John Akomfrah at the Barbican

I visited John Akomfrah’s exhibition Purple at The Curve Gallery in The Barbican. Sean O’Hagan (2017) describes Purple as “an immersive, six-channel video installation that attempts to evoke the incremental effects of climate change on our planet”. It was a fascinating exhibition which O’Hagan goes on to state “eschews a linear narrative for an almost overwhelming montage of imagery and sound”.

As much as I appreciated experiencing this part of the exhibition, my attention was particularly drawn to the first exhibits in the gallery titled Preliminal Rites (2017). These were a series of six photographs which the gallery notes describe as Digital C-type colour print on Kodak Paper 203cm x 152cm

 Preliminal Rites is a series of two triptychs featuring people in period costume in a rural landscape and heavily symbolic setting.

 

 

I studied the images for ages, are they landscape or tableaux? They are certainly in a landscape setting, but are far more than a record of a landscape. There are many symbols in the images, the very prominent clock face indicating the passage of time, the barrels and tyres indicating despoilation of the countryside, the skull a symbol of mortality. The gallery notes said that the triptychs question “our notion of permanence – be it the transience of natural resources or the longevity of human morality – as a momento mori of our precarious times”. I wanted to find out more about the artist’s intention in these images and found on-line John Akomfrah in conversation with Anthony Downey in Art Mag by Deutsche Bank  (2017). Akomfrah describes the work as “a figurative photographic work that uses the language, ideas, icons, and conventions of the historical triptych to speak to modern themes”.

Akomfrah talks of his influences in this work, in particular what he describes as “two of the most famous triptychs in the history of Western painting”. These were  The Portinari Altarpiece (1475) by Hugo van der Goes, 

(Hugo van der Goes [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

 

and the Adoration of the Magi  (1510) by Hieronymus Bosch.

(Hieronymus Bosch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

It is always interesting to consider an artist’s influences and to see the degree to which they may have affected contemporary work. In this instance the landscape setting to the original triptychs is similar to that used by Akomfrah, people assume prominent positions in all of the images as the triptychs tell a story. Akomfrah’s differs in that all three constituent images of his triptychs are the same size whereas those by Bosch and  van der Goes follow the traditional pattern of a large central image with smaller flanking images on either side.

In  Art Mag by Deutsche Bank  (2017) Akomfrah describes how his panels “depict three couples—all of mixed heritage — who originate from different historical epochs: the 1860s, 1890s, and 1920s, respectively. The work is about journeys and journeying, and each couple presents or stages elements of that, as well as their relationships, in a panoramic setting”. He was particularly interested in “how these works explore liminal, in-between states of being, as if the figures in the landscape had been abandoned by time”.

I was fascinated to read in more depth Akomfrah’s approach, it was so much more detailed than the gallery notes at the Barbican. When I first saw the images in The Curve I could see that there was a detailed story being relayed, but I have gained so much more of that from further research. If I get the opportunity to visit The Barbican again before the exhibition ends I will try to see Preliminal Rites again as, following my research, I think I will get more out of it a second time.

 

 

REFERENCES

ArtMag by Deutsche Bank (2017) The Matter of Memory; John Akomfrah in conversation with Anthony Downey. At: http://db-artmag.com/en/99/feature/the-matter-of-memory-john-akomfrah-in-conversation-with-anthony-/ (Accessed on 10 November 2017)

O’HAGAN, S. (2017) John Akomfrah: ‘Progress can cause profound suffering’. At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/oct/01/john-akomfrah-purple-climate-change (Accessed on 10 November 2017)

Reflections on Part 2

Looking back on this part of the course my understanding of what is Landscape has increased hugely, whether from background reading or the exercises that I have done. I saw from the work of Watkins and O’Sullivan just how different a result can be obtained depending on your approach to the image – one of mankind in charge of the environment, or one of mankind awed by the environment.
Before trying it out I was a bit sceptical about watching a ‘road movie’ as part of a landscape course, but having completed the exercise I did learn from it, the concept of the road as a metaphor for life’s journey and what can happen alongside is one that is relevant to still images.

