“Vaso libellula” by Venini, accompanied by Georges  Braque’s phrase: “The vase gives shape to emptiness and music to silence”

 To me this fragile glass vessel is tough as old boots. Look at the way the hands are placed on the hips, one slightly higher than the other, this is not posed or level anger, this is seriously out of kilter fury. What has annoyed this vase so much? Is it the comparison to a dragonfly? My initial glance at the vase makes me think that it is nothing like a dragonfly, but I am forced to change my mind. Dragonflies rather buck the evolutionary trend, they are survivors, they fly in ways that even the US Air Force cannot comprehend, yet they appear to be utterly fragile. They stop and start and attempt to hypnotise the observer. They choose to hang sideways from anything they fancy, a table, a hat, a person. What we have here is a delicate little dragonfly vase filled with serious quantities of attitude. As to the information that arrives with this vase, it is, perhaps, a little too much information. The quotation from Braque makes me realise that this is a vase half full situation – it may give shape to emptiness, but it is equally an emptiness waiting to be filled. If it is giving music to silence, it should be ashamed of itself. I like my silence nice and, well, silent. I don’t want it filled, otherwise it is not silence. His words, and mine, are a little skewed, like the vase itself so I may have to change my mind again.

Maxine Flaneuse de Cornouaille

 

Il  vaso dà forma al vuoto

Alcuni pensano   ancora ai vasi come semplici contenitori, recipienti destinati a contenere sostanze solide, liquide o gassose, che danno forma a queste sostanze. In realtà, un vaso non è solo un contenitore. Fin dalle più antiche civiltà, i vasi non sono stati limitati alla loro funzione primaria ma piuttosto sono stati alcuni tra gli oggetti più usati nella perenne ricerca di sperimentazione formale ed espressiva. I vasi sono un archetipo, un elemento primario che sta alla base della nostra cultura oggettuale. I vasi possono essere fatti nei materiali più diversi: terracotta, porcellana, ceramica, metallo, legno, vetro e plastica. Oltre alla sua vasta gamma storica e sociale, la ricchezza semantica di questo oggetto appare nei molti nomi usati per nominarlo e per specificarne forma e funzione: anfora, orcio, giara, situla, brocca, caraffa, urna e così via. Nel corso del Novecento, il vaso è stato uno degli oggetti che più spesso si sono ritrovati sulla linea di confine che separa e allo stesso tempo unisce design ed artigianato. Sebbene  il pezzo artigianale sia unico e quello di design implichi una produzione di massa, entrambi sono attenti alla forma ed alla funzione,  al lato estetico ed alla sperimentazione. I vasi sono uno di quegli oggetti che più facilmente sono passati dalla  produzione artigianale a quella industriale e che, anche quando sono prodotti in serie, conservano tracce ed indizi della loro origine artigianale. Il vaso “Libellula” di Vittorio Zecchin per Venini è un bellissimo esempio di notevole artigianato e di magnifico design: sembra che possa davvero prendere il volo.

The vase gives shape to emptiness

Some people still view vases as simple containers: a recipient meant to hold solids, liquids or gases, and which gives shape to these substances. In reality, a vase is not just a container. Since the earliest human cultures, vases have not been limited to their primary function but rather have been one of the objects most used in the perpetual search for formal and expressive experimentation. Vases are thus an archetype, an early element that forms part of the foundation of our object culture. Vases can be made from a wide range of materials: terracotta, porcelain, ceramic, metal, wood, glass and plastic. In addition to its wide historical and social range, this object’s semantic breadth is apparent in the many terms used to name it and relate its form and function: amphora, pot, jar, situla, jug, pitcher, urn and so forth. Throughout the twentieth century, vases were one of the items most often found at the border that separates and connects design and craftsmanship. Although handicraft is unique and design implies mass production, both are attentive to form and function, aesthetics and experimentation. Vases are one of the objects that transitioned most easily from artisanal to industrial production and even when mass-produced, they managed to conserve traces and clues of their handcrafted origins. The vase “Dragonfly” by Vittorio Zecchin for Venini is a beautiful example of remarkable handicraft and exquisite design: it seems like it could take flight.

Liviana Martin

 

Not Venini, Now Rioda

In 1921 Paolo Venini, Milanese lawyer, and Giacomo Cappellin, Venetian antique dealer, founded Cappellin Venini & C.  They purchased the recently closed Murano glass factory of Andrea Rioda, hired the former firm’s glassblowers, and retained Rioda himself as technical director, with the painter Vittorio Zecchin as artistic director.  Now Rioda’s efforts and talent, his heritage and reputation would go on to enrich two clever businessmen. Rioda died soon after selling his firm and engaging as technical director, most  likely of heartbreak at losing his life’s work and ending up as a hired hand at what has been his own company. Andrea Rioda had owned his firm and was himself an artist designing and making glass; a number  of extant glassworks bear his name.  After his death, many of the glassblowers left the Venini firm and founded their own glassmaking company titled “Successors of Andrea Rioda”. The irony consists of a Wikipedia for Paolo Venini, and both Murano and Venini glass, but Andrea Rioda has no Wiki entry of his own, he only appears on Venini’s page, as if by buying his company Venini ate Rioda and digested him.  Rioda’s possible death by disappointment is the mythical tale of the unappreciated neglected artist and yet we today can give him a well-deserved respect when we see that Murano glass is filed under Venini.  Just as Duchamp’s urinal, called The Fountain, was not by him but by artist Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, so Murano and Venini works should be recognized as Andrea Rioda glass.

