Archive for July 2012
“Journeys through Urban Britain” at the British Library.
Isabelle Koksal – 26th July 2012
“The picture they painted of British cities today … was indeed bleak”
I attended a brilliant talk at the British Library called “Journeys through Urban Britain”, chaired by Elaine Glaser, featuring Owen Hatherley, Laura Oldfield-Ford, and Owen Jones discussing the politics of our urban landscape. My terrible memory and my note taking on a scrap of paper doesn’t really do justice to the discussion – but I thought it might be worth throwing out some of the points that were made.
Hatherley and Oldfield-Ford both reflected on their wanderings, observations, and experiences of London and further afield, whilst Jones was on hand with statistics and a historical context with which to situate the changes in British cities. The picture they painted of British cities today, which are descriptive of the politics, was indeed bleak as more and more boundaries are erected, public space lost, and people forced out of their areas but there have been moments of hope, especially in the last couple of years. The speakers described the student movements, Occupy, and the ‘euphoria’ of the riots as examples of ways in which cities can be lived in and created differently.
Here are some interesting things that I learnt.
“There are too many people baking cupcakes” said Oldfield-Ford. Cupcakes are the apotheosis of neoliberalism right? They promote individualism with the emphasis on everyone having to have their own tiny, perfect little cake rather than people enjoying slices from a big cake. You just can’t share a cupcake as they are the size of one mouthful. Communal cake eating and enjoyment is destroyed by cupcakes as people become preoccupied with having the daintiest, fanciest cupcake they can get to outdo everyone else’s. They’re also slightly creepy as they seem to hark back to and celebrate women’s incarceration in the kitchen in the 1950s in the name of ‘retro’.
The opening song for the Shard was “fanfare for the common man”.
Owen Jones illustrated the inequality that is built into the Strata tower, in which there are separate lifts for social housing tenants at the bottom of the tower (so they don’t get the good views) and the rest of the tenants, reflects our unequal society.
The drift “an important strategy to see how flows of the city have been re-ordered – to see how we can re-configure the urban space”, said Laura Oldfield-Ford.
According to Owen Hatherley, walking around cities allows you to “see political processes at work…cracks are really obvious in British cities and that’s what my work brings out”. What do the Tories want? “It’s a project of destruction rather than construction”. Coin Street, a community trust housing development, is often held up (by the left?) as an example of how housing could be done, however, Hatherley points out that actually it’s not as pleasant as it seems. They have strict vetting process for who is allowed to enter their ‘community’.
Cities and work
Seeing cities as places other than places of work.
To do this – Owen Hatherley – need free time or a job that allows you to walk around the city.
The relationship between cities and work – ‘cities are giving us messages that we should work all the time, even when you’re relaxing having a coffee in Starbucks there’s a sign saying there is wi-fi’ – Elaine Glaser
Woolwich after the riots – there was a sign up saying ‘back to business’ as if to say “we won’t learn anything” said Owen Hatherley.
What does community mean? Laura Oldfield-Ford: “The broom brigade showed how nasty and vicious the word community can be”.
Unison’s new building on the Euston Road has social housing around the back of it, Hatherley would like to see unions getting more involved in housing.
“I think when Westfield shopping centre is looted and burnt out, it would make a good social centre”, stated Laura Oldfield-Ford.
If these disjointed notes have piqued your interest – I reckon it would be well worth checking out their books (in Laura Oldfield-Ford ‘s talk, she showed us drawings from her book and they were fantastic!) from your local library before the government tries to close it!
Owen Hatherley is the author of the acclaimed ‘Militant Modernism, a defence of the modernist movement’, ‘A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain’, and its follow up ‘A New Kind of Bleak: Journeys through Urban Britain’. He writes regularly on the political aesthetics of architecture, urbanism and popular culture, including Building Design, Frieze, the Guardian and the New Statesman.
Owen Jones is a writer and columnist for the Independent, who’s first book ‘Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class’ became one of the most discussed books of 2011, and has recently been updated to include the aftermath of the English riots.