Again I was sceptical about reading Edgelands and what could be learnt about Wire and Power. But I am now really interested in this concept of edgelands and what you find there and how it is different to other parts of towns and cities. I am planning to take some photos of the edgelands of the town where I live. During this exercise I also followed up on one of the images mentioned in Power – Agecroft Colliery, Salford 1983 by John Davies. Looking back now on the first exercise I did for this course I was asked to draw what I thought a landscape would look like and I drew a very classical view as exemplified by the style of Claude Lorraine. My definition of landscape has now moved on hugely as a consequence of the first two modules, I may not even have considered Agecroft Colliery as a landscape image at the beginning. But I am now beginning to realise how landscape can be social or environmental commentary.

I found the philosophical consideration of appropriation quite interesting, and this may be even more appropriate for my final assignment. I had been intrigued by Hockney’s comments on landscape and perspective and was interested in looking at a collage landscape for the Transitions Assignment. As I have visited exhibitions over the past couple of months I have been looking out for collage work – I was particularly taken by the work of Romare Bearden in the Soul of a Nation exhibition at Tate Modern and have been researching his work further. For Assignment 4 I have to write a 2,000-word essay or critical review on a subject that relates both to the content of this course and your own photographic practice”. I would like to use this opportunity to investigate further the concept of landscape collage as I think that this would help me with Assignment 6 for the course.

I liked the section on Textworks and Land Art. I was particularly fortunate that the Richard long Exhibition Earth Sky was showing at Houghton Hall at the time I was studying this part of the course. This enabled me to find out more about the work of Long and use this to influence the images I produced for Assignment 2.
Looking back on my Tutor’s comments on Part 1 of the course I think that I have started to use research as a way of developing my creative thinking, as shown in the way I approached the assignment in Part 2 as well as the research I am doing on collage/montage for the final assignment.

I think that I need to do more work on developing in more depth my blog comments and reflect more on reading and my own work. I hope to add more to my blog on my reading and research quite soon.
But I certainly am taking time to research work of other photographers and develop projects, bot through reading, research and visiting exhibitions.

Earth Sky

I visited the Richard Long exhibition at Houghton Hall, indeed I chose a journey around the Hall and grounds as the subject for the second assignment of this course.

I was aware of the work of Richard Long from the History of Art modules I have studied previously, but this was the first opportunity I have had to see a range of Long’s works in a single setting. Apart from the sculptures, a number of Long’s Textworks were on display in one of the galleries and in another gallery there were several of his ‘paintings’.

I had seen photographs of Long’s work, but you do not get to appreciate the scale and beauty of them until you see them in situ. For example BARKHAM (2017) describes Houghton Cross as “Cornish slate exploding out of Houghton Hall’s croquet lawn” and I think that is a very apt description.

One of the exhibits, North South East West was inside the main house. O’FLAHERTY (2017) considered that “It brings the wild irregularity of nature inside, but ordered perfectly, as if by magic.” I found it a fascinating counterpoint to grandeur of the house itself, in the exhibition catalogue, O’NEILL & LONG (2017), the Marquess of Cholmondeley considers that the “slate and flint circle in the middle of the Stone Hall – the very centre of the house – is a dialogue with William Kent’s grandest and most sublime interior”.

One of the more intriguing exhibits was White Deer Circle, where tree stumps that have been uprooted on the estate, are inverted and placed in a circle. It seemed reminiscent of Seahenge (a 4000 year old Bronze Age timber circle found on the North Norfolk Coast). HALLETT (2017) describes it as “simultaneously a harmonious rearrangement of natural features in the landscape, and an outrageous perversion of natural order. The trees, apparently rooted in the air, seem to grow downwards into the ground”.

Apart from being the inspiration for my response to Assignment 2, I found it a fascinating exhibition and a real opportunity to study more closely an artist I had only previously seen in photographs. I was really interested in seeing Long’s use of geometric figures in his designs, particularly lies, circles and crosses. A very ordered, almost scientific, design within a natural setting. I did note though that the very stark designs, Houghton Cross and A Line in Norfolk were in formally arranged settings (the walled Garden and the Rear Lawn) whereas the wilder White Deer Circle was in the much less formal Deer Park. It was clear that the setting had a great influence on Long and where he would place his work.

