, while the second focused on the artistic practice of Chilean born artist Cecilia Vicuña and her relationship to native craft work.
The narrative of Craft Crisis begins in the 1970s and once again applies the case study approach in order to systematise the massive subject of hand making practices. The time frame for this project differs therefore from other recent publications on crafts such as Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY, Art, Craft and Design (2008), where the highly abbreviated narrative of hand-making processes begins as late as in 1994. This leads to the omitting of many pivotal projects related to the crafts such as Faith Wilding’s Crocheted Environment (1972) created as part of ‘Womanhouse’, a collaborative performance and installation project initiated in 1972 by the founders of the First Feminist Program at the California Institute of Art, Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro. Craft Crisis grows out of the tradition set by Rozsika Parker’s seminal publication entitled The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and The Making of the Feminine (1989) which examined the public and often political connotations of stitchery and fostered the emergence of subsequent craft movements. Framed by this intellectual tradition, Craft Crisis is mainly an archival project which examines moments in history when textiles become pressed into political service.
Exploring the relationships between hand making and world making, the book focuses on case studies such as the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt began in 1987, which forms a highly powerful reminder of the AIDS pandemic. Composed of individual memorial panels, each commemorating a person who died of AIDS, the quilt is the largest community folk art work created to date. Made by both professional artists and amateurs, the quilt epitomises one of the biggest challenges of Professor Bryan-Wilson’s project: to compose a narrative which would look beyond the traditional binary division between the amateur and the professional. Testing this challenge, Professor Bryan-Wilson juxtaposes various artistic and non-artistic practices within each chapter, examining how these can coexist within one narrative.
However, in some cases the binary division is not between the amateur and the professional since much of craft work requires specialised skills, but between the intentionally artistic and the non-artistic. One chapter is dedicated to Chilean arpilleras, colourful patchwork representing daily life which, like the AIDS Quilt, relates fibre to collective memory. Not perceived as art works by their makers, the arpilleras played a vital role during the oppressive Pinochet regime as they were produced for foreign export in order to raise awareness of the political situation in Chile. Craft Crisis discusses them in strict dialogue with the artistic practice of Cecilia Vicuña whose banners made in collaboration with American artist John Dugger supported the Rally for Democracy in Chile in 1974 and largely drew on the tradition of the arpilleras. Since the skills applied by Vicuña and Dugger are similar to these of the traditional arpilleras producers, such a juxtaposition requires a clarification of the relationship between the intentionally artistic and objects created outside of the art context.
Vicuña’s practice also enters in dialogue with the traditional quipu, which were produced from ca 3000 BC across Andean South America. Made of coloured thread from llama or alpaca hair, they assisted in collecting data and keeping records. Further, they served as a representational model to the Incas who perceived the totality of their culture as a structure similar to that of the quipu. In 2006, Vicuña directly referred to the tradition of the quipu through installing twenty-eight streams of blood coloured fleece to the ceiling of the Centro Cultural Palacio de La Moneda in Santiago, Chile. The installation formed a silent protest directed at the Chilean President to preserve the glaciers which form the southern tip of the country. The quipu served here to both draw on ancestral values but also to create a reflection of the current social and economic system which allows for environmental degradation. Criticised by the curators for its large size, Vicuña decided to decrease the installation, displaying what she called a weak version of the work. Through this it referenced the doubling of violence, directed at both nature and art. Furthermore, Vicuña used the remaining red fleece and placed it in the public space in front of the Centro Cultural, rendering the political implications of fibre apparent.
