Friday, 17 November 2017

the radical history of Middlesex

Looking for information about the former art & design campus at Cat Hill and Quicksilver, I came across this interesting blog about the student occupy movement at Middlesex

Friday, 10 November 2017

Susan Hiller’s The Last Silent Movie

The Last Silent Movie

Hiller orchestrates voices of the last speakers of extinct or endangered languages. Subtitles translate their utterances while the screen remains black. … this work provides the framework for the audience to reflect on the speakers and the conditions that may have prompted the loss of their language. These silenced speakers buried in archives, have literally been given voice again by the artist.

I would like to have seen (heard?) this film, and was only able to find some clips online.

Alexandra writes about the work as rescuing these voices from the archives, and about the 'recording voice as index of an already fleeting human presence.'

The work is ‘full of shadows’ eg. the recording device which crackles audibly and the shadow of the anthropologist or data collector who assembles the clips.

Referencing Charles Sanders Peirce’s description of the index as a sign that denotes the object through an actual connection, and Roland Barthes’ idea of the index in Camera Lucida as ‘a haunted and haunting quasi-signifier’  the essay is about the effect of the recorded voices. (Barthes was writing about photography but his idea is applied here to the sound recording of the human voice.)

‘The recorded voice can become a melancholic vestige of presence now past and a testimony to this passing. '

This discussion of the uncanny, of loss and haunting reminded me of Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho, a non silent movie.  It is partly about the themes of memory and home, and the plot revolves around the index, in the form of old home movies.

The protagonist Mike has a form of narcolepsy (cataplexy) in which he falls unconscious when he experiences strong emotion. The memories of his childhood and his lost mother which trigger the narcolepsy are seen on the screen as home movies featuring various lost childhood homes.

Author Peter Brooks, writing about memory in Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principal, writes ‘The understanding of time.. is the work of memory… or more precisely we could say with Freud, ‘of remembering, repeating, working through.’ Repetition, remembering, reenactment are the ways in which we replay time so that it may not be lost… All we can do is subvert time, which is what narrative does’. (Freud’s Masterplot, Reading for the Plot p 92)

Film represents what was filmed in the past in the present moment, and this narrative film plays with its power to subvert time by bringing what has been lost alive in the present.

I think the theme of loss, which is more political in this example of Susan Hiller’s work, is something often expressed in art. 

My Own Private Idaho is a mainstream film, but by drawing attention to the mechanics of  recording through the home movies, it is also dealing with the mystery of time which has passed and is irretrievable. 

Art may try to record time and to relive it, but it is only a recording.  Gus van Sant’s film draws attention time and again to home movies by replaying them, underlining the recording of a ‘fleeting human presence’.

The essay quotes media theorist Friedrich Kittler ‘Voice is neither dead nor alive: its status […] is that of a “living dead” . Alexandra writes “In recording, the voice has its intrinsic uncanniness simultaneously amplified and repressed.”

I was not sure but I thought that this meant that it is uncanny because it is as though the person is alive, and a recording of their voice seems more ‘real’ than a photo – so the uncanniness of it not being the actual person is repressed. At the same time we know that it is only a recording and the person whose voice it is may be gone, so the uncanniness is amplified.

I find Susan Hiller’s subject moving because when I lost a friend to cancer, after she died I heard her voice, (rather than imagining I saw her.)  Whenever I think about her it is always her voice I hear. It is especially strange to think that her voice is still so clear and vivid in my head when I won’t ever hear it again.  I think this is the core of the mystery that The Last Silent Movie deals with.

I ran out of word count to write about Claire Pajazkowska's Tension, Time and Tenderness: Indexical Traces of Touch in Textiles.

In brief, CP anaylses textiles through semiotics and theories of child psychology.

“Tension” - she discusses the texture in relation to semiotics, and how material and meaning are bound together.

In semiotic terms,  it is made by hand and therefore an index of the hand, but can also be symbolic.

Time - to summarise, it takes time to make the textiles

Tenderness - about child psychologist Winnicott  and the theory of 'holding' & containment (both physical holding, and in the sense of holding ideas).