I was also very pleased to have seen White Water Falls, white pigment tumbling down the black walls of the arched loggias of the Hall’s wings. There is a fascinating video of how Long put together this exhibition at https://www.houghtonhall.com/richard-long-at-houghton/

I particularly like the way Long is shown preparing for, and executing, the waterfall.

 

References

Barkham, P. (2017) Richard Long: ‘I’m proud of being the first person to cross Dartmoor in a straight line’. At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/apr/16/richard-long-earth-sky-houghton-hall-interview (Accessed on 11 October 2017)

Hallett, F. (2017) Richard Long: EARTH SKY at Houghton Hall. At: http://www.theartsdesk.com/visual-arts/richard-long-earth-sky-houghton-hall (Accessed on 11 October 2017)

O’Flaherty, M.C. (2017) Earthly delights: Richard Long unveils a series of art installations at Houghton Hall . At: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/luxury/art/richard-long-earth-sky-houghton-hall/ (Accessed on 11 October 2017)

Realist and Pictorial Landscape

Reading various books on landscape, in particular Liz Wells’ Land Matters has brought home to me just how much my views of landscape were formed from the pictorial condition. In fact it has been quite a revelation discovering work in the realist tradition – it wasn’t that I hadn’t been aware of or seen such work before, I had but I had never classed it as landscape because it didn’t fit my pictorial mindset.

It has made me think again about my photography and what images will be classified as landscape. This will have quite a consequence for my final assignment, Transitions, I would still very much like to try the collage project, but I think that I will change my back-up plan. Instead of looking at traditional, pictorial views, as I have been doing, I have decided to take views of my back garden as a way of conveying the change in the seasons. Fortunately I have quite a large garden so there is plenty of scope for creating suitable images.

Wells, L. (2011) Land matters: Landscape photography, culture and identity. London: I B Tauris & Co Ltd.

 

Boom For Real

I saw this exhibition at The Barbican of the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, the American artist. I didn’t know what to expect of the show as I knew nothing of Basquiat’s work before my visit. While quite a proportion of the exhibition space was of his work, a substantial part also seemed to be about his life, influences and friendships. It is difficult to describe his work- graffiti, scrawls, child-like drawing – came to my mind. It certainly wasn’t the type of art that I would buy if I had the money, but there were a couple of aspects that I found interesting within the exhibition.

Firstly I was interested to see another artist using collage within their work, ever since I first thought about using collage for Assignment 6 of this course, I have started to notice how frequently it is used in modern art. Not to a huge degree in Basquiat’s case, but certainly something he experimented with and it was good for me to study how it had been used.

Secondly, and much more widespread within his work, was the use of text. I had just been reading the section on Richard Long’s Textworks in the Landscape course material, so it was interesting to see the work of an artist who used text extensively. There is a big difference in how the two artist use text, Long uses words and language as the image whereas Basquiat uses text as one part, along with other material, to form an overall image. I saw how he had used single words, sometimes boldly, to influence what a viewer sees in an image, in other cases though he used phrases, short sentences, or a multiplicity of single words for overall effect.

I came away understanding a little more about how text can be used within art and intrigued as to  whether it was something that I could put to use.  

Gregory Crewdson – Cathedral of the Pines

I visited this exhibition at The Photographer’s Gallery, where all three exhibition floors had been devoted to its display. I had seen examples of Crewdson’s work before but only online or in books, this was the first exhibition of his that I had attended. I was aware of his style and the, almost Hollywood like, lighting set ups that he uses. Apparently, on this occasion though, his set up was rather more restrained than has been the case in the past.