Craft Crisis will examine how identities and political stances are formed through craft work and how these are both constructed within the art context and beyond. Led by a strong collaborative ethos, the materials for this research project include both archival documentation, as well as the testimonies of featured artists and highly skilled craft producers. A highly inclusive approach defines the ethical framework for this project, which even at this early stage provides an inspiring insight and analysis into an alternative mode of world making.Categories: Research Rhythms | Tags: art and politics, craft | Comments Off
Organised by the Cambridge Courtauld Russian Art Centre (CCRAC) in collaboration with the Moscow Lomonosov State University, the two-day conference Exhibit ‘A’. Russian Art: Collection, Exhibitions and Archives was remarkable for its inclusiveness. Papers ranged in scope from the very first collections of icons in the sixteenth century to contemporary exhibitions like Lissitzky-Kabakov: Utopia and Reality, on view at Kunsthaus Gratz until mid-May. Such historical variety was matched by geographical comprehensiveness, as papers focused on art collections from the Central Asian Republics and the ‘Soviet East,’ as well as on artistic centres such as Moscow and St Petersburg. Among the speakers were academics, curators and art collectors, each contributing a different professional viewpoint.
Reflecting this inclusiveness, the conference was organised around themes rather than historical periods. Thus, the first session opened with Dr. Engelina S. Smirnova’s paper on the sixteenth-century displacement of sacred icons from regional centres to Moscow, and finished with Dr. Valery S. Turchin’s analysis of avant-garde artists’ fascination with folk prints, or lubki. Given in Russian, this paper was accompanied by a very clear English translation and by fascinating images, including a photograph of Kandinsky’s Munich apartment with framed lubki on the walls. All the papers in the first session questioned patrons’ motivations in creating a collection. For example, Dr. Alexandr S. Preobrazhenskii analysed how nineteenth-century members of the ‘Old Believers’ religious group used painted marks of ownership to express both their piety and their connoisseurship of valuable icons.
Similar questions informed the second session’s first paper, dedicated to eighteenth-century collections of Russian portrait engravings. Zalina V. Tetermarzova explained that such collections were created to illustrate the country’s history through the personality of its key historical players. One such player was Count Kirill Razumovsky, famously portrayed by Pompeo Batoni in a painting of striking grandeur. A recently rediscovered inventory enabled Vera S. Naumova to reconstruct his extensive art collection. The session was concluded by Dr. Rosalind P. Blakesley’s paper ‘Exhibiting Russian Success?,’ which used the methodology of performance studies to reveal tensions between nationalism and patriotism at the 1770 exhibition of St Petersburg Academy.
The conference’s second day opened with ‘East-west in dialogue in Imperial Russia.’ This session was very heterogeneous, encompassing topics as diverse as Alexandr Ivanov’s painting The Appearance of Christ before the People (1837-1857), the interior decoration of Moscow Museum of Fine Arts, and the legacy of Natalia Goncharova. Most interesting was Louise Hardiman’s discussion of the fascination for Russian decorative arts in late nineteenth-century London. As noted in the paper, this interest was greatly stimulated by the Great Exhibition of 1851, when Russian decorative arts were first displayed in England. Although foreign collectors prized Russian art for its alleged ‘national character,’ the exhibition began a period of real communication and exchange between the South Kensington Museum and the Stroganov School of Technical Drawing in Moscow.
The following section, ‘New State, New Art,’ discussed the importance of artistic tradition in the first decade after the revolution. Dr. Natalia Murray described the reorganisation of St Petersburg’s Winter Palace into both a ‘Palace of Arts’ open to all and a ‘Palace of the Poor’ for orphans. Chronicling the post-revolutionary exhibitions of ‘Silver Age’ groups such as Knave of Diamonds and Fire-Colour, Dr. Alexandra P. Salienko revealed the rich diversity of the 1920s art world, by no means limited to the Constructivist avant-garde.
The next session ‘Centre and Periphery: representing the Soviet nationalities in Moscow’ explored the reception and display of artworks from the USSR’s many cultures during the 1920s and 1930s. Galina E. Abbasova described the popular festivals ‘Decades of National Art,’ which showcased art and theatre from the central Asian republics. Similar in scope was the Museum of Oriental Cultures, whose history was reconstructed by Jenn Brewin. Founded as ‘Art Asiatica’ in 1918, the museum only found lasting state support in 1926, when it became an instrument of Stalinist russification. Concentrating on the Agricultural and Domestic Crafts Exhibition held in Moscow in 1923, Dr. Alina S. Platonova described the less coercive encounter of different cultures and architectural styles in the experimental context of a vast temporary exhibition.