In theory it should be interesting. I  remember some of this from last time at university nearly 25 years ago. Just wondering why we still haven't moved on from Freud and semiotics yet.

Friday, 3 November 2017

bell hooks on Jean Michel Basquiat, Barbara Rose on Jasper Johns

bell hooks writing on a Basquiat retrospective in Art in America 1993

A black author writing about a black artist and the white critical art establishment. bell hooks shows how endemic racism and the entitlement of the critics leads to them underestimating Jean Michel Basquiat's work or making racist claims about primitivism in his paintings.

bell hooks writes about how they wilfully ignore the political content of his work, judging it only from the perspective of a Eurocentric, white Western art history. The essay reclaims the ‘dynamism springing from the convergence, contact and conflict of varied traditions.’

It’s a personal essay about bell hooks' emotional response to Basquiat's paintings, which also manages to bring in the wide influences and context of his work, from African art and history to jazz, hip hop and graffiti, discounted by the other critics as it didn’t fit into the canon.

The essay defends Basquiat, as the exhibition in 1993 seems to have been slated by many white art critics at the time, and his work was torn to pieces.

This  was republished more recently for Black History Month (date not given in article).   It is interesting reading this 24 years later,  as now I would say that Basquiat’s status is currently very high in the art world (eg the very popular and lauded retrospective at the Barbican in Autumn 2017, and his “Untitled,” painting sold for $110,487,500 at Sotheby's in May 2017) and it’s a less controversial opinion to say he is a great artist than it was in 1993.

(This shows just how the art market works, how reputations can rise and fall, and how fashions can come and go. To sell a painting for that amount of money, it’s in the interest of the market to big up someone’s reputation.)

I really like his work.  I do wonder what he would have made of this essay, he repeatedly said during his short life that he didn’t want to be seen as a ‘black artist’, but as an artist, in the same way that most of us might be feminist but not want to be shoved into a ghetto as a ‘woman artist’.  I think he always knew his own worth. He was painting the world he lived in.

The racism bell hooks talks about in the essay is alive and well. I liked Banksy’s ironic comment outside the Barbican exhibition, which recalls Basquiat’s painting Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart), about the death of his fellow graffiti artist at the hands of NYC police in 1983.


Barbara Rose on Jasper Johns for the RA Magazine Autumn 2017

I read the the second article next and couldn’t help comparing the artists because I read bel hooks first (and watched films about and featuring Basquiat such as Downtown 81.)  Johns didn’t have to hustle for his place as an artist in the same way, to be seen as legitimate by the establishment.

They have in common that they both found their source material in everyday life and in iconography, (eg Basquiat’s skulls and crowns, cars and planes, and Johns’ maps, alphabets, flags and brushes) but only one still has to be defended as a real artist.
Flag 1955 Jasper Johns

Jasper Johns, Untitled, 2013, offset lithograph

Barbara Rae is an art historian ‘who has written extensively on Johns’ work.’ This article for the RA magazine is for a general audience, so is not academic  but it is sometimes unintentionally funny. ‘like serial killers who often take a hiatus, Johns did not paint the third canvas… until 1966.’ ‘Obviously Johns, like the fox in Pinocchio, actively tempts the critic to see.’ And some names are mentioned for no reason (eg Proust, Dosteyevsky) as they don’t seem to have a connection with his work.

The sentences I have underlined in the text include ‘transforms objects into images’ (but this is something artists have done since the Lascaux cave paintings, so can’t be claimed just for Jasper Johns) to  ‘displaced in a variety of contexts that alter their meaning’.  It describes his practice, using printmaking to develop his painting and vice versa, and going from 2D to 3D and back.

I quite like Jasper John’s art (unlike Basquiat's work I think it doesn't reproduce so well but is stunning when you see it). But this is the kind of writing that makes it seem less than it is, just because of the breathlessness and awe of the style. What Alastair Gentry would identify as ‘Normal Thing Is Amazing Because Artist Did It’

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Notes on the Index

 Notes on the Index: Seventies Art in America

Rosalind Krauss for October Vol 3 Spring 1977

Rosalind Krauss art critic writing about the variety of art forms in the 70s and what such different art forms (video, performance, ‘earthworks’ &c, all share. She writes about the primacy of photography in art (as compared with painting for earlier generations)

What the different art forms share is the idea of the index – something ‘standing in’ for something else. She gives the examples of physical traces – eg footprints,  medical symptoms, cast shadows.

