Month: June, 2012

SNOW WHITE / ROSE RED

Emma Bolland

‘… spectacle, histories, voices, bodies …’ Peggy Phelan, from ‘Uncovered Rectums: disinterring the Rose Theatre (1997) 

‘… the splintered trunk pours words and blood so eat my leaves in this mournful forest …” David Peace, from 1980 (2001)

‘… my hand, a fallen rose, lies snow-white on white snows …’ Algernon Charles Swinburne, from ‘Before the Mirror’ (1864)

 

Emma and Judit searching the ground at Manor Street Industrial Estate. Photograph: Tom Rodgers.

The drawing board is a map with no references. It’s whiteness, the white paper upon it a seductive snowy labyrinth; a plane that is entirely a vanishing point: an oubliette: a place to forget, a place where one is forgotten. Eye and hand, looking and doing, psychic and physical condense into a vortex of attention that tips me snow-blind and spellbound through its surface. The obsessive processes of my drawing and the solitude of the studio, allow me to conceal and anaesthetise both my flesh and my senses; to fall into a reverie of repetition that both stops and stretches time as the pen walks the invisible paths of the paper. I enter into the poetic and primitive state that is the ‘trance-like suspension of normal habits of thought’ (Robert Graves 1948). It is only the tracings of the ink that can tell of the body that was once here, that can sound a faint echo of my presence. I am secure in this invisible tomb, safe, firm-footed beneath the paper’s slippery surface. The sight of my work does not require me to be seen. At the endgame of this strategy the drawings themselves require no witness – for perhaps, this doubled process of concealment and display is of and for myself, fulfilling the contradictory desire to be both present and absent, the wish to see ones life, and the wish to refute the inevitability that in truly seeing life one faces death…

My hands, Judit’s hands, cradling Joan’s rose. Photograph: Tom Rodgers.

… but this position can never be tenable if the processes, paradigms, and products of making stake their claims as art. These notions, of the artist and her practice are held in precarious tangibility only by the notion of the other, and not a distant other, but an intimate exterior presence who sees and thinks and feels, who engages, and who brings the agency of their own sensibilities to the actuality of the work. The work must be walked to, not executed, and walked away from. The existence of the work as ‘work’is contingent on its exposing, on its being given up and handed over. I must resist both ‘that form of ecstatically creative jouissance known as destruction’, (Eagleton 2009), and the pleasures of the pain of solitude, of the ‘Waldeinskeit’, of the sense of being alone in the forest. In the end, and at the end, I must not, I cannot, hide.

In the image there are three sets of hands, and three sets of eyes.  Tom holds the camera with which the image is captured, whilst Judit and I cradle the rose; our gazes an inverse triangle that centres on the flower. I see this image in triplicate. In the picking and the holding, in the moment of being; as an artist, in the seeing of the image and the knowing of its worth; and as my fearful self, the body that wishes to remain buried, who sees my own hands clumsy and dirty against the delicacy of Judit’s fingers and the pale softness of poor ‘Joan’s’ rose.  Hers is, after-all, the body, (sublimated into my own), that we are here to mourn – lost to us, bloodied, in the cold February of 1976, ‘snow-white on white snows’.  (Swinburne’s poem, from which this line is taken, was inspired by Whistler’s painting ‘Symphony in White No.2, or ‘The Little White Girl’, one of a suite of three paintings that depict the same model, Whistler’s mistress Joanna Hefferman as wife, mistress, and prostitute).  In the moment of facing Tom’s photograph, locked in a self-obsession that rivals that of my drawing, it is my own death, the death of my concealment that I see. I am lain upon the surface of the paper, no longer in the comfort of it’s grave.

Picking roses / pricking fingers – Joan’s name written on my hand. Photograph: Tom Rodgers.

