Sunday, December 07, 2008

Rothko and Cildo Meireles (Tate Modern)

I and Nora had been to Rothko exhibition a week back, but somehow did not enjoy seeing his work. According to Rothko, “The progression of a painter’s work…will be towards clarity; toward the elimination of all obstacles between the painter and the idea, and between the idea and the observer…to achieve this clarity is, inevitably, to be understood.” Probably it is this removal of all obstacles and turning it into absolute clarity is what I did not understand. People were seen closely observing red on yellow, purple on black, black on grey and all kinds of colour combinations on huge canvases with mystified reverence. Adding to this was the gallery’s low lighting exactly “as had been requested by Rothko himself”. The exhibition also had Rothko’s work photographed under ultra violet light, to explain the numerous layers of colours, pigments and mediums that he used, which somehow seem to mystify the art work further. The exhibition illustrated the politics of art and the art gallery to its best.

In complete contradiction to this was Cildo Meireles’s work (born half a century after Rothko) which was absolutely stunning to engage with. Most exhibits were playful and at the same time political. For me Meireles managed the balance between politics and poetry beautifully. The rhetoric at no point in time took over the beauty of the form, which sometimes is very difficult especially when the art work is to represent a strong alignment within a highly political issue. It was nice. Inspite of the gallery having stationed public policing volunteers to stop people from taking photographs, I surreptitiously managed to take some snaps as a gesture of my support for the art work.


Having lived in Bombay all my life and lived through, the 1992 communal riots (900 dead, 2000 injured), the Bombay blast (thirteen in total) of 1993 (approx. 300 dead, 1400 injured), 11th July 2006 train bombings (209 dead, 700 injured), and other acts of violence like slum clearance, urban renewal, building collapse, flooding etc.which get skipped by the media looking for more sensational numbers, I feel we become numb to these incidences. We awake or take notice only when the violence reaches our door steps. Just like everyone else, when I heard the news, I called home to be reassured of my family’s well being, then discussed about how bad the incidence was with various people over the next few days and read a little of Salvoj Zizek. Somehow I had become apolitical (well I was indeed political enough to watch the news, be reading the right book at the right time and have a great theoretical framework to explain my take on the terror attack, but...), I could not do anything. It was as if, we have a lot to lose if we become political, our careers, our jobs, our friends, families, our lives. I wondered what was it like for these kids to do what they did, to become 20 year old terrorists and symbols of absolute horror. To feel as if they had nothing to lose, to take lives and end their own with so much ease. I believe the difference between the bomb yielding terrorist and the gun carrying is the same difference that lies in the sentence of death through the guillotine and one at the hands of an executioner...the later brings the locus of public attention from the instrument of death to the executioner, and in this case the executioners were some kids with guns with little to lose and in all probabilities with minds incapable of comprehending the strings that connected them to a much bigger web. A web made out of numerous strings of national interests, communal discontent, personal greed into which all of us contribute, as highly trained professionals designing cities in poorer nations governed by dictator, redesigning urban spaces to facilitate entry of real estate market, drawing substantial profits from the exploitation of unskilled labour working under us and continuing being numb, brain dead consumers infested by desires that turn us into individuals and not a collective (with me along with many more of you, being guilty to all of the above). I believe ‘terror’ is not this ridiculous entity outside us, or some random followers of abstract ideology, but it is a part of our everyday, just like the financial crisis, we have done our bit to contribute to it in one form or the other. And even if we do muster a collectivity we will be still clueless about what to do....maybe make a painting, light a candle, write a book, an article or probably vent out frustration through a blog post, the way I have done.

“We are overcome by anguish at this illogical moment of humanity.”

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Francis Bacon

Yesterday I had the opportunity to see a collection of Francis Bacon’s artworks in an ongoing exhibition at the Tate Britain. The exhibition had a fairly big body of work that successfully represented the stormy life that Bacon fleshed on most of his canvases. Huge canvases representing the apathy and sorrowful existence of humanity had me successfully suffocated and tired. But within the representation of human existence as “raw material for carcases”, one can’t negate the fact that there was some odd sense of beauty that made people stare at it longer, trying to see details of deformation carefully collaged and constructed from (little known) photographic archive that Bacon had in his studio.

