Tag Archives: School of Arts

Artist’s Impression: Mangled Metal

This post was contributed by John Timberlake, the Peltz Gallery’s artist-in-residence – a position which, in its inaugural year, has been carried out in collaboration with Bow Arts.

John and Dr Gabriel Koureas, senior lecturer in the Department of History of Art at Birkbeck, have joined forces to devise an exhibition now on at the Peltz (Artist’s Impression: Mangled Metal), which reflects on the use of mangled metal as an exhibitionary strategy by museums of war in representations of Britain’s ‘small wars’ from 1945 to the present day, and the War on Terror.

 Here, John outlines the genesis of the exhibition.

Artist's Impression: Mangled Metal (cardboard,glue and acrylic paint, 30 x 2.5 x 2.7 cm.)

Artist’s Impression: Mangled Metal (cardboard,glue and acrylic paint, 30 x 2.5 x 2.7 cm.)

‘Artist’s Impression: Mangled Metal’ takes its title from respective concerns of both Gabriel Koureas’ academic research on the representation of the ‘terrorist’ in museological debates (see Gabriel’s essay ‘Competing Masculinities in the Museum Space: Terrorists, Machines and Mangled Metal’) and my own long standing interest in ‘artist’s impressions’, collages, fabrication, and the representation of history in art.

At the time we started our conversation in April of this year, the anniversary of the 7/7 bombings was not something Gabriel or I had particularly thought of. However, our thoughts had been concerned with thinking about visual representation of the traces of violent conflict in museum contexts, and we were interested in having a conversation about that. Since 1945, Britain has been involved in a series of so-called ‘small wars’ that have at times seemed invisible.

In particular, the project reflects interests Gabriel and I realized we shared – around uses and readings of the photographic archive and mediation of trauma and cultural memory, in terms of both the efficacies and inadequacies of such mediations.

Fabricator of devotional ‘relics’

AI MM fragment (cardboard,glue and paint, 45 x 47 x 23 cm)

AI MM fragment (cardboard,glue and paint, 45 x 47 x 23 cm)

We set about looking at the evidential documentation in the photographic archives in the Imperial War Museum, and I started making approximations of what I saw. In this context, my role as artist carries echoes of a fabricator of devotional ‘relics’ – perhaps analogous to that of the maker of religious icons or devotional objects, who constructs fake relics in order to help others believe.

Terrorism, like all militarisms, ultimately seems to believe in the possibility of violent gesture as historical tool agency or motive force. However, terrorism seems to particularly relish its role in the staging of horror, and might be thought of as the point at which (para)military violence most closely approaches the point of a sort of obscene theatre.

There is a strange convergence to be made here – perhaps distasteful, perhaps a category error, but perhaps also necessary, as ‘war art’ itself might be: ‘Theatricality’ was held by Modernists to be the point at which art became less than it could be a point of degeneration – hence the criticisms of emergent Minimalism in the 1960s and 1970s by the defenders and supporters of Clement Greenberg, then and since. For that reason if no other, an installation which referenced the Minimalist scatter piece, in which no single element dominated, and no particular resolved form of craft or artistic judgment was elevated above others, seemed to me an appropriate form of installation as the work developed.

Paul Nash,The Battle of Germany

Bomb fragment drawing

Bomb fragment drawing

Beyond the role of fabricator I have described above, my role as an artist in a project like this might also be seen as that of an interpreter of dubious reliability: making three dimensional objects from photographs which show them only from one angle inevitably leads to misjudgments about scale, size, and perspective – all of which are ripe in their potential as metaphors for reading history generally.

This work represents an engagement with sculpture of course, but like my We Are History installation at Beaconsfield in Vauxhall last year, it is also a work of painting – a ‘landscape’ of ‘abstracted forms’ which carries with it echoes of particular pre-occupations of English Modernism. So in that sense, I also found other preoccupations re-surfacing in the work as I made it. Prior to beginning the conversations with Gabriel I had been thinking a lot about Paul Nash’s great painting The Battle of Germany (1944) which is currently hanging adjacent to my own large landscape, Another Country XV in the Imperial War Museum in Kennington in the exhibition Visions of War From Above and Below.

When it first emerged, Nash’s painting reportedly left patrons and supporters bewildered. Looking at the painting now with the hindsight of seventy-one years, it proves the doubters wrong and seems absolutely right for its time – overdeterminedly so, in fact, so that it remains an uneasy painting. I always feel that having experienced war first hand a generation earlier, Nash must have been aware that working from photographs for this later work placed him in a position of ‘flying blind’.

artists-impression-mangled-metal-2Seemingly teetering on the brink of post war Pax Americana abstraction, the canvas presents the final stages of the Allied bombing onslaught on Germany as only half discernable in conventional landscape terms, as an airborne vista. Nash’s work creates a momentary strained cohesion of figurative elements, brushwork motifs, elisions and shifts that seem to emerge and retreat amongst abstract gesture: for example, there is a distant moon-lit horizon of the kind one might imagine seeing from an aircraft at altititude, extending midway from the left edge of the picture, but by the middle of the canvas its authority as a point of register for the viewer is supplanted by other horizontals, suggesting different planes of focus, or perhaps the pitching diving and banking of attacking and defending aircraft in a dogfight over a target zone, but also reflecting personal painterly pre-occupations of the artist evidenced in earlier, pre-war work.

