(please know that English is not my first language)
1. First Week readings : The Wisdom of Art - Roland Barthes
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this text, probably because I am a painter myself. In many ways it reminded me of 'What painting is' by James Elkins. analyzing the process of painting. many very interesting thoughts (the Mediterranean/satori/Twombly’s graphic signs/the analyzing of his different gestures/ representation of culture itself (inter-text), subject as a concept contrary to ‘what is happening’ is the subject in classical painting, the different kind of stages of his paintings, the palimpsest he produces and the beautiful metaphor that these marks that appear to be failures give the canvas the depth of a sky in which light clouds pass in front of each other without blotting each other out, etc)
One of them would be, for example, the titles and dedication of paintings, which brings in the intimation of another logic to the work. Anselm Kiefer would also often use titles which had at first thought nothing to do with the subject matter of the work. He referred the titles to Germanic mythology and history, thus juxtaposing the consequences of WWII to the entire German history to everything that was before the Nazis came to power.
Another interesting thought is the subject / object discussion and the suggestion that in Twombly’s work the whole weight of the drama falls back on the person who is producing the work. But it falls on the viewer and his interpretation. Also very interesting how Barthes analyses the different types of subjects, the viewers. What the viewer brings to the work is time and the openness to engage with the work. Background knowledge, experience etc. that is why I think that never can a painting by Twombly be interpreted in the same way by two different people. We bring to the work our experience, our empathy which helps us find our own individual interpretation.
The process of painting is divided up into many different stadiums, where we think about the work, plan it, make drawings, inform ourselves and do research (I would look at maps, study the history of a place and walk the area). However, when I start painting I also start by working with chance, enjoy the day in the studio where I do not step back and judge my work, or ad shapes that would add to the meaning and the concept of the work. Rather let my hand and body decide what to do, throw paint make shapes with big brushes, add various colors etc, including all of these later to represent the many layers of history in my work.
When I saw his title of a painting ‘Birth of Venus’ I had referred this to Boticelli’s painting, the arising of the sea and it was interesting to read about his references to poets like Valery and Keats. In my own work I have some pieces that refer to poems by Paul Celan. However, I do not dedicate the work to Celan or use the title of the poem (Todesfuge, death fugue) as a title of the work, instead I use the first line of the poem : Black Milk of Daybreak/ Schwarze Milch der Fruehe.
This reading made me come even closer to Twombly’s work, understanding his abstractions, his marks, informed by his thoughts and knowledge derived from his being exposed to the Mediterranean culture, poetry etc. I agree to the sentence ‘it is as if the painting was conducting a fight against culture, of which it jettisons the magniloquent discourse and retains only the beauty’.
Last but not least, ‘to draw an intelligent stroke’ is indeed what makes Twombly’s work so different and something to aspire to. I found the text very refreshing and encouraging when I think about my own work and leave it with the thought that the ‘essence of things is not in their weight but in their lightness’.
- From Work to Text Roland Barthes
Very interesting to read about the concept of text in the context of sense, meaning and understanding. English is my second language so when I read a text in English it is always like I encounter the text from the outside, always thinking about the meaning of the individual words at first before the whole sentence structure takes on a meaning. Letters are marks that makes words, when we look up a word in the dictionary there are always different possibilities of translation (unless, of course, when we talk about objects). The French word for the German word ‘uebersetzen’ or the English word ‘translate’ is ‘interpret’ and that is actually what happens often, especially in epistemological texts, there are often different ways and possibilities to interpret the text. The reader, the interpreter brings to the text his experience and knowledge and creates his own interpretation. I can also relate Barthes ‘as for the Text, it reads without the inscription of the Father’; that is very similar in painting. The viewer of the work owns the interpretation whereas the painter owns the creation, but has nothing to do with the possible interpretations of the viewers.
If many different artists interpreted a certain moment or place in a book and responded by creating a painting or any piece of art, not two art pieces would look the same, they would all be different, since we all interpret what we read in a different way.
