Visiting artist Gino Ballantyne, whose previous posts can be viewed here and here, has produced prose and images which relate to his research at GSA Library.
I was completely deaf in one ear for twelve weeks and it was a disorientating experience. My perception of sound altered at many levels, on my recent visit to GSA I still had this deafness. It made me very aware of the adjustments that I made to hear, and highlighted a potential for abstract sounds. I was receiving sound in mono rather than stereo, altering its essence. The way I translated intonation, frequency, timbre and vibration were abstracted approximations of listening. Another change I noticed was heightened colour sense, colours further away took on the same intensity as those close by. My feeling was these modifications in the way I received and tuned into sound changed the way I interpreted its meaning.
Looking up from the Reid building at the the monumental form of the Mack, isolated and encased by scaffolding and defiant in its independence, I felt like an outsider looking at a prisoner, anticipating its final release. I wondered if Mackintosh felt this isolation during the Mack’s opening night hosted by Fra Newbery, or his time spent in Warberswick. I was reminded of a quote from a lecture Mackintosh gave in 1902 entitled “Seemliness”.
“All artists know that the pleasure derivable from their work is their life’s pleasure – the very spirit and soul of their existence. But you must be independent, Independent – don’t talk so much but do more – go your own way and let your neighbour go his… Shake off all the props of tradition and authority give you – and go alone – crawl – stumble – stagger – but go alone… The Modern Movement is no silly hobby for a few who try to achieve fame comfortably through their eccentricity, the Modern Movement is something living, something good and the only possible art for all – the highest achievement of our time.”
Independent thinkers like Mackintosh have always made the British uncomfortable and he was no exception, suffering creatively during his lifetime and achieving greater recognition in Europe. Even though he had a litany of disappointments and frustrations in his creative life, the GSA is one of his greatest achievements and one of his most important buildings, recognized worldwide. The overall style which gives form to the Mack would be the thing Mackintosh would passionately sound out to keep. I am convinced he would resist any attempt by others to use his voice as a metaphor for their intentions while calling for change.
Leaving behind the interwoven configurations of scaffolding wrapping the Mack a conflicting rhythm and dissonance of parallel sounds and conflicts reverberated. The harmonic rhythms of the Mack set against the dissonances of the scaffold formed a contiguous metaphor for the future of the library and parallel conflicts about its identity.
Since the fire, the noisy conversation for the library space to be remodelled has continued. Collective voices reference Mackintosh’s modernist approach to influence their cause, a newly designed space, fit for today’s generation. Voices who collectively chase enigmas and cherry pick from history, forming fashionable mimetic sounds, a weaved scaffolding of frequencies echoing Conceptual Mannerism. When the poet Rimbaud’s maxim “we must be thoroughly modern” is misappropriated, it can lead to noise and introspection, two eccentricities Mackintosh would oppose.
Mackintosh’s architecture resonates with the purity of his voice, this is its heart and it seems right this should be kept. The original library design for 1910 seems to do that, keeping him and his ideas whole.
A recent BBC arts programme titled, “Bricks” looked at the controversy the Minimalist Carl Andres Equivalence VIII had on the British public during 1976. What interests me about the Bricks controversy is not Andre’s ideas or his art, which are fundamentally weak. It is how the sounds of time, history and personal memory become mythology and how the dispersion of a whole can lead to a cacophony of differing voices in extended conversation.
Two stills from Mythologies of Sound by Gino Ballantyne
In 1966 Carl Andre made a work, Equivalent I-VIII, for an exhibition at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery in New York. Equivalent I-VIII it was meant to be seen as a whole series because the spaces between each differently arranged stack of 120 white sand-lime bricks was as important as the arrangement of the stacks. The process Carl Andre used to make his sculpture is very straightforward and one which artists use all the time. He drew a design and then adjusted positive and negative shapes to form a whole object. His sculptural object contains the invisible and visible conversations giving his idea life. There is nothing new being said it is only the way it is presented. Andre does say “it is without craft”. But with or without craft, doesn’t make anything art.
For the poet Dylan Thomas craft was a skill he had to hone to help express as art his ideas. He wanted to talk with, not talk at, in his poem “In My Craft or Sullen Art” he wrote.
“I labour by singing light
Not for ambition or bread
Or the strut and trade of charms
On the ivory stages
But for the common wages
Of their most secret heart.”