The conference’s last session, ‘Russian Art Abroad,’ was among my favourites. Nicholas Bueno de Mesquita’s paper was particularly interesting as it described an exhibition held at the Hayward Gallery in 1971. Titled Art in Revolution, the show opposed a purely formalistic interpretation of avant-garde art. Thus, it both facilitated the rediscovery of politicised avant-garde architecture and tangibly revealed Cold-War tensions, witness a closed-down reconstruction of El Lissitzky’s Proun room.
All together, the conference was a fantastic opportunity to discover many different facets of Russian art. Focusing on collections and exhibitions, it revealed the importance of art in personal and national self-representation. Encompassing both the production and the reception of artworks, it also offered insights on changing interpretations of Russian art in England and Western Europe.
Categories: Research Rhythms | Tags: CCRAC, Russian art | Comments Off
Jennifer Greenhill’s talk focused on the illustrations of early 20th -century female periodicals, especially the work of American illustrator Coles Phillips (1880-1927). As owner of an advertising agency and illustrator of mass-consumption magazines, Phillips is a fitting character to challenge the prevailing historiographical interpretations of magazine illustration. On one hand, Greenberg and other modernists scorned magazine illustrations as mere kitsch. On the other, many museums display illustrations and magazine covers framed on the walls, like ‘high-art’ paintings. Greenhill certainly considers illustrations art. However, she also focused on their role within magazines, where they can be flipped over, lingered on, or glided through.
Greenhill placed particular importance on the interface between the reader’s body and the printed image. She argued that certain illustrations respond to typical patterns in reading, inviting and expecting specific forms of engagement from their beholders. Although illustrations in early 20th-century magazines generally conformed to the ‘pretty girl’ type and invite a gender analysis, Greenhill’s main focus was on the formal properties of magazine cover-images, which visually compelled the reader to directly interact with the magazine’s materiality.
Reflecting this approach, Greenhill’s lecture featured a number of detailed visual analyses, the most sustained of which focused on Coles Phillips’ 1915 cover design for Good Housekeeping. Showing a young woman immersed in a book, the cover promoted a positive image of the female readership as contemplative and engaged, a representation that was relatively rare at the time. At the same time, the cover also functions as advertisement for the magazine, which was more book-like in its format and more literary in content than its competitors. Uncluttered by text, the cover easily became a collectible, a practice which publishers explicitly encouraged.
Most noticeable in this Good Housekeeping cover is Phillips’ signature fade-out technique. Whilst some forms are described in detail, others lack any outline and merge into the background. Thus, the fade-out technique emphasised two-dimensionality. Yet some parts of the image, like the folds in the woman’s dress, are accurately described and tactile in their three-dimensionality. At the boundary of flatness and illusion, the cover evokes art historian Alois Riegl’s concept of ‘haptic vision.’ Showing Phillips’ sketches along with the printed copy of his designs, Greenhill demonstrated how tactility and openness were already major bconcerns at the pre-production stage.
Titled ‘A Brown Study,’ as in the contemporary phrase denoting a state of deep thought, the 1915 cover puts a commercial spin on the contemporary fascination with psyche and self-discovery, staple themes of the Good Housekeeping. Indeed, Phillips illustrations often challenge the rising popularity of photography, demoting its high-art ambition by emphasising its commercial associations.
