Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The Surreal House

Review: A wall collapses here, a door upends over there. An egg-shaped abode hides a womb-like interior and there's a creeping suspicion that all is not well at home. 'The Surreal House' is an ambitious and rewarding, if necessarily sinister peek into some of the most bizarre dwellings imaginable - its scope grand enough to include art, architecture, film and photography, while its atmosphere close and cloying enough to induce moments of sheer terror and genuine delight. Film emerges as the most powerful medium in 'The Surreal House' with Jacques Tati's hapless 'Mon Oncle' and Jean Cocteau's 'La Belle et La Bête' contrasting the ridicule of modern living with a wildly romantic fairy tale fantasy - but both require that you watch them in their entirety in a specially built cinema. The show proper opens with Buster Keaton's famous slapstick sequence from 'Steamboat Bill Jr', in which his own house is blown down around his ears, and leads you to the objects contained within the Barbican's custom-built structure. Yet neither a pair of Duchamp's darkened French windows (called 'Fresh Widow') or his cheeky rubber-foam boob in place of a doorbell, give any real clues as to what's inside. The initial shock then comes when presented with a blacked-out bathroom, where Rachel Whiteread's sepulchral resin cast of the space under the tub greets visitors with our own grubby mortality. A spyhole refuses to reveal the secrets behind Sigmund Freud's front door, but the meister of repression's office chair is here in his stead. Alas, we soon get Freud's massively overused theory of what makes a surreal house a home for nasty memories practically shoved down our throats. His notion of the unheimlich, or unhomely, is appropriate in this context, but is little more than paying lip service to art-speak cliché - it's now shorthand for anything a bit 'strange' in contemporary art. The earliest spaces to mimic Freud's ideas were the original and best surreal houses: André Breton's elegant apartment shelves appear on camera, filled with a curio collection of the highest order (shamefully auctioned off piecemeal in 2003) and none other than the 'Great Masturbator' himself, Salvador DalÌ, created some of the most outlandish and unreal environments, not least his 'Dream of Venus' pavilion created for the 1939 New York World's Fair. Trying to marry DalÌ's paintings with later architecture is a major mistake, however, especially in the nonsensical pairing of his 1937 'Sleep' with Rem Koolhaas's villa on stilts from 1991, chiefly because it does the overarching theme no favours at all. Everything takes a surreal turn for the better when the curators play, not at intellectual ping-pong or tenuous connect-the-dots, but at impressive interior design. A crumpled, clanking piano by Rebecca Horn hangs from the parlour ceiling, a locked door guards an artist singing as he wipes on the toilet, a lonely window stares down on an unloved Sarah Lucas mattress in the bedroom, while Jan Svankmajer's troubling nursery of animated toys is a welcome burst of colour in an otherwise monochrome world. Not every allusion works - Maurizio Cattelan's sorely punished mannequin boy with pencils stuck through his hands is no more than a lame joke, as is Edward Kienholz's waiting room, in which the armchair resident has long ago been reduced to a dusty skeleton. Without the drama of the house motif to its layout, the upper floor suffers badly by comparison, although a trio of Joseph Cornell boxes significantly ups the dwindling masterpiece quota. Thankfully, the numerous female artists in the exhibition are not unfairly included here as inherently domestic beings or confined by any stereotype that they're unable to control their natural homemaker's urges. In fact, the most acute representations of domicile distress by Louise Bourgeois and Francesca Woodman effectively consign their male counterparts to the basement of the genre, although the last word goes to Russian auteur Andrei Tarkovsky and to his chosen form: art house film. The end sequence to Tarkovsky's 'The Sacrifice' of 1986, in which the protagonist burns down his house, thus freeing himself from the enslavement of nostalgia that his cups, dressers and tables inflicted upon him on a daily basis, is a telling reminder of what alienating, divisive and constrictive environments we live in. 'The Surreal House' is ultimately a metaphor for our unconscious mind. It's filled with knick-knacks and memories - some important, others not - but it's when something in there snaps or goes missing that the comfort and homeliness we crave lay bare that much darker place.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Bike Vandalism

Just found the note that caused me to get my gears cut, one mishap in a long line of bicycle traumas.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

i love giraffes

Some cute postcards I found in Munich.

