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.