The text made me think of a recent book I (started to) read : Georges Perec’s Species of Spaces and Other Pieces, where he works with words and text as pattern, or lines etc and bring a whole different thought and perception to the ‘text’.
Only today, at the Liverpool Biennial I saw a piece of work by 5 different artists collaborating in Damascus, all from different provenances, not speaking the same language and all only communicating with their hands and gestures (add artists!!!!).
Barthes analyses ‘text’ in a philosophic way and reminds me a bit of Brecht who was thinking about the viewer of a theatre play.
I must say that there were some words I was not able to find in the dictionary (such as oued, semelfractive, ludic, aletheological, etc. and there were some passages, such as the passage where he talks about the plural of the demoniacal texture that I had difficulties in understanding.
We need to put the text about text also in context of the time it was written in, almost 50 years ago. During this time perception of text, habitudes of reading, spreading of information has spread dramatically. For me this work invites us to think about text in all different kind of directions and does not present a closure or a status quo. The text is informed by other texts and knowledge and provides us with a blend of information of different sources and with many possible interpretations.
- Praxis Enrichment Reader
What a joy to read those texts. Some of them are really brilliant, I love it when a text or a film or a painting evokes a certain mood in me. I therefore enjoyed Wender’s text, only describing one scene of the film precisely you know exactly what mood he wants to create in his movie. Many years ago I read Suesskind (in German) while I was in Paris, he describes what he sees and smells in such detail, a fantastic way to encounter a city.
I also enjoyed the text from Glasser, (what is book’s title please), what a wonderful ability to describe these kind of feelings, the pain of a broken heart.
2. Second week – Walking
Rebecca Solnit : Citizens of the streets: Parties, Processions and Revolutions
Rebecca Solnit : A Field guide to Getting Lost
Saul Bellow: Maps of the Imagination/Imaginary Scrolls
Rebecca Solnit : One Story House
Henry David Thoreau : Walking
Rebecca Solnit: The shape of a walk
Rebecca Solnit : Tracing a Headland : an introduction (wanderlust)
Werner Herzog : Of walking in Ice
Rebecca Solnit : The Solitary Stroller and the City
Frederic Gros: The Philosophy of walking
I am a walker myself, I walk the streets of cities to capture the atmosphere. It is a feeling, a mood, something that I gain that I cannot even express in words. While I walk I get lost, in my thoughts. I walk every day for at least an hour or two, at home in Canada I walk through a huge park, close to where I live, while I travel, like now in Liverpool, I enjoy walking the streets for hours. I must admit that I had not known that Nietzsche was a walker. The concept of denying society, leaving social pressure behind, and entering a different mind space to walking pleases to me. I know about artists who use(d) walking as an art form, Tim Knoles, did an interesting artist talk in Cheltenham last year, or the art by Richard Long or performance artist Maria Abramovic, however to read about Thoreau’s, Nietzsche’s and others walking artists as a form of existence was extremely interesting.
My descriptions of walking and travelling resemble a bit those of Werner Herzog in his ‘Of Walking in Ice’. It is a recording of the things I see and encounter, my thought while I am walking and the conversations and encounters I have on the way. Rebecca Solnit is an urban walker and I can compare her walks through SF with my walks through Berlin, which has seen incredible changes over the years that I have visited this city. I have never lived here, except for my residency at the beginning of the year, I encounter different areas all the time.
Rebecca Solnit leads us not only through the areas she walks through but also does a lot of research and provides a lot of information and deep research. In One Hour Story, for example, we experience the walk through her dreams, imagination and memories. She wonders why there was a tortoise in the dream and then provides the reader with all possible knowledge about tortoises. Like in a walk there is a ‘easy’(light?) flow from theme to theme. The metaphor of the Tortoise man that is told in the story reminds of Herrmann Hesse’s poem Stufen (steps), which encourages the reader to go the next step, to enter the next room, even if it is hard and we don’t know what is coming. Since I walk every day as well, I very much enjoyed those readings. A day can never be that busy that I cannot walk for an hour at least.
