19 artists write about a work of art that has influenced them
Gerard Byrne is an artist based in Dublin, Ireland and Professor at the Royal Danish Academy of Art, Copenhagen. His 2013 solo exhibitions include Bonniers Konsthal, Stockholm, Sweden; Georg Kargl Fine Arts, Vienna, Austria; and a series of exhibitions inaugurated Praxes, a new centre of art and research in Berlin, Germany.
Artists, collectors, curators, even critics are at it! There’s a lot of anxiety around about grabbing a spot in the history of art. Anomalies get shaved off, so all the elements make for a tight fit, and history looks like it adds up. Along the way, material is necessarily binned. A few years ago, when I was finishing off one thing while starting another, my projects led me to two works by Andy Warhol, neither of which seems to fit the picture. The first was a small mosaic portrait of Robert Moses, which lies unceremoniously in a plaza of Flushing Park, Queens. Written in mosaic capitals, it announces robert moses, as well as andy warhol, and the year, 1963. The second, found on a roll of microfilm in the New York Public Library, were the first issues of Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine, as the publication was originally titled. These blew me away like no other art work — precisely because, like the forgotten mosaic in the park, it clearly is a work of art by Warhol, although neither fits the art-historical picture. The problem with Interview was that it was too advanced to be recognized as a singular art work, but — with its film script formatting, subversive sub- headings, nominal celebrities and dispersed distribution — seemed to outflank much of what then passed for sanctioned ‘Conceptual Art’ and much of what’s ‘new’ in art in the 40 years since.
Glenn Brown lives and works in Suffolk and London, UK. His solo exhibition at the Frans Hals Museam Haarlem, The Netherlands, runs until 19 January, 2014; his show with Rebecca Warren has recently opened at the Pennie Collection, Vancouver, Canada. In 2014, he will have a solo exhibition at Gagosian Gallery, New York, USA
One must consume this painting as one would an andouillette (the French sausage made from intestine) — not simply with one’s eyes, mouth and stomach, but with the guilty knowledge of its ingredients. I saw the painting again at the Dalí retrospective earlier this year at the Centre Pompidou, Paris.
At just under 18 × 14 cm, it is a modest painting. Introverted and ashamed, it pulls you towards it and demands you climb inside. It was beautiful to be able to fall in love with it again; I knew it was real love because my heart skipped a beat and I felt a desperate yearning as I left it. This painting made me so envious years ago I had to steal from it. I had to possess as much of it as I could. I still feel the same.
The giant figure poised on the beach is mostly woman, but not entirely; a penis protrudes from a thigh, and those erect buttocks and slender hips tell a different story. The figure’s feet and a hand have been amputated, forming firm stumps. A crutch holds the remaining guilty hand aloft. It glows with excitement as the rocks behind suggest a flow of something white from it. The dirty bolster that forms the breasts and the soiled pillow of the stomach tell a bedtime story of wet dreams and masturbation. The flow of red from between the legs — how do we deal with that! All the time the small boy who has dreamed up this spectre holds his hoop shamefully behind, a sturdy bone in his right hand; he is so innocent, so very innocent.
The unreal blue of the sea and sky would overpower the land, were it not for the land’s intense painterly detail. Similarly, the eye-wateringly tiny brush marks forming the rocks and earth should overpower the figure. But Dalí is master of texture and edge — your eyes traverse the painting until the detail becomes almost too intense — so he slows down to the smoothness of sand and skin. Dalí knew there was little difference between sexual pleasure and pain and that real beauty is truly grotesque.
The 1930s were Dalí’s greatest years, when masterpieces came one after another. I want to make paintings like these. They are intense and hard-won, difficult to look at but very beautiful. They are paintings like andouillette, where excrement and eroticism meet.
Adam Chodzko lives in Whitstable, UK. In 2013, he has had shows in London, UK at Tate Britain and Raven Row; his solo exhibition at Marlborough Contemporary opens 30 October. Chodzko's solo show at the Benaki Museum, Athens, opens on 19 November.