Miklos Legrady

 

Having lived for most of my life in Italy, I am quite familiar with the glass works of Murano in Venice. I’ve seen many very costly and heavy, gaudy chandeliers made of Venetian glass that are overwhelmed with far too many flowers. However, this vase is pleasingly different and not ornate as some pieces can be; it is soft like swans in motion or like a very delicate dance. Finally, something beautiful. Another accepted translation of Braque’s phrase (Le vase donne une forme au vide, et la musique au silence), “The vase gives emptiness a form, as music does silence”, changes the meaning slightly, leading me to imagine the empty, rather undefinable space which a vase encloses in the same way that music covers or envelops silence. Libellula was designed around 1925 when Mussolini rose to power and Fascism entered everyday life, making order out of chaos as democracy disappeared. It is representative of change, though life for those who could afford such luxuries was still an enchantment, for those who were politically correct. Looking back at life then, it is in sharp contrast to life in Italy today and in many parts of the world where everyone is terribly busy and always running, no longer able to enjoy something as simple as this vase, which could give shape to our empty lives, and empty they are when they are devoid of beauty. I am humbled by something so fine and given a glimpse of a time long gone.

Pendery Weekes

 

At first glance this vase reminded me of my mother, standing with hands on hips, displeased and about to say so. I tried to rise above this repressive image and regard it in a more artistic light.  Its smoky countenance, slight asymmetry and fragile shape were credit to a skill I could only guess at. If this vase were a river it would be The Ganges, flowing slowly, with timeless grace, all things to many people, all embracing, all forgiving. If it were a song it would be a ballad, Suzanne, perhaps, sung by Leonard Cohen in his honeyed drawl, the cadence measured, the nuances meaningful. Were it a hat it would be a snood, the head band clinging softly to the skull whilst behind it, the body of the hat falls in gentle, asymmetrical folds to the nape of the neck. Were it a bird it would be the albatross, gliding across the ocean, skimming the waves, riding the currents of air effortlessly. Window glass in past times would sag or weep with age, distorting the images beyond.  I wondered briefly if, should this vase survive for eons, would it too begin to weep, perhaps then the arms would be more reminiscent of my mother’s enfolding loving arms. This made me smile.

Lynda Green

 

I would have passed you by if your arm hadn’t reached out to pull me back. Yet when I looked again, that errant limb was back in place on your hip as an almost perfect replica of its twin. Have you escaped from Beauty and the Beast perchance? Do you cavort with Lumiere and Cogsworth, and is the elixir of eternal love destined to pour from the golden libation cup entombed within your elegance? Your maker, Vittorio Zecchin, fashioned you in the 1920’s at the renowned Venini glass studios on the island of Murano near Venice and named you Libellula, the dragonfly vase. You are the transparent hue of mild chamomile tea and your height is restrained to that of an upended modern paperback book. It is your wings that make your statement to the world. They are accentuated curves which are tethered at your glass base. If released, they would propel you forward with sensual charm. These voluptuous curves nudge you towards an exquisite work of art and rescue you from a purely practical fate. You are a reflection of myself on those occasions when I stand nonchalant, desperately waiting to be filled with inspiration. I lean against an object with my hands on my hips and look into the distance. Great surges of desperation wash over my concealed soul whilst I attempt to trick the universe into thinking that I don’t care whether it fills me or not. Then a glint of sunlight flickers through your glass or a new reflection is revealed upon your surface and I am able to rejoice again in renewed hope and trust. 

Sheelagh Barton

 

In a darkly amusing Neil Gaiman story, a line came to mind when looking at Vaso Libellula by Venini: this is “a manifestation of Order, here incarnated for us in the form of this cardboard box.” Later, at the story’s conclusion, another character smugly comments in a loud aside, “nobody’s interesting would be a cardboard box!” To add an even more inappropriate subjective reference, I’ve spent most of the last month wandering around the ‘rust belt wonderland’ of a city other than my usual one, and while considering the Vaso Libellula I came across an abandoned, ill-used cooler. ‘Her’ maw-like lid wide open: empty but for dirt and detritus. I took a picture. I always do. Then it became ‘art’, to be admired and freed from being useful (like a vase kept ’empty’). As guidance – or a shepherding, as I just demonstrated the (perhaps inappropriate) breadth of my frame[s] of reference – in speaking to Vaso Libellula was Braque’s phrase: “The vase gives shape to emptiness and music to silence.” Presence defined by absence (the Gaiman character whom is the empty box is named Kilderkin: from Middle English for a “cask for liquids”, and perhaps its half full, half empty, soon to be drunk, and then the ‘shape of emptiness’ returns, having only been full temporarily, emptiness and absence being the default state). I find this piece empty: but all art is empty, frankly, only “bestowed with power by individuals, institutions of sacred or worldly power or imagined communities.” Perhaps what bothers me here is that it’s so obvious, and to return to Shimmering Jenny of the Chaos Brigade (Gaiman again – am I filling the empty space too flippantly? Should have put something else there, then, before handing it to me), boring is more unforgivable than madness. At least that’s entertaining.

