This is a link to my recently published website
Sunday, 22 November 2009
Wednesday, 1 April 2009
I recently listened to Armando Iannucci giving a BP British Art Lecture on the Tate podcasts. It was dated to 2006, but what Iannucci was talking about then and what he is in the media for now are both mutually entwined.
'The Thick of It' is currently in my opinion the best that television has to offer, and with other writers, both television and political, offering their eulogies to it being not just funny and cutting, but also prescient and truthful.
What we see in the series of media manipulation and political incompetence, is the workings of government laid bare before are eyes. The work of the camera in faux docudrama style adds to this manipulation of our senses. Within this manipulation a clever dupe is created.
The comedy tries to make us aware of how the government is media run, the mask it creates of duplicity and public image as reality here unmasked. We see the strategies of policy and PR, even MP secretary of state, changing lifestyle to fit public image in order to create public image. Creating false front by living a false life and by false values that would make Baudrillard proud.
However in this unravelling of government media machinery, the show itself creates another level of simulation. Now are understanding of civil service and government logistics is now 'The Thick of It'. In the same way it points fun at the media generation of reality, and the Orwellian absurdities of the logic applied to the morality of its due process, it creates a media reality that we see as the truth of 'what goes on'.
In the BP Lecture, I was fascinated by Iannucci's term of the Post-Real, a era in which we are now living.
Saturday, 28 March 2009
Friday, 27 March 2009
Thomas Joshua Cooper
With Sotheby's Haunch of Venison gallery about to end its first year in it's Burlington Gardens space, now would be a good time to assess their exhibition turnover of this last twelve months.
The space opened with the 'Mythologies' exhibition which as a group show, was as much about the names on view as their works. Bill Viola and Ilya and Emilia Kabakov were the bigger names whose work seemed suitable for the exhibitions study into the space's past, tackling the historical, anthropological and archeological museum space. It aimed to pose questions about the nature of display and agenda behind the politics of institutional displays of the cultural history of mankind. Of the smaller artists on show within the space, Jamie Shovlin's 'Family Album' was one of the more considered, subtle and effective pieces of the exhibition. His ongoing concerns with the border between reality and idealism was well evoked through his subtle renderings of simple symbols of modern day icons juxtaposed with warm images of household child ephemera. A more thorough analysis of Shovlin's work could be examined with a semiotic approach to his use of imagery. Although the space and this show came under criticism early on, a lot of which I do agree with, such as the over use of taxidermy which has hit a trend at the moment. The show overall may not have been a greatly ambitious one, with a lot of flat muted work on walls and no dynamic interventions into the space, as if the artists and curators are too afraid to touch the ornate neo-classical decor, but a lot can be said for the subtly of what was on view, works of different artists did share some interesting dialogue although usually across different areas of the labyrinthine space. However I don't the the distance physically, effected the dialogue between work. The work of Nicolas Hlobo sparring with Kiki Smith, or the work of Jitish Kallat along with Hew Locke. Some interesting links could be made.
Other exhibitions shown could all be blamed of the same problems. None of the exhibitions did anything to reinvent or interact with the space. None of the layouts of the floors have been changed. As it is, it does seen to get rather dry and dull. Little more is done than the museum past that it shares. Lots work deals with minimal patternation, and even more of the work deals in black and white imagery, be that photography, drawing, painting and wall based installation.
However saying that the far rooms of the top floor have shown some rather painting from some established but unknown names. Adrian Ghenie, Uwe Wittwer and Jonas Burgert are certainly interesting painters that have been brought to my attention. All representational, all large scale narrative works but all from various ideological stand points. Personally the scrutiny of image construction and the ode to art history in the work of Uwe Wittwer is what interests and drives my passion for contemporary art, and where I see the future of Arts critical forward progress.
For future exhibitions I believe there needs to be an injection of humour, tactility and adventurousness that has so far lacked in the cold, stiff, academic and overtly european tastes that have so far been on show.
Many great era of cinema usually come from countries which are suffering or have recently suffered social or political turmoil. Anybody with even a fleeting interest in european politics would know of the current political climate in Italy. And now subsequently, Italian cinema is seeing something of an upturn.
One need only look at its exuberant leader and one of the crises he face with Naples to see where Italian cinema is coming from. Far from creating anything right outside the expected norm of Italian cinematic language, the two films I am discussing here are well within the conventions Neo-Realist language. But what Il Divo and Gomorrah set out to achieve, and achieve they do; is to create real social commentaries on both society and the government that formed it.
