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A844 - Preparatory Reading Boswell, D. & Evans, J. (Eds.) (1999) Representing The Nation

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Sunday, 24 Jun 2018, 19:19

A844 - Preparatory Reading

Book:

Boswell, D. & Evans, J. (Eds.) (1999) Representing The Nation: A Reader Oxford, Routledge

DEALING WITH THIS ANTHOLOGY AS PREPARATION.

What are the books key themes and narratives?

I think reading the complete set of essays within this would not be a good means of preparation.

1.      It is the Reader of a Cultural and Media Studies OU MA course from 1999.

2.      Whilst obviously full of great stuff, the best preparation I felt was just to have a nodding acquaintance with the content titles and have read the Introduction & section introductions, since this carries the kind of master narrative of the course from which it derives. This master narrative will not necessarily be that of A844 but I wanted to be aware of it.

3.      The key themes are in the section titles:

4.      They are:

a.      Culture, community, nation p. 9ff.

b.      Representing the past as heritage and consuming that heritage 109ff.

c.      Museums as classificatory systems & their prehistories 233ff.

d.      Museums and cultural management 363ff.

How does it reflect on A843 themes?

Section 4c & d rehearse, even with some of the same voices (Duncan & Wallach, Clifford) the Block material on institutions, although there is more about links to monumentalism and nation in dealing with museums and some greater awareness of class fears related to display and exhibition. Education is a focused theme based on taxonomies. The 2nd section looks as though it points us to the use of museums as places of co-operative and collaborative learning (‘intercultural encounter 369) rather than top-down varieties. Some of the ‘geographies material in Block 4 would be consumed in 4a & b.

How do I predict that it might foreshadow A844 themes?

The master narrative of the book is reliant on Benedict Anderson – see link below (1, 13) and it may (sob!) be the case that the coverage of this is a sufficient knowledge of that book. However, some key terms are interpreted usefully. The nation is analysed as ‘a symbolic community’ (hence ‘imagined’). The job of meaning-making that transforms nation and community into meanings is ‘culture’ (1, 2). Culture is reduced to ‘images’ and narratives (2). Hence there is a link here to images section of A844. There is a concern with making-meaning by creating ‘myths of origin’ (4) as in Schama.

There is a discussion of art-history that locates it as an academic discourse limited by its histories and taxonomies (especially periodisation & style) in line with the ideological limitations of other bourgeois academic discourses (7).

The danger of such myths is their unified perspective and teleological direction. The answer in these essays is I believe hinted to be seeing ‘histories’ (including of art) as multiple not unitary (13, 113). The fear of mass or subaltern interest in museums is their potential alternative reading of history (turned into fear of display) and this is manifest in class and race bias (237 exhibitionary complex & 237 racism of the Chicago Exposition).

How does the book relate to the analysis of art and architecture?

Any other points!

Through key terms which bridge those discussions – nation, monumentalism, notion of heroism, art as national policy (365) and changing role of market in state function (368).

 

The key message is that meanings (images and narratives) potentially taken away from the art gallery will not assume the hegemony of one meaning imposed by enculturation in a discipline such as art history (369) and this will need to be confronted as a debate still with us – though this book derives from 1999.

 

Benedict Anderson Imagined Communities (click to see in new window)

Lewis Mumford The City in History (click to see in new window)

Schama Landscape & Memory (click to see in new window)

Conway & Roenisch Understanding Architecture (click to see in new window)   

Elkins & Naef (Eds.) What is an Image? (click to see in new window)

Moxey, K. (2013) Visual Time: The Image in History (click to see in new window)

Aynsley & Grant (Eds.) Imagined Interiors (click to see in new window)

Boswell & Evans (eds.) Representing the Nation (click to see in new window)

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A844 - Preparatory Reading - Aynsley, J. & Grant, C. (Eds.) (2006) imagined interiors

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Sunday, 24 Jun 2018, 19:21

A844 - Preparatory Reading

Book:

Aynsley, J. & Grant, C. (Eds.) (2006) imagined interiors: representing the domestic interior since the Renaissance London, V & A Publications

Basic Description of Contents:

# What are the books key themes and narratives?

This book is about BOTH literary and visual (iconic) representations of the inside of the homes and the relationship between the literary or iconic image. It explores the link of domestic interiors to a notion of psychological interiority throughout the chosen period of history. It deals with:

Period

Countries or Country

Foci

15-16th Century

Italy, Netherlands

Religious art, The role of birthing rooms & beds–in-rooms (virgin), family, death and sexuality, Classical lit., , Morality lit., The concept of boundaries – walls (and absent ones), doors to other rooms, inside/outsides, fantasy interiors  (440

16th-17th Century

England (London)

Eizabethan & Jacobean theatre & drama mainly focused on Shakespeare, settings in theatre (Garrick in 18th 60), domestic advice lit (68), prints (70)

17th Century

Netherlands

Domestic interiors in painting: e.g. de Witts, Steen, Maes, Metsu, de Hooch, Rembrandt, Vermeer. Inventories as evidence (98)

18th Century

England

Writing and pictures of interiors – letters & epistolary novel, Hogarth morality & satirical sets, domestic items – plates, Private space and intrusion in that & other matters. Devis, Zoffany, Collins, Rowlandson. Divisions between concerns of lit. & visual art (127). Plans as evidence 128. Furniture and privacy (130) erotic  (132)

18th – 19th Century

England (a little USA)

Hogarth compared to Turner – inward turn (137), Richardson’s & Defoe’s novels, Highmore, Redgrave: Austen, Dickens & Eliot. Cottage genre (154) cabinet house (156) Temperance & Cruikshank (158).

19th Century

France

This essay by Francesca Berry is for me the star of the show as a model for the analysis of images and a justification of using images semi-independently of language-based approaches (including literature) - 166. Also very much my themes: Theoretical approach via limitations of Benjamin (160) and over-simple early feminist ‘separate spheres analysis169f. Psych: ‘psychic unrest of the bourgeois interior’ for Degas (163) and identification of genres – at the table, at the window (167), [Ernst too 161] Excellent on the role of Haussmann (180) innovations and apartment living – 169 and use of Zola. Best analyses of Caillebotte & others – men inside (173-179 and on the variation of interiority trope between men and women (175-9). Nuanced on same in Vuillard (182).

Evidence- domestic advice books 184

Use in advertising 185

19th – 20th century

Europe & USA

Great exhibitions (190f.), reform of design 195f. – Arts & Crafts, Modernism 205f. poverty 212.

Evidence: children’s’ books 216

Photographs 218

20th Century

Modernism – Loos on 220ff, Use of plans & models and their ability to change meanings (223ff), children & interiors 225ff. Humans v. or in ‘space’ (227ff) – its quality as space – cited 233. Abstraction 234f. & Nature235ff

Evidence: Citizen Kane 240

Retail catalogues 242

1930s-40s

USA  & GB

Film as Evidence – Love On the Dole (244f.) Hitchcock (247f.), Ealing comedy 251ff.

Evidence: migrant home 256

20th Century

UK

DIY, TV & makeovers (starts 258): (not my bag but interesting). Llewelyn-Bowen etc.  (269f.) & intrusion into privacy

Evidence: ethnography 274

Holidays 276

How does it reflect on A843 themes?

With Elkins & Naef, it joins – much more practically - some of discussions on the relative importance of language and its absence in the role of images in representation & meaning-making (as in A843 Section 3) See 127, 166.

 

However, it is also important (overtly or by implication) on authorship, iconology, forma & style, and geographies/institutions. One of the good features of the book are the very many bits of evidence (and the representational issues that come with them) it brings to attention if we focus on a theme like interiority: visual forms & genres [including prints (30, ) plans (38ff,223f, models 224 ) & pictures (38, 76ff., 135ff., 137, 146ff), 163ff., 167, 173ff- 182), satire (169, 211), ], objects & furniture (32, 74ff, 115ff, 193, ), (in)visible boundaries & portals beyond (deeper – or shallower, to further inside to outside (35, 82ff voorhuis, ), ideas of privacy & hygiene (92f. ), inventories (98f.), literature (121ff, 147ff., 169 Zola, ), sociology (124ff., 212f, 256f.), self-help, 184f., photographs (189f, 205ff, 218f., 221ff., 228f), museums  (199f., magazines (200ff., children’s’ books 216f,226f. , cinema (240f., 244ff.) TV (258ff).

How do I predict that it might foreshadow A844 themes?

Looking for an essay theme: Gender, class, sexuality, family & change – the role of written & visual imagery. My own interest probably best represented by Francesca Berry chapter on French painting, especially on Caillebotte. This nuanced argument leads me to issue of ‘alternative interiors and queer theory (Reed, C. 2004 Bloomsbury Rooms).

 

Of course contribute to discussion of images section and how to research practically then. Some issues for nationality and city themes various throughout. Probably too much in detail to pick up here.

How does the book relate to the analysis of art and architecture?

Around issue of how to read and use plans and other evidence for artistic form, meaning & their interaction, especially in relation to the use (and extent of use) of literary material of popular or non-popular form.

Vital for issues of privacy and public functions in art and how these are reconciled at many levels, especially in relation to a nuanced (in Berry at least) view of gender, nation & migrancy, class, sanitation, sexuality etc.

Any other points!

A rich book with lots of great ideas about evidence used in arguments (whether long or short arguments) within a thesis and how to bring different evidence together (and re-differentiate them where necessary).

 

Benedict Anderson Imagined Communities (click to see in new window)

Lewis Mumford The City in History (click to see in new window)

Schama Landscape & Memory (click to see in new window)

Conway & Roenisch Understanding Architecture (click to see in new window)   

Elkins & Naef (Eds.) What is an Image? (click to see in new window)

Moxey, K. (2013) Visual Time: The Image in History (click to see in new window)

Aynsley & Grant (Eds.) Imagined Interiors (click to see in new window)

Boswell & Evans (eds.) Representing the Nation (click to see in new window)

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A844 - Preparatory Reading Moxey, K. (2013) Visual Time:

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Sunday, 24 Jun 2018, 19:21

A844 - Preparatory Reading

Book:

Moxey, K. (2013) Visual Time: The Image in History Durham & London, Duke University Press. (actually read by me during 2017 in preparation for a TMA)

How does it reflect on A843 themes?

It really helped last year in understanding the role of history in contemporary art-history since it starts by attacking some effects of Wölflinn’s historiography:  not ‘fitting artist into pre-established historical and geographical plot.’ (27f.). Insisting that contemporary art-history starts with the work rather than a stereotypical and perhaps teleological historical framework (31), it also no longer insists on looking for or finding ‘stylistic unity’ in pictures (40). It can glory in the fact that a picture is an ‘anachronism’ because chronology is no longer definitive (in any geographical place). The painting no longer looks to recreate a Panofskian past in which the meaning of iconography can be sought and iconologically synthesised. It has ‘presence’ (Belting) in wherever or whenever it is seen. When we place in language or discourse, it is language that describes ‘thinking about a picture’ in Baxandall’s terms. The characterisation of Panofsky’s elitist focus on knowledge about the past as if it were the only access to the present meaning of painting is described, 154f. He illustrates this by reading Breughel in ‘period’ and dialectically (90).

How do I predict that it might foreshadow A844 themes?

It will help in Block 1 in identify the use of national pasts to instantiate and objectify national and international ‘heritage’ in art works and in challenging the role of ekphrasis in the display of pictures (95). This will blend over to Block 2, especially in relation to images and ideology, since Panofsky, for instance is read (rightly I think) as pre-eminently an ideological ‘liberal-humanist’ (90). In this section too the fate of images in time-frames can be understood, especially in terms of ‘heterochronicity’ (that time is experienced primarily through cultural mediation and that this makes otiose some cross-cultural & cross-national comparisons of relative modernity (42). Moxey writes one of the ‘Assessments’ in Elkins & Naef (2011) and we will find lots of stuff here about the nature of the image – what it is and what it is not (see 95). An image is not confined within a picture frame but can be co-created by ekphrasis (95). Moreover linguistic paradigms can shape our conceptualisation of imagery if we are an artist (Cranach 129).

What are the books key themes and narratives? & How does the book relate to the analysis of art and architecture?

Essentially it is a book about paradigms that are and should be guiding art-history. Some such paradigms in-build postcolonial comparisons that, without overt marginalisation, characterise the ‘other’ as inferior and / or chronologically backward or lacking in terms of a Western conception of modernity (15). We can believe that we make objective comparisons of Western and non-western art that are in fact ignorant of the drivers appropriate to heterochronicity of artistic productions across the world. This was also focused upon in Geographies & Institutions’ in A843.  Like Elkins and Naef, and sometimes using the thinkers from those seminars, it queries what is meant by the “iconic” or “pictorial” turn in Art-history (77). Its issues do not cover architecture much of course

Any other points!

The use of cross-temporal contrasts is of course one of the triumphs of the book and could be helpful – especially when comparing genres across time and media (the contrast between Holbein and Thomas Demand’s photographs is very interesting (108f.).

