Easter Photo Fun 2015 – Week 1 – Point

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Point has been the first theme for the two weeks of EasterPhotoFun set by the kids and as always you have sent in some lovely interpretations, some very obvious points others indicating low points for example.  I loved the railway point, knitting needles, ballet shoes, pens/pencils and must give a biased shout out to one of my kids for her photo of the picture frames that I thought was a really good interpretation.

However my fav was I think the photo of Verity, the mammoth 20m sculpture by Damien Hirst that looks over Ilfracombe harbour.  A pregnant woman, holding the scales of justice, standing on a pile of books and wielding a large sword.  This was the largest sculpture in Britain when it was put up in 2012.  I’ve never seen it in the flesh but standing higher than the Angel of the North this must be some sight.  Whenever I see things like this it always makes me angry that Leeds turned down the option to have our own massive brick man sculpture (before the Angel of the North) that was proposed by Anthony Gormley.  However Verity is surely the most perfect interpretation of point, not least of course from the sword in her hand but from the viewpoint that many people will have of this and other modern art when they ask what’s the point.

As always many thanks for all who have chipped in with your interpretations it’s been a really fun week.  Do click on the gallery and you can scroll through the pictures in the size they came in.  Do let us know which ones you liked.

The Wonders of Pygmalion

Recently I’ve figured that it’s beneficial to read books as double features (that’s what I call them in my pseudo-English) meaning two books of the same topic or topos but from different authors. My double features so far:

Michael Frayn, Copenhagen – Friedrich Dürrenmatt, The Physicists

George Orwell, 1984 – Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther – Ulrich Plenzdorf, Die neuen Leiden des jungen W.

Then I realised I had another potential DF on my shelves: George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion and Educating Rita by Willy Russell. Shaw’s Pygmalion became famous as My Fair Lady and so a question sprang to my mind:

Why Pygmalion?

I googled it and came across one of the most fascinating little stories I’ve ever heard about. Ovid’s Metamorphoses tells us about a sculptor, Pygmalion, who despises women for their wickedness. He makes the sculpture of a woman so beautiful he falls in love with her. On Venus’ festival he asks of the goddess to give him a woman like the statue but Venus knows what Pygmalion really wants. Coming back home he kisses his sculpture and she turns into a real woman. (Pygmalion keeps testing her realness by repeatedly groping her breasts.) They get married and have a son.

Now isn’t that gender studies gold?! A man creates his own perfect woman and she is exactly what he wants her to be. It reminds me of this wonderful gothic novella, The Sandman (1816), by ETA Hoffmann. In it the male protagonist finds his nagging and self-determined wife to be a real pain in his behind. One day he catches sight of the most beautiful woman and falls for her. She never says a word, she’s patient, she’s gracious, and from time to time the sweetest sigh escapes her mouth. Turns out she’s a robot.

The whole thing works the other way around too, of course. In German there’s a saying according to which you can bake the man of your dreams (or Mr Right is yet to be baked in which case there’re baking sets available to bake oneself a man in a most literal sense).

Back to our Pygmalion. Shaw does what is a very plausible thing to do: in his play from 1913 he asks the question of what happens after the statue turns real. I mean, imagine this. Technically there’s a woman now with the knowledge and experience of a newborn. Shaw calls her Eliza (well, strictly speaking it was Johann Jakob Bodmer who did this in 1749), makes her a London flower girl and lets her ask Professor Higgins (Pygmalion) to teach her how to speak properly so she can work in a flower shop. The playwright makes it a story about gender and class and uses education as a vehicle for her emancipation – an emancipation he grants her in the play, but not in his epilogue. A love story between Higgins and Eliza would be utterly absurd, concludes Shaw: “Galatea [the name later given to Pygmalion’s sculpture] never does quite like Pygmalion: his relation to her is too godlike to be altogether agreeable.”

Willy Russell’s Educating Rita (1980) is familiar to many as a modern version of Pygmalion/My Fair Lady. Once again a male playwright tells us a story about a woman who wants more and once again it is about education and her relationship with her tutor. Frank educates Rita – and loses her.

This is not the place to analyse the plays in depth. You guys are smart enough to do it yourselves and I guarantee you there’s enough food for your thoughts to keep your minds busy in a fun and rewarding way for awhile.

I would, however, like to draw your attention to the fact that Pygmalion has inspired painters and sculptors alike to produce some great artwork. Edward Burne-Jones, a Pre-Raphaelite, painted a series of four pictures (click on the link for more information on them):

The Heart Desires

The Heart Desires

The Hand Refrains

The Hand Refrains

The Godhead Fires

The Godhead Fires

The Soul Attains

The Soul Attains

Last but not least I would like to tell you about the Pygmalion effect: an experiment showed that students performed better after their teachers had been told that their (actually average) students were particularly gifted.

Pygmalion, Pygmalion, you curious little thing you…

Psst! If you ever felt physically attracted to sculptures, you have Pygmalionism (aka Agalmatophilia).

