THE PIGEON 1989
Author: Patrick Suskind, 1949-
Abandonment, Trauma, Disruption
"Suskind shows his outstanding gift for unravelling the implications behind very small oddities, and exposing the dangerous anarchy which lurks beneath everyday events"
- Sunday Times
"No human being can go on living in the same house with a pigeon, a pigeon is
the epitome of chaos and anarchy"
(Suskind, 1989, p. 11)
Patrick Suskind is one of the most critically acclaimed contemporary writers in German literature. I read his short novella, The Pigeon, in one sitting. The strange and at times, overwhelming story, reveals how a seemingly unshakable pattern can be disrupted by unpredictable forces.
The Author comments on the human condition, delivering a thrilling character study throughout a twenty-four hour period in the life of Jonathan Noel. Haunted by past traumatic events, Jonathan strives to evade discomfort and hardship by being withdrawn from all social interactions. Jonathan actively decides to abandon the world, in order to avoid being a victim of abandonment again. The story is set in Paris in 1984, where the fifty-three-year-old protagonist lives and works as a guard in a bank. Jonathan's Parisian life is eventless and solitary; he expects death to be the only event to disrupt his strict routine. An unexpected event takes place on an ordinary Friday morning when Jonathan discovers that a pigeon has entered the enclosed space, his sanctuary, sitting just outside his door.
"It was crouched there, with red, taloned feet on the oxblood tiles of the hall and in the sleek, blue-grey plumage: the pigeon." (Suskind, 1989, p.9) This surreal appearance seems to manifest a loss of control and rationality, generating an urgent response in the protagonist, who's identity is now buried by anxiety and paranoia. The arrival of the pigeon, therefore, creates a new trauma, an unpredictable moment of chaos and terror. Jonathan's emotional and physical reaction to the feathery presence prompts him to pack his belongings and move to a hotel. Jonathan ultimately decides to head home and face his pigeon trauma. Throughout this unwelcomed meeting, the author gracefully captures an authentic existential crisis, and an ordinary man who's rigorous existence was disrupted by a pigeon.
"My pictures are about everyday life combined with theatrical effect. I want them to feel outside of time, to take something routine and make it irrational. I’m always looking for a small moment that is a revelation."
American Photographer, 1962-
Photograph: Untitled (2007)
from Beneath the Roses
Cinematic, Uncanny, Suburban
Gregory Crewdson's photographs present uncanny events that connect the domestic, the suburban and the surreal.
The American photographer portrays intimate scenes that are seemingly ordinary but produce a sense of disruption. Individuals are often captured in moments of reflection, in ambiguous and often disquieting circumstances. His portrayal of emotional and physical disconnectedness is what makes Crewdson a relevant influence on my work.
Crewdson's series, Beneath the Roses, is a highly cinematic body of work; it investigates suburban landscapes and has an exceptional capacity to unsettle. His images are constructed through sets that are epic in scale; they seem to blur the lines between cinema and photography, like stills from a film that has never been made. In this series, familiar American neighbourhoods and seemingly mundane domestic scenes emerge, revealing the darkness that hides behind suburban contexts. I find Untitled (2007) to be one of the most striking photographs from the above-mentioned series; a sense of alienation is expressed through the depiction of the two figures that are ostensibly lost or tormented. His representation of the domesticity of life offers the viewer a real feeling of desertedness and voyeurism.
The composition appears to be complex; this is evidenced by the meticulous arrangement of symbolic elements, which highlight the presence of clues and meaning within each tiny detail, e.g, the bottles of pills. The apparent ambiguity of the narrative has the singular power to encourage understanding, by leaving the end to the viewer's imagination. I find this work to be a psychologically charged portrayal of anxiety, fear and the dark side of everyday life.
1) A Woman in the Sun,1961, Oil on Canvas
2) Study for 'A Woman in the Sun',1961, Charcoal on Paper
Melancholy, Domestic, Voyeurism
"I find, in working, always the disturbing intrusion of elements not a part of my most interested vision, and the inevitable obliteration and replacement of this vision by the work itself as it proceeds."
(Hopper, 1933, Notes on Painting, p. 17)
Hopper's paintings offer a timeless emotional quality that informs my work.
His use of light and colour builds his distinctive atmosphere and compositions, which unite in a depiction of subjects in complex psychological states. Although Hopper's paintings seem to be a pictorial embodiment of his inner reality, his work also responds to the inter and post-war American environment, expressing feelings of anxiety, isolation and disconnection.
His paintings suggest a melancholy narrative, captivating the viewer's imagination whilst exposing the potential and the ruptures of ordinary city life. Much like Crewdson, Hopper's work has a cinematic style, although the latter illustrates with a lower degree of detail.