 

Benedict Anderson Imagined Communities (click to see in new window)

Lewis Mumford The City in History (click to see in new window)

Schama Landscape & Memory (click to see in new window)

Conway & Roenisch Understanding Architecture (click to see in new window)   

Elkins & Naef (Eds.) What is an Image? (click to see in new window)

Boswell & Evans (eds.) Representing the Nation (click to see in new window)

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A844 - Preparatory Reading Elkins, J & Naef, M. (Eds.) (2011) 'What Is an Image?'

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Sunday, 24 Jun 2018, 19:22

A844 - Preparatory Reading

Book:

Elkins, J & Naef, M. (Eds.) (2011) What Is an Image? Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania State University Press.

CAVEAT & ENABLER (perhaps)

I was rather shocked by this book that was liked and hated in equal measure by its contributing authors, as Peri hints (205), and presumably all other unseen and unknown readers.

 I think we have to see how and why it differs from your expectations of what a book does and how it does it to get the point here and forewarned might be forearmed with tools and strategies to make the best of this book one can.

 It is not just that it is ‘dialogic’ as Peri mentions but that it is reflexively multi-dialogic and multi-directional in its form. How can this be described more clearly:

The core of the book is an edited transcribed discussion between mainly philosophers and art historians about the question ‘What is an Image?’ introduced by art-historian James Elkins (12) as an ‘encounter’ or ‘collaborative conversation’. He warns us here that such a conversation will not lead to concord but to a series of ‘dissonances’ that never get resolved focused on positive or negative responses to the requirement of an image’s conceptualization of other disciplines or discourses: politics, theology, rationality, irrationality or linguistics.

 And that is what we find – a lot of dissonance and failure to follow through an argument or point before it is disputed, sometimes amicably but sometimes not. I began to be able to read this section of the book (called ‘The Seminars’) when I read them as dramas in which the readable character and their situation within the conversation (in terms of power, gender, discipline, frustration) of the speaker was  seen as an enjoyable aspect of reading. This section is followed by one named ‘Assessments’ written by people (only some of whom were present at the Seminars) who were responding to reading the transcripts we read and who variously characterise them: ‘meanderings (Baumeister 131), as unrepresentative and exclusive voices – especially excluding scientific disciplines (Kesner 193ff. – a wonderful contribution which discusses the use of fMRI scanned imagery). Describing it as just plainly ‘annoying’, Singh (143ff.) pictures a place ‘where ideas are invoked but never fully developed … this theater (sic.) of dominant and submissive voices.’   It seems too that these Assessments were also read by the contributors of other assessments making the whole process doubly reflexive. Finally it is capped off by an Afterword that is really only comprehensible to a Wittgenstein scholar and really offers no more sense of a coherent debate.

 S, is it worth reading? I think it is providing you have strategies to stop you being merely ‘annoyed’ like Singh or overwhelmed. Even Stjernfelt who says it is evidence that ‘image theory is a mess’ finds an ‘astonishing amount of good ideas and observations’ (209). These powerful academics throw ideas around like water but some issues make that water look very like ‘light’ shed on the topic of what it is we must work with as learners of art history and the different ways that working material can be conceptualised. But don’t make it the first book in your preparatory reading. Otherwise you end up like Vigneron saying that maybe all we need is a ‘working understanding’ of what an image is (doxa rather than episteme he calls it) which means really that the book is a waste of time since completing art history postgraduates still ‘make wonderfully original uses of what remains mostly untheorized’ (119).

How does it reflect on A843 themes?

Of course the answer is ‘a lot’. 

However, the most pertinent link is to the discussion of the 'pictorial turn' or 'iconic turn' in Section 3. The underlying theme is whether 'literary' approaches to the image and its meaning - in iconology  or elsewhere - are appropriate to understanding visual phenomena or whether images communicate in their own terms - whether images have 'meaning' without their translation or reference to the linguistic world of descriptions, narratives or analytic discourses. (I've just added this paragraph - 23/06/18 - because I just neglected to say it earlier - typical of me!

Lichtenstein (as others) helps you to see the importance of ideas of the materiality of paint and the body in her rather unpopular contributions to the seminars (85). Nevertheless these help make sense of the invocation of phenomenological approaches in Block 3 and their antipathy to a more cognitive Panofskian iconology (84ff.). Other issues illuminated might be: the notion of ‘presence’ in the pre-Renaissance image (93), the meaning of ‘close looking’ in reading an image (80f.), political contextual as against aesthetic formal issues (71f.), similarly with ‘history’ (40),  phenomenology and anthropological replacements of Panofsky (72-4), relativism of imagery (Moxey 124). I liked the treatment of whether art was a ‘public’ or ‘private’ experience (71, and loved Holly’s piece about the place where we find the ‘image:’ first sentences of his piece on p. 114).

How do I predict that it might foreshadow A844 themes?

I think this is difficult. It could be used to characterise the state of discourses of research in art history, especially in relation to the contribution from multi-disciplinary domains. Strangely enough, most contributors of Assessments that I liked were rather scathing about how successfully art historians can, on their own, invoke multi-disciplinary thinking even in areas they are used to ‘occupying’, like philosophy. For me Manghani’s assessment rather subtly makes it clear that most of the discussion of Wittgenstein is based on a mistranslation of the latter, especially translating vorstellung as ‘image’ rather than ‘imagining’ (126).

 

Likewise Egenhofer (186ff.) makes me believe that much of the theorising about ‘ontology’ (and I would say ‘epistemology too) is rather built an unnecessary confusion about what the discipline of ontology (knowing that something exists and has being) in philosophy is and how it differs from ‘epistemology’ (knowing things about something) and a kind of odd distaste (and ignorance) about what metaphysics might be.

 

But the point is even greater when we realise that the art historians, many who talk about images in scientific discourse) did not really invite enough scientists, or even psychologists (soft scientists) or other discipline gurus. Kesner makes the point about exclusion (193ff.) as well as being brilliant on why multi-disciplinarity needs to be realisable even if difficult (instancing the import of neuro-imaging).  More surprising is the lack of any decent consultation of cognitive science and computer modelling and its contribution to the idea of imaging in the mind, in networks or elsewhere (Krois on brains and seeing 199), Alloa on the role of categorization in image storage (149f.) and the meaning of ‘perceptual inference’ in the mental reconstruction of imagery and even Gibson’s influential though about vision and its ‘affordances’ (178).

 

I expect it to be used in Block 2 especially – the ‘image & its publics’ and perhaps Block 3 on ‘inhabiting space’. Is space an image or a non-image, for instance?

What are the books key themes and narratives?

This is impossible to answer for reasons I’ve suggested (at least for me). I think the best bet is to stick with the useful characterisation of the whole from Elkins’ introduction (at the end – 12). I summarise that above as: ‘‘dissonances’ that never get resolved focused on positive or negative responses to the requirement of an image’s conceptualization of other disciplines or discourses: politics, theology, rationality, irrationality or linguistics.’ However, how the course will employ this I can’t guess – although it certainly has a lot to say about the role of ‘theory’ in art history – its limitations as well as strengths.

How does the book relate to the analysis of art and architecture?

Of course, as some contributors and assessors say, the panel is dominated by art historians. As Kesner says, he came to the event, ‘expecting that non-art images would feature prominently … our talks seldom strayed from the territory of artistic, religious and media images.’ (193). There are only two ‘images’ (if we assume for a moment that we know what these are) reproduced in this book – neither of which are discussed and this speaks volumes of about a discipline that uses a lot of words to talk about wordless images. Lichtenstein talks a lot about Cezanne (85) as read by Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology without really referring to anything specific. Elkins tells her this is the usual kind of art historian’s reduction of art to something ‘inside the horizon given us by phenomenology’ (87).

Any other points!

Our name is legion, says the devils in the possessed, and so are the themes in this book. Some of us may love it, all of us will hate it a bit. Most will hate it a LOT! (Another prediction).

 

Benedict Anderson Imagined Communities (click to see in new window)

Lewis Mumford The City in History (click to see in new window)

Schama Landscape & Memory (click to see in new window)

Conway & Roenisch Understanding Architecture (click to see in new window)

Moxey, K. (2013) Visual Time: The Image in History (click to see in new window)

Aynsley & Grant (Eds.) Imagined Interiors (click to see in new window)

Boswell & Evans (eds.) Representing the Nation (click to see in new window)

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A844 - Preparatory Reading Conway, H. & Roenisch, R. (2005) 2nd Ed. Understanding architecture

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Sunday, 24 Jun 2018, 19:23

A844 - Preparatory Reading

Book:

Conway, H. & Roenisch, R. (2005) 2nd Ed. Understanding architecture: An Introduction to architecture and architectural history London, Routledge.

How does it reflect on A843 themes?

Architecture is virtually absent in A843, except for a little on Chiswick House. But some of the introductory concepts can be refreshed with an eye to architecture alone:

         i          Authorship can be aligned with the discussion of the conventional historiographical approach of architectural history through ‘masters’ or  notions of genius (15f. on ‘heroic’ and monumental, 38) or modes of analysis located in ethnocentric or sexist principles (39-41).

       ii          Style & ‘periodisation’ (8) have their own chapter and the links to treatments in A843 are useful. Thus Wölfflin’s comparative method is mirrored in Banister Fletcher’s stylistic analyses perhaps (39, 168ff.) and style as aesthetic feature (15 role of the architect’s studio) is discussed against style as in itself interactive with contextual matters (180, especially social functions 59 on Edinburgh, 61, 155 on Le Corbusier) and choices and/or competition (21). This is wary of how ‘style’ is used too and there is a warning against (like Pevsner) using it as a period marker (179, 189, 191 on ‘Victorian’ as a ‘false title’). The treatment of transitional phases is also great and telling (50f. 57, 80-1).

     iii          The iconographical or analysis of features as ‘meaningful’ icons is there – in a wide sense in the treatments of scale, proportion (65), size (62), as well as height and the relationship of insides and outsides of buildings to their meaning (69ff, 80f.) or the ‘open’ v. the closed 58 – In Japan for instance. Of course functions in interpretation often veer into issues of social reflection (28) and functionality – especially which of ‘communication’ (71) in relation to status – the construction of master –servant relations for instance.

      iv          This veers onto geography and institutions – nice on Fergusson, which excellent treatment of national issues (39-41). The treatment of process / service issues internal to the building’s self-care is good (78, 80f.) as well as being less prejudiced about ‘high-rise’ that Mumford (126 – who they like 19). The role of law touched on well here – ‘air rights’ 199, safety 155.

How do I predict that it might foreshadow A844 themes?

The key issues are I think:

a.      Planning and evidence-building for arguments that has transferable elements to non-architectural subjects: Chs. 3, 10. Likewise Ch 5. On ‘drawings and models’ has all kinds of interesting uses – architectural drawing as ‘art’ for instance – issues of perspective and function. The issue of different projections and viewpoints. How to talk about materials and combine multi-disciplinary perspectives.

b.      The analysis of space in relation to function, interior/exterior, rights and law, the role of boundaries and appearance – ideological v. service functions and so on. This is clearly focused in A844. Townscapes and landscapes – the relation of building to materials and issues of sustainability, gender, class, disability etc. Great vocabulary to discuss urban space too – density & grain (203).

c.      The nation and monumental architecture. Some examples around Baroque. The discussion of the marginalisation of the vernacular and why it happens.

d.      Ideology and imagery within architecture (Soanes)

What are the books key themes and narratives?

I think this is covered above and in the Contents page of this book. I felt the issue about architectural teams and the difference they make in terms of roles and relationships in the production of work could be more pointedly isolated, since it is obviously there. What for instance of the relative roles of architect and structural engineer (Built Agrawal, R. 2018).

How does the book relate to the analysis of art and architecture?

It is:

       I.          Introductory and therefore always a companion for architecture.

     II.          Focuses on how meanings relate to constructional, material, social, political and economic factors.

    III.          Decidedly international and/or a glocal approach to the issues which is excellent.

Any other points!

This is a very ambitious book and would perhaps be more honestly entitled ‘Introducing the Understanding of Architecture’, since, as the Foreword says it is conducted in ‘a masterly way, albeit at an introductory level’. There are moments when the characteristic comprehensive of the introduction appears far too simplistic (as in the introduction to CAD, 109). However, for me, it is ideal since I lack the confidence to start higher than this and this book is a brilliant companion to study, should I need it for TMAs or later, even though it may be designed for A-level, first-degree, auto-didact learners (I wish in this respect I’d come across it MUCH sooner). The features that appeal are:

1.      The brilliant glossary and the way this interacts with the text (necessary glossary words are asterisked*) to fill out understanding of basic concepts, ideas and architectural features. The book advises purchase of a dictionary and I got the Penguin one from a 2nd-hand shop, only to find some references in the latter missing or inadequate – especially if they related to Eastern traditions like geomancy or to phenomena not always classed as ‘architecture’ (and this book even covers the structures that used to be used by homeless people in the 1970s-80s when I was a student in London (128)).

