Continued interest by artist and designers in the wonders of bees; Wolfgang Buttress and Tristan Simmonds create a giant hive installation that responds to the activities of Kew Garden’s resident bees. LED lighting within the structure responds to the hum within the nearby hives giving visitors insight into the activities and moods of the gardens residents.
I’ve been looking back at art historical references over the last few weeks. There is an obvious nod in my video work towards religious iconography, baroque painting (particularly the Italian Baroque) and to symbolist artists. In my last series viewers noted the references to classical beauty ideals; high foreheads, white faces, wrapped head coverings and the fact that the figures appear austere and devout like an ‘abbess’ or a ‘monk’ (those words were put forward as descriptions).
I have taken a look at different areas of art history that are referenced in my work and tried to pick apart a little of why this is the case and how I can work with it more fully to consciously use these references rather than them being somewhat unconscious decisions on my part. This isn’t an in-depth analysis of these works, but more of an overview of some of the stylistic influences that I have been exploring and that have been expressed in my work.
Starting off with painters from the Baroque period who use a similar tenebroso technique. This is an extreme form of chiaroscuro where there is a violent contrast between light and dark, with the darkness being a dominating feature of the image. These dark shadows and deep foreground colours have come through in my video pieces “Hive Oracle” and the “Sublimation” series. Figures emerge out of the darkness with no fixed setting. The figures often have intense or unusual expressions and the action in the paintings has a viscerality that was not present in works from the Renaissance. Women have action and agency that was previously absent from most artwork.
Looking at Caravaggio’s “Judith” the pose and gesture are quite awkward, the image focusses more on getting everyone in shot and making sure the composition is pleasing than of the realities of actually cutting someone’s throat in this way. Judith isn’t exerting much force, so even though the image is visceral, it misses the violence of how a scene like this would play out in reality. Skip forward a few years and we see an artist I love, Artemisia Gentileschi, taking on the story in a much more believable way. The beauty of the gesture and composition is sacrificed to realism and violence, the women are powerful, determined and dominant.
Artemisia Gentileschi (1614-1620) Judith Slaying Holofernes
The figures are foreshortened and stacked behind each other – very different from the ideal composition at the time. I like examining this painting in contrast to the Caravaggio so wanted to include it here.
This links to another aspect of my video work I have discussed with faculty and peers; the subject of gesture. I use a certain amount of posed and unusual gesture in my work that reflects the gestural tone of classical painting and sculpture. Often the gesture and pose in these works is expressive rather than natural, they are poses you could make but probably wouldn’t. The gestures create a theatricality in the work, an elegant exaggeration of reality.
Artemisia Gentileschi (1610) Susanna and the Elders
A very early work by Gentileschi that has not yet adopted the intense chiaroscuro of her later paintings. The figures make exaggerated, theatrical gestures.
Jan van Eyck (1430-1432) Ghent Altarpiece (Interior) One of the most famous examples of the the altarpiece with christian iconography. The imagery covers both the interior and exterior of the tri-fold screen.
I spent a bit of time revising the stylistic conceits of religious icons and altarpieces. The set’s of 1 or 3 central figures and the ability for a narrative to be told across a presentation that can be viewed all at once have some parallels to what I have been working with in video. The central figures are often realistically imagined (in line with the stylisation of the era) but with ornamentation behind them in gold and this is something that I have also observed in my more modern influences.
William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1875) Virgin of Consolation
A more modern approach to the religious icon and one of a series of paintings of the Virgin Mary by Bouguereau. She displays the exaggerated gesture, the ornamentation in gold behind the central figure and the central, vertical composition seen in earlier icons.
Mary MacGregor-Reid (2015) Hive Oracle (still shot)
This use of ornamentation and gesture appears to have influenced some of the Symbolist artists and unsurprisingly they are a movement that I have always enjoyed. My favourite painter, right back from when I was still in school, is French Symbolist Gustave Moreau. I had the chance to see some of his work in the flesh, so-to-speak, a few years ago and was entranced by his use of colour and brushwork. Works that I thought were probably quite tight and formal in their painting style were actually wildly expressive and loose. Many of them utilise the stylistic elements I have picked up on in this post – the use of chiaroscuro, the prominent central figure, the mix of realism and stylised ornamentation, the expressive gesture. He painted Salome many times, 2 variations are below:
Gustave Moreau (1876) Salomé
I’ve been fascinated by the use of overlaid ornamentation in this work for a long time. It’s so unusual and it creates a a film or screen over the subject that sets them apart from us – definitely ‘otherworldly’. Moreau’s women tend to be voluptuous and bejewelled rather than austere.
Another artist from this era that has been useful for me to revisit is Gustav Klimt. His work has unfortunately been aped by a lot of contemporary decorative artists and so it almost looks cliched, but observing the real Klimt it becomes obvious that the imitators can’t come close.
Gustav Klimt (1901) Judith and the Head of Holofernes
Oh look, it’s Judith and Holofernes again! The symbolist artists loved depicting the strong, passionate women with a touch of darkness about her. Here Klimt is riffing off the stylistic elements of icons with the rich, gold, flattened ornamentation setting off painterly naturalistic figures.
Recently I have been considering my use of black backgrounds in video and wondering how the work might fair with other colours or tones. The use of white on white appeals to me because it retains the otherworldly strangeness but loses the usually dark connotations that go with magic and the occult. Looking back on all my work over the last 2 years there is a funny switching from dark to light to dark to light, in that my work both stylistically and literally switches black and white! I enjoyed working with the white and gold/yellow of the first honey/wax works and the live performance ritual so would like to explore that further. I’m intending on shooting the same sequences on different backgrounds to see how the change from the black tenebroso effect to the white on white effect plays out.