I was very small when my dad first showed me Lynd Ward’s Madman’s Drum (1930). It is ‘a novel without words’ and I was young enough then to have no use for them either. My father’s revelation of this art object was performed as an illicit passing on (without words) of arcane knowledge, an action, it turned out, that was completely paralleled within the sequence of pictures themselves, which frequently portray the migration of beliefs between individuals. The book, as a whole, is beautiful and mysterious, but desperately urgent in the stark, crystalline clarity of its parts — and yet fragile in the fluidity of their combined meanings.
Even though I have now inherited this ‘thing’, which haunts my own practice, I’m still uncertain as to what it really is. Comprising more than 100 black and white woodcuts, a single image on each page, it tells a narrative about knowledge, labour, religion, insanity, corruption, sex, fear, death, despair, desire. It remakes itself differently each time I run through its sequence of fragments. Like a film edit, it operates as much through image as through the jump between these visions. Ward wanted to stretch this ‘interval’ for the viewer, without entirely losing them.
Each print claustrophobically balances a facial Expressionism within a rectilinear Art Deco space. Ward cut in order to create a ‘light’ that is, in woodcut, only an absence of darkness, the glow of the blank page — just black or white, no tone in between. His work was in the tiny cutting away of darkness to make different matter within an image; stroking the contours of a throat, gouging out clods from a ploughed field, tracing a small ray of sun as it moves across a town at dusk, a sliver piercing through the window of a darkened study.
Pablo Bronstein lives and works in Deal, and London, UK. In September he had a solo show at the Centre d'Art Contemporain Genève, Switzerland; in 2014, he will have solo shows at REDCAT, Los Angeles, USA; and The Museo Marino Marini, Florence, Italy.
The sort of picture that makes me bring up yesterday’s fruit salad is the type titled with an emotional label. These include bad 19th-century pictures of red-robed priests in old interiors entitled things like A Little More Cognac if You Please or A game of Dominoes? Why of Course! Similar are the sentimental paintings of the same period, in which French Victorians sit around, titled The Introduction, at Last!, or Tea Poured by his Hand or Rest Awhile, Milady. Aside from an early modern respite, with good folk such as Piet Mondrian titling paintings Composition in Red and Blue, the later Modernists were no better than the sloppy-dog-ended Victorians titling their abstract paintings Vector iii or Autumn Rhythm or Night Passages iv. We are currently bogged in a similar titular quagmire. A white room with a neo-Postmodern teal triangle in mdf lightly sprinkled with confetti, or a photocopy of a 1950s biker accompanied by a wall text about Vietnam, or a yellow painting that spells the word ‘banana’ above a sprayed black Reebok trainer, might all bear the title gang gbang dead digger or Jungle epithet or sTreety 4 sCeeny. My favourite painting at the moment is John Rose, the Royal Gardener presenting King Charles ii with the first Pineapple grown in England (1787) after a painting by Hendrik Danckerts. There is nothing nicer than to be told of the subject of the work of art in plain and clear terms, irrespective of what may be prioritized or left out. This way, we know what was intended as important to both the painter and the client. Were the painting to be called quiet now, noisy puppy — look at how well your sister is behaving, we would not know that in this painting Mr Rose, the royal gardener, is in fact presenting Charles ii with the first pineapple grown in England.
Janice Kerbel is a Canadian artist living in London, UK. Her shows this year include: ‘Pre’, Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, University of Toronto, Canada; ‘Janice Kerbel’, Arts Club of Chicago, USA; and ‘Janice Kerbel, Hilary Lloyd, Silke Otto-Knapp’, Kolnischer Kunstverein, Germany. In 2014, she will have solo shows at Presentation House, Vancouver, Canada; Common Guild, Glasgow, UK; and Catriona Jeffries, Vancouver. Janice Kerbel: Collected Scripts will be published in 2014 by Justina M Barnicke Gallery, University of Toronto and Badischer Kunstverein.
There was this sculpture of yours I would look at, when I was young. It was of a figure. Or maybe two. Perhaps one was a goat. Memory is a funny thing. Anyway, it was black (I am sure) and metal (definitely) and it may have been big or small; pictures are so deceiving. I looked at it often. It sat on a rarely touched shelf in the den, next to The Joy of Cooking, a short, fat guide to antiques and a gardening book on roses. The book it was in was much slimmer than the others, and taller, and while it didn’t have much colour, it did seem to offer some unspoken promise.
