- Written by Marina Valcárcel
A few years ago, Bill Viola found himself with mental block as to how to portray an image of the Virgin Mary. This New York born artist, currently on exhibition in Bilbao, admitted: "I just couldn't figure it out. It flummoxed me ..." Despite his agnosticism and his knack of coming up with new ways to render other religious themes, the prospect of doing so with the Mother of God, and the weight of her infinite representations in art throughout history, shortcircuited the thinking of the artist who, nevertheless, did inaugurate his video-installation 'Mary' in the North Quire of St Paul's Cathedral, London in September 2016. Reflecting on Bill Viola has brought us to Lisbon's National Museum of Ancient Art, where the exhibition 'Madonna: Treasures of the Vatican Museums' reviews the iconography of Mary with over 70 works on display.
Author: Marina Valcárcel
Vitale da Bologna, Virgin of the Flagellants (1350), Vatican Pinacoteca
A few years ago, Bill Viola found himself with mental block as to how to portray an image of the Virgin Mary. This New York born artist, currently on exhibition in Bilbao, admitted: "I just couldn't figure it out. It flummoxed me ..." Despite his agnosticism and his knack of coming up with new ways to render other religious themes, the prospect of doing so with the Mother of God, and the weight of her infinite representations in art throughout history, shortcircuited the thinking of the artist who, nevertheless, did inaugurate his video-installation 'Mary' in the North Quire of St Paul's Cathedral, London in September 2016.
Reflecting on Bill Viola has brought us to Lisbon's National Museum of Ancient Art, where the exhibition 'Madonna: Treasures of the Vatican Museums' reviews the iconography of Mary with over 70 works on display. Divided into 8 rooms, all painted blue in honour of Fra Angelico's skies, these paintings, sculptures, drawings and tapestries taken from various Vatican Museums allow us to travel in time from the 4th century to the 20th. We are accompanied by José Alberto Seabra Carvalho, the exhibit's curator, who stops us in the first room to point out two marble low reliefs from the tomb of a child found near St Peter's in Rome. It was one of the earliest burials in the old basilica, built over the tomb of the eponymous apostle, in the epoque of Constantine. Despite its antiquity, approximately dated the year 325, the Virgin Mary's iconography appears clearly and precisely, in an Epiphany scene.
Although the cult of Mary precedes the Council of Ephesus and even the Edict of Milan (313), the representations of Mary in the catacombs prove that her image did not become widespread until the Church's hierarchy was consolidated by Theodosius and Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire towards the end of the 4th century. In this work, Mary is already depicted seated on a throne, as were the empresses before her, and this iconography would later reappear during the Byzantine Empire and later still in Royal European courts. Nevertheless, the relation between maternity and government was known 2,000 years before Christ, when in ancient Egypt, Isis was depicted ruling with her son Orus.
The proliferation of icons of divine maternity was promoted by both emperors and the clergy alike. And to this cult was also added a calender: in the 7th century, Mary's four liturgical Solemnities had already been established and continue to this day.
Fra Angelico, Virgin and Child with Saints Dominic and Catherine of Alexandria (1435), Vatican Museums
Room 2 is a display of the dialogue between 14th century Sienese painting - with its Byzantian leftovers and Madonnas dressed in gold-leaf - and the 20th. Chagall's Crucifixion (1943) confirms the core axis from Duccio to Dalí, as regards the depiction of the Virgin Mary. “All of the collections of European art are inevitably great collections of Christian art: after classical antiquity, Christianity has since then been the patron of European culture", concluded Gabriele Finaldi in the catalogue The Image of Christ (2000).
As well as this affirmation and the massive bibliography compiled over centuries, we would do well to imagine the complexities faced by Christian artists on trying to represent Mary. Deciding who or what she looked like when no testimony as to her physical appearance exist; how to portray the episodes of her life; how to convey her suffering. These abstract concepts are difficult enough, almost impossible even, to figure out in words, let alone in image form.
Orazio Gentileschi, Virgin With Child (1603), National Gallery of Ancient Art, Rome
There is a strange little Italian tablet in the exhibition entitled The Assumption of the Virgin, painted on black poplar wood around 1410 by the Siennese artist Taddeo di Bartolo. The scene takes place on Mount Zion where the apostles are crying over the flower-strewn tomb of Mary. Christ descends majestically from the clouds to kiss the hand of his mother and guide her on her journey's end to heaven. It's a wonderful, protective gesture full of tenderness and in sharp contrast to the syncretism of the rest of the scene. The most surprising thing, however, is the depiction of the physical separation happening between Mary's body and soul ~ the latter, behind her golden robe, painted as a monochrome silhouette with blue wings. What an odd and somewhat scary iconography. If the details surrounding these biblical events are unfamiliar to, say, non-Christian tourists viewing them, then what astonished reading might they give them? Moreover, according to the Apocryphal Gospels, Mary's immaculate body did not die but slept for three days before her ascent to heaven. And so we reflect again on the huge gaps in the teaching of our culture. What do the youth of Spain, untouched by these themes, think on seeing the Easter processions with weeping Virgin Mary statues paraded through the streets, their hearts pierced by swords. Or when, at the height of summer, all the shopping malls close in celebration of the Assumption of Our Lady. Perhaps it's similar to the frustration some of us feel when trying to decipher the reliefs on the walls of Angkor Wat or the Kufic caligraphy on the medallions at Hagia Sophia in Constantinople.
Rafael, Presentation In The Temple (1503), Predela del Retablo de los Oddi
The exhibition continues with great works by artists from Pinturicchio and Rafael to Van Dyck. Then to the Roman collection is added an extra treat ~ a final room, this time painted red, dedicated to some Italian works from Portuguese collections. Here are some very important pieces such as a Leonardo da Vinci drawing and an Adoration of the Magi by Tintoretto, of a similar calibre to those of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco.
Jacobo Tintoretto, Adoration of the Magi (1580-1590), Santo Tirso, Monastery of St Bento of Singeverga
Oriental Carpets And The Life Of The Virgin Mary
There is a secondary, though no less interesting, dimension to this exhibition. A singular look revisiting the world of thread- weaving: the textiles, fabrics, rugs, silks and tapestries that symbolise an exchange between East and West as well as between the decorative arts and their reflection in painting.
There are several fragments of 8th and 9th century silk brocade of, perhaps, Syrian origin on display. The link between these fabrics and their later Coptic versions signal an affinity between these five-thread silks and Near Eastern Christianity.
Nevertheless, it is the appearance of Oriental rugs in the Renaissance portrayals of the Virgin Mary or in scenes of her life that piques our interest here.
Gentile da Fabriano, Annunciation, (1425), Vatican Museums
Venice and its lakes were, in the 15th century, the gateway to the Orient. Its strong commercial ties with Constantinople prolonged an Eastern influence which lasted much longer there than in the rest of Italy. Also, luxury items such as hand-woven rugs (from Cairo and Damascus - controlled by the Mamelukes - Ottoman Turkey, Persia and India) were a great bargaining tool, 60 examples of which were gifted to Cardinal Wolsey in exchange for a license allowing Venetian merchants to export wine into England.
From the 13th century on, when Marco Polo declared those from Anatolia to be the world's finest, Oriental rugs were already in huge demand. So much so that they soon made their appearance in European painting. Their vivid colours and manifold, elaborate patterns were like a magnet for artists' paintbrushes. For a long time, and in the absence of any originals, these rugs were only seen through their depiction in paintings. Consequently, the better-known designs, with their medallions, arabesques and Boteh motifs were named after the artists who painted them: Lotto, Bellini, Crivelli, Membling and Holbein.
In his famous The Visitation (1504), Vittore Carpaccio sets the embrace between Mary and her cousin Elizabeth in an idealised version of his natal Venice, a Venice festooned for a Feast Day, its balconies and marble palaces draped with Oriental rugs. Only those rich enough to afford them displayed them as decoration outside their homes. A fact that, also, demonstrates the 'melting pot' that was Venice at the time: a city whose patron, St Mark, had been "stolen" from the Middle East; a city whose great Arsenal went by the Arabic name "dar sina'a" meaning 'House of Manufacture; and a city where, notably, Muslim prayer mats were painted on the ground beneath the feet of Christian divinities.
