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Showing posts with label Marcel Duchamp. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Marcel Duchamp. Show all posts

Saturday, 1 June 2019

The #DorotheaTanning Tweets

Sunshine after rain : moving from Bonnard to Dorothea Tanning at Tate Modern...

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2019 (17 to 24 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

1 June

Sunshine after rain : moving from Bonnard to Dorothea Tanning at Tate Modern...

Deirdre (1940) ~ Dorothea Tanning

Dorothea Tanning ~ [Title and date to come]

Some other Tweet :

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Friday, 23 June 2017

Marcel Duchamp and the signed, porcelain urinal called Fountain (1917)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

23 June

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Monday, 18 August 2014

Gustav Metzger, Damien Hirst, and being a butcher

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
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18 August

The cinematic reference is : White Heat – or White Star ?

At the end of it all, whatever the merits of Kettle’s Yard’s (@kettlesyard) Gustav Metzger retrospective Lift Off ! in Cambridge (which runs until 31 August 2014), is one just left with ideas of responsibility and redundancy, and with exhibits that could be reliably reproduced by anyone following the instructions / principles involved ?

One wanted it to amount to more than The Science Museum in a gallery, but the overlap is really less than when, in his quest for understanding, Peter Diggs goes to look at Klein bottles in Amaryllis Night and Day (a novel by Russell Hoban*), and ends up meeting both the man who made them, and, much more, what they signify to him and his situation. Or, in another Hoban novel* (Angelica Lost and Found), an imaginary creature in the Orlando Furioso of Ariosto learns how, by travelling to a space of contradictory appearance, to become real and occupy human form – only to be haunted by art, and visit others with it, that unnervingly revisits that space.

Hoban (who died at 86 in December 2011) was full of life, and with an irrepressible interest in science and technology (as this writer touched upon in Russell Hoban at 80, a festschrift [] from February 2005), so he could just as easily conceive of Jocasta as the organic computer Pythia, and invent interstellar voyaging by means of flickerdrive, which is based on the idea of what happens in all the spaces caused by the refresh-rate of the retinal image. This feels like a real meeting, a fusion of art and science.

In comparison, Metzger – not always easy to understand when he speaks nowadays – may have been talking about meeting The Who, how they wanted to do a benefit gig for his colleagues and him (but their management refused), and ending up doing a liquid-crystal light-show for a gig of theirs at The Roundhouse. However, it was in some obscure context, never curatorially explained, of having to be at The Central Criminal Court (The Old Bailey), and there was never any suggestion here of cross-fertilization between art and science – he did his things, they did theirs (almost a transaction**)

A note on so-called auto-creative art :

Put a primed canvas on an easel, line up a prepared palette and a selection of graphite, pencils, rags, brushes, solvents, water-jars, lock the room, and wait to see what happens…

Or set a process off (it could be a computer, generating fractal- diagrams, or liquid crystals that are being heated on a slide in front of a projector), and see what happens.

Both outcomes are predictable within certain limits, i.e. that the canvas remains as it is, or another piece that looks like a fractal-diagram is generated and the heated crystals distort into patterns that are projected, but there is no auto-creation. If there were, the canvas would be painted on, and one would not know what to expect of the program or the set-up with the crystals :

The exact patterns generated are not known beforehand, but they have not caused the process that gave rise to them (even if they did, via a feedback loop, that loop’s effect would have been envisaged and pre-ordained).

The show Lift Off ! is stochastic processes and applied physics, and, although some of the exposures of fibres moved around on photographic paper may be striking, it is essentially an aleatory method that can be repeated over and over, and one could fill the room with the things, but they largely resist having an artistic content. Dancing Tubes could just as well belong in a Health and Safety Commission training video about the dangers of releasing compressed air without controls, and any lab could set it up.

