Posts Tagged ‘Turner Prize’

Grayson Perry, Futurism and the Democratisation of Art

December 13, 2021

One of the best programmes to have been on during the lockdown has been Grayson Perry’s Art Club on Channel 4, hosted by the Turner Prize-winning potter. He has attempted to encourage people across the country to get creating their own personal works of art. They have included ordinary Brits, as well as celebrities like Johnny Vegas and Boy George. At the end of the series, the works he selected for inclusion on his programme were exhibited in one of the country’s museums. Last year’s entry’s were displayed, I think, in Manchester. This year they’re being exhibited at the City Museum and Art Gallery here in Bristol. Accompanying the exhibition was an edition of his programme last Friday, in which he went behind the scenes to show the works being put up, as well as display the pieces that he had selected and talk to their creators. Those included came from all works of life. One was a volunteer at a food bank, who had painted one of the other women working there behind the counter. Another was a transvestite, who had painted himself in feminine make-up. Johnny Vegas had produced a highly stylised human figure representing Norman. This was a young lad he remembered from school, who always seemed hunched up in his coat as if he had already been defeated and given up on life. Vegas wished he could go back and encourage him to become more positive. One of the most amazing people was Becky Taylor, a young woman stricken with quadriplegic cerebral palsy. Paralysed and confined to a wheelchair, she nevertheless was able to speak and create through the same type of computer technology as Stephen Hawking. She was able to paint a portrait of Perry by moving her eyes across the computer screen. Their movements were captured by the software, which turned them into brushstrokes. The result was an astonishingly good likeness. Perry tried to do it for himself, but unsurprisingly only succeeded in making a mess.

It struck me that Perry’s programme in many respects was close to some of the ideals and demands made by the Italian Futurists. Not that the gentle, transvestite Perry had anything politically in common with the hypermasculine, nationalistic belligerence of the Futurists, who celebrated violence and declared war to be ‘sole hygiene of the world’, and whose survivors after World War I joined Mussolini’s Fascists. But Taylor’s art and the technology that enabled her to express her creativity would certainly have pleased them, as they celebrated the new industrial Italy. Marinetti, in his Founding and Manifesto of Futurism of 1909, had looked forward to ‘the coming union of man and machine’.

But Marinetti had also called for museums and exhibition spaces to be opened up to the public, to display the works of art that were being produced by ordinary Italians. He was impressed by the number of people, even in small villages, who were artistically inclined and dismayed by how they were frustrated and crushed. In his ‘Florentine Address’ of 1919, he remarked on ‘the proletariat of geniuses’, the frustrated intellectuals of contemporary Italy, calling for their encouragement and display. He said, or, more probably, declaimed

“I wish to fill another gap by turning now to the only proletariat that remains forgotten and oppressed: the vitally important proletariat of geniuses.

It is indisputable that our race surpasses all others in the large number of geniuses that it produces. Even the smallest Italian group, the smallest village, can claim seven or eight twenty-year olds, who are brimming over with creative fervor, youths of overweening ambition as revealed in volumes of unpublished verse and in eloquent outbursts in the public squares and at political rallies. Admittedly some (though they are few in number) are little more than foolish dreamers who will probably never attain true genius. But there is genius in their temperament, which is to say that, encouraged in the right manner, they might well contribute to the nation’s intellectual dynamism.

In that same small group or village it is easy to find seven or eight middle-aged men above whose heads hovers the melancholy halo of failed genius, a halo that accompanies them through their lives as petty clerks or professionals, in neighbourhood cafes, and with their families. Remnants of a genius that never found a propitious environment in which it might thrive, they were quickly laid low by economic and sentimental necessities.

I founded the Futurist artistic movement eleven years ago in order to brutally modernize the literary-artistic milieu, to deprive it of any authority and destroy its ruling gerontocracy, to debunk pedantic professors and critics, and to encourage the reckless outbursts of young genius. My aim was to create a fully oxygenated atmosphere, a healthy, encouraging, supportive atmosphere where all of Italy’s young geniuses might prosper. I sought to encourage all of them, to increase their pride, to clear a path for them, to swiftly reduce the proportion of failed and worn-out geniuses.