Greenhill’s lecture was a work-in-progress for a chapter in a forthcoming book. Yet by tightly basing her arguments on visual evidence, she delivered an inspiring and eye-opening talk.Categories: Research Rhythms | Tags: 20th century, British art, Periodicals, Research Forum, visual arts | Comments Off
People have died in thirty-one separate armed conflicts so far in 2014, the centary year of the outbreak of the Great War, thought at the time to be the war to end all wars. The fact so military conflict continues to claim lives and the approaching anniversary of the start of the Great War, meant that Jay Winter’s seminar ‘War Memorials of the Great War: Britain, France, Germany’ certainly hit home. The very name of the Great War of 1914- permanence and remembrance: to be great, whether for better or for worse, is to be remembered. Yet how does one memorialise war that remains not so great? Conflict memorialisation is riddled with blame and atrocity, therefore how do we remember these events effectively without lessening the horror of the event? And how does it remain current, a message to be passed on to future generations?
The implications of glory and greatness formed one dimension within Winter’s seminar, whilst the other culminated in an exploration of the cult of names that developed as a result of the Great War, as names became substitutes for the deceased; developments in artillery in the early 20th century reshaped modern warfare, rendering the bodies of the deceased unrecognisable. The other half of Winter’s seminar focused on a perhaps unanswerable question: how does one memorialise the lives of five million men who have vanished? To my mind he seemed to highlight the issue of how the memorials that have attempted to do so have in-corporeally vanished in front of our eyes today, receding into landscape of our surroundings.
The questions that formed the core of Winter’s seminar are, in my opinion, unanswerable – and although Winters brought them to light, his attempts to answer them were rooted in his perception of the Great War. The use of names, tangible materiality and the abstraction of monuments seemed to be his answer, derived from the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme. The development of warfare has of course progressed even further, if we consider for example the invention of nuclear weapons – more damage can be done, more lives can be lost and this seems to indicate that memorialisation needs to develop to keep pace with these horrific changes in the very nature of warfare.
Categories: Research Rhythms | Tags: Great War, Research Forum, War Memorials, World War I, WWI | Comments Off
For many of us, mention of the Vikings brings up images of ferocious, sword-wielding barbarians who made an everyday habit of killing monks and building very big boats in order to forcefully conquer new lands. The British Museum however promises a reassessment of the popular image in their blockbuster show Vikings: Life and Legend, which is the first on this theme for over 30 years. Capitalising on recent archaeological discoveries and new scholarship, it has set itself up to be a novel and fresh show.
Keen to bust any Viking myths that the visitor might have from the off, the exhibition opens by stating its scope. It covers the period 800-1050 AD and documents the rapid expansion of the Vikings from their Scandinavian homelands to places as far-flung as Spain and Istanbul. In the first two rooms, I was fearful that the British Museum had let ambition forsake focus however, as I was confronted with displays containing Byzantine stone inscriptions next to toy longboats, leading to a disjointed feel. One fellow visitor commented that “it’s like being a Scottish gift shop” whilst we were both looking at a case of Celtic-looking brooches and indeed, the unsuccessful contextualisation did make the artefacts feel distant and void of much meaning.
As the exhibition progresses however, the curating becomes clearer. Thematic sections on court culture, political systems, religion and domestic life paint a picture of the Vikings as a people who approached art in an incredibly sensitive and self-conscious manner. The breadth of mediums they used for image-making was astounding and the exhibition boasts works in stone, metal, wood, glass and ivory. One of the aspects I found most surprising were the insights given by the objects into the personal lives of the Vikings; a particular highlight is a delicately engraved earwax scoop which would have been worn around the owner’s neck as a pendent. On display are also some of the more symbolic objects of the Viking race, such as weapons and the centrepiece of the exhibition, the surviving timbers of a 37-meter-long warship. Feeling simultaneously intimate with the lives of the Vikings and awed by their martial and technological power is arguably the strongest aspect of the exhibition.
Despite a questionable start, Vikings: Life and Legend, definitely achieves what it sets out to do. The thematic curation sets up a dialogue of peaceful trader versus violent raider, but without forcing either perception upon the visitor. This open-ended curating allows you make up your own mind and I left feeling that I’d been given a fresh understanding of this relatively niche and often stereotyped period.
Beatrix Callow is a BA2 student at the Courtauld.
