BELLINI and MANTEGNA : FAMILY LIFE

having derives from another’s possession

Transformation, where true possession takes place,

Transformation, all transformations, man’s furnace,
crucible of patience,
I say all waiting is pure patience
If these words be spoken at the crossroads of space!
(The voice of the Karaw,  African praise poem)

ANDREA MANTEGNA, Presentazione di Gesù al Tempio, c. 1453, tempera su tela, egg tempera on linen, 77.1 x 94.4 cm  Gemäldegalerie – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
   © Gemäldegalerie – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

GIOVANNI BELLINI,  Presentazione di Gesù al Tempio, 1470, olio su tavola, oil on wood panel, 82 x 106 cm
Fondazione Querini Stampalia di Venezia   © Fondazione Querini Stampalia Onlus – Venezia

HAND OF THE FUTURE

by Rosanna Albertini

Pure patience in me had evaporated. It was early June and Venice was as hot as Africa. Yet I was cooking patience in my crucible as if my love for Venice were floating on the laguna, waiting to reach at least one place, one image calming my senses. Eventually I found two. Right now Venice is a theater for lost souls, a market of cheap, repetitive masks and glass beads to feed the savages, a park of shaggy grass surfaces, Chinese Cafes and bridges and floors trodden by a million feet. My self was an empty basket quickly filled with nausea from lack of space between humans, and disgust in front of German kids filling their mouth with water and spitting it brutally on the pigeons. The charming place where I had lived in the early 70s was gone.

“One participates in things (understands their language). In this condition understanding is not impersonal (objective), but extremely personal, like an agreement between subject and object. In this condition one really knows everything in advance, and the things merely confirm it. Knowing is reknowing.” ROBERT MUSIL

You have been here already, haven’t you, you know where to go, right?” I crossed the entire third floor of the Querini Stampalia palace, the art gallery, as fast as possible, attracted by a magnetic force toward two paintings, or the same painting made twice, the first by Andrea Mantegna, the second about twenty years after by his brother in law Giovanni Bellini. Noticing I was spellbound, the museum guard, an old Venetian, couldn’t wait to tell me the story.

 

PREMISE: The two versions of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple were painted when Venice was at the peak of its power and splendor: 1453 and 1470. Venice was the second biggest European city after Paris and the richest. Jacopo Bellini, Giovanni’s father and an artist himself, who was the head of the most interesting and successful “bottega” in Venice, will be my principal narrator. His slightly strabic, dark and piercing eyes, look at us from center of the paintings. He is a grumbling man, for good reasons.

The two paintings are family portraits. Bellini enlarged the group with two figures. From the right: Giovanni Bellini and Andrea Mantegna are the young men (self portraits), Simeon the priest not identified, Jacopo Bellini the father, Jesus is the baby boy born from Mantegna and Jacopo’s daughter, the Madonna a symbolic figure with no name, at her left Nicolosia, Jacopo’s daughter and Mantegna’s wife, the last woman at the left is Giovanni’s wife. 

Because both these paintings underwent five centuries of transformations in the restorers’ hands – Mantegna’s background was probably blue, hard to imagine now – I will avoid conjectures already deployed by art historians and experts of technology, often contradicting one another. I will stick to the story. Not long ago Venice was still permeated by whispers and talks in Venetian, flying around like a wisp of wings. We are in Bellini’s bottega.

 

Jacopo (father)          Would you close the curtain please? I saw the usual shadow coming up from campo Santa Margherita. Yes, I know you like him he is a good artist, but I don’t want Nicolosia to see him and besides, I do not want to scuffle with her.

Giovanni           Cossa vusto, father? What do you want?  Antonello da Messina gave us access to the oil color making he learned from the Flemish, so we learned to make more luminous works, almost sparkling. He is charming, has curly hair and big eyes. Think of the business. 

Jacopo          I do, but, Nicolosia is my daughter, she just gave me a boy to adore, Mantegna’s sun. Maybe a son of ambition rather than love, with marriage Andrea bought his freedom from his adoptive father Squarcione and got his own studio in Padua. It’s true the family painting he just gave me as a thank you present is still mat, quite sculpted on linen with perfect proportions —he always loved the colors of ancient sculptures, and the stones’sensuality. He is so good he doesn’t need oil paint. The other guy from the south instead uses every kind of trick. Tempera, you know, is still my favorite. He likes pretty much to slip under the skirts…That’s why he came to Venice, our putee (unmarried girls) are wonderful. Oh, the boy painted by Mantegna is a mummy, a cocoon. Antonello could give me another grandchild… can I be a collector of grandchildren from the most talented painters of these days?

Giovanni           True enough, Mantegna is the master. Perspective! You are good father, and have been innovative, but he is like anybody else. Too much work in Mantua. Nicolosia is young and lonely. Did you notice his self-portrait in the right corner? A tired face. He is so meticulous. Admirable, no stencils, no cartoon. I keep learning from him. Who knows if in a far away future people will understand the emotional depth of each detail, his ability to make lively figures out of lines and brush strokes, almost revealing their souls’ precision with egg tempera!

Gertrude Stein          I am thinking of attacking being not as an earthly kind of substance but as a pulpy not dust not dirt but a more mixed up substance, it can be slimy, gelatinous,  gluey, white opaquy kind of thing and it can be white and vibrant, and clear and heated.

Jacopo       Whose voice is this? It makes me nervous. I’m talking about men and women. Not my language. 