Of all the art works the two series of triptychs by the name Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, first done in 1944 and the next done in 1988 were particularly striking to me. They allowed for a certain sense of dualism within repulsion and horror. The three figures (based on the Eumenides—or Furies—in Aeschylus’ Oresteia) are deformed, anthropomorphic creatures with hanging flesh, skinless muscles that sit on platforms and stools as they bare teeth at the observer.

In the first instance the three images come across as creatures filled with rabid rage waiting to tear away from their orange and red environments, but as one observes them for longer the creatures also seem to be writhing in pain, as if being ordered and twisted and contorted to fit within environments and act out a circus before visitors of the art gallery. This feeling of simultaneous fear and pity that the triptych provokes within the observer seemed to be much more valuable to me than some of his other works. Within these two series both being more or less identical I liked the later one but couldn’t help thinking, if it was my architectural education that naively demands a certain aesthetic of colour combination, proportions, finish and frame style.

Friday, July 04, 2008

David Chipperfield Lecture

David Chipperfield the last living specimen of a dying species articulated his practise as being the mediator between the symbolisms existing within the historic narratives and modern architecture. With enquiries of typology, space, form and order that derived their principles from modern architecture but at the same time got integrated with the context of culture and history to configure newer typologies of public and private buildings. He presented his projects as contemporary extensions to the narrative of modern architecture starting with Corbusier, Schinkel and Kahn.

I feel there is something about these modernists that is very inspiring, their sense of hope as they represent every building in the manner of the utopia they establish for the whole world, their constant negotiation with their practise and principles, their urge of constant invention. As if their sense of life stems from architecture, as every environment, every event and just about everything is realized within universal modularity, like the physicist explaining the structure of an atom and a solar system through a single formula...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Shape of Pocket

The other day I was reading John Berger’s Shape of Pocket, as I browsed through pages of extremely beautifully written letters and texts about artists and their work. A chapter for every artist as his work was very carefully composed through narratives of personal life, the context (but not context with a ‘capital’ C, rather a much softer almost an atmospheric idea), the emotional struggle, love, hate, drugs and everything else that went into the daubs of colour. I had loved it the first time I read it and is one of the books that I relish re-reading.
But somehow I couldn’t imagine a similar book on architects. Imagine John Berger the same person with the same analytical and linguistic sophistication writing a book of texts on Corbusier, Wright and Kahn. And I can’t help but cringe in disgust at the thought of it and say with the sourest face “oh god! This is so fucking patronizing man!” (In screechy voice, if you know what I mean)
When I watched Peter Greenway’s Belly of an architect, I realised while I saw the film as extremely hilarious parody of ‘the architect’, one of my friend had seen it as a story of serious struggle that an architect goes through in his life. No doubt I didn’t lose the opportunity of ruining it for him the very next day, but was left with a lot of self doubt after seeing how sad the conversation had rendered both of us. In the coming weeks we watched a movie on Frida Kahlo. I loved the film. My very same friend hated it, and was soon minced and devoured by women, feminist men, artists and accident victims with spinal cord injuries, from my class.
And so our last project is going to be an art installation on architecture!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Peter Doig

I very often find myself torn between the dialectics of being able to understand art and architecture through the context, and on the other hand being able to appreciate and asses it for its inherent beauty (if we acknowledge such a possibility exists). ‘A minute in the world’s life passes! To paint it in reality and forget everything for that! To become that minute, to be the sensitive plate....give the image of what we see, forgetting everything that has appeared before our time’ is the way Cezanne explains a painter’s attempt to depict a moment in time such that, its success depends on bringing the observer within the confines of that moment and closing the gap of time between the artist who witnessed it and the observer who centuries down stands and gazes at this moment. In such a case as Berger explains a very simple act of pouring milk (Vermeer) can be beautiful enough to be appreciated within itself, without being aware of Vermeer and women’s role in society.
I am not advocating being blind or ignorant to the politics that lie behind us, but after seeing an art exhibition by the artist Peter Doig (Tate Britain) I find myself a bit more disturbed and confused. I had no clue about him or the nature of his work, but I loved it, I felt happy and very refreshed and even more so, after I had agonized myself looking at some works by the Camden group downstairs. But I had to resolve this feeling of ‘liking’ in my head and somehow tame this stupid subjectivity under some kind of objective reasons. Few days after the exhibition, one morning, when I looked outside my window, I could see the world outside, overlapped by the glass that reflected my room on it and all this being bent by the warm vapour emitted by the heater and a mirage of my own thoughts. Peter Doig’s choice of subjects and their depiction I feel is similar to this experience that we all have, where our eyes lost in thought land on an obscure view of the world and languidly relish staring in air at the mad haze of colours that our unfocused (or politically myopic) retina tries to dwell on.