Vittore Carpaccio, Visitation (1504), Ca' d'Oro, Venice
We continue on our "thread trail" with more paintings. In his The Virgin of Humility (1435), Stefano di Giovanni - called Il Sassetta - paints his Madonna seated on a rug of the "Lotto" style and this fabric is clearly marking out a sacred space. Also, Gentile da Fabriano's Annunciation (1425) and Sano di Pietro's Scenes From The Life Of The Virgin (1438). At that time, with the exception of rare examples such as Jan van Eyck's The Arnolfini Portrait, these rugs were never placed on the floor since only the feet of a saint or a king could aspire to tread on them.
Stefano di Giovanni - called Il Sassetta - Virgin of Humility (1435), Vatican Museums
Now at the end of our double tour of the Madonnas on display, we make our way to the gardens of this 17th century palace on the river Tagus. On leaving, an image from the museum's permanent collection catches our eye, namely the imposing Saint Augustine by Piero della Francesca (1460-70). This bishop of the Church, with his austere, blank stare and his white gloved and bejewelled hands holding a crystal quartz crozier, wears a chasuble that is richly embroidered with scenes from the life of Mary. Again, a Nativity scene, the flight from Egypt ... and again, what on earth must the Vietnamese tourist beside us be thinking? His eyes are fixed on the Annunciation scene where a winged being holding a flower branch faces a kneeling woman whose abdomen is traversed by a beam of light? Wasn't it Marc Chagall, of Belarusian descent, who said: "The Bible is the greatest source of poetry of all time".
Marc Chagall, The Crucifix (Between God and the Devil), 1943, Vatican Museums
Madonna: Treasures of the Vatican Museums
National Museum of Ancient Art
Rua das Janelas Verdes 1249, Lisboa
Curators: José Alberto Seabra Carvalho & Alessandra Rodolfo
May - September 2017
(Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)
- Written by Marina Valcárcel
This is the story of a 21st century Iranian woman and a 19th century Spanish man meeting together in the Prado Museum, Madrid. The East/West frontier and the 200 years that separate them dissolve through the use of imagery, a means of expression first used by Goya and then by Farideh Lashai so as to denounce the dramas surrounding them: fratricidal wars, the cruelty of and between men, torture. Goya initiated the road towards modernity with a new but eternal message challenging injustice and Farideh, in re-envisioning his "Disasters of War", makes that message her own. Along with the recent anniversary celebration of Picasso's "Guernica" in Madrid, the works of both Goya and Farideh would seem to join their voices to his in a communal scream.
Author: Marina Valcárcel
Detail: "And there's nothing to be done" from When I count, there are only you ... but when I look, there is only a shadow. Farideh Lashai. British Museum, London
This is the story of a 21st century Iranian woman and a 19th century Spanish man meeting together in the Prado Museum, Madrid. The East/West frontier and the 200 years that separate them dissolve through the use of imagery, a means of expression first used by Goya and then by Farideh Lashai so as to denounce the dramas surrounding them: fratricidal wars, the cruelty of and between men, torture. Goya initiated the road towards modernity with a new but eternal message challenging injustice and Farideh, in re-envisioning his "Disasters of War", makes that message her own. Along with the recent anniversary celebration of Picasso's "Guernica" in Madrid, the works of both Goya and Farideh would seem to join their voices to his in a communal scream. The lives of Goya y Farideh are entwined by several parallels: Goya lived through the Napoleonic invasion of Spain while Farideh was witness to events in modern Iranian history; from the arrival of Mohamed Mosaddeq, to that of Shah Reza Pahlevi, as well as the Iran - Iraq war. Both suffered voluntary exile and both sought refuge in art during illness and introspection at the end of their lives. This is, essentially, the story of an obsession ~ that of Farideh with the works of Goya.
Some of Chopin's "Nocturnes" should only ever be played senza tempo, allowing the melody, as if it were an anxious human voice unable to escape, to flow around us in waves that encircle and imbue us. Farideh Lashai's Nocturne emits from the piece it accompanies and lodges in the walls and floors of this little room in the Prado, forcing us to view Goya's "Black Paintings", the "Executions Of The 3rd Of May 1808" and "The Charge of the Mamelukes" on either side of it, in a completely different light. And it is here in this little room between them that Farideh Lashai has been invited to exhibit her "When I count, there are only you ... but when I look, there is only a shadow", an exhibition sponsored by the Friends of the Museum Foundation. The work, previously on show in the Museum of Ghant and continuing on later to the British Museum which is its current owner, will never again experience such an exceptional setting. Goya's "Black Paintings" will never leave Spain. For this reason, before leaving for Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, the Prado's director Miguel Zugaza thought it only proper for Farideh's work to be positioned here in amongst them, endowing them with a sense of the far-off and at the same time, embellishing them with a light different to that of the lantern illuminating the white shirt of the man about to be shot in "The 3rd Of May".
Detail: "Against the common good" from When I count, there are only you ... but when I look, there is only a shadow. Farideh Lashai. British Museum, London
"When I count ..." (2012-13), based on a T. S. Eliot poem, is the title of Farideh's latest work. Not at all surprising in that poetry is known as the bride of Persian literature, or that gardens were said to have grown on the Zagros mountains in the Iranian plateau, and lyrical poetry was a way of life for Farideh(1944-2013), one of Iran's most important contemporary artists. For this alchemist of sculpture, painting and stained glass design, writing was her backbone: "I lived in the city of Rasht until I was six. Those first few years left a strange mark on me. In the end, the place someone's born is like their mother: we're united by a primordial bond", she says in her autobiography "Shal Bamu". Whilst still a young woman, she travelled to Germany and studied at Frankfurt University where she found herself profoundly influenced by the works of Bertolt Brecht, at least six of whose books she translated into Farsi, as well as other works by Ginzburg. On her return to Tehran, she was arrested and imprisoned for three years in Qasr jail. Farideh knew no rules.
The exquisite text of the catalogue written by Ana Martínez de Aguilar, who curates the exhibition and who also translated the artist's autobiography from Farsi to Spanish, is entitled "I guard everything within myself". This phrase sums up the character and life of a nomadic woman who travelled to and from Persia from the rest of the world. In her book, written as a stream of consciousness, Farideh allows jumbled memories to flow from her childhood, surrounded by an earthly paradise of forest, sea and mountain ranges, through mystical Iranian poetry and on to political chaos. These leaps into the void mingle with her own memories, those of her mother and those of her grandmother. It's a matrilineal story in a patrilineal context that reflects personal and political life in the Iran of the 20th and early 21st centuries. All this pieced together with written words, painted words, layers of paint, and more words because as Farideh always said: "The joy that writing gave me was enough. To be able to capture a moment in words. To write meant images emerging like in a painting. In fact, I painted moments in time ... a dash of colour here followed by another there, or overlayed, in the same way that images follow one after the other from the written word. The synthesis of my work now turns out to be in the form of a collage."
This way of painting in layers came to fruition 7 years before her death when, already diagnosed with cancer, she began to use video-installations. This was her way of both avoiding the smell of oil paint whilst, at the same time, formulating a more complete message: to a still canvas she added movement, music and narration.
Detail: "Impossible to know why" from When I count, there are only you ... but when I look, there is only a shadow. Farideh Lashai. British Museum, London
For "When I count ...", Farideh takes Goya's "Disasters of War" series and manipulates it by removing every character from every scene. Men, women and children disappear, leaving only empty scenery, as in "A heap of broken images, where the sun beats" from Eliot's "The Waste Land". The original prints are no longer recognisable. They are now something else, something transformed into what could be the nondescript background to any other scene of desolation. There only remain ruins, scorched trees and lonely hills. It was Bertolt Brecht who first remarked on Goya's empty landscapes and this resonated strongly with Farideh who returned to the theme when, in the very last days of her life, she sees photographs and film of the outbreak of the Arab Spring.
Farideh scanned the figures and transferred them to digital film. The new photogravures are arranged in a rectangular pattern comprising 80 of the 82 prints from Goya's original series. The empty landscapes come to life as a moving beam of light, much like a theatre spotlight, is projected over each "Disaster", adding in the figures and animating them for a couple of seconds. The effect is magical and the influence, once again, of Brecht is palpable, as is that of Chinese and Iranian theatre, albeit from further away.