His urban and domestic spaces are defined by dramatic synergies of lights and shadows and a strong presence of voyeuristic perspectives. In his paintings, emotionally isolated figures (city dwellers) occupy seemingly anonymous interior spaces where quiet moments of tension suggest solitude. In A Woman in the Sun (1961) Hopper depicts his wife Josephine, through the lens of his internal vision. "The picture is about the walls, the visible and implied windows, other pictures within the picture itself, a floor, and an elongated rectangle of cool whitened light on the floor and on which the figure of a woman stands" (Taggart, 1993, p. 3) The female figure is in melancholy, her nude still body appears to be framed and trapped by a rectangle of light, in a quiet pre-crisis moment. The light formed by the 'implied window" seems to be engaged in expressing the figure's confinement. In his reading, Taggart argues that the melancholy present in the painting is a symbol of a crisis of erotic origin. The shut window exposes a natural landscape, emphasising the blankness of the interior space along with nature's connection to death, perhaps the real 'crisis' is indeed death.
French-American Artist, 1911-2010
Installation: Lady in Waiting, 2003,
Tapestry, thread, stainless steel, steel, wood and glass.
Domesticity, Childhood, Abandonment
Louise Josephine Bourgeois investigated a variety of themes refining concepts that became essentials to contemporary art.
Bourgeois' work diverges from installation and sculpture to painting and printmaking. Over the course of her long career, the artist engaged with themes related to childhood, death, domesticity, femininity, sexuality and concepts of psychoanalysis. It appears that her commentary on the themes abovementioned serves as a therapeutic expression and escape from the artist's experiences, memories and troubled childhood. Her work has a voyeuristic quality, it seems to give the viewer the opportunity to witness the feelings of displacement that arise from the more obscure aspects of life.
"Each cell deals with a fear. Fear is pain... each cell deals with the pleasure of the voyeur, the thrill of looking and being looked at" (Louise Bourgeois quoted in The Secret of the Cells, 2011, p.81)
A prime example of this is her innovative body of work: Cells, a sixty piece series of installation with various enclosures produced in different forms, materials and scale. These emotionally charged theatrical scenes look to be an entrance into Bourgeois' interior world, constructed by architectural elements they often include found objects related to the home.
The Cells, generators of life, deal with memory, imprisonment and the human body, they also seem to speak of feelings of isolation and abandonment. I find myself to be in a state of total admiration towards Lady in waiting (2003). In a surrealistic presentation of a room-like cell structure, a small distorted body of a creature assembled in fabric sits on an old chair. This work is perhaps offering a physical representation of personal subjects and trauma. Her use of symbolic elements, such as the spider, representative of motherhood, reveals her interest in the vulnerability of the human experience and above all the woman's condition.
American Photographer, 1958-1981
Photograph: Woodman, House Series, House #4, Providence, RI, 1976
Surrealism, Uncanny, House
"Am I in the picture? Am I getting in or out of it? I could be a ghost, an animal or a dead body, not just this girl standing on the corner?"
Woodman's photographs display surrealistic connotations that connect the familiar with the unfamiliar, turn the unremarkable into remarkable and the immaterial into material. Woodman is known for her photographic self-portraiture within makeshift environments, submitting her own body to an uncanny fusion into unfurnished and uninhabited dusty dwellings. I'm particularly interested in her unique exploration of disruptive environments, which emphasises the fragility and the importance of space.
A relationship between the house, displays of time, loss and absence is evidenced in her House Series (1975-1978). In this series, Woodman seems to be exposing the disturbing essence of the house and her own struggles with it. I suggest notions of identity and place and to be the primary focus of her work. Her body, subject of many of her works, appears in a pattern of soft lights and shadows suggesting movement by creating contrast with the dusty surroundings. The presence of this contrast leads the viewer to question and interpret the uncanny events portrayed.
"She remains faithful to guarding the hearth, even when the hearth has been torn away and she has to insert herself as a kind of cement between the hearth and the wall" (Raymond, p. 26)
In House #4, the artist is residing in the decay, haunting or haunted by the architecture that is seemingly smothering or protecting her nakedness.
The photograph appears to be skillfully staged, as her blurred figure struggles to take possession of the house. Her body is crouched beneath a dismantled fireplace, the ambiguous presence of the prop demands questioning, perhaps a signifier of death. Symbols of decay and death manifest in many of her photographs, the viewer is left to observe the contours of a disappearing feminine body ever-connected to notions of absence and abandonment.