Firstly Il Divo, sees a biopic of the notorious Italian prime minister Giulio Andreotti. Written by the director himself it gives both a birds eye view to events taking place and also dually a macabre character study of the main man himself. Typical to Sorrentino's style, as can be seen in consequences of love, a lot of the events in the film take place without much being revealed about character, as he hides behind witty remarks and evasive conceits. The tension is left to build and build, until finally the true nature of the characters being is laid bare and fully expressed. The film is still very much about now, despite the events taking place over a decade ago, as the issues is deals with are very much the same as the questions being asked of Berlusconi today, and Sorrentino uses the events previous to comment and mirror the situation today. What comes out of this for me, is a critique of italian society and a foundation in the political system that, allows the same human corruption, and cycles of events to continue to take place. Even though laws and by laws are created as measures of prevention, in a system so convoluted loop holes are as easy to come by as holes in swiss cheese, there is something so inherent in Italian society that allows the same dark heart of the nation to keep exposing itself. This inherent problem with Italian society is dealt with in Matteo Garrone's Gomorrah.
The film analyses many layers of society to show how Mafia is not a single organised entity, but in fact is an ugly wound perpetrated at every level of society. From two socially dysfunctional youths who attain to becoming Al Pacino in 'Scar Face', to council contractors, illegally disposing of industrial waste.
I find it interesting how, both these films have separate political agendas, yet when viewed together, a new mutual dialogue is created, one which strikes at the same cord on the central issue in Italian society yet coming from two separate directions.
These journalistic almost editorial filmic commentaries, come at a time when German cinema is also going through a political phase exorcising its demons with a great deal of similar scrutiny. One must only look at the likes of 'The Lives of Others', 'Good Bye Lenin', 'Baader Meinhof', and the soon to be released new Michael Haneke film 'White Ribbon'.
At a time when Art is also going through a political phase in its subjectivity, whilst seeing how the likes of Adorno and Ranciere are current favourites in the academic world, suddenly Italian cinema seems to be straight up to date. Something that couldn't be said for sometime.
Missile Story, page 2
A talk at the Stanley Picker Gallery, as part of their public lectures series, saw a discussion between artist Chad McCail and writer Esther Leslie. The discussion brought together the commonality of interests involving McCails interest in narrative sequential painting series, using invented narratives of Science Fiction allegory, or parody, along side Leslie's discourse on Marxist theories of aesthetics most prominently focusing on Walter Benjamin. The Talk seemed to have two separate strands, one focusing on the politics of aesthetics that McCail utilizes in his paintings, a aesthetic dealing with the visualisation of idealistic collectivist visions of freedom and equality as well as propaganda and its authoritarian nature. For this section a lot of the information imparted was McCail taking us through his works narrative, recounting exactly all subjective qualities in each framed story. This gave a precise background to his critical thinking and ideas behind picture construction, but as a result it was hard to read anything else about the work, and left not just me but many people puzzled about the works translation from artist to viewer in a more formal setting. Without his explanatory presence the paintings direct (and most importantly only real) meanings would probably have been lost in the ambivalent actions his graphically hard edged figures static performances. Aside from the work itself, McCail's presence and eagerness to put across his Orwellian politics was very enjoyable and constructively informative. Linking this more generalised interest with that of personal experience links to the second part of the discussion. This interest in politics idealism conflicted by human nature, put across from a detached sci-fi narrative, is married with a sense of personal experience put across from the angle of the artists reading of Psychoanalysis. McCail Linked his own childhood experiences of violence and sexual curiosity with those of the psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich. How his sense of curiosity was tutored with a sense of violent repression informed his works sense of idealised freedom and how human nature has thus far prevented it. Utilising religious paradigms as narrative structures and symbolism his work became more involved with both text and image, crude cartoon figurative shapes and rigorous structuring of frames and sequence in comic book format.
Overall, his work was interesting in the sense that it invokes a didactic message in its obvious structuring in order to hint at something else in its aesthetic or title. However, a lot of this is lost in some of his more highly rendered works such as 'Spring', which gives a cartographic view of a revolution taking place, loses its inherent meaning due to the works visual inability to describe its own action. It is a work of immense detail on one level in terms of scale and density, but on another the abstract qualities of the perspective and the rendering of place in architectural layouts, mean the distraction that occurs between objects and symbols or signs leads to a convoluted mass of conflicting language. Most successful are his pieces detailing his childhood experience, where the layout losses its sequential series structure to become individual scenes of action in there own right. Maybe they are also successful due the losing of a graphic novel structure, informing its structure more from a high art heritage. I saw something more akin to early renaissance painting in the forming of its storytelling. Actions in different time spaces take place all in a single piece, something similar to the compositions of the likes of Fra Angelico and Perugino. The same thing takes place in 'Spring', as the course of the narrative in different parts of the work allude to different actions at various sage of a revolution. In his series '4-12' it is a far more successful language and far better informed as to where it is coming from.
