my textile career from 1975
Someone on FB posted a video from 95.7 KJR about a bobcat showing its gratitude by rubbing up to its rescuer, very tactile, very scary.
Another group keeps posting exquisite jewelry made in Tibet from gold silver & copper framing beautiful Persian turquoise. I feel like the rescuer, the turquoise is obviously wreathed in the spirits of the Tibetan plateaux. So attractive, so scary. Wild things, from the Book of the Dead.
I made a long pilgrimage today, in the rain, across town & over the bridge to my skin doctor. To amuse myself I carried a volume on Cubism & subsequent art movements. Movement is in fact the mot du jour as aesthetic developments climax in the Italian phase trumped by Duchamp’s depiction of the moving figure. The 20′s & 30′s have a lot to answer for; at the time, they had a lot to recover from. Leaving the visual world with only a depiction of the human figure in motion is a particularly de-humanising achievement. There is nothing that so thoroughly robs humanity of its humanness than speed & motion; one has only to look at the behaviour of car drivers & even cycle riders to realise that. Adrenalin does not endear.
The volume began with a difficulty: how to explain Picasso’s Demoiselles d”Avignon. The writer had justifiably decided that visual modernism began with this work. I hope a feminist [woman] critic has done justice to this work. The writer notes how the earliest version of the work clearly imitates Ingres’ Turkish Bath; however, his pencil marks show too much niceness; the figures are evoked exactly, almost delicately. The conundrum of the work revolves around Picasso’s depiction of a Parisian brothel and why the two male sailor figures are deleted from the final version. The writer concedes that the work is an act of sexual violence. I would assert that such violence would go astray, contained in a spectacle that included two males. I would stress further that Picasso’s peculiar machismo would not let him enact sexual violence in a field that included two males, virtually witnesses.There is a particularly southern mediterranean machismo at play; the transplating of African masks onto the figures enable various versions of canine metaphors that do not deserve re-telling. The most recessed figure dramatically opens the curtains onto the scene of the brothel, while the seated woman in front of her sits with legs akimbo in a particularly thrusting pose. It might have confronted the viewer, while registering its already dated version of modernism, if I had not at that moment looked up at a railway billboard & seen a young woman photographed in a equally graphic anatomical situation. The art book author feels it necessary to point out a long standing feature of Spanish male art that suggests the breasts in the shape of a woman’s eyes, while her mouth becomes the genital opening.
Women feminist academics have previously discussed the process of objectification, that men perpetrate on women. I would seek to measure this viewpoint by a number of comparisons. Dejeuner sur l”Herbe by Manet deserves a mention; it creates a re-telling of some mannerist fabled feast, where men & women interact, if not as equals, then almost. True, the two males are clothed, the two women are not. Like Picasso, Manet frequented brothels, I believe he even died of the ubiquitous syphillis. But his depictions of men & women together preserve some inter-gendered dignity. Berthe Morisot, who married his brother, and Victorine Meurent, Manet’s model in several paintings, managed their ambition to become recognised as painters with varying success, probably based on their family contacts. Morisot certainly dealt fairly with the female subjects of her paintings. There was not the triteness of Matisse’s drawings, nor the oily flow of Monet’s puckered nudes. I wonder what was Picasso’s excuse? We do not tolerate rape enacted in front of us, but we have enshrined it in the Demoiselles. May heaven forfend.
In Haftmann’s Painting in the 20th century, is a work by BURRI, Sacco B, 1953. Examine the stitching used; the work should generate a new genre: “naive textile”. All the years of agonising over my stitching, too tight, too loose???
Of course, my new label could do with an ironic emoticon [Dame Edna Everedge's mouth, left corner down, right corner up]. The stitches create a floating mesh worthy of Tachisme, they connect the worth to arte povera on the continent, but also Rauchenberg’s quilt & pillow piece.
In our archaically monarchical system, Australia retains the office of Governor-General. We recently saw the changing of the guard: incredibly popular Dame Quentin Bryce retired and was replaced by Sir Cosgrove, a military gentleman of impeccable credentials. This ritual was combined with, slightly overshadowed by our federal political leader PM Tony Abbott’s reinstating the old monarchical system of titles: Knights & Dames, to practically universal merriment & derision.
