Archive for category History
In this post I will mainly be talking about The Croatian Association of Naive Artists, however I will briefly mention the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb as I feel they both encompass the same spirit of the need to create art and the catharsis that it provides.
Last summer I had the pleasure of visiting the Mirko Virius Gallery in Zagreb, Croatia. The artist’s exhibited at the gallery are all Naive Artists, in the sense that they have had little or no formal artistic training. They also adopt their own creative style which is normally characterised by its childlike or ‘naive’ quality. Proportion and more importantly, realism is not the focus of these works, yet the simplicity and imagination of these works somehow presents a truer reality.
Sometimes formal training can remove the wonder and true creativity of the practitioner, or it can insert certain ideas and concepts into the artist’s mind and force their hand into a certain discipline or style.Whilst it is great and necessary to learn about what has come before, sometimes creativity needs to come from deep within the artist, without any restraints.
The gallery is named after Mirko Virius, a peasant and self-taught painter who became a forerunner of Croatian Naive Art after participating in the First Exhibition of Peasant Painters. Despite only being an active painter for three years (1936-1939), his paintings captured the politics behind social themes in paintings such as The Beggar, The Plowing and The Overturned Cart. Virius was arrested during World War II due to his political activities and taken to a Nazi concentration camp in Zemun, Serbia, where he died in 1943. His tragic fate was immortalised by his friend Generalić, who painted The Death of Virius, one of his most famous paintings.With these events you can begin to see just how important a role naive art has played in Croatian history.
I feel more of an affinity myself towards Naive Art, or Outsider Art, in the sense that even though I have an arts education background I do not feel that connected to the mainstream art world. I create work purely because I cannot imagine not doing so and I create work primarily for myself.
This leads me on nicely to the Museum of Broken Relationships. A museum in Zagreb dedicated to the trinkets and mementos left behind after a relationship fails or ends. The catharsis involved with celebrating and displaying failure instead of so-called success (there’s a whole day dedicated to couples, Valentines Day, and nothing for people to celebrate being in a fabulous relationship with themselves!) is similar for me to the catharsis that comes from naive art, where the work is the most important thing, not wether they learnt under a certain master painter or are represented by a top end gallery.
This is an image of one of my favourite exhibits. The couple were attempting a long distance relationship and each time one travelled to visit the other they cut off a leg of the caterpillar. As you can see they didn’t make it through all of the legs, but the hope that they imbued within this object is incredibly powerful.
I am also including a link to a good friend of mine’s blog. Clare Brown is currently living in Split, Croatia (I’m not jealous at all…..) and has written a piece about her visit to the Croatian Museum of Naive Art (which is just up the road from the Mirko Virius Gallery).
I haven’t written anything for a while but I felt compelled to do so after bearing witness to the breathtaking performance by Cassils at the National Theatre last night.
Having been a fan of Cassils for a while, initially due to their work Cuts: A Traditional Sculpture, their work using bodybuilding and a passing into a hyper-masculine physique through it. I also had the pleasure of attending a talk by Cassils in New York at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, and hearing about the film Inextinguishable Fire I was so excited to see a live aspect of this piece, not entirely understanding how this would materialise.
The performance began with Cassils topless on the stage with clothing paraphernalia around them, there was a good seven minutes or so before the professional looking men in boiler suits began methodically dressing Cassils in wet clothing which look liked thermal layers, as Cassils began to shake it became clear that these garments must be freezing cold. The soundtrack started to become impossible to ignore around the third layer of these wet items as what began as a low drone, similar to a helicopter flying low overheard, took on an even more bass like rumble, adding even more to the tension and feeling that something awful or wonderful was about to happen.
The preparation for the actual self-immolation took about fifteen minutes but felt like an eternity as our heart rates sky rocketed and you could see audience members clutching at each others hands. The whole theatre was undoubtably nervous, is there a possibility this could get out of hand and go wrong? Do our desensitised minds actually want that to happen, for us to be witnesses to a true self-immolation? As the team of three men finish preparing Cassils, with the last smearing of a vaseline looking substance to their face (it definitely can’t have been vaseline as that is flammable!) one the technicians lights a torch, like a wooden staff used to burn witches of old at the stake, and shouts ‘You’re on fire’.
