Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Vindolanda Tablets

Romans didn't pull over in Essex. Rape and pillage got them to the north of England and they continued into Scotland. They did not quite like it there, however (why? no grapes?). Romans retreated back and fortified themselves by building Antonine Wall across the isle and Hadrian's Wall further south as the final northmost frontier. From one coast to another.

Vindolanda is one of the outposts just south of Hadrian's Wall. Regardless of the fact, that it sounds like a place in a computer game - it is a truly extraordinary site for anybody interested in the history of writing, the history of books, the history of media.  Waterclogged soil around the commander's residence beautifully preserved  invites and inventories, letters and shopping lists, that were thrown  out  into a heap of rubbish. Romans used thin slices (2,5mm-3mm thick, about A5 in size) of local wood as a writing base, which was inscribed using carbon based ink and then folded into half to make a letter, with the address and addressee noted on the top. The tablets contain a very wide range of subjects, most of which can be traced into modern day undertakings universally across the globe: work, money, family, drinking men, etc.

BBC page on Vindolanda
Vindolanda Tablets Online

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Words : SUIBOKUGA 水墨画‎

Hasegawa Tohaku 長谷川

Suibokuga (or suiboku; or sumi-e painting) refers to the Japanese tradition of ink drawings, that was introduced from China by Buddhist priest-artists in the late Kamakura period.

水 - water
墨 - ink
画‎ - picture

Suibokuga is "completely unconcerned with producing a literal representation. Its emphasis is completely upon the spirit. Japanese monochromes put no emphasis on scientific or rational realism. The Nanga school, especially, aims at the representation of the state of mind, using serenity as a keynote. (keyhole? - a Freudan slip?) Thus, the most prized masterpieces are those which are thought to display a noble soul rather than an exact reproduction. Suiboku is not photography or the copying of natural things, the shape and colour of which is seen with the eyes; it is the expression or the idea the artist received when he viewed the object."*(p.11, Ryukyu Saito Japanese Ink-Painting).

The artists use sumi-e ink (which is made of soot) and a soft animal hair brush. The drawings are all monochrome. The skill lies in the ability to control the balance of black and white through single brushstrokes to achieve minimalist drawings. The artist draws surfaces (no outlines); the ink runs and merges with the layer below. The strokes cannot be corrected or removed.

There seems to be some disagreement if suibokuga draws on the philosophy of Zen Buddhism (Ryuku Saito) or whether it has no relationship to it (Tsugako Shimada). From my very Christian seat here in London, it looks like suibokuga very much embraces Tao and Zen line of thought, especially the idea of intuitive understanding rather than rational representation of form. The minimal means of expression aim to capture the essence of the object.

Like a visual haiku.

Ike no Taiga 池大雅 Zhuang Zi dreaming of a butterfly

Josetsu 如拙 Catching a Catfish with a Gourd

A Chinese painter was once commissioned to paint the Emperor's favorite goat. The artist asked for the goat, that he might study it. After two years the Emperor, growing impatient, asked for the return of the goat; the artist obliged. Then the Emperor asked about the painting. The artist confessed that he had not yet made one, and taking an ink brush he drew eight nonchalant strokes, creating the most perfect goat in the annals of Chinese painting.

* The quote comes as it is in the book. Amusing it may be, but poor wording is not my choice.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Is it OK to like Turner 2012?

What do you think when you come to see Turner Prize 2012 and find a few coachloads of WI and a couple of vicars crowding in the ground floor lobby of Tate Britain? Great! I want to be part of their tour! This is going to be exciting! (Un)fortunately they were in for Pre-Raphaelites.
My rooms remained very satisfyingly uncrowded.

Paul Noble
Paul Noble
Paul Noble is in the first room: the room feels pleasantly safe as a gallery setting (good for sales). There are huge pencil drawings of pretend worlds that could almost exist in some space and some time that is distant but vaguely related to ours. I saw his Nobvile about four or five years ago in Tate as part of an excellent drawing exhibition. The city was much more human then. The spaces have expanded into an eery stillness of abandoned city: city in a perpetual state of unfinished construction (very much like our house, then). The pictures are neither exploring the limits of drawing nor setting new boundaries for contemporary art as a whole. They are detailed and skilled and their production required meditative amounts of patience. He is probably the only one in the lot who can safely be assumed not to win.

Elizabeth Price
Elisabeth Price. I saw her show HERE in the Baltic earlier this year. (Yes I did!) I remember being captivated by the combination of words (very matter-of-fact), the music and the visual footage.  Especially that video about the things - spinning sculptural everyday objects sequenced to the music with her trademark bits of text to punctuate the imagery.  This signature of hers became immediately obvious as soon as I sat down in front of  The Woolworths Choir of 1979 at Tate Britain. The sound, the words. The aesthetics of the slideshow. Flicking through a book. Very detached and very engaging.

Luke Fowler
It is fascinating, that three out of four nominees are using time based mediums: film, film, performance. Luke Fowler is also supplementing his film with photographic diptychs. I did not watch the whole film, unfortunately - 90 minutes is long for a gallery viewing. I will need another trip and a better planned morning. The photographs, however,  were atmospheric and the combinations were worth a stare or two. 

Spartacus Chetwynd

Another reason to return is that I missed Spartacus Chetwynd performance. The setup looks genuinely disturbing - I have found circus and puppetry scary since I had a glimpse of a horror film set in the theater. That happened at least 30 years ago. I will get back to this later. On the whole - the set up seems to strike the right kind of notes for a winning entry: definately on the boundaries of the mainstream and I haven't got a clue.

