Posts Tagged ‘Chris Ofili’

The Painter of Cyberspace: The Art of Jurgen Ziewe

January 20, 2018

Earlier this week there was a piece in the press announcing that the Turner Prize Committee had decided to go public early about which artworks and artist they were considering. I have strong feeling, like many people, about the Turner Prize. Many of the works seem simply designed to shock, with nothing more substantial underneath. Those that aren’t, are simply banal. It’s highbrow kitsch, which says nothing while claiming that it actually does. And I think modern fine art has reached a dead end. it’s anti-art, which constantly raves about Duchamps’ urinal nailed to a piece of canvas. Duchamps did it to make the point that whatever the artist claimed to be art, was art. It’s over a century old, and the joke’s well past it’s sell-by date. It was always an adolescent, childish prank anyway. To some of these art experts, it’s a hallowed artistic statement that must not be blasphemed in any way. You remember those Chinese guys, who were arrested when they jumped up and down on Tracey Emin’s ‘My Bed’? The same two were planning to urinate in Duchamps’ urinal. Which I feel is in keeping with the piece itself, but the mere thought horrified the keepers of official art.

The real artistic boundaries are being pushed, in my opinion, not by the fine artists, or at least, not by those fine artists currently pushed by the very small clique that defines what ‘official’ art is, like Nicholas Serota. Rather, they’re being pushed by commercial artists and film makers, often inspired by the worlds of Fantasy and SF, using computer graphics. One of the foremost of these, in my opinion, is the German artist Jurgen Ziewe. Ziewe lives over here, and has an English wife. And we are fortunate to have such a talented artist. I do wonder what will happen to other talented EU migrants like him after Brexit, who can’t stay in this country because they aren’t married. We’re going to lose a lot of very talented people.

Ziewe uses computer graphics, including Virtual models of humans and objects, and fractals, to create prismatic, Virtual, interior worlds full of robots, strange creatures, synthetic humans, fairies, wizards, witches, priestesses and temples. He started out making cards showing dolphins under cosmic skies. He’s a very spiritual guy, in a New Age-y sense, and his work is inspired by concepts from Theosophy and C.G. Jung. Here’s some of the picture from Nigel Suckling’s book about his art, New Territories: The Computer Visions of Jurgen Ziewe (Paper Tiger, 1997).

The Fairy Queen

Picnic In Cyberspace

Journey of a Virtual Traveller

Apart from Ziewe, other artists working in film and television have also been using the concepts of computer graphics. One of the features of the BBC TV version of the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that most impressed me in the late ’70s or early 1980s were the, ahem, computer graphics for the pieces of information provided by the Book. In fact, they were hand drawn, because the computers at the time simply weren’t up to the task of creating pictures that detailed. But the art produced as ‘computer graphics’, was superb, and those, who watched the show were deeply impressed. As an example, here’s a piece from YouTube of the Book describing Vogon poetry.

Further examples can be seen in pop videos. Like this one from the American electro-pop band, Information Society, which uses scrolling alphanumerics to suggest passage through cyberspace in a computer game, made for their track, ‘The Prize’.

Other artistic explorations of medically or cybernetically enhanced vision can be seen in the films Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick and the last of trilogy, entitled simply Riddick. Richard Riddick, the anti-hero in these movies, is a violent criminal, a murderer, who somehow ends up doing the right thing. While in slam for his crimes, he paid the prison doctor 20 menthol cigarettes to have his eyes surgically altered, ‘polished’, so that he could see in the dark. In these flicks, we so bits of the action through his eyes. The scene in Pitch Black, where he sees the predatory aliens pouring out of their underground lairs after the marooned crew of a crashed colony spacecraft, is awesomely beautiful. This is the trailer for the movie.

And this is the trailer for The Chronicles of Riddick.

In this movie, the Necromongers use visioners, cybernetically adapted humans, to seek and visually examine areas that are difficult or impossible for normal human eyes to see clearly. And the brief scenes, in which the audience is shown what they see, are also stunning.

But this is low, commercial art, and so unlikely to find any praise by the High Art people, no matter how popular it is, or how technically sophisticated and visually inspired. The best comment on this kind of artistic snobbery comes from the American SF/Fantasy artist and book illustrator, Bob Eggleton.

Being a commercial artist is itself a kind of pigeonhole in the art world, but it is not a label that troubles him. ‘Commercialism for the sake of commercialism is not a sin. What I hate is commercialism packaged as fine art. That’s what Abstract Expressionism about, you’re buying into a trend much of the time. There’s nothing wrong with any kind of art, provided the artist believes in what they’re doing.’