Yolunda sent me a link to this work – which was interesting because I’d been sent it by 5 other people outside the art world who thought I’d love it! It’s not really contemporary art in an academic sense, but the use of geometry, shape and light appeal to me on an aesthetic and material level. I’d been thinking about more laser cut works and this project has really lifted the bar with that technique.
Apart from the geometric shapes I’m absolutely seduced by the use of light and shadow. This is something I’d been considering in my own work and how to bring it into play. The problem with these works as pieces of art is that they tend to veer towards design due to the artist’s lack of contemporary context and research. I really want to avoid that design sensibility in my work because it’s too *easy* for me and I think it limits the scope of the work. It’s sort of a fine line really, tip too far in one direction and you’re designing lampshades.
“Originally commissioned for the 2007 Venice Biennale,Ocean Without a Shore was first shown in the 15th century Church of the Oratorio San Gallo, a short distance from the Piazza San Marco. Inspired by the writings of Senegalese poet Birago Diop, it takes its title from Andalusian Sufi mystic Ibn Arabi, who wrote, “The Self is an ocean without a shore. Gazing upon it has no beginning or end, in this world and the next.” Viola’s work expresses this sentient self and, bathing the viewer in a sensorium of light and sound, is a masterpiece that asks us to reflect upon fundamental ideas of love, hope, sorrow, anxiety, death, regeneration, and being.”
Quote sourced from http://withart.visitphilly.com/artworks/ocean-without-a-shore/
Bill Viola, Ocean Without a Shore, 2007, Video and sound installation, running time: approx. 90 minutes, PAFA, 2010.22
Since I came across this work I have watched the available online video clips multiple times. The incredible creation of an invisible threshold by the passing of bodies through a wall of water is otherworldly and magical. The work utilises flickering, grainy black and white footage on one side of the threshold, then as they pass through they become full-colour super high definition. The choice of video technique, the slo motion movement and the ephemerality of the water-wall threshold highlights the fragility of life and the fineness of the border between life and death, between one reality and another.
Link to video footage: http://youtu.be/eTakwOpWqG4
This show has been particularly inspirational for me, not just due to the incredible quality of the work, but because much of it gave me context and inspiration for my own practice. Use of light and shadow within my work, as well as sensory experience is something that has been suggested to me by a number of people, and it’s an idea that I’m curious about developing. I found food for thought in all of the pieces in the ‘Light Show’, but there were several that have kept me thinking and coming back to them.
Ann Veronica Janssens “Rose” (2007) struck me with it’s use of saturated colour, misting and light creating an ephemeral geometric sculpture in mid-air, the shape of which only becomes apparent from certain angles. I loved the way a seemingly volumetric object was created out of smoke and light, and the way the ‘solid’ shape could be walked through and interacted with.
Anthony McCall’s “You and I Horizontal” (2006) captivated me for similar reasons. It had similar qualities of solidly created from ephemeral substances and it also contained movement which led to the work changing over time. This work encouraged even more participation from the viewer to actually stand and move within the sculpture itself and affect the very form of the work.
Another work that I spent a lot of time with was Carlos Cruz-Diez’s work “Chromosaturation” (2008). This one interested me for it’s immersive environment and they effect it has on the viewer who spends time within it. The intensity of the colours, the shifts between them and shapes inside the environment all serve to create a kind of, not unpleasant, disorientation in the viewer. I have been interested in investigating creation works that use environments to create responses in viewers through stimulation of various senses and this was a perfect example of the way intense colour works.
One of my favourite pieces for it’s subtlety and unexpectedness was James Turrell’s “Wedgework V” (1974). The passage into the work through the pitch black, having to be led by an usher, was a disquieting but quite exciting experience. On entering the work’s viewing area and sitting down to let my eyes adjust I initially thought I was looking at a screen and was waiting for something to happen. The space beyond the threshold was entirely unexpected! The feeling I got from placing my arm beyond the frame was akin to mild vertigo and I was transfixed by the effect the work had on my perception of space: even though I *knew* what the work was physically, my eyes and brain couldn’t reconcile it which left me feeling slightly off-balance.
Olaf Eliasson’s featured work “Model for a Timeless Garden”, 2011 was a captivating piece, but researching him I discovered several other works that I would have loved to have seen and that fit a bit more into my area of interest.
‘Beauty’ (1993) uses a soft curtain of water droplets illuminated by spotlights to create the temporary vision of a rainbow from a certain point in the room. The elements I love about this work are similar to those in Ann Veronica Janssens “Rose” (2007); the way the image or object is created from something so transient and weightless, the way the image is only visible from certain points, while the work as a whole can be seen form multiple angles, the fragile yet impactful nature of the work.
“The Weather Project” (2003) Tate Modern Turbine Hall, deals with colour saturation and it’s effect on the viewer in a similar vein to Carlos Cruz-Diez’s “Chromosaturation” (2008) but on and even grader scale and with only one light frequency, the added texture of mist and a reflective ceiling. I would love to experience this piece!
Two final pieces are worth including here due to the movement and transformation experienced while watching the works; Leo Villarreal’s “Cylinder II” (2012) and Cerith Wyn Evans “S=U=P=E=R=S=T=R=U=C=T=U=R=E (‘Trace me back to some loud, shallow, chill, underlying motive’s overspill…’) (2010). While “Cylinder II” is like a cold, twinkling starscape in the midst of a vast ocean or galaxy, “S=U=P=E=R=S=T=R=U=C=T=U=R=E” pulses with life and radiates vast amounts of heat. Both works seemed alive, possibly sentient, and they really inhabited the space they were installed within like great, living creatures. While “Cylinder II” sparkled and flared, “S=U=P=E=R=S=T=R=U=C=T=U=R=E” breathed and pulsed with huge, hot sighs.
Lauson, C. (2013) Light Show. MIT Press. Cambridge: USA.