Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Is there no alternative?

Just finished Mark Fisher's Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?, and very good it is too. Near the end, he quotes film-maker Adam Curtis (who I've mentioned previously), from this interview. I've quoted at greater length here but the whole thing is worth a read.

Systems that purport to be open and free - systems of political management, and the internet - are becoming ways of shutting debate down. Of simplifying - not of controlling, that's the thing - a new simplified sense of order.

In an age where people don't know what's what, we sort of agree with that. We look for order and want that. And our politicians can't give it to us - our media elites can't give it to us because they don't know what's what anymore. So far from creating a new richness and openness, we all work together to create a new system of agreed order, because we want it.

It's not that we're not bad people, that's what happens in an age of populism, a populist democracy.

The elites have given up, so no one's telling you what's what any more, we don't want that any longer - so we're beginning to work together sooner and actually, that's exactly what I was being accused of.

So what we're living through is a period of intense conformity. It is the great paradox of the age.


We should be saying to people "I'm going to take you out of yourself and show you something you haven't thought of, which is either awesome, or incredible, or will inspire you". But we don't. We've instead an equivalent of a Victorian book of etiquette. We've simply reinforced those simple definitions of what is ordered and disordered.


What people suffer from is being trapped within themselves - in a world of individualism everyone is trapped within their own feelings, trapped within their own imaginations. Our job as public service broadcasters is to take people beyond the limits of their own self, and until we do that we will carry on declining.

The BBC should realise that. I have an idealistic view, but if the BBC could do that, taking people beyond their own selves, it will renew itself in a way that jumps over the competition. The competition is obsessed by serving people in their little selves. And in a way, actually, Murdoch for all his power, is trapped by the self. That's his job, to feed the self.

In the BBC, it's the next step forward. It doesn't mean we go back to the 1950s and tell people how to dress, what we do is say "we can free you from yourself" - and people would love it.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Angels of Anarchy

Edith Rimmington, The Oneiroscopist, 1947

Léonor Fini, The Parasol, 1947

Kay Sage, Margin of Silence, 1942

Ithell Colquhoun, Tree Anatomy, 1942

Penny Slinger, I Hear What You Say, 1973

Eva Švankmajerová, Bed, 1976

Angels of Anarchy: Women Artists and Surrealism is on at Manchester Art Gallery until 10th January. Proof that the frequently overlooked female Surrealists were much more than just wives and mistresses being humoured by the men (which was how many of the latter saw it, I suspect). After complaining about the lack of information available on the Czech Surrealist movement, it turns out that there are works by Toyen and Švankmajerová practically on my doorstep...

The American Scene

Edward Hopper, Night in the Park, 1921

Martin Lewis, Shadow Magic, 1939

Louis Lozowick, New York, c.1925

James McConnell, Combo, c.1950

Josef Albers, i, 1934

Leonard Baskin, The Hydrogen Man, 1954

Hans Burkhardt, After The Bomb, 1948

These are from The American Scene: Prints from Hopper to Pollock, which is on at the Whitworth Gallery until Sunday (as mentioned previously). I've been a couple of times, and although it may not exactly be chock-full of masterpieces, it's fascinating to see some of the lesser-known (to me, at least) routes taken by US art in the 20th century. Some of the work, especially the earlier stuff, is highly derivative of various European masters from Goya to Miró, and Abstract Expressionism didn't particularly lend itself to printmaking, so the most compelling pieces are by some of the realists like Hopper and Martin Lewis, and eccentrics like Baskin.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Psychedelic Wonderland

Just ordered this 2010 calendar by the Manchester-based artist and designer John Coulthart, which you can preview here. I'm a relative newcomer to his work, but I very much enjoyed his graphic adaptation of HP Lovecraft's tales, The Haunter of the Dark, and his blog is one of the best out there.

Monday, 30 November 2009

The rise of the cherry-pickers

"We’re living in a stylistic tropics. There’s a whole generation of people able to access almost anything from almost anywhere, and they don’t have the same localised stylistic sense that my generation grew up with. It’s all alive, all “now,” in an ever-expanding present, be it Hildegard of Bingen or a Bollywood soundtrack. The idea that something is uncool because it’s old or foreign has left the collective consciousness.

"I think this is good news. As people become increasingly comfortable with drawing their culture from a rich range of sources—cherry-picking whatever makes sense to them—it becomes more natural to do the same thing with their social, political and other cultural ideas. The sharing of art is a precursor to the sharing of other human experiences, for what is pleasurable in art becomes thinkable in life."

- Brian Eno (read the rest here)

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Jan & Eva

His animated films may be widely regarded as some of the best ever made, but it's remarkably hard to find examples of the graphic art and sculpture of Jan Švankmajer. I recently ordered Baradla Cave, a novel by his wife and collaborator Eva Švankmajerová, which features some of his collages.

The great but long-defunct blog Giornale Nuovo has other images, including some of his sculptures (click on the images for links).

Baradla Cave also features a couple of coloured crayon drawings by Švankmajerová.

