Wednesday, February 22, 2012

CARNAGE OR A COLLECTION OF PREDICTABLE CLICHES


Is there anyone else who didn’t enjoy Polanski’s last movie Carnage?
Everywhere I read I find people very enthusiastic about it. Honestly I still haven’t seen a less than 4 stars review, which makes me arrive to two conclusions. One, my aesthetic taste surprisingly doesn’t really correspond to the majority’s one. Two, there is no point of return for a press completely sold to the mainstream’s fame and interests.

I’m usually a Polanski’s big fan, his acting in The Tenant will persist in my mind forever and Rosemary’s Baby will always attract and magically repulse me at the same time. Ask me to watch it again and I won’t ever be able to say no, ready for fear and uneasiness to constantly populate my dreams though.
But not this time. I overtly say I didn’t like the movie.
Carnage is a very expressionist word, it gives me the idea of a slaughterhouse, where the animal materiality stands in front of your eyes so powerfully that makes the thought of anything else unnecessary.
The flesh is the link with probably the only cameo I really liked in this 80 minutes long movie.
Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet, the mothers of two kids involved in a childish fight, stand in front of a Francis Bacon catalogue and the latter pronounces the most splendid sentences of the entire movie:
“Francis Bacon. Cruelty and splendour, chaos and balance”. 


The carnage I’m talking about is the one Bacon paints in his works. Raw human flesh that keeps trying (in vain though) to share something meaningful with its similar creatures (in the privacy of the same closed room by the way).
The same carnage Luis Bunuel puts up in
The Exterminator Angel, where, like in Polanski’s movie, the guests of a formal dinner party, all in their bourgeois clothes and behaviours, end up unable to leave the room as in a sort of hypnotic trance.
This is exactly what happens in Carnage: two couples (Jodie Foster/John C.Reilly and Kate Winslet/Christoph Waltz) meet up in Foster and Reilly’s Brooklyn apartment to sort their son’s childish behaviours out. From a grown up and adult point of view, they want to (pretend to) find the good out of the bad situation and solve the problem. After few drinks Kate Winslet gets sick and throwing up she dirties the coffee-table with Foster’s art precious art catalogue on it. 
From here the situation degenerates and unmasks the bourgeois attachment to formalities and standardized behaviours.
Starting with a very good plot, the movie doesn’t present a crescendo of allure and the brilliantly comic idea of a kid that breaks one of his peers tooth, involving parent’s preoccupations and different points of view on the gravity of the event, dies in its potentiality even before being realized.
The movie is a stage of clichés. This is probably Polanski aim, he wants to make us laugh with bitterish smiles in front of the upper middle class universe. The same universe Carnage’s audience is more or less part of.
Fine. If this is the director’s purpose, it’s anyway not well achieved both in terms of screenplay and aesthetic composition.
The characters are just parodies of them selves, they endlessly repeat what they are supposed to say, ending up being very predictable and in so doing boring.
I would save just Christoph Waltz who appears to be a more prismatic and truly ironic individual, although he plays all movie long with his Blackberry as he’s an important business man.


The entire set, the apartment, does succeeds in reflecting bourgeois standards but doesn’t really seem to be vital for the story, coffee table and art catalogue aside. Characters don’t really interact with it as it would probably had been necessary, since the movie is all about the idea and its consequences of being stuck in the same place for a while.
This is not the first time Polanski decides to force its protagonists in one place. Remember
The Knife in the water, where a thrilling ménage a trios takes place in a boat and the castle in the nearly-inaccessible island of Cul De Sac.
I guess the weak point of the movie is its missed development. It would have had all the right ingredients for a 5 and more stars review, but it hasn’t been successful in evolving its potential structure.