Dame Bryce’s career of quiet feminist achievement was meanwhile unacknowledged, instead her accepting the outmoded title was critiqued & examined. Unfortunately, the scrutiny ignored the Letters of her appointment, which meant that her acceptance of the title was a foregone conclusion. This small moment in the landscape of her career does not seem important for me. Some people seem to imply that it contradicted her iconoclastic anticipation of a future Australian republic & marriage equality for all Australians. I do not agree that her reputation has been diminished. I never encountered Dame Bryce personally; I did meet NSW Governor Marie Bashir, a gracious person; I’m sure Dame Bryce was as well. Both women seemed tireless public figures, doing much good.
The cultural artifact I would prefer to examine instead is Ralph Heimans’ official portrait of Dame Bryce and the hugely unwarranted criticism it has attracted. Andrew Frost an arts commentator who appears on ABC TV often, thoroughly condemned it in the online Australian Guardian. Mr Frost thought it tricky yet outmoded & thought that photography would have better served the purpose. Mr Frost, like a number of arts commentators, seems to push a particular agendum: that there is revolutionary, NEW art that deserves our attention; it is the sort of hothouse rhetoric that stokes the enthusiasm of curators of Biennales. A while ago, a young artist stepped up & declared that media like painting should be relegated to the genre of craft; that the business of art was best served by photography, video, installation & performance. I suspect that Mr Frost would be sympathetic to this attitude, without bothering to re-define the role of “artistry”, the manipulation of materials etc, that traditional art has implied.
A while ago, another Australian arts commentator stated that post modernism and its collection of revolutionary isms needed to be re-defined; he thought that the landscape of modernism constituted a beachfront, where successive waves brought new objects and movements ashore; he thought post-modernism was merely the latest series of after shocks. It reminds me of medieval rhetoric, which had assimilated Roman and other hybrid cultures & forms, and finally declared: “There is nothing new”. Art henceforth is a situation where past cultural moments are referenced, with intelligent, ironic quirks & twists, variations in homage, upon a theme. This would certainly explain why a new generation re-visits various moments of minimalism, abstraction, expressionism, but would not excuse these practitioners posing as if they have created something new.
Now to Ralph Heimans’ work; my initial reaction was dismissive. The representation offered nothing startlingly new. But on reflection, I had a similar reaction to David Hockney’s double portrait of someone & Celia, except that Hockney’s skill in portraiture was considerably less. Hockney quickly ventured into his experiments with photography, and history has yet to decide how culturally important they are.
I did not find Heimans’ format tricksy; the portrait is traditionally tall, the landscape broad. Dame Bryce’s portrait is fitted within a landscape format, offering, perhaps, the metaphor of expanded horizons. A friend suggested that a pun to do with glass ceilings was suggested. One of the comments generated by the Guardian article suggested that Peter Booth’s style of representation was to be preferred. One could list a series of modernist artists, each with an idiosyncratic, expressionist style of representation: Stanley Spencer, Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud, or in the USA David Park. Peter Booth readily fits into that group, but none of the artists have a formal, objective style. Booth reminds me of a shrieking child’s nightmare.
My liking for the Heimans’ work grows with quiet contemplation. I could quote several great names in Australian art who painted formal portraits, William Dobell would be in their company; the genre is often notoriously difficult to pull off; the imperatives are many & conflicting: a personal style, the demands of a formal setting etc. I think, the sooner we lose this fetish for bogus revolutionary newness, and recognise the existence of cultural genres, the sooner will our visual culture mature.
Perhaps a gender issue underlies this dynamic. Little boys in play school are rebels while little girls fit in and work as a group. At the art level, women’s work in fiber was once described by the eminent practitioner Diana Wood Conroy as a quiet revolution of slow art. This may explain the lack of appetite for fibre on the art market; it has been geared to equating importance with “newness” variously defined and not often accompanied by prowess in technique. But tapestry has been pre-eminent in previous eras, with the Greeks & Romans, the pre-Columbian cultures and in medieval & renaissance Europe, where it was enviously copied by the inferior craft of painting. Fibre’s day will come again. Eventually we will tire of a bogus novelty. Modes of expression that can make cultural references on many layers with a recognisably high level of skill will again be prized.
This is an 11th century bronze Chola (South Indian) sculpture of Shiva Nataraja, the great Hindu god of destruction. Not destruction as an end in itself.