2.      The fine Chapter 10 which examines the range of sources used as evidence in building arguments about a piece of architecture or architectural or land-planning phenomena across a wider range. This doesn’t need reading now just saving for later use.

3.      The simplicity of the language and structure of the books. Even each chapter has an appealing sub-structure of headings which mean that any aspect can be refreshed before looking further into issues such as the ‘scale’ of architectural pieces (147ff.) or ‘proportion’ as a spatial issue (64ff.). I will keep this book by me.

4.      The little bits of analytic practice that are modelled are brief but very instructive and feel strong in themselves, at least as a starting-point: Georgian compared to Baroque for instance (23f.).

One that appeals much less is the textbook character of the work. My guess is that was based on the introductory level course for beginners at De Montfort University. Hence it attitude to different perspectives and theories tends to be bland – multiplicity adds to the ‘richness’ of the subject

 

Benedict Anderson Imagined Communities (click to see in new window)

Lewis Mumford The City in History (click to see in new window)

Schama Landscape & Memory (click to see in new window)

Elkins & Naef (Eds.) What is an Image? (click to see in new window)

Moxey, K. (2013) Visual Time: The Image in History (click to see in new window)

Aynsley & Grant (Eds.) Imagined Interiors (click to see in new window)

Boswell & Evans (eds.) Representing the Nation (click to see in new window)

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A844 Preparatory Reading Notes - Schama 'Landscape & Memory'

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Sunday, 24 Jun 2018, 19:23

A844 - Preparatory Reading

Book:

Schama, S. (2004) Landscape and Memory London, Harper Perrenial

How does it reflect on A843 themes?

In a book so wide, it reflects on all, much more than its title suggests – this is about so much more than the meaning of ‘landscape’ (defined etymologically 10) in painting, sculpture, architecture and land planning (urban, rural or suburban). To me it is best read as a book about myths and mythology (575) that define, delimit and understand the nature of ‘space’ and ‘spaces’ as concepts, phenomena (in art and experience) and life (gardens and homes widely understood such that it includes Thoreau’s Walden).

 

Pressed, I’d name two: the nature of ‘place’ as an encultured space (geography and institutions), and iconography.

 

1.      Starting with iconography, for me it is important that no art historian is given more total credence as a teller of explanatory stories than any other kind of sage. I was fascinated by the treatment of Warburg, for instance, since it locates his thought biographically – in his experience of mental ill-health- as well as socially and historically - and yet uses it purposefully and well (17f. 210). The same goes for others from other disciplines – Fraser (208f.), Schlegel, 236 and perhaps less sympathetically Jung (209 – I also find it difficult to explain away the latter’s collaboration with the Nazis and his undoubted anti-Semitism). Iconography in Schama cannot be explained, as it is  so often, solely according to Neo-Platonic models and their medieval inheritors (these are after all often iconologies used to justify absolutism and/or elitism – the superior intellection and understanding of an initiated person, class or clerisy (300) ). Meanings shift with history and the reflection of power dynamics in ideas and meanings – this includes the Neo-Platonists but not exclusively as in some uses of iconology to determine final and authoritative meanings of works of art.

2.      There is too much to say about places as enculturated spaces (spaces designed into the ideas and terminologies of privileged or sacral spaces) – it runs throughout the book whether in explicating Kew Gardens, Versailles, a Bernini fountain (302c.), the ’origin’ of architecture in the Gothic (228ff) or other ‘sacral space’ (7ff.) where sacral is understood in the widest sense as a place imbued with meaning and the sources of emotive attachment – forests, rivers or mountains, or groves of sequoia (189).

How do I predict that it might foreshadow A844 themes?

I can’t see it as having a role as a source of ‘theory’ as such since Schama is so pragmatic in his interpretative methodologies. The connection of the idea of ‘sacral space’ to culturally shaped and re-shaped ‘memory’ (of persons or nations) will be invaluable in Block 1 & 2. However, it might help in understanding how issues of conservation and heritage are understood and critiqued (Block 1), as well as the nature of myths of national origin or teleology. It will very much allow for work on how images and ‘narratives’ intersect and interact, whether in the analysis of Anselm Kiefer, Turner (359ff, 461) or suburban spatial planning (c. 573). Of course the key role will be in Block 3 together with Benedict Anderson & Mumford – but here on ‘landscape design’

What are the books key themes and narratives?

It claims its meaning is about the ways in which the boundaries of internal cognition and external shaped and to-be-shaped forms interact (574) but I haven’t got my head round that yet.

For me, it will be useful as a book about the importance of ‘awareness-of-mythologies’ as a means of understanding ideas that animate form, content and their interaction in art or place-making / space-shaping, whether on canvas or in other worlds where tangible phenomena matter (institutions, architecture, land interventions and so on).

The key metaphors are:

1.      Appropriations of wood and trees in spatial definitions, and conceptions of form and design – the idea of roots and links even perhaps (working on that). The acculturation of wildness and wildernesses in gardens, landscapes, painting etc.

2.      Appropriation of fluid metamorphoses between water, blood, creation and destruction (257ff) into mythologies of ‘circulation’ (258) in, for instance, church liturgy (baptism 264), searching origins (275) and fluid connections (275, 338 – Baroque). As a model of personal development & historical progression – flow 365, 359-362 – wonderful on Turner.

3.      The importance of heights, depths (profundity in culture 450) and the idea of the sublime before (Salvator Rosa 453) and after Burke. Appropriation of the idea of chasms to understand the relationship between effects of visual arts and psychology – 424, Leonardo, 474ff  Cozens, 508 Ruskin)

 

How does the book relate to the analysis of art and architecture?

Schama does not separate art from other expressions and articulations of the human story and so this may here be an empty question. Of course, it is such a huge book it has ideas applicable to individual artists or groups of artists or motifs in art (Arminius, Hannibal). For me it was most useful in understanding broad differentiations of art between cultures (Chinese mountain painting & space 408, pagan v. Christian 215), the changing perception of landscape through mythologies even in one artist – Sandby drawing Rannoch moor c. 467. The Catholic nature of the understanding of artist is a delight so that acknowledge ‘masters’  are mixed with ones less acknowledge – merely because the tell a story about a motif differently (Cozens again – whom I want to know more about 474-7)

Any other points!

This book is very wide in its scope and perhaps neither consistently pursues one thesis nor sustains the full coherence outlined at its conclusion (574,577). There are sections it is possible to pass-over quickly that don’t feel totally ‘necessary’ (at least for the moment of reading) and that makes it feel like a looser rag-bag than a sustained intellectual achievement (such as you feel in Mumford). Nevertheless with that there are parts that sweep you along both in terms of their narrative and their intellectual fruitfulness and promise. For me this illustrates what I believe to be Schama’s characteristic belief in history as a set of human stories in which we are shaped and which we shape that no one grand theory will ever e4xplain satisfactorily, whether the explanation be Neo-Platonic (272, 274-8, 300) , Hebraic or Christian redemptive, or Marxist (260f). As I see it, the most stimulating discussion is in the first section (on Forests) where its true intellectual heart lies – in its opposition to myths that set out to be all-explaining, whether from the perspective of religion, ‘science’ (as contemporaneously understood at different points in history), folklore or world-theory and that covers in particular ‘myths of origin’ or SOURCE (81, 85, 267, 275, 288) as well as any allied teleological theories.  All theories are welcome and additive to the narratives that form history in Schama (whether at the level of myth, biography or national destiny – most frighteningly in Hitler’s ‘vengeance’ against the Jews).

PS. I understand why Schama is sometimes called perverse. He allows camp humour to overcome him into sharing anti-gay jokes (as always – should go down well on this course – about Walpole), a Whig who liked to have, ‘a silk-eared sycophantic “Tory” in his lap.’ 448 (Tory was Walpole’s little dog). Feminine men always get the slap!

Other Preparatory Reading

Benedict Anderson Imagined Communities (click to see in new window)

Lewis Mumford The City in History (click to see in new window)

Conway & Roenisch Understanding Architecture (click to see in new window)

Elkins & Naef (Eds.) What is an Image? (click to see in new window)

Moxey, K. (2013) Visual Time: The Image in History (click to see in new window)

Aynsley & Grant (Eds.) Imagined Interiors (click to see in new window)

Boswell & Evans (eds.) Representing the Nation (click to see in new window)

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MoMA Photography MOOC Assessment Stezacker Surfing the Ocean of Images

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Saturday, 16 Jun 2018, 09:39

1. Describe which module resonated with you the most and why. What are some of the issues, ideas, or themes that particularly interested you, and how did they change or complicate your understanding of photography? Please connect your argument to specific artists and images addressed in your selected module.

I’m choosing Module 6 because it is in some ways a summation of my experience of the whole collection. Elcott (2015:318) summarises a world where innovative images are those which expose a world that has already turned into a simulacrum of itself –presented to us as a sea of photographic images, it must be treated and known as a photographic object in itself rather than a means to know a world beyond it, the ‘veridical trace of reality’. Elcott underlines this by seeing photographs as autonomous from the world as a ‘world of its own’.

Hence we have to read photographs in the light of their own manufacture, through all of the processes by which they are ‘made’. As Slifkin (2015:192) makes clear, this was always so in that view-finding, focusing and editing a photograph has always been the source of both the photograph as art, in Ansel Adams, or as a documentary manipulation of reality, in Atget. However, contemporary photographers utilise more radical manipulations, ‘created daily by the mass media’ including collage or ‘cut-and-paste, or through fragmentation and selection from the normative processes of taking an image (as in camera-less images in which objects are exposed directly to light-sensitive photographic film (as in Heinecken’s Are You Rea, 1964-8) or even when found .jpeg images are enlarged beyond their ability to show or access the illusion of an apparently undistorted world (as in Ruff’s jpeg msh01,2004).

Horvitz’s images begin from a photograph of a man role-playing (posing) as ‘depressed’ but by inviting normative internet processes through which images get re-used, and otherwise metamorphosed by context or more actively ‘edited’ in scale, colouration, orientation or admixture of other imagery, for instance, so that it does not just circulate but, as Horvitz calls it ‘propagates’. Such strategies expose the ‘deception’ or ‘artfulness’ (in its negative sense of duplicity) at the base of all photography – perhaps even the family snap, where various means are given to ‘make’ a photograph pleasing to others or self.

More intriguing still are Kruithof’s inkjet prints of empty, other than for the remnant of photo-mounting stickers, of photographs of pages of an old photograph album.  Mounted under layers of coloured glass everyday phenomena such as the reflection of viewers on their surface emphasise that images are open to contextual accidents that might determine their interpretation differently each time they are seen. Moreover, bearing the flash-bursts that expose they are photographs themselves, the associations of albums with past events such as travelling abroad or on holiday, allows these burst, which eliminate space to represent absences or gaps in memory that photograph albums always to some extent inspire and more so, in the context of their use by someone with an early dementia.

Proliferation when used to emphasise the role of art as the source of a world experienced iun endless reproductive copies can make art itself that comments on what art might, in fact, be, as in Gaenssler’s Bauhaus Staircase,2015. Here a ‘real’ staircase emulating Bauhaus design leads to a fragmented set of reproduced collages using a reproduction of an ‘original’ Bauhaus staircase in Dessau cut-and-paste with reproduced paintings of the staircase with figures by Schlemmer and Lichenstein respectively. What ‘price’ real? Indeed what is arts’s relationship to both the worlds of photography and assumptions of what is the ‘real world’. We are in already in therefore the existential phenomenological crisis of all moments of decision – what is this world on which I am intervening? Fascinating!

2. Select a photograph or a series of photographs made by an artist (someone that you don't personally know): ideally these will be prints you can view at a local museum or gallery, but if this isn’t possible you can choose a reproduction from a newspaper, magazine, or other publication. Indicate which module(s) the photograph(s) relate to. Explain why and how your choice of photograph(s) reflects key ideas from the module(s) you selected. Be sure to describe your image(s), why you selected them, and cite your sources, including the name of the person who took the photograph, date, and where you found the image.

I have selected Portrait V, 2015 © John Stezaker. Courtesy York Art Gallery and The Approach, London. Photo FXP Photography. Available at: https://www.yorkartgallery.org.uk/exhibition/paul-nash-and-the-uncanny-landscape/ (Accessed 15/06/2018). Viewed by myself first at York in 2017.


Stezaker’s work swims in ‘the ceaseless flow…that has been a consequence of mechanical reproduction, mass media and popular culture.’ (Bracewell 2010:8) However, just as Kurt Schwitters employed objects he found in his rambles and incorporated into collage, architectural or sculptural work, Stezaker (cited Stezaker et.al. 2013:110) insists the objects come to him by accident, ‘as if they had been lying in wait for me.’