Tuesday, February 21, 2012

BARRIBAL'S LIMINALITY AND MY ON GOING WINDOW ISSUE


It was the end of May 2009.
Berlusconi, as everybody knows the Italian Prime Minister at that time, was struggling on many fronts.
Several unauthorised photos that depicted him and his numerous guests at Villa Certosa in Sardinia were circulating through the main media’s platforms and the Majesty was obviously trying hard to put in to troubles the poor photographer guilty of this miserable assault.
Veronica, Berlusconi’s last wife, publicly declared she wanted the divorce, writing a long letter on probably the most sold Italian daily newspaper.
Even Milan’s football followers let him down writing polemical banners at San Siro stadium, accusing Berlusconi not to support the team with the necessary economic facilitations anymore.
In the mean time Rome was the scenario of an extreme weird weather, I mean, weird for Italy’s standards, where usually nothing like monsoon rains or particularly extravagant weather conditions take place.
I was living in Rome at that time. I was sharing an old small but really cute flat with one of by best mate. Just graduated, I was basically spending my time waiting for a good job (that never came).
The apartment was on the 4th floor. 
Anna Barribal's window

Buildings in Rome are not just ancient symbols of a glorious past but also ruins left without any preoccupation of renovation. This could be a strategic and principles founded choice in terms of archaeological sites, but when it comes to people’s everyday life, even the legendary roman laziness should take into consideration the safety's importance.
It was early afternoon. I went back home after uni, where I still used to go to talk to one of my teachers.
My friend wasn’t in Rome for some weeks and I was staying in the flat by my self. I decided it was the right time to tidy it up. I can be very messy, especially if I’m alone and there’s nobody else’s space that need to be respected.
I washed the floor and opened the bedroom’s window to let it dry faster. It was nearly summer outside, the sun would come up everyday and warm up the city very quickly. I love Rome during that time of the year, it’s the perfect period to live in it. During the day you don’t suffer too much the heat and at night it’s nice to hang around until late and join people who are exactly in your same mood for the summer to come.
I would never ever expected a tropical storm.
Barribal's ink on found photo
Suddenly the sky got darker and darked and a strong destructive wind started smashing things inside out the flat. I tried to go promptly to the room in order to close the window but it was too late. Its four glasses smashed one on the other and most of the pieces fell outside on the building’s entrance where in a couple of seconds a dad and his daughter will have appeared to go out on the street.
That’s why I have a window issue, let’s call it like this.
Nobody got hurt or injured but my poor mind, which every now and then can help but going back to that moment when potentially something extremely bad could have happened.
The other day I stopped at the Fruitmarket Gallery and after few years from when all happened and miles away from Rome, that afternoon’s thought came into my mind strongly again in front of Anna Barribal’s work.
This London girl loves the liminal. Her choices go from windows, doors, shutters to even fireplace or cuts in the paper. All apertures that signifies a possible state of transition.
Barribal's fireplace

Her artist gesture is very simple, non pretentious even when she works on big scales. Barribal’s simplicity corresponds to what I think it’s a methodical decision of shaping materiality. She intervenes on her objects and surfaces with a delicate touch that, far from being uncertain or not very visible, give uniqueness to the work. Take for example the wall where she drew little spots on with a pencil. Their subtle silverness creates a kind of sculptural aura.
I really enjoyed her windows. I guess my previous disturbing experience with them made me enjoy her work even more. I familiarised with it, I felt it close to my reality outside the gallery.
When she cuts the paper to shape an innocuous knife, I thinks about Fontana and his spatial concepts, I thinks about me cutting bottle's plastic boxes.
Barribal’s art can be lyrical and solidly attached to materiality at the same time. It can make wonder about different worlds and pasts or follow no more than the kinetic noise of a paper “breathing” air on the fireplace.
The ink she uses for intervening on her found photographs well symbolises the interaction of different aesthetic levels involved in her art.
A very enjoyable and inspiring exhibition.
 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

STATES OF EXCEPTION


I’m trying to figure out the reason why I tend to smile and free my self in an instinctive laugh in front of Louise Bourgeois’s work, while watching Paula Rego’s paintings I find myself unsettled, with a subtle but uncomfortable feeling of repulsion.