Bart Gazzola

 

 

It might seem strange to go about it backwards to explain Magritte’s Time Transfixed, but in a 1968 BBC interview Marcel Duchamp claimed the conceptual mantle when he said that until his time painting was retinal, what you could see, that he made it intellectual. Today we know Duchamp then stopped painting; he made no paintings after he made painting intellectual. “It was like a broken leg” he said, and soon after he stopped making art. For another twenty years he poked at Étant donnés as if trying to revive a lost relationship, but the art was gone… and like every spurned lover she wasn’t coming back. What happened to Duchamp is here illustrated by Magritte’s painting; without visual language the aesthetics, the grammar and vocabulary of art, you can’t make art anymore.  Visuality is literally a non-verbal language operating alongside the intellect, as is the aural language we call music, and there’s body language; these inform the intellect. Magritte subtly deconstructed our linguistic expectations showing us how and why a picture’s worth a thousand words; the clock, old candles, the frozen train, all a vocabulary of time.  We must also remember how new this word salad was to people in his epoch, Surrealism both shocking and unexpected.  While Dali sought showmanship of technique, Magritte was equally talented but he was more of the steady bourgeois of his time, as we see here. He presents a steady and normal miracle, since everything else is normal, why not the unexpected?
Miklos Legrady

I look in horror at this painting; it seems like one of my childhood nightmares of trains going off the tracks, though this train doesn’t even have a track. The candles are missing from the candlestick holders, meaning that the house is empty, unlived in. There’s no furniture, only floorboards, though all is very clean and orderly. The clock says twenty to one, almost time for lunch, but not quite. Time is ticking, and I am wasting time, behind on the things I want to do. The only consolation is that this well-lit living room with a mirror which enhances the light, gives me a sensation of comfort. But wait a minute, it might not be a mirror, but a painting done in monotone, possibly an abstract? I don’t care that this painting was done by Magritte; it is of no importance to me, as I look at an artwork irrelevant of who painted it. I was once an art dealer and learned to delve into paintings with a detective-like scrutiny, looking for details that might appeal or not to a potential buyer. Apart from the name, I don’t think this work would sell very well; however, it is a Magritte and is obviously worth millions, so of course it would sell well. Would it sell well were it by a nobody? I don’t think so. Who am I to say that I don’t like it or appreciate it? In any case, it looks like a fireplace with one big penis very appropriately coming out of it.
Pendery Weekes

Bourgeois interior. On the fireplace, two candlesticks and a clock are reflected in a large mirror, the only objects to be reflected. And then, from the fireplace, a steam engine unexpectedly irrupts, puffing with smoke. Is it a children’s toy train, which in fantasy comes to life? Is it the adults’ train of desire full of expectations and dreams to be realized? Magritte, in front of the fireplace, represents the volatility and movement of time through the smoke and the train. The clock “strikes” time, ticking it, but time is eternal, just as the room appears immutable. The room is empty, but, as happens in fairy tales, it should have been animated with the arrival of guests: according to the intentions of the artist, the painting was supposed to have been placed at the entrance of the ballroom owned by the buyer and was to surprise the visitors.
Magritte’s surrealism is based on the universality of elements that are recognizable by everyone, even if strangely and bizarrely approached: his is an art that does not reproduce reality as such, but which aims to indicate the mystery underlying the objects that we will never be able to decipher. His works show us that art is freedom, without conditioning of any kind. Painting serves to give shape to thought, to make visible the invisible. And isn’t time the most indecipherable element and one that is always present in our lives?
Liviana Martin

Everybody can read a painting in different ways but for me this surrealistic work of Belgium artist Magritte means the internal fight of a person between living and ordinary and conventional life where everything is measured, squared, correct and static (represented by the homelike but cold, empty fireplace, the enslaver clock, the equidistant bare candlesticks, the predictable placed plain mirror and the dull and discreet colours and atmosphere of the room), or taking the risk of something unexpected,  fast, round, sharp, black and smoky like a demon (depicted by the locomotive) that, coming out of the blue, breaks the monotony of the daily life questioning the scene. In Spanish we use the expression “he/she is a locomotive” when someone is reckless; the expression “He/she fumes” means being angry or overwhelmed; and the breaking through a wall has a universal meaning.
Being a commission made by his patron Edward James to be placed in his London ballroom, teamed up with the year 1938´s winds of war I guess it was intended to challenge guests and I believe its message was – like in a contemporary, updated and amended version of the classical Vanitas paintings so popular in Flanders during the Baroque -: “ Live!. Dare to break the walls, the rules, the conventions. Life is ephemeral. Be full of energy and faster than time, than war, than death. Overtake them and live and eat, drink, dance and have fun before it is too late. Don´t let the clock win before time”.
He wanted to place it at the end of the stairs for the visitors to see and be challenged but the owner placed it over his fireplace in a human act of egoism. One thing he achieved: the artwork encapsulated time. That is what I see, and I hope the ballroom guests also did and acted in consequence.
Susana Gomez Lain

The year of the painting is the year before the Second World War broke out, during which Magritte remained in Brussels. He had served on the allied side in the First World War and surely anticipated how terrible another conflict could be as it threatened to begin.  Troubled times both in Europe as Hitler rose to power and in Magritte’s personal life. The impossibility of transfixing time must have been all too keenly felt as the artist was drawing his images of a clock forever stuck at one time and a train caught with photographic realism with its steam unmoving as it pictorially goes up the chimney and the train, like a model railway train in scale with the fireplace, is held forever harmlessly thundering forward yet motionless. The paradox of painting realistically images that are put together strangely, nonsensically, the unreality of the image of reality, was what interested Magritte. He painted very carefully with attention to detail; he dressed like a conventional businessman rather than cultivating any arty bohemianism, but he aimed to disturb the viewer and call attention to the artifices of his art. The technique is adept with no glorying in the paint, no expressionist gestures, but a flat dry surface. Surrealism was a new style after the complexity of cubism that showed objects from varying angles, a more narrative art alongside the new art of psychology, which was based on people’s strange individual stories and dreams. The image is memorable and unsettling.
Mary Fletcher