When the dismantling of Equivalent I-VIII took place at the close of the exhibition in 1966 each arrangement of 120 bricks became a small provocation diminished by its isolation from the whole, leaving a legacy of variable chattering dialogues.
Maybe to restate his original intent Carl Andre remade a version of Equivalent I-VIII in 1995, the stacks were kept together as a single sculpture, it was called “Sand-Lime Instar” 1969-1995. The original Equivalent I-VIII had been listed as destroyed primarily because only one of the original stacks still exists and the others are all authorised remakes where firebricks were used rather than the original sand-lime bricks. A Firebricks version is one the Tate holds in their collection and although authorised is not an original.
Speaking in “Bricks” Damien Hirst said he wanted to make Sol Le Witt sculptures and give them emotion, and Cornelia Parker said you can “cherry pick” from these ideas. This photocopying and cherry picking of ideas is a major function of a mimetic Artworld, (lets tag on an ism), with Mimeticism it is always easier to repackage a photocopied idea with references used as symbols. Interestingly the Turner prize is “NOW” open, it is full of mimetic art, have fun getting to know the symbolic references.
This continual repackaging leaves me asking where is the genuine art of our time? Perhaps it lies within the data driven world where data is autonomous, constructing image, text, object and time.
Sol Le Witt, a pivotal artist in Conceptualism, and Minimalism; a term he concluded in his text Paragraphs on Conceptual Art to be “part of a secret language that art critics use when communicating with each other through the medium of art magazines.” He went on to say that ideas and the steps taken to form them into the seen are important, implying the idea is as important even if never made seen. Later adding, “I do not advocate a conceptual form of art for all artists. I have found that it has worked well for me while other ways have not. It is one way of making art; other ways suit other artists. Nor do I think all conceptual art merits the viewer’s attention. Conceptual art is good only when the idea is good.”
Le Witt doesn’t claim absolute authority with his clarification of his working process and is completely at ease with other forms of expression. This is an artist who thinks for himself and promotes independence as did Charles Rennie Mackintosh, neither are mimetic artists or need to play semantic games to express their voice.
For me the controversy surrounding Carl Andre’s ‘Equivalences” epitomises the flurry of defensive attitudes that reside in the “Artworld” commonly using expressions which saturate the idea of superior knowledge such as “until they understand” or “relevance”. In “Bricks” the art critic Simon Wilson used football as an analogy to say unless you understand the rules you can’t understand it. The inference has become more educated and perhaps then “you” might have something to say. Conceit is always a powerful weapon; it screams pre-eminence and makes others feel uneducated.
Robert Cumming was far more rounded and he elegantly enlightened the “Bricks” controversy, he has also recently written a very informative and insightful book on the letters of Bernard Berenson and Kenneth Clark.
I would like to reuse Sol Le Witt’s words in response to art critics International Art English, “nor do I think all [art critics] merit the viewer’s attention”. Further using his words as a reference to frame my critique of Andre’s Minimilist Equivalents Sol Le Witt went on to say “art is good only when the idea is good” which in Andre’s case it is not.
Revisiting Wilson’s football analogy, it is obvious the public understand winning and loosing and many of the semantic arguments in International Art English is about winning and loosing. The International Art English speakers critique The British Public, implying they need to improve their understanding, conversely with an eye to revenue streams, coyly add we can help you understand. The public are far more aware and realise they are being manipulated, leave them to form their opinions, after all, isn’t that what art is, a filter for the world with all its viewpoints.
Without audiences “art is dead”, photocopy, mimetic art, creakingly existing in ivory towers for dry academic discourse or in fortresses belonging to wealthy oligarchs as symbols of status. Hirst became the founding father of the idea “art is dead”, perhaps his galleries will promote non-attendance and he will keep his art collections in vacuum less rooms where sound is an abstract construct. I don’t think so!
Spotting a well-thumbed catalogue on Edward Burra from the Lefevre Gallery on the for sale table in the library I was reminded of the dissertation I wrote for my degree on Edward Burra “Nothing like a Dead Fartist”. Burra was an independent artist belligerently pursuing his path “Painting of course …. [was] a kind of drug” he said. His continual ill health from childhood, suffering intense bouts of arthritis meant he spent long periods at home immersed in his imaginary world. These experiences helped form his art, a natural disregard for the pomp and ceremony of authority and his ascerbic wit. He understood that beneath the surface existed worlds of human anguish, pain, loneliness and difference. Due to his frailties he found watercolour to be a medium easiest to work with. Sometimes using his spit to dilute and mix colours, embodying the essence of his DNA in his art before others began to think of these possibilities.