An answer is hard to define though. There should be a point of distinction that clarifies my different reactions towards them but, if there is, it’s obviously a tricky and extremely well hidden one.
I’m approaching both of the artists now, really for the first time. Only lately I’ve become sincerely curious about their works and decided to spend some time on them, while before, although I was aware of their significance within the art world, I have sort of ignored and passed over their practices.
There are some similar leit motiv that recur in the lives of Bourgeois and Rego, some situations that could have represented a state of exception. Their inclination and the remedy chosen brought the two women to protect them selves with artistic weapons.
I have used these terms such remedy protection and weapons even though they sound to me openly Freudian, an approach which, while could be seen as fundamental in terms of life and pulsional drives comprehension, is instead marginal for an aesthetic appreciation.
At least in my opinion.
Bourgeois left France to move to USA, Rego left Portugal to live in UK.
No matter any opulence one can refer to as an economical comfort, leaving the country of origin for a new and unknown one always affects people’s lives in peculiar ways.
More over, Bourgeois was apparently traumatised by her father extra-conjugal liason, Rego lived an important period of her life without being close to her parents. She grew up with her grandmother and her fairy tales.
It’s true, through their art works the viewer can easily come to one conclusion which is the meaningful and persistent importance of childhood that constantly absorbs Bourgeois and Rego approaches towards art.
They both like to play, I believe they use a desecrating language in their works, probably the same they had and still have in life too, in order to dignify a black humour too often analysed by psychoanalysis as a replacement for something else.
I think Bourgeois and Rego love to laugh before anything else. Irony is fundamental for itself. A black humour is an essential part of style without the need to justify its use in terms of a trauma’s remedy.
I’m so astonished by the French artist’s comment on her portrait took by Mapplethorpe with a non-phallus sculpture under her arm. Just the objectively undeniable wrinkle’s appearance on her face affirms she is not a playful kid anymore.
But still, I wonder what in a kind of way obsesses me in Rego’s paintings. She probably filters the ambiguity in a subtler way than Bourgeois. The fact she observes a sort of more traditional figurative standards make the fiction less fiction and closer to reality instead.
Bourgeois’s spider or Destruction of the father installation presents them selves as already artefacts and the viewer’s affection is relieved recognizing a different and possibly cathartic level from the real traumatic experience.
Rego’s paintings are very likely not to create this step that distinguishes between an imaginative and a non-fictional fact. The viewer lives under her skin what she has in front of her eyes. It’s like adverting for real how it’s like to be in a room where so unusual actions take form and to feel the uneasiness derived from the impossibility of avoiding the undesirable.
Girl lifting her skirt to a dog by Paula Rego

Rego’s art talks about the friction between the viewer’s expectations and what she ends up to see. One doesn’t expect upper middle class women to break the un-written codes of their society and behave in unpredictable ways such for example showing a dog what the have underneath their skirts.
Rego probably plays with ambivalence more than Bourgeois does and I personally found hard to face the negative of the scaring as a life’s part in need of acceptance.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

WATERLOO SUNSET


Insects by David Shrigley

During my years at university there were some exams I will never forget about. Between them the so called Fenomenology of styles was the most terrible due to the fearsome professor. He has been literally an institution for Bologna’s Dams (which stands for Disciplines of Art Music and Spectacle) and extremely well known for his picky and meticulous precision. I do remember I learnt a lot of dates and names by heart and I found very helpful trying to  keep in mind topics by associating concepts to images, names to figures.
Fight the nothingness by D. Shrigley
Spot painting by Damien Hirst
That’s what David Shrigley's Brain Activity exhibition is about as well.
Firstly when I entered the room and I saw the series of drawings I thought he was mainly using the function of tautology for which the speaker adopts two different words (or forms in this case) to express the same meaning, even repeating it unnecessarily.
The word door it does correspond with a painted door, the word mirror reflects the image of an oval mirror, as well as the word stairs indicates the one we know as a stairs on the paper.
However, for some of these paintings this tautology formula doesn’t work properly. There is


a gap between the artist’s written indication and the image, a sort of friction between what the viewer would expect ordinarily and what Shrigley presents us with his by now well know black humour. Through this approach, a gravestone becomes a breakfast list within whose elements also an aspirin surprisingly appears written down. (not unusual for those who know what a hangover feels like!)
I do appreciate this Glasgow based artist’s way of communicating. His vocabulary and form are simple and it’s exactly this simplicity that stimulates the viewer’s reflection.

