BLOG: Summer- June, July, August 2019
20 August 2019 . By the Sea 1976-1980. Photographs by Markéta Luskačová
It’s said that music has the capacity to transport you immediately to a specific point in time and make you feel that you are still that person and Markéta Luskačovás photographs at the Martin Parr Foundation gallery, Paint works, Bristol do exactly that.
Without any sentimentality, nostalgia pervades the photos selected and while the subjects are clearly of a specific social status, the photographs are not cynical. She understands and empathises with these people; Children are happy, adolescents self obsessed and adults prepared to leave concerns aside for the day.
Sky and sea and sand bleed into an otherworldly middle distance, from which other participants emerge, while those in the foreground are rooted in their moment.
No one photo overstated itself, this was a show where the photos created a mood and I was there, back in 1978. A lovely show
26 August 2019. Corporate life: Is teamwork such a good thing?
Femme couchee a la meche blonde : Picasso, summer 1932.
One of hundreds produced that year during an astonishing outburst of creativity.
Within a minute of posting a comment on Facebook following the sensational climax of the third Ashes test at Headingley I was rudely reminded that Stokes was charged (although subsequently acquitted) with affray in Bristol and this made me question why it is that many talented people feel that their talent excuses them of being less than moral in their personal and business lives, whether it matters and how it is that ‘teamwork’ is seen as such a good thing.
Picasso was a serial adulterer, Roman Polanski convicted of rape, Cheryl Cole has been found guilty of assault, Charles Saatchi accepted a caution after assaulting Nigella Lawson and then there’s a long list of TV personalities abusing their partners and tax affairs.
We all have lapses but most people have a moral compass that helps them understand when they are about to go too far and prevents them repeating the lapse: the problem arises when a sense of entitlement, engendered by either a belief that you are better than everyone else or by being lauded for that talent makes self-delusion, when you have you’ve gone too far, much easier to accept and, once accepted, makes it easier to repeat.
The self-delusion comes from being surrounded by a myopic culture or people of similarly narrow views and while this is inevitable within the circles of celebrityhood it is something that should be avoided in corporate life.
A phrase used by the Saatchis during the 80’s and 90’s was “It’s not enough to win, someone else has to lose”, Steve Jobs is credited with saying in 1996: "Picasso had a saying -- 'good artists copy; great artists steal' -- and we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas." and it is easy to see how philosophies such as these can permeate the culture of a company resulting in a skewed perspective of reality.
It is said that leadership is about imparting a vison to employees, creating a shared set of values so that teams can work independently and without micro management. However, when a company vision is pushed by bonus schemes, the vision of the ‘team’ can be at odds with real-world norms. When the vision is then perpetuated by people who have been promoted because of their allegiance to the vision, the skewing from real-world norms takes another step. The final step sideways is when a company ‘restructures’ or moves to a second generation and only those staff who have successfully implemented the vision remain. At this point the ‘Team’ is seen as all important and is supported by company induction sessions, psychometric analysis and personal training by Business Consultancies; the inspired individual no longer has a place and survivors will be obliged to pedal a deeply flawed and off-centre vision.
If you recognise this, get out now before you lose yourself to the team too; Business is not a democracy and while flawed genius may be difficult to accommodate, provided it is called to account, it is preferable to the corrosive perniciousness of the world of the corporate team.
Of the people mentioned at the start of this at least Picasso had a support system that called him to account. His philandering does not devalue his work, it was part of a psyche that enhanced his creativity particularly during the summer of 1932 and as such can be seen as flawed but acceptable. As far as the others are concerned, they have no place in any team no matter how talented and if Stokes had been found guilty of affray that would include him, even if it meant losing the Ashes.
14 July 2019 : Spike island exhibition
I went to the new shows at Spike Island: Quantum Ghost by Libita Clayton and This Action lies by James Kientz Wilkins and came away feeling both exhilarated and questioning. Exhilarated by the way that the works force you to question what art is and what you have to bring to it and questioning in that one has to wonder whether art needs an audience or not and whether it can exist in its own right without the need for engagement.
I felt that Libita Claytons work was overwhelming in the intensity of the experience and the way that I was forced to engage with it, yet it ceased to exist once I'd left and James Kientz Wilkins film work existed in darkness and continued to exist and play whether there was anyone to witness it or not.
A great show.
1 July 2019: Future Monuments.
Last week there were two films shown on TV about saving art in the second world war which made me wonder about where art is currently positioned in our culture, how valuable it is to us, and what we would sacrifice for it.
