A Sense of Space, Rendered Flat

One of the things I did when I fled to Glasgow on Referendum Day was to visit the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA). It’s one of my favourite places, combining a fine neoclassical building with uncluttered, beautiful, modern interior spaces, and interesting exhibits. And it’s free.

There were a couple of artists whose work I photographed. The first is Sara Barker, with For Myself and Strangers. The other, Nathan Coley, I’ll leave till tomorrow.

Barker makes abstract 3-D sculptures out of wire and painted materials that change as you move round them – no view of the the work is ever the same, because your position/perspective is always changing. By photographing one of them, I rendered it flat, but a photo from another angle sees it differently.

It makes me think of the fight for independence, about the sense of freedom and space it opened up, now rendered flat. Still an absorbing picture, depending on your point of view, but without movement a set of partisan images.

Slavic Dawn

Little Englanders are much exercised by the possibility that the combined working populations of  Romania and Bulgaria, 29 million work-shy, benefits-scrounging immigrants, will descend on dear old Blighty in 2014. This is when the perfidious EU lifts restrictions on movement between the 25 member states.

The Coalition has hearkened unto its heartland (the Daily Mail) and produced an action plan – negative ads in Romania and Bulgaria emphasising the downsides of life in the UK. You would have thought that triple-dip recession, an economically illiterate government demonising immigrants and the poor, and swingeing cuts to social services, would do the trick. Romanians and Bulgarians must be desperate to come here.

But enough carping. As a patriotic Brit, I’m willing to do my bit in repelling the Eastern Hordes. To that end I made a poster for the ad campaign, and here it is:

Keep Out!

What do you think? I’m not 100% convinced about the caption, but the image scares the crap out of me, and I live here. Suggestions are welcome as long as I agree with them, and there might be a prize for the best one. No, really, there won’t be a prize, though the winners will get a mention. Shall we say a week?

Update: Just changed the caption to something I like a lot more.

Angel of Anarchy

Angel of Anarchy 1936-40 by Eileen Agar 1899-1991
I saw Eileen Agar’s Angel of Anarchy in the cloth, as it were, several years ago at a Surrealist exhibition in London.  It’s a very disturbing object, which seems to reveal what it covers up, and yet we don’t know what it’s covering up.  It radiates all sorts of mixed messages.  Is that a bandage round the neck, with Frankenstein connotations?  But the fabric and feathers round the face are beautiful.  Is there a deception going on here?  If so, it’s a beautiful, tantalizing deception, with dangerous possibilities if you pursue the quest.

Made between 1936 and 1940, it’s impossible to ignore the historical context – the competing ideologies of Fascism and Communism – with their comforting certainties and sense of group identification.  Perhaps it’s a warning against that enticing allure, and the bandages round the neck go all the way up to the top of its head.  We know with hindsight what’s underneath them.

The title of the work certainly suggests a connection to Yeats’ poem, The Second Coming.  For the 21st century, there are many new possibilities.

I don’t know, and this is what art should do – pull the ground out from under your feet so you don’t know what you’re looking at.  Scatter the labels so there’s no neat definition and summary.  Make the viewer complicit in the interpretation.

A video of some of her other work.

The Devil and Niki de Saint Phalle

Niki de Saint Phalle is one of the artists whose work I tried to photograph at the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow recently. I got my photos, but there was a smudge on the lens, so I couldn’t use them.

De Saint Phalle’s dream project was a Tarot Garden, peopled by artworks inspired by the complete Tarot deck of cards. She realised this dream, after many years, on a plot of land in Italy. Here is one of the more spectacular works – the Devil with attendant minions – in situ, followed by a simpler copy at GoMA. Not my photo, unfortunately.

The Devil - Niki de Saint Phalle

The Devil - Niki de Saint Phalle (In MOMA)

I think he/she looks more impressive in natural surroundings, amongst all that rampant nature. If you’re interested in Niki de Saint Phalle, here is a documentary about her life, insanely chopped up into tiny segments: 123456789

Comical Genitalia

It’s not often you get a chance to use that phrase. I’m deeply grateful to an unsung staff reporter on the Sun for unleashing it on an unsuspecting world in this 2007 article, ‘Rude Buddha’ causes outrage. It was later lifted almost word for word in a Metro article – Cops probe Rude Buddha – a headline so brilliant you can forgive them the plagiarism.

The genitalia in question – a banana and two eggs – are welded onto a bog-standard statue of a seated Buddha. The work, by artist Colin Self, was probably considered rude by the good people of Norwich for a number of reasons. A banana and two eggs are surely innocent objects in themselves, but placed in the lap of a seated figure in an upstanding position, they acquire a whole new meaning. Then there’s the bronze colour of the foodstuffs, which stands out against the black of the Buddha. Finally, there’s the position of the hand curled in the lap – a classic meditation posture – suggesting an alternative activity is taking place. I’m reminded of a greeting card, with the picture of a seated mystic and the caption, “If that’s the sound of one hand clapping, I wonder what the other hand is doing?” Oh, and the statue was facing out into the street.

A Trilogy: The Iconoclasts is actually a witty spoof, melding ideas of sacred art with pop art, and evoking all the metaphorical associations of bananas and eggs. It’s a pity some people were so prudish as to complain to the police, forcing the gallery owner to turn it round so it faced into the shop. But I’d be surprised if it didn’t sell very quickly with all the free publicity. Perhaps Self got his friends to make the complaints.

So thanks to that staff reporter for adding an essential phrase to the English language – I hope it goes viral.

Well, the cheek of it!

Saddam Hussein’s statue, that is, last seen being pulled down in Baghdad in 2003. Apparently one buttock, which escaped being melted down, was acquired by a Derbyshire man who has now fallen foul of the Iraq (United Nations Sanctions) Order 2003. Thus becoming the butt of a thousand jokes. You can get to the bottom of the story in this Guardian article.

I promise not make any more buns – puns! – for the rest of this post. Bloggers, and possibly their readers, are so easily amused.

So why are the police feeling this man’s collar? The Iraq (United Nations Sanctions) Order 2003 forbids the illegal removal of Iraqi cultural property. But since the rest of the statue was melted down for scrap, and it was never of great artistic value, the police investigation does seem like an overreaction.

Amazingly, the Iraqi government want the buttock back. As the ex-soldier who rescued it in 2003 said, it’s “like the Elgin Marbles with attitude.” I can understand why to some extent. To live under a dictatorship, and then have your country trashed by your liberators, entails a devastating loss of history. It will be written by the dictator, and then the invaders, to justify their actions. To control your own history is an essential element of national pride, and perhaps even Saddam Hussein’s buttock is part of the jigsaw that will make them whole again.

And the comfort that people sometimes derive from dictators should not be underestimated. They make the trains run on time and absolve us of the hard decisions. This 2007 Daily Mail article is telling. One of the men who happily pulled down that statue in 2003 is regretting the fall of Saddam Hussein: “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.”

Alternatively, I could be over-thinking this. Perhaps they want it back to show what a complete arse the man was.