A splendid steam engine emerging from a drawing room fireplace is an incongruity of startling proportions.
There is nothing interesting in the rest of the painting, it is deliberately banal in order to bring the engine into prominence and yet, we are drawn to the background, we look for clues, we are desperate to find some tiny object that might explain why the engine is there. What time is on the clockface? Is there something symbolic in the two candlesticks? Why is only one of them reflected in the mirror?
The title of the painting is La Durée poignardée sometimes translated as ‘Ongoing time stabbed by a dagger’ and Magritte was apparently unhappy with the English use of ‘Time Transfixed’ as a more usual translation. Hardly surprising as ‘poignardée is much stronger and altogether more uncomfortable. However, La Durée is not really ongoing time but the length of time that something lasts – is it just one of those French phrases that doesn’t really translate?
Perhaps, with our modern eyes the steam train is just too charmingly nostalgic to give us that feeling of stabbing, but in 1938, it must have had a startling effect and been uncomfortable to view.
I loved this painting and only recently looked at it again. I still love it but the shock has gone, we have seen too much now, just as only a year after it was painted, the whole world would see too much.
Maxine Flaneuse de Cornouaille

Extrapolating on decades of psychoanalytical and semiotic readings of Rene Magritte’s La Durée Poignardé, 1938 (the artist’s title) in the context of his oeuvre broadly, I would propose as its underlying concetti a secular altarpiece, perhaps partly in the context of the brewing troubles in Europe at the time it was created.  A most mundane rendition to be sure, completely in character vis-à-vis his sign-painterly aesthetic and puzzle-like visual sign language overall. Equally, incorporating an oblique Freudian mix of Eros and Thanatos that partly defined Surrealism.
The steam-spewing boy-toy train entering and (or?) leaving the mysterious tunnel represents a dryly humorous, thinly veiled fire-place sexual encounter that defines the rudiments of physical existence, furthered by the erotic punning of the title in French (“stabbing”; “dagger-ing”), lost in English.
The Christian altarpiece, precisely, reins in “the passion” and even ecstasy of earthly death – though for the gloriously pictured reward of spiritual continuity.  Magritte’s mirror-void is defined only by the clock—memento mori; the candle-spent candlesticks harken a traditional iconographic element of Christian sacrament and ritual. It’s another, pointed variation for Magritte on a theme that he built upon copiously throughout his career: La condition humaine – existential reality, with very little of the magic infused in his surface imagery found at their core.
Jody Cutler

Hidden Trifle

 Like Dali’s ‘The Burning Giraffe’ it is not immediately easy to find the subject of this painting. It is not centre stage and only reveals itself after much diligent searching. Unlike Dali, whose giraffe is indeed present but overshadowed by the central figures, the artist, Bee Ton has striven to hide her protagonist in the least expected place. Like an opulent 17th century still life the table is groaning with sweetmeats of all kinds.  Indeed, the whole painting is one of excessive consumption and plenitude. There is superb glassware here, delicate goblets with twisted stems, exotic fruit tumble from delftware platters, there is death, too, in the perfect fowl that lie with necks askew, lemons are peeled, oysters are opened, the ubiquitous lobster blushes. Like some fiendish jigsaw, the subject is hidden behind a sepia mountain of eggs and is only betrayed by the toasted almonds nestling in the snowy cream, although gradually, the layers of fruit and custard come slowly into focus. Glutinous reds, Chinese yellows, the soft sponge of contentment. This is a tease, an unpeeling, a culmination and release. Like the much later painter, Willem Dolphyn, the detail is exquisite. The fruit is truly edible, the glass awaits our hand, the oysters hiss faintly with the expectation of lemon. The subject is but one element of the whole, a rich and final act of consumption. A tribute and a classic. Having searched the painting for hidden meaning, in the end, we get our just desserts.

Maxine flaneuse de Cornouaille

 

Reviewing Hidden Trifle was about as daunting as it gets, as there was no painting and no artist. How can that be? Where is it displayed? It’s like being invited to a party without any guests to a place that doesn’t exist, but the party itself exists. Being a trifle something of little value, something totally unimportant and furthermore is hidden, made it all even more obscure. Why was it hidden and why was it a trifle, or was it so? Where was the artwork? Then it dawned on me. I saw it and couldn’t sleep, as it revealed itself, no longer hidden and above all not a trifle. It was everywhere; it was there, right in front of me. I was ecstatic and wrote pages and pages on Hidden Trifle, not wanting to stop – ever. Here is just an extract of that writing, as I must keep to the task at hand. Hidden Trifle is anything but unimportant; it is by far one of the most important and revealing artworks in the miasma of today’s contemporary art. Like the grasshopper in Korean mythology when it answers Maitreya’s question on the origins of fire and water with, “I’m just a trifle that drinks dewdrops at night and basks in the sun by day”, Hidden Trifle appears to be nothing and to be rather insignificant, while it is indeed everything. It is now clearly in front of me, represented by life itself. Can you not see it yourself?