The films were The Train, 1964, directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Burt Lancaster and Paul Scofield. The other film was The Monuments Men, 2014, directed by George Clooney, starring George Clooney, co-written by George Clooney and co-produced by George Clooney (with Grant Heslov ) and while both are works of fiction they are based on a reality: a reality where Art and cultural icons are considered both dangerous and valuable at the same time and where people are prepared to sacrifice their lives to retain them.
It’s clear that given the devastation wreaked by successive victors of wars on monuments and cultural references, that art is seen as a dangerous support system to cultural identity. The so-called Islamic state or Daesh militia destroyed 70% of Nineveh, (dating from the 7th Century BC) and made it a policy to destroy any evidence of a culture not in accord with their own views. The Nazi regime ordered the destruction of thousands of pieces of art from what they referred to as "inferior cultures” or that they considered degenerate. The destruction of the Mostar Bridge in Sarajevo during the Bosnian war was considered a deliberate act of cultural destruction, an act of "killing memory" and even in the UK, over 90% of religious art was destroyed during the reformation and the English civil war in the 1640s, yet our understanding of that period of our history survives because of the remaining 10%. Killing memory is quite difficult
Being an artist is barely considered a real job, it is poorly paid with most artists living below a living wage, yet many people are drawn to it ( the creative industries generate £100bn in the UK), producing work that will be seen by only a few or, if posted on Instagram, by followers who have already bought into their vision. Governments use periods of austerity as a device to starve any endeavour that does not support GDP or support their understanding of what culture is so will prop up the mainstream, not just by using filmmakers to portray a romanticised and outdated vision of the health of the nation, say, during an Olympic opening ceremony but also investing and thereby controlling the output of those arts that are also considered professions producing mostly unoriginal, derivative, sloppily conceived and voracious consumers of scarce commodities; made for a reason and a life span of 30 years.
Recent governments have created a society where students are forced into unpaid internships in the hope of a career a pay-off crippling debt, where artists struggle to develop their work because studios are being pushed out of city centres, where musicians have to fight technology to get paid and where architects are reduced to designers of wallpaper for a construction industry that just wants a “decorated shed”. Despite these circumstances, the arts retreat for a while, respond to circumstances and reinvent themselves by thinking more deeply and using resources more carefully in the knowledge that only 10% of output is needed to define us. Fortunately, a huge proportion of our current output can be consigned to the scrap heap, not worthy of any sacrifice.
Although we have critical issues surrounding climate change, and our future will judge us by how we respond to that, future monuments will come from our current output, from a place and from artists that we don’t recognise yet. There is already some fabulous work to choose from, but what we can know is that we need more art, better art and that art, in all its forms, should be properly supported, funded and respected but most of all it needs time. Time to develop, time to innovate, time to consolidate and time to infiltrate the mainstream. Our future will judge us by it but it will not be given without us fighting for it now.
17 June: Portrait photography course with Marcus Ahmad.
The more that you get into a subject, the more you realise just how much you don't know. Going through my photo archive I realised that my portraits could be so much better and that advice from a professional could only help so enrolled on a one to one course with Marcus Ahmad, a professional photographer and senior university tutor of photography.
I quickly understood how to improve composition, depth of field and lighting and given the tools to critically review both my own work and to understand what other photographers do. I was introduced to the work of Platon, Richard Avedon, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Thomas Ruff all with different take on what a portrait is. I now need loads of practice on real people! any takers?
7 June: UWE Creative Industries Degree Show, Arnolfini.
I was invited to the preview of the degree show at the Arnolfini, thanks Colm Leith, and as hoped ones expectations are challenged.
The Graphic Design show was heavily 'issue' based, both in print and in video works and the Multidisciplinary Printmaking show has pushed printing by incorporating 3D printing, stretching ones understanding of what a print is; no longer a means to replication but the creation of one-off art.
There were some notable pieces such as the multiple heads by Carmen Garaghan, 'Transi' by Dorcas Casey combining comforting cake moulds with slugs and 'A trace left behind' by Ruth Broadway where messages are printed onto discarded feathers and their shadows recorded.
Top left and then clockwise :
Thomas Ruff portraits: photo by George Redgrave
Richard Avedon photo of Billy Mudd, Trucker 1981
Hiroshi Sugimoto seascape: Bodensee 1993
Platon photographing Annie liebowitz 2008
"I sink I saw sumsink" : the classic understatement and reminder not to ignore the obvious from The Train, 1964