The sculpture I refer to — if, in fact, it was a sculpture, as I suddenly doubt it — was of a man. Yes, a man. He had long legs and gangly arms. His head was round and tilted to one side. It was all quite angular. He seemed impossible, grounded to his base with lumpen form, yet free and open in his stance and reason. It would occur to me that this man, this figure, was wanting something. Something from me. I can no longer remember what it was I thought he wanted. Or what I felt I could offer. But I do recall the feeling. It was electric.
I would sit on the big brown armchair to look at it. No one was around. I’d put my feet on the ottoman and rest the book on my knees. The tv was on. Or off. Sliding glass door to my right, light streaming in through the orange mesh curtains, bouncing off the wood panelling on the wall behind me.
I wish I could see it now. I would like to show it to someone. Can you remind me what it is called so I can look it up?
Helen Marten lives and works in London, uk. In 2013 she has had solo shows at the Centre for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, usa; and Sadie Coles hq, London. Her work is included in the 55th Venice Biennale, Italy; the Lyon Biennale, 2013, France; and the 59th Oberhausen International Film Festival, Germany.
The material suggestions in this painting are erotically bristling: puff-balled shoe-brush rabbits; waxy-drooped cactus; warm-baked terracotta; waving algae and chalk-stained skirting. Everything here could be imagined in mouth or hand, against nails or cheek, and there is a sense of physically understanding all the tactile constellations of dry or hard or wet. The weights and volumes of each of these nameable components are palpable, but everything is rendered in a single plane of flatness; focus is equally spread.
Shadows fall in places of convenience, in areas where a black wedge or a slightly shaded curve might serve more to decorate the picture than elaborate an accurate rendering of something real. There is skilful calculation, but geometry and gravity are skewed. Things somehow both levitate, yet remain defiantly tied to the painting’s lens. In zoom mode the details are exceptionally precise; the delivery of the brushstroke is exquisite, crafted, warm. Beaded gravel flats and wiry hairs attentively neighbour the edges of a single serrated Cowry shell, but as a whole image — as an unfolding landscape or domestic still life — something uncanny is at work. Any initial sense of naivety is buffered by linguistic possibility, by the idea that some kind of logic for understanding the world is at work and that this image might be the beginning rhyme in an abc animal counting system: one bird, two rabbits, three fish …
There are six sets of eyes, yet none return our gaze; the temperature is sedated but the colours tropical. Melodrama is sleepy but optimistic. Objects statically watch one another, whilst substance performs imaginary leaps and potential suggestions, mutations and negations of form. The paradox here is delicious: everything looks so simple, so outlined, and so obvious but all the parts add up to something complicated, something neurotically charged and gloriously out of reach.
Nathaniel Mellors lives and works in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and Los Angeles, USA. He is currently artist-in-residence at The Hammer Museum, LA. The exhibition ‘Nathaniel Mellors & Jimmy Joe Roche’ recently closed at the Baltimore Museum of Art, USA. In 2014, Mellors will have solo exhibitions at Stigter Van Doesburg, Amsterdam; and art:concept, Paris, France.
The Sporgo records and transmits! I was perched between egg and birth when Paul Laffoley made ufo Sighting in 1974. It’s quite a straight-up, graphic-looking thing but it’s also deceptive — like a mirror or a lens. [illustration page 102] It’s a drawing of an egg. A head-sized egg with eyes. The eyes of the face resemble ova — contracted futures; impacted pasts. The design of the little eggs within the big egg reminds me of 1970s reel-to-reel tape recorders, like the one Vito Acconci put his head into to make his video Face-Off in 1972. All drawings are recordings but this one by Laffoley strikes me as several forms at once.
Two years ago my friend Chris Bloor and I put this Laffoley drawing opposite a large-scale projection of Face-Off in smart Project Space in Amsterdam. We placed the Laffoley at eye-level, in a direct line beneath the video projector and it seemed to usurp the technology above it. The drawing became the projector. We looked at the works together. It was like watching two feedback loops absorbing each other, inter-twined, mise-en-abyme, like a freaky twin-bulbed onion playing Jimi Hendrix on a Gibson 1275 guitar. Perhaps the works already contained each other and we had just happened to notice?