Gertrude Stein           I begin again with telling it, the way I feel resisting being in men and women. It is like a substance and in some it is as I was saying solid and sensitive all through it to stimulation, in some almost wooden, in some muddy and engulfing, in some thin almost like gruel, in some solid in some parts and in other parts liquid, in some with holes like air-holes in it, in some hardened and cracked all through it, in some double layers of it with no connections between the layers of it.

Jacopo           Who is she? Stein? Never heard of her; familiar though, she sounds like a painter. We were saying of master Mantegna that each of his painted characters is locked into an invisible hole, inside. Six bodies together, in the family portrait, and the bottom of them is somewhere else. 

Giovanni          Starting with you, father, What were you thinking? 

Jacopo          Oh, I was jealous, I wanted to kill him for being so young.

Giovanni             For the same reason would you kill me and my brother Gentile, like Chronos did with his children? I’m for sure your son, although I heard rumors about my real mother. I don’t blame you, and I love Gentile, we often put our brushes on the same painting. Did you call him Gentile because of your apprenticeship with Gentile da Fabriano?

Jacopo           We all share the same passion. First I want to see what you are able to paint. Maybe I will save you for the business.

1470 – Seventeen years later

As the former baby is already searching a mate, Giovanni remakes the family portrait adding himself and his wife to the scene. Same structure, same figures, not at all the same imaging: this family is not sacred anymore, halos around the heads have disappeared. Mary and Simeone look at each other, Mantegna sends an oblique gaze toward his wife, Giovanni looks obliquely out of the painting, his wife and Nicolosia seem to share a secret, pensively. Jacopo looks directly at us, is he thinking of his death, that will happen one year after? And the baby is the only one speechless, probably hoping to reach his mother’s breast. 

Dresses are more simple, and colors are dominated by a light bouncing on them from the outside world. Not anymore contained in each figure like the mystery of life. “The image of each [painted] object becomes a wordless experience; and the description of the symbolic face of things and their awakening in the stillness of image belong without doubt in this context.” (ROBERT MUSIL) Then undeniably symbols move out of the hands, like the growing baby, in a world of conflicts, of doubts and uncertainties. As if by accident, or accepting fate, the painter had left the invisible hand of future modernity posed on the painting, transforming its message.

Willem De Kooning           When I used the newspapers in the paintings, it was just an accident. When I took it off, I saw the backprint of the papers, and I thought it was nice. That’s about all.

Bellini                         Mantegna

 

A legacy by Giovanni Bellini: the most remarkable students of his studio were Giorgione and Titian.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bellini Mantegna – Masterpieces face to face – The Presentation Of jesus to the Temple, Milano, SilvanaEditoriale, 2018  and Fondazione Querini Stampalia, Venezia (Italy)

Gertrude Stein, The Making of Americans Being a History of a Family’s Progress, 1906-1908.  Something Else Press, Inc., 1966

Robert Musil, Precision and the Soul, Edited and translated by Burrton Pike and David S. Luft, The University of Chicago press, 1990

The African praise poem from Technicians of the Sacred, edited by Jerome Rothenberg, University of California Press, third edition, 2017

Giorgio Vasari, The Lives of the Artists, Oxford University Press, 1991

Emile De Antonio and Mitch Tuchman, Painters Painting – A candid history of the modern art scene, 1940 – 1970  New York, Abbeville Press, 1984

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FIONA CONNOR : Corpses For Dry Eyes

 

FIONA CONNOR, Closed Down Clubs, 2018 Mix media installation at The MAK Center, Los Angeles

 

FIONA CONNOR: CORPSES FOR DRY EYES

text by Rosanna Albertini    

    Photos by Peter Kirby

From far, they look like vertical pages separated from their book, pages that thickened enough to stand up in an empty space. They are the last page of different volumes. Volumes of a time that was. 

Glass and wood and metal might have absorbed over decades after-shave perfumes, coffee steam, and smells of sweat, garlic, burned bread, beer, whisky and bad breath — “better bad breath than no breath at all,” sings Willy Nelson. That’s just me, I have a strange system of senses: enough to think about a crowded bar, I can smell it and absorb the cigarette smoke blending with the car exhaust on the sidewalk. All gone now. 

But the sculptures in person still carry the hidden volume of stories moving through the doors open or closed, by the years in numbers.

Fiona Connor remade the vertical, thin bodies as they were their last day of work, after opening and closing for people in search of food, drinks, music, eager to clasp hands, or lost in rage. She couldn’t reproduce the secret feelings each geometrical guardian shared with the fingers touching them, pushing or pulling. Music could do it, not visual arts. 

Remade, opened to a new life in spaces for art, usually neat and aseptic like hospital rooms — surgery happened for sure — the inanimate guardians move in a limbo, following the uncomfortable translation into a body of language: walls and ceiling disappeared, as well as the address. The remains are a calligraphic profile.

It’s a day filled with smog and smoke in Los Angeles. My vision might be blurred, but I see Fiona Connor putting together little by little faithful archival alter-egos of the original architectural elements, adding handwritten signs, eviction notices, other messages to the public, as a spider does secreting the thread for geometrical webs. And I see Allan Ruppersberg rewriting in a perfect copy on canvas the whole text of The Portrait of Dorian Gray. 

As their own life goes through the time of building and making, the two artists become one thing with the process.  Once their work is done, “reality slips away from them because she is real again, and marks a distance.” Albert Camus. “Such thickness and strangeness of the world is nothing but absurdity.” They both deal with a reality which is thick and quaint; in a word, the absurdity of the physical world, which is a primitive substance refusing dominion: humans made it their own only to toss it, or forget.