Laura Oldfield Ford, artist and writer, has become well known for her politically active and poetic engagement with London. Part graphic novel, part artwork, her punk fanzine, now also in a book, ‘Savage Messiah’ records the beauty and anger at the city’s edges.
Elaine Glaser is a BBC producer and the author of Get Real: How to Tell it Like it is in a World of Illusions.
At the British Library, King’s Cross, Euston Road, London.
“Journeys through Urban Britain” on Friday, 13th July 2012.
“Patrick Keiller: The Robinson Institute” explores Tate Britain using psychogeography.
David Franchi – 16th July 2012
“Robinson is the key to explore England using psychogeography”
The fascinating exhibition “Patrick Keiller: The Robinson Institute”, at the Tate Britain, deems over the origins of the current economic crisis, through the analysis of the development of capitalism. The Keiller’s fictional character Robinson is the key to explore England using psychogeography as guidance. The researchers of The Robison Institute’s have organised this exhibition on the basis of the last film of Keiller, ‘Robinsons in ruins’.
Patrick Keiller is a British film-maker, writer and lecturer, born in 1950 in Blackpool. He studied at the University College of London and, as a postgraduate student; in 1979 he joined the Royal College of Art’s, Department of Environmental Media. He taught architecture at the University of East London and fine art at Middlesex University. He is the creator of the fictional character of Robinson.
Patrick Keiller realised movies with a specific technique: making use of subjective camera and voice –over. His first films are ‘Stonebridge Park’ (1981) followed by ‘Norwood’ (1983), ‘The End’ (1986), ‘Valtos’ (1987) and ‘The Clouds’ (1989). His technique has been developed in his longer films ‘London’ (1994) and ‘Robinson in Space’ (1997) which are both narrated by an anonymous character – voiced by Paul Scofield – who goes together with his friend and onetime lover, the unseen Robinson, in a series of exploratory journeys around England. Robinson is involved with research into the ‘problems of England’ and strongly faces the Conservative governments (1979 – 1997), especially for their economic and welfare policy.
The movie ‘Robinsonin Ruins’ was released in November 2010 – narrator the actress
Vanessa Redgrave. It is an outcome of ‘The Future of Landscape and the Moving Image’ which is a research project that since March 2007 has explored received ideas about mobility, belonging and displacement, and their relationship with landscape and images of landscape, in a context of economic and environmental crisis. The project is a collaboration between the artist Patrick Keiller, Doreen Massey, Emeritus Professor of Geography at the Open University and Patrick Wright, formerly Professor of Modern Cultural Studies at Nottingham Trent University, now Professor of Literature and Visual & Material Culture at King’s College London, and has been accompanied by Matthew Flintham’s related PhD project: ‘Parallel Landscapes: A spatial and critical study of militarised sites in the United Kingdom’.
Patrick Keiller is undoubtedly quoted as part of the Psychogeography movement, a subfield of geography. A definition of Psychogeography is: “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals.” (Guy Debord 1955). It is, in fact, a series of strategies for exploring cities, aimed to take pedestrians off their conventional route and give them a new understanding of the urban landscape. Psychogeography is born in the 1950s by the avant-garde movement Lettrist International. It emerged in the UK in the 1990s, as situationist theory became popular in artistic and academic circles, avant-garde, neoist and revolutionary groups emerged, developing psychogeographical praxis in various ways. Much influenced by the comeback of the London Psychogeographical Association and the foundation of The Workshop for Non-Linear Architecture, these groups have assisted in the development of a contemporary psychogeography which also became to be used in performance art and literature. In Britain in particular, psychogeography has become a recognised descriptive term used by successful writers such as Iain Sinclair and Peter Ackroyd and the documentaries of Patrick Keiller.
The Robinson Institute’s researchers have revisited Robinson’s last known journey, presenting his findings and film footage as an exhibition that features works by artists, mainly from Tate’s collection; writers, historians, geographers, cartographers and geologists; and a variety of other objects. Audiences are invited to retrace Robinson’s steps and consider the connections that he makes.