The fire itself only lasted about 14 seconds but the act itself was so powerful that these 14 seconds stretched to an eternity as we all realised we were truly spectators to someone setting their-self on fire, no matter how many safety aspects were involved, this was truly happening, to a live human being, and we just sat and watched.
We were then led haphazardly outside, myself and my friend shakily walking at this point, to the other side of the National Theatre where the film of Inextinguishable Fire was projected on an outside wall. One of our key observations, that highlighted even further the importance to Cassils work and left us with a kind of desperate feeling for the human race, was that the passers by took no notice of the film, a few people would look up but no one stopped to see what was going despite the brightness and intensity of the film, the only people not from the original audience that seemed to be transfixed were small children. It was just such a poignant example of our desensitised selfs, the fact that we do see so much violence and pain inflicted on people and really just don’t care because it isn’t happening to us. It was also interesting to think if the film would’ve had the same effect if I hadn’t seen the live action immolation moments before.
I have never had such a strong reaction to anything in my life! And I think this was the purest and most engaging way to remember, on the apt Sunday of Remembrance. When something is ingrained with so much suffering and history, monks setting themselves on fire in protest, women being persecuted because men fear them, children in agony because of another pointless war, it just cannot fail to change your way of thinking, even in the slightest way. I often think that our generation is the least capable of empathy because in the Western World we are in danger of having no idea or connection to what it feels like to truly suffer and any suffering that happens around us is so disconnected from us in that we only engage with it through a screen, which we can ultimately X out of at any point.
‘When we show you pictures of napalm victims, you’ll shut your eyes. You’ll close your eyes to the pictures. Then you’ll close them to the memory. And then you’ll close your eyes to the facts.’ – Harun Farocki
©Huw Bartlett 2014
For the final week I invited Actor/Artist/Bodybuilder/Documentary Filmmaker Arnold Pollock to exhibit. His was a unique situation in that he is from Manchester so would be making work from scratch or using whatever he could bring down with him. But this gave Arnold the chance to truly create something in response to the gallery space as initially the space was all he had.
Using his current interest in acting (he’s been on Corrie don’t you know!) and previous experience in documentary film making Arnold created a film that combines his interaction with Brighton and its inhabitants. He accurately describes the film as ‘… the result of pursuing every meaningful coincidence during my stay.’ Most of these coincidences revolved around, and occurred due, to his incredible charm. This charm made it possible for Arnold to swipe personal text messages off of strangers phones which are then used as scripts, acted out with new strangers.
The film also depicts local scenes which perhaps locals would normally overlook, and all pretence is somehow stripped away from whimsical beach scenes such as in the clip below and replaced with an endearing honesty.
It was the perfect way to end the residency. The film left me with a new love for my hometown and showed the true potential of CAC when someone enters it with a blank slate and only their interests as a starting point.
Also screened during the exhibition was Arnold’s documentary of him and friend James walking the Trans Pennine Trail:
© Huw Bartlett 2014
For the second week I invited Spanish photography and moving image artist Nazare Soares to exhibit as I had previously seen examples of her work and loved the experimental realness to her films. I also envisaged that the closeness of the gallery space would compliment moving image work.
Nazare revisited her existing moving image work Hic Non Est, created during a residency in Palestine last year, and reconstructed the work in response to the space. The rooms were set up as a visual diary of her Palestinian memories and experiences and the theme of the tree of life was repeatedly visually present, even in the form of an actual olive tree which transformed the space into an organic part of the show. This is one of the best things about CAC that it has the ability to shape shift with each show, if you brought a tree in to a conventional white cube type gallery it would very much be apparent that it had been deliberately brought in an artwork. At CAC the tree looked as if it could’ve grown out of the ground and perhaps the whole exhibition had come about around the tree.
Image © Jennifer Milarski 2014
” Language has unmistakably made plain that memory is not an instrument for exploring the past,
but rather a medium. It is the medium of that which is experienced, just as the earth is the
medium in which ancient cities lie buried. He who seeks to approach his own buried past must
conduct himself like a man digging. Above all, he must not be afraid to return again and again to
the same matter; to scatter it as one scatters earth, to turn it over as one turns over soil. For the
”matter itself” is no more than the strata which yield their long-sought secrets only to the most
meticulous investigation. That is to say, they yield those images that, severed from all earlier
associations, reside as treasures in the sober rooms of our later insights”
Walter Benjamin: Excavation and Memory
The above Walter Benjamin quote which Nazare cites as inspiration for this piece is particularly poignant when seeing Hic Non Est shown in the CAC setting. Specifically the idea of the earth being the medium in which ancient cities lie buried, CAC is the medium in which Nazare’s show, along with each weekly Work Programme is buried and each artist is an excavator of that which already exists within the layers of the gallery.