Pendery Weekes

 

My initial impression of “hidden trifle” is of secreting dessert to avoid sharing. That’s appropriate, as its reminiscent of Paglia’s dismissal of contemporary artists’ freedom to produce anything as nothing they do matters anymore to anyone else, as they traded “freedom” for relevance…glut on that ‘richness’ even unto nausea, and endure that well-proven trope that excessive self-indulgence causes gastronomic  illness (or artistic gout). Perhaps you’re force-feeding that dessert you love to others; making them sick of it (and you). They won’t visit your table – or gallery – again. I prefer delicate, flaky trifle but I’ve no sweet tooth (though liquor IS an ingredient). But if hidden, it can’t be shared; eating’s like Art, best in dialogue (a conversation over food, stretching this metaphor even more). I serve two anecdotes. Alice Gregory offered this palette cleanser: “[art] for the past century has often been the product of speech acts. I am an artist because I say I am an artist. This is art because I say it is.” Trifle is ‘something of little value’ or ‘to speak with little purpose’ or ‘wasting (time and money)’. I suppose it’s an acquired taste…  An ex subjected me to competitive cooking shows: one challenge was creating an aesthetically amazing dish – but NOT to be eaten. Taste was irrelevant; this reversal, this perversion, is still fascinating to me. Superficially seductive but potentially poisonous (at worst) or sickening (at best); a pretty ‘trifle’ whose unpalatable nature is ‘hidden’… did someone mention Abramović?

Bart Gazzola

 

HIDDEN TRIFLE

There it was –

Hidden in her underwear drawer

Under the mound of knickers

Below the deep comfy pants

The workaday cotton high legs

The pink bikinis, the green floral ones

The “nude” ones which had something faintly surgical about them

And below the special ones at the bottom

The French knickers and the lacy thongs

The ones she kept for “special occasions”

The ones he knew about –

A blue square post-it with his name and a large X

Was the kiss an affectionate reminder?

Or was it a veiled threat?

She had had enough of his controlling

But he must have put it there before the end

Before they knew.

It was unsettling to see it there some months later

(She’d had no need to go there you see)

What could she do now?

How could she reconstruct her memory

Take control of it

So it was less ominous?

Slowly the thought took shape and colour

Manet’s “Bar at the Folies-Bergere” came to mind.

The painting would be of a woman seated at her dressing table

Facing the mirror, her back to us

Her blond hair in rollers

She is wearing……um…wearing a …

She is wearing a black embroidered kimono

A heap of bras and knickers lie upon the table and emerge from an open drawer

A riot of colour – deep purples, baby blues, racy red and shell pink

In one hand she holds up a confection of oyster lace

In the other she holds a piece of paper

She is surprised but not unpleasantly

A half smile has begun to form upon her face.

Anne Porter

 

You are excited about this exhibition.  It’s the latest from an artist whose fame is growing rapidly.  You have watched his emergence into the art scene with interest. His name: Anonymous Tosh, medium of choice: acrylics, style: eclectic – a baby elephant emerging from a shell, its trunk still a suitcase; a row of pot plants in a nursery sucking their tap roots like dummies. And this; Hidden Trifle. You frown, in front of you is a domestic scene, a table set for high tea, Royal Doulton china, a plate of delicately cut sandwiches, chocolate muffins – and in the middle of the table, a trifle.  You can see the layers, the yellow sponge cake, the raspberries, the even brighter yellow custard, the sprinkling of hundreds and thousands in myriad colours. ‘Hidden,’ you think, ‘how hidden?’ Then you look at the figures hunched round the table, an old gentleman in a check waistcoat, a red cravat at his neck, purple corduroy trousers, sporting a walrus like moustache.  He has one arm laying languidly around the shoulder of his neighbour, a pretty young man with a shock of electric blue hair, heavily made up eyes and a ‘cat got the cream smile’.  Old walrus’ other hand, under the table, is groping the young man, whose tight leather pants are bulging significantly. There are also two ladies taking tea, one, a stout Beryl Cook look-alike, is passing what appears to be a small envelope or sachet to the woman beside her, a thin gaunt figure draped in gothic black. You ponder for a moment, does the trifle refer to the small sachet, (perhaps cocaine) being offered? “I have a trifle for you, my dear,” you can imagine the Cook alike saying. Is old walrus trifling with the boy, or vice versa, (though trifle is not trifling).  And then your mind starts spinning. You shake your head to clear it and move on, It’s Tosh alright.

Lynda Green

 

My tag is HIDDEN TRIFLE, you can see it on the New York subway cars or on the gray walls of the industrial suburbs: I cannot reveal if I’m male or female. Why did I choose this nickname? Trifle means nonsense, a nothing; hidden means my hidden being. I certainly cannot make myself recognized as I tag my letters around the city. Why do I do it? As someone said, if you write your name on an object, it’s yours. So, I write it everywhere and the whole city becomes mine. I certainly do not want to mix with those street artists, who then end up exhibiting in museums. See Bansky protesting against mainstream art and then around the world; there are more exhibitions of his than Picasso’s. And you must have seen what happened at Sotheby’s. His little girl with a balloon that was destroyed after it was sold at a price that not even Van Gogh … In my opinion, only publicity. The real street artists are us, the writers; we risk being incriminated and thrown into jail because our work takes time. The others, the so-called street artists, prepare their work in the safely of their studios, make the stencils and then in less than no time paint walls. Instead, we do everything on the field. Furthermore, we are a group of critics; our language is understood only among us, while others play on the social scene, wanting to send “messages” to people. For us it’s all a game to do in secret, yes, just a hidden trifle.

Liviana Martin

Hilary Williams

At a recent Writers Meeting in Penzance, we discussed the fact that many artists now choose not to give titles to their work and instead merely add the label ‘Untitled’. We talked about how this affected the viewer and about whether or not the title leads the viewer too much or whether it is a necessary hook and part of the overall experience of the work. To this end, we decided to send out an unknown painting with an invented and deliberately aesexual name given for the artist. We then sent it out to each reviewer with a different title. We wondered how much the title given to the painting would influence the way the reviewer would write about it and whether reviewers would get past the title, giving it only a cursory glance, and react mainly to the work itself. The titles used were: Hidden Lives, Lime Green Structures in a Gap and Storm Clouds.