Flux Placement

In May of this year, I was lucky enough to be offered a four week placement with John Walsh, Creative Director of Flux Magazine. After being absolutely thrilled by this news I found the experience a huge learning curve and really felt like I got a sense of how a magazine works and how much work goes on beyond the actual page layout. Gemma Snelling and I got one of our illustrations published in the magazine and it is such a great feeling to your work in print and know that thousands of people may see it. It was very interesting researching the history of the magazine, and seeing how far it had come.I found it very inspirational to work with John and acquired a lot of contextual references, which I will use in my future work. For now though here are a few examples of pages I contributed to within the magazine. Enjoy!
Artwork: Nina McNamara & Gemma Snelling

Monday, 2 August 2010


Royal College of Art, Gulbenkian Galleries, Kensington Gore, 19th July 2010
A major retrospective exhibition of the work by one of the most influential graphic designers of the 20th century.
I first became interested in ROMAN CIESLEWICZ's work when researching collage artists for my dissertation. I found that much of the work I could relate to my own collage work, and I admired the precision and composition of his work, which is predominantly hand made. Cieslewicz is a polish designer and I had come accross his work when looking at polish poster design, only now have I been able to put the work to a name.
Plakatodrom (Welcome to the Posterdrome)
Plakatodrom was Cieslewicz's name for Poland, describing the country as 'the largest testing ground of the poster in Europe.' Film posters in the West were often vehicles for Hollywood stars, however within Polish poster design, the same films could be promoted but with a personal even idiosyncratic style.
Cieslewicz belonged to the second genration of 'the Polish poser School' ( a loose alliance of modernist designers) He began his career in the 1950's when communist censorship was being relaxed and experimentation was welcomed. Cieslewicz gained a reputation for extraordinary surreal images. I have been influenced by Cieslewicz's posters, whilst devising posters for my current summer project.
"A Poster is an idea. This is what matters. An idea can excite, can be intriguing... it was marcel Duchamp who said "an image, which does not provoke is unworthy" and he was right. We are surrounded by images. We are hit by tens of thousands of advertisements every day. We may or may not accpet them, The image is not neutral. It cannot be. It must shout, it must intrigue, it must do something which enables us to think.' - Roman Cieslewicz, 1978.
Ty i Ja was first published in 1959. Cieslewicz was the first art director of 'Ty i Ja' which translates in English to 'You and I.' Under Cieslewicz's art direction the magazine had a remarkably idiosyncratic nature. The magazine featured advertisements (designed by Cieslewicz) for products which were almost impossible to obtain and fashion spreads were 'borrowed' from 'Elle' and 'Vogue', and distorted by the likes of butterfly wings and irreverant doodles.
The Double Life Of An Art Director
After Cieslewicz moved to Paris in 1963 he embarked on an impressive career in periodical publishing and advertising. Working for the likes of Vogue and Elle, the very magazines, which he had borrowed imagery from for 'Ty i Ja.' He was also made art director of MAFIA, a celebrated advertising company established by Denise Fayolle and Maime Arnodin. Cieslewicz worked for corporations and commercial chains alongside photographers, Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin.
The late 1960's were angry years in France. In contrast to his commercial work, Cieslewicz created powerful covers for the art magazine 'Opus.' Infected with radicalism, Opus, protested against the 'Alice in Wonderland' world of advertising and celebrated the vibrant life of contemporary Cuba and the Soviet Union in the 1920s.
In the 1970s Cieslewicz became a freeland designer and illustrator. His double life is summed up by this quote 'I work for institutions who pay me, in order to be able to work for those who have no money.'
Forefather's Eve (Dziady), 1967.
This poster has become an iconic image in the history of The People's Republic Of Poland.' Designed to promote Adam Mickiewicz's nineteenth century poetic drama, Forefather's eve (Dziady). the poster is a symbol of the simmering frustration of Soviet Controlled Poland.
The Photocollages
One aspect of Cieslewicz's work, which particularly struck me was his photocollages. After 1984 Cieslewicz simplified his collages,yet still linked humour with anguish and reality with fiction to 'trigger' perception and 'sharpen the eye.' I particularly enjoy 's use of renaissance imagery, combined with contemporary imagery. This not only resonates with some of my own collage work but also amuses the viewer creating a provocative and playful composition
La Passe, 1981
Playboy de la Sixtine (Playboy of the Sistine chapel), 1982
Mirror Worlds
a series of 'centred collages', which play with lines of symmetry to create mirror images. What is missing or obscured is as significant as what is visible.
A Constructivist in Paris
Cieslewicz collaborated with the Centre Georges Pompidou to explore the art of european art in the 1920s, Cieslewicz proved remarkably skilled at reinterpreting the graphic language of consructivism in the manner of Alexander Rodchenko.
The Politics of the Image
Cieslewicz described his work as a form of 'Visual Journalism'. He created an entire series called 'Pas de Nouvelles - Bonnes Nouvelles (No News is Good News). During a stay in hospital Cieslewicz followed the news and noted down imagery, which he later cut out from the press. Combining grainy news photographs with short epigrams, Cieslewicz pointed to the violence of the images. Press imagery seems to be an invaluable resource for collages artists (pre computer age). Many Berlin Dada artists such as Hannah Hoch, admired and ridiculed press material. Perhaps the use of this medium is an effective way to create on the pulse work, which comments on or distorts the current.