The risks inherent in collaboration, (and by this I mean a tricksy friction, not an anodyne production of ‘artwork by committee’), are there for us all. The ‘power’ of the curator, the ‘authenticity’ of the artist, and the ‘narrative determination’ of the author, must all be given up for the more vulnerable positions of uncertain discourse and exposed sincerity, (a quality so easily ridiculed, and which therefore requires a great degree of humble courage to maintain). Our roles are confused, and we are in a sense curating, making, and writing each other, in ways that by necessity demand ‘ experiment and improvisation’ (Irving 2012), in a drama that has no script, and in a place that is not mapped. From a position of knowing, we must campaign both with and against each other to a place where we do not know. If these sentiments sound grandiose in describing an ordinary artistic endeavour, we would do well to remember that it is the ordinary that is in truth the most complex and conflicted of things, and also that art, like evil and humanity, is, perhaps, amongst those things which exist purely for their own sake (Eagleton 2009).

To walk with companions is to walk on fertile, but uncertain ground – and so to keep my footing I will daydream a night-walk; carry something of the sad and the solitary within me, (as will all my co-conspirators keep something of themselves to themselves). For some, for me, the dark places hold the richest seams. In the ‘Inferno’ of Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’, at the nadir of the inner most circle of frozen hell gravity inverts itself, and the traveller is led down through the bottom into the top, ‘… turned over, we went past the point to which all weights from every part are drawn …’, until, ‘… my guide and I followed that hidden route, to bring us once more to the light of day; and, with no rest from the fatigue of it, we clambered up, [s]he first, till finally I saw the glory of the hidden spheres …’.

Drawing board, with uncompleted drawing. Photograph: Emma Bolland.

 

Post script: ‘The Rose’.

The Brothers Grimm. Collected early 19th Century.

There was once a poor woman who had two children. The youngest had to go every day into the forest to fetch wood. Once, when she had gone a long way to seek it, a little child, who was quite strong, came and helped her industriously to pick up the wood and carry it home, and then before a moment had passed the strange child disappeared. The child told her mother this, but at first she would not believe it. At length she brought a rose home, and told her mother that the beautiful child had given her this rose, and had told her that when it was in full bloom, he would return. The mother put the rose in water. One morning her child could not get out of bed. The mother went to the bed and found her dead, but she lay looking very happy. On the same morning, the rose was in full bloom.


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Re-working Images

Tom Rodgers

A process of searching and discovery is filling every aspect of this project. Searching through the imagined places of unknown activities, through the actuality of a new experience and through the physicality of being in a place. Discovering my reactions, both artistic and emotional, to the content, now partially imagined and partially known, of these places. Reworking my pictures prolongs this sense of discovery and develops my appreciation of what Emma and Judit are achieving.

Collage of photographic test strips by Tom Rodgers

Notes from the day after

Judit Bodor

“Once we begin to find our way around the place, that earliest picture can never be restored.” /Walter Benjamin/

Emma and Tom on Soldiers Field. 23 June 2012. Photograph: Judit Bodor

Another day of rain … Emma is happy, I wear two coats, Tom is juggling with cameras.
Starting with coffee … as always.

Not sure how to start … we talk … excited. This time about tender pieces of dirty roses in our hands on Tom’s photos … they grew on an industrial estate … Roseville … they didn’t smell as I remember … and now lie between sheets of paper waiting to become something else … the images from that day.

23 June 2012

Tom’s photographs (torn) from previous site visit. Photograph: Judit Bodor

Later in the car chatting about music … note to self: slow rock suits rain …
parking at Roundhay Park … ‘Maria’ in our minds.

Gold dust on a swastika…

Emma obliterating a swastika with gold dust. Photograph: Judit Bodor

Footsteps in the mud…

Tom’s footstep, heavy in the mud. Photograph Judit Bodor.

Looking for another image of the day.
Finishing with a cigarette … as always.

This is what we did on a freezing summer’s day.

LITANY

Emma Bolland

‘…of grey have no fear…’   David Peace

the blade

the knife

the breath

the prayer

the shining lead

the black the white

the sharpened point

the heartbeat slowed

the many shades of grey

the washing of the hands

the tearing of the squares

the labour before the labour

the rituals of the preparation

the rituals of the preparation

the labour before the labour

the tearing of the squares

the washing of the hands

the many shades of grey

the heartbeat slowed

the sharpened point

the black the white

the shining lead

the prayer

the breath

the knife

the blade

detail of ‘Auto-Elegaeia’. Emma Bolland. Pencil on damaged paper.