Hidden Lives

There is much that is hidden in this painting and much that tantalises and is beginning to be visible. Glimpses of storm clouds, oblivion. Is something breaking through or closing up and is this a beginning or an apocalyptic ending? I see a cave with ancient paintings – shades, quite literally, of Plato in those shadows on the wall. Instructions, perhaps, to a long-gone ancestor as to where the buffalo are to be found. ‘Woohoo! They’re over there by the tumbleweed.’ Are those squares in the background spectral doorways, is this more Doctor Who than Doctor Freud? Will the Tardis drop in? There is too much to see, smoke billowing forth from that apparent opening and, at the same time, light, hope, something creating those bright yellow marks on the wall, those lime green structures, because it does have the feeling of a wall and light is emanating from that portal. The warmth of the crimson and orange, neon and enervating. It is not clear whether those colours are dispelling the gloom or are harbingers of something much bigger, the car of Juggernaut, just around the corner waiting in the wings ready to crush everything in its path. And there is great theatre in Williams’ painting, the expectancy of something about to emerge – a turmoil that may resolve or destroy. This is the intermission between the acts, the intake of breath where anything may materialise, but whatever it is, it will be spectacular. This is a painting waiting to happen.

Maxine Flaneuse de Cornouaille

 

Whilst I am the first to admit that no print, photograph, greetings card or coaster on which a picture is reproduced can show off its true genius, I doubt seeing this in the flesh would change my opinion, my opinion being that it is a work of incredible dreariness. I was shown two versions of the picture and chose to review the one with a hint of lime, on the basis that a hint of lime improves a g and t, a salad dressing and any sort of curry.  Sadly, it doesn’t seem to do much for this painting. The lime lines hang like detached stalactites, plunging to the morass below. However, the curves of coppery orange and fuchsia pink which have been daubed on it make me wonder if I am missing something.  To this end I hung the picture on the wall. I gave it a side long glance when it wasn’t expecting it, hoping it would unwittingly reveal some secret meaning which it had deigned to keep hidden. It did not. I propped a ladder up by it and from the top rung looked down on it, thinking that from a different vantage point all would be revealed. It was not. I pressed my left hand onto it, perhaps some sort of osmosis would occur and I would appreciate its genius. I forgot I had just eaten a bacon sandwich and left greasy fingertip whorls across the picture; actually, I thought they enhanced it. The rough greyish black surround puts me in mind of a cave, though the centre, rather than being dark, as a cave would appear, is what Farrow and Ball would call ‘vintage vest white’ or maybe ‘floor mop white’. Perhaps this picture is the emptying of accumulated detritus of a tired mind so that the artist can move on to his next subject from a happier view point.  One can but hope.

Lynda Green  (tongue in cheek)

 

Lime Green Structures in a Gap

This work seems like an aesthetic concern. Commenting on it is tortuous in a postmodern age of political art but this confirms the artist’s courage, in exploring a personal abstract visual language rather than getting with the program. Denis Dutton’s “The art instinct, a Darwinian theory of beauty” says that art is not a social construct but that humans are hard-wired for aesthetics. “There is evidence that perceptions of beauty are evolutionarily determined; likely to enhance survival of the perceiving human’s genes.” The center looks like a cement wall with industrial pipes.  This cement wall has the overall shape of a fish, facing left with an open mouth.  The dark textures surrounding this fish defy meaning and awaken feelings, feelings of what textures feel like.   Art is more than pleasure instinct, it is an evolutionary development that enhances the subtlety of our comprehension. Art forces our eye to develop, our mind to be more complex; art is therapy, allowing our unconscious to breathe. Hilary William’s image is not beautiful but it is pleasing in a disturbing way, like the ultimate Rorsharch test. When you look at clouds, you’re not just looking at fluffy white floating pillows. Rather, you’re looking at ducks, pirate ships, maybe even a taco dancing with a fish. Add that we’re looking at a black and white image, with touches of red, an image titled “lime green structures”.  That it is beautiful yet includes the ugly is the point.

Miklos Legrady

 

Despite my sordid academic experience, I eschew excessive art theory. Literary works (whether poetry or prose) are better, as the visceral language often elicits a reaction from [my] readers that mirrors my own. That lusty reprobate Irving Layton asserted that “if poetry is like an orgasm, an academic can be likened to someone who studies the passion-stains on the bedsheets.” Accordingly, I was reading Utopias: Russian Modernist Texts 1905 – 1940 when I saw Hilary Williams’ Lime Green Structures in a Gap. Amidst Pasternak, Akhamatova and Filonov, was Zinaida Gippius: “The waves of other-worldly nausea foam up / break into spray and scatter in black mist / and into darkness, inter outermost darkness.” Gap has a scratchy scabby quality: blackish “foam” consuming green “structures” (corrosion eating away, bubbling dark “slag” detritus). Faint colour swallowed by undulating blacks. A recent dialogue with an artist who ‘draws in paint’ explored charcoal’s physical nature, how he’d render, paint over, then retrace the pebbly powdery thick marks, building “structures.” I once spoke at a panel about the ‘fallowness’ of ‘modernity.’ Another spoke of our relationship with industry as a harbinger of this, citing Fukushima, nuclear narratives of promise leading to pestilence, like the dark clouds in Gap (Layton’s sarcasm fits: perhaps I’m an illiterate deciphering grotty blotches). Gap evokes Aghasyan’s Ghost city and the dark miasma of the Bhopal Disaster; a hamartia of utopias where they consume themselves, like the undulating murkiness enveloping – suffocating – the bright structures and gap.