Eh bien, voilà. That’s the art. To feel the growing power of natural or cultural blocks, stronger than dragons, and fight against them, or move away. Apparently protective, historical frames keep at bay any wish to move out, far from them, from their mask of permanence, even from their beauty.   

THE WALLS DON’T FALL, wrote Hilda Doolittle in 1944. One year before I was born. She was born in Bethlehem, PA, in 1886 and died in 1961 in Zurich.

XLIII

Still the walls do not fall,

 I don’t know why;

there is wrr-hiss,

lightning in a not-known,

unregistered dimension;

 we are powerless,

dust and powder fill our lungs,

our bodies blunder

through doors twisted on hinges,

and the lintels slant 

cross-wise;

we walk continually

on thin air

that thickens to a blind fog,

then steps swiftly aside,

for even the air 

is independable, 

thick where it should be fine

and tenuous where wings separate and open

 

XXXVIII

my mind (yours),

your way of thought (mine),

each has its peculiar intricate map,

threads weave over and under

the jungle-growth

of biological aptitudes,

inherited tendencies,

the intellectual effort

of the whole race,

it’s tide and ebb;

but my mind (yours) 

has its peculiar ego-centric

personal approach 

to the eternal realities,

and differs from every other

in minute particulars,

as the vein-paths on any leaf

differs from those of every other leaf

in the forest, as every snow-flake

has its particular star, coral or prism shape. 

 

Like Hilda Doolittle, Fiona Connor is a voyager, a discoverer of the not-known and unrecorded. She has no map, nor rules of procedure. How could she bring to us the death of these social spaces without knowing what death is? She made a flat coffin for each of them, a profile. “I must find out what is moving inside them that makes them them, and I must find out how I by the the thing moving excitedly inside in me can make a portrait of them.” (Gertrude Stein) There is no way in, no way out. But they are strongly anchored in the floor, solitary skeletons offering their nakedness to the viewers, with no regrets.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Albert Camus, Le mythe de Sisyphe, Paris, Gallimard, 1942

Revolution of the Word, editor Jerome Rothenberg –a new gathering of American avant garde poetry 1914-1945, New York, The Seabury Press 1974.

 

DREAMING A FILM

Michael C. McMillen DREAMING A FILM

Cinematographic art in process by Michael C. McMillen, conceived and composed for

THE KITE

 

 

COUSIN MICHAEL, MYSELF AND ROBERT BRESSON

by Rosanna Albertini

Michael McMillen and myself adopted each other as cousins. It was a mythological time. I had just landed in Los Angeles on a flying horse, following the blue chevalier I had met in Paris: my American in Paris who is now my husband. Everything about film, isn’t it? Not only, really. 

I found in Michael the odd incarnation of a quiet familiar human typology, and mysterious at the same time. An artist, an inventor. A smiling face hiding layers of uneasy stories behind a friendly, often funny mask. In a word: a Neapolitan face. 

By pure coincidence, our mothers -the powerful phantoms of them- were both Neapolitan women. There is more, since our grandfathers, an Italian painter on my side, an Italian-American immigrant on his side, had the same unusual name: Oreste. We couldn’t simply be friends. To become cousins was the perfect illusion of a family connection that we liked to look at through an imaginary prism. Better than being stuck in facts. Neapolitan roots were enough.

I kept my old typewriter with me after the migration. One day cousin Michael knocked at the door with a big box in his hands. It was full of crumpled paper. In a corner, something solid: a little bottle sealed with wax to avoid the evaporation of a magic yellow density at the bottom: “Distillate of Metaphor.” “Keep it next to the typewriter,”  cousin Michael said.  I believe it had something to do with my mutation from scholar to storyteller, writer with no attributes.

Robert Bresson Only one mystery, people and objects.  

As I find my words in the dictionary, Michael picks up his images wherever life left signals of multiple meanings suggested by displacing objects in unusual spaces: the realm of visions. 

Robert Bresson In editing work, you only visually connect people to other people and to objects.

OK Robert, let me tell you about Michael’s most recent metaphorical editing: which is a sculpture. Don’t freeze. Apparently, not a film. But in the essence… McMillen masters visual associations. His mind, “from the thought of one thing, immediately passes to the thought of another, which has no likeness to the first.” This was Benedict De Spinoza.

Forget it. You, Robert, only wrote that images look different when they are in contact with other images. I’m telling you that it is Michael’s mind doing the work on the fashion and function that images assume. Film images are nothing but the old skin of a snake who grew out of it. So does the artist at the end of the work. 

This time McMillen placed on the recess of a sidewalk, and inside an adjacent abandoned room of a film studio, a physical sculpture of a film set. The buildings look already aged, rusty; they are the solid face of a missing shelter. Smaller than the camera that towers on them. Windows and doors will never open. Oh, the sleeping nature of objects! As in a fairy tale, they need a poetic kiss to wake them up. The big door of the studio, on the left side, has holes for the eyes. The passers by can see a dusty, crumbling room with a desk, on the desk a typewriter, an empty cup of coffee, spectacles, the writer could come back any second. And he is the real mystery that nobody will ever see.

Is the scene a projection of the future? Or a fragment of the past sitting like a tired old man? Maybe the film had dropped his worn out clothes on the sidewalk and an artist had pick them up with love, and remade a visual poem out of them: a sturdy, durable, and tangible illusion. 