The scientific method says that an experiment should be capable of being reproduced, and these works can be by just having the notion of what is to be achieved and setting it up, which may even produce refinements or improvements. The idea seems temptingly close to the approach of Damien Hirst (except that he was the one who did first cut – or have cut – in half a formaldehyde-treated cow (and a calf)) and exhibit it (them) as art), and yet so far away, with his being across the line in art.

Not indisputably so, though, with works displaying concepts such as What Goes Up Must Come Down (1994)*** and Loving in a World of Desire (1996) (using the same essential technology), or, perhaps, the less-skilled spin paintings) but in terms of a body of work that is recognized as artistic. The Plexiglass, table-tennis ball and hair-dryer of the former differ from similar museum displays of the principle of keeping a ball in the air by explicitly being – or appearing to be – ready-made items, such that the hair-dryer coincidentally has the right amount of upthrust to keep the ball in motion (though its current may, of course, have been safely adapated to achieve this effect, by trial and error with resistors or the like, behind the scenes).

Hirst’s huge ashtray Crematorium (1996) (not his only repository for cigarette-butts), Roni Horn’s huge glass pieces (opaque, red, black, and one at least resembling an ashtray ?), take the artist into the hands of a manufacturer who will produce what the artist seeks, but the vision makes it more than any old order from a glassworks. There is even more artistry in generating a fractal diagram and giving it a colour-scheme than in most of these exhibits of Metzger’s :

Though some would sniff at fractals as art, but not hesitate to embrace Duchamp’s Fountain [] (Tate Modern (@Tate) exhibits a replica in 1964) – there, the mistake is as to the real work of the piece, which was Duchamp’s gall and iconoclasm in submitting it to an exhibition at The Society of Independent Artists, not the urinal itself. A Museum of Curiosities seems a better place for what Metzger gives us, alongside automata, counting-engines, and elaborate orreries.

He created, after all, a significant art show in and using materials found around a brand new laboratory in Swansea : if that influenced anybody, then we need to know how and why, and that should be at the heart of curation. Instead, the rather unhelpful assumption is of an unannounced starting-point, and hence of shutting off discussion, to the effect that any distinction between art and science is arbitrary : yet the fact is that anything that can be depicted as a continuum has no point where something ceases and another begins does not render it meaningless to ask the question*** and to set limits (e.g. abortion and the medico-legal test of how many weeks old a foetus is).

However, the one-day conference Art, science and social responsibility in 1960s’ Britain largely took tangents from Metzger, and shied off, much of the time, from stating clearly why we should care about him now, whatever his approach was 50+ years ago, and not just forget about it as a by-way : Metzger, sadly in a wheel-chair, was ‘in the room’ literally (the aptly Zen Lecture Theatre 0), but he was rarely the topic.

A brief summary report on the conference – to come…

As to auto-destructive art, the Conference seemed to have assumed that what Metzger did in 1960 with a large pane of glass, a larger piece of nylon stretched across it and applying hydrochloric acid that neither the set-up, not the outcome needed to be described : the Tate (@Tate) has has done it for us.

Again, it is to be noted that the description of auto-destruction is simply wrong : the nylon clearly did not destroy itself, Metzger destroyed it by painting acid on it, otherwise, if I kill someone with a gun, I could call it as meaningfully self-shooting syndrome.


* Respectively, Bloomsbury, London, 2001 and 2010.

** The allusion is to the play Shopping and Fucking by Mark Ravenhill.

*** One of Zeno’s paradoxes starts with a grain of millet, and adds one, and then another : when does it become a pile ? Blurring boundaries because of the in-between ground is as much a fallacy as the law of the excluded middle (where anything that is not X must be Y, whereas it could be Z, in that middle ground), and it ignores the obvious fact that two grains are not a pile, 20,000 grains are. A chemistry experiment is not a piece of art, and a work by Watteau is not science.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Richard Hamilton at Tate Modern

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25 May

This exhibition at Tate Modern (@Tate) is about to finish (on Monday 26 May).