Bart Gazzola

 

A spiderweb of black lines in which mysterious shapes of orange or purple intertwine. On a gray background, intersected by divergent lines black predominates, the non-color. In the center, a gray gash is surprisingly interrupted by vertical and horizontal lines with a green cross. What does it represent? It reminds me of prehistoric graffiti engraved on the walls of a cave, which the Neolithic men used for communicating with others or deities. In this interpretation, all that surrounds the green signs becomes grotto, cavern, dark cave in which to find shelter. Or, the scene can change, becoming a cloudy sky, an incoming storm: two figures (stylized as in childish drawings), unprepared, trying to return in time before the storm breaks out. Or what if the area was a tunnel inside some black ravine, where at the end it’s possible to go out towards the light? Instead, looking at the scene from above, I see the dark sea depths colored by corals and other microorganisms: on the bottom a gray sandy expanse, where rare aquatic plants are placed. In any case, the painting gives me an imminent sense of danger, but also a possibility of refuge or salvation, a sign of our stormy times.

Liviana Martin

 

Titles for any works are important. Titles play a role in how and what we see in a work. One can argue that ‘Untitled’ is an easy way out, a convention and a non-commitment. Hilary Williams’ “Lime Green Structure in a Gap” describes exactly what we see: lime green-colored lines that intersect with each other to create small cross-like structures. This structure is surrounded on all sides by dark, highly textured detritus with few hints of color. I am not sure that I am looking at a painting. The features and handling of material (it could be either charcoal or soft pastels) point to a drawing: there are thin lines across the entire surface that recall marks left behind by pastel sticks which are put on paper with their flat side down and then dragged across the surface quickly – the stick’s edges leave behind fine lines on both ends while its flat side creates a uniformly textured area. In that way, the work by Williams is a study in texture and mark-making. Even though her process-driven approach and the organic look of her composition is contrasted by some more rigid “structures” (seen in the center of the work), her drawing does not reach a sufficient amount of tension. Instead of looking at a supporting structure that is holding up its own weight, we are presented with a collapsing and disjointed structure.

Viktor Witkowski

 

This horribly pretentious title to a painting is typical of those titles to nondescript works that artists try to give a little importance to in a struggle for pseudo sophistication. It’s like Painting Number 7, Design in Grey, Study in Blue, etc. These titles are without feeling and generally have little to do with the work itself. In the case of Lime Green Structures in a Gap, we are lucky to have the “lime green” and “gap” elements that give a little meaning to the work. Lime Green as a colour represents life, possibly a newly grown plant, while also representing hope; the same goes for “gap”, as an opening and the possibility to exit and to go out into the light. We need light here as this is pretty dismal, to say the least. As to “structures”, Williams evidently is representing forms, as supports for something organized or arranged. Lime Green Structures in a Gap is not to my taste, and I have to make an effort to even look at it. Not knowing much about the artist, I imagine her other works are just as dark and dismal, like winter in northern England; it is far better to wake up to our Cornish sunshine on the English Riviera. If someone were to tell me that her works are being auctioned for huge sums, I wouldn’t be surprised as this is what the market wants today; the uglier the better; beauty in art seems to have become obsolete.

Pendery Weekes

 

Storm Clouds

I couldn’t find anything in this painting to recommend it!   The excessive use of black merely served to lower my spirits and certainly didn’t convey storm clouds.   For me, storm clouds are full of passion and mood with shapes and movement that convey meaning and emotion and draw you into the whole experience.  This painting did the opposite – I found it to be static,  with any movement in the piece curtailed by the amount of black used. The rigid line at the bottom seemed to emphasise this and blunted the expression of the piece!  It didn’t tell me a story or invite me into any experience and it certainly didn’t give me the enrichment that I like to feel when looking at a painting that speaks to me!   The colour black, which is not really considered a colour at all, can have different meanings – almost all of them negative.  Think death or depression and of course fear that underlies so many negative emotions.  In a defined shape I think black can work well, especially with white – think back and white photographs. But in an abstract painting, especially used to this extent, I don’t think it works at all and I certainly wouldn’t want it hanging on my wall.

Vonni Du Val

 

This abstract painting uses contrast and negative space to create the prominent aspects of the subject matter. The subject matter is not clearly defined formally speaking with no identifiable forms present. The artist’s brush strokes are visible in many parts of the form, creating an overlapping and translucent appearance. The canvas is situated horizontally, with the subject matter occupying most of the space. The colour pallet is monochromatic, excluding sparse use of three colour hues. Black is the primary choice of pigment, contrasting against the far lighter in colour background, with some presence of orange, red, and yellow lines throughout the image. There is significant visual weight in the top right corner due to a heavy presence of black colour that disperses as it extends towards the centre of the painting. The black paint forms an irregular oval shape with an open centre that is occupied by several small black shapes accentuated by perpendicular yellow lines. The orange and red lines are much larger than the yellow but are somewhat concealed by the black pigment. The negative space that surrounds the subject matter helps to define its shape, creating a cloud-like form where the coloured lines play the role of lighting within a cloud. This painting has a muted tone to it despite the few uses of bright, almost neon colours. Depending on the size of the canvas this painting could have an overwhelming or enveloping emotion attached to it. Larger canvases have an ability to engulf their views and this painting may have that very ability. If the canvas is smaller in size the charged colours will have a more prominent effect as the visual contrast is more concentrated.