For so long had he handled the metallic body of his sculptural device that in the end he was happy to give back to the images their thin, fleeting, and flexible cinematographic connection. Not only on earth, also in the air, in the water. Forever metaphors. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michael C. McMillen, Back Lot  2016-2018 – A permanent exterior and interior art installation. 15′ x 69′ x 11′  Cast steel, concrete, video, various fabricated and acquired elements for interior installation.

Commissioned by CIM Group for the West Hollywood Urban Art Program. Site location: Google Map link: https://goo.gl/maps/9gVAQevDjdp

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Robert Bresson, Notes sur le cinématographe, Paris, Gallimard, 1975

Benedict De Spinoza, Ethics, Edited and Translated by Edwin Curley, Penguin Books 1996

PHILIPPA BLAIR : her book of painting

Philippa Blair’s

Pictographs – Ideograms

by Rosanna Albertini

 

When a human abandons the world of senses, his/her/its soul gets demented.

Quand l’homme abandonne le sensible, son âme devient comme démente.

From Nicolaus Cusanus (1401-1464) to Michel Foucault (1926-1984)*

PHILIPPA BLAIR, Pioneers 2015
card, paper, ink, gesso, graphite   21″ x 36″   Courtesy of the artist

Los Angeles, May 2009. The trip to Philippa’s house in San Pedro by bus and train was three hours of damnation. But Philippa was there at the bus stop, waiting for me, the exact moment I arrived. Looking at each other’s face, we could read it with no words as Maori do in New Zealand. Accidentally, we are the same age, she is one month younger than me. Although Philippa isn’t a Maori woman, like them she can go through human or material density as if bodies weren’t obstacles. In her mind, the buildings where she lives are bodies around her own person, or sometimes scattered parts of her.

She is a painter.  

Like birds, she migrated from Ponsonby NZ to San Pedro, from Los Angeles to Australia and Europe, and now she is back in Ponsonby. Her nest on the hills. Paintings and drawings help her keep track of life, as if a bird could rub the feathers on the narrow space of a canvas, depicting and revealing vectors, figures, the intensity of the flight, the frequency of the heartbeat.

As Robert Rauschenberg would say, she can’t make life or art, and has to work “in that hole in between, which is undefined. That’s what makes the adventure of painting.” Almost ten years after our first encounter, I happened to stop my eyes on Philippa Blair’s works on paper she made in 2015. This post is dedicated to them. 

PHILIPPA BLAIR, Language Barriers 2015
card, paper, ink, acrylic 23″ x 36″ Courtesy of the arti

PHILIPPA BLAIR, Terrain 2015
card, tape, paper, wood, acrylic, ink, netting   28″ x 40   Courtesy of the artist

 

PHILIPPA BLAIR, Shelter 2015
paper, card, ink, wood, graphite   21″ x 36   Courtesy of the artist

PHILIPPA BLAIR, Gridlock 2015
card, paper, tape, acrylic, wood   21″ x 30″   Courtesy of the artist

Little by little, surprised at every piece, my brain is revived by the reasonable, friendly closeness, in the same space, of broken parts removed from any functional duty —as it happens after an earthquake, or social turmoil. Different languages in the same brain raise unpredictable barriers one against the other, producing stuttering or silence, or a closed door. Yet each piece is one place, the visual configuration of only one ideogram.

Each place gives support to what remains of an implosion: because they were blotted out, lines and colors readjust themselves on an irregular landscape as if learning to smooth down tensions or pain. Soft is the white, spots of color reassert a new explosion of beauty: maybe self-sufficient, I’m tempted to say ‘natural’ in a physical process, but words fail me. They can’t replace the secret of perception. 

Is the artist blowing underneath the paper’s fragile surface the breathing that inflates her chest? Paper can’t hold it so it needs rolls or sticks or cardboard filling the space, sculpting a landscape. Wind inflates a forest: the trees are curved, while the carriage of light following the hours stretches fragments of color between the branches. (Terrain) 

Oh no, not abstraction at all. They are paper works, basically black & white. Black lines break and disconnect, they are the opposite of lines of words looking continuous even when thoughts are not. Although the grid of life is always there, it is at times crumpled, other times rigid, never imposing a predictable order. The heartbeat prevails. Paintings? They could as well be visual songs of a mind burning edges, borders, and final forms, in favor of fluid sceneries sucked into the artist’s black hole inside her, to be emotionally reconfigured. They can’t be flat. 

PHILIPPA BLAIR, Return to sender 2015
paper, card, gesso, ink   27″ x 17″   Courtesy of the artist

They are flashes of life with some hope of love for the crazy world we share. 

PHILIPPA BLAIR, Armour/Amore 2015
card, paper, tape, acrylic   23″ x 21″   Courtesy of the artist

Philippa Blair’s painted books, almost pictographs,

 and here THE PAINTED BOOK  by  Nezahualcoyotl**  (1402-1472)

1….

Your heart is a book of paintings,

You have come to sing,

to make Your drums resound.

You are the singer.

Within the house of springtime,

You make the people happy.

2

With flowers You write,

O Giver of Life:

with songs You give color,

with songs You shade

those who must live on the earth.

 

Later You will destroy eagles and ocelots:

we live only in Your book of paintings,

here on the earth.

With black ink You will blot out

all that was friendship,

brotherhood, nobility.

 

You give shading

to those who must live on earth.

We live only in Your book of paintings,

here on the earth.

3

I comprehend the secret, the hidden:

O my lords!

Thus we are,

we are mortal,

men through and through,

we all will have to go away,

we all will have to die on earth.

 

Like a painting,

we all be erased.

like a flower,

we will dry up

here on earth. 