Berlinische Galerie

I visited the Berlinische Galerie this summer. I found it very interesting and filled with many artists who I plan to write my upcoming dissertation on.
El Lissitsky, Proun Room (for the 1923 Great Berlin Art Exhibition)
Die Journalisten, Hannah Höch, 1925
Dada in Berlin

Deutsche Kinemathek/Museum für Film und Fernsehen

During my recent visit to Berlin, I visited the German Film and Television Museum, more impressively named in German: "Deutsche Kinemathek/Museum für Film und Fernsehen"
Transported to the third floor by the speedy lift, I was initially introduced to the history of Television (fernsehen). I walked into a room featuring famous early TV broadcasts including the first man on the moon, Queen Elizabeth's coronation and of course Boris Becker becoming Wimbledon champion. I moved into the next room (but not before analysing whether the reason people thought My boyfriend and I were German was because of Graham's uncanny resemblance to Herr. Becker)
The next room was by far the highlight of my Television experience, essentially this room was a crash course in television history from its birth to the present day. Nine screens make up the back wall, whilst mirrors encase the left and the right, and the audience perch on seats. An impressive video montage plays but this isn't your average history lesson. The combination of small screen, two screens, half screen, full screen, mixed with contrasting audio and overlapping narratives, sound collages and impeccable timing (all heightened by the all encompassing mirror walls) lends itself to a saturated visio-audial experience, leaving the audience excited and anticipant for what is to come. Once leaving the video room, there is an opportunity for a blast from the past, as visitors can browse through television programmes new and old. (my choice was 'Pingu' - the one where Pinga is born)
After television it's down to the second floor to Film, again introduced by an impressive installation, a clever use of mirrors and a bombardment of Hollywood icons, film noir, and juxtaposition of genres, is quite overpowering and emphasises the impact of 'the big screen.'
The museum takes you through a journey from the very first film camera, pioneers in German/ world cinema including the lumiere brothers and the first stars of german cinema; Henry Porten, Fern Andra and Asta Nielsen.
I was particularly interested in the section based around 'The Weimar Republic' (1918-33). Prominent directors during this time included: Ernst Lubitsch, FW. Murnau, Fritz Lang, GW. Pabst. A plaque reads "Everyday life and myths, triviality and trashiness, technology and horror- explosive elements that take shape in the Weimar republic- glaring too are the warning signs that herald the coming dictatorship."
Film was to become an important tool of propaganda during the years leading upto and including the second world war.
In contrast, the next room pays homage to Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992), who rose to fame in both Berlin and Hollywood. Her appearance in men's clothing, deftly overstepped the limits of traditional gender roles and she is admired here as the icon of the century. As part of the homage as fascinating cabinet contains many of Marlene's belongings; a vanity case, blemish cream, porcelain white make-up and one thing in particular which caught my eye was a napkin, which Marlene had written on (in English)
"He was my master
My trainer
He had me on a leash
It was he who let the Leash go- Not I
I was lying there, staying there, waiting for another master"
This was written in relation to director Joseph Von Sternberg, whom Marlene collaborated with for many years.
After Marlene has been done justice, there museum moves onto important films throughout history, including both German and American influence. One of these films being `Metropolis' for which films posters, set sketches and plot outlines can be seen. The museum also hosts a hall of fame for influential directors throughout German history including; Werner Herzog (The Enigma of Caspar Hauser), Wolfgang Peterson (Das Boot), Fritz Lang(Metropolis) and Robert Wiene's Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari" with the message 'you must become Caligari'.
Fritz Lang
Poster for Metropolis.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the museum, and felt it gave a me a richer understanding of the importance of film, specifically in Berlin. The museum also raised my awareness of the political impact of films, and how the film industry, like many art forms, was brutally affected by Hitler's regime. The film industries ability to re-build itself is a testament to the power of film, I look forward to using this visit in my summer project about 'arthouse' films, and of course raided the museum gift shop for some beautiful black and white postcards...
"As an Art form, a film must become a living print" ("Das Filmbild Muss Graphik werden") - Robert Wiene.
Gary Cooper, 1934 by Clarence Sinclair Bull.
Marlon Brando and Mary Murphy -The Wild One
Clint Eastwood, "Play Misty for Me"