From Nigel Suckling, with introduction by Gregory Benford, Alien Horizons: The Fantastic Art of Bob Eggleton (Paper Tiger, 1995) page 83.

And the YBAs, such as Damian Hirst, Tracey Emin and Chris Offili, were very commercial, as was Salvador Dali long before them. This was pointed out on a programme on the great surrealist on Radio 4 several years ago by Malcolm MacLaren, the genius – well, he obviously thought he was – behind the Sex Pistols.

And here’s Eggleton’s picture of Great Cthulhu, painted for Weird Tales magazine, for all the Lovecraft fans out there.

I realised I’ve digressed a little way from the central topic of this post, the fantastic computer art of Jurgen Ziewe. But these are related issues, showing the way computers, robots, space and high technology – the stuff of Science Fiction – is pushing artistic boundaries in ways that the official fine art of Conceptualism really isn’t doing. I’m also exploring a few ideas here for a much longer article, or series of articles, I intend to do on this sometime.

Vox Political on Salmond being Denied Official Help by British Diplomats in Iran

January 25, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has this story from the Groaniad, http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/01/25/salmond-v-hammond-and-the-constitutional-crisis-caused-by-a-diplomatic-dinner/. When Alex Salmond of the SNP flew to Iran just before Christmas on an official visit as the SNP’s Foreign Affairs spokesman, he expected to have the facilities of the British embassy in Tehran made available to him. When he got there, he was told by the ambassador, Philip Hammond, that he was not entitled to them, and so ended up hosting the event himself back at his hotel, paying not just for his own delegation, but for the staff from the embassy and the Iranian guests, who attended.

Salmond makes the point that this politicisation of the Foreign Office is absolutely unacceptable. It is the British Foreign Office, not that of the Tory party.

It’s an attitude of which the Conservatives, their SPADs and Philip Hammond should be ashamed. Firstly, it’s a disgraceful way to treat fellow Brits, especially in front of foreign dignitaries like the Iranians. It truly shames Britain.

And it’s especially embarrassing because this was done in front of the Iranians. The Iranians are deeply suspicious of Britain. This stems partly from their experience of British colonialism during the late 19th and 20th centuries, when Britain tried to draw them unofficially into the sphere of the Empire. British financial control and constraints were put in place following a series of colossal, and unrepayable loans, made to the Qajar Shahs, who were finally over thrown by the father of the last shah in 1920. After oil was discovered in Iran, the oil industry was effectively controlled by BP, who were then Anglo-Persian Oil. We seized the oil fields again during the Second World War, to prevent them falling into the hands of the Germans. About this, Churchill said, ‘In tempus belli leges silent’ – ‘in times of war, laws are silent’. When Mossadeq nationalised the Iranian oil industry in the 1950s, the CIA and Britain organised a coup to oust him. This led eventually the establishment of complete autocratic rule by the Shah during the White Revolution. And that, in turn, was the cause of Islamic Revolution and the Shah’s overthrow in 1979. During Britain’s control of the Iranian oil industry, Iranians were paid much less, and worked in poorer conditions than the British workers.

As a result, there’s a level of deep distrust in Iran towards us. John Simpson in his book on Iran states that there’s an Iranian proverb that runs, ‘If you see a stone in your path, it was put their by an Englishman’. Many Iranians also blame us for the Ayatollah Khomeini. In the 1990s there was a rumour going round that Khomeini was the son of a British oil worker called Williams. It’s completely untrue, but widely believed. And the subject of a number of jokes.

It was quite an achievement in the 1990s when diplomatic contact between Britain and Iran was finally restored and relations ‘normalised’, especially after the Ayatollah placed the fatwa on the head of Salman Rushdie. This, incidentally, hasn’t been lifted. It is much to the credit of Obama that he has prevented the Iranians getting nukes, and enabled the sanctions to be lifted and trade with Iran to begin again.

Britain can benefit from this. I can remember back in the 1990s Damien Hirst, Chris Ofili and other Young British Artists flying to Iran when the regime put on an exhibition of some of their works. Quite how that happened, I honestly don’t know, as the strains of modern, Western-influenced art, was one of the cultural issues the Iran revolutionaries were particularly reacting against. What is shocking to us is probably just as shocking to them. If not more so. But there you are.

Hammond’s fit of pique in denying official services to Salmond therefore seems to me acute counterproductive. It appears to show the Iranians that British politics between Scotland and Westminster is acutely divided, and that the British delegation have a strain of petty spite. This is not an image to project to potential business partners or allies in the common fight against terrorism and genocide in the Middle East.