The description of this work reminds me of an anecdote about loony preacher Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist church, who celebrated the attribute of god as hatred and destruction. Ok, since the USA had ratified marriage equality, I guess he felt that god the hater & destroyer would make a clean sweep of things. It’s not quite the Hindu realisation of the cycle of things, but we in the west are still new at the game of divine realisations.
Tonight on ABC 4 Corners, we were offered a view of two Australian public art galleries and their acquisitions & provenance checking policy. One gallery used 5 millions dollars of public funds to acquire a magnificent bronze sculpture of Shiva, Lord of the Dance. We were shown the purported organiser of the theft of this work; eventually we saw the humble but infinitely dignified setting from which it was removed. Security was minimal. In one case a small village with a ruined temple had originally held a deity of both genders; the temple priest movingly entreated that the work be returned and the villagers might continue to worship their deity in situ.
Last year at about this time, I was in Bangkok, and managed to visit the National Museum, which contained magnificent works: Gandharan Buddhas, a Krishna, gilded funeral boats sporting delightful pixie folk; the building was shabby but the contents were matchless. I have never seen such work resonant with spirituality, images that deserved whole lifetimes of contemplation.
A friend and I having been convinced that this precious Shiva must inevitably be returned, not to a sterile art fortress but to its place of ritual meditation, wondered if the Australian museum currently possessing the work should be satisfied with a carefully carved copy of the image. But western galleries don’t respect copies; they insist on original princesses of beauty sequestered in sterile rooms. One Indian gentleman compared the theft of religious images to the forced seizure and adoption of babies.
We value life but insist on appreciating it in pristine, neutral conditions, “the butterfly” as poets Alexander Pope and T. S. Eliot expressed it, “sprawling on a pin”.
The butterfly is a wondrous thing; the ancient ones are prized for their lineage but wrested from their natural setting; those that are being created even as we speak are not yet known. The art teacher who influenced Bridget Riley had most of his life’s work destroyed by his housekeeper, after his death.
The Beautyful Ones are not yet Born. The earworm that has persisted this week is Fastball’s The Way, a fitting melody to accompany the Lord of the Dance: ” But where were they going, without ever knowing the WAY?”
I have always been intrigued by his work, his existence even, in the Arizona desert. His calm succinct work reminds me of a painting by Georgia O’Keefe of skyscrapers, their windows aglow in the dusk, and more recently, of the precise tapestries of Michael F. Rohde.
11th° International weaving’s and Fiber art’s Competition
Parma- North Italy 4-10 May 2014
Subject: “Surrealism from Mirò to Dalì
My work which was accepted for the exhibition is an homage to Miro’s famous: Boy Throwing a Stone at a Bird.
You had to dislocate the connotations and focus on the mathematical calculations of the original image.
It left me with a sense of: a Stone Hurtling Across Distances.
Also though, it was an invitation to contemplate an image that had fragmented preconceptions when it was originally constructed. Miro’s image has a pristine beauty. The act of homage allows me to weigh that in my mind. Reverence allowed me to make use of the ecclesiastical braid I had collected in my youth. As an altar boy, I was given a set of old vestments and instructed to burn them, as a ritual act of recycling. Instead, I used them in my private theatre, of church drag, of cringe-making youthful campery. The textiles were lush, green cloth, edged in gold-wire braid. Finally, I removed and secreted the braid.
The brief issued by the exhibition organisers allowed me to consider the act of ritual disordering of the senses, begun historically in the late poems of Arthur Rimbaud, a personal process that climaxed in the syntactically perverse: “Je est un autre”.
Once set upon this road of historical re-examination, the creative method of using several textile media allowed me to focus most intensely upon the image. The primary medium was of woven tapestry, which I employed on two looms to create subject and object, linked by the speculative trajectory. Surrounding these would be a structure of ribbons and braids, which as the project focussed became ever simpler, until three colour/textures were combined: black, gold and green. The latter was needed to reflect my humanitarian/ecological concerns. When I came to link framework & imagery, the intense background blue of the tapestry, composed of a teal polyester yarn combined & offset with a deconstructed synthetic bottle green fringe material had to be somehow translated into yet another combination in the buttons. The solution I arrived at was of matt blue buttons surmounted with fragments of paua shell, which offered that intimation of an intense sub-tropical night.
Homage to Miro: a stone hurtling across distances. 66 cms H X 68 cms W, 2013.