Its curation is almost as curious sometimes as some of the objects (or their juxtaposition) in the recreated exhibition, which Hamilton organized for The Festival of Britain in 1951, Growth and Form (in Room 1) :

Perhaps, somewhere, there is a room-guide equivalent to the text that appears, in the free exhibition booklet, to describe Room 1 and 2, but, if so, it is well hidden* - the appearance is of walking into Growth and Form with nothing to explain what it or its relevance are. It is good to show these things (as was also done with other exhibitions, a few months back, at the ICA (@ICA)), but there needs to be an introduction. A small ante-room with a video-loop, perhaps (if such footage exists) of Hamilton talking about the show, might have helped place it for visitors.

In any case, though Hamilton may have been (since he was nothing if not someone who observed carefully) ahead of his time in intuiting forms of patterns of growth in - to name but a few - plant, crystalline and shell development, structure and growth that have since been linked to fractals or The Fibonacci Series, this may not be the best place to start with him, nor may it be Variations on the theme of Reaper (1949) (in Room 2) (please see below).

For, in the choice of exhibits, display and interpretational material, one simple question seems not to have been asked (or, if so, the answer not carefully enough considered) :

Who is this Hamilton retrospective for ?

Is it something that, as with the big Damien Hirst show, people could wander into and around, such as they did past and even through his severed cow and calf, and make of it what the immediacy of the canvases, objects and videos conveyed*** ? Or, if people are to be able to value Hamilton's contributions to the British art scene and beyond, do they need a little more guidance (which the Hamiltonian enthusiast - keen to see some works live, but with a greater initial idea of these things - could ignore, if he or she wished (as could any level of visitor in between)) ?

In relation to Reaper, it is not as if we are being chronological, since it pre-dates Growth and Form by two years, but then, as with many recent Tate shows, we do generally adopt that approach by period : in the meantime, after the 1951, we have confronted the visitor with fifteen etchings of a reaping-machine, from all sorts of angles, and with varying techniques and levels of detail.

In this connection, the following point, which is made in the Introduction, would be more aptly drawn to the visitor's attention here :

He often produced several versions of a particular work rather than a single 'finished' piece [this suggests, however, that the versions have the status of sketches or maquettes, rather than being complete in themselves], and throughout his career explored new printmaking methods and digital techniques.

However, as the Introduction has been placed on the wall, the assumption is that the visitor has read and digested it, or seen it the booklet presented at the door, by the time that Room 2 is being viewed... Hate it also as a kiddies' version as one might, what is often said about Cubism is arguably as relevant here, e.g. that there is a response to Einstein on relativity and / or Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle*** in giving us multiple views of a face - or a reaper.

As to this choice of exhibit, maybe there is merit in something produced whilst Hamilton was still at the Slade, maybe not (would one normally go as far back as art college ?), but there seem to be no obvious answers to the following questions in choosing or presenting the piece :

Where does Reaper fit into an account of Hamilton's entire work ?

How does the visitor know that it has that relevance ?

One may hate the description of Hamilton as 'the father of Pop Art' (not least as, in connection with the Bridget Riley exhibition in 2003, Tate was keen to put her in a different relation to art history than that of a pioneering exponent of Op Art), but one is in danger with coming out of this show not knowing (though Room 5 says quite a bit about Pop Art - at this stage) :

* What Hamilton did as an artist

* What his importance was to other artists or the art world

* His significance to appreciating Marcel Duchamp - though some explanation seems to be here, in (the booklet for) Room 8 - and, more importantly, who Duchamp was and what it was that Hamilton valued

* Likewise Kurt Schwitters and the Merzbarn ?

* Why one has seen five or six times the image mainly known as Swingeing London 67 [this one is (and owned by Tate Modern) - what do the four or five others add to seeing it ?