The effect is one of a field of elements in flux. Hito Steyerl has written of how the blurred tilting horizons reflections and displacements of J.M.W.Turner’s Slave Ship Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying (1840) reflect the moment when the very idea of a ‘calculable and predictable future shows a murderous side through an insurance that prevents economic loss by inspiring cold blooded murder’.

At this point, Steyerl writes, ‘Space dissolves into mayhem on the unstable and treacherous surface of an unpredictable sea.’ (The Wretched of the Screen, pp21-22) Something similar might be ascribed to The Battle of Germany, painted at that point where the intensity and immensity of total war piles statistics upon ever more statistics, and extant terms of reference in terms of both moral choices are challenged or overthrown.

Nash’s collaging of different painterly passages, figures and abstractions seems to tentatively suggest uneasy equivalences, of which he himself does not seem to be sure: a rising cloud of unearthly spheres (a figure found in works of the interwar years such as Voyages of the Moon, 1934-37).

An ‘artist’s impression’

AIMM-installationIn some way or other, then, all these concerns found their way into the piece now on display in the Peltz Gallery: one might be tempted to be deliberately obtuse and claim it to be exactly that ‘landscape of abstracted forms’ that has been the pre-occupation of a certain kind of Home Counties English Modernism for the past century.

But I also hope that, given its subject matter, lowly materiality (it is just cardboard, paint and glue after all) it evidences an inversion of that, and embraces a more tentative and less self confidently resolved mode of making art, one attuned to flux and provisionality: an ‘artist’s impression’ that admits its fallibilities and misreadings.

Artist’s Impression: Mangled Metal, runs at the Peltz Gallery, 43 Gordon Square, from Saturday, July 4 to Friday, August 14. Opening times are Mondays to Fridays, 10am-8pm, and Saturdays, 10am-5pm

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On Going On: Sustaining Life in Theatre

This post was contributed by Maria Patsou, PhD student, Birkbeck Department of English and Humanities who attended the One-day symposium, Birkbeck Centre for Contemporary Theatre, 5 June 2015

Rosemary Lee discusses the intersections of work and life in her dance practice

Rosemary Lee discusses the intersections of work and life in her dance practice

This one-day symposium came at the end of a year’s exploration of desire in theatre at the Birkbeck Centre of Contemporary Performance. The intention of the symposium was to extend desire to ideas of support, wellbeing, welfare and overall sustainability of self and others from multiple angles.

The day was devised in the following sections:

It concluded with a Key Note Dialogue between Professor Alan Read and David Slater, on their community theatre work during the 80s at Rotherhithe.

Representing minority voices

Lobel’s and O’Brien’s autobiographical practice on physical illness highlighted the artist’s survival through presenting difficult material, utilising the audience’s negative and positive responses and voicing the unspoken.

D’Souza covered questions of empowerment and disempowerment, by narrating his relationship with theatre from an early age and focused on his experience of enabling others as a member of the RADA audition panel. In a similar autobiographical manner, Beau’s talk focused on the importance of performance for his survival, his relationship to enabling others, and the value of narrative in representing minority voices, a recurring theme of the day.

Questions arose on the separation between artist and human, performer and audience, and the ways we connect to each other. The value of obstacles and doing work in the community were the focal point of Lee’s and Shah’s presentation.

Lee discussed being sustained from the knowledge of creating something valuable for the society, and Shah explored thriving through disappointment, and utilising negative feelings on improving and going on.

Theatre in the community

During the second part of the day, Green examined the role of the producer in the theatre and the intricacies of surviving and controlling oneself. Wookey presented her work as an artist and entrepreneur and discussed finding strength to go on from within community, which was a common theme in Paul’s presentation as well, while Fleming presented the union’s efforts in giving people a voice and thus sustaining artists.

David Slater (left) and Alan Read (right) discuss their work in Rotherhithe Theatre Workshop

David Slater (left) and Alan Read (right) discuss their work in Rotherhithe Theatre Workshop

The Key Note Dialogue delivered by Alan Read and David Slater, complemented recurring themes about the place of theatre in the community and the importance of the community’s critique and concentrated on theatre as a mirror of societal change.

Perseverance and willingness to share were some of the day’s conclusions, as well as perceiving artist and human as one, and recognising performance as inextricably linked to its surroundings, in a community where each individual plays an instrumental part on sustaining and enabling themselves and others.

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Arts Week 2015: Scribblers

This post was contributed by Steve Waters, playwright for stage, radio and screen, and also senior lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia.

A script-in-hand performance of his new radio play, Scribblers, will be performed during Birkbeck Arts Week 2015 at 43 Gordon Square on Monday, May 18 at 7.30pm. The play charts the stormy relationship between two real life characters: young playwright Henry Fielding and the First Minister Robert Walpole.

Ahead of the sneak-preview performance on May 18, Steve offers some insights into the creative spark behind his latest theatrical work.