Vikings: Life and Legend is at the British Museum until the 22nd JuneCategories: Courtauld Critics | Tags: Archaeology, Vikings | Comments Off
In the nineteenth century, the National Gallery’s Keeper, Charles Eastlake, refused a Cranach for the nation, stating that ‘it does not please me’. Indeed, for much of this period, as Strange Beauty shows, insofar as German art was studied in England it was used as a kind of art historical phrenology for the German national character. Only three major collectors had anything approaching serious German collections: Carl Krüger, George Salting and Prince Albert. These would, as we learn, go on to form the nucleus of the National Gallery’s German holdings.
Strange Beauty therefore partially explores the strange story of the National Gallery’s acquisitions policy. It’s one of their annual collections-based exhibitions and, in this context, the critical re-evaluation of its own history is a much-needed reminder that each item in the collection has a provenance, and a story, all of its own.
Rooms 2 and 3 are densely and beautifully hung, conveying something of the treasure trove quality of the original private collections of German art. Displayed alongside the oil paintings familiar to the National Gallery are miniatures, medallions and works on paper, a visual treat that evokes an exciting sense of discovery in the visitor and importantly, introduces media otherwise not seen in the permanent collections.
But, when you get to Rooms 4 and 5, and the display of Holbein’s The Ambassadors and Christina of Denmark and Cranach’s Venus and Cupid, this all falls away. Rather than pursuing apparently fruitful comparisons with nineteenth-century artists such as Ford Madox Brown, who (its label tells us) considered Hans Baldung Grien’s Portrait of a Man (bought 1854) to be so detailed it was ‘mapped, rather than painted’, it asks largely pointless questions such as ‘Should art be beautiful?’ Two German visitors next to me seemed quite confused by this. ‘It’s only the English who don’t like Cranach,’ one said to the other.
Though, as works of art, these paintings can stand on their own, the failure of the framing narrative at Room 4, coupled with the shortage of major loans makes it look a lot like the (free) permanent collection’s own Room 4, currently being decanted for the upcoming Veronese show.
A short introduction explaining the concept behind collections-based exhibitions, detailed study and re-evaluation of the permanent collection, might have been all that was needed. The whole final room is given over to inviting audience participation, a gimmick which is not quite successful enough to hide our suspicions that they simply ran out of paintings. When I saw the show there was a merry little visitor game beginning, with the hashtag #connedoutof7quid. Cynical, perhaps, and, I thought, broadly unjustified, but the exhibition certainly did seem to peter out. That’s something a show that ends with The Ambassadors should never do.
Kirsten Tambling is an MA student at the Courtauld
Strange Beauty: Masters of the German Renaissance is at the National Gallery until 11th May 2014.Categories: Courtauld Critics | Tags: art collecting, Cranach, German Art, Holbein, National Gallery, National style, Northern Renaissance, public collections, Taste | Comments Off
British Pop Art has recently been showing a resurgence in popularity. As international audiences and auction houses have recognised the relatively untapped wealth of importance and value respectively, the predecessors to the likes of Warhol, Lichtenstein, Johns and Rauschenberg have been granted greater exposure in shows such as ‘When Britain went Pop!’ and ‘Pop Art to Britart’. It seems only fitting then that, the so-called “father of pop art”, Richard Hamilton, has been given a major retrospective at the Tate Modern.
Hamilton was a prolific artist who experimented in various media, constantly revisiting, revising and reworking themes throughout his career. Reading the show’s introductory panel it is clear that these manifold manifestations of Hamilton’s art, from “paintings, prints, and polaroids alongside his exhibition designs and installations”, are all present. Installations are noticeably prominent. You enter through a reconstituted version of Hamilton’s 1951 show at the ICA Growth and Form, and the early highlight is Hamilton’s Fun House from the seminal ‘This is Tomorrow’ exhibition. It is in this space that Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing? appears, somewhat shyly, its paltry dimensions dwarfed by the image of Charlton Heston’s Moses, taken from the film ‘The Ten Commandments’. The power of Hamilton’s installations is reconfirmed by Treatment Room, a deeply political work that depicts the late Margaret Thatcher in all her patronising glory, but also somewhat weakened by the discordant room given over to Hamilton’s copy of Duchamp’s The Large Glass. To me, Hamilton is strongest when he is at his most original, and thus the slavish admiration of Duchamp doesn’t appeal.