© Huw Bartlett 2014
I have just finished an intense 3 weeks as Curator in Residence at the Community Arts Centre, Brighton. Despite a few suggestions against it I decided to start off the 3 weeks myself and invited two artists, whose work I admired and felt could benefit from the space and bring something different, to each have their own week. As I may have previously explained, the Work Programmes at CAC begin on the Monday with the ceremonious handing over of the keys to the artist and finish with an exhibition on the following Saturday.
I am particularly in love with the space and the freedom and inspiration that it provides and enjoy the thrill on a Saturday night of wondering just how differently people will interpret it. As I had already done a work programme last year (click here to see images from the previous year) I was quite apprehensive about how I would interact with the space this time, I was concerned that I would end up repeating things from last year and that it would pale in comparison. In actual fact I did end up mirroring (literally) certain things from the previous year as it felt like a progression of ideas in each room.
Whereas last year I had a physique bodybuilder performing, this year I performed myself. Following on from the confidence I had gained during the LADA workshop the previous week I knew that it had to be me and although this proved to be an extremely daunting experience, and in the week leading up to the exhibition and I constantly questioned if I was making massive mistake, but no matter how nervous I got I knew that there was no way that I wasn’t going to do it. Painting my nails pink, getting a spray tan, putting on the wig and then finally the bikini I covered up the ‘me’ aspects so that all that was left was my physical form, which could be any successful white body in terms that it is healthy, physically able, well nourished, not obese etc.
The performance itself took place over two hours and the audience where invited in for a one-on-one experience. My boyfriend was the bouncer on the door making sure that people waited their turn and I quite like the connotations that go alongside him being the one who allows others to look at me, there’s a kind of pimp dynamic and once inside the room has red lighting and a golden throne chair for the viewer to sit on, making it almost a peep show or lap dance type environment. The emphasis wasn’t on the sexual however, with farcical exaggerations of grandeur such as the ‘gold’ jewellery I was wearing, the clearly not my own hair blonde bombshell wig, the idea was more towards the failure of sexiness. I don’t have abs, so I had drawn them on with eyebrow pencil, I don’t have large bicep muscles so the bodybuilding poses that I was mimicking were exactly that, a mimicry, a parody or poor copy. The fake smile (which I almost lost quite near to the start due a twitching cheek muscle!) and everything about the performance was essentially fake.
Images © Alice Tenquist
I am a member of the Reigate Antique Society, a group that meets up once a month. Each month a different Antiques expert provides us with an exciting talk in their specialism.
For this last July’s talk we did something a little different and members were invited to talk about their own collection or something they were passionate about. I decided to speak about French Beaded Flowers as I have been enamoured with these creations since I first learned of their existence a couple of years ago.
French Beaded Flowers – A history
French beaded flowers are small glass beads strung on to a fine wire and then fashioned in to various blooms. Because they are so pliable it is possible to create pretty much anything within your imagination with the use of a small number of tools and a great deal of patience. In the days before it was possible to purchase any and every type of flower from a florists, these beaded flowers provided a practical and exotic way to decorate your home, use as a wedding bouquet, or like the piece I own, used as funeral wreath or ornament.
This is my beautiful beaded flower wreath in pride of place in my bathroom! Note perfume bottle for scale, it’s pretty big.
One of the reasons that flowers are associated with churches has to do with beads. In the thirteenth century a form of prayer using a string of beads was instituted by St. Dominic. The string, called a rosary, consisted at that time of 15 units of beads. Each unit contained 10 small beads, preceded by one larger one. A prayer was recited at every bead. The word “bede” (sp) is Middle English for “prayer.” Because of the length of the original rosary, it became customary to pay someone, usually a resident of an almshouse, to recite the prayers. These people were referred to as bede women or men, and it was they who made the first bead flowers. The craft was handed down through the centuries and came to be associated with the church and its decorations.
The art of making flowers out of beads is centuries old however there is very little documentation on the development of this art. Many books can be found of different flower patterns but only from about the 40s onwards.