Tuesday, 17 March 2009
Nicolas Winding Refn, seems to constantly be battling the same criticism leveled at Kubrics 'A Clockwork Orange', namely the glorifying of violence. And while that argument is strictly untrue, the films relationship to Kubrics similarly stylised look at criminality is close in many other ways.
While loosely termed as a biopic, the film is a lot more deep seated than a portrayal of ones character. It is in many ways the opposite to what I have discussed in the 'Che' biopics, there the films aim was to deconstruct myth into a more tangible sense of human character and emotion, with all the follies and contradictions that came with it, shot in an unfussy and realist manner. Here, however, the opposite could be said, as Refn has described; 'it's not so much a biopic, more about a person transforming himself. He is a person who physically morphed himself into becoming 'Charles Bronson'. So in contrast to 'Che', 'Bronson' puts forward a character physically constructing himself into a mythical being, and the film is shot accordingly. Borrowing heavily from Kubric in terms of the use of sound and moving image, the portrayal of extreme acts of violence and hysteria juxtaposed to operatic music, sets in line these obvious connotations to the fictitious playing of a character and the theatricality that this process involves. Also the narrative device of having the Bronson character on a theatre stage in front of an audience to narrate at certain moments continues this theme of filming the fictitious, symbolic and almost metaphysical incarnations of Bronson's world, suddenly something more akin to formal cinema. Although we Bronson giving his life account it is only when in prison or on his stage that the transformation begins. It is a prison drama about a character who doesn't want to leave and will never reform, something we realise from the beginning, something that we won't fully understand, just something we must just run with. Refn has confirmed this futile point when discussing the portrayal of Bronson and the films aims, 'In the original material the writers were trying to psychoanalyse him, but if you do that you actually degrade him, because he's too intelligent, too sophisticated ... He's an extremely intelligent conceptual artist who found his stage, and for some reason it was in the form of solitary confinement. In my movie he's an artist searching for a stage on which to create his performance'. To this end, we see his character flaws (not only in extreme acts of violence), in his lack of proaction, as described in the film by a prison governor, 'Godless and nihilistic acts of aggression'. We hit a complex point in the film as it becomes apparent the aims of Bronson's violence was not to suit any positive end to further himself, but is borne out of pure frustration at his lack of being able to express himself. In the end the use of violence can be seen as a way to portray his character to the world, trying to gain fame this way. Again as Refn describes 'the film is also about the consequences of fame: once you achieve something you will lose something' in this way he achieved infamy but lost freedom and any other possible hope or ambition in his life.
One crucial scene for me is during his brief hiatus outside of prison in which he returns home to his mother only to discover all his possessions from his earlier life are no longer present, reflecting the fact that his old identity is forever lost due to the process of change the prison life has given him and his new alter-ego.
The films structure is set out in a fragmented narrative, between actual (possibly existential) narration and the films recounted narrative. Beginning with the character introducing himself in a close up to camera, from which point we get his life story recounted by him interposed with direct statements from the character himself from his more than symbolic stage. The stylisation of the film, aside from the overt era defining soundtrack, is the culmination of certain recurring shots in the film, dead-pan portraits of full-length figures in front of a flat background in a sort of no-time before a scene of on coming violence as they just watch Bronson before his rage. Also a panning shot following characters movement up and down a space from a side angle offering a mid-shot side profile and overtly referring to the fourth wall behind the camera, that of a theatre audience in a Brechtian manner.
The film is incredibly subversive and intelligent in many ways, although losing at times due to the overplay of swearing in order for laughs, the formal almost modernist touches really highlight the films concepts and unground any possible notion of violence being used in a glorifying way, especially when you consider Bronson never uses it to gain anything, constantly ending up as a beaten pulp at the end of each 'performance'. These performances don't glorify the act they just highlight the futility of it all, and that of Bronson's existence.
Finally as Refn describes his intentions for the films reading ' I thought, what if we turn it on its head? it is much more fascinating to his life like a carnival, because Charles Bronson is not a gangster or a criminal or anything like that... We just have to observe and accept him'.