I understood the ideas she was talking about, but the terminology was confusing.

Refers to terms of structural theorists Lacan (French psychoanalytic theorist) and Roman Jakobson (Russian–American linguist and literary theorist writing about language)

Shifter = a linguistic sign which is empty, having a floating meaning which depends on the context.
 –eg ‘this’ - when you say ‘this chair’ ‘this table’   the word ‘this’ is only given a meaning by the context.

also personal pronouns –  ‘I’ or ‘you’ change meaning depending on who is speaking in a conversation.

Rosalind Krauss compares the symbol to the index

Symbol -

 An image which can be detached from the object or idea it represents – “completely arbitrary and must be culturally learned” 

different types of symbol

Numbers and written language/words are also symbols – there is no connection between the thing itself and the word  representing it. For example:

can be cat in English or gato in Spanish or chat in French or
in Chinese

(This talk about the index and the symbol also reminded me of Magritte's The Treachery of Images)



 “they are the marks or traces of a particular cause, and that cause is the thing to which they refer, the object they signify.”

This is where I started to become interested,  I’ve been photographing these (index) images as visual sources for a long time without realising what it was called.

Just some of them below (for some reason Blogger is rotating some of the photos upside down & won't let you correct this)

Monday, 16 October 2017

Site and Situation: (not) at Home


Professor of Contemporary Art, Theory and Criticism at Middlesex, an art critic and historian with a specialism in feminist art criticism and theory about contemporary women artists.

An introductory essay to Fran Cottell’s book, which collects together descriptions of different interative installations in her home over a period of time. 

Cooking Up the Self Bobby Baker and Blondell Cummings “Do” the Kitchen by Lesley Ferris

Critical writing with some historical background, analysing two different performance artists; Bobby Baker stages her work in her own kitchen and Blondell Cummings performed in kitchen ‘sets’. 

Written by Lesley Ferris - Arts & Humanities Professor, Department of Theatre at Ohio State University, a theatre director and scholar.

Blondell Cummings Chicken Soup –

video still 1989

Bobby Baker Kitchen Show

Bobby Baker: Redeeming Features of Daily Life edited by Michèle Barrett and Bobby Baker (2007), Routledge.   







  Fran Cottell:  “During the 1980s and 1990s I had started to think about the public/private relationships between and within the body (often represented by clothing) and or the spaces we occupy.”

Fran Cottell is the Fine Art Senior Lecturer at Camberwell.  

 “Since 2001, Cottell has used her own house as both subject and experimental site for her performative events, subtly altering this domestic environment through architectural interventions. (Camberwell website)

Back to Front installation 2011– photos by Terry Watts from Fran Cottrell’s website

The work made interventions (eg viewing platforms, peepholes) over a period of time in her own house in Greenwich and invited people in whilst going about her everyday life with her family.

Platform for visitors to stand on while family got on with daily life

Fran Cottell’s interest has been in exploring the relationships between ‘inhabited spaces’ – the body, the home, and the exterior world.  (Introduction by Fran Cottell)

She found that galleries were too public a space and wanted to explore ‘real experience’ – the interior space and the life that took place there.’

Collecting time – invited different curators and critics to put their heads through a hole in her daughter’s bedroom floor so that she could take a photo of them

In this essay, Katy Deepwell writes about the work in the context of sculpture, and cites Rosalind Krauss idea of the ‘expanded field’ – 

 “No longer an object to be looked at, the work will literally put us in another place, create another kind of environment”. 

Instead of standing and looking at one fixed object in one space, the experience can be a ‘4D experience’, being immersed in an environment or installation, happening over a period of time.