According to references of beaded decorations, it is thought that the technique began as early as the 1300s in Germany when steel needles and wire were developed, and around the 1500s in Europe, predominantly, Italy and France. The peasants would collect discarded beads from the noble’s clothing and fashion them in to beautiful decorations. At one point there would be women sitting outside every door making these creations. In 16th Century Venice the poorer women would make money creating beaded flowers for churches, parade floats and banquet tables. I quite like the idea that they would be selling back to the upper classes their own discarded beads in banquet bouquets!
Different methods were developed over the years, the Victorian method, also known as the English or Russian method, and the French method. The main difference is that in the Victorian method, which is similar to modern bead jewelry-making techniques, the thread or wire passes through each bead twice or more, and the wire passes from row to row on the sides of the piece; in the French method, the wire passes through each bead only once, and passes from row to row in the center or on the bottom of the individual piece. I believe this makes the French beaded flowers more beautiful as they are more pliant and more life like.
Production of beaded flowers was no doubt advanced by the Industrial Revolution, which increased availability of glass beads of regular size and color. By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, beaded flowers were sometimes used in ornate funerary arrangements, where wired beads made up flowers and could also be wrapped around a metal framework. These were perfect for use during winter months when fresh flowers were not readily available, and they were long lasting without the need to be watered or replaced. The Victorians are most likely responsible for the introduction of the French beaded flower funeral wreaths as they fit perfectly in to the elaborate mourning rituals inspired by Queen Victoria’s grief over the death of her beloved Prince Albert. This type of artistic expression of mourning would have been popular along with the jewelry items holding a lock of the deceased’s hair which we have heard about in previous talks. The mourning wreaths would be in muted purples and blues, like the one I have brought along today.
After the Second World War beadwork of this kind gained its greatest popularity, with instruction kits being sold complete with materials and patterns, and department stores such as Marshall Fields and Bloomingdale’s sold beaded flowers imported from France. Famous French beaded flower owners include Marie Antoinette and Princess Grace.
Virginia Nathanson helped introduce this craft to a new audience and codified the technique in 1967 with the publication of her book The Art of Making Bead Flowers and Bouquets. She herself had purchased a bouquet of beaded flowers in a department store and took it aprt in order to understand how it was put together and began making them herself. Nathanson advocated beaded flowers for sale through mail order because of their “indestructible” nature. Testament to this is my own piece which was brought back from the South of France and has travelled around with me with no trouble. If it ever looks like the petals are drooping you can just rearrange them.
More recently French Beaded flowers were used to make wreaths commemorating 9/11. With the help of the internet many beaded flowers makers contacted each other and all worked towards creating these large scale pieces, sending a flower or section of wreath from all over the world. These are currently on display in the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York which earlier this year.
Another exciting contemporary project which used french beaded flowers was commissioned by the Swarovski Crystal company. In order to showcase their line of crystal beads they had a collection of beaded flowers made.
Value wise I am not sure monetary value of these pieces, obviously the Swarovski ones would be worth a fair bit but as Jean rescued the piece I own from a skip! I am not entirely sure of pricing.
It seems as though the craft is gaining a lot of popularity recently with people making their own bouquets and even this Hawaiian Garland. Each flower is hand-stitched, one tiny seed bead at a time, taking over 100 hours and almost 35,000 beads to complete.
Having recently purchased a book on the techniques to arrive so watch this space for my creations! I want to create something typically ‘masculine’ out of these beautiful, delicate flowers and am currently working on a wrestling championship belt!!
Bloody fantastic exhibition! Heavy Weight History consists of Polish power lifters attempting, and sometimes succeeding, to lift politically rife monuments around Warsaw. Documented in the form of a reality TV show, much like World’s Strongest Man (one of my favourite TV programmes!) the work questions the continuing relevance of public statues, and uses the rich historical backdrop of Poland as the stage to do so. Being of Polish heritage myself I have often visited Warsaw and have specifically visited a lot of the statues in the work.
It is interesting to think about these large symbols of communist oppression, such as statues and buildings that are left behind and forced on the locals and the meaning that they now signify. I’m thinking specifically about The Palace of Culture in Warsaw, the so called ‘gift of the Soviet nations to the Polish people’, which is still widely despised by the Polish and yet is a massive tourist attraction and landmark to outsiders.