I had read the book The Loser by Thomas Bernhard, which is mentioned in Imaginary Scrolls, a very exceptional book in which the reader indeed gets lost, the author guides the reader to slow down and focus in a very unconventional way. Also here, as an introduction to several different books, the author’s introduction is the description of different maps and very unusual, hence interesting world views.
The German word for Wanderlust is Fernweh. The word Weh means pain. (fern is far). It implies the pain of badly wanting to go away, to go to that blue of the horizon described in Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost. Like Solnit’s metaphor trying to cut away the salt crystals, embracing that feeling of melancholy, enjoying that longing for the distances we never arrive in, cherishing the thought that there are always puzzle pieces in our life that are missing, if we would ever have assembled them all, life would be dull. (I have moved 26 times and there are always friends who are away, and enjoyed to read Simone Weil’s description of friends in the distance and the atmosphere that fills and colors this distance). The Blue of Distance a very poetic and thought provoking text.
The street as public space, the space where – like Dubcek said – things were and are solved. I was in West Germany while the silent revolution on Alexenderplatz in Berlin and Karl-Marx-Platz in Leipzig took place in 1989. There were Western news reporting about it, their journalists often filming secretly. There was a lot of fear that people would be arrested or killed and it went on for weeks and weeks. It was heartbreaking, people on the other side of our country who just wanted to leave. When the wall finally fell, due to a misunderstanding during that night, it was indeed the biggest proof to me that things can always be solved in the street. Joseph Beuys believed in true democracy and founded an organization that would promote referendums. When he said ‘everyone is an artist’ I think he meant that we all need to participate in the whole and be part of the people who decide in politics and who actively think and participate in public life. (in response to Citizens of the Streets)
3. Third week readings:
- Irit Rogoff – ‘Smuggling’ – An embodied Criticality
Last week I went to the opening of Goldsmiths MFA show, together with one of Irit’s former MA students I looked and discussed the work. I would not criticize some of the pieces, critique it? No rather, as Irit suggests approach the work with an open mind, informed by my education though, but completely open to encounter the work and let the meaning unfold at its place.
In my own work I realize I have been very literal, explaining the viewer very clearly what he sees. There you go : two maps painted on top of each other and then the title describes the actual place where it is. Recently, for a piece that talked about my own constructed identity I dedicated that piece to Michel Foucault. This is far more stretched and adds another layer of thought to the piece. When Irit suggests that it is more about inhabiting the problem rather than having to analyze it, I agree, what we are trying to do is to describe a status quo, make people see or think about something, maybe provide a different perspective to their previous assumptions.
It is exactly what happened at the MFA show, meaning unfolding, taking place in the present, in every new art piece and I try to approach it with openness and try to erase all previous knowledge and experience from my mind and try to approach the piece and see what happens and let the meaning unfold. How do the social construction, the historical context and the relations influence the ways artworks are received?
A thought that came through my head while reading the text by Irit is the question I was raising very often while I did my residency this year (Jan to March) in Berlin was : isn’t it that the artist needs to ‘own’ a theme in order to talk about it? Thinking about the refugee crisis and getting to know several artists from Syria during my stay in Berlin, confronted with imminent problems of migration, shelter, displacement, fear etc etc I was wanting to see a curator invite Syrian and European artists to respond to this crisis and was wondering why is there not a show in Berlin or London etc that invited artists who ‘own’ this theme of migration and being a refugee in a foreign country. Contemporary, conceptual art, here and now, a response to what is happening right now in Europe. It is a theme that is discussed on a daily level in politics, the refugee crisis, which initiated a shift to the right in several European countries and even caused the ‘Brexit’ in Great Britain. Instead, at the beginning of the Berlin Film Festival, there was a hugely celebrated event and opening where ONLY AiWeiWei got to exhibit his life vests at the Gendarmenmarkt. That’s it? AiWeiWei what has he to do with this refugee crisis in Europe? And that’s it? No other artist gets invited to respond artistically to this theme? Maybe, after reading this text I should not be so strict, (smuggling? Appropriation? ) but then, really, there we are : come to London and see ‘Conceptual Art 1966 -1978’ at the Tate and Georgia O’Keefe at the Tate Modern. It would be so wonderful if the big established art museums, instead of making tons of money by attracting the big masses would respond to current (political) themes. Irit describes those prepackaged and ready to use exhibitions and I agree with her, they are way less interesting. When Hal Foster describes the physical exhibition space also as discursive network of other practices and institutions, other subjectivities and communities, there is clearly something missing in some of the big art institutions today. (BP as a sponsor of exhibitions??)