It is sometimes difficult to recognise, appreciate, and encourage young geniuses. In part this is because instead of viewing their homeland as a vast malleable mass to be molded spiritually, these youths regard it as an idiotic network of abuses of power, criminal rackets, corrupt authorities, and asinine rules. And, of course, they are right. Everywhere in our country, genius is undervalued, derided, imprisoned. Only mediocre opportunists and over-the-hill, one-time geniuses are celebrated and crowned….

Many other youths – dynamic, impetuous young men, intoxicated with spiritual heroism and revolutionary patriotism – have now swollen the Futurist ranks. But a great many others remain ignorant or depressed, stifled by the atmosphere of small ultrapasseist cities. Thanks to the vast wave of stormy soirees and demonstrations that swept up and down the Italian peninsula, Futurism came into contact with nearly everyone. But the nation’s political forces will have to undertake a more systematic campaign if we are to save, re-ignite, and tap the vast energies possessed by the proletariat of geniuses.

I propose the construction in every city of a number of buildings that bear a title like the following: Free Exhibition of Creative Genius. In these facilities:

  1. works of painting, sculpture, graphics, architectural drawings, machine drawings, and designs of inventions will be on display for a month at time;
  2. Musical works, small or large, for orchestra or piano, in any genre, form, or size will be performed.
  3. poems, prose, scientific writings of all kinds and lengths will be read, displayed, recited;
  4. all citizens will have the right to exhibit free of charge;
  5. works of any kind or any value, even if seemingly judged to be absurd, inane, crazy or immoral, will be displayed or read without a jury.

With these free and open exhibitions of creative genius, we Futurists wage war against an ever present danger: the danger of seeing the spirit shipwrecked on the ideological seas that swirl around the formulas of communism and the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

From: A Primer of Italian Fascism, ed. and introduced by Jeffrey T. Schnapp (University of Nebraska Press 2000) 271-3.

Some of this has been realised through recent initiatives to open up museums and art galleries to the public and aspiring artists, as well as the new opportunities for display that have come through the internet. I don’t quite share the Futurist’s artistic tastes – they were militant avant-garde artists who attacked traditional art and Italy’s artistic heritage. And there are obviously artistic, literary and scientific works that are too dangerous or immoral to be displayed or encouraged. But Marinetti had a point. Up and down Britain there are people, who have tried their hand at art or literature, and been discouraged because of lack of opportunity. They also deserve their chance. It’s great that programmes like Perry’s are there to encourage them.

But perhaps, to encourage the genius of ordinary people still further, we should build the exhibition halls he called for to show what talent is still out there, waiting to be discovered.

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.

TTA Spacecraft 2000 – 2100: Videos, Spacecraft and Book Cover Art

April 19, 2017

I put up a post at the weekend about a video I’d found on YouTube, in which a fan of Stewart Cowley’s Spacecraft 2000-2100 had made a short CGI film as a tribute. The film was a promotional video for the book’s fictional Terran Trade Authority, the global governmental organisation that had overseen the construction of the spacecraft which had taken humanity to the planets, and from then on to the nearest stars, meeting friendly creatures from Alpha Centauri, and fighting a war against aliens from Proxima Centauri.

The book Spacecraft 2000-2100 was a ‘future history’, of the type that was quite common in SF from the 1950s to the 1970s, when scientists and science fiction writers were confident that it would only be a matter of decades, perhaps only a few years even, before humanity established colonies in space – orbital cities, bases and then colonies on the Moon and Mars. FTL – Faster Than Light travel would be invented, and humanity would go on into the Galaxy ‘to seek out new life forms and new civilisations’, in the words of the Classic Trek.

The spacecraft in the book all came from SF book covers by some of the great space artists of the ’70s – Chris Foss, Angus McKie, Peter Elson, Bob Layzell, Fred Gambino and Jim Burns, around which the author, Stewart Cowley, wove his story of invention and exploration. It’s one of my favourite space books. The spacecraft depicted and their settings had a strange, otherworldly, literally alien beauty, even when the scenes were of industry or simple rocket launches. After I found the first video, I found another. This one is rather more complete. It uses the same computer techniques to recreate the spacecraft, as well as a whole scenes from the book. The spacecraft race across alien landscapes, rise into the air, hover above vast future cities, or prepare to dock with huge space stations.