Stezaker’s images are rescued from ephemeral genres: film-stills from popular-cinema and post-cards, which bear no monetary (or any other) value to any potential ‘owner’ of them in the present-day. He identifies them as ‘orphans’ (ibid.) in want of someone whose role it is especially to see and develop value within them. From acquisition and over long periods these images are developed using collage that plays with similitudes and differences between the genre and content of each image source, such that they both are manipulated to nearly-match but yet, in seeking continuity between their boundaries, merely emphasise ‘distances’ between them. This is achieved in Portrait-V by the misalignment of the female’s shoulder and absent head with substitute figures that mimic absent shapes expected by the viewer. The shoulders and neck become the lines of the steep river bank edge. The head is perceptible in the arch of the bridge through which shows foliage above a chalk bank (for hair) and the bridge coping (as hat) perhaps. Yet the images have different borders, emphasised by trees stretching upwards on the side-frames of the postcard and which emphasises that no cutting of the image has been allowed to facilitate the illusion of the woman’s pictured head. Other obvious intended discrepancies (half of the thumb on the picture’s left is occluded) emphasise edges that deliberately don’t ‘marry’ as Stezacker puts it of another image (ibid:108).

This promotes the viewer’s self-identification:

·        As agent in making the whole picture legible, where it is, and:

·        With disturbed reflections about their collusion in this act of meaning-making.

Stezacker explains these effects as ‘hesitations or reflective confrontations of this implied beholder’ (ibid). Thus, I remember recognising the implication here that this female head is represented by absence, by pictured empty space between the bridge’s sides.

Recognising that I colluding in building an image of the stereotype of the ‘airhead’ woman – even when the originals are dated, was a shock to me. It caused me to hesitate and reflect on myself emotionally and cognitively since, although the materials are dated, the collusive reconstruction is contemporary and personal and does not match my self-perception as a gay-male committed to female empowerment. This ability to include the viewer in the deceptive manipulations of self-and-other presentation is described by Stezacker (ibid.) as his images’ in-built third-person: a ‘double’ or mirror-image of the viewer (ibid.).

Bracewell (2010:8) argues that Stezacker’s images emphasise relationships between visual projection (the active imposition from within of meanings and visible signs outwards upon the perceived object) and occlusion (which looks under barriers to vision for the ‘hidden’). Hadar (2013:127f.) further identifies disturbances in self-reflection in the viewer’s inability to escape collusion in meanings they might otherwise disavow as potential within themselves.

This hints that Stezaker reinvents some of the authorial role of the photographer. Hence, Stezaker isn’t, as some photographers in Module-6 are, just emphasising formally the artifice that goes into making meaning in the world but seeing in that process a deeper concern with the nature of the subjective world we all uncomfortably inhabit. Portrait-V queries ‘vision’ itself by absenting the returned gaze of the portrayed, indeed replacing it with a potential mirror of emptiness: Stezacker says, ‘the mask is a meeting with death in the midst of the life. It is also an inscription of interior space onto the exterior, the space of the face, whilst at the same time, it hides those clues of facial expression from which we recognize the interior life of another. (Stezaker et.al 2013:101)’

 

Bracewell, M. (2010) ‘The Space Between’ in Stezaker, J. Tabula Rasa London, Ridinghouse in association with ‘The Approach’ Gallery, London.

Elcott, N.M. (2015) “From Darkroom to Laptop.” In Photography at MoMA: 1960–Now. The Museum of Modern Art, 2015, 316-319. Available from: https://www.coursera.org/learn/photography/supplement/sKBEX/6-10-required-readings-additional-resources (Accessed 15/06/2018)

Hadar, I. (2013) ‘Arresting Resistance’ in Landau (ed.) John Stezaker: One on One London, Ridinghouse in association with Tel Aviv Museum of Art. 120-115 (note pages in sequence run from back to front in this text)

Slifkin, R. (2015) “Reality Testing.” In Photography at MoMA: 1960–Now. The Museum of Modern Art, 2015, 192-195. Available from: https://www.coursera.org/learn/photography/supplement/sKBEX/6-10-required-readings-additional-resources (Accessed 15/06/2018)

Stezaker, J., Gallois, C. & Herrmann, D.F. (2013) ‘The Third Meaning’ in Landau (ed.) John Stezaker: One on One London, Ridinghouse in association with Tel Aviv Museum of Art. 114 – 95 (note pages in sequence run from back to front in this text)


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MoMA Course Ex 6.11 Photographs and Manipulation

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How does our constant exposure to images affect our understanding of their content and meaning?

I would expect this to have the effect of creating a stereotypic perceptual record of the image based on key features that may be less to do with what is ‘in’ the image itself than in the common cultural meanings of the image to which it has been reduced. This will ‘deaden’ us to the image, although it may help us to see areas in which manipulations beyond the everyday are made. It certainly deadens us to the fact that photographic images are already manipulations (of the viewfinder, focusing technologies and later cropping or reproductive ‘tricks – accidental or intended during processing, where that is possible). Do we really see a ‘strawberry’ or only the mentally-stored ‘type’ of one? Are we inured to violence in wars by relating it to stored war-image typology (hence the value of Martha Roslin’s manipulations).

Photographs are not reality but constantly seeing or identifying an ‘object’ through its photograph will cause us to make that mistake. Some artists manipulate in order to ensure that we see the photograph itself as an object about something, rather than ‘of something’.

In what ways have digital cameras and software programs such as Photoshop changed photography?

They enable more manipulation top occur after the photograph is initially made and normalise our expectation that photographs are deceptive manipulations – a kind of modern theatrical trompe l’oeil. This makes us wary of news imagery and advertising imagery where aesthetic and functional (sales or propaganda) purposes play fast and loose with each other.

How has the circulation of images online affected the way we think about who we credit for making images?

No image is seen as original or ‘real’ or ‘authentic’ but rather as purposive. Moreover that image is the base for further manipulations – of scale, placement, colouration, and context etc.. Hence, Horvitz prefers to say images ‘propagate’ rather than circulate because from one image derives many only loosely related to the original by the end its non-intentional progress to ongoing multiplicity ends (if it ever does). The idea of unified authorship or of a work having a unified vice (univocality in Bakhtin) is destroyed and not even expected by contemporary audiences for images.


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Challenging Histories & Narratives- Week 5 MoMA Photography course

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Wednesday, 13 Jun 2018, 07:23

How can multiple photographs construct a narrative that shapes our understanding of the subject matter?

Images that are juxtaposed and/or sequenced invite narrative interpretation and may suppress some of the issues connected to their relative emplacement. This can be observed even in the most ‘amateur’ arrangements, where both common ideas about the ‘subject of the photographs (perhaps ‘myself’) are conflated with selection of episodes from the life and/or images that comment upon that life, as in the example from ‘unknown photographer’ in MoMA gifted by P. Cohen.

The elements that vary the story and its emphases are also seen (more consciously intended perhaps) in art photography such as Albers storyboard on Oscar Schlemmer. The setting may range from a page or sheet of paper to a wall (Tillmans) to a book and so on. These too change meanings. Is an ‘album’ neutral? The variants include (episode refers to one photograph):

·        Relative size of the episodes;

·        Placing of episodes – top, bottom, left, right, centre, marginal, orientation of photographs (none of the examples use slanting), alignment vertically and horizontally, size of relative spaces between episodes,

·        Commonalities in episodes (Walid Raad)

·        Role of writing/text on or around images (or on back of cp. Japanese photographic postcards during Meiji period), role of multimodal images – cartoons. Including captions in museum pieces (Fletcher photographs of museum photos in Vietnam placed in USA museums). The test-case of ‘removed’ text (Willis Thomas Unbranded)

·        Number of subjects in episode. Are these animal, human, mechanical pieces, tools etc. or mixed?

·        Identifiability of background in episode – especially if no figures.

·        Disjunctions between image technique (as in Harry Callahan’s Eleanor)

·        Use of colouration – homogenous or not for a set of episodes (Mae Weems).

·        Role of fictional or roleplay elements in creation of characters (Cindy Sherman) or setting (Demand Room)

 

How do choices concerning the presentation of a photograph or series of photographs influence its meaning?

We could look at all of the above. What happens in each is made up complex interactions between contexts at different levels of the understanding of that word. This includes interactions between space, boundaries and other modalities of representation, including architectural ones but also the occult meanings of alignment against disorder in arrangement. All of these relationships carry unstable codes of meaning. Their instability means that the meaning received from the images in contexts may be planned but not necessarily determinative on what the images mean to the viewer. Will Sherman’s female types mean the same across all audiences irrespective of gender, ethnicity, class etc.?

The obviousness of the use of artifice (more obvious in Callahan than Demand - since in the latter we may have to search or accidentally alight on cues of such manipulations whereas double exposures in the former are obvious artifice).

The influence on meanings (I’d insist on the plural here) is not only unstable, it is also a means of linking narrative images to the aims of art in form and content, especially where our responses requires us to tap into multi-modal contexts (the meaning of advertisements, film stills, headline banners or script). I don’t feel you can be dogmatic here about effects except in that it inspires exchanges about meaning in its audiences.

One important effect however is, perhaps because of the above, to challenge stereotypical narratives about the lives of the socially marginalised or disempowered. This week they have been about ethnicity, ‘race’ and gender but sexual orientation, class and different embodiments are also implied.

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Mumford, L. (1961) 'The City in History' Notes

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Sunday, 24 Jun 2018, 19:27

A844 - Preparatory Reading

Book:

Mumford, L. (1961) The City in History San Diego, Harcourt, Inc.

How does it reflect on A843 themes?

It is obviously related to Geography and Institutions primarily, since it looks at the origin and development of cities by investigating how human purposes and needs interact with given landscapes: coasts, rivers, valleys and mountains to produce common forms of the city and how that form changes over time as political & social geography takes some importance in the matter. But it is also about authorship, ‘form’, iconography and meaning and identity to name 4 themes. Can a city’s form be ‘authored’? A key lesson in Mumford is that it both can’t and shouldn’t and that planning of the city is always historically messy and multi-authored (even by people who do not see their agency as crucial to that end 168). When authorship is directly involved it is powerful but mistaken (as in the Baroque as Mumford calls it) imposition of political controls and this is reflected in ‘ideal’ city planners. Thomas More is nearer to the reality of the medieval city than (to Mumford) is the noisome closed and controlling thinker, Plato (159-180), who dares to promote the idea of the city as a (sterile) ‘work of art’. The nearer city planners move to geometry the nearer they move to closedness and control and the stifling of organic development. Not that laissez-faire principles of ‘planning’ are any better – they produce Coketown (447).

It is interesting that Dickens provides a lot of the terminology and exempla of the human city (Coketown is created by Dickens in Hard Times but even Wemmick’s suburban ideal is there from Great Expectations). Dickens admired the principle of making things better too, while expecting any development to be still mired in human realities and the ‘messiness’ these produce.

How do I predict that it might foreshadow A844 themes?

A844 appears to concern itself a lot with art that is very obviously social and cultural, like architecture and decoration. It seems as if it will be about art that is multi-faceted and perceptible in toto only from many perspectives – including those from internal and external standpoints. Hence Mumford’s concern with public politics and its relation to ‘private’ and domestic needs (including sanitation and the role of toilets and hygiene in both realms) will be important, although Mumford’s own ideas are clearly over-focused by the sloppiness of American liberalism (that can extol the importance of Mill’s associative liberalism (572) and yet supports the virtue of US opposition to the regulation of private gun ownership and the primary role of individualism and free will (177, 228f.).

 

The key focus will be on conceptions of ‘space’ and how these are articulated in architecture and city planning from the vitally important definition of city as a ‘container’ which holds diversity and controls both external and internal threat through disposition of walls, routes and the width of avenues. But also vital is the dynamics of growth and containment of growth that allows him to summarise the medieval in the East (Byzantium) as making a virtue of ‘arrested development’ (241) & say very little else about that beautiful Empire.

What are the books key themes and narratives?

In a book of this length and ambition there are so many. The concepts I think that will be useful are:

·        The complex interaction between ‘containment’ of diversity and growth – storage is involved but it includes the dangers of having no containing limits of the latter as in the slummy sprawl of Coketown and the modern Megalopolis of unlimited city complexes where all boundaries are fuzzy (540). In all this there is a recognition of the importance of conflict and its containment and/or release in encouraging growth by association (163 Athens, ugly coercive discipline in the Baroque 363 and its ‘sterility’ 406). The role of theatre and drama in all of this (70, 378f.,

·        The contrast between city ‘bildung’ and ‘unbuilding’ (Abbau 451). This is very complex, and I don’t yet understand it. But the latter is associated with the destructive potential of quantifiable masses of ‘atomic individuals’ and the economic role of mining and large industrial agglomerations of people and buildings whose functions deny the value of appearance and begin to utilize the underground (479).

·        The contrast in city planning function of the contrasting processes of ‘materialisation’ (where ideas become the built environment) and ‘etherealization’ (where ideas themselves serve as a means of limiting their materialisation in buildings). This runs throughout starting at about 319. These ideas seem related to material buildings like walls, monuments, temples and politically sacred monumentalism. Materialisation is at its apex in Baroque – which Mumford sees as emerging from the Renaissance (not seen as ‘rebirth’).