I was intrigued to see how his work would fit in to a definition of ‘Landscape’, before starting this module I would probably have said that I would not have described it as landscape, but that is more to do with the very narrow definition of landscape that I previously adopted. I would now include this particular work within the definition,but classified as a very particular genre of landscape. WILLIAMS (2017) quotes Crewdson as saying “I’m not particularly interested in nature with a capital ‘N’. I’m interested in using these settings to describe something psychological”. This is similar to the psychogeography I have just been reading about in the course material, except that here Crewdson is creating and adapting the psychogeography to his own purpose. In fact, I described them in my notebook at the time as mostly “a cross between a mis-en-scene and a landscape”

I was very interested in the lighting used in the images, some of which, particularly where women were looking out of windows, seemed almost Vermeer-like (eg  Woman at Sink, 2014 ) I was interested to read the reviews of critics to see the artistic influences that they found in Crewdson’s images. BREEN (2017) considers Edward Hopper to be Crewdson’s “forebear” whose images of “ lonely Americana stripped back the inner workings of the nation’s psyche”. LUGEZ (2016) believes “many of the frames remind us of 19th century paintings, from Courbet or Manet, yet tinged with a contemporary anxiety”, whereas WATERS (2017) considers one of the most important influences to be “19th century landscape painting2 and comments on how, in Crewdson’s images “In many of the domestic scenes, the outside appears to be encroaching on the interior space, and light pours thorough the windows”.

It was a fascinating exhibition, and one I got a lot more out of having done some of the early work for the Landscape module

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

BREEN, M., (2017), Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines [Homepage of Time Out], [Online]. Available: https://www.timeout.com/london/art/gregory-crewdson-cathedral-of-the-pines [Accessed 08/10/2017].

LUGEZ, A., (2016), Cathedral of the Pnes [Homepage of Lensculture], [Online]. Available: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/gregory-crewdson-cathedral-of-the-pines [Accessed 08/10/2017].

WATERS, L., (2017), How photographer Gregory Crewdson captured the sad heart of Trump’s America [Homepage of Daily Telegraph], [Online]. Available: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/photography/what-to-see/photographer-gregory-crewdson-captured-sad-heart-trumps-america/ [Accessed 08/10/2017].

WILLIAMS, E., 29/06/2017, 2017-last update, Gregory Crewdson on his new series Cathedral of the Pines [Homepage of Creative Review], [Online]. Available: https://www.creativereview.co.uk/photographer-gregory-crewdson/ [Accessed 08/10/2017].

Soul of a Nation – Art in the Age of Black Power

I visited this exhibition at Tate Modern not really knowing what to expect, certainly I knew something of the Black Power movement in the USA, but very little of black art from the time.

The whole exhibition was fascinating but I will look at three aspects that struck me and in particular how they relate to my study of landscape. Some of the first images in the exhibition were by Romare Bearden who I had not heard of before,

(Romare Bearden, The Dove, 1964)

They were collages and I was particularly interested in these because of my own interest in producing collages for Assignment 6. One of them “The Street” was a beautiful collage constructed of images from magazines of the time. There were many people in the image, some fully depicted, others suggested, almost like ghosts. They were set against a cityscape background of buildings, street and a bridge. The composition and achievements of his collages has given me a lot to explore for my own work.

Out of the whole exhibition one imag stood out to me above all others. It was by Archibald Motley and has the very prosaic title of The First One Hundred Years; He Amongst You Who Is Without Sin Shall Cast The First Stone ; Forgive Them Father For They Know Not What They Do c1963-72.

This oil on canvas took ten years to complete and presents what the gallery notes call a nightmarish vision of “a nation at its symbolic best and worst. The terror of the Klansman’s burning cross shares space with the sacrifice of the crucifixion “.This is a landscape with a very powerful political message.

The third aspect which interested me was the photography of Royal Decarava. I will take two of his images as examples. As a landscape Platform and Light 1960 is simple but very suggestive.

To me it talks of the anonymity of travel, perhaps of disorientation.

Finally, having seen a lot of images of the Civil Rights movement and read of the struggles against violence and discrimination, I found this image by Decarava very moving in what it suggested.

 

The fact that it’s title is Shade cord and window 1961 somehow added to the intrigue. It also showed to me how the curating and display of images can affect how they are viewed.