Some examples of other immersive installations for comparison:  

DreamThinkSpeaks’ Absent, Shoreditch Town Hall, 2015 

 photo Jim Stephenson

‘An intimate promenade installation inspired by The Duchess of Argyll’s residence at a central London hotel in the 1970’s’ 

14 Radnor Terrace 1974 – feminist art group SLAG – South London Art Group took over/squatted a small terraced house as a large scale installation  called ‘ A Woman’s Place’  - contemporary critique of family life. 

In 2017 Raven Row gallery reconstructed some of the work, the show was called 56 Artillery Lane in homage

Su Richardson for Fenex 1977 (my photo) recreated in Raven Row in 2017


Fran Cottell explains in her introduction how a live ‘real’ experience is more vivid and alive , something that it is not possible to deliver through a performance in a gallery.

(I enjoyed the Raven Row show very much but you can see how much more powerful it must have been in the squatted house the artists had taken over in the 1970s.)  

Also, by inviting people into her home with her family, the work ‘invites viewers to consider ‘where’ they are in the process of viewing the work: a viewer/a resident, a participant/an observer, part of the life displayed/or on display” . 

I  felt that Katy Deepwell and Lesley Ferris were both admirers of their respective artists’ work.The writing was enthusiastic and keen to give the reader a personal impression of the work, and to argue for its value. 

Both pieces admitted the work is not easy to convey in description. For this kind of live work, to get the most out of it you really have to be there. 

I also thought that the pieces played down the humour of this work, as though if something is funny, it can’t also be serious and meaningful. 

I liked Fran Cottell’s remark on her visitors. 

 “Most people reacted with humour… although some… reported back afterwards, complaining that they had been unable to sleep, after a visit, because they found it unsettling’. 


It is alive and vivid , more so that a traditional gallery installation, but not repeatable, recordable (or sellable?) 

I wondered why the book was only available as a download? 

Can a writer support themselves with this kind of work if they don’t also have a day job, eg an academic job at a university?

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Symbiotic postures of commercial advertising and street art: rhetoric for creativity

Journal of Advertising vol 39 2010

Before looking at the article, it is useful to consider the Situationist concept of Recuperation.

Debord in the Society of the Spectacle said that official culture is a ‘rigged game’
‘where conservative powers forbid subversive ideas to have direct access to the public discourse.’

‘ Such ideas get first trivialized and sterilized, and then they are safely incorporated back within mainstream society, where they can be exploited to add new flavors to old dominant ideas. This technique of the spectacle is sometimes called recuperation.

To survive, the spectacle must maintain social control and effectively handle all threats to the social order.

More broadly, it may refer to the appropriation or co-opting of any subversive works or ideas by mainstream media.

 It is the opposite of détournement, in which conventional ideas and images are reorganized and recontextualized with radical intentions.’

(Quote about Recuperation from Wikipedia.)

This article is a good example of recuperation, as the authors state at the beginning
“…we analyze a set of rhetorical practices employed by street artists that not only reflect, but might also be used to shape, commercial advertising…’

Street art and graffitti can be about subverting consumer culture.

Dr D Sly

Fiat 1980s? 


Adbusters  Absolute AA 



The article suggests using the techniques of street art and graffitti to reinvigorate advertising and sell more successfully to their audience ‘appropriating street art’s authentic essence to revitalize their own commerical efficacy.’  

It was written by four professors of marketing at American and Italian universities for the Journal of Advertising published by the American Academy of Advertising in 2010.

It is aimed at professionals working in the advertising industry and is written in academic language,  based on a 3 year study with 20 artists across Italy and the USA in person and through ‘netnography’ (study of websites?) and on 60 ‘consumers’ – ie viewers of street art.

 It offers as analysis of the techniques of street art and suggest advertising can appropriate these techniques. It concludes ‘Street art can be considered as an emerging template for commercial advertising’.

They claim to use ‘visual data’ as examples in the article, unfortunately in the copy the pictures have reproduced poorly and are unclear, which is ironic considering it is about the power, persuasiveness and impact of visual images.  

I found this article depressing, but in the end concluded that advertising (capitalism) and graffitti (radicalism) will always coexist and feed off each other in a loop.