The Dying Graves In Spring

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My jumping-jack cat has shown up. He used to be a part of my childhood and now he’s back again. Wearing 17th century Thirty Years’ War gear (or so I think), he looks rather special. The Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) was so utterly horrific and dying so much more common than it always has been anyway that it was as fashionable to reflect on one’s own death as it is fashionable to dream of 15 minutes of fame nowadays (even though vanity was also a huge thing in the Baroque period). That memento mori has its place in Lent as Christians prepare for remembering the death of Christ. Curiously my walk took me to a cemetery today. It was sunny and I wanted to see the early flowers of spring. In other words: life. What do we love about these early spring flowers? They are the heralds of spring, of a beginning of a new life. They defy the final frosty days of winter, fight their way through frozen soil and layers of old leaves from last year’s autumn. In a world still dipped in shades of brown and grey they are a colourful delight to our eyes. Oh, how wonderful they looked today, in white, blue, purple and yellow! They were pure poetry. But their lives will be short – just like those of the people who lived during the Thirty Years’ War.

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The old parts of the cemetery date back to the 19th century. I’m a lover of 19th century art so this place has a lot to offer. Unfortunately, decay has been massive. Here it’s the graves which are dying and being buried by Mother Nature herself. What once was splendour is now reduced to rubble. These graves survived a war but not indifference. The spring flowers here are Nature’s oxymoron to Mankind’s crafts.

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I enter the hospital where I was treated for pneumonia a few days ago. I want to visit an old woman who I shared a room with. I find she is back to her home and nobody is able to tell me which one. A few days back, when I was caressing her cheeks and holding her hands she looked at me and smiled: “You are a good person. Hopefully we will meet in Heaven.”

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Is sound a sculpture ?

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There’s been some interesting things going on around the the Henry Moore Institute recently, people chipping away at big blocks outside reducing them to dust, clay being thrown at the outside of the building so I was intrigued when I heard about a travelling wave so popped along this lunchtime to see what that was about.  Apparently all of these are part of an Event Sculpture series which encompasses sound, objects, dance, action, images.  These events happen (mostly outside the gallery) and then the results have moved into the gallery so that they now exist within a gallery space, no longer an event ?  Something like that, anyway back to sound as sculpture, I’ve heard the expression aural sculpture used to describe music and for me it fits with the sort of sound created by a band like Godspeed You Black Emperor or Mogwai and of course it’s also the name of an album by The Strangers but is sound, something that you cannot see a sculpture?

The Traveling Wave  by Anthony McCall creates the sound (loudly) of an ocean that ‘crashes’ and moves through the gallery space powered by a series of space age looking speakers arrayed along the floor.  It’s strange being in Leeds, nowhere near the sea, been assailed by the sound of the ocean.  It creates feelings of times spent near the ocean, holidays and memories for me came vividly to the fore.  I did feel transported and it challenged my perception of art and sculpture and was of course as different a break as I could have had from my desk which is no bad thing at all.  I often talk to my kids about what is art and this is certainly something open for debate and I have no idea whether or not this is a sculpture after all beyond the speakers there is nothing to see.  Made me think though that’s for sure.

What was slightly odd was that alongside this there were a couple of people cavorting around the floor in various embraces and kisses, which I realised after several moments of bemusement was another event sculpture called Kiss by Tino Sehgal and then also around the gallery there was the noise of hammering – the sound of which is all that is left from the event a while ago that had large blocks chiselled away outside the gallery.  So in that case something did exist and now it doesn’t and all that is left is the sound of what happened.  Scratches head.

An utterly intriguing and thought provoking way to spend a lunchtime

The Known Unknown: Berlin’s Hansaviertel

Has this ever happened to you? You’ve been to a place countless times but you had no idea how special a place it is? There is quite a fascination to the discovery of already known places. In this case it is the Hansaviertel in Berlin, an area that I had always thought of as being situated somewhere else and that holds famous architecture of some of the most renowned architects of the Bauhaus, Neues Bauen and Modernism, such as Walter Gropius, Oscar Niemeyer, Alvar Aalto, and Max Taut.

Only last year did I begin to explore the architecture of Berlin, which is an exciting place in this regard. Berlin is not exactly a beautiful city in a conventional sense, but its history has led to the most unusual, if not unique, developments. The grandeur of the 19th and early 20th century was followed by a war that left Berlin in rubble. The Cold War that ensued and led to the separation of the town and its people by the Berlin Wall turned Berlin into a battlefield of the architecture of two opposing systems – without actually having any money for it. Reunification, the moving of the government from Bonn to Berlin and the latest boom have added to a seemingly endless frenzy of a city that never ceases to change, a city that is never finished. You leave Berlin for a week to go on a holiday and when you come back, you won’t recognise it.