Alexander Stanfield

There is something very tribal going on here. At first glance I see shrunken heads. A second glance and I get the Commedia dell’arte in that central Pulcinella-like mask with the long nose. A third glance and I see a tiny Stegosaurus. On my fourth glance I see fetishism, bondage, Kabuki. At no point do I see running shoes. Is this good? Absolutely brilliant! My fifth, searching glance still makes it almost impossible to see how shoes have been used to make these people-creatures.

These sculptures echo many traditions and speak in many voices. They are individuals, each has a story to tell, each speaks with its own characteristic tone. By looking at the shapes of the ‘mouths’ I can hear different inflexions, modes of expression. It is tempting to create a whole dialogue…

Extreme left, quite raspy, ciggies, South London ‘I don’t think so.’

Second from the left, more outgoing, never stops talking ‘Oh, yes, life is what you make it.’

Pulcinella rarely speaks, but follow the tip of that nose as it moves in exaggerated circles and finally fixes on you!

The tiny Stegosaurus? Quite Received BBC, I think. ‘Extinction? I hardly think so, dear boy.’

And the final creature, far right with quite an open face but those lips are curled in on themselves, the eyes squinting, Birmingham ‘I can’t see the problem.’

Is it wrong to put words into the mouth of a sculpture? Probably, but they really are speaking to me.

Maxine Flaneuse de Cornouaille

 

A while back some high school girls posted a photo of their graduation gowns, beautiful Asian sarongs; Asian-American Jeremy Lam replied furiously “my culture IS NOT your goddam prom dress!” Mr. Lam wrote that in the English language while wearing jeans. Quillette editor Claire Lehman wrote about cultural appropriation that “such complaints are almost beyond comprehension in the first place. Without cultural appropriation we would not be able to eat Italian food, listen to reggae, or go to Yoga. Without cultural appropriation we would not be able to drink tea or use chopsticks or speak English or apply algebra, or listen to jazz, or write novels. Almost every cultural practice we engage in is the by-product of centuries of cross-cultural pollination. The future of our civilization depends on it continuing”.  Brian Jungen is a Canadian West Coast artist who clearly illustrates how a brilliant mind can syncretize cultures in a shocking way while opening our minds to diversity.  We also need to google his trilogy of life size whale skeletons made of white plastic lawn chairs; Shapeshifter, Cetology and Vienna.  At a time when we’re subjected to often dreadful identity-based art, it takes a genius to make a transcendent work out of the most cliché subjects, and his genius is what astounds me about Jungen. His melting of two cultures in such a conceptual practice reveals a mindset I myself never imagined, but clear enough to expand my own world view.  And that is the meaning and purpose of art.

Miklos Legrady, Toronto Editor

 

Brian Jungen’s work evokes conflicting sentiments. The initial response is a remembrance of his solo exhibition at the Art Gallery of Alberta: Shapeshifter and Cetology, were aesthetically breathtaking, yet equally realized in the conceptual “recycling” of “trashy” plastic lawn chairs. Objects hideously unpromising became a larger whole that was one of the finest pieces of Art I’ve experienced. Jungen does that again, here, with banal sports equipment. Amusingly, there’s no hockey equipment re purposed in these pieces (suspiciously “unCanadian”?)

Alternately, Jungen’s art elicits another uncomfortable “Canadian” issue: cultural appropriation.

Contemporary Canadian cultural conversations are (often) haunted by the spectre of cultural appropriation. Jungen’s work complicates and contradicts this debate with multiple, intersecting interpretations. Two artists I’ve reviewed recently – Brendan Tang and Sonny Assu – create within contrasting cultural spheres that intersect and inform them, less about “purity” than possibility. The vivid reds, slick blacks, soft, inviting whites are seductive (consumption and capitalism, of course, also lurk in the background with these pleasing “objects”).

This is a form of cultural criticism: living in Niagara, the legacy of someone like Stan Mikita is necessary to understanding the current controversy regarding Colin Kaepernick, and how the implicit “nationalism” of sports can also be a site to challenge, and trouble, our national “narratives.” Jungen is of both Dane-Zaa and Swiss ancestry based in the North Okanagan. These factors help define these pieces as a “self-portrait” while simultaneously a comment on the larger national argument spurred by Canada150 celebrations and condemnations.

Bart Gazzola

 

Transforming running shoes from their soles into souls of totems on poles and reclassifying them as sculptures takes a very unique and uncanny vision by an artist. Totemic figures representing animals and frightening ancestors are in sharp contrast to what a shoe actually represents, protection for the feet, followed by what fashion dictates. Instead, here with the sculptures we have protection from above and an affirmation of tribal beliefs. However, this deification of a shoe is not without its own humour, being also a parody on fashion where people will wear just about anything if it’s trendy. The highly technological shoe becomes art, worthy of an art museum.

I can imagine these souls on display in a very modern and architecturally sterile environment, where they would stand out and be the only natural element existing in such a space, while perhaps still smelling of newly purchased athletic shoes. What if these sculptures were retransformed into shoes again as wearable sculptures? We could have totems on our feet and not only make a fashion statement, but also give ourselves something to meditate on during the day, while perhaps also running. They could become the shoe of the year, highly coveted by old and young alike, quickly becoming a very sellable commodity. Just think of the advertising campaigns that could ensue, returning to nature through your feet, reflecting on your animal nature and finally giving back feet their dignity again. Too much has been said about the lowly feet, shoe throwers apart.

Pendery Weekes, Fashion Editor