Philippa’s life precipitates in her paintings without blocking in permanent forms the fleeting, indistinct movements of the visible world. The paper can barely contain her effort of breaking chains, melting objects, building broken castles for feelings and tracking the rhythm  of a perpetual change, which is never the same, but not for a change of time and space. It is the artist  floating in her own boat, through her own spirit, the one who makes them new.  She gives to her figures of paint the freedom of material presences quickly disfigured by their own variation, she lets them go. It’s a flux of time that only happens, and is present time. 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Rosanna Albertini, New Zealand with an Italian Accent, Oreste & Co. Publishers, Los Angeles 2010

*Michel Foucault, Les mots et les choses, Gallimard, Paris 1966

**Technicians of the Sacred, edited by Jerome Rothenberg, 3d edition revised and expanded, University of California Press, Oackland 2017. “From Mexico & elsewhere in Mesoamerica arise generations of pre-Conquest poets & books: a written tradition that reenforces & expands the spoken one. … Above all, Nezahualcoyotl (1402-1472), author of more than thirty surviving compositions & chief of Texcoco for over thirty years. While the tradition would still seem to be oral, the writings/paintings enter as a real presence: on stone monuments, fired vases, & painted books or ‘screenfolds.’ “(The Commentaries, p. 543)

Leo Steinberg, Encounters with Robert Rauschenberg, ©2000 Menil Foundation, Inc.

VULNERABLE PHANTOMS

THE BAADER – MEINHOF’s STORY revisited by two LOS ANGELES ARTISTS

Daniel Martinez and Erin Cosgrove

1

DANIEL JOSEPH MARTINEZ : I AM ULRICHE MEINHOF, 2017
Roberts and Tilton Gallery, Los Angeles

“… the ink of reality stains the very fingers that put that reality in parenthesis.” (Emmanuel Levinas)

by Rosanna Albertini
Hello Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof, as phantoms of my own past I prefer to keep you silent. Someone wrote that, if the future existed, maybe the past wouldn’t be so seductive. But the future is a figure of speech, “a specter of thought.” It was Nabokov.


DANIEL JOSEPH MARTINEZ,  Teltow Channel close to the Dreilinden roadhouse. The Teltow Channel, (German: Teltowkanal) is a canal that lies in both the states of Berlin (south) and Brandenburg, and at points forms the boundary between the two. Hidden away near the Teltowkanal is the old border control point and roadhouse Dreilinden. The area is part of a nature reserve. Nearby is a bridge across the canal which was divided by a piece of wall during the GDR period, making it impassable., 2017
Medium format black & white film printed digitally on Hahnemule Fine Art Baryta, Gloss 315gsm
60 x 72 in
Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton

After ’68, dreams of revolution in Europe were quickly replaced by symptoms of something else: a diffused, unpredictable violence for many years bringing bombs on trains, in banks, garbage cans, subway stations, department stores, kindergartens. Under the verbal umbrella of terrorism, the seventies and early eighties that I witnessed in Italy and in Paris were years of a familiar terror, following our daily steps like an invisible dog. In Paris attacks were shamelessly announced by the radio early in the morning. “Are you coming to work today?” my friend Dany Bloch on the phone from the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. “A museum and the subway will be under attack.” “Of course I will come.” Southern fatalism kept me active. It wasn’t courage, I would call it a passive state of consent. The night before, the post office near my apartment had blown up. An unfamiliar landscape in Paris, les terrasses, the cafes’ tables and chairs, were empty.

Terrorism in Germany was no surprise, at least it had names, and faces. One more idealistic failure. People of my countries were too busy checking for abandoned bags or packages on trains and buses to dig into the reasons that built the RAF (Red Army Faction), the tragic death of most of the members. Ulrike Meinhof was one of the founders of the terrorist group in 1970. It was almost fifty years ago. Yet Daniel Joseph Martinez, today, declares “I am Ulrike Meinhof or (someone once told me time is a flat circle).” The art piece is a series of large b & w photographs. He brings back the young woman’s images printed on banners he carries vertical, holding the pole, during a long and solitary parade through Berlin. Astonished, I couldn’t stop looking at Ulrike’s face, and to the artist’s silent standing, looking distant and obedient, like a boy in a procession. Pictures are dark. Light would disturb the intimate hospitality each place offers to these two strangers who keep their presence at the edge of forgetfulness, extremely quite. If they think, they seem to listen to walls, dead leaves, trees or bricks on the pavement of the street, as if silently answering a hidden invitation, locked in a missing answer without wonder. Being there is all there is.

DANIEL JOSEPH MARTINEZ, The Abspannwerk Humboldt (electrical power substation) in the Kopenhagener Straße is an extraordinary example, designed by the important industrial architect Hans H. Müller and built in 1927. The Wall was constructed directly next to the Abspannwerk Humboldt, so that it was in the East sector, and the Kopenhagener Straße was used as an entry point to the death strip by the border guards and their vehicles., 2017
Medium format black & white printed digitally on Hahnemule Fine Art Baryta, Gloss 315gsm
60 x 72 in   Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton

DANIEL JOSEPH MARTINEZ,  The inner yard of Märkisches Viertel. The Märkisches Viertel consists of a large housing estate of about 17,000 apartments with chains of high-rises up to 18 floors that were built from 1964 to 1974. To the east it shares its border with the Rosenthal and Wilhelmsruh localities of the Pankow borough, from which it was separated by the Berlin Wall until 1989. In 2003 Märkisches Viertel had about 36,000 inhabitants., 2017
Medium format black & white film printed digitally on Hahnemule Fine Art Baryta, Gloss 315gsm
60 x 72 in    Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton

DANIEL JOSEPH MARTINEZ   In the area between Königsweg Brücke and the pink amour memorial. A densely vegetated place, as you can see reveals a sparser background., 2017
Medium format black & white film printed digitally on Hahnemule Fine Art Baryta, Gloss 315gsm
60 x 72 in    Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton

Why, what, meaning, history, the artist’s intentions, my curiosity, stumped by the power of these images. Don’t expect any criticism, or aesthetic descriptions. Look at them. From Arthur Rimbau to Daniel Martinez resonates “I is another.” “I am I because my little dog knows me.” (Gertrude Stein) Time to decipher. No jokes?