Yesterday the Australian public broadcaster ABC News 24 The Drum had a discussion about the temerity of Australian artists protesting about the long term Biennale patron being involved with Transfield Holdings the company that runs the Nauru Detention Centre, where Iranian refugee Reza Barati was killed during a riot.
The discussion panel included a jeering, sneering Liberal and an “ethicist”. The former was allowed his say, although the presenter clearly had trouble stomaching his tone. A FB YouTube clip was run where another sneerer/jeerer made much of the fact that the detention centre represented only 15% of Transfield Holdings. Sorry, a man was killed. In law, if you do something that results in loss of life a charge of manslaughter ensues.
The trouble we have at the moment in terms of public discussion is that probably the most embittered form of conservative culture has taken hold of the country. A fairly conservative commentator recently admitted that the central problem conservative administrations have in Australia is that they are in bed with the lobby industry. I’ve covered what happened in the previous conservative rule under trackie daggy John Howard: we were treated to nightly spectacles of waterfront WAR on the news as Patrick Holdings, using wire mesh fences, security men & dogs, attempted to control its workforce. There was no respite; this was not tv fiction. We went to war in Iraq & Afghanistan, based on what later proved to be fabricated evidence. In terms of the refugees, we had “children overboard”, SIEVX, a boat sunk in waters between Australia & Indonesia, still as yet not properly investigated. Our armed forces, engaged in these activities, complained that their work was being politicised. We had two individuals, arrested as aliens and deported, only later shown to be Australian citizens, children developing mental illness because of detention. We had a scandal about bribery in the midst of Australian wheat sales to Iraq. The list goes on & on, but its underlying, common theme was that Australia was open for business, and the conservative party faithful would be rewarded: middle class welfare became a much discussed topic.
Has much changed? Our current PM says: Oz is open for business; he’s intent on giving rich women an incentive for raising more children. A couple of last night’s panel raised the issue of entitlement, Tony Abbott’s mantra. Let’s speak freely: if you are on the ABC you are being paid by the public purse. How does that differ from artists being funded by govt money? The ABC is trusted widely as a brand & a product by Australians, we know this; conservatives know they need to get their squalid message onto this trusted airtime.
As for the jeery FB YouTube messenger, I was at dinner with a business guy recently; we discussed an electronics company running a dubious ad about a middle class family sitting round a well laden dinner table and the situation degenerating into a food fight. I find the spectacle obscene on many levels and said so on the company’s FB page, only to have several young commentators attach themselves to my protest and persistently contradict my comments, until my only recourse was to block these people. The company acknowledged my concerns; it ran the ad again recently in spite of them.
I find the behaviour of conservative commentators in their superficial arguments about the Biennale protest; it is argument by individuals committed to free enterprise at a gut level. The spectacle of a self-styled “ethicist” veering away from the death in custody; instead he complained bitterly about this culture of artists expecting govt subsidy.
I’m sure I have addressed this issue elsewhere, but I’ll summarise yet again. Really, artists are not that well looked after; as a lifestyle it’s not a carefree sinecure. The artists who feature in the Biennale are not unknowns, they are at least mid career, and have successfully steered their product before arriving at this event. They bring the prestige of their reputations to make the event successful. It’s quid pro quo. Personally, I have little time for the Biennale house style; it has been described as “conceptual, socialogical treatises”, vacuous accumulations, a type of shop front decoration. David Jones window work to catch the eye. Yet other commentators have noted the lack of serious engagement with medium, the artistry, the CRAFT of image making, or object making. For me, this is a problem not yet resolved post the phenomenon of modernism; sadly, its practitioners are blithely unaware that their work is no longer able to “epater le bourgeois”; it cannot continue to claim the radical high ground. As a long suffering textile practitioner said, fibre is the new quiet revolutionary.
However, in answer to the ethicist’s complaint that artists expect subsidy, art and its long term effects are practically invisible; just because we cannot immediately apply business practices to the job of art making does not justify conservatives pretending that art serves only the purpose of making objects people are reluctant to buy. Long after even conservatives are trying to forget the shallow thinking, the mean spiritedness, the sleaze of their political administrations, art objects are able to powerfully embody a national spirit. We can argue about the national estate and the soul of a nation’s culture: is Leonardo’s La Gioconda Italian or French; should it be returned? So on & so forth; but it has performed many roles: it has earned massive revenue by attracting viewers to the Louvre; it has become synonymous with the French national spirit in a way the doings & sayings of squabbly bourgeois politicians will never manage.