Reviews for The British Art Journal, autumn 2016

I’m very pleased to have two reviews published in the latest issue of The British Art Journal (autumn 2016). One of them is a review of Franny Moyle’s biography of JMW Turner, which was published by Penguin in the summer of 2016. My other article discusses the first publication produced about collaborations between contemporary artists known as The Arborealists, who focus on trees in their work. This book was published by Bristol publishers Sansom & Co.

 

 

 

 

 

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Writing for The British Art Journal

I’m very pleased to have a first article published in The British Art Journal – in the form of a book review of ‘The Diaries of Randolph Schwabe’, edited by Gill Clarke and published by Bristol publishers Sansom & Co.

 

 

 

 

 

Attending Gilda Williams’ course on How to Write About Art

Yesterday I attended Gilda Williams’ ‘How To Write About Art’ course at the Whitechapel Gallery. It was a brilliant and highly informative day – Gilda gave lots of good advice about ways to develop (and spot) good writing, which she supported with clear examples. She also asked the class to write a short piece about one of the works in the Whitechapel’s current exhibition, ‘Electronic Superhighway (2016 – 1966)’, and encouraged everyone to give each other feedback. My text is below. I chose to focus on Jonas Lund’s contribution, entitled ‘VIP (Viewer Improved Painting’), 2014, consisting of a self optimising digital painting, 50″ monitor TV and a gaze tracking camera. View it on his website page here.

What is your favourite colour? What is your preference, blue or pink? After standing for several seconds in front of Jonas Lund’s work, ‘VIP (Viewer Improved Painting’), 2014, it becomes clear that we are being asked this old and clumsy question. Perhaps it reminds us of similarly black-and-white questions we used to receive from peers in the school playground.

Whether we know the answer now or not, Lund’s ‘VIP’ sets out to tell us. It does this by presenting us with two luxuriously long flat-screen television screens that have been turned on their sides and stick assertively from the wall, jostling for the viewer’s attention. They slowly feed us fuzzy blocks of colour, splodges of dark blue are surprised by splashes of sunburnt pink. The edges of different  blocks blur together in a way that is reminiscent of Rothko’s abstract paintings.

Our eyes naturally dart towards the changes in colour, the areas of movement and energy. As we are fed these colours, the monitor, parked confidently on top of the screens, records which we are drawn to and starts to only show those that we like. Rarely do we see an artwork that takes such pains to please us and offer up its images for our own individual delight. Lund’s work is, after all, entitled ‘VIP’. We expect special treatment.

And yet, a sense of unease pervades this experience. We are aware of being watched, our actions are obviously  recorded by a camera and our personal preferences broadcast on a public screen. Over time it is obvious we are only given a limited number of colours to choose from, so our preferences are manipulated by this robot, just like they were by our friends back at school. Peer pressure has not gone away. Instead, as this artwork suggests through its mechanisms and media, it has exploded with the copious amount of technology and online interactions that surround us every day.

 

 

 

Some thoughts on fighting FGM

Michael Gove has finally agreed to write to schools in England about FGM after the recent campaign led by 17 year old Fahma Mohamed. I recently read Alice Walker’s novel ‘Possessing the Secret of Joy’, 1992, and will attempt to discuss some of the horrors of FGM, and thoughts on fighting it, through a reading of this powerful text.

Possessing focuses on a fictional African tribe, Olinka. The fictional element enables Walker to explore the results of the most extreme form of female circumcision, infibulation, enacted upon her protagonist Tashi without blaming any one real tribe. Thus, Walker can be as outspoken as she likes, heavily criticising Olinkans’ reasons for female genital mutilation (FGM) and rallying for collective responsibility to stop it. Olinkans ‘validate’ their reasons for FGM by using religious myths and presenting the procedure as initiation into adulthood and eligibility for marriage. Particularly, Olinkans use the tale of God and the termite hill, which represents female sexual organs, to affirm God’s wish for FGM and naturalise male control over female sexuality. This is because God mastered the earth by “[cutting] down the termite hill, and [having] intercourse with the excised earth”. Therefore, in the eyes of the Olinkans, as God has initiated it, FGM is justifiable and an eternal phenomenon. In this way, as the writer Gourdine has noted, Walker positions FGM as “a brutal ritual so tied to culture and tradition that for thousands of years women have been powerless to stop it”.  Continue reading

T. J. Clark comes to London to shed new light on Picasso and ‘truth’

Published in Trebuchet Magazine

This autumn, acclaimed art historian T. J. Clark has been travelling round London giving talks about his latest book ‘Picasso and Truth: From Cubism to Guernica’. In this book Clark concentrates on the artwork Picasso produced during the 1920s, which has been considered not to be the artist’s best period. Indeed, Greenberg calls the results of this artistic epoch a failure of nerve. Other scholars have criticised Picasso’s art at this time in terms of its ‘brightness’, condemning it as overdone. Clark conveyed that he wanted to re-address the 1920s because it is neglected and misunderstood – a motive that fits well with his well-known desires to re-address the methodologies and focuses of the history of art in a new type of Social Art History.

Clark concentrates on three particular paintings in his central chapters. The first, ‘Guitar and Mandolin on a Table’ 1924, which he renames ‘Still Life in Front of a Window’, is the largest still life Picasso ever did. Next to be considered is ‘The Three Dancers’ made in 1925 – a painting Picasso said was his best, or better than ‘Guernica’. This is renamed as ‘Young Girls Dancing in Front of a Window’ in Clark’s book. The last central painting addressed is ‘The Painter and His Model’ 1927, which is by far the least well-known work of the three. The renaming of the paintings to locate the subject matter within rooms and to include window references is important for Clark’s argument, as I hope to illustrate later.  Continue reading

‘My Antonia’, a novel by Willa Cather 1918

Sensation, landscapes of the past, and the female Muse

Antonia is less of a character than she is a sensation or feeling. We feel her presence rather than see or understand her, and we do not interpret her character but use it to interpret other experiences and characters within the novel. This is similar to the way the landscape is described and experienced by narrator and male protagonist Jimmy. He describes “there were none of the signs of spring for which I used to watch in Virginia […] There was only – spring itself; the throb of it, the light restlessness, the vital essence of it everywhere…” (97). This emphasises that My Antonia is not about outward appearances and concrete representations, but is about feelings. These are feelings of loneliness, rootlessness, nostalgia, and fear of others, from people struggling to retain their passions and inspirations in the face of different sources of oppression and prejudice within the hostile landscape of Nebraska and surrounding towns.  Continue reading