In comparison his works that appropriate items from the mass media are resonantly powerful. His use of Braun toasters, renamed ‘Brown’, are a good antidote for those sick with the seemingly omnipresent Campbell’s soup tins, and his Richard ash trays and bottles, made in the same font as the French liquor Ricard, are witty antecedents to Gavin Turk’s Turkeyfoil that I found so appealing at ‘Pop Art to Britart’.
To me, as a previous International Relations student, Hamilton’s political works are his strongest. Tony Blair as a gun slinging cowboy in Shock and Awe still remains a withering portrayal of a Prime Minister whose reputation is becoming more and more divisive with time. The slight smirk perfectly captures the character of Blair: self-assured, occasionally blurring into arrogance. Hamilton’s Portrait of Hugh Gaitskell as a Famous Monster of Filmland from 1964, a spiky character-assassination of the former Labour leader, who was against unilateral nuclear disarmament, demonstrates his engagement with the political throughout his career.
Posthumous retrospectives are notoriously difficult to pull off. They lack the celebratory note of those given to artists at the end of their career and having them too close to the artist’s passing risks not fully understanding the importance and impact of their work. The Tate team have dealt with both these issues with typical mastery, delivering an exhibition fit for the standing of its subject.
Harry Laughland is an MA student at the Courtauld.
Richard Hamilton is at Tate Modern until the 26th May 2014.Categories: Courtauld Critics | Tags: contemporary, pop art, Retrospective | Comments Off
An ‘Untapped Goldmine for the Dress Historian’: Amateur Film as Visual Heritage and Assessing the Excavation Potential: Heather Norris Nicholson
Forming the third lecture of the Spring 2014 Friend Lecture Series, Dr Heather Norris Nicholson’s talk entitled An ‘Untapped Goldmine for the Dress Historian’: Amateur Film as Visual Heritage and Assessing the Excavation Potential, examined the ways in which non-professional film footage can serve as a fertile resource for the studying of the history of dress. The lecture series emerged from the MA Documenting Fashion: Modernity, Film and Image in Europe and America, 1920 – 1945, which investigates the common means by which fashion, non-fiction film and documentary images reveal new ways to understand dress, style and visual culture. Dr Nicholson, who is a Andrew W Mellon Foundation / Research Forum Visiting Professor at The Courtauld, proposed therefore to incorporate alternative sources of visual heritage into academic research. Many examples of amateur film are archived within the North West Film Archives, Manchester, and are readily accessible to scholars. The archive includes 36,000 items from the 1890s to contemporary video production, both professional and amateur.
As Dr Nicholson noted that both amateur film and dress history allow for an independent construction of self-hood and form a mode of communication, also expressing a sense of individual agency. This becomes clear in a black and white amateur film depicting adolescents dancing at a social club in 1957, in a small town close to Manchester. The continuous focus of the camera on the youth allows for the dress historian to analyse the local fashion, the means through which young people communicated their identities to a wider public and the relationship between local dress codes and the urban fashion standards in nearby Manchester. However, every representation requires an analysis of the conditions of its production. The film was made by a local paint manufacturer, who engaged with amateur film making as a hobby. This was not an isolated case; after the introduction of lightweight cameras in the early 1920s film making quickly became a popular recreational pass time in Britain. An increase in amateur film clubs followed in the 1950s and 1960s.