Egg. Passenger. Face-off. The title of the work is a part of the work, rendered in Letraset transfer by the artist: ‘u.f.o. sighting from an aircraft, location: unknown. date: may 13, 1966. 3:00 p.m. cst’.
The ovum-faced alien-head records and transmits. Of course it records and transmits — it’s a spaceship! And what is a spaceship if not a model of consciousness? Brzzzzzzzzztttppppp.
Gabriel Lester lives and works in Amsterdam, the Netherlands; and Shanghai, China. This year he has had a solo show at Galerie Fons Welters, Amsterdam; and his work has been included in the Sharjah Biennale, UAE; Momentum Biennale, Moss, Norway; ‘Bourgeois Leftovers’, de Appel, Amsterdam; Galeria Vermelho, São Paulo, Brazil; and the Cyprus/Lithuanian Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale, Italy. His work will be included in a group show at the Sifang Museum, Nanjing, China, that opens 25 October; and Performa 13, which opens in New York, USA, on 1 November.
Onco Tattje’s De Poort (The Gate, 1996) was commissioned by the Rijkswaterstaat (the ministry of water management) in memory of the formation of Lauwersmeer, a man-made lake in the north of the Netherlands, on the edge of the North Sea. From afar, the reinforced concrete sculpture looks like a large object that has crashed into the landscape. Up close, it’s a mix of architecture, sculpture and Land art. A passageway on a narrow path, it goes nowhere in particular, yet walking through De Poort is an extraordinary, transitional experience — like either floating up or downstream.
Tattje studied sculpture for five years at Minerva Art Academy in Groningen, the Netherlands, but was denied graduation in 1965. During his studies, the general attitude amongst art students and teachers was to endlessly experiment. Left uninspired by what seemed to him an arbitrary approach and desiring, as he put it, ‘to know what was actually going on’, Onco set out to study the basic properties and spiritual features of three-dimensional form and volume. His geometric works consider the nature of elementary shapes and its symbolisms, in the tradition of Carl Gustav Jung and Buckminster Fuller.
Tattje’s sawdust covered, noisy and well-equipped studio connected directly to my family home. When I was growing up, it was forbidden to touch his tools, but I was allowed to observe him working and playfully interact with his models and sculptures. Over the years, it has become ever-more apparent to me how much Onco’s studio and practice has had its influence on my work and methods. In many ways, rather than that the relationship between a stepfather and stepson, ours has been like that of master and apprentice.
Liu Ding lives in Beijing, China. He was a participant in the ‘Artist as Curator: Collaborative Practices’ symposium in London, UK, organized by Art: Exhibition Studies at Central Saint Martins, and a participating artist of the bmw Performance Room at Tate Modern in 2013. This year he has been a guest curator at Museion, Bolzano, Italy. He will participate in the New Orleans Biennale: Prospect 3, USA, in 2014.
Qian Weikang didn’t receive any academic training in art. He became an artist after working as a journalist, inspired by the longing experienced by Chinese intellectuals for freedom and reason in the 1980s. However, he decided to withdraw from the art world in the mid-1990s. Since then, he has dedicated himself to writing and refused to have anything to do with art.
Qian’s work as an artist only lasted about five years, and he didn’t produce any masterpieces but I can recall every single one of his works clearly. They seem super-rational, always involving deduction and calculation, which at the time of their production was a deliberate reaction to the fanatical and mindless atmosphere in China at the time. The tension between Qian’s works and the social context they address might not be immediately visible but the employment of physics and mathematics to materialize invisible connections and forces still makes them shine with wisdom today.
I reproduced Qian’s work Ventilating the Site, which he made in 1995, in the 7th Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale (2012), which I co-curated. Initially, this work was site-specific in an exhibition titled ‘Bearing of Language’ at the Children’s Library in Shanghai. Qian installed spring scales to connect the curtains to the windows in the exhibition space, to measure the weight of the wind.
Michael Raedecker is a Dutch artist living and working in London, uk. This year, he has solo shows at Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York, USA; and Wilhelm-Hack-Museum in Ludwigshafen, Germany. In November, his work will be included in a group show at Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin, Germany, celebrating the gallery’s 40th anniversary.