The artist is in Berlin. Maybe Martinez is there too drinking coffee in the morning, but his “I” is already the artist, a human stripped of name or language, a naked being who becomes “a site, a whole world, a hospitable place.” Not because he has a deep, inner generosity; I would say his presence unfolds a message that is simple and astonishing: a silent listening. THERE the artist is: having a sort of primordial intuition of a story unraveled by philosophers for at least two centuries. Not only discovering that “inner life” is only a beautiful fantasy, also disclosing the flower of real life only blooming in the world. Maybe the artist in Berlin -my fantasy- opens up enough to see himself in Ulrike Meinhof’s image, and her image in himself as an artist. He is vulnerable. He offers himself exposing his own sensitivity. Suffering for Ulrike’s suffering, showing himself as human. I forget history and thank him. But, even trying to put the facts in parenthesis, the tip of my fingers remains stained by the ink of reality. Emmanuel Levinas has been my accomplice. Without his pages I wouldn’t never have seen all the things that Daniel Martinez doesn’t not say.

 

2

ERIN COSGROVE : HISTORICAL, HYSTERICAL, HISTORECTOMIST

She wrote “The Baader -Meinhof Affair”  2002

 

…it is the past not the present which changes. We go on for a long time, taking the present as a constant, much as the self. At some point we raise our heads and are surprised at what lies behind us… DAVID ANTIN, 1972

 

Erin Cosgrove,  A Heart Lies Beneath, 2004

By Rosanna Albertini

For a long time Erin Cosgrove, no less than Jim Shaw to be earnest, has been my antidote against frustrations and illusions nested in my previous academic life, the one I had in Europe before I became a video art promoter and affectionada. Although still guided by ghosts of dead philosophers, I was incurably starving for apparently nonsensical, surprising moving images. At the time, I was far from realizing that images and words had already started a new journey in the universe of artifacts. And right now, moving lightly over my first immersion into contemporary arts I try not “to sink into history” and “stay at the exact level of the moment. Transparent things, through which the past shines!” Nabokov again.

Words gave up their primary, indisputable voice. The term revolution has a strange taste on the tongue like licorice mixed with absinthe; heroes and visual symbols turned into ruins underneath the crumbled wall in Berlin. But disappointment, disapproval, disagreement, yes, colorless and washed out through the increasing insanity of our world, still have meanings, a variety of meanings in each place, in each language. I let the change take me in, having learned to enjoy uncertainty and displacement. Erin’s art, after all, with her provocative and satirical storytelling, isn’t more scandalous than many stories written by my old friends Fontenelle, Montesquieu, or Jean Jacques. They are also “conjectural” in the same way.

Erin Cosgrove grabbed a piece of yesterday and reshaped it today: by romancing, the Baader-Meinhof tragedy was transplanted from Germany into an American college collective game, as if growing the same tree in a different place: The Baader-Meinhof Affair, Printed Matter 2002. The new place alters leaves and colors. In 2004 the written story was transplanted one more time, into seven minutes of a live action and animated video: A Heart Lies Beneath. I would lie if I hide from you that I was shocked by the energy and the intelligence of these two art pieces. Damn serious as they are in their purpose and execution, they also threw in the air my memories -already nebulous- I was afraid they would splash on the floor like a defective aircraft. But I was wrong: the past has changed. So much of it was romance. It’s pinned on my sweater.

Erin Cosgrove is a scribe of contemporary disagreement about almost everything: religions, wars, global warming, social games, evolution, borders, political regimes, and family life. Wars and new agents of terror and hurricanes and droughts and epidemics and bankruptcies are heaped on our road. Cosgrove doesn’t stop harvesting meanings. From cold winters in Saint Paul, Minnesota, she learned flatness and silence. Late in the night a wolf waited for her outside of the art school’s door. Half frozen after standing for hours in front of the federal Building protesting the first Gulf War, she finally fainted into a big basket of candies at a nearby shopping center. She learned from Samuel Beckett that silence could be told if the voice springs from inside and stops two steps from the feet.

She is a calligraphy queen free from chronology, conventional cages, and high and low. In words and images her calligraphic characters wear the faces of Darwin, Diogenes, Jesus, Leon Trotsky, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Andreas Baader, and everyone else, including faces that are real, imagined, forgotten, or effaced by history. No shadows on the ground. People remember only symbols and play with them to the exhaustion of meaning. In Cosgrove’s mind, and in her art, stories melt into romance, drawings, tapestry, and animated films.