Amateur films were produced for a variety of reasons: documenting family life, travels, festivities, as well as capturing the steadily disappearing communal life styles. As a source, amateur film raises multiple questions. How do they relate to official imagery? What reasons motivated their production? And how were they used? The film footage by Michael Goodger, a teacher of liberal and general studies in Salford who sought to document the disappearing street life of a working class neighbourhood in Manchester, presents a private and intimate mediation of the changing urban landscape. Seeking to capture the fast changing face of Salford’s housing, he engaged with amateur film making in order to offer teaching examples which were familiar and relevant to his students, many of whom came from the Salford area. Goodger’s films were therefore motivated by the shifting urban ecology and had a pedagogical purpose. As an outsider to the communities he had filmed, Goodger adopted working class dress, at times even carrying a ladder with him.
Theorised by the magazine Amateur Cine World, amateur film steadily became professionalised. The shift from a private use of the camera to one that carried pedagogical and political implications, demonstrates a plurality of motivations for the production of alternative imagery. These films allow us to examine the aesthetics of the everyday, keeping in mind, however, that the camera often alters the scene represented. Nevertheless, amateur footage reflects a mode for storytelling and expresses an idea of self and society, which is crucial for the studying of dress history.
Categories: Research Rhythms | Tags: art history, dress, film, north-west England | Comments Off
Jeremy Deller is a modern day alchemist. This rings especially true in light of his latest exhibition at the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow – ‘Jeremy Deller: English Magic’ – last experienced in the British Pavillion at last year’s Venice Biennale. Deller has never followed the rules, has none of the traits of an artist and yet his works speak more truths than many. With a sharp and meticulous sense of observation and a willingness to shake things up (but not too much), the Turner prize winning artist proves that he has come a long way from his early works as his left-wing leanings and ideas of equality and social justice take the form of curiously uplifting works that reference the much labored over topic of politics and the Iraq war, but also tax evasion and Ziggy Stardust.
Deller, who studied Baroque art at the Courtauld Institute, has all the majesty of his 17th century counterparts as he weaves magic in the social world of 21st century Britain, summons forth the politics of today and interprets them with a self-conscious critique and celebration – he is as much a history painter as Beuys or Rembrandt. He is not a conceptual artist in the same was as Kosuth, but a sociologist, anthropologist and historian.
The landmark piece of the show takes the form of a large mural where Deller, ever-loyal defender of Venetian legacy, depicts the Victorian designer at loggerheads with billionaire money-magnate Roman Abramovich as he launches his yacht, Luna, into the lagoon. ‘We Sit Starving Amidst Our Gold’ was supposedly sparked by Deller’s fury at the ship’s appearance in the quay during the 2011 Venice Biennale. The Giardini, one of the historic city’s treasures, bastardized by contemporary wealth serves as a harrowing symbol of a recurrent theme in Deller’s oeuvre. It draws on Morris’ call for a socialist reform, the collapse of communism and the capitalist growth in the former Soviet Union.
Deller focuses on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in another work, where he enlisted former soldiers to draw scenes from their experiences. Painted from prison, where many of our troops end up, it is a shining example of his role as an authentic social documenter of modern day Britain. Deller does not shy away from the real.
Indeed, the exhibition captures the essence of Morris’ thinking – “I do not want art for a few; any more than education for a few; or freedom for a few” – and Deller’s collaborative work ethic references the Arts and Crafts ethos. This is an exhibition that encourages visitors to get involved.
Deller’s work may shout where Morris whispers, but the material works brilliantly with the gallery’s permanent collection, as we walk into the 19th century and back into the more familiar world of Deller’s as he puts a contemporary frame on his idiosyncratic vision of Britain and its securities. He is an alchemist, but he is also a catalyst; he makes connections between things and leaves them open. It is up to us to react as we wish, but always with a slice of humour.
Aindrea Emelife is a second-year BA at the Courtauld.
Jeremy Deller: English Magic is at the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow until 30 March, before moving to the Bristol Museum and Art gallery then the Turner Contemporary in Margate later this year.Categories: Courtauld Critics | Tags: Arts and Crafts, contemporary, Jeremy Deller, William Morris | Comments Off