The Tate has not only long owned Hamilton’s reconstruction of what is often, in brief, referred to as Duchamp’s Large Glass (properly called La Mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même (1915–1923), but has for many years had it on display at Tate Modern without (or without adequately – except here) explaining that this is not Duchamp’s original work***, which is too fragile to move (and in Philadelphia). Here, at last, matters are a little less unclear, but does one get much notion of the significance of what Duchamp had been working on between 1915 and 1923 through what is written in the room-note and shown in display-cabinets ?

In other words, who would know what Hamilton was doing in reconstructing this work – and why – who did not know already ? And what does the exhibition do to explain Hamilton’s involvement with the publication The Almost Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp (Arts Council of Great Britain, 1966), what it is and why it was published ? Yes, there are two copies, one displaying the green cover, the other the title-page, but nothing other than the sketchiness of the room-note to convey the answers to these questions to the visitor (the Tate web-site, linked to here, is a different matter altogether) :

1915 – 1923 / Reconstructed 1965 – 1966 / Lower panel re-made 1985

The glaringly unstated sub-text of all this is that not only did Hamilton curate a Duchamp show for Tate, but went about reconstructing the work for it : maybe all this is there, if one buys the book of the exhibition, but what, then, is the point of the exhibition itself, if not to explain the exhibits and what significance they have qua exhibits… ?

Work in progress - more to come...


* The last of these, too, were well hidden - which may be shorthand for saying that they had been put somewhere unideal, too. In this show, the Introduction did, as one checked, appear on the far side of Room 1 (Growth and Form), actually on one wall of Room 2 - with the room-guide for both Rooms on the wall where one went into Room 3...

** The spirit of Heisenberg is tacitly evoked later on (Room 7), with exposures of figures on a beach that have been enlarged over and over, and achieving greater proximity only at the cost of precisely the detail sought.

*** However, Duchamp did inscribe Hamilton’s reconstruction, as if it is the equivalent of the original. Here is what the Tate's web-page for the work much more usefully tells us :

The reconstruction took exactly a year to make. When Marcel Duchamp came to London for the opening of his exhibition, he agreed to sign it and inscribed it on the back 'Richard Hamilton | pour copie conforme | Marcel Duchamp | 1965'.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Mira Schendel at Tate Modern - Part II

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28 November

This is Part II of a review of a current exhibition at Tate Modern of the work of Mira Schendel (Part I is here), which is due to finish on 19 January 2014

Any show of this kind has a Room 1, where the firstlings are exhibited – these are pretty good early exhibits, and the wall notes tells us that, in an exhibition at this time, Schindler had her work reach out into the gallery space by how it was displayed. That said, such use of what conditions how art interacts with where the viewer is, and some of her later preoccupations, invite comparisons (none are drawn) with other twentieth-century iconoclasts, perhaps Marcel Duchamp, Hans Arp, or even, in a very different way, Kurt Schwitters.

Then, in Room 2, colourfield works make one inevitably think of Rothko’s approach to composing a canvas (as in Room 3 ?), but, curatorially, there is again nothing. As will emerge later, one asks for whom has this exhibition been mounted – those who would be helped by such comparisons being made, or those who are cognisant of where Schendel fits ? What, indeed, is the purpose of a room guide* (the leaflet that contains them credits curator Tanya Barson for the text) or a wall note ?

Yet, on another level, the room guide in Room 1 makes the claim that follows (it is not expressed as a possible view, but as fact) :

Her work constitutes an experimental investigation into profound philosophical questions relating to human existence and belief, often addressing the distinction between faith and certainty, and examining idea of being, existence and the void.

The paragraph concludes by telling us something of what the artist thought (although not how we know this, or how we can guess at what ‘activating the void’ means) :

Schendel saw her work as activating the void, thus poised between being and nothingness.**

In a different vein, in this room, one canvas, with verticals and two painted square apertures (as against the actual shapes cut into neighbouring works), seems very strong, and prefigures trompe l’œil works in the next rooms, where, for example, a painting appears to be four square tiles with grout, but this appearance has been rendered on the surface of the canvas (or other substrate, since, by now, Schendel sometimes used jute, apparently to give an effect of roughness).