Exercise 2.6: Edgelands

I liked this concept of Edgelands, somewhere not quite of itself but on the edge of somewhere else – not interesting enough to be a town or city centre, not rural enough to be called countryside – the places where you find sewage treatment works, power stations, business or retail parks. The wording on the front cover of the book describes Edgelands as “a wilderness that is much closer than you think: a debatable zone, neither the city nor the countryside, but a place in-between – so familiar it is never seen for looking”. Writing on the back cover of the book Richard Mabey says that the Edgelands “where the veneer of civilisation peels away, are the most despised and ignored of landscapes”.

In Wire Farley & Roberts consider finding wire in the landscape, whether the sagging, single strand of a wire fence around a derelict building – or the high fences surrounding a freight depot. They consider the fence, e.g. razor wire, as a deterrence an the threat it poses. They describe children climbing chain link fences sad, wilted flowers tied to fences as tributes to victims of road accidents.

What they achieve from their description is an evocation of the different feel or sense that you get from seeing a fence and what is beyond – happy childhood memories or feelings of threat and unease.

In Power they describe power stations, in particular cooling towers as they appear in the landscape. They consider that they do fit one of the criteria defining Edgelands “a function we can’t live without, but don’t want to live with” and “We want them close enough to serve us, but far enough to be ignored”.

They make an interesting point about architecture in the Edgelands, that there is “more freedom from the watchful eyes of city planners and residents worried about house prices, they can throw up shapes and forms that don’t look quite like anywhere else”. They then talk a little about how the Bechers photographed and displayed such structures. This is a point that rings very true, you do see a style of architecture in such places that would, in most cases, not be acceptable in town and city centres. It would be interesting to explore the edgelands of where I live.

I was familiar with the Becher’s work having seen it in an exhibition, but I couldn’t remember the work of John Davies, so I looked up the image they refer to http://www.johndavies.uk.com/ox.htm. Davies titles it Agecroft Colliery, Salford 1983. Farley & Roberts describe it as “One of the most remarkable photographs of cooling towers”. It is a compelling composition showing the scale (almost brutality) of the power station and the electricity generation but countered by the people carrying on their lives (playing football) regardless. The people are dwarfed by the architecture, but play their football regardless. It is the inclusion of people in the frame that makes this image. Without them it might be a photo of the grandeur (or ugliness) and the scale of the buildings. Including the football match in the frame shows how the buildings are constructed for human benefit, but also the price that has to be paid for enjoying what they produce.

 

Farley, P. and Roberts, M.S. (2011) Edgelands: journeys into England’s true wildnerness. London: Jonathan Cape.

Exercise 2.5: Text in art

For this exercise I took a short walk around the churchyard in the village of Stanhoe, Norfolk. I made a few observations as I walked around and took photos on my phone. Thinking about he exercise later I decided to transfer my observations in the form of Haikus, defined by Oxford Dictionaries as “A Japanese poem of seventeen syllables, in three lines of five, seven, and five, traditionally evoking images of the natural world”. (https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/haiku)

I had never written a Haiku before so it was quite an experience. I found that the restrictions of the form of the poem really made me concentrate on the image or observation I was trying to convey.

 

STANHOE CHURCHYARD 

 

Tiny mushroom caps
Painted white the path is brown
Nature’s parasols

 

Open but unripe
Fell from the tree much too soon
Infertile chestnut

 

Glistening brown seed
earthy colours presenting
Child playing conkers

 

Crawling through the grass
The slug slithers its way to
Whoever knows where

 

Cross as a headstone
Blank grey stones behind it
Who chooses a cross?

 

Stone covered in moss
A carpet of living green
The occupant beneath

 

Yellow on the cross
Lichen giving it colour
Yellow not blood red

 

The green of the shrub
Provides the perfect background
Yellow by the graves

 

Ivy reaching out
Spreading over the brick wall
What does it feed on?

 

Random stone pattern
The wall surrounds the churchyard
Wall stone not head stone

 

Fungal growth on bough
Little mushroom mighty tree
Which of them dies first?