Detail: "And they too are fierce" from When I count, there are only you ... but when I look, there is only a shadow. Farideh Lashai. British Museum, London
Farideh's entire oeuvre is loaded with subtlety, including time lapses: the mere 2 seconds that each print is illuminated is long enough to have impact while still allowing us to blink and put the horror we are seeing into some kind of context. The beam illuminates the cruelty which then disappears into shadow while the spotlight continues on to the next scene. This less frenetic rhythm, this more intermittent repetition comes, perhaps, from Persia where the appearance and disappearance of history's most terrible moments forms part of its culture. In western cultures, our forced saturation in violent images by the media has anaesthetised our ability to take in the true horror of a car bomb in Kabul or the effect of shrapnel on a child's body, as happened in Manchester. Thanks to this distinct rhythm, Farideh re-educates our vision, makes us ask ourselves questions and insists on leaving us to ourselves, even when the light goes out: "Video meant a bridge to literature and offered me enormous scope for expressing myself. It brings something unexpected to my painting and creates a sensation of surprise. Also, when the video stops, the nature of the painting will have acquired a different meaning." And this sensation is so real that, after contemplating her work for a while, we walk to Goya's "Black Paintings" where the late Farideh's intentions are fulfilled. In "Fight To The Death With Clubs", our eyes don't just remain transfixed by the fight between two men, rather they travel down to the mud covering them up to their knees and the sky, ominous with clouds.
Among all her early travels, Farideh Lashai felt the need to be in Spain and pay a visit to the Royal Chapel of St Anthony of La Florida. This is what she wrote of it: "Goya's tomb was simple, seemly and sad - a rectangular slab of stone and a bunch of flowers beneath the dome of frescoes he himself painted. One of Franco's soldiers stood guard at the iron railings and I thought about who was resting in peace under that cold stone, about the man who was part of a revolution."
(Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)
When I count, there are only you ... but when I look, there is only shadow
A work invited to the Prado Museum
Paseo del Prado
Curator: Ana Martínez de Aguilar
Until 10 September 2017
Between the motion And the act Falls the Shadow
Edward Tyler Nahem Fine Art
Calle Sánchez Bustillo 7, Madrid
Curator: Paloma Martín Llopis
23 June - 13 July 2017
- Broken Images: Goya and Farideh Lashai - - Alejandra de Argos -
- Written by Elena Cué
At least that is what the musician, scientist, naturalist and author of the book "The Great Animal Orchestra” (Detroit, Michigan, 1938), Bernie Krause, thinks. He wrote this book to show people that animals taught us to dance and sing and that soundscapes, particularly biophony and geophony, terms coined by the ecologist, have exercised a decisive influence on our culture.mKrause was a member of the famous American folk group The Weavers. When it broke up, he formed the electronic music duo Beaver & Krause. They introduced the synthesizer into pop music in the 1960s, playing in sessions for musicians such as George Harrison, Mick Jagger, Quincy Jones and Barbra Streisand, among others.
Author: Elena Cué
Bernie Krause in St. Vincent’s Island, Florida (2001). By Tim Chapman.
"The truth is the Greek myth got it wrong. It wasn't Orpheus who taught music to the animals, but the reverse". At least that is what the musician, scientist, naturalist and author of the book "The Great Animal Orchestra” (Detroit, Michigan, 1938), Bernie Krause, thinks. He wrote this book to show people that animals taught us to dance and sing and that soundscapes, particularly biophony and geophony, terms coined by the ecologist, have exercised a decisive influence on our culture.
Krause was a member of the famous American folk group The Weavers. When it broke up, he formed the electronic music duo Beaver & Krause. They introduced the synthesizer into pop music in the 1960s, playing in sessions for musicians such as George Harrison, Mick Jagger, Quincy Jones and Barbra Streisand, among others. At the same time, the also worked in film, playing music in over 100 big movies, such as Apocalypse Now and Love Story. For over four decades now, Krause has traveled the world conducting a bio-acoustic study, recording and documenting natural soundscapes. He has archived the sound of over 15,000 species, over half of which have already become extinct on account of man's interference with nature. This material consists of over 5,000 hours of recordings of the sounds of nature.
After a lifetime dedicated to music and sound, what does music mean to you? How would you define it?
Because I don’t see very well, my world has always been informed by what I hear. As a young child, I was first drawn to the sounds of classical violin and composition. In my teens, I switched to guitar and learned all styles. But when I applied to American music schools in the mid-50s with guitar as my major, I was told by the interviewing professors that guitar was not a musical instrument. Shortly after university, I joined, The Weavers. After The Weavers broke up in early 1964. During that period Jac Holzman, then President of Elektra Records, introduced me to Paul Beaver. Together we formed Beaver & Krause. As a duo we introduced the synthesizer to pop music and film on the West Coast and the UK.
Paul and I realized that with the introduction of the synthesizer to musical composition, the standard definition(s) of music had also changed. So we re-defined music as the control of sound. That definition has held true even for the sound design and compositions I and colleagues have rendered since I helped initiate the field of Soundscape Ecology.
Where do you think is the common ground between the sounds of the natural world and music created by Man?
When we lived more closely connected to the natural world, we mimicked the sounds we heard coming from the forests and plains that comprised the environments in which we lived. These expressions included rhythm, melody, harmony, texture, and the structure of sound (composition). By observing the animals move, we copied their journey through space and learned to dance. In North America, there are still Native American tribes that perform a deer dance, or a bear dance, or an eagle dance…all based on an ancient need to show deference to the living world that surrounds and sustains us.
Dian Fossey’s Rwandan research camp (1967), Karisoke. By Nick Nichols, National Geographic
You have recorded more than 5,000 hours of sounds from different habitats, both marine and land, and more than 15,000 animal species. What are the greatest changes you have noticed over these five decades?
Sadly, the greatest change is the overwhelming loss of density and diversity of species almost everywhere I go these days. In some places, like northern California, where I and my wife, Katherine, live, we experienced the first completely silent spring (2015) I can ever remember in the nearly 80 years of my life. There were many birds, but they weren’t singing; it was the fifth year of the historic drought that descended on our section of the continent. The biophony (collective sound produced by all organisms in a particular habitat) returned to some degree this season likely because of the significant amount of rain we had this past winter, extremes of weather that are most likely a direct consequence of a drastically changing climate.
With so many years of experience observing these climate changes...
I should also point out that as a consequence of these climate shifts, resource extraction and land transformation, well over 50% of my natural sound archive, recorded since 1968, comes from habitats that are now either altogether silent, or where the biophonies can no longer be heard in any of their original form. For the past 25 years I have been seeking an academic home for this precious archive. It contains soundscapes most of us will never experience in the wild, again.
Then, do you defend the theory that climate change is caused by human activity or do you think that, despite the consequences of the obvious increase in CO2, the natural climate cycles are more relevant?
Based on the science I’ve read, and the many trips to remote places I’ve visited on the planet, I can imagine no other explanation for what is transpiring everywhere. We are a stubborn, illiterate, selfish, and greedy lot. And as long as we are driven to consume at the rate we do, with no limits on the degree of our avarice, my optimism fades. I’m still hopeful. Just not optimistic.
And, what do you think has contributed more to the disappearance of species: noise, pollution…?
Species disappear mostly because of our unbridled need to exploit the remaining resources of the earth for objects we simply don’t need. It is justified in many quarters by biblical mandates that have always been short-sighted and pathological to begin with. Those unfortunate echoes guide us even and especially today, despite all of the evidence screaming at us to cool it if it is our intent to thrive.
What is our culture losing by distancing itself from natural sounds?
In the end, before the forest echoes die, we may want to listen very carefully to the diminished but remaining voices of our world. We’ll quickly discover that we humans are not separate. Instead, we’re a vital part of one fragile biome.
How many of us will hear the message in time?
The whisper of every leaf and creature implores us to cherish the living world around us – which, indeed, may hold secrets of love for all things, especially our own humanity. This divine music is fast growing dim; the time approaches when we may have to bear witness as the creature spirits return for one final hunt.
What is the sound that has made the greatest impression on you?
It is actually a class of sound called the dawn chorus. Each spring season, in still-healthy regions of the world, birds tend to populate biomes in large numbers, competing not only for physical territory and mates through their extraordinary songs, but also for acoustic turf. The organization of these collective voices, which, by the way, also include insects, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals, is called the biophony. Graphic illustrations of these biophonies are called spectrograms. And when the soundscapes are healthy, the spectrograms look much like a contemporary musical score. The collective voices of these organisms evolve to occupy special niches so that they stay out of each others’ way. Otherwise their voices would be masked. And if their vocal behaviour developed to help these organisms survive, then the signals need to be clearly heard. That, I suppose, is not only my favourite and most important discovery, but it has also made the greatest impression on me. I am amazed every time I visit one of these great places and hear a healthy biophony.
Entonces, segun usted, Are animals able to synchronise their sounds like a large orchestra?