I also found this video by Scott Manley on YouTube, where he talks about the book. He found it amongst his father’s old things, which rather dates me. Along with some of the other facts he mentions, he talks about the picture of an alien spaceship, which was plagiarised a few years ago by another artist, who entered his version for the Turner Prize. Apparently, the book was also republished in 2005, but was not well-received. The future history had to be rewritten, and some of the pictures were replaced by computer art. There has, however, also been a Role-Playing Game created, which is set in the same universe as the book.

Here’s a few of the book covers, from which the art was taken. Top far left is by Angus McKie; top let is Tony Roberts, bottom left is Bob Layzell, while bottom right is by Peter Elson. Neither of the two bottom images appear in the book. Other pieces by them do appear, and these show Layzell’s and Elson’s style
This and other great pieces of SF art can be found in the book Sci-Fi Art: A Graphic History by Steve Holland (New York: HarperCollins 2009).

Flanders and Swan on Pretencious Smut

June 18, 2016

Okay, I put up a piece a few minutes, which used Tom Lehrer’s satirical song ‘Smut’ to attack the moral panic about pornography on the Net. I share the same fears as the people worried about the exposure of children to porn and other unsuitable material. However, I’m also afraid that these perfectly natural, perfectly decent fears are being used to justify a broader campaign of censoring anything of which the Right disapproves, even if it has little or nothing to do with the sex.

The other side of this issue, is that a lot of intellectual and cultural pseuds have promoted some real rubbish as being high art or great literature, when it’s just basically filth. This pretty much describes, in my opinion, nearly everything ever produced by Damian Hirst and Tracy Emin and many of the rest of the Young British Artists, as promoted by the Turner Prize and Nicholas Serota. The best comment on this came a generation ago with Flanders and Swan and their song, ‘Pee Po Belly Bum Drawers’, commenting on the risquĂ© literature coming out of the pens and typewriters of Norman Mailer, Alan Ginsburg and the Beat poets, and the rest of the artistic avant garde at that time. Here it is:

Vox Political: Grayson Perry Sculpts Bell-End to Represent Bankers

May 21, 2016

Mike also put up another hilarious article on Thursday about a piece of work Grayson Perry produced to represented the financial sector. Perry’s a Turner-prize winning artist, specialising in pottery and ceramics. He found the world of banking and finance to be increasing male the further one went up the hierarchy. To symbolise this, he sculpted a giant phallus, embossed with pound coins, and the heads of bankers, including George Osborne.

See the article at:http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/05/19/artist-embosses-sculpture-about-bankers-with-george-osbornes-face-heres-what-it-looks-like/ Warning for those easily shocked: it’s got a picture of the pottery penis in question.

Perry states that it’s not his most subtle work. Possibly not, but it is accurate. There have been a number of scandals about the lack of women in the upper levels of the financial sector, and it is a very, very masculine environment. One report about the imbalance said that not only were there very sexist attitudes towards women – they were divided up into ‘babes’, ‘mums’ and ‘dragons’ – but that the bankers themselves had a very cynical and exploitative attitude to their clients. Indeed, they often boasted about how they had shafted them. This is the world of the Wolf of Wall Street and Gordon Gecko.

And quite often members of the financial sector do describe themselves in phallic terms. One financial whizzkid, whose book was reviewed back in the 1990s by Private Eye, even described himself as ‘a big swinging dick on the stockmarket floor’.

You can also find support for Perry’s ceramic penis from the sociobiological interpretation of mythology. One academic used sociobiology, or as it is now, evolutionary psychology, to explain the phallic shape of ancient Greek herms, or boundary markers. He noticed that troops of baboons similar post guards with erect willies as sentries when out foraging, and males also engage in ‘penis fencing’. He therefore concluded that the shape of the herms was a similar primate display of masculine guardianship over place. You could therefore argue that Perry’s pottery penis is thus an apt sociobiological comment on the extremely culturally phallocentric culture of the financial sector.

Or am I reading too much into this?

As Freud said, ‘Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.’