On my 12th birthday I was given my first album by Elvis Presley and, since then, I have never stopped listening to his songs. The great thing about vinyl is that you can sit, listen and watch at the same time. It is fascinating how long, as a teenager, you can stare at a record sleeve and wander off in all sorts of directions. The cover of Elvis’s debut album combines an intense portrait of him singing with raw graphic design — elements that come together to form one powerful piece. For me, studying it around 1977 when punk was happening, the DIY aesthetic resonated as a declaration of independence; its enticing look oozing unbridled possibilities.
It is not known who RCA’s graphic department designed the cover, but it has achieved an iconic status through the years, resulting in many copycat versions. The homage by the Clash in 1979 on their seminal album London Calling is the most famous example. For Elvis, the album’s release in 1956 was the start of his phenomenal success and, more importantly, it was part of a snowball of unstoppable changes in society. Presley broke racial barriers with his integration of musical genres, while his looks and shocking style of delivery resulted in a huge inspiration for that generation. During my teens, this album cover is the one I stared at the most amongst many others by different artists, and it fuelled my fascination and intrigue for ‘an image’. It taught me that what counts in appreciating an art work is not just the initial, immediate experience; it’s returning to it to verify, to question and to wrap it in attention. A work of art does not have a meaning; it gets a meaning.
Simon Starling is an artist based in Copenhagen, Denmark. He currently has solo exhibitions at Tate Britain, London, UK; muma, Melbourne, Australia; and the Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart, Germany. In May 2014, he will have exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, USA, and The Arts Club of Chicago.
It’s often been things of ambiguous artistic status that have held my attention. Things that were not conceived as art works at all but had other, often more pragmatic origins. Deployed as it has been in a multitude of non-artistic disciplines and with all of its pretentions to objectivity, photography has generated many of these things.
In the 1870s the engineer–turned–astronomer James Nasmyth, aided and abetted by his collaborator James Carpenter, developed a hybrid photographic (and indeed scientific) process to produce a series of photographic illustrations for their book The Moon Considered as a Planet, a World and a Satellite (1874). Without access to equipment capable of photographing their inaccessible subject in detail, Nasmyth and Carpenter painstakingly produced drawings based on their own protracted observations through a telescope. These chalk and graphite drawings, made on grey paper, provided the necessary information for the creation of a subsequent series of detailed three-dimensional plaster models that the men were then able to photograph (in sunlight) and subsequently reproduce as ‘scientific illustrations’. In producing these third-hand images of the moon, Nasmyth and Carpenter emphatically misread the moon’s topography, understanding its impact craters, for example, to be the result of volcanic activity and even attempting to force home their argument with comparative models of the earth-bound volcano Vesuvius.
Despite — or perhaps because of — these scientific failings, Nasmyth and Carpenter’s exquisite little photographs of that most inaccessible of poems, the moon — part science fiction, part rigorous observation — remain some of the most magical landscape images of the 19th century.
Fritz Haeg lives in Los Angeles, USA, where, earlier this year, he presented his new serial project ‘Domestic Integrities’ at the Hammer Museum and Human Resources. His solo show at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, USA, runs until 24 November.
Hélio Oiticica’s ‘Parangolés’ (1964–79) are brightly coloured textile panels to be worn byinformal groups of people moving to music, originally by the dancers of Rio’s Mangueira Samba School. As an artist interested in engaging with daily life — and making recent forays into work with textiles — ‘Parangolés’ are a central point of reference for me today, a vital link in a particular chain of art history that I want to be a part of.
But what am I to make of these beautiful colourful sculptures that I can’t really experience as intended in any gallery or museum today, that gradually empty of their essence the farther they travel from their place and time and people? I could interpret ‘Parangolés’ as a rejection of the classical conventions of painting and sculpture, a formal enterprise of colour and composition, a celebration of sexuality, a blurring of gender identities, an exploration of mysticism, a celebration of the profane, a facilitator of temporary communities, or even a prelude to today’s art buzzword ‘participation’.
‘It [the Parangolés] is against everything that is oppressive, socially and individually — all the fixed and decadent forms of government, or reigning social structures.’ Oiticica’s words makes me also think about a search for freedoms. But what I feel in the work before any of this is a sense of complete surrendering to joy, while acknowledging the impossibility of holding on to it.