I am inspired through this reading and try to figure out what an unbounded could be in regards to space, practice, knowledge etc. Also I found it comforting, the description of where we are at, in our profound frustrations, trying to solve and to understand with our gained knowledge, life experience and insights, realizing that all these do not help to live through current conditions but that we are challenged to not wanting to solve problems but to ‘access a different mode of inhabitation’.
- The artist as Ethnographer ( I found this text very difficult to read, trying to translate it into German)
In global times, as artists who are aware of what happens and happened politically in any differenty area, I question or was confronted with the question of for example who has a right for example to discuss colonization in North America. First nation people who were exploited, abused, betrayed, killed etc etc ? or the former colonizers, in today’s Western Canada these would be the descendants of the former British colonizers. Or anyone who has immigrated since? The only way for me to talk (as an immigrant) about the current identity of the place where I live was to collaborate with first nation artists.
In difficult political times (eg Turkey, Syria) how can we from the outside judge what is true?; how can there any critical response to the current political situation when the artist needs to fear for his life? we need to provide a forum in safe countries for those artists to meet and discuss and express their individual opinions and express their thoughts and their work in our open spaces. Independent from ‘western judgements’, must make ourselves free from what we think our selves true, influenced from Western media. This is not a place for judgement, but only to open possibilities and forums to open ways to communicate. I have been looking in vain for public institutions providing support or interest to what is really happening in these countries. But our government and politics forbit any interest to engage.
Following my interest to connect with artists from all over the world but at the moment especially from Syria to hear their story and to give them support in any way I can. To provide connections in Berlin and to help facilitate their new lifes here in Berlin while I am here for a short while, I recently in March, through UDK connected to an artist from Syria. There is no way I can tell his story, still I see it as my obligation as a German artist to help refugees (incl. artists) from Syria integrate into our communities. A project I wanted to suggest for my MFA: I have done a two hour interview with Fareed, in which he tells his story. Political horror and circumstances in Syria, killing of his father by Assad army, fleeing, leaving wife and three young children in Turkey, via boat to Greece, fear of prosecution even in Turkey, life in Berlin in a room with 200 further refugees etc, etc. In today’s discussion: my approach to tell his story, my project would have been to produce a video in which I juxtapose ‘first world problems’ of North America to his story. I would like to discuss this project further during class.
- - Some Problems in Transcultural Curating (Gerardo Mosquera)
A very interesting question : how to aspire to a true plurality in the diffusion of art…. Especially in London we can see how the art world is influenced not only by the big money, but by who is who in the art world and it was interesting, during my BFA studies in England to analyze some of the connections in the British art world. I absolutely agree, the art of the ‘periphery’, from away of the art centres needs to be shown internationally by the periphery itself. It cannot be that the centres of the art world curate the exhibitions from abroad.
also: my additional current readings
Adam Yarinsky : Donald Judd and the Blooming of Reality
Laura Bowie : The Impact of World War II and the Individual and Collective Memory of Germany and its Citizens
Nicholas Bourriaud : Postproduction, Culture as screenplay: how art reprograms the world