The most impressive of all the canvases was the painting that showed a view of La Marseilles’ Habitat (Corbusier) from a forest of maple trees. The hard architecture with defined edges and multi coloured patches being interspersed with the organic splatter of leaves and nature was simply beautiful. Also the painting of the Swamp with coloured flora and fauna merging with coloured atmosphere of fog, mist and smoke, being reflected in waters of the swamp influenced by the colour of the sky and the chemicals that make it, was very good. I think I liked it for the mad colours but beyond that there is no objective reason that I can find.
Over the next three months I and Kostas are planning to make a book of “invisible Cities” within London where, we plan to look at this relation between Surrealism, Language and Subjectivity.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The three Sirens of Altes - Amazon, Nefertiti and Nike

Embedded within Berlin’s masculine flesh of chauvinist architecture evolved through multiple palimpsests of memory and power, are three transplants that very gracefully tread the tight rope between the poles of elegant power and absolute beauty. Ironically all the three foreign feminine bodies belonging to different culture, space and time have lodged themselves within Schinkel’s Altes museum. Each of these three women to me seemed to emit an Aura Borealis that seemed to pass through every other artefact in stone, wood and clay and mesmerizing every visitor as they through their composure held the reigns of power and rode the chariots of beauty to become the very symbols of their civilizations within the space of the museum.

The first sculpture is along the steps guarding the gates of the museum. The sculpture of woman, stead and beast (by August Kiss and Albert Wolf) engaged in a battle for survival is frozen in a moment where the potential difference within the struggle has reached its peak and the very next instance the act of throwing of the spear will determine the outcome. The arm that holds the spear is stretched to its limit and points towards the heart of the beast with a calm composure that promises assurance of the outcome. The scale of the statue is about 1.5 times the life size, which makes it small enough for the observer to be a witness and at the same time big enough to restrict ones role only to that. This statue called ‘the Amazon’ beats most of the Victorian lion riders, golden angels, baby cherubs, grumpy queens, gate keepers etc hands down.

In contrast to this sculpture that bears the wind, rain and snow, the other two are highly prized and protected artefacts separated by level difference and civilizations- ground floor dedicated to the Greek civilization and the first floor to the Egyptian civilization. As one enters the central room on the first floor, which is comparatively dimly lit and has only one artefact- the bust of Nefertiti. Seeing it is like seeing the real queen and feeling her gaze on you, with her chin held high, sharp features, beautiful eyes and the head that bears the weight of the crown. She is encased in a glass box that tends to throw multiple reflections of her from different perspectives, in a manner such that one stops acknowledging it as an artefact but starts referring to it as ‘her’, the ultimate three dimensional Fayum portrait that comes to life and asserts to us that ‘I existed’ and ‘I was beautiful and powerful, behold me’.
The third sculpture is not something which is displayed as impressively as Nefertiti or is poised like the Amazon at the steps. The third is in the central rotunda arranged as one of the ten odd Greek gods of love, hate, sex and whatever that the Greeks worshiped.

One might even miss her, but if you do glance at her and especially her feet, all the images of present day science fiction and media’s portrayal of flight seem rather bland in comparison to this statue of Nike’ the goddess of flight (and victory). Looking straight ahead, her clothes flutter and show us the wind and her legs elevated above the ground by just a few inches, a detail I could never forget in my entire life! And then this piece of marble takes flight! I can only imagine what might be the impact of another such statue of the headless Nike in the Louvre in Paris that is positioned at the end of a long circulation axis and is in a pose that is about to leap and challenge gravity. Never before have I been so excited on seeing sculpture, but these three sirens are simply fabulous. Madly in love with all three.