To be honest, Shirgley basically essential expression made myself wonder around, leaving free my stream of consciousness, I explored my Brain Activity too. 
Hanging around the Southbank I started to make connections between the seen and the remembered. It was very satisfying and liberating, probably an action that helps your brain in finding a sense for all the things experienced over the years. It could be another random but not very casual description of what they meant, still mean or not anymore.
Here is more or less the sort of map that developed in my head.
Let’s start from Shrigley's exhibition and then we can move on to my afternoon at the Tate modern, where once again the majesty and the meaningful quantity of art pieces literally brought me into a “not like the outside world” dimension.
The Hayward gallery’s big square room exposes an invasion of insects that the artist assembled in different shapes and occupations. Obviously this black animal orgy reminds me Delacroix, I do see this composition as the contemporary version of The Death of Sardanapalus. It’s a chaos where humans can become animals and vice versa, an advice that jokes with our pretentious Sapiens Sapiens attitude.
Spatial concept waiting by Fontana

Going back to the first lines written here, there was a reason why I mentioned that exam I sat years ago. It’s because while studying the “cutting tendency” of the great Lucio Fontana, I was feeling a theoretical pleasure in recalling my self cutting with a knife the plastic box of water bottles.
So it happened that, once at the Tate, I’ve noticed the psychiatrist Colin Blakemore’s comment on Fontana's gesture, beautifully described as an “anarchic act of violence against nothingness”.
And my mind with a quite regular mental operation went back to the before seen Shrigley Fight against nothingness, the giant print outside the gallery and visible from a distance.
Sometime the pleasure you gain out of these kind of connections, no matter if they are very smart or not, is incredible.
Not as a coincidence, many books have been written and will still be in the future on the concept of analogy.
Madison Avenue 1975 by Epstein




I’m very fond of it but sometimes I recognize
 the affection doesn’t show things in the way they are, but only in the way you want to see them.
I remember a professor of mine used to say analogies actually are quite risky because only few are  good, while most of them are just casual and not logically investigated similarities.
Is this comment true or an exaggeration? This could be a good point but it’s not mine now. As I admitted before, I just followed my stream of consciousness without thinking too much for a while.
Continuing my wandering around, I went to few rooms dedicated to contemporary photography, I stopped to observe Mitch Epstein work and his language, inevitably American (born in Massachusetts and based in New York) but a bit European too (he actually won a 6 months residency in Berlin). 
I found fascinating when an artist could be called in Heideggerian terms essential, in other words and vernacularly when he remains basically the same over the years and approaches his medium with more or less the same aesthetical choice. This is what is very evident of Epstein since the first glimpse. His environmental interests directed him mostly to the landscape subject, where the human impact is visible and criticized (see his work on hurricane Katrina for example).
Biloxi Missisipi 2005 by Epstein

Epstein sort of casual “what was a house on a tree” made me think by contrast of Tim Walker's dreamy one. If the tree is the same, it’s impossible to say this for the furniture.
And again my stream of consciousness played very easily with an undeniable similarity between a colourful spots shirt photographed by Epstein and the last Damien Hirst work that presents his worldwide ubiquitous exhibitions. Let’s put it clearly, it’s far from me the intention of accusing Hirst of copying Epstein.
Inside outside 2002 by Tim Walker

On the one hand it would be 




ridiculous to make a pois motif  the
matter of a copyright’s debate, on the other hand it would mean having a bad taste in art not to highlight the unique beauty of ordinary people’s street life sparkling out on a fluorescent lifeless series of spots.