Only one condition for human survival: that we step outside of belief systems. The ones who believe do not see what’s around them, if they see at all. Instead Cosgrove believes in looking and earnestly says what she sees: the immense variety of artifacts whose logo could be “human made.” So much the better, I won’t call it “culture.” The more impersonal, the more popular and down to earth, the better signs and images function: they are an infinite number of alphabetic letters morphing themselves. But, as with any language, there is no exit: that’s why, maybe, Erin displays a meticulous and detailed encyclopedic style leading to didactic explanation. It doesn’t mean that the story is reasonable or reliable. It is what it is, not something to remember or to forget. It’s romance. A heart lies beneath.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Emmanuel Levinas, Humanisme de l’autre homme, 1972, Fata Morgana, Montpellier, France

Vladimir Nabokov, Transparent Things, McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York, 1972

Gertrude Stein, The Geographical History of America, Random House, Inc., 1936

Erin Cosgrove, The Baader-Meinhof Affair, ©Erin Cogrove and Printed Matter, Inc., New York, 2002

A Hundred Flowers Have Bloomed, A Reader’s Guide to Erin Cosgrove’s The Baader-Meinhof Affair, 2004 Published by Carl Berg Gallery, Los Angeles

Catalogue of C.O.L.A. 2008  Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery Barnsdall Park

 

 

SCRATCHING SOUND OF DESPAIR

SCRATCHING SOUND OF DESPAIR

 

excerpt

  Ivan Mrsic : N G A  H E I H E I  O R C H E S T R A

At Te Tuhi Center for the Arts – Auckland New Zealand, on Saturday, August 13, 2016

and human chickens click their feet in the dust, apparently with no clue

(Nga Heihei is a Maori word for a cacophony of sounds or the commotion of kicking up dust. Chickens are called Nga Heihei because of the noise they make stirring up the dust. And the word Nga is a suffix used to change a verb into a noun, especially to denote a tribe of people. As a noun, moreover, it means ‘breath.’)

Ivan Mrsic during the concert

by Rosanna Albertini

“The real is a closely woven fabric. It does not await our judgement before incorporating the most surprising phenomena, or before rejecting the most plausible figments of our imagination. … Truth does not ‘inhabit’ only the ‘inner man,’ or more accurately, there is no inner man, man is in the world, and only in the world does he know himself.”
Maurice Merleau-Ponty*

NGA HEIHEI is a music from the inner core of an artist, and a splinter of War and Peace in our time, that hits the brain like a storm. Facts and images of facts around us shriek in our consciousness, piercing our dreams. One child on the beach, dead like a shell out of water, we only see the nape of his neck, grateful his face isn’t visible, sucked into the sand. Another boy on the ground was abandoned, a lifeless doll embracing flatness, crucified without a cross. They stayed in me like symbols of sacrifice for a long time, those two boys, and yet, as much as I would like to avert the very idea, I know the massacre will not stop. I’m waiting for the next. Hordes of refugees escape wars and poverty, they are treated like new barbarians. None of us owns an ideal truth. We have music instead, if nothing else, as an act of devotion.

And through Ivan’s sounds, history takes the form of a huge storm including Napoleon’s cavalry, canons and machine guns from World Wars I and II, and recents battlefields like big mouths vomiting voices and falling mountains, tsunamis, angry gods of the oceans, and an endless lack of meaning, what is it for?  Instruments, especially the digital alteration of natural sounds produced, at times, with a simple kitchen metal bowl, translate languages and stories into one long impersonal lamentation, the mediterranean expression of grief.

In such a bewildering human landscape, half gardened half destroyed, the artist, Ivan Mrsic, and the four performers next to him** become an island of resistance. Torn between his native Croatia and the new homeland he found in New Zealand, Ivan’s feelings float in both places. Transpierced like everyone else by things perceived, he/it/she shows the strength of resilience, and spreads around not intelligence -almost impossible- nothing more than the fastest beats of a heart.

 

The imaginary war in his head could not be expressed through words, or images, it’s a long river of steps on the ground, screams, trees shaken by winds, bombs, fountains of blood, and singing birds, despite the horror. Because our sense of dismay isn’t disjoined from an equal awareness of joyful attachment to this absurd world. Arts of our time merge into the living. No more illusions about the brain, our friend enemy personal engine, emotions come first. Physicality, sounds sometimes. We are not right, not wrong, not saints, not monsters.

Non-involvement, so far, has replenished the holes of the old wars.
As Hone Tuwhare*** wrote in his Haikuku

To reach the dizzy heights
of non-involvement
one must be unattached

In order to reach the peak
of non-attachment (ah yes)
one must be dissolved.

Ivan Mrsic dissolved himself, for a limited time, in a piece of music.

 

All the stills from a piece of video documentation commissioned by Te Tuhi, Auckland.  

https-/vimeo.com/181915486.webloc

BIBLIOGRAPHY

* MAURICE MERLEAU PONTI, Phenomenology of Perception, translated from French by Colin Smith, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd, 1962

**The performance of Nga Heihei Orchestra premiered on Saturday, August 13 2016, at the opening of the Te Tuhi exhibition Share/Cheat/Unite, Auckland, 5.30 pm. With Ivan Mrsic, the performers were: Hermione Johnson, Pat Kraus, Jonny Marks, and Andrew McMillan. John Kim as a sound engineer and a performer.

***HONE TUWHARE, Deep River TalkCollected Poems, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1994, p.77

This text was published in SHARE/CHEAT/UNITE VOL. 3, online catalogue edited by Anna Hodge and Rebecca Lal. Curated by Bruce E. Phillips. Te Tuhi, March 2018, Auckland, New Zealand.

 

EWERDT HILGEMANN : BEAUTIFUL RUINS

 

LA CARESSE DE L’ARTISTE

by Rosanna Albertini

Ewerdt Hilgemann: “I’m full of stories, they sit everywhere in my whole body.”