Amalia Pica is an Argentinean artist who lives and works in London, uk. This year she has had solo shows at List Visual Arts Center, mit, Cambridge, usa; the Museo Tamayo, Mexico City; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, usa; and Galerie Johann Konig, Berlin, Germany. In November she will have an exhibition at Kunsthalle Lissabon, Lisbon, Portugal; and at Museo Nacional De Bellas Artes, Neuquén, Argentina, in December. Her show at Herald St, London, runs until 17 November.
I learnt about the Ona at school. Also known as Selk’nam, they were a nomadic people from Patagonia, the region where I’m from. I learnt that they were hunter-gatherers and were partly responsible for the name that was given to the most southern state in Argentina, Tierra del Fuego, which literally translates as ‘Land of Fire’. The 16th-century Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan named the region when he first spotted it from the strait that now bears his name. I was told that it was the smoke from the Ona’s fires that inspired him.
It was when I was a teenager — at an after-school experimental drama workshop based on Eugenio Barba’s ideas about an anthropological turn in theatre — that I first saw the photographs of the Ona and their striking body paintings. I guess these pictures hadn’t been shown to me at primary school because of the nudity, which was way more harmless than the other fact I learned about: their genocide. After the first sighting of them by Magellan, the contact between the Ona and the Europeans was sporadic until the final decades of the 19th century, when the lands where they once hunted was taken over by European settlers and filled with sheep, which the Ona hunted and ate. With the complicity of the Argentinian and Chilean governments, the Ona, in turn, were hunted and murdered — some sheep companies paid one pound sterling per body, which was proven by presenting either the hands or ears of the dead. The documentation of the genocide is extensive and includes photographs of hunting expeditions, with the corpses lying around.
I had years to think about this human tragedy, which touched me deeply. Years later, the photographs of the Ona body paintings made me feel a mixture of enchantment — with the abstraction, the stillness of the images, the theatricality of the poses, the grain of the black and white film — and horror. Photography brought these people so much closer; I had thought of their deaths as something abstract, something far away in time.
It took me many more years to be able to appreciate the beauty of these body paintings, despite the horror. A priest who fought to stop the genocide took the photographs; he documented their lives and rituals in a mission that paid that one pound sterling to keep them rather than kill them. It took a lot of learning for me to finally be able to see these photographs — and most importantly, the Ona’s paintings — for their amazing aesthetic value. And now that I have done so, I can also mourn the visual loss — which although, of course, is not as tragic as the loss of their actual bodies — that was so significant. What if modernity had panned out differently and the Ona had been considered Old Masters? They are to me; I saw their beautiful body paintings before I learnt about any of the European artists, always in print of course, and equally far away in time and mediated by photography. When I finally saw a painting by a European master is a different story, and a different history altogether.
Annika Ström is a Swedish artist who lives in Hove, UK. In April this year, she performed The Book Left Behind at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, France; her commission for artsouth, Look the other way is taking place at Winchester Great Hall, UK, until December; and her permanent text sculpture for Lund University, Sweden, opens in 2014.
This image has been following me since my childhood. Every time I visit my homeland, Sweden, and I pass a river with strong currents and rocks — I look for him. His name is Näcken; he’s a water spirit who appears as a man. Many women have seen him, and have been hypnotized by his beauty and his passionate music. He lures them to come closer. Some women (and even men) follow him further and further until they disappear into the river. Näcken has ‘taken her’, which means she has drowned — of passion.
One day, when I am a very old artist, in my lovely big wooden house in Sweden in the deepest forest, I will have a huge, fancy, sky-lit studio, where I will paint and make nice sculptures (by then I will have given up conceptual art, as a conceptual art piece), and I will lay down my brushes for the very last time. Enough. It will be dusk and I will walk towards that river. I will then hear him and, finally, I will see him. I will see him sitting there exactly as the Swedish artist Ernst Josephson once pictured him. He painted many images of Näcken and I think this is the best one.
At the time, its sensuality caused a scandal. A nice prince called Eugen, a painter himself, rescued the painting as nobody wanted it. It was later bought by the National Museum of Art in Stockholm, where we now can see him. I know that Josephson once saw him, and I know that I, too, will see him. He will call me to come closer and I will take off my orthopedic shoes and carefully climb down the rocks to finally meet him and be seduced by his music. I will be in love for the very last time, and then I will be gone forever.