Yes. They have to. Otherwise, there would be bioacoustic chaos. These organisms have evolved to synchronize rhythm, melody, and even arrange their voices in counterpoint. The ways in which their voices coalesce in layers and textures is a form of synchronization. This can be heard in the way chimpanzees and the other great ape species beat out complex rhythms on the buttresses of ficus trees. In the way that frogs and insects synchronize their voices when chorusing.
What would you recommend in order to improve the knowledge and care of the various marine and land habitats?
I guess we need to learn to shut the hell up and get our priorities focused in order to pro-actively protect what remains of life around us.
Through your organization, Wild Sanctuary, you recorded bio-acoustic albums. These recordings have also been used to create interactive environments in museums. Could you explain what this relationship with museums is like?
When I changed careers from music to science in the late 1970s, it soon became clear to me that the publication of scientific papers, alone, meant that only a few people would ever see or hear the results of this work. So, like a few of my valiant colleagues, I decided to reach out to a larger audience through my craft and art.
After the publication of my book, The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places, in French translation, Hervé Chandes, Director at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art Contemporain in Paris, contacted me in late 2015. After several encouraging exchanges he commissioned me to create a work of sound art that, instead of performing like background music, would serve as the focus of an entire exhibit and where the visual components would be informed by the sound sculptures. This was a very risky enterprise because there was no precedent on that scale and because every component of the exhibition was imagined, designed and realized literally from nothing. The installation, titled Le Grand Orchestre des Animaux, ran from early July, 2016 to January, 2017 and was one of their all-time most popular exhibitions.
You converts music into art sculpture
It is important to note that sound is not taken very seriously in western culture because we’re primarily visually oriented with most everything that informs us predicated on what we see. This exhibition changed that equation for the first time. The shadow sense (sound), is no longer ephemeral. It has finally found a fragile but seminal place in the hierarchy of the senses and thus, the fine arts.
For me, this experience has been utterly exhilarating. I had become profoundly depressed by what has been occurring in my own country, not only a dismissal of the value of the arts, but also the sciences. And I felt a deep sense of despair. With Chandes’ call and commission, and being able to work with such a dedicated and fabulous group of young people at the Fondation, I felt for the first time in a long while, a real sense of hope.
Bernie Krause in St. Vincent’s Island, Florida (2001). By Tim Chapman.
Bernie Krause: The voice of the natural world
- Bernie Krause: We need to learn to shut up and actively protect our environment" - - Alejandra de Argos -
- Written by Marina Valcárcel
This may not be art criticism as such, coming as it does in the final days of an exhibition, but it may rather be the question: What will remain after its close? What mark will it leave behind? The Anselm Kiefer retrospective at the Pompidou Centre in Paris will end in a few weeks and all that will be left of the 150 monumental paintings and 40 glass display cases is the question: What happens after Kiefer? It will not be easy for the artistic panorama of the next few years to match the impact of this exhibition. The density of his ashy, cloudy paint remains suspended, living, floating above the Parisian skyline on the sixth floor of the museum. It would seem almost as if the walls of various galleries in the Pompidou have had to be specially reinforced to accommodate the sheer size of these colossal paintings.
Autor Colaborador: Marina Valcárcel
Licenciada en historia del Arte
Der Morgenthau Plan (The Morgenthau Plan), 2014
This may not be art criticism as such, coming as it does in the final days of an exhibition, but it may rather be the question: What will remain after its close? What mark will it leave behind?
The Anselm Kiefer retrospective at the Pompidou Centre in Paris will end in a few weeks and all that will be left of the 150 monumental paintings and 40 glass display cases is the question: What happens after Kiefer? It will not be easy for the artistic panorama of the next few years to match the impact of this exhibition. The density of his ashy, cloudy paint remains suspended, living, floating above the Parisian skyline on the sixth floor of the museum.
It would seem almost as if the walls of various galleries in the Pompidou have had to be specially reinforced to accommodate the sheer size of these colossal paintings. Some are of the insides of claustrophobic, totalitarian architectures; some are of snow-covered, bloodstained forests; some are of serpent-strewn pathways named after battles such as Teutoburgo, Varus ... And then there are Kiefer's landscapes: arid, divvied up into motley wrinkles as if they were traintracks leading to cremation ovens, converging into a one-dimensional escape route towards a flattened horizon and a sky that doesn't exist. These are the denunciations of a German artist seeking to make some noise in a world of silence.
Anselm Kiefer was born in May 1945 in Donaueschingen, a part of the future Federal Republic of Germany, and belongs to that second generation of Germans who grew up without reference to or memories of the Nazi regime. Those were years in which the country's authorities anaesthetised the entire population in an attempt to avoid any sense of responsibility or culpability for the Holocaust and when a layer of charcoal was thrown over the whole of German tradition and its Nazi past to destroy any recollection thereof. Kiefer was born after Auschwitz but wants to live alongside Auschwitz. This is why, after 1970, his work becomes what Daniel Arasse calls "a theatre for memory": to rescue, restructure and represent German identity. From that moment on, Kiefer's mental imaginings become wholly dedicated to the creation of a contemporary version of historical painting.
At this moment, the Pompidou's white ceiling appears lower than is customary, drawn down and diminished by the sheer height of Kiefer's paintings and by the concrete flooring that makes the uniquely artificial light shine like steel. Even the gallery housing the glass display cases is somewhat suffocating, each one squeezed beside the next as if in a dusty old Natural Sciences museum. These object displays are the fruit of Kiefer's accumulation of what he calls the catacombs of his Barjac studio: objects waiting to be converted into messages: pieces of clay, spools of charred film, old typewriters, fossils, twisted lamps and dried flowers. Nothing is thrown away, every material thing has a life, everything is recycled within or into another painting or another sculpture.
Saturn-Zeit (The Time Of Saturn), 2015
Kiefer excites our sensorial curiosity. And he does so with his pictorial technique: from his choice of materials to the stratification in layer upon layer of them onto a picture painted over what could be any length of time: "My paintings might be compared with the Talmud, with their commentary on commentary, their sedimentation on siltation. If one made a hole in the canvas, the whole history of the painting would be visible, vertically", says Kiefer, who challenges us through the materials, the colours and the condition of his paintings. From the 90's onwards, his works, encrusted with paint, have been much more than just an image. They are, rather, a journey over deep, rough and uneven terrain that invite us and our puzzled senses to familiarise ourselves with them, to touch the unknown, to feel, to scratch, to smell them almost.
Anselm Kiefer's paintings are not easily approachable, the spectator having to put distance between himself and them by moving away and thereby finding himself looking at completely different dimensions. Kiefer's works since 1980 have aquired titanic proportions perhaps because history is a construction that can't easily be assimilated. All of Kiefer's art impacts us. And this initial impact is to do with the world of sensations, not just that of dimensions. It is an arbitrary division of aesthetic philosophy, Kiefer belonging more to the realm of the sublime than the realm of beauty. Kiefer's work seizes the spectator, obliges her to steel herself, infects her with anxiety and perplexity but also with curiosity. In this sense, Kiefer puts up the same barriers as a German Romantic would. We feel the immensity and vastness of Wagner's Ring Cycle and its tragedy. It also takes us towards solitude, doubt and the same question asked by Caspar David Friedrich's subject, the man wearing a black dress-coat leaning on his walking stick, his back to us facing faraway mountains: The Wanderer Above A Sea Of Fog (1818).
Anselm Kiefer is an all-round artist: painter, sculptor and creator of installation spaces but also, and especially, he is an artisan: blacksmith, miner, carpinter and a landscaper artist living with an intense interior discourse: "My biography is the biography of Germany" he says, but it is also the history of the Jews, Shoah, Kabbala, The Song of Songs, Germanic myths, alchemy and the cosmic vision of Robert Fludd: every heavenly body has its counterpart in a flower. And books, his library: Heidegger, Walter Benjamin, Hölderlin, then Ingeborg Bachmann and after her, Paul Celan. And after Paul Celan, more Paul Celan. Paul Celan has been deeply imbedded in Kiefer's paintings since 1980 . The latter is a German painter who takes on his country's past by unearthing the Holocaust and who always wanted to be a poet, the former a renowned Jewish-Romanian poet of the latter half of the 20th century who chose to write the poetry that burned inside him in German, the language of his tormentors.
Is it possible to write poetry after Auschwitz? asks Theodor Adorno. Perhaps there's only room for silence. But if one chooses the route of not being silent, if one wants to continue to denounce in German, it then becomes necessary to refound that language. For this reason, Celan uses language somewhat secretively. And so, from this union between painter and poet, come entire verses written in Kiefer's looping, joined-up letters, words emerging from black skies to live on in the paintings. And their titles: "For Paul Celan: Ash Flower", because flowers and Celan come together many times in Kiefer's work.