Curating (,) art and ‘knowledge-exchange’

Judit Bodor

“The problem with curation, is not that it mediates the reception of art (how could the reception of art not be mediated?), but that it so often adopts a position of expertise in a way that implicitly asserts an authority over art. This is the assigned position of curation within the dominant modes of distribution for art: a practice that deals with cultural capital. But this is not the only possibility for curation. (…) A critically self-aware curation would have to enter into a mutual and dialogical relationship with artists. It might not even be clear that such practice would be curation at all. Such practice would have to live with doubt and conflict.”. /Mark Hutchinson/

I first read this quotation in 2007 in a book called ‘Curating Subjects’ edited by Paul O’Neill. I remember thinking finally someone summarised what I was thinking for so long: the im/possibility of defining curating other than authoritative practice. The quotation stuck in my mind and I remind myself of it every time I start a new project.

Today I was thinking about it again…

Shadows of artist and curator, Reginald Street Park, Leeds. Photograph: Judit Bodor.


In curating, the relationships between artists, curators and publics are crucial as it determines the social production of knowledge. The question of ‘who is speaking’, in which location and from which position in discourse, to whom and how many, their status, their authority lies behind the fixed categorisation of difference between “artist” and “curator”.

The normative relationship between curator and artist needs to be variable. It must be able to occupy and generate different models and modes of collaboration, a “mutual and dialogical relationship” that involves “doubt and conflict”.

Is curating a ‘profession’ or can we expand it to describe it as ‘process’ that involves the creativity of whoever is doing it and that is enough?

Should we be against the “division of labour” in art?

How to start collaboration?

How to be a companion?

EVERY PLACE A PALIMPSEST

Emma Bolland

‘Nothing defines the specific rootedness of a location – the transformation of a place into a site – more than its being founded on a grave’. Francesco Pellizzi

‘…the snowflakes are dancing on the radio…’. David Peace

Prince Phillip Playing Fields, Leeds. Photograph by Judit Bodor


Every place is a palimpsest. We tread a forensic trace of memory, leaving a little behind, carrying a little away. The fields where she is lost and taken are invisibly layered with the facts and fictions of my historical gaze. The grave of my parents, seen for the first, and only time, ten years after their death. A contested recollection of a line of men, dark uniforms sweeping and striking the wet meadows of my childhood home, searching for the body of a lost child, my fingers reaching upwards to the calloused grasp of my father’s hand, while the cold rain mists the whole to a surreal shadow of itself, that I see in black and white. My tired eyes walking the seamless / stuttered lines of David’s fiction, wrapped, insomniac, in the last hours of a winter’s night. All these things, and more, lie translucent upon the ground.

Emma with a daisy found at Manor Street Industrial Estate, Leeds. Photograph by Tom Rodgers.


The flat anonymity of this space bears no mark of the obscenities enacted upon it. A blank canvas: receiving and erasing the banal and dreadful brushstrokes of his deeds. Judit pauses, pulling her coat around her, and reminds me of the statement made by Beuys that “everyone is an artist”, and Metzger’s questioning reply – “ Himmler auch?”, and moments later, as we stand in the cold light we ask ourselves, was it Metzger? Was it Beuys? Have we remembered aright?

Detail from ‘Clover picked from Prince Phillip Playing Fields’. Emma Bolland. Pen and ink on paper.


Amongst so much nothingness, we need a forensic gaze to find a beauty, to find a place where her soul can soar. In Judit’s words,  “we need to pay attention to the things we do not know”. We look closely at the ground, we lose ourselves in the infinite singularity of the endless grass; the blades and the black luck of the clovers already stellar, already anticipating the labours of my pencil, the labours of my pen; until, in a wrenching invagination of the heart, the earth becomes the sky. Milky way. You will hear me call.