Her poster for Švankmajer's Alice:

Finally, found at the ever-astonishing A Journey Round My Skull, an image by Švankmajerová from their collaborative book Anima Animus Animation (which I would really like to get hold of).

If you haven't seen any of Švankmajer's films, maybe start with this one.

Teige, Štyrsky, Toyen

Not much to be found on the Czechoslovak Surrealist Group, as previously mentioned, but here are a few internet finds by some of the artists. There's a brief history of the movement here.

Karel Teige
Jindřich ŠtyrskyToyen (Marie Čermínová)

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Czech book covers

These are from a collection of Czech book covers from the 20s and 30s at the Smithsonian Institution Libraries. Designs by (top to bottom) Stanislav Odvarko, Ladislav Sutnar (2), Jindřich Štyrsky and Karel Teige. Štyrsky and Teige were members of the Devětsil, a Czech avant garde movement that was strongly influenced by DADA, and later joined the Czechoslovak Surrealist Group (the most famous member of the latter being Jan Švankmajer). More on this soon, hopefully, although there doesn't seem to be a great deal of readily available info out there.

Forwards (not Forgetting)

Described in the blurb as "a defence of Modernism against its defenders", i.e. the heritage industry and "the aesthetics of the luxury flat", Owen Hatherley's Militant Modernism is largely a reappraisal of Brutalist architecture (as an alternative to urban gentrification), Constructivism, Wilhelm Reich, the films of Dusan Makavejev, and Brecht's alienation effect - surprising choices, perhaps, but Hatherley argues their case convincingly, for the most part. He doesn't claim to have any solutions to the mess we're in, but reviving interest in these neglected alternatives might be a start.

From an excellent review by Jonathan Meades at the New Statesman:

"Oscar Wilde’s suggestive proposition that “the highest criticism really is the record of one’s soul... the only civilised form of autobiography” could hardly have found a better exemplar than Hatherley. This book is the deflected Bildungsroman of a very clever, velvet-gloved provocateur nostalgic for yesterday’s tomorrow, for a world made before he was born, a distant, preposterously optimistic world which, even though it still exists in scattered fragments, has had its meaning erased, its possibilities defiled. And which has posthumously been wilfully misrepresented." [...]

" populism actually popular? Or is it simply sedative patronisation, bread and circuses devised by a cynical caste of free marketeers who presumptuously underestimate the collective intellect? This is what Hatherley believes and reiterates in various contexts. He makes a brilliantly audacious suggestion that will leave the Prince of Wales, Léon Krier and their “new urbanist” acolytes speechless: what if modernism was not imposed on a working class that really yearned for good old back-to-backs and outdoor privies but was welcomed “as part of a specific collective project”? Streets in the sky were paved with hope. Aneurin Bevan envisaged a National Housing Service."

Militant Modernism is published by Zero Books, which has a few intriguing recent and upcoming releases. Hatherley's blog is also well worth a look.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Ballard on Paolozzi

"Surrealism took one of its main inspirations from psychoanalysis, accepted the distinction between the inner world of the mind and the outer world of reality. But one, the world of the mind, is largely ruled by the laws of fictions, by one's dreams, visions, impressions and so on, and the whole idea of the unconscious as a narrative stage. Surrealism moulds the two worlds together, remakes the external world of reality in terms of the internal world of fantasy and fictions. Now what has happened, and one reason why there are really no Surrealist painters in the true sense of the term today, is that this position has been reversed. It's the external world which is now the realm, the paramount realm of fantasy. And it's the internal world of the mind which is the one node of reality that most of us have. The fiction is all out there. You can't overlay your own fiction on top of that. You've got to use, I think, a much more analytic technique than the synthetic technique of the Surrealists. Eduardo does this in his graphics. He's approaching the subject matter of the present day exactly like the scientist on safari, looking at the landscape, testing, putting sensors out, charting various parameters."
- JG Ballard on Eduardo Paolozzi, from a conversation with Paolozzi and Frank Whitford in 1971. Read the rest here.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Leonard Baskin

I've had a bit of an obsession with the work of Leonard Baskin since I first came across it on the cover of Ted Hughes's Crow (top). It was in fact Baskin who suggested that Hughes write poems on the theme, having already made several drawings of crows.

Baskin (1922-2000) was an American sculptor, printmaker, writer, illustrator and teacher. Born in New Jersey, he studied art in Florence and Paris, and spent seven years living in Devon near his close friend Hughes, but spent most of his life in Massachusetts. Inspired by William Blake, in 1942 he founded the Gehenna Press while still a student at Yale; although only a small private press, it would produce over 100 books during Baskin's lifetime.

There are a couple of prints (including the last one above) by Baskin in an outstanding exhibition, The American Scene: Prints from Hopper to Pollock, which is currently at the Whitworth Gallery, just around the corner from where I live. They're huge, much larger than I expected, maybe about six feet tall. More on The American Scene when I get the catalogue.

Click on the images for links.