The Tate Britain exhibition brings together the works of ‘Robinson in ruins’, which is filmed in Berkshire and Oxfordshire the cradle of the powerful agrarian capitalism compared to the more urban and industrial one of the north and the Midlands.
Penelope Curtis, Director, Tate Britain, said: “Patrick Keiller has risen to the challenge of the Tate Britain Commission in an exceptional way with a new installation that enables us to look at the Tate Britain’s collection in relation to some of the issues that Britain faces today, demonstrating how similar concerns run through time. Patrick Keiller’s sustained interest in understanding the English landscape, and what it can tell us about the origin of some of the world’s problems, strikes a perfect chord with the Tate collection.”
There are more than 120 works on display in “The Robinson Institute” from historical paintings, prints and drawings by Marcus Gheeraerts, J.M.W. Turner and James Ward; and works from the 20th century by Fiona Banner, Joseph Beuys, Andreas Gursky, Richard Hamilton, John Latham, Richard Long, Paul Nash, Eduardo Paolozzi and Andy Warhol. Works of film and literature range from a first edition of Hobbes’ Leviathan’ to Beatrix Potter’s ‘The Tale of Little Pig Robinson’ and the sci-fi film ‘Quatermass 2’. The subjects featured in Keiller’s photographs include Northumbrian rock art, a close-up of lichen on an Oxford road sign in the direction of Newbury and a Ministry of Defence sign banning photography of the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston.
From 27th March until 14th October 2012.
At the Tate Britain, Pimlico, London.
“Picasso prints: the Vollard Suite” at the British Museum.
David Franchi – Monday, 2nd July 2012
“Marie-Thérèse Walter soon became his model, muse and lover”
The Picasso’s series of etching ‘The Vollard Suite’ is on show at the British Museum. “Picasso prints: the Vollard Suite” displays for the first time in the UK a complete set of the most celebrated Picasso’s series of etching.
“Picasso prints: the Vollard Suite” comprises 100 etchings produced between 1930 and 1937, a crucial moment in the life of Picasso. This exhibition celebrates the recent acquisition of these etchings, thanks to the generosity of Hamish Parker. It is the only complete Vollard Suite held by a public museum in the UK. At the British Museum works of Picasso alternate with classical sculptures and works by Rembrandt and Goya that inspired him.
The prints were made when Picasso was involved in a sexual extramarital affair with Marie-Thérèse Walter, whose classical features are a recurrent presence in the series. She was the French mistress and model of Picasso from about 1927 to about 1935, and together they had a daughter, Maya Widmaier- Picasso.
Marie-Thérèse Walter was born in Le Perreux, France, on 13th July 1909. It is not known exactly when Walter first met Picasso, but it happened around 1927. Their affair began when she was seventeen years old and he was forty-five; it was kept secret from his wife until 1935. Marie-Thérèse Walter soon became his model, muse and lover.
At that time Picasso was still living with his wife Olga Khokhlova, a Russian ballerina from Diaghilev entourage, with whom he had a five-year-old son, Paulo. From 1927 onwards, Marie-Thérèse Walter lived close to Picasso’s family. From 1930, she lived in a house place opposite the one of Picasso.
In 1935, Marie became pregnant. When Olga was informed by a friend about the sex-art-affair and
the child, she immediately left Picasso. They lived separately until her death in 1955, but never divorced, because Picasso wanted to avoid the division of property according to the French law.
María de la Concepción called ‘Maya’, the daughter of Picasso and Marie, born on 5th September 1935. Marie and Maya stayed with Picasso at Juan-les-Pins in the South of France and then at Le Tremblay-sur-Mauldre, near Versailles, where Picasso visited on the weekends.
Marie-Thérèse became jealous when Picasso started another sexual affair with Dora Maar, a surrealist photographer and model for Picasso, in 1935. Once, she and Maar met accidentally in Picasso’s studio. They asked him to choose between them, but he replied they would have to fight themselves, and the two women started brawling, actually delighting Picasso. Apparently, he had been quite happy with the situation of having two mistresses.