The Hansaviertel in the heart of West Berlin saw its splendour of exuberant Gründerzeit style houses almost completely destroyed in 1943. Ten years later Berlin decided to build a model future city on its grounds and invited the biggest international star architects to develop a new settlement – in rivalry to the truly gigantic and monumental Stalinallee (later Karl-Marx-Allee), that was being built in East Berlin. Both East and West wanted to show to the world that it is they who provided the best living conditions to their respective citizens. While the Stalinallee provided representative flats in which you can easily get lost, the Hansaviertel was equipped with small flats in primarily functional buildings of small, medium and high-rise format, loosely scattered, each surrounded by specifically designed green space. Two Brutalist churches, an underground station, a shopping area, a cinema (now a theatre), and a library as well as some cafés and restaurants (schools were nearby) completed a mostly independent living unit.

As I leave Bellevue S-Bahn station I’m greeted by two of the five highrisers (“Punkthäuser”) from 1957, when the new settlement was presented as the site of the Interbau exhibition. Are they pretty? No. All of the houses had to be built with as little money as possible and it shows, just like their age. Right behind them is the familiar Akademie der Künste (Academy of Arts), where I saw Macbeth, Brave New World and The Grapes of Wrath in the English language as a teenager. It presents itself in a modernist individual, yet modest style with a naked Henry Moore bronze sunbathing. Smaller houses that remind me of the holiday camps of my childhood pop up here and there. They look as if living here is attractive. All the houses have their balconies directed towards the south and the green space makes the whole place look very comfortable. It’s mostly clean and graffiti is rare. Yes, I understand why the people who moved in in the 1950’s and 60’s have never moved out. Beauty in an aesthetic sense is not a criterion to apply here, but a highly individual character of each single building can’t be denied. It is this specific character that you get when every single building has a different designer.

The most famous of them all is the Oscar Niemeyer Haus, Niemeyer’s only building in all of Germany. It is a crazy one: it stands on filigree feet, which makes you wonder how they can possibly carry such a large building. The lift, that stops only at two floors, is kept in an extra tower outside the house. London residents may know the Balfron Tower (1967) that has a similar concept (but looks less pretty…).

The lofty, green Hansaviertel, that is situated right between the two city centres, feels like a world of its own. But then again every Berlin Kiez does, each an intriguing little universe in itself. I can’t wait to explore the next one.

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Thanks to Ian and Jason for their support.

Half Term Photo Fun – 2015 – Arch

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The kids picked Arch as the theme for #Halftermphotofun and in my mind I thought, ah it’ll just be all bridges and churches and while we certainly got some of those we had lots of other great interpretations proving yet again that my kids know better than I do.  The humble arch is, once you start looking, everywhere around us both in nature and the built environment as it it is the building block to so much of the world around us from an architectural point of view.  Writing that sentence I’ve just noticed that architecture begins with arch !  I did know that there were different styles of arch but didn’t realise that there were quite so many designs, I think I came across about 15 styles doing a little bit of research – the Ogee arch anyone ?  I’m not sure how many styles we’ve managed to have represented here but quite a few I reckon.

What I particularly liked when you see all of the arches together here is how inquisitive it made me feel, what’s through there ? adventure ? mystery ? are they portals to another world ? and then there were the different interpretations, arch enemies/ rivals of the rugby team forming an arch in the scrum, the arch of the foot or the eye, the fun the little boy is having making an arch and I think it was this photo that made me put the family photo at the top, if you can’t find an arch you can just make your own.

As always thanks so much to all of you who took part contributing and interpreting throughout the week, it’s been great fun as always.  I hope I haven’t missed any out but if I have then do get in touch and I’ll amend the gallery.  We’ll be back for Easter, unless we throw a random weekendphotofun in so if you are reading this and want to take part then you are more than welcome, just follow me on twitter @ianstreet67 or keep an eye on the twitter hashtags #halftermphotofun, #easterphotofun, #summerphotofun etc you get the drift.  Thanks everyone.

The art gallery as art

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There has been a trend when it comes to the architecture of art galleries that the gallery becomes a piece of art in it’s own right and perhaps is sometimes of more interest than the art inside it.  I can remember having this discussion when I was in Rome with a few friends and we went to the MAXXI designed by Zaha Hadid which carries on a trend perhaps started by the Guggenheim in Bilbao.  Closer to home the Hepworth is a visually impressive piece of architecture as it appears to float on the river.

In Leeds the Henry Moore Institute is striking in a different way, although I go there regularly it’s architecture is not accessible, it does not draw you in in a welcoming fashion as it’s smooth black facade appears more like the outside of Darth Vadar’s house than somewhere you’d want to enter.

I was somewhat taken aback therefore as I walked past it today to see hoards of kids playing around the front of the gallery picking hunks of clay off a big mound and basically doing what they wanted with it including covering the outside of the gallery as well as building sculptures, putting their names etc all around the entrance, steps and hand rails.  It was a real what the ….. moment and just made me smile.  I couldn’t do it justice in the photo but some have managed to throw blobs of clay right up to the top of the building.  It’s totally anarchic, surreal and playful.  Who knows the kids doing this might look at this building in a very different way now and might over the years start to venture inside, their journey into discovering sculpture ignited by splattering blobs of clay against the front of the gallery.