Für Paul Celan: Aschenblume (For Paul Celan: Ash Flower), 2006
"Your Golden Hair, Margarethe" is a 1981 painting inspired by Celan's poem "Death Fugue". Kiefer paints, sticks and scratches strange flower-like blades of straw that emerge from the black ground like rays of light tipped with a pink flame. These are Margarethe, representing the German nation with her long golden hair and Shulamith with her burnt, ashen hair representing the Jewish people. These icons of Celan's poetry are represented also in the materials used: straw, ash, hair, sand ... As if the written words themselves had melted onto the surface of the paint.
Your Golden Hair, Margarethe, 1981
We continue on through the Pompidou. Suddenly and unexpectedly, we enter a different room altogether that is bright, light and flooded with sun and colour. And, we think, cheeriness. There are only four large-scale paintings of flowers here. Why is Kiefer painting flowers? Why has he started planting field-fulls of sunflowers in Barjac where he has his studio? Why are sunflowers gradually invading his paintings and sculptures? Kiefer is once again using painting to challenge and question history. Towards 2010, Kiefer turns to something that happened in the final days of the Second World War ~ The Morgenthau Plan. In order to prevent a post-war Germany from developing a programme of heavy industry and to thwart the threat of her re-arming, the US Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenenthau, proposed a radical plan to the international authorities which involved converting Germany into a primarily agricultural and pastoral country. Kiefer imagined the enforcement of this plan by painting pictures bulging with carpets of colourful blooms, lets himself get carried away by their beauty, covers his canvases in thick layers of acrylic paint from which emerge soft multi-hued shapes which remind us of Kiefer's devotion to Van Gogh's painting. He called it "The Morgenthau Plan".
Der Morgenthau Plan (The Morgenthau Plan), 2014.
On the opposite wall is "Lilith" (1987 - 1990). Since his visit to Israel in 1984, Kiefer's paintings have been heavily influenced by the Kabbalah (developed in the 16th century by Isaac Louria), the Bible and various rabbinic texts. Lilith was Adam's first wife before Eve in Jewish mythology and she personifies envy, jealousy and the desire for revenge. She is the serpent in the Garden of Eden. The painting, inspired by Kiefer's visit to Sao Paulo in Brazil, shows an apocalyptical city covered in ash. In the centre hangs a long lock of black hair that symbolizes Lilith. The rest of the painting appears studded with dried poppy stalks that leap out of the canvas at us. Again and again there is reference to Paul Celan, one of whose earliest poetry collections was entitled "Poppy and Memory", poppies being the symbol of both forgetting and remembrance.
According to the Scriptures, all who are buried in Israeli soil return to life. The scholars of Judaism say that the land of Israel has the power to expiate, to forgive sins. Paul Celan committed suicide aged 48 by drowning in the Seine, Paris. He is buried in the unassuming Thiais cementery on the outskirts of Paris. His plain tombstone is grey, identical to most of the others but covered in little stones. This is how Jews leave a sign that they have visited their dead loved ones. Because flowers belong to life.
(Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)
- Anselm Kiefer, las flores y la poesía de Paul Celan - - Página principal: Alejandra de Argos -
- Written by Marina Valcárcel
As we approach the High Altar of St Paul's Cathedral in London, sunlight floods through the two great windows on either side. The glass is neither stained nor tinted, just crystal clear. We walk slowly here, amazed by the pomp and colossal size of Wren's cathedral, perhaps a little disoriented by its resemblance to St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City with its baldachin, its Solomon's Temple-like columns, its sheer dimensions and its profusion of marble. But here there is an electricity distinct from that of Rome. Nelson is buried beneath our feet, as is Wellington. There are flags from old military campaigns, memorials and, more importantly, there is contemporary art. Staggering present-day pieces that speak to us of current conflicts and originate from all over the world.
Author: Marina Valcárcel
Mary. Bill Viola. St Paul's Cathedral, London
As we approach the High Altar of St Paul's Cathedral in London, sunlight floods through the two great windows on either side. The glass is neither stained nor tinted, just crystal clear. We walk slowly here, amazed by the pomp and colossal size of Wren's cathedral, perhaps a little disoriented by its resemblance to St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City with its baldachin, its Solomon's Temple-like columns, its sheer dimensions and its profusion of marble. But here there is an electricity distinct from that of Rome. Nelson is buried beneath our feet, as is Wellington. There are flags from old military campaigns, memorials and, more importantly, there is contemporary art. Staggering present-day pieces that speak to us of current conflicts and originate from all over the world. There is a Virgin Mary in a refugee camp by the graffiti artist CBloxx, two gigantic white crosses by the Indian artist Gerry Judah hanging from the central nave ... Different languages in a powerful crossover between the Baroque and the ultra-contemporary. My companion and I think of Spain. We expect something with a bit more rage to it, something more challenging, something to be overcome. We think of Burgos, Leon, Toledo and others, with their cathedral choir stalls, their altar railings. Bill Viola began working in Gothic churches to reflect their sound, that opaque silence that scales their pillars to the heavens ...
We wander further and pass Henry Moore's sculpture "Mother and Child: Hood" in the apse. A little further and we find ourselves in the North Quire aisle to the left of the High Altar. There, where our cultural references would lead us to expect a Baroque altarpiece with painted, gold-leafed wooden figures, we find instead a nun of quite masculine appearance, cassock, dog collar and boyish haircut. She is pointing at three plasma screens with a remote control. And then begins a fascinating experience for Christians like us, in the year 2016, in an Anglican cathedral rebuilt after the Great Fire of London in 1666. This modern-day triptych lights up to show a shaven-headed, dark-skinned woman of indeterminate race. She wears a saffron-coloured tunic whose colours call to mind the Buddhist monks of Cambodia. Her right breast is bared as she breastfeeds the baby boy in her lap. Behind her, the speeded-up lights of the Los Angeles horizon change from morning pinks, to evening , to nightfall over an extended length of time while she, all slow motion, doesn't take her gaze off ours. The scene is emotionally powerful, wrapped in the mystery between modernity and intemporality, between the most advanced technology and the purity of the miracle of sustaining life by means of warmth and a mother's milk.
Mary. Bill Viola. St Paul's Cathedral, London
FRAGMENT OF LIFE
The screen then fragments, much like a pradella of reliefs on a Baroque altar, into a series of other scenes depicting Mary's life. There is the visit to her cousin Elizabeth, arriving alone through meadows and embracing another pregnant woman, dead fish on a riverbank, a weeping deer filmed in black and white, blackberry bushes teeming with thorns. Seven minutes shot from the Zion National Park in Utah to the desert surrounding the Salton Sea in California and places in between.
The final scene is, however, one of classic beauty. A Michaelangelo-like Pietà with Mary this time light-skinned, in a blue veil, rosy complexioned and holding the marble-like body of her son, just crucified, in her lap. She doesn't cry. She just looks back at us, sorrow-stricken and unable to understand the physical reality before her eyes. She then looks down at her son's body, raises his lifeless hand and kisses it. The scene ends with the screen turning black.
We attempt to think of this level of restraint in any other examples in painting or cinema. We also trawl our literary references til we come up with those comments of Colm Tóibín's on writing his "The Testament of Mary": “I lived in the epicentre of Mary's pain. I would never like to return there." But the gaze of Viola's Mary is unlike anything else. We are too used to the fixed image of paintings and photographs or the moving image of film. In these recordings, as in all of Viola's works that lack narrative discourse, the slow camera maximises our chances of really seeing and feeling the sentiment expressed.
Mary. Bill Viola. St Paul's Cathedral, London
MARY: HOW THE WORK COME ABOUT
Bill Viola's works can be found in some of the world's greatest museums but this is the first time in 2,000 years that a sacred moving image, on video, has ever substituted painting or sculpture in a grand temple of Christianity.
Bill Viola (New York, 1951) took 13 years to conclude these two works for St Paul's. It was in May 2014 that the first video, Martyrs, arrived in the South Quire aisle, to the right of the High Altar, Mary being installed to the left on the 8th of September 2016. Both videos are on permanent loan from the Tate Modern and his wife, Kira Perov, collaborated on both.
Viola admits to long-term 'artist's block' about the figure of Mary and confesses: "She nearly killed us." The theme of both installations was suggested by the cathedral itself: "Until the middle of the 20th century, there were other paintings in the Quires based on Mary and the martyrs. They intimated to me that it wasn't necessary to repeat those themes but, effectively, they were setting me a challenge given that the fundamental thing about them is - for what reason and for whom would you be willing to lay down your life. And that is a devastating question."