Earlier this year, Emily Wardill had a solo show at carlier | gebauer, Berlin, Germany. Her work was included in Sequences, Reykjavík, Iceland, and ‘Channeled’ at Lunds Konsthall, Sweden, and will be included a group show at mumok, Vienna, Austria, in November. She is currently workshopping a new film at La Loge, Brussels, Belgium, that will be completed in spring 2014. In 2014, she will have a solo show at standard (oslo), Norway.
When I go to Berlin, the Gemäldegalerie is a good place for a free injection of feeling alive, since it is full of intensity and oddly empty of people. I have seen a lot of paintings there but the one that won’t leave me is The Abduction of Proserpina (1631) by Rembrandt.
I think it’s important to abandon yourself without reserve to the feeling that certain art works compel you to have. This painting — this oceanic, spiralling, heart-eating, naked-body-in-a-typhoon of a work — is an example of why that type of trust and sacrifice might be a gift back to Rembrandt since he left this precious thing behind for us.
Trying to come up with reasons why I love this painting … its frothing turquoise waves that look like illness … the eyes pointing in the direction they’re going (under) are the determined eyes of the sculpted animal on the front of their chariot … oceans of hidden desire swelling under a thick, black surface, under the surface of the earth that would explode if that surface were not so elastic … all of these reasons sound like alibis and this abduction doesn’t need one.
Jane & Louise Wilson
Jane and Louise Wilson live and work in London, UK. This year, they’ve had solo shows at 303 Gallery, New York, USA; and The Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, UK. Their solo show at Paradise Row, London, runs until 26 October. In 2014 their commission for the Imperial War Museum, London will open, and their work is included in ‘Conflict and Memory, 1914–2014’ at Tate Modern, London.
Both India Song (1975) and 3 Standard Stoppages (1913–4) are works that explore and play with notions of time, duration, narrative and the event. Although one is a film and the other a readymade, they both expand on how to measure time and how duration is understood. They increase our understanding of these seemingly finite things and take us into a new space, which is infinite in its abstraction and at the same time startling and liberating.
I would select Marcel Duchamp’s 3 Standard Stoppages (1913–4) because I think it’s a truly inspiring work. I first encountered it as an image on a slide projection during a talk on Duchamp on my foundation course in Newcastle in 1987. But upon seeing it at New York’s Museum of Modern Art much later, it struck me as a really beautiful artefact. It comprises a wooden box that contains three one-metre lengths of string, three canvas strips mounted on glass and three wooden slats shaped along one edge to match the curves of the string. It’s compelling in that it’s a record of an event — a performance by Duchamp in 1913 to create a new measure by dropping horizontally at a height of one metre, three standard-metre lengths of string onto the floor then tracing these coordinates onto three wooden slats to create three new measures. Through using a standard measure to quantify and to record, Duchamp’s performance of ‘an experiment in chance’ renders the standard metre measure obsolete in terms of its finite imperialism. What the metre stands for becomes a distorted metaphor of relativity, simple and profound.
I first saw Marguerite Duras’ film India Song with Jane in a BFI screening room on a steenbeck in 1991 whilst we were still studying for our MA at Goldsmiths, and it had a really big impact on us. At that time, we had just begun to work with film and video and were making photographic installations but looking at and referencing experimental film, performance and scatter art. India Song is a brilliant combination of voice-over and location; Duras’ decision to film in the abandoned Palais Rothschild villa in Boulogne and the Grand Trianon in Versaille feels so key to the atmosphere of the film that it becomes a Calcutta that’s completely imagined by her. The amazing Delphine Seyrig plays the fateful character of Anne-Marie Stretter, the wife of the French Ambassador to India, and the equally compelling Michel Lonsdale plays the part of the disgraced French Vice Consul sent to Calcutta and one amongst many suitors infatuated by her. Much like Duchamp, Duras takes apart the imperial and finite using film, image and narrative. She also sets up a control and an experiment through the use of the disembodied voice-over, specifically in voice one and voice two, described as young and female. Although none of the voices are ever directly identified — i.e. they never appear bodily in the film — they create a sense of madness and desire through a compellingly recognized seminal feminist text that simultaneously critiques colonial culture and the traditional representations of women. Seeing this work for the first time as a student in London I was totally immersed; the film is hypnotic and the moment when the Vice Consul (Lonsdale) screams his objections is so impotent and irrelevant that it feels like a huge jolt.