·        The holistic review of cities as a form of space management – transport takes up space that could be used for living for instance (407, Medieval principles (occidental) 288-299)). See functional zoning explained by Venice 623, in preparation for its less humane form in Coketown 446.

·        The definition of ‘monumentalism’ as a ‘materialisation’ of sacral, civic and memorial ideas and practices – especially in ‘museums’ (199). In modernity the role of ‘processing mechanisms’ as a substitute for real human association especially in universities 542.

And probably many more.

How does the book relate to the analysis of art and architecture?

There are specific analyses that are of useful weight such as the discussion of Athens, Rome, Venice, Amsterdam and London. The interesting thing is that Mumford does not focus on any building separate from its functional and ideological context – especially in Baroque. Moreover, no building is representative of a city if we miss the importance of non-monumental architecture meeting the needs of continuing domestic life. No place is just a ‘showplace’ 177. The attack on fashionable expression is at its best (but surely questionable) in its ‘analysis’ of skyscrapers (plate 46, 430 and the genesis of ‘high rise’ in well-intentioned Peabody initiative 434). The contrast between outer appearance and inner life-reality (197). The analysis of Charlotte Square (399) in Edinburgh as merely façade (and the truth of Baroque) is masterly.

Any other points!

There are so many - so perhaps none is better here. The expression through aphorisms is appealing but warns (especially because of the necessary abstraction and generality of some of the ‘analysis’ and its omissions) of the possibility of intellectual sloppiness. You admire the phrasing of: ‘Knowledge … externalised in museums and libraries…’ (199) but you need to keep open a view that more specific analysis of specific museums and libraries will reveal much more fine-grained truth that might invalidate the generalisation as such.

 Other preparatory reading completed:

Benedict Anderson Imagined Communities (click to see in new window)

Schama Landscape & Memory (click to see in new window)

Conway & Roenisch Understanding Architecture (click to see in new window)

Elkins & Naef (Eds.) What is an Image? (click to see in new window)

Moxey, K. (2013) Visual Time: The Image in History (click to see in new window)

Aynsley & Grant (Eds.) Imagined Interiors (click to see in new window)

Boswell & Evans (eds.) Representing the Nation (click to see in new window)

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MoMA Photography Course: People in Photos

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4.10 Discussion Questions

What can a photograph of a person tell us about that individual?

It can in the first instance tell us about their physical appearance although I don’t think there this is a ‘value-neutral’ phenomenon, because aspects of appearance will be coded complexly to reveal diverse:

·        Behaviours

·        Deducible Attitudes

·        Meanings,

·        Emotions,

·        Evaluations

·        Interactions between these things.

In a sense it tells us about all of these things and their relative priority for the person or none of these things in itself and only the viewer’s priorities since, even appearance is codified by an onlooker, a viewer, the gaze of the other. In some senses it can tell us nothing about the ‘individual’ but only codable categories of gender, supposed class and so on. Together with context, we might be able to tell that that the aspects of social role designated are being playacted or found naturally in everyday life but not always.

At the moment I am taking Campbell’s University of Tokyo course on the image and text in photographs – as well as painting since that sets a context for uses of the photograph in the 1860s and onwards after the Meiji restoration (and the turn to Western Values). Here text is used to domesticate and acculturate meanings in the visual imagery.

How does photography reinforce our understanding of people as representatives of groups or types?

This happens without necessary pre-intention – the Brown sisters photographs show this where the artist does not intend a portrait of developments of American upper class life but produces it anyway – in the eyes of others as he sees it. The wonderful Palestinian photographs of El Madani allow the person to choose appurtenances of their role – ijn trhe case of the studio photographs a gun. However, the gun has different meanings for each participant and interacts differently with contextual objects – such as toys. We are forced to examine meanings and values as in contest and I’m not sure we are allowed the comfort of a ‘true’ reading of anyone photograph. This can help to breakdown stereotypes based on visual cues and strong cultural associations as in the wonderful photos of fair striptease dancers we saw earlier. This is employed a lot in the wonderful work based on gender and sexuality by Zanene Mukholi. Stereotypes of lesbians and women are forcefully challenged – perhaps too those vof lesbians held by white lesbians in the ‘overdeveloped’ world.

 

How does a picture of a subject who is aware of the camera differ from one whose subject is not?

Of course it would be easy to say that the person can act rather than be themselves, but this is a false opposition i think since even everyday life contains performance values – of clothing choice or mandation, gesture and so on. Roles are dispersed for most people so that acting always occurs. Is there a true unitary self? We needn’t answer that but the suggestion is strong in itself. In effect photographs of people will always explore this dilemma of who and what am I, and what is my agency in providing or presenting this ‘image of self’ whether to others (as in Mead and Goffman) or to ourselves in a real or notional mirror (Lacan and others).

The best answer is to insist that there is no binary difference since awareness of self in the gaze of the other operates already at different levels in intrapersonal, interpersonal and social interaction. In a sense we don’t need CCTV to be always in the camera’s gaze – performing roles from a repertoire (a very incomplete one) at our death might add up to the diverse thing we are. In early Meiji Japan it was common for people to compose a self-reflection in words (in stanza form) as near to their death as they could. One I’m studying at the moment writes (in classical Chinese – the sign of the traditional Japanese intellectual): ‘This image is one of that very heart’. Here words try to fix an appearance in the manner of the dignity a life has tried to attain (with the cultural standards) that can be equated not only with ‘heart’ but ‘spirit’. If I* can I’ll include the photo.

 Samurai (elder) photo


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Coursera course for invited mentors: Exercise 1

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Tuesday, 5 Jun 2018, 17:30

I have been invited by Coursera to take this course leading to the role of an invited mentor for learners on one particular course. Here is the first exercise.

The course is;

"Modern Art & Ideas

The Museum of Modern Art”

To read about the course's aims and objectives, see: https://www.coursera.org/learn/modern-art-ideas/home/info

Steve’s view: This course focuses on ‘ideas’ as a tool for engaging with Modern Art. It defines the latter through the holdings of the first and arguably most influential institution for the representation, collection, storage and display of ‘Modern Art’, The Museum of Modern Art in New York. This needs to be said before we start because the function of selection runs through this great institutions’ role: in decisions about what to buy and maintain, what from this store is to be displayed and where.

1.     Think back to when you took this course as a learner. Which part of the course did you find the most challenging or interesting? (This is the topic you will use to respond to the next question)

2.     Write at least 200 words to explain the topic you chose above to a learner just starting this course. Make sure your explanation is clear, detailed, and easy to understand.

 

·       The modular nature of the course enables participants to take on central ideas as they emerge and focus on a well-selected number of art-works for comparison and evaluation focused on that idea. For me the key idea (and that I did my coursework on - https://learn1.open.ac.uk/mod/oublog/viewpost.php?post=204161) were contrasting ideas in art and art criticism & history of ‘space’ and ‘place’.

·       Approaching ‘modern art’ can be problematic for people who look in it for a picture representing a world they can always recognise – something you identify as a place, such as my place of birth or where I met my husband. Instead modern art has considered a more fundamental idea – what is ‘space’ and how is it represented without the familiarity assumed in the notion of ‘place’. Space can be two, three or four-dimensional (that is it can be a flat shape, have depth as well as length or breadth or have time as a component as well as depth, etc.)

A lot of theories of modern art have identified, for instance in the 1950s by Clement Greenberg (and in the claims about his own work of Jackson Pollock), that the fundamental problem for art is that it needed to avoid the illusion of a picture having depth (or perspective) and understand that it’s essence was pattern built or composed on a flat surface. Here ‘space’ was an idea that included not depth illusions (only width and length of a given canvas) but which did include ‘time’. Pollock talked about his painting as having rhythm like music or poetry (both time-based arts) and being composed in the action of their making (over time) and the action of the observer’s duration of gaze at the picture.

You will see lots of art in this section that makes both space and place a problem (as in Van Gogh’s Starry Night) where the painter’s claims about the space he inhabits contrasts with simpler ideas of ‘place’. Starry Night is definitely not just a picture of the town, Saint Remy, that Van Gogh’s asylum window looked down upon.

This idea is even more difficult in Rachel Whiteread’s House where she recreated (the East London artwork was demolished) the space INSIDE a house as a solid object or in Matta Clark’s Bingo (which is shown on the course) since that conveys the meanings of house space by translocating a wall of a demolished house with a flat inside and outside into MoMA itself. We see stairs and doors but are they such in a detached single wall or only ‘spaces’ that tell us something about what we mean by living in the world. In Rachel Whiteread’s artwork, space in becoming solid no longer can be anyone’s ‘place’ (a home that is lived in). So what is it?

1.     Think back to when you took this course as a learner and choose another part of the course which you found difficult or interesting.

2.     Write at least 200 words to explain the topic you chose above to a learner just starting this course. Make sure your explanation is clear, detailed, and easy to understand.

·       Rather than choose another module week title as above, I’d like to take one word from one week – that is the word ‘Transforming’ from ‘Transforming Everyday Objects’. That is because in each week you will examine how things (even everyday things like walls and houses) are transformed by becoming art and / or being placed in an art-museum.

·       I think art has always ‘toyed’ with the idea of ‘transformation’. A favourite source for an artist’s subject-matter was the Latin poet, Ovid’s, Metamorphoses, where things change into other things all the time – like the young woman Daphne pursued by Apollo turns into a laurel tree. Bernini couldn’t resist sculpting this in stone in the seventeenth century.

In ‘modern art’, this issue is both less and more complicated. For instance, putting a single wall (like that in Bingo) in a museum makes us see (and perhaps interpret) it differently.

The thing now in the museum (whatever it starts off as being named) is in a new context physically but also takes on the ability to mean more and different things to different viewers.  What happens when we put fur round a tea-cup? You’ll see this very thing so I won’t give the game away yet so you can ‘see’ it – whatever it is- for yourself.  In a complex sense, we recognise art as ‘strange’ when things we thought we ‘knew’ about now seem strange to us.

Even what looks like very ‘realistic’ painting of a real-world place, such as that in Wyeth’s Christina’s World, actually makes the world look queer - we see it from the stance of a grasshopper but yet we also see it in human dimensions, so that single bits of grass at the front of the picture as being as visible as Christina’s house on the horizon. Our sense of vision is ‘queered’ (it’s transformed). In Wyeth’s picture, this may help us to see3 the world as Christina as well as one containing Christina. If we take the time we learn that Christina (she was a real neighbour of Wyeth’s) could only mobilise comfortably by a kind of side-ways crawl over the ground. In this way art makes us see the world anew. Jump in! Enjoy it!

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A844 History of Art Preparatory Reading 1. Anderson on 'Imagined Community'

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Sunday, 24 Jun 2018, 19:28

A844 - Preparatory Reading

Book:

Anderson, B. (2016 Revised Ed.) Imagined Communities; reflections on the Origin and spread of Nationalism London, Verso.

How does it reflect on A843 themes?

The themes it resonates with are Identity, Otherness and the Subject, and Geographies and Institutions. If we start with the latter, BA’s view is that the institutionalisation of ‘imagined’ ethnic boundaries was performed through the mixed agency of political cartography, population ‘census’ and museums and that these created an imagined national identity set against the other of foreignness and migrancy. This links with the discussion of an art that aligns normative identity with central images and the creation of margins in which liminal identities from a dark past or threated present and future are cast. It is important here that images of a novel national identity projected onto the present are also given a substantive memorial past or significant myth of origin. Art can serve that role. The link of imagined communities to racism and gender bias can also be explored in terms of a notion of ‘nation’ in art and the creation of a national art.

How do I predict that it might foreshadow A844 themes?

Clearly intended for Section 1 and the study of the role of nationalism in the formation of an art and architecture that imaginatively constructs (together with a myth of re-creation of a past ideal now debased) a built and visible environment that embodies a notion of the ‘imagined community’. It will do so by creating otherness that it attempts to place as a threat to a heritage-in-the making.  It will reflect further on the function of national museums and monumentalism.

What are the books key themes and narratives?

1.       Preconditions of imagined communities are (p. 36): loss of a script language that embodied the TRUTH; decay of belief in a representative at the head of a human hierarchy, and; cosmology and history were becoming aligned rather than separated by a doctrine of transcendence.

2.       Historical time-space shifts involve Victor Turner’s notion of a ‘meaning-making experience’ conceived as a journey (p. 53).

3.       The arts are implicated in this journey in forming strong cognitive-emotional attachments aligned to places conceived to have a vertical synchronic relation to their history and future aspiration (141).

4.       Museums and memorising and monumentalism and sacralisation of places are fundamentally political acts (178, 181)

How does the book relate to the analysis of art and architecture?

Mainly indirectly through point 3 above. Art is seen as a means of making meaning – including the sacralisation of places and peoples and stories of origin. Architecture described as monumental plays with meanings associated with power, memory, security against threat. The nation will attempt to share its meanings with art and sometimes supplant them. It might attempt to create a boundary containing a taxonomy of the arts equated with its own assumptions.