(From a conversation with Klaus Altevogt for metalligent, May 2017)

He had a solo exhibition at Royale Projects, Los Angeles CA, in 2017

It would be exciting to know how exactly each cell, each molecule, each organ reacts to stories and physical realities every time they grab our attention. They become a part of us whether we invite them or not. Here we have an artist born in Germany in 1938 who grew up among bombs and marching boots in the Ruhr area, and had the fortune of having grandparents in countryside, where for a while he enjoyed nature and the experiments on different materials in a cement factory where his grandfather was director of a laboratory. Strange objects fell from the sky. They ruined the hands of his best friend. Half of the house was destroyed. Ewerdt experienced a hostility conveyed by objects, but originated by humans. It takes a long time to find a personal answer to these kinds of absurdities.

I don’t know how he made up his mind. It’s a fact that, in 1982, Hilgemann made what Camus would declare the perfect absurd piece: The Rolling Cube. From Camus’ standpoint, it’s a compliment. Ten tons of Carrara white marble, a cube whose faces were polished by the artist for weeks, soft like a skin he caresses, gently, at the end of the work, is carried on a truck to the top of the mountain. And thrown down the ravine, to become again a broken splinter of the mountain. After the fall though, it is different from the other fragments of rocks throw down by the quarry workers: it had been sculpted. The whole action was filmed.

The caress: “The caress is the waiting for a pure time to come, time without a content. She is made with growing hunger, and more and more enticing promises, something that brings new perspectives on the things we cannot grasp.” (Emmanuel Levinas, Le temps et l’autre)

I was struck looking at the solitude of the artist and the rock during the physical transformation of the piece of marble. “I had to do it,” says the artist, and not for fame or money. He paid for the cube. In exchange, I would say, he became an anonymous field of existence. The cube had to be perfect, and meaningless. There is past in the men, as well as in the object’s material nature, but the object will not have the time to remember, it will be dead in a few minutes, leaving to the artist a beautiful ruin. Ugliness and pain of an inhuman history, its thickness, the smell of war, along with impenetrable political decisions, still heavy like a storm of memories, were persuaded for a very short time to get in touch with beauty. Like Marie Antoinette climbing the scaffold. It won’t last.

Maybe the present starts there for the artist, his own journey free from the weight of the past. Returning to himself, the artist is chained to Ewerdt as never before. He is finally in the present. “C’est un présent d’être et non de rêve.” It’s a living present, not of a dream. “The present has shredded the texture of the infinite existing; history is ignored; the present starts from right now.” (Emmanuel Levinas, Le temps et l’autre)

In the art that came after killing the cube, a sense of damage remains that Michelangelo, Bernini, even Camille Claudel, couldn’t conceive. After so many proofs of destructive power among humans, how could artworks remain untouched? Hilgemann sculptures succeed in being beautiful despite the distance and the separation the artist has organized between his hands and the shape that appears. He prepares a regular volume, connects a pump to the inside of the piece, and waits for the implosion of the form, while little by little the extraction, almost an abduction of the air, produces shrinking, moaning, strong noise at times, for the art body has to be born by himself.

In Europe the beginnings of conceptual experiences in the arts were quite different from American conceptualism. The finitude of the object must pay a price to a very diffused state of mind still disturbed by real ruins and graveyards facing the permanent, immutable natural splendor. There was need “to make violence to the present, forcing art (for instance) to reach levels that are beyond the concept of art. Vincenzo Agnetti. “ Intuition is conscious reality bumped in the dark.” 1970

And Hilgemann’s sculptures of today, with their unsteady balance, deformed as if they had been pinched by invisible inner demons, show their imperfect body with pride, they are so human one can only sympathize with them. Does your heap hurt? Are you strangely bent? Look at me, they say, my odd angles will never change. And I did it by myself. Like you, isn’t it? Yet, they also express care, and a secret determination of the artist to give at least a direction to their taking form. ‘Conceptually,’ I don’t know if it is the proper word, their luminous charm emanates from the artist’s caress, as “waiting for a pure time to come, time without a content.”

An already imploded sculpture at Royale Projects:

And the process of implosion of a new piece at the gallery, during the opening:  (details)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photos: Peter Kirby

“Only art can go someway toward making accessible, towards waking into some measure of communicability, the sheer inhuman otherness of the matter – the retractions out of reach of rock and wood, of metal and fiber. … Without the arts, form would remain unmet and strangeness without speech in the silence of the stone.”  George Steiner

Bibliography

George Steiner, Real Presences, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1989;  Albert Camus, Le mythe de Sisyphe, Gallimard, Paris 1942; Concettuale in Italia 1965-1972, Galleria Milano, 1987; Ewerdt Hilgemann, Art Affairs, Amsterdam, 2015; Emmanuel Levinas, Le temps et l’autre, PUF, Paris 1983.

Emmanuel Levinas, 1906-1995. French philosopher born in Lithuania to Jewish parents. At home they spoke Yiddish as well as Russian. In 1928-29 he studied under Edmond Husserl and Martin Heidegger. He was the first to introduce their ideas into France. Levinas was a prisoner of war in a German camp, while his wife and daughter hid in a French convent. One of his early books, Le temps et l’autre, taught me nuances and defaults of our understanding, and the lack of reality of idealistic abstractions: time, being, existence merge into the fullness of life, and only the face-to-face with other humans allows them to exist. Levinas took his notes for this book when he was a prisoner. RA