Amar Kanwar lives and works in New Delhi, India. In the past year his work has been, or will be, included in (among other shows): Sharjah Biennial 11, UAE; the Bristol Museum, UK; The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, USA; the 56th Carnegie International, Pittsburgh, USA; and the Istanbul Biennial, Turkey. His 2013 solo exhibitions include the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, UK; Art Institute of Chicago, USA; and tba 21, Vienna, Austria. In 2014, she will have a solo show at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens, Greece.
I had never seen anything like this before; it was hard to turn away. You have to look and look and look again. Powerful. Almost naked, a simple necklace, 15 long slender arms with beautiful fingers spread across a fading old sheet of paper. Furious with squinting eyes, folded, creased, stained, tucked away, only for someone, maybe for a special few, not to be actually displayed, a family goddess of an old master painter, the indecipherable fount of a painters clan, a secret code, a painted sketch of a list of patrons, states, collections, the homes of paintings? A map of treasures? Or the protecting power of her terrifying self, her body the source, her arms the routes, her fingers pointing to both the past and the future? Perhaps she was a goddess, or inspired all the painters for generations, and was a guardian of a web of memories. But then why is she standing on one leg? Who was she?
Painted sometime between 1800 and 1850, it belonged to the family of the painter Pandit Seu of Guler in the hilly regions of North India. The work was preserved by the descendants of his son, the master miniature painter Nainsukh, this is also known as the Devi Diagram, with each circle near her finger tips marking the patrons of this famous painting family.
I am still wonderstruck by the fierceness of her expression and her many beautiful arms and the passage of enormous time through her. It is almost like she may move at any moment.
Rose Wylie lives in Kent, UK. This year, she has had exhibitions at the Haugar Museum, Tonsberg, Norway; Tate Britain, London, UK; Michael Janssen Gallery, Berlin, Germany; and the Union Gallery, London. In 2014 she will have shows at Choi & Lager Gallery, Cologne, Germany; Vous Etes Ici Gallery, Amsterdam, the Netherlands; and Thomas Erben Gallery, New York, USA.
Giovanni di Paolo has been an out-and-out favourite of mine since visits to The National Gallery as an art student 60 years ago. I remember the small, pink, repeating John the Baptists — no realistic scale, ditching gravity, no learnt proportions (his heads are usually big) and a ‘flick-book’ sense of time; the painting has a perfect self-contained metaphysical ‘look’, and colour to go with that. And then there are the panels or ‘strips’ separated by gold framing all round and divisions each side, with close-up flowers painted-on … early strip cartoon, or predella arrangement, if you see it like that … and the whole panel is ‘bowed’ for object quality.
It’s his ‘look’, his ‘attitude’, I’m going with here, and how much, and how long it has stuck in my memory. I haven’t seen it for a long time, but that doesn’t matter: what sticks in the memory is key — it must mean something; with some works nothing does. I like all his paintings as much as this one, think of St Clare Rescuing the Shipwrecked (c.1455) with the waves painted as hairy hillocks, and wondered why Sandro Botticelli’s ‘Divine Comedy’ drawings (1480 – 95), shown at London’s Royal Academy in 2001, were chosen, rather than Giovanni di Paolo’s ‘Paradiso: Illuminations’ of Dante (c.1445). But then I think of Henri Rousseau. Or of De Chirico’s Zebra and Horse (1938), which is wonderful and immensely silly. Silly is another attitude I like in painting and this painting has a lot of it. Sometime ago The Guardian art critic Adrian Searle wrote that Chris Ofili had a ‘silly-sense’ in some of his paintings — a category I was pleased to have him name-with-respect in the serious press … and I hope it’s something recognizable in some of my own work — you could call it ‘colouring-book-genre’ or ‘ancient’.
So how do you pick one painting to write about that’s affected your work? There are more things that I work with found in Di Paolo, so I’ll go with him and John the Baptist.
First published in Issue 2