Picasso portrayed the two women in an opposite way: Dora dark and in pain as the ‘weeping woman’, while Marie-Thérèse was blonde and light.
In 1940, Marie and Maya moved to Paris, for the house at Le Tremblay-sur-Mauldre was occupied during World War II. Picasso supported Marie and Maya financially, but he never married Marie.
On 20th October 1977, four years after Picasso’s death, Marie-Thérèse committed suicide by hanging herself in the garage at Juan-les-Pins.
“Picasso prints: the Vollard Suite” illustrates the creative process Picasso did undergone during the years between 1930 and 1937 highlighting his obsessions for sex, ancient times and politics – that where at the core centre of his creation. Picasso gave no order to the plates nor did he assign any titles to them. Picasso kept the plates open-ended to allow connections to be freely made among them, yet certain thematic groupings can also be identified.
The principal subject of “Picasso prints: the Vollard Suite” is the ‘Sculptor’s Studio’ (46 etchings), which deals with Picasso’s engagement with classical sculpture. At this point he was making sculpture at his new home and studio, the Château de Boisgeloup outside Paris. The etchings of Marie-Thérèse represent a dialogue alternating between the artist and his creation and his model. Various scenarios are played out between the sculptor, the model and the created work. Among them is the classical myth of Pygmalion in which the sculptor becomes so enamoured of his creation that it comes to life at the artist’s touch. Classical linearity and repose within the studio also alternate with darker, violent forces. The latter are represented by scenes of brutal passion and by the Minotaur (15 etchings), the half-man, half-animal of classical myth, which became central to Picasso’s personal mythology. Picasso in a spirit of competitiveness tips his cap to his great predecessors, Rembrandt and Goya. The series concludes with three portraits of Vollard himself, made in 1937.
For the first time the etchings are displayed alongside examples of the type of classical sculpture and objects that Picasso was inspired by, as well as Rembrandt etchings, Goya prints and Ingres drawings from the Prints and Drawings collection of the British Museum are also displayed.
The Vollard Suite takes its name from Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939), the important Paris art dealer and print publisher, who organised the first Picasso exhibition in Paris (1901). In exchange for some works of Renoir and Cezanne, Picasso produced for Vollard a group of 100 etchings between 1930 and 1937. The mammoth task of printing some 310 sets, plus three further sets on vellum, was completed by the Paris printer Roger Lacourière in 1939. Vollard’s unexpected death in a car accident that year, followed by the outbreak of the Second World War, delayed the distribution of the Vollard Suite until the 1950s by the dealer Henri Petiet who had purchased most of the prints from the Vollard estate.
The set acquired by the British Museum comes directly from the heirs of Henri Petiet and so has an impeccable provenance, having never been shown in public before, and is in pristine condition.
In 2010 the British Museum owned seven plates of the series of which one of them was displayed at
a small private viewing for patrons and benefactors by Stephen Coppel, curator of the modern section of the British Museum, Prints and Drawings collection. The piece had a caption explaining the British Museum had taken thirty years to save that small amount, and that it hoped one day to own the complete series.
Three months later Coppel got an email from one of the guests, Hamish Parker, a City fund manager, saying he might be able to help in raising the money needed – around £900,000. Three months later Coppel got another email detailing the money was provided, leaving him positively surprised.
The series spanning over a period of years, therefore the contents frequently swing mirroring Picasso’s erotic and artistic obsessions, conjugal events, and the gloomy political situation in Europe. The earlier prints on the sexual realization Picasso had by his relationship with Marie-Thérèse. The recurrent figure of the Minotaur is Picasso himself, who during the years changes from an epicurean lover into a rapist and devourer of women, following the up and downs of his life.
A free admission exhibition, “Picasso prints: the Vollard Suite” is of great interest and fascination.
From 3rd May until 2nd September 2012.
At the British Museum, Bloomsbury, London.