Any other points!

I am happy to be surprised on this one.

 Other preparatory reading completed:

Lewis Muford The City in History (click to see in new window)

Schama Landscape & Memory (click to see in new window)

Conway & Roenisch Understanding Architecture (click to see in new window)

Elkins & Naef (Eds.) What is an Image? (click to see in new window)

Moxey, K. (2013) Visual Time: The Image in History (click to see in new window)

Aynsley & Grant (Eds.) Imagined Interiors (click to see in new window)

Boswell & Evans (eds.) Representing the Nation (click to see in new window)

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MONET & ARCHITECTURE

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Friday, 1 Jun 2018, 16:34

MONET & ARCHITECTURE: Continued from here (click to open prequel in new window)

This exhibition’s curation is a return to the tradition of the 'monographic' (as NG calls it) exhibition. Obviously, the work of a senior academic art historian it is of the ‘old school’ while dressing itself up in a trendy and novel theme: architecture. However, architecture is widely understood to include village church spires, older picturesque built phenomena in ruins or restored or the new build villas of the bourgeoisie who formed the clientele of Monet’s Art. Within this remit a lot gets included and one can’t help but see how the thematic structure of rooms – picturesque village & town, urban modernity and finally monumentalism is a cover for largely preserving a chronological presentation of remarkable stylistic developments.

This isn’t true entirely though because the themes also expose the contradictions that make up the whole phenomenon of Monet’s art. Whilst producing some instances Thomson calls ‘modern’ that are self-consciously aware of industrial and commercial capitalism as a change-agent not only of landscape but the media we see landscape through – the media of space, time, light and variant density of volumes. It is these latter that allow London's polluted fog to become a subject as much as the motif - say Waterloo Bridge - we see (sometimes dimly) through it. But for me Monet’s take on the produced landscapes of capitalism is weak. The Coal-Heavers (1875) is a remarkable picture in which, as Thomson says, everything is man-made. I was dying, as they say, to see it but it disappointed. The depiction of working-class people turns them into ciphers and their impact on the environment is likewise eradicated. The planks over which they carry heavy bags of coal do not even receive their weight and, likewise, the Seine beneath them is barely touched by the coal droppings which must have discoloured it. One effect is of a Monet water piece (with all the shimmering play of light on water) that sort of blithely ignores the labour going on round it. It strikes me, as Ruskin would have said, as ‘untrue’.

So, this was a wonderful experience – not least because as Monet ages we see the increasing ways in which purely visual effects – things we notice as a surprise by virtue of heightened perception – become less cognitive and more emotional (perhaps despite Monet who still though he painted only what he saw) such as the Rouen West Front of the Cathedral series or late Venice or London paintings. And this is not all stylistic. The concentration of Monet increasingly on effet rather than motif or a balance of the two, allows him to remove all figures from his late pictures – those tourists he so hated and lambasted – although he was one such.

But these are beautiful pictures. They aren’t though, to my mind, great pictures – although the chance to see this collection made something wondrous accessible – a man’s journey through the psychology of vision. I say not ‘great’ though because that psychology was far from a social psychology. It eradicates the social eventually – although only via some wonderful experiments in urban art – which we see here in his mid-career Paris pictures.


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Art Exhibitions visited in London May/June 2018

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Friday, 1 Jun 2018, 16:29

Art Exhibitions in London May/June 2018

This was our annual London extravaganza, starting with:

Rodin and Classical Greek Art

It was a common-place of the revues I read to marvel at this exhibition in toto but to assent (‘with civil sneer’) to Rodin’s ‘obvious’ inferiority to the Greek masters. Yet this didn’t cross my mind whilst there. The curation is subtle enough to provide opportunity for seeing the learning involved in Rodin’s tactile love of the Parthenon marbles without seeing a need for easy comparisons of purely aesthetic value, since aesthetic value is the least interesting way to compare these sets of sculptures. The texts from the poet Rilke helped here because they reflected the ways in which Rodin’s contemporary, and assistant, focused on the major differences in the ontology of art between the two exemplar sculptures. They are not the same thing at all – such that even shared monumentality has a different set of sensations and meanings attached to it in each case. Rodin’s fragments are self-conscious not accidental – the effect of past and passing time on culture and identity not just on the physical imprint of age and conflict on stone.

The effect of fragmentation (say of figures from The Gates of Hell) is that, in taking-on autonomy, they take on different identity and scale in freeing themselves of their context. The key to this is ‘The Thinker’, who separated from the gate on which he looks down is also severed from easy acquisition of any straightforward claim to ontology – as god or man, saint, sinner, angel, devil, artist, philosopher and so on. Alone and monumentally so he merely reflects and thinks the questions: What am I? Who am I? Do these questions matter?

Nothing in Greek art can go there, though it can evoke severance from a divine it once pretended to as ritual object, whilst articulating some kinds of very close perception of the feel of spirit, body and clothing and the relationships between them. Yet The Burghers of Calais are locked in distance from each other – unsure as a group as is each figure whether it is like each other figure, even in its reflection on itself and the others. They are even locked in their own private symbols as the comments from Rilke’s commentary show us. Having said this, I loved seeing the London Parthenon marbles in a context other than their rupture from any proper context within the clinical situation of the Duveen Gallery – that gallery of body parts divorced from any appropriate housing. For Rodin, the dispersal of the ‘marbles’ was inevitable consequence of the effect of a contemporary Imperialism that he just accepted grumpily after the manner of Zola.

Picasso 1932

You leave this exhibition unsure that you could have really seen such a magically haunting set of pictures from one year of Picasso’s life as painter, curator and self-reflector. What can one say?

These pictures are as terrifying as they are lovely. You feel as if it is difficult to divorce even feelings of revulsion from ones of awe and even humour – but revulsion certainly in the constant dissonance between animal and human, still-life stasis and motion, fertility and decay, water and stone, sexual parts and anuses – as well as ambiguous orifices that suck and bite and close and open, like eyes – even like the eyes of octopi (visitors to the exhibition will know to what I refer here).

The chances of seeing the like again as an exhibition are almost nil. But it can’t be reviewed, it must be seen. Strange how even the sparest of monochrome in-drawings can evoke other pictures whose affects you believed were mainly ones of colour and more solid illusory form. You go back to Picasso’s use of line with a new respect.

All TOO Human

What a massive multiplicity there is here – perhaps even too much to convince that the narrative progression of this exhibition is anything other than tenuous, whilst not wanting to complain because you were bowled over again and again in different ways by Bomberg, Bacon, Freud, Souza, Kossof, Auerbach (how much bowled over by him), Kitaj, and … By the time we reach Paula Rego, we wonder if the idea of the figurative isn’t far too wide to hold this all together. You come out needed to go in all over again --- and again!

This can have an unsettling effect of reducing some of the greatness you see here – particularly in neglected artists like Bomberg and Kitaj. It is fashionable to sneer at the latter these days and you do wonder that neglect by the art establishment and overt Jewish themes and meanings often seem to come together. Kitaj’s Cecil Court is a great picture, but I wonder if it belongs here other than to be submerged under the Bacon and Freud. It is a wordy story-filled picture, like Rego’s pictures are, where the stories are occulted and difficult to restore and insufficiently conveyed by visual impression, and its emotional-cognitive reflection, alone. Moreover, great pictures by Kossof and Auerbach here are not primarily important because of the figures created therein but because of the new spaces and underscapes that painting began to explore after the Second World War, particularly those of excavation and demolition. The more pictures took on narrative and/or ambivalent or liminal spaces, the less they seemed to belong here. Freud could suppress story by sheer volumes of visual effect – my favourite version of that effect being in the smaller portrait of the dying Leigh Bowery.

But I find it strangely perturbing how few visitors this exhibition welcomed unlike either Picasso or the Hockney exhibition last year. The Bacon paintings alone are worth seeing – the late George Dyer triptych for instance or, in comparison, is earlier wonderful dog and baboon paintings in an early room. See it – it won’t come together like this ever. In some ways this is because the curation is less than convincing but sometimes, as shown in the sample of Picasso’s curation from 1932 in the other exhibition, strange curation is compelling. When asked how he wanted to curate his retrospective he said ‘badly’. And in that bit of typical humour he cocked a snook at conventional art-history. So, see ‘All Too Human’ – like its title it implies both magnificence and a set of huge and irreducible limitations.

Monet, tomorrow! (click to open irreverence about Monet in a new window)

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MoMA Photography: Photo as 'evidence' Week 3

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Sunday, 27 May 2018, 18:02

In what instances might we accept photographs as evidence or accurate records?

This is a very loaded question to which, after working through this week’s material, you really want to answer that ‘in no instance should a photograph be accepted as evidence of the meaning of an event that has really happened’. This seems to be the point of Mandel and Sultan’s art-joke in their book of photographic documents named ‘Evidence’. The title begs the question since the work itself makes us question whether our assumptions about what evidence is contain a lot of unexamined and hard-to-validate assumptions. Even the look of their work in Mandel’s words has this effect: ‘It looks like it's kind of a library binding, and it's made so that you would think that it is some kind of evidentiary document.’ The point is we learn that we are being duped. We assume a photograph evidences a truth and its potential meanings but the book will puzzle us and generate meanings quite out of any range intended by the original photographer. Likewise, Meiselas challenges one narrow feminist conception of ‘carnival strippers’ by allowing new meaning to be generated by her images: they do show us ‘what is there’ but we are challenged to find a simple meaning – not least inj the women themselves who are more than just ‘victims’ of the male gaze.

 

What makes photography’s relationship to truth so complicated?

Papageorge’s comparison of his and Winograd’s images of a mixed race couple and their pet monkeys is fascinating. The latter’s image compresses into its frames ideas about children and parents that arise from the juxtaposition of the monkey and an ambient child holding his father’s hand at the back of the monkey, via some unacknowledged but deeply-culturally ingrained racism in white viewers. To see this picture then is to see ‘racism’ in action although it is not ‘evidence’ of it. The point is that documents show us something complex, full of multiple (and sometimes contradictory) meanings. This is true of Atget’s use of the term ‘documents for artists’. Meanings come from all directions and I think Atget knew that they would and that not all of them would be under his control. This is the case of Mandel and Sultan – where juxtaposed images ‘infect’ each other with meaning.

In what ways do a photographer’s artistic choices and point of view affect the meaning of a picture?

The above does not say that the way a picture is ‘made’ (framed, cropped, focused, printed) does not change meaning – it does – as we see in comparing Winograd and PapaGeorge where the latter’s pictures is somehow much simpler in semiotic terms. It is also to say that even in less conscious hands the photographs framing and other features however unplanned or intended for another function will begin to take on functions of which its photographer was totally ‘innocent’. I think Meiselas is very wise here in giving up some of her control of choices to her ‘subjects’ – the carnival strippers. Their desire for ‘portraits’ imposes an intention on her oeuvre that feels alien to Meiselas’ open feminism but which is in the end reconcilable with that feminism – since the women are not just subjected to the photographer’s gaze (in this sense just as they are to male gaze) but also able to make new meanings out of that event that have autonomy from both gazing men and the female photographer.


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MoMA Photography Course Discussion Week 1-2

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Sunday, 27 May 2018, 18:01

How do the photographer’s intentions—whether artistic, scientific, commercial, or personal—influence the final image?

This is not so straight-forward a question as it might seem, since so many variables are involved. If the photographer has an 'intention' that need not be the sole purpose that the image produced serves. This could be because:

  1. The photographer has multiple intentions. If, for instance, a work (such as a collage of the moon's surface) is commissioned for scientific purposes - to record (as accurately as possible) a panorama of the surface - then other purposes could be possible. Some may be public, others private, some conscious, and others unconscious: they may simultaneously be there in fact (at least for the photographer-as-viewer).
  2. The image's purpose or intention could be said to be entirely opaque and, if existent at all, reconstructed by the viewer and hence different for different viewers and types of viewer. This is certainly the case in Atget's work - even in the eclipse scene, the presence or absence of a knowledge of the contextual loss of the Titanic a day before the photograph was made can be seen as 'intentional' but may not be so. This raises the question whether the determinant influence on the picture might not be the viewer's alone - as might be the case in the commentary this week on the picture.
  3. Photographs are not the product of one agency but several. In that case where any conception of 'intention' will be dispersed amongst different agencies. We could say that about multiple prints of the same negative (Ansell Adam's Moonrise) where our commentator infers an intention based on Adam's advancing age that changes somewhat, as Adams' identity changes or varies. Here, in fact, lots of agentive processes within one person are potential.

How does the scale of a photographic print affect our relationship to its subject?