In Room 3, making remarks about Sem título*** (Fachada) (Untitled (Facade)), from the 1960s (there are two works on this wall), the wall note says it is ‘suggesting a continuing preoccupation with the theme of home and with exile or displacement’. What the note fails to say is what other examples of ‘the theme’ there are, and I do not recall any other notes that talk about it (though, logically, they must be in Rooms 1 and 2): if there is a preoccupation that continues, one should, at least, be able to say where one has seen it before, and ‘exile’ is a strong word to use (although true in Schendel’s case, because her Jewish ancestry made her leave where she lived, in the German-speaking world).

The work does not necessarily need to be read as a building exposed and on its own, although that suggested description in the wall note seems to fit its neighbour – on one interpretation, the detail top left of the first work could be part of a complete façade represented by the rest of the surface****, rather than being the empty background in which it sits. We are reminded, by the room guide, of ‘the void’ :

[…] Schendel’s use of dark tones and archetypal forms re-state [sic] her interest in the relationship between being and the void and reinforces the fact that her work is underpinned by an investigation into the philosophy of existence.

Later, we are told about when Schendel came to England and read Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations : there are two things here, painting (art) and philosophy, and it is not self evident that reading (or carrying out) the latter is somehow portrayed or depicted in the former, although the reading, etc., may inform the artist’s views and practice. How much does it help, if Schendel read ontological works in the 1960s, to know that ? Would it help any more or less, if Bacon, Hockney, Riley read them, too ?

In other words, is someone showing off here : Schendel that she read this matter, etc., or Barson that she can make remarks about Schendel having done so, and asserting that it is in (or is part of) the work ? In Part I of this review, I commented on the works in Room 6, and what it is that these Monotypes, employing, with words in other languages, three related terms in German, Umwelt, Mitwelt, and Eigenwelt – so what, exactly, is the Italian phrase (cut up as indicated, and complete with spelling mistakes****) doing here ? :


Unless Schendel is being philosophically playful, why is she writing in Italian when she cannot do so without making mistakes ? For whose benefit is she putting a phrase in that language in her work – mine, that I can work out what she means ‘Your orange hair’ ? The room guide has a lot to say :

The Monotypes are marked by Schendel’s use and exploration of language. Often combining different languages, Schendel addresses concepts of belief, being and nothingness, and ‘the void’. Drawing on philosophical ideas of phenomenology (the study of consciousness) – she considers how we exist in the world (Umwelt or environment), with the world (Mitwelt or social world), and within ourselves (Eigenwelt or inner world).

In an essay (or a lecture), one might ‘address’ these concepts, or ‘consider’ these terms, but we have rough assemblages of these words on sheets of rice paper, and that is supposed to be doing those things ? Here is a collection of descriptions from the first part of the exhibition, which make similar claims (or report others’ claims) :

Room 4 :
These paintings [still-lifes] can also be seen as dealing with a philosophy of being (plus references to Heidegger)

Untitled (Landscape) :
Mario Schenberg describes these paintings as “ontological landscapes” linking them to reflections on being or existence

Room 5 :
Such words conveying a positive or affirmative relate to the themes of assent, acceptance or of conscious decision-making in her work. Therefore the work reveals the importance of an examination of conviction or belief in Schendel’s work and of ideas addressed in John Henry Newman’s An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent 1870

The room guide in Room 6 goes on to talk about ‘radical ways that they [the individuals linked to Signals gallery] attempted to reframe the contemporary art of their time’, in which that gallery was part of its time, but one is still drawn back to what putting words on a sheet does in the art / calligraphy / poetry sphere – did the Monotypes ever ‘say’ anything, and what can an observer in 2013 / 2014 be expected to make of them ?