Turner prize has received a lot of beating in the last few years. I felt guilty for liking most of the show - is that  normal?

This is not part of Turner Prize 2012. This is a Tate corridor.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

3D drawing (book): One Minute Investigations into Spacetime

One Minute Investigations into Spacetime, 2012
open edition; unique drawing in each book

on show at Vibe Place Drawings exhibition.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Drawing: mapping the meltdown

Whenever things* start getting out of control, I get drawing. Mapping the meltdown, I suppose.

* as I have said in the previous post, it must be in the nature of things not go to the plan.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Al Mutanabbi Street Project: Ash rises silence falls

"Ash rises silence falls", 2012, [8] leaves : all ill. ; 23,5x32cm.
Limited edition of 10 signed and numbered books

The minutes of stillness and disbelief that follow the explosion are embodied into the quote by Kemal Bakarsic who witnessed the bombing of Sarajevo library.
Burning ash from the books carries fragments of pages into the sky. Like a cluster of birds they form shapes. Or possibly a pattern that I saw as a frontispiece of Mamluk Koran (AD1338 / AH738).

Monday, 15 October 2012

Kiev: something old, something new, books, art and Ukraine

(II International Arsenal Book Festival in Kiev) + (two suitcases of the most beautiful work from the MA Book Arts graduates of Camberwell College of Arts, UAL)

Random reflections on the experience:
1. Kiev is an extraordinary city, with superb food, warm people (and radiators), splendid architecture, a whiff of the Soviet past. A fine fusion of the old and the new and the borrowed and the blue.

2. Unsurprisingly, in preparation to the show things did not go to the plan: some shoddy paintwork, wrong angles, etc.  It must be in the nature of things not go to the plan - England or Ukraine. I am yet to experience a miracle of flat plasterwork and seamless paintwork.
3. Against all the odds - the stand looked superb. The best. (see the next post on the Art of Book and Book Arts).
Александр Сухолит loaned us some Übercool plinths. Black is a useful colour.

4. I met some inspirational people and it has been a lesson in many areas. It has also been an intensive course of Russian - total immersion, as they call it in linguistics. I have revived my nearly extinct knowledge of the language - and it was a good laugh too. Thanx to all involved!

Мистецький Арсенал, Kyiv

Margaret Cooter, Fanfan Yang, Maya Ohashi, Di Suo, Yue Li, Karen Apps, Jing Yao, Xizhi Li, Janet Marie Bradley, Shou Wei Tsai, Carolina Diaz Carmona, Mariana Valenca, George Cullen, Roland Brauchli, Egidija Čiricaitė.

Egidija Čiricaitė

Egidija Čiricaitė

Margaret Cooter, Fanfan Yang, Maya Ohashi, Di Suo, Yue Li, Karen Apps, Jing Yao, Xizhi Li, Janet Marie Bradley, Shou Wei Tsai, Carolina Diaz Carmona, Mariana Valenca, George Cullen, Roland Brauchli, Egidija Čiricaitė.

Егідія Ціріцайте «Мистецтво створення дизайну книг»
"Masterclass" on book design - it was a new and very positive experience to teach the audience this size. 

Егідія Ціріцайте «Мистецтво створення дизайну книг»
"Masterclass" on book design - it was a new and very positive experience to teach the audience this size.  

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Three discoveries and a disappointment: Nekrošius vs. Holt vs. Higgs vs.Hirst


When preparing my notes for a talk last week I found myself returning into my blog more then once. How useful, I thought, it is to have a notebook, that can be consulted from any place in the world - of course, provided the place has a free WiFi.
So here I am back.

A few notes on the great discoveries and the great disappointment of the last four months and thirteen days (in no particular order):

DISCOVERY:  Eimuntas Nekrošius Hamlet (June 6th, 2012)

As part of the Shakespeare season Globe theater ran a program of international Shakespeare productions, including a Lithuanian one from Meno Fortas. For mere £5 one could buy the most breathtaking contemporary performance of Hamlet in the setting of Elizabethan theater. What a treat!

DISAPPOINTMENT:  Damien Hirst@ Tate (June 6th, 2012)

The world is ruled by symmetry. If you see something as magical and beautiful as Nekrošius Hamlet, you pretty much use up your credits for extraordinary experiences for that day. As a result, Damien Hirst show in Tate was a solid knock back to reality and below. The show is a song of praise for the marketing genius of that man. Anything else? Hm.

DISCOVERY:   Nancy Holt @ Haunch of Venison (June 10, 2012)

Photographs of Nancy Holt feature documentation of most of her landmark installations.
It's the sequentiality of images and how they function as a whole that took me by surprise. It looks like she naturally works in sets and most of them act as a time based recoding system. I would love to see them published as a book. Not a catalogue. A book.

THE DISCOVERY: Higgs boson (July 4, 2012)

The ultimate manifestation of creative application of brainpower.
Genius! To think out the theory and then to spend 50 years working out towards the experiment to prove it. The sublime beauty of mind at work.

Five iTunesU lectures later I am finally getting to grips with the quantum physics.
Above and below there are two remarkably simple explanations by Guardian of what Higgs boson is. Just in case.

By supposing that empty space is not empty at all, but rather it is crammed full of Higgs bosons, it becomes possible for particles to acquire mass. It is rather like the universe is pervaded with a kind of cosmic treacle through which the elementary particles wade. Imagine trying to pull a ping-pong ball through a vat of treacle – do it blindfolded and you might be tempted to suppose you are pulling something much heavier.
No Nobel prize this year, though. A Turner prize instead?