When the scale is fixed 1:1, as in Atget's process, then scale will be preconceived. The preconceptions can be multiple but the framing of the event will have been much more conscious because cropping is not available. Issues of focus arise here too but I don't have enough technical knowledge to comment. Scale can be 'read' as a sign of the intention of the photographer or commissioner. In a recent Tate Liverpool exhibition a reviewer points out that comparisons of Schiele's large expressionist figures belittle Atwood's co-shown photographs precisely because of scalar issues. Are ambitions vis-a-vis, say, artistic purpose, betrayed by scale? There are clearly interactions between determination of subject (ontology and meaning) based on a photograph's scale - what is the 'subject' of Adam's Moonrise against various printings for instance in relation to static scale. Does it matter about the size of a surface photogravure image of a part of moon, in terms of viewer's impression?

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Threats or opportunities in future heritage thinking. Leiden MOOC Week 6

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Threats or opportunities in future heritage thinking. Leiden MOOC Week 6

One of the most telling lessons from the course is that 'heritage' and 'threat' are often co-defined. In wars or revolutions (or other variations including wars of ideology or attitude between contrasting groups) I only identify my 'heritage' when it is under threat of extinction. This threat can be conceived as active and agentive or as the effect of natural and everyday forces that are not confronted and in some way seen as something into which we ought to intervene. I see these issues underlying the concerns of Holtorf (2016).

As soon then as I sense that 'my heritage' is under threat, I need to ask (aided by this course): By what? By whom (if it is a person or group)?. A deeper question that precedes that is 'to whom' is this perceived as a threat. Here 'me' would be an insufficient answer since identity can bew conceived of as distributed in such ways that we need to look at what aspect of identity is threatened - identifications for instance with locality, group, gender, ethnicity, occupation, nation and do on. We need to determine whether we see the threat arising from the agency of others, or something we conceive as 'other' or from our failure to respond to a change that is inevitable and where no other agency need be invoked than our own. Of course, 'doing nothing' in relation to a perceived threat is also an option but it needs to be conceived as an active choice - an act of omission at least.

My concern with Castle Hill throughout these exercises has been to present that phenomenon in terms of its ontology as it might be perceived by different stakeholders or different strands of identity in myself. It is possible to conceive of the different aspects in competition where one concept of the phenomenon takes hegemony over others. Thus, an interest group may want to preserve evidence of pre-industrial mining and aim to open adits for inspection by tourists, building on the top of the hill, facilities that inform and create opportunities for remembrance (souvenirs, books, leaflets). To do so would compromise the pre-Roman earth works. Hence one idea of what Castle Hill 'means' and 'is' can threaten another.

However, that is only if we see reconstruction in terms of a choice between alternatives from different domains and times-of-origin of the particular facet. Reconstruction can be done (Byrne 2008) through other media and social actions (videos, e-construction software (see Cunliffe on Palmyra), imaginative opportunities - story-telling etc.) in ways that allow one site to develop itself in many ways without one function compromising another. That seems to be the purpose proposed by the Paris Declaration wherein developers and other stakeholders are encouraged to enter into dialogue about what they mean by both 'development' and 'sustainability' in relation to any proposed project - of international significance. This is called 'development with a human face'. My only concern is that sometimes it is difficult to differentiate a face from a 'mask'.

Multiple construction of sites by partial differentiation of its developments and multiple 'ownership' (not necessarily non-conflictual since dialogue involves resolution of conflict) relations seems to be the key. This too can be covered by Holtorf's (2016) idea that no one idea or ideology of the heritage represent by Castle Hill asserts the need for 'timeless continuity of existing forms' over the rights of other existing and yet-to-be-proposed future forms associated with it in 'fluid continuity'. This will integrate too awareness of ecosystems at the level of flora and fauna. 

In part this means priority processes involved in the 'interpretation' of heritage over the physical phenomena of the site itself and hence an acceptance that those phenomena are not and cannot be remade as we suppose them to have been in the mythologies surrounding their origin. It is an argument for keeping interpretation open to diverse practices that might assist in the process - which must include more than those available to academic expertise. This also means making the meaning of 'visiting' a site more fluid too, such that visiting does not demand so great a local infrastructure that it buries the site in necessities involved in its own maintenance. Visiting can include the multi-media opportunities already proposed.

This means that 'doing nothing' will sometimes be a choosable option for part of a site at least. In those cases we realise that the meaning of a site may not be entirely the product of our human agency but that to keep that diversity we have implements active means to prevent intervention that comes from less thoughtful domains - at least in part. 


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Avoiding the question of Legal and Statutory Protection of Heritage: Leiden MOOC Week 5

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Sunday, 20 May 2018, 20:09

Avoiding the question of Legal and Statutory Protection of Heritage: Leiden MOOC Week 5

How could international conventions and measures help to protect your heritage? How is your heritage placed in these frameworks (is it national/international, tangible/intangible)? Would your heritage be, for instance, eligible for 'enhanced protection?' 

 

I learned from Isakhan (2015) that at the time of writing, the UK had still not ratified the Hague Convention (1954). In fact it was not ratified until just over 6 months ago (UK ratified on 12/09/2017 (http://www.unesco.org/eri/la/convention.asp?KO=13637&language=E&order=alpha).

This piece of information rather perturbs me and stops me, perhaps from answering this question, in an appropriate way – not least because I only discovered this fact today in reading up to answer this exercise (20/05/2018).

I may be muddled here but it remains a point to me then about the extent to which ‘my heritage’, that part of the set of forces that have co-determined my inheritance of an identity that is to some extent based on being an UK citizen, includes the resistance of my nation to this convention. It is obviously still too early to decide what effect ratification might have.

What appears to be the case is that the UK has a troubled relationship to the idea of ‘cultural property’ precisely because so much of its heritage, including that it took from colonies – even the word ‘bungalow’, was taken from, copied from, gained at the expense of or glorifies in the subjection of its colonial ‘property’ (those things it took to itself). Even in long-dead and less obviously ‘alive’ cultural property such as that of the Parthenon (Elgin) marbles, the UK establishment plays fast and loose with any interference with what it owns, supposedly in the interests of preserving ‘everyone’s global’ heritage. In preparation of going to the new exhibition on Rodin next week in the British Museum I am looking at the wonderful Farge et. al. (2018) book on the ’Rodin & the art of ancient Greece' (BM) exhibition book. Lo and behold it is sells itself as a self-defence of the universal survey museum. Clearly the debate about ‘cultural property’ remains edgy. The Director of BM, Hartwig Fischer says in his Foreword:

If we are to understand the place of the encyclopaedic museum and its influence in world culture, we have to acknowledge the extraordinary creativity in art and thought it has engendered.

But do we really have to? Surely such an argument means that 'creativity' stands for a means of justifying the status quo, a way of saying that there is and was no alternative to the cultural imperialism of the great art centre, where because Elgin was able to buy, through duping the Ottoman holders of this Greek art, it therefore belongs to the UK? Is Rodin inconceivable without the BM (as Rodin himself seemed to suggest). 

How are we counter this strand of colonialism in everyday thought and how disentangle them from what I call ‘my heritage’? To a certain extent, my failure not to know about this late ratification of the Hague Convention and my validation, by remaining silent, of Hartwig’s disguised colonial-imperialist arguments (because I love it that in a couple of weeks I can see Rodin’s and great Ancient Greek art together) make me complicit in a ‘heritage’ that essentially has claimed rights to make national judgements about our own interests that it passes off as interests in universal values about art and culture. I have a hand in the maintenance of the marbles in the Duveen Room as evident as Hartwig’s, Duveen’s, & Elgin’s.

To look at my ‘heritage’ and considers its right to ‘enhanced protection’ seems problematic. It has had that because the might of a colonial past has passed itself off as a citizen’s right and I have swallowed that hook, line & sinker.

For this reason, I feel I have to take an oblique approach to this question? Many elements of ‘my heritage’ are reflections of an attitude to ‘heritage’ that analyses it (literally takes it apart) to see how the same heritage site looks to different stakeholders with different values. As an adolescent, as I said in my first piece, Castle Hill meant something different to me from my heterosexual male friends. As a working-class boy in a grammar school, various signs of heritage seemed to me to speak of values with which I couldn’t identify – such as the English nationalism associated with interpretations of the pre-Roman fort and the imperialism built into the stones and legends of the Victoria Tower.

For citizens of nations that has died-in-the-wool its imperialist past and a related value-set, I can’t talk about ‘my heritage’ very simply. The signs of symbols of working class community are swept away hastily – as were ‘pitheads’ after the NCB victory over miners’ unions in 1987. Those of the gay community are barely recognised – even by ourselves – in ways that makes sites tenable, or protectable (even the Stonewall bar in the USA).

Hence, I don’t know how to answer this. When in the late 1960s I was in the sixth-form, I taught English to first-generation migrant Pakistani boys. Can I remember reading the legend of the Empress of India on Victoria Tower? How could I do so in order to allow this young man (about 16) to make it his heritage as much as mine, and to see in it the reality that our heritage is a bag of mixed, and mixed-up, value systems, some of which oppress some of us, as he was oppressed and, as, at that time, was I (much more so than now). 

To protect heritage without looking at the meanings we are protecting (and those we let go by the wayside), especially in the declining old imperial cultures, is not responsible. It will fail to see the power politics of heritage as it is disguised (not necessarily intentionally) from citizens. In the rage about Persepolis, we might forget (may never have been told) about the complicity of US forces in the destruction of Babylon or of UK forces in Moussa that Isakhan also tells us about (this text has really got to me!).

Sometimes I just want to find an ancient (or aesthetic – Rodin) stone to hide behind rather than face this moral conundrum. However, that is why this piece does not really do what it is asked to do. I needed to say this first and then reflect! And perhaps the latter will take time but not the 64 years from 1954 (also my birth-date as well as that of the Hague convention) to now. I can see why this course is run from the Netherlands – a culture that has always renewed itself through principle.

All the best

Steve

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Humanity-made threats to heritage: Heiden Heritage MOOC Week 4

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Humanity-made threats to heritage

The topics discussed this week have to do with the various threats to heritage and we mostly focussed on man-made threats. How does this relate to your site? What could be potential threats to your heritage? How would you counter these threats, both in theory and in practice? Write about these issues in order to show - both to yourself as well as to your fellow students who will be grading your work - that you understand them and you know how to incorporate those with your chosen personal heritage. Through thinking about these issues and incorporating them into something of your own you will learn how these concepts influence heritage managing decisions.

 

As I work through these exercises I am finding them more and more challenging. I begin to ask myself why I am trying to relate the issues in the module with ‘my heritage’. After all, what seems to be suggested is that there are problems with the term, ‘my heritage’ and the ontology of heritage it implies – as something whose being depends on its importance to me.

To tell truth, I have struggled from the beginning to define ‘my heritage’. This is partly because deriving from a post-colonial colonising culture, ‘My heritage’ has been formed outside myself – in histories of an over-determined shared consciousness of ownership of a world or universal heritage – the kind of ideology Hamilakis (2012:4f.) sees as supportive of the idea of the ‘universal survey (or panoptic) museum’ (like the British Museum).

I struggle with that ideological inheritance and it pushes me to empathy with emergent post-colonial local identity in order to identify with cultures threatened by neo-colonial thought. That empathy might advocate the repatriation of the ‘Elgin’ Parthenon marbles, and support for the removal of the icons of colonial thinking (Rhodes-Must-Go! Victoria-Tower-on-Castle-Hill-must-go!). For me it makes me value values of my own ‘sub-culture’ that are under threat from being immersed in majority OR hegemonic cultural icons (such as being a gay man, or class – these themes came up in my Castle Hill pieces).Yet Hamilakis (2012:8) argues that this binary presentation of the issue is itself a fallacy. His preferred position is the ‘exilic imagination’ and I must say that this resonates with me. What it suggests is that there is nothing warm, comfortable or easy about determining your heritage: ‘about ongoing clashes with the colonial and neo-colonial regimes of authority and rule, not only in faraway places, but … in our own nation-states and localities, ….our own projects, our own writing and scholarly practice.’

That raises for me another perspective on statues of Rhodes and Victoria Tower, that emblem of mock-Gothic superiority over the Indian sub-continent in a town-environment now home to many families, once self-identifying exiles of that continent, even if no longer. 

Victoria Tower on Castle Hill

Victoria Tower on Castle Hill. By Richard Harvey - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1005635

Victorian imperial heritage and intangible culture linked to it are part of my ‘heritage’. The point is NOT to rip them down and pretend they too are forgotten but to exile yourself from them: they are heritage not ‘my heritage’. They need to be understood in all their complexity but not as symbols of assurance for a stable identity but as memorials that nothing is as stable as is comfortable in our identities and that relating to objects, sites and practices from the past is necessary as exiles if we are to imagine them differently (under new ontological conditions, in Hamilakis) in the future.

So ‘my heritage’ (exiled from the present comfort with itself) is not universal and not local in significance but in continuing evolutionary and perhaps revolutionary emergence. It is there and must be understood but only by some kind of struggle, even if that is struggle in writing and thought – deep down in the ontology of the self.