Mira's writings are not texts. They are not about anything, and so they cannot be read as representations. They are pre-texts. They are what texts are before they becomes texts. [...]******
Vilém Flusser, 1965

At the same time, also displayed in Room 6, Schendel was keeping in notebooks a Diario de Londres, where, rather than writing roughly on sheets in ink, she has begun to use (as is seen later) rub-down lettering (which was sometimes marketed under the name Letraset, and which, contemporaneously with Schendel’s use in the late 60s and 70s, I was using).

Room 6 is host to a third type of exhibit, with rice paper used again, but in a sort of knotted paper-chain, either climbing upwards (as arranged), or suspended as mobiles – in either case, the apparent bulk is effectively without mass. The breakthrough seems to come for Schendel in combining works on paper with hanging it, as becomes apparent in Room 7

Even if one ultimately thinks that Imogen Robinson is harsh about Schendel's works in her Review : Mira Schendel at the Tate Modern for Just A Platform, it is of interest to find comments where she echoes finding pretension in the curation and the claims made


* By ‘room guide’, I mean the introductory text to each room, as against ‘wall note’, a piece next to a work (or group of them) and regarding it / them.

** There seems no consciousness that this phrase quotes the title of one of Sartre’s seminal works on existentialism.

*** A designation of almost all of Schendel’s work, which must make curation a challenge – in the other Tate Modern show, for Paul Klee, we see that he added the year, a sequence number for that year and a title to each work and kept a register of hose details. A British composer of whom I heard recently also does not use titles, but uses a letter (such as ‘V’ for ‘violin’) and the year to denote each piece.

**** It should read  I TUOI / CAPELLI / D’ARANCIA.

***** Likewise, the detail bottom right could be the atrium of a large building occupied by the rest of the panel (not out of place, say, in Brazilia).

****** Taken from the exhibution's chronology of Schendel's life. 

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Saturday, 26 January 2013

The Vermeer girl

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27 January (updated 10 February)

When Russell Hoban published his novel The Medusa Frequency in 1987, the dust-jacket bore an enhanced version of Vermeer’s painting Head of a [Young] Girl, as here

The painting was not referred to as Girl with a Pearl Earring*, because it was not called that then – Tracy Chevalier did not publish her novel, using that description, for another twelve years – but so popular has the title become since the book (1999) and the film (2003) that even the Mauritshuis in The Hague, where the painting ‘normally’ hangs (it’s not there when Hermann Orff, in the novel, goes to see it), is using it in favour of the name employed by Hoban (or Girl in a Turban and variants thereof, although Orff also does call her The Vermeer girl.

Looked at objectively, yes, the earring is there, but to assume (as the description does) that it is not one of a pair seems over-precise or even fanciful (as if the other side of the girl’s head-dress or even head may not be there, because we cannot see it), and, in comparison with the turban, the earring is not the most obvious thing in the painting, unless you are Chevalier and want to make it the centre of a mystery and a story concerning it, of course. (And several easily available images show her wearing earrings (plural), too.) Historical novelists do such things, after all.

Of course, a model for the painting might only wear the earring that can be seen, but I’d be surprised if she didn’t hold out to wear them both – just this once. I forget what Hoban has Orff say about the painting, but it is notable, amongst Vermeer’s work (it is thought to date to around 1665, ten years before his death), not only for not having a background, but also for having the face and upper body appear in complete darkness, save the light that we can see reflected from the young woman.

However, other models appear with not just jewelry, but pearls, such as the Woman with a Pearl Necklace (thought to be slightly earlier), which she seems to be holding out for someone the other side of the window to see (unless she can see her reflection in a mirror to the left), who also has earrings

So does the Portrait of a Young Woman (thought to be a couple of years later), but she has more elfin-like features than our Scarlett Johannson lookalike (but the same dark background)

Other than cashing in on notoriety, then, is there any real reason to have renamed with a title that does not exclusively describe the Hoban / Chevalier portrait, just because the latter writer gained attention by using it ? Could we imagine retitling the later works of Gorky to which André Breton helped him give names – I think that One Year the Milkweed and The Liver is the Cock’s Comb might have come out of that collaboration, but maybe they did not know best, and some marketing people could find even better names, which would have people search out these canvases worldwide.