ScribblersScribblers’ developed out of a mystery.  I was looking into the notorious Theatre Licensing Act of 1737 with which in effect Robert Walpole used to extinguish an increasingly virulent culture of theatrical satire and noticed in Hansard, published a century later, there was mention of a particular play which provoked Walpole to use the power of the law against playwrights.

This play, ‘The Vision of the Golden Rump’, was apparently brought to Walpole by theatre manager Henry Giffard; yet despite Horace Walpole’s assertion that he saw it amongst his father’s papers, no trace of it has ever been found, nor has it authorship been established.

Yet the target of the law was clear – Henry Fielding, who we now know as a great novelist, but who then was famous for his amazingly bold and inventive satirical plays which were staged outside of the safe circuit of the licensed stage, in the semi-legal world of theatres such as the Little Theatre in the Haymarket.

But on closer inspection Fielding’s reputation as arch critic of Walpole’s tired Whig government was also more complicated. Wasn’t this the playwright who’d written a sycophantic preface to his innovative drama ‘The Modern Husband’, lavishing praise on Walpole who elsewhere he sent up as a dodgy butler (in ‘The Grub Street Opera’) or as the source of all political corruption in ‘The Historical Register of 1736’?

In pondering these mysteries, and looking closer at the fascinating interplay between stage and state in the 1730s, the play emerged as a tale of patronage and revenge. It begins with Fielding thrown on the mercy of Walpole as the Great Man fears he is about to lose his position under the new king; and we see Fielding attempt to bend his wild talents to please power – but in his failure, we see the birth of a radical stage where the truth is voiced whatever the consequences.

Yet whilst my heart is with Fielding I was also compelled by the figure of Walpole, Britain’s first ‘Prime Minister’, who lived and died a political animal and presided over the gradual throttling of the bold ideas of 1688. Walpole shaped a world of politics which resembles our own in its fast-track between money and influence, its paranoia and defensiveness.

So out of these mysteries emerged SCRIBBLERS, a vivid and all too familiar world of writers, theatres and politicians….it’s a comedy that gets darker as it proceeds; and a fable about art and power that I hope illuminates our times as well as revealing this fascinating moment in our past.

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Arts Week 2015: Precariousness in Latin American Cinema

Radical approaches to precariousness and violence in Latin American Cinema will be showcased in a stunning quartet of contemporary films from Brazil and Colombia which will be screened at Birkbeck, University of London.

A still from Mambo Cool, directed by Cao GuimarãesRealisms of Precariousness, a three-day series of free-to-attend screenings which push the boundaries between fiction and documentary, will run from Monday 18 to Wednesday 20 May at the School of Arts (43-47 Gordon Square) in the heart of Bloomsbury.

The screenings form part of Birkbeck Arts Week – the College’s annual arts and culture showcase. This year’s programme boasts more than 40 lectures, performances, workshops and discussions.

Realisms of Precariousness will feature the following cinematic works:

  • Exilados do Vulcão by Paula Gaitan (Brazil). A reflection on veiled time and emotions, on memory finding its path. (Monday 18 May, 6pm-9pm, Birkbeck Cinema)
  • Otto by Cao Guimaraes (Brazil). A film about about alterity, the intimate, the portrait, the image as devotion. (Tuesday, 19 May, 2pm-5pm, Keynes Library)
  • Colombian double feature (Wednesday, May 20, 6pm-9pm, Room B04, 43 Gordon Square):
  • Señoritas by Lina Rodriguez (Colombia). The picture goes up in flames when the girl performing at Señoritas walks on the streets. A certain fragility of the everyday is broken.
  • Mambo Cool by Chris Gude (Colombia). We are in a land of images and ‘exile´ where swing and sabor are well known. Something drowns at the same time that flashes like lightning – and emerges as a source of life.

The Realisms of Precariousness series – which comes as a result of collaboration between Hambre and Colombian Film Panorama with the support of the Centre for Iberian and Latin American Visual Studies (CILAVS) at Birkbeck – will also feature Q&A opportunities via Skype with the film makers, and an opportunity for attendees to discuss the status of current Latin American filmmaking.

Sebastian Wiedemann, Florencia Incarbone and Geraldine S. Kobilanski from Hambre, who have curated the screening series said Realisms of Precariousness aims to show a hidden reality, without excluding the absurd seriousness of violence or the essential poetics of precariousness.

Paula Bohórquez from Colombian Film Panorama said: “The series deals with the question of identity and gathers alternative views of some Latin American realities. Each work, in its own way, breaks the canon expected from films of certain geographies, by separating its stories from stereotypes and socio-political contexts.”

Realisms of Precariousness is part of Birkbeck Arts Week, which runs in and around Bloomsbury from Monday 18 to Saturday 23 May. To book a free place at the screenings, and to view the full programme of Arts events, visit www.bbk.ac.uk/artsweek.

Photo caption:

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Hambre is an observatory and laboratory dedicated to research, discussions and the production of critical and sensitive thought by contagion and through connections with experimental cinema(s).

Colombian Film Panorama showcases Colombian documentaries and fictional films and creates relevant film programmes for London audiences