Bill Viola believes that there is a universal chain that links human beings: his parents continue to live inside him and he will continue to live inside his son after his death. From a very young age, he has felt drawn to Buddhism and its vision of the world, the idea of eternal rebirth - a principle rather more complex than the life - death - resurrection cycle of Christianity.
In all of Viola's work, silence reigns. It is as if each of the four elements that saturate his characters come straight from the noise in the depths of the universe. The silence in his videos is the equivalent of those areas left deliberately blank by painters, the ones we have to fill in ourselves with our own imaginations or emotions. It is precisely there, in that emptiness, that one finds the greatest of painters, musicians and poets. What Viola aims to do with his videos is to sculpt time: extend it, stretch it, slow it down, wind it in on itself in order to show us all its lines, shapes and ellipses. Somewhat similar to the practice of meditation, fixing the present moment, concentrating one's gaze so as to delve deeper into one's perception of a subject. And channelling the internal question: "What do I see?"
The artist transforms his camera into a second eye to teach us how to look at things the way he believes we should, namely, through introspection and seeing beyond external appearances. He invites us to share in the journey he himself has been on for forty years, one pertaining to three fundamental, metaphysical questions: Who am I? Where am I? Where am I going? Not to look for answers per se but simply to confront the question. He sums it up as: "The men of antiquity called them the mysteries. There are no answers to life or death. I think mystery is the most important aspect of my work. That moment when we open a door and close it without knowing where we're going. To be lost is among the most important things."
Viola is a 'painter' who invented a new palette of technological, numerical colours and created moving pictures that adhere to a new understanding of art. It is a crossover with the great masters of old - Giotto, Bosch, Pontormo or Goya from whom he takes not just themes but also an aesthetic. Nevertheless, far from being a link that prolongs the chain of art, he explains: "I'm not interested in appropriating these images. Rather, it's a case of penetrating into their interior, bringing them to life, inhabiting them, feeling them breathe. What interests me is their spiritual dimension, not their visual form."
Left: Pietà, Tomaso Masolino da Pinicale (1383-1447). Right: Emergence, Bill Viola (2002)
THE APPEARANCE OF ZEN
When Viola was studying at the The Getty Institute in 1998, the painting that he couldn't stop looking at was Dieric Bouts' (1445) Annunciation: "I fell in love with its austerity and zen-like appearance. The Annunciation is one of those unique moments when, through the figures of the Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary, some news is transmitted before words, before language is spoken. The intimate knowledge by which a woman knows she is with child has nothing to do with verbalization. The conversation that is about to be held in this painting is of another dimension. That is its magic - the silence, the stillness ... all of it comes from a very profound place" he says.
But Viola also focuses on the aesthetic language of the classics and transcends it: "In this picture, I would point out the ambiguity of Mary's hands - raised, her palms open and facing each other. One doesn't know if this is in order to receive or to then close as a sign of prayer. The Archangel, however, has his index finger raised. This language of the hands is charged with symbolic meaning. Many of Christ's gestures, for instance joining his thumb and index finger together as a blessing, are also made by Buddhas. In the Hindu tradition, every hand gesture has a very specific meaning."
Annunciation (1445) Dieric Bouts
"I was born at the same time as video." Bill Viola identifies as being of the second generation of artists who use video, a generation that benefits directly from the discoveries of the first. He has experimented with this technique since the 70's when he was a student at the College of Visual and Performing Arts of Siracuse University, New York, one of the first centres to specialise in the technique. It was there that he observed the work of its pioneers and was assistant to Nam June Paik.
In one of his first videos, Reflecting Pool (1977-79), he records a man - himself - divebombing naked into a pool, his body suspended mid-air above the water by the camera, gradually fading into the substance of the image itself while the leaves on the trees in the background and the reflections on the water's surface continue to move. Reflecting Pool is probably based on personal experience. As a child, he fell out of a boat and almost drowned. Then almost unconscious, he now recalls feeling a total completeness and seeing images of extraordinary beauty. Since then, he has never been able to forget the spectacle of sunlight piercing the water while he was sinking in the lake. Neither has he ever been able to portray the incident in a direct way. However, his oeuvre is full of allusions to it, be they subtle and sweet or more violent immersions: births, baptisms, death. For Bill Viola, water represents each of the stages of life and is also the nucleus of his reflections on death.
Martyrs. Detail: Water. Bill Viola. St Paul's Cathedral, London
A BRIDGE OVER THE THAMES
Staying with the water theme, we leave St Paul's and immediately sense the nearness of both the river Thames and that other "cathedral" - the Tate Modern on the opposite bank, separated from each other, or rather joined, by the Millenium Bridge. It is almost as if Foster, its architect, had stretched its wings to enable communication between the two great bridges of our culture - religion and art. We continue over the bridge and on towards the Tate's Turbine Hall. The single central chimney rises like a counterpoint to the cathedral's dome. Likewise, the perforated dark brick latticework standing out against the glowing inner lights of Herzog & de Meuron's new facade creates a dialogue and complements Wren's solemn white colonnade. We step out into the mildly humid fresh air and onto the bridge again, seagulls flying overhead, all the while remembering the inscription on William Blake's Memorial in the crypt at St Paul's: "Hold infinity in the palm of your hand / And Eternity in an hour".
Millenium Bridge (2002) London (Foster and Partners and Sir Anthony Caro)
(Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)
- Bill Viola: "Mary" at St Paul's Cathedral - - Alejandra de Argos -
- Written by Kilian Lavernia
At first glance, the work of Marina Abramović (Belgrade, 1946) would appear to conform to that hackneyed old saying that the best art is always about the self. However, as with so many other clichés about contemporary art, this serves only to limit the scope, richness and originality of this particular artist who, since day one over four decades ago, has made her own human body into a vital space for experimentation, her raw materials and a battlefield, even. Abramović herself is, effectively, the work itself. But only in as much as one must then incorporate this variable into a more complex equation, after pioneering reflection on the ultimate meaning of her performances which, after forty years of creative exploration, has consolidated her place and her identity within postmodern discourse.
Photo portrait of Marina Abramović by David Leyes
At first glance, the work of Marina Abramović (Belgrade, 1946) would appear to conform to that hackneyed old saying that the best art is always about the self. However, as with so many other clichés about contemporary art, this serves only to limit the scope, richness and originality of this particular artist who, since day one over four decades ago, has made her own human body into a vital space for experimentation, her raw materials and a battlefield, even.
Photo portrait of Marina Abramović. Image available at www.cronicasyversiones.com
Abramović herself is, effectively, the work itself. But only in as much as one must then incorporate this variable into a more complex equation, after pioneering reflection on the ultimate meaning of her performances which, after forty years of creative exploration, has consolidated her place and her identity within postmodern discourse. As a form of visual art, of art as action, her performances are both experiments in trying to identify and transgress limits of control over one's own body as well as, in regard to the relationship between public and performer, searching questions about the taxonomic boundaries in traditional art, based on the divide that exists between these two: subject and object. If we understand her body as simultaneously both subject and medium, Abramović's experimental probing breaks away from the ideas of stasis and temporality inherent in our usual aesthetic understanding, and thereby expands the dialogical, structural boundaries of any piece of art.
Still from A House with the Ocean View (2002). Image available at vimeo.com/72468884
The Serbian artist's performances involve an immediate and emotional exchange of energy with the public, as she intends, making them that last piece of the equation without which the transformative experience of art would be incomplete and in vain. On this matter, she has commented: "I could never give a private performance at home because I have no audience there [...] The bigger the audience, the better the performance and the more energy runs through the space. The audience should take an historic step and really connect with the object."
The artist is present (2010). Image available from the Marina Abramović Institute website: www.mai.art
From the very beginning, Abramović's output has been daring, provocative and transgressive. She began her artistic studies in the mid 60's in her birthplace of Belgrade, continued and finished them in Croatia, returning to teach Fine Art in Serbia in 1973. Ever since her debut with the well-known Rhythm (1973/74) series, framed as a bold, hazardous exploration of Body Art, the young Abramović was testing, on one hand, the body's limits in the face of physical pain, suffering, self-harm and, on the other, the moral resistance of the public to feel her world through those very personal experiences of her female body. It was a work in, on and of her body.