So that is why I think the kind of unprotected ‘multi-temporal perception and embodiment of materiality’ is my Castle Hill – and on it still stands it Victoria Tower with its uneasy relation to my ‘self’. But if this is not comfortable, it is also difficult to make practical for a heritage manager. If we venerate the pre-Roman site is that at the cost of eighteenth-century mining adits, or of complex unreconciled sites of Victorian early working-class radicalism or later Victorian comfort with a wealth-creating imperialism. Where would I start to preserve – or perhaps I preserve bits, some parts of which will be documentary interpretation and showcase them all, or do I just turn it into a forgotten state that will reap its rewards in physical deterioration of all these features. Whatever, I do, what would I do if this later perceived as an excellent site for a nuclear-bomb bunker in a new Cold-War against an imperialist Russian or American state? Who knows? All Hamilakis says is that, it is hard, isn’t it!

My favourite quote – still getting my head around it is Pels in his interview:

So in a way, very often the individual pieces of heritage, again, often defined by a certain origin in the past, those may be under threat. But I think the overall collection of heritage sites, and heritage objects is increasing. And heritage is not under threat,

…. 

And so, I guess if you put it in two words. The exploitation of heritage sites by people who actually do not care about this assignability is probably the major threat.

 Is this translatable thus? What matters is attributing and respecting the multi-assignability of the significance of all heritage and finding ways of respecting that whilst still struggling against colonialism and racism. Maybe so!

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Ownership & Heritage: Leiden Heritage Mooc Week 3

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Ownership  comprises the right to possess, the right to use, the right to manage, the right to the income of the thing, the right to the capital, the right to security, the rights or incidents of transmissibility  and absence of term,  the  prohibition  of  harmful  use,  liability   to  execution,  and  the incident of residuarity.  

 

Source: Honore’, A., 1987. Making Law Bind, Oxford:  Clarendon Press, pp.161-79.


I am going to start this with a classic definition of ownership from jurisprudence, because it puts in context the readings done this week where we have considered contested ownership. Weiss’s (2016) study shows a quantifiable decline (across a number of criteria where an increase was predicted) of interest of academic and research archaeologists in osteological studies once a principle was established in law that the ownership of the bones studied lay in the tribes from whose burial grounds the bones were found. This suggests that, for academic archaeologists a motivation for maintain interest was the ownership of the relevant bones was theirs in ways defined by Honore’.

 What it suggests to me is that the claim to be the legitimate manager of heritage (presumably for everybody at some level of abstraction) is already a claim to own that heritage, at least in trust. Without such ownership academics could not hold the evidence for claims made by studies, encourage replication or follow-up. These may seem selfless claims but they do require a relation of ownership which ignores other interested claims in the ‘evidence’, claims which would treat bones not as the ‘evidence’ of for making objective claims but as an object or person of respect, love or adoration worthy of ritual use. If such ritual use involved destruction of the bones by incineration, we can feel the ‘objective’ scientist’s emotions rise.

 For this reason I needed to work on Boom’s (2013:27) claim that it was easier for heritage managers to maintain ‘objectivity’ in situations of conflict and war than to be ‘neutral’ between ‘sides’ in the conflict. S(he), citing Nora (2002) on p.18, argues that memory is a co-construction with identity. If that is the case, it is likely that places, buildings and intangible practices which form the materials of both concepts are unlikely to things about which we can be ‘objective’ about precisely because they are not solely objects.

 This is especially the case when the meaning of a heritage ‘object’ is contested between two or more cultural or ethnic groups (note the objects in Jerusalem and their meaning currently). If this object is part of my values, it is, As Boom citing Kelman in 1997 (2013:20) indicates, these objects will be perceived more and more as conflict grows, as exclusive to me or ‘my side’ – my cultural identity and necessity to maintain my memory. And this precisely happened in the Yugoslav wars.

And, I would argue that Weiss’ evidence shows that ownership of artefacts to the academic, though justified by being objective is also defined by its validation of the identity of the scientist or academic. My objective beliefs allow me to protect heritage better, to make a claim for it that is not neutral in a conflict but has sought to validate another combatant (a quisling – as they may be perceived – in each camp – Serb, Muslim Bosnian, etc.). It means that the academic has to be clear that they desire not both sides give up rights to ‘ownership’ and cede them to them – in the name of universals, like science or world heritage.

So Boom’s suggestions about heritage management are not easy to bring about – and I think s(he) knows that.

 This means that I have to tread carefully when evidencing ‘my’ heritage, since this is already an ownership claim, as would be ‘our’ heritage, if it applied only to certain cultural groups. I might apply that to the memories I have of Castle Hill. These memories also touch upon other people’s discourse about that site – discourse that I may find repugnant (that discourse printed in a metallic legend on the Victoria tower upon it to the Empress of India) in a township composed of large populations of different (and sometimes opposed – put at opposition moreover by the policies symbolised in the Empress of India) post-Indian ethnic groups, whose heritage is at risk. What we need then is ownership supplanted by an ideology of stakeholding that admits of sectional interests? Or is it? That would mean that no-one ‘owned’ Castle Hill (could possess, use, manage, reap income or sell etc.)? And wouldn’t that already compromise identity.

As you see I’m still working on this one.

 All the best

 Steve

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Who defines heritage and who cares for / maintains it? Leiden MOOC Week 2

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Who defines heritage and who cares for / maintains it?

 

Bertaccchini et.al (2015:13) summarise evidence based on analysis of processes of international decision-making that huge influence is wielded by nations with common economic interests. In this case, these nations are ones with much political investment in the economics and ideologies of growth. These aims may in various cases be at loggerheads with value systems based on local, religious or communal practices that attempt to preserve heritage, tangible or intangible, natural, human-built or theologically inspired. The case of the preservation of forests in the face of economic interests is a case in point. Here nations acting in concert can block forest-heritage conservation in another nation often because not doing so would threaten their right to exploit their own ‘uneconomic’ heritage. In nations with declining ability to sustain growth by deforestation (because it has already largely happened), an apparently ‘more balanced’ view might equally be led by self-interest. Preservation of forest in third-world countries is their only chance of defending their ecological survival.

Regarding Castle Hill, preservation is no longer an urgent issue because of the declining value to developed capitalist countries of localised defensive uses and human-made formations in them of natural hill-tops. Castle Hill is overlooked by power. Such economic interests that took a stake in it – small household farmers building adit mines or the remains of a defunct public house – were never a great threat and could be sustained with the preservation of the much earlier earthworks and land-markings because they didn’t need each other and didn’t get in each other’s way. Now that both are consigned to economic, social and cultural irrelevance (in the views of majorities), they may be allowed to decay together.

I will concentrate on Byrne (2015) as an analogue to my further thoughts. Although such religious traditions as might have been important to pre-Roman civilizations are now not fully understood, they die because communities of ‘souls’ no longer have enough interest to maintain their important sites or the intangible heritage that makes them understandable. Of course, intangible heritages are a site of changing meanings and this is why, I think, the practice of Buddhist communities and individuals in ‘maintaining’ or ‘restoring’ shrines are resisted by some national and academic heritage interests because bearers of that intangible heritage may, and probably will, maintain and restore something in ways that change it because of forgotten or now seemingly irrelevant aspects of older parts of intangible heritage.

This is a dilemma. Castle Hill represented almost certainly a hill-top means of defending against Roman imperialism but the value to me of Castle Hill is sometimes that it represents the focus for Chartism in the 1840s – a tradition that contained some political beliefs and interests that still are radical and would be seen as such. When a powerful Huddersfield bourgeoisie commissioned Victoria Tower on Castle hill top, it also served to change the meaning of the hill from association to liberty and anti-imperialism (Brigantine or radical working-class Chartism). It became a monument to Empire under the Empress of India in fact.

The Chartist association is forgotten because it has little intangible heritage to value and re-interpret it from a radical working-class perspective. Hasn’t Castle Hill as heritage already been then preserved as a heritage that only serves the few – those to whom movement on to new political and economic definitions about what matters to communities in the present, past and future. Byrne’ practising Buddhists keep Buddhism alive after all, not monuments frozen behind boundaries. But, of course, it is not that simple. Ownership of heritage then needs to reflect many stakeholders. In doing it, we would still have to accept that what survives is partial and the product of dialogue with a future-moving tendency. Any answers out there?


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Is the Bishop Auckland Mining Art Gallery the 'only' such institution of its kind in England.

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Thursday, 17 May 2018, 16:31

It is not an idle boast that a permanent collection in the ‘Mining Art Gallery’ in Bishop Auckland, County Durham is the only Mining Art Gallery In England. In every way that is in the strictest sense true, since it is the only one with that one and only purpose. However, others may query this, so here is a note in defence.

Although calling itself the only institution of its kind, substantiating such a claim means excluding institutions whose primary role is to memorialise mining per se, such as Woodhorn Colliery in Northumberland (http://www.experiencewoodhorn.com/) and the National Coal-Mining Museum (NCMM) near Wakefield (http://www.ncm-collection.org.uk/), which hold and display significant collections. 

Moreover if the 'only' it was not the first to claim this status: Salford Corporation[1] opened in the 1970s what became the Lancashire Mining Museum with a permanent and growing collection – which was curated by the miner-artist, Alan Davies, in the 1970s and closed by Salford in 2000 (and is perhaps now even forgotten) for reasons of significance to our purpose. 

It is also to ignore the significant presence of the exhibition history of the Gemini Collection paintings in various contexts – as an example of the art of northern artists , on the one hand, or (under varying titles) as an example of mining art. The Gemini private collection, formerly owned by McManners & Wales, a former local head-teacher and local Town-Hall manager respectively was gifted to the Bishop Auckland Trust. These former owners remain on the board of the Mining Gallery Trust.

Let's say though it is the only one - although Scotland and Wales too have claims for a British title. But one thing I have learned about mining - its transregional and international identity can sometimes be as strong as its regional and local one.

[1]

Davies, A. (1999) [unattributed] Facing Coal: Art Inspired by the Coal Industry and Its Communities Salford, Salford Museums Service. One copy privately owned by Steve Bamlett.


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Three Miners In a Cage - A Tom McGuiness etching

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THROWN OUT OF THE EMA!

Let’s look for instance at Three Miners in a Cage (hereafter Cage). The function of this painting is clearly not representational realism – the real constriction of cage travel arose from the mass of miners that travelled the cage at once and McGuinness captures that constriction but reduces his miners to three. This ‘Trinity’, and we should never forget Tom’s Catholicism, become a means of filling all available picture-space and the cage with a kind of abstract geometry, using, like Hewer and valorised by Kandinsky, mainly partial triangles. Look at my attempt for instance to reduce the shapes to linearity below. It is pure figural Kandinsky (even the triangle motif) - even down to his White ZigZags (1922):

 

This contrast between a live image and its reduction to abstraction is not meant to simplify our path to meaning (it denotes a symbol rather than an allegory) but it does reveal one source of the rhythms and repetitions in the picture space, which have pictorially a right to left direction and create directional pull between top and bottom edges that is tense visually and restless. Here both abstraction and formal composition convey motion – the cage falls and the miners resist the downward force. The collapse caused by downward pressure is countered by the men’s resistance to it in the rightwards dynamic.

All the best

Steve


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Loving Martin Gayford's new book!

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Before I go to see Freud, Bacon and other members of the ‘London group’ (http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/all-too-human) I’m reading and have nearly finished Martin Gayford’s Modernists and Mavericks: Bacon, Freud, Hockney & The London Painters just out in 2018. What a wonderful introduction or resume of the period in art – as it was in London anyway. This book talks about art movements without mystifying them or, in the manner of some academic accounts, reifying them.

It allows you to see how intellectual history and the choices and decisions of both individuals and groups interact. No-one is reduced. There isn’t much on Pauline Boty but what there is shines!

The account of Hockney – maverick in chief – places him where he should be as a rebel against over-domineering discourses, notably those of academic art history. Even Martin Kemp (Leonardo specialist in chief) enjoyed that aspect of Hockney’s work.

I treasure most the lesser known artist’s vignettes and the attempt to rearrange the canon with a healthier appreciation of Bomberg, Kitaj, and Kossoff. You can rise from this book and go and find them out (or find them again!). There are wonderful perceptions about the importance of Victor Pasmore’s Kandinsky impersonation (in career-shape rather than in the art per se). And this gave me more reason to go and see the British Museum’s bit on John Craxton’s sojourn in Greece with Leigh-Fermor.

A lively boundary-crossing period gets a respectful but understanding outline here. Gayford doesn’t cross the boundaries for you but you can get back into the artists and do it for yourself. It was good to see William Coldstream treated interestingly in this context.

I’m thinking again though about the ‘starry night’ of this book – it is Frank Auerbach’s role as co-narrator and subject. His greatness shines. I was shocked to hear the story about the thick impasto period and why it was as it was but that kind of maverick shine glints through even the greatest artists’ marriages of form and content.

Do read it. Gets you through the boring bits in formal art history and even helps you to put that chore into a wider historical perspective. He calls it a group biography. I see what it means but that is a reductive description in my view.

Steve

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