 

Gateway to churchyard
Entrance for living, and dead
Wrought iron guardian

 

Parish noticeboard
Lead roof of church protected
Is nothing sacred?

 

The same poems next to a photo of the observation I made

 

 

 

Tiny mushroom caps
Painted white the path is brown
Nature’s parasols

 

 

 

 

 

 

Open but unripe
Fell from the tree much too soon
Infertile chestnut

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glistening brown seed
earthy colours presenting
Child playing conkers

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crawling through the grass
The slug slithers its way to
Whoever knows where

 

 

 

 

 

Cross as a headstone
Blank grey stones behind it
Who chooses a cross?

 

 

 

 

 

Stone covered in moss
A carpet of living green
The occupant beneath

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yellow on the cross
Lichen giving it colour
Yellow not blood red

 

 

 

 

 

The green of the shrub
Provides the perfect background
Yellow by the graves

 

 

 

 

Ivy reaching out
Spreading over the brick wall
What does it feed on?

 

 

 

 

Random stone pattern
The wall surrounds the churchyard
Wall stone not head stone

 

 

 

 

 

Fungal growth on bough
Little mushroom mighty tree
Which of them dies first?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gateway to churchyard
Entrance for living, and dead
Wrought iron guardian

 

 

 

 

 

Parish noticeboard
Lead roof of church protected
Is nothing sacred?

 

 

Exercise 2.4: Is appropriation appropriate?

Geoff Dyer’s article was thought-provoking and I found the work of the artists he mentions reletively interesting. I was, however, left with the feeling ‘so what’s new?’

Lucie-Smith (2003 p17) defines appropriation as a “Term used when an artist takes over pre-existing images to re-employ them unchanged in a different context or with a different purpose in mind”. Harris (2006) talks of Warhol appropriating soup cans and boxes of brillo pads, also of Rauschenberg appropriating existing images into his own work. Magada-Ward (2009) describes the work of Sherrie Levine who photographed photographs taken by, among others, Walker Evans and Edward Weston and then (re)presents them as her own in the series After Walker Evans and After Edward Weston. Langford (2008) describes the work of Christy Johnson who acquires photographs in the marketplace and uses them to construct a narrative around religious themes.

In this respect the appropriation of Google street view images follows in a similar tradition, the use of images produced by someone (or something) else in a different context or different way from their original use. I am, personally, quite comfortable with the use of images in this way (provided they don’t breach copyright laws. As far as I am concerned it is the final image and how it is viewed that is important not how it was obtained.

In fact appropriation of Google Street View images can have a very positive effect, Google itself has published a film of a person with severe agorophobia who used Street View images. The Agoraphobic Traveller tells the story of how Jacqui Kenny found what she considered to be fascinating images when using Street View. Quoted on the Stories for Good website  she says that “Over a span of a year and a half I have taken over 27,000 screen grabs, yet just over 200 have made the cut”. She has now had an exhibition at a Manhattan Gallery. A selection of her images can be seen at http://theagoraphobictraveller.bigcartel.com/#_ga=2.229138972.1285651648.1509885515-2070799425.1509885515 

 

 

REFERENCES

HARRIS, J. (2006) Art history: the key concepts. London: Routledge.

LANGFORD, M. (2008) ‘Strange Bedfellows: Appropriations of the Vernacular by Photographic Artists’ In: Photography and Culture 1 (1) pp.73–93. [online] At: http://dx.doi.org/10.2752/175145108784861400 [Accessed 02/11/2017]

LUCIE-SMITH, E. (2003) The Thames & Hudson dictionary of art terms. London: Thames & Hudson.

MAGADA-WARD, M. (2009). On Wanting to Write This as Rose Selavy: Reflections on Sherrie Levine and Peircian Semiotic. The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, 23(1), new series, 28-39. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20721541 [Accessed 04/11/2007]

STORIES FOR GOOD https://www.storiesforgood.org/the-agoraphobic-traveller/#_ga=2.229138972.1285651648.1509885515-2070799425.1509885515 [Accessed 03/11/2017]

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