Rhythm 2 (1974). Image available at marinaabramovic.blogspot.com
The different variations of Rhythm used embodiment to reflect on universal themes such as death, pain, sorrow, time, the limits of consciousness and unconsciousness, not to mention the behavioural patterns of the mind. Likewise, in Rhythm 2, she experimented with the varying states of lucidity and loss of corporal control produced by the ingestion of a range of different pills. In Rhythm 0, one of her most emblematic performances, Abramović literally put herself at the public's disposition. Along with 72 different instruments of different uses - from pencil to polaroid camera to perfume as well as knives, whips, chains and a loaded gun - she offered up her body for a no-holds-barred, unscripted, interactive show with her public.
Rythm 0. Image available at www.upsocl.com
The visitors were invited to choose any object and use it on her in whichever way seemed most interesting to them. And so began what was intended as a reflection on trust and the social contract and ended up being a palpable demonstration of Man's natural inclination towards violence. "What I learnt was that, if you allow the public to decide, they could kill you. I felt really attacked: they cut my clothes off, they scraped rose thorns across my stomach, one person held the gun to my head before another took it off him." Abramović's silence and lack of reaction meant that the violence escalated quickly and dramatically. "After exactly six hours, as planned I got up and started walking towards the public. They all scarpered, avoiding a real-life confrontation."
Rhythm 0 (1974). Image available at ourpursuitofart.blogspot.com
The subsequent evolution in Abramović's work owes much to her character trait of inclusivity and her willingness to be ever open to others. In a certain way, it's in her nature to have infinite possibilities. As opposed to the unitary and bourgeois concept of one single artistic identity, namely the definition of the artist-individual focused on each work as a solitary project, Abramović invariably challenges herself to build up emotional interactions with second parties and with herself as producer/director.
Proof of this came at the end of the 70's when her artistic output centred around an unclassifiable dual manifestation of her art in productive and emotional conjunction with her lover, the German artist and photographer Uwe Laysiepen, better known as Ulay. In a series entitled The Other, Abramović and Ulay performed numerous performance works as a duo in which their bodies – always synchronised, dressed (or undressed) identically and with similar behavioural patterns – created additional ways in which to interact with the public. Based on a professional and sentimental relationship of absolute trust, both liked to speak of an "adrogynous unity" whose actions personified the limits of interpersonal relationships, their effect on the "I", the ego and artistic personae. This is perfectly illustrated in Relation in Time (1977), one of their earliest joint perfomances, where this hermaphroditic union is symbolised by their tightly interwoven hair.
Relation in Time (1977). Image available at pomeranz-collection.com
Their collaboration produced further and riskier (and indeed risqué) projects such as Imponderabilia (1977), where Abramović and Ulay stood facing each other, completely unclothed, in a narrow passageway at the entrance to the museum, thereby obliging visitors to squeeze between them and brush up against their naked bodies.
Imponderabilia (1977).Image available at delir-arte.blogspot.com
Another equally compelling joint performance was A-AAA (1978) where both artists shouted at each other in a firm-handed show of power designed to determine who had the more dominant voice. Better known is Rest Energy (1980) in which the couple faced each other, stock still for hours, holding a bow between them and the arrow between Ulay's fingers aimed directly at Abramović's heart. The strength and stamina required of both of them to maintain tension and prevent the arrow being shot was palpable. During the whole performance, microphones recorded both their heartbeats, both of them accelerated and agitated, a clear manifestation of a state of vulnerability in which responsibility and control could slip from their fingers any second.
Rest Energy (1980). Image available at www.altrevelocita.it
The "The Other" series, as much a passionate romance as an artistic collaboration, had as its symbolic finale the famous staging of 1988's The Lovers. Here too, their emotional and professional rupture was played out as a work of art, portayed as a hike, each on their own, departing from opposite ends of the Great Wall Of China until meeting up again in the middle. A three month long and lonely walk culminating in one last embrace. It is an almost definitive physical and communicational goodbye - it would be 23 years until they saw each other again - and an attempt to stage the disintegration of their relationship by means of the physical and emotional fatique occasioned by a 2,000 km journey on foot. It could in some ways be called a romantic ending: unclassifiable, unorthodox and emotionally charged with mysticism.
The Lovers (1988). Image available at http://inkultmagazine.com
With hindsight, Abramović's subsequent reinvention of herself as a solo artist could be defined as the crucial turning point in her career. A certain time lapse and, more importantly, long-distance travels abroad, Brasil for instance, led to a creative resurgence during the 90's that broke away, once and for all, from the conscious assumption that her life and her art would be inseparable from and fundamental to all her future productions. And so, although the body would continue to play an undeniable part, the performances evolved into spaces destined for the liberation of her own personal demons, underlying or otherwise, as well as new forms of performing as a way to explore how we relate to reality.
An illustrative example, from the early 90's, would be the object installations she herself defined under the umbrella term of Transitory Objects. By incorporating natural materials such as semi-precious stones, bones and magnets into her actions, Abramović wasn't looking to give them a function of their own, as if they were sculptures. Rather, she was using them to generate experiences and energies, as if they were everyday life rituals. One has only to remember, from the initial stages of this second phase 1990 - 1994, the Dragon Head series in which the artist sat stock still whilst various ravenous pythons, who hadn't eaten for two weeks, slithered all over her body. It's an image of potent mythic-feminine resonance.
Recreation: Dragon Head (2010). Image available at mai.art
Even more striking, given the eponymous violence of the time, was Balkan Baroque (1997) which won the Gold Lion award at the Venice Biennale that same year, the Festival's highest prize. Expanding on the theme of the human skeleton, previously explored in Cleaning the Mirror (1995), Abramović used video installation to recreate the putrifying horror of armed conflict in the Balkans War. As well as projecting an image of her own parents on the walls, the artist positioned herself in the middle of the space, washing a huge pile of 1500 raw, bloodied veal bones whilst singing traditional folk songs from her childhood. The dramatic staging no doubt owed a lot to the conceptual baroque of her design but also lent it sincere and credible political weight.
Balkan Baroque (1997). Image available at www.tropism.it
Abramović's recognition as an artist has been irrefutable since the turn of the century. Whilst, on the one hand, it is true that her active participation in various works has become so minimal as to be almost the mere fact of her being there, life and art for Abramović are intertwined as if an absolute presence, as if frozen in time. It is from this angle that she seeks to lift the public's spirit, not so much via direct emotional shock, performance surprise or Brechtian compromise but rather through other more energy-giving mechanisms such as silence, meditation and ecstasy-like consciousness: "To create a type of artwork that is almost devoid of content but still retains a kind of pure energy that will left the spectator's spirit", is how she described it in a 2008 Klaus Biesenbach interview.
In this regard, one inevitably thinks of the unforgettable The artist is present, an exhausting performance piece presented in March 2010 on the occasion of a MoMa retrospective of her entire back catalogue which remains, to date, the most important ever and, with more than 50 exhibit pieces including performances, installations, videos, photographs and collaborations along with the subsequent documentary of the same name. For three whole months, Abramović remained seated in the lobby of the New York museum for over 700 hours (during opening hours and without a break) allowing over 1,800 visitors, each in turn, one by one, to sit opposite her in total silence, separtated by just a table, and to share the imperturbable presence of the artist for as long as they considered necessary.
The artist is present (2010). Image available at www.filmswelike.com
Like a challenge to time, like a reflection on modern-day society's emotional alienation, the hit piece created an immediate connection between artist and spectator - no verbal communication necessary - and made the lack of communication between one fragile body with another, especially in a great metropolis like New York, even more palpable.
There were also moments of utter surprise: after 23 years of separation, Ulay appeared out of the blue on the day of the inauguration. Abramović's heart visibly missed a beat on seeing him and he was the only one with whom she had any physical contact, after a brief conversation using only their eyes.
The artist is present (2010), reunion with Ulay. Image available at www.visualnews.com
But at the same time, it is no less true that diversification of format and method have been a constant in Marina Abramović's life and works, aware as she is of the increasingly global reach of what she has to offer and say. One need look no further than her much-lauded collaboration with Robert Wilson in the experimental opera The Life and Death of Marina Abramović which delved into the idea of her life's (and various deaths') leitmotifs as its narrative, with other great artists like Antony, Willem Dafoe and Wilson himself joing forces.
Marina Abramović and Antony in The Life and Death of Marina Abramović. Image available at www.robertwilson.com
As a final thought, one might ask oneself if, by focusing her most recent efforts on constant meta-reflection and revision of her prolific output, the potency of her artistic message has seen itself somewhat compromised by a worldwide success that has, unavoidably, transformed the scope, meaning and impact of her performances. Can those same concepts and themes of 20 or 30 years ago still be conveyed today? Given recent changes in the way artists communicate to us and the media and spaces now available to them, would it not be, rather, a case of qualitatively distinct experiences?