George Segal, 12 Human Situations, a catalogue for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, Illinois was the second item I spotted. Segal used a combination of space and environment to create his sculptural works. Adopting techniques of casting his sitters in sections using durable industrial plaster, which he then assembled and adjusted to suit his artistic sensibilities. He doesn’t use the negative of the inside of the plaster mould but keeps the imperfections inherent in the outer surface. These become a powerful recognition for the emotions that the sitter has gone through during the long casting sessions. Mummies are formed with an ethereal quality, which resonate the outer and inner life of the sitters. These sculptural / paintings are timeless invocations of life and human experience.
I noticed in the just arrived section a book on “Eduardo Paolozzi, Writings and Interviews”, which resonated with me. Paolozzi an artist who embraced different media and followed his own path who I would claim was the originator of Pop Art. He saw it for what it would become, a past participle, and his movement away from it signalled a far deeper thought process with a wider set of possibilities and technical innovations. Paolozzi liked to use collage to infuse his work with complex associations he said, “symbolic art, like life itself – a tangle unravelled”.
The book lays out his texts, ideas and illustrations sympathetically. Paolozzi wrote and illustrated for a poetry magazine called Ambit, a painting / sculpture / print /drawing and small edition I am making for another project is using Ambit as its form. On this cover shot taken at the Royal Academy of Arts by Andrew Lanyon are Euphoria Bliss a regular on Ambit covers. Behind her, seated, left to right, are Eduardo Paolozzi, J. G. Ballard and Michael Foreman, with Martin Bax standing.
Being able to contextualise Paolozzi’s wider oeuvre resonates for me, it’s the attitude I feel I should have when I make work, but one I steer away from so as not to imitate. Paolozzi is an artist who deserves even wider recognition than he already has. I shout out loudly for the Tate to reimagine his work in a large retrospective.
Back in my hotel, which had a large flat screen TV, I settled down to watch Psycho by Alfred Hitchcock, his artistry takes the viewer on a journey of time, space and altered reality. The poetics of space are caught, suspended and altered through juxtapositions of time. This spatial awareness works equally well with or without sound defining a uniquely individual perception for the interplay of both. My temporary deafness helped me think of ways to use the poetics of space altered through changes in time to animate sound in time based environments.
The way I perceive space, time, reality and my place in the universe are questions I continually challenge. David Bowie’s song “Lazarus” reverberates for me acting as a feedback loop to these questions.
Look up here, I’m in heaven
I’ve got scars that can’t be seen
I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen
Everybody knows me now
Look up here, man, I’m in danger
I’ve got nothing left to lose
I’m so high it makes my brain whirl
Dropped my cell phone down below
Ain’t that just like me
White Noise – Books to Note
White a beautifully presented book by Kenya Hara asks us to look for a way to feel white, to heighten our experience of it as space, sound and light. He says doing this we will recognise a greater degree of colour and our recognition of light and shade will deepen. White is at the centre of chaos and when it emerges from the surrounding chaos of colour it becomes creation.
A Contemporary Score. MOMA features artists working with sound eliciting reactions to sound and perception through cultural interpretations. The human interpretation by the artist as recording device is an area I am interested in and this show misses out on that possibility.
Notations 21 by Theresa Sauer was introduced to me during a conversation on musical notation and a discussion about translating analogue drawings of sound into musical compositions by J Simon van de Walt a musician, composer and multi-instrumentalist lecturer at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. The book shows how illustrated musical scores come in many forms and demonstrate an exciting way of developing drawings of sound into improvised compositions. This is an exciting development signifying how my drawings of sound can be translated into other forms.
For Ligatus I have been making hand drawn animations in Photoshop and then capture screen recordings of these using a mixing desk approach to play with time and space. Alongside this I have used Illustrator to develop jpegs into vector files to explode and create visual structures for 3D forms. From chaos emerges form, creating Sound compositions and sound viruses which humanise data where I am a vector virus erupting data’s natural order, reflecting human activity in a data driven world.
I am in the process of making drawings for a painting for St Peter and St Pauls, Buckingham Parish Church. Thoughts of, The Resurrection, Transcendence and The Crucifixion generate a palpable energy which has existed for centuries. Making a work that encapsulates this is an exciting challenge.