We already have Duchamp’s La mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même more conveniently known as The Large Glass, and then existing in multiple forms thanks to Richard Hamilton’s work and Duchamp’s endorsement.

On that precedent, artists who have sometimes used names, as Roni Horn has for drawings, that do not say very much, or others who, worse, insist on pieces being just Untitled, could have official titlers who go around after them, fixing them with names for good PR…


Of course, it has been known to be done before, but not in this Chevalier-type way :

1. The sitter is Lisa del Giocondo, the wife of Francesco

2. Thus the punning Italian title, La Gioconda (which is La Jaconde, in French), because the feminine form of the surname means one who is jocund

3. The form of address 'my lady', madonna, came, at that time, to be contracted to mona (though, nowadays, monna)

4. Therefore Mona Lisa - and not a historical novelist in sight, coming up with a new name, based on earrings...


* Though, rather foolishly (I feel), the official Russell Hoban web-site does use that name.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Casual Chess

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Easter Monday

This is what Marcel Duchamp advocated, when he appeared to have withdrawn from making art in the early decades of last century - see, for example, the chess-sex that both Man Ray and he designed.

The heretical idea was that chess only came into existence when two players happened to be somewhere simultaneously and found themselves sitting on opposite sides of a board and playing.

However, it was one that came to be discredited when the Surrealists (which usually means their undisputed spokesman in André Breton) - and those who succeeded them - emphasized the place of Desire (where would Salvador Dalí be without it?).

Thus: I seek a game, so I summon another to me to play against me* - or we have a standing arrangement to play on such-and-such a day of a week at such-and-such o'clock.

Flirting does not enter into it, nor does Arousal**.



* And so the expectant, largely deserted cityscapes of Girgio de Chirico. (And yet his Hector and Andromache (1917) is full of so much more passion.)

** Thus we have the bare-breasted, dreamy women on the canvases of Paul Delvaux. (But the Le Galet of his compatriot René Magritte, in a Vache period, is far more erotic.)

Sunday, 18 March 2012

You'll break it! / It's not a toy!

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18 March

A micrometer - great therapy though it is to find, over and over, the thickness of a piece of paper, and hear it click click when it has reached the point of measurement - is Not a toy.

Nor is a spring-loaded tape-measure, but that doesn't stop it being great fun to have it literally reel itself back in, with that distinctive noise as the stop at the end of the tape (0", 0 cm) hits the metal of the aperture.

So what does that tell us about anything? That - as do other creatures* - we like to play, to repeat, to test things to the limit? Maybe

That, knowing what something is for, we find another use for it? - and, in art, it is Marcel Duchamp who is credited with calling doing this 'a readymade', Fountain probably being the most infamous of such works of his. So our inventiveness, turning our hand to other things, seeing something anew / from another angle?** Perhaps

Or the impulse - coupled with the enabling power - to subvert the order of things?:

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

in the words of early Joni Mitchell***. Possibly

And if not ourselves being those who act, then allowing it? - being those who 'having the power to do good', fail to do so? Conceivably

Saul, the man who became Paul and spread the Christian message over vast distances (from Malta to what is now Turkey), stood by, looking after the others' garments when Stephen****, the first follower of Jesus to be martyred, was stoned to death:

Whoever is not with me is against me (Matthew 12:30; Luke 11:23)

but also

For he who is not against us is for us (Mark, 9:40)


* Including plants?

** Yet this is not a purely human trait, as those will testify who try to devise ways either of keeping squirrels out of a bird-feeder, or even challenge the creatures to puzzle out a series of steps to secure rewards intended for them.

*** The song 'Big Yellow Taxi' from the album Ladies of the Canyon.

**** So what is usually called Boxing Day, 26 December, is St Stephen's Day.