Slow-motion workshop, directed at the Whitworth Galley, Manchester (2009). Image available at passengerart.com
Art as action, live art made with the artists' own bodies is an artform belonging to a tradition predating but not predicting the digital age that came with all its short-lived sensations and hyperinformation. Neither did it anticipate a scenario of absolute trivialisation or the lionisation of those other anonymous performers of the 21st century, on youtube for instance. In any case, the conventional definition of performance as 'action that happens within a limited time frame' is in urgent need of revision. Perhaps the Marina Abramović Institue (MAI), inaugurated in 2015 in New York State, might take it upon itself to gather together a multidisciplinary think-tank to review it and instruct places of collaborative and experimental art in society today with the Serbian artist's legacy as a starting point. The "grandmother of perfomance", just turned 70, has a lot of life left in her yet.
Publicity campaign for the Marina Abramovic Institute. Image available at mai.art
(Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)
- Marina Abramovic: Biography, works and exhibitions - - Alejandra de Argos -
- Written by Marisa Carrero
Jasper Johns was a small-town boy from the Deep South whose university art teacher urged and convinced him to move to New York. He had known he wanted to be a painter from the age of five and was to become one of the most influential American painters of the second half of the twentieth century.Born in Augusta, Georgia in 1930 and raised in Allendale, South Carolina, Johns' childhood love of painting lead him to study art; first at the University of South Carolina from 1946 to 1947, and later in the Parsons School of Design in New York in 1948, where his work was first exhibited. His artistic career was interrupted by two years of military service in the Korean War, part of which he spent in Japan. Upon returning to New York in 1952, Johns worked in bookshops for a few years while he familiarised himself with the city’s art scene.
Jasper Johns was a small-town boy from the Deep South whose university art teacher urged and convinced him to move to New York. He had known he wanted to be a painter from the age of five and was to become one of the most influential American painters of the second half of the twentieth century.
Jasper Johns. Image available at newsoftheartworld.com
Born in Augusta, Georgia in 1930 and raised in Allendale, South Carolina, Johns' childhood love of painting lead him to study art; first at the University of South Carolina from 1946 to 1947, and later in the Parsons School of Design in New York in 1948, where his work was first exhibited. His artistic career was interrupted by two years of military service in the Korean War, part of which he spent in Japan. Upon returning to New York in 1952, Johns worked in bookshops for a few years while he familiarised himself with the city’s art scene. The friendships he struck up there with artists such as the musician John Cage and the choreographer Merce Cunningham were to have a big influence on his understanding of art. The painter Robert Rauschenberg, a fellow exponent of abstract expressionism in the 1950s, was especially influential; although Johns would later make a complete departure from that movement and go on to create new styles. A visit to Pennsylvania to view Marcel Duchamp's The Large Glass had a huge impact on his artistic vision. With his readymades, Duchamp had invented a new creative method of transforming found objects into art. The influence of this work would lead Johns to incorporate objects such as rulers, spoons and coat hangers into his paintings.
Left: Flag. Image available at www.metmuseum.org Right: Three flags. Image available at www.usc.edu
In 1954-55 he made his famous Flags, works which were hugely influential on 20th century American iconography. The paintings Flag, Target and Numbers formed part of his first great solo show at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York. Made using the 'encaustic' technique (in which pigment is mixed with hot wax and applied to the canvas), the flag paintings were revolutionary in their apparent simplicity and power. The show made such an impact that the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York bought three of the works to exhibit in its gallery. Jasper Johns had taken a giant step forward by incorporating the everyday imagery of North American life into his work, taking “things the mind already knows” as his subject. More interested in the creative process than the work itself, Johns did not restrict himself to one single style but used diverse methods such as lithography and screen printing. At this point in his career he moved away from his roots in abstract expressionism towards new styles such as pop art, minimalism and conceptual art, which many credit him with having helped to invent. He began to incorporate objects into his paintings, transforming them into sculptures and creating original collages from the results.
Left: Souvenir 2. Image available at www.artchive.com
Right: Recent Still Life. Image available at www.ulae.com
During the 1970s, he collaborated with many artists of the day, such as Andy Warhol, Robert Morris and Bruce Naumann. These collaborations helped to further his career and allowed him to continue his artistic studies and research. During this period Johns took on new perspectives and created new art forms, such as his illustrations for Frank O'Hara's book of ‘poem-paintings’, In Memory Of My Feelings. In 1964 he made one of his most famous prints, Ale Cans; an image of two cans of Ballantine Ale which he had previously made as a bronze sculpture in 1960. He searched for different ways of seeing and representing the same objects through a variety of disciplines, including printmaking, sculpture and even photography.
Left: In Memory of My Feelings. Image available at greg.org
Right: Two Ale Cans. Image available at www.theartsdesk.com
For some of Johns’ followers and students, the seventies marked a transition over to a more autobiographical style that was quite different from his early work. He paid homage to Cezanne and Picasso; dividing his paintings into various panels and creating works full of primary colours, such as Scent (1973-74) and the triptych Weeping Woman (1975). In this period he seemed obsessed with repetition and he remade images using a variety of artistic techniques and mediums. He made his friend John Cage’s aphorism his own: “if you do something more than once you get better results”. For Johns it was a matter of searching for the similarities and differences between the various representations that he created. Following a retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, Johns’ work was exhibited in galleries across Europe, including the 1978 Venice Biennale exhibition, and a show of 'working proofs' at the Kunstmuseum in Basel, among others.
Left: Target With Four Faces. Image available at www.jasper-johns.org
Right: Coat Hanger and Spoon. Image available at www.christies.com
Johns’ work would change direction once again, as he experimented with innovative art forms and began a new creative cycle. For the 1987 exhibition The Seasons at the MoMA, Johns created a series of paintings called Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter which included human figures. That same year, the Reina Sofía Museum in Madrid hosted one of the most important retrospective shows of his career, featuring 180 works from 1960-1985. The show was curated by Riva Castleman, the director of the Department of Prints and Illustrated Books at the MoMA.
His work began to fetch incredible prices at auction, making Johns the most sought-after living artist of the day. However, throughout all of the experimentation and changes in style over his career, he never stopped creating. Nor did he ever abandon his love for the colour grey, as demonstrated in paintings such as Bridge (1997), Catenary (I call to the Grave) (1998) and Near the Lagoon (2003), in which he suspended strings across almost completely grey canvasses. His work returned to Spain in 2011 with a new retrospective exhibition organised by the Valencia Institute of Modern Art, which included the first public showing of a ‘New Sculpture’ he had made four years earlier.
Left: Fall. Image available at dexedrina.blogspot.com.es
Right: Summer. Image available at www.jasper-johns.org
Famously, Johns said that “to be an artist you have to give up everything, including the desire to be a good artist”. Perhaps this explains the continuous shifts he made in his artistic trajectory; a restless man who constantly reinvented his style. Yet aside from this, his great power is evident in the overwhelming influence of his work on the following generations. He remains one of the most world’s most valuable living artists, whose work fetches astronomical prices at auction.
Even today at the age of 86, Johns continues to be news in the art world, as demonstrated by the success of his 2014 exhibition at the MoMA in New York, Regrets. This series of paintings, drawings and prints created during the previous year and a half were all based on a single photograph of the artist Lucian Freud, taken in 1964.
Left: Untitled. Image available at www.theartsdesk.com
Right: In Memory. Image available at www.spaightwoodgalleries.com
Johns once said that his work was “largely concerned with relations between seeing and knowing, seeing and saying, seeing and believing”. Throughout his entire career he has seen, known and created using almost every type of material and technique (including lithography, screen-printing, engraving and sculpture), producing a unique body of work and forging a movement of his own within the art world. For the next generation of artists that follow in his wake, Jasper Johns remains one of the great masters of the 20th century.
Above: Racing Thoughts. Image available at www.nj.com 7 February 2008
Left: Jasper Johns. Image available at drawpaintprint.tumblr.com
Right: Catenary. Image available at visualarts.walkerart.org
Left, above: Scent. Image available at www.artnet.com
Right, above: Homenage to Jasper Johns. Image available at www.tapestry.co.nz
0-9. Image available at www.jasper-johns.org
Translated from the Spanish by Ben Riddick
- Jasper Johns. Biografía, obras y exposiciones - - Página principal: Alejandra de Argos -