American photographer and filmmaker, 1979-
Film: Despair, 2010
Uncanny, Theatrical, Emotional
"I am looking for the disconnected connection"
- Alex Prager
ALEX PRAGER STUDIO CHALLENGE 2020 - WINNER
Julia Silvester, Oil painting on arches paper
Recreation of: Alex Prager's Compulsion 4:01pm
Sun Valley (2012)
I first came in contact with Alex Prager, when I visited her Silver Lake Drive exhibition at The Photographer's Gallery in London. Prager comments on disconnection and the vulnerability of human existence, with a distinctive uncanny and voyeuristic quality. Portraits of humanity in candid moments of alienation, disturbance and emptiness emerge, through chilling surrealistic juxtapositions between the absurd and the ordinary.
Her still images, cinematic and elaborate, are constructed by a vivid primary palette which triggers collective memory. Prager's practice seems to present the reality of her world while offering a Cindy Sherman and Hitchcock effect.
According to Prager, her short film, Despair (2010), was created to be a "full-sensory version" of her photographs. The short film is set in a 1960s Los Angeles where "the sky is always blue, the birds are always singing – it’s a strange picture of perfection – but there is this eerie monotony that creeps in after a while. I think it can slowly drive people crazy – that sense of unease under the surface of all this beauty and promise. I stage my pictures with this place in mind – a place where dreams die quietly." (Prager, 2009)
The presence of themes of detachment and death reveals that perhaps, the film may be about the death of a dream.
The title suggests Prager's focus on portraying women who represent her own emotional states, in this case, the emotion of despair is presented in a dialogue-free piece that illustrates the before and after of one intense moment of tragedy. A redheaded leading lady, a femme fatale, a distressing phone conversation that ultimately leads to the heroine's suicide. The narrative is eerie, melodramatic and theatrical, perhaps it reflects her fascination with the 1950s aesthetic of The Red Shoes (1948). In each shot, a ravishing contrast details the character in all her disconsolateness, her red high-heeled shoes, her fair skin and her sea-green dress. Prager's use of lighting, costumes and makeup creates a more dramatic and saturated version of real life, that seems to seduce the viewer in the observation of the dark things happening.
Katy Hessel is a London-based art historian, curator and creator of The Great Women Artist Instagram account and Podcast. I'm an avid listener of Hessel's podcast, particularly while I paint. Through her podcast, I learned about and discovered, a number of artists that have ultimately influenced my work. Episode twenty-four was dedicated to Prudence Flint.
Prudence Flint is one of the contemporary female artist featured in Dwelling is the Light, an online exhibition presented by Timothy Taylor Gallery and curated by Katy Hessel. The gallery recently announced a program of online viewing rooms, arranged as a result of the global health crisis. Considering the impact that the current lockdown is having on our view of nature and the domestic, relationships between interior and outdoor spaces are explored by a fantastic selection of female artists. Intimate and at times surreal investigations on domesticity, interiors, nature and the sublime.
"Women—who for many centuries were simultaneously at home within but also confined to domestic spaces—retain a unique perspective on the interplay between the indoors and the unbridled freedom of the natural world.”
DWELLING IS THE LIGHT
Exhibition curated by Katy Hessel
Timothy Taylor Online
15 April – 15 May 2020
Artist: Prudence Flint, 1962-
1) Hope Gangloff, Future Skies Over Bozeman, Montana Reprise ,2019
2) The Stand, 2019, Oil on Linen
Domesticity, Nature, Womanhood
Flint' paintings present female figures set in eerily quiet scenes, with a pastel-like palette. The artist depicts ordinary moments, interior environments and explores themes of womanhood and the everyday. In the abovementioned interview with Hessel, Flint states: “I wish for women to be at the centre of things… to be all things, whole, boundless, perverse, and representative of humanity. I want to give voice to this experience of being alive, now, in this culture, as a woman.” (Flint, 2020) In The Stand, the interior space appears serene and simple; this emotionally charged place of contemplation, allows the viewer to become a voyeur and to visually experience the everydayness of the activity. There's a sense of universality that distinguishes her portrayal of the figures and the room, the reflectiveness of the poses adds to the intensity of the narrative and to the importance of the everyday.
BIRDS IN LITERATURE 1994
Author: Leonard Lutwack, 1917 - 2008
Bird Imagery, Familiarity, Human Condition
Birds have always been part of humanity, they have survived the development of our society, they exist near us and with us.
Leonard Lutwack explores the connection between birds and humanity in Birds in Literature. The author investigates the way bird imagery has been used in poetry and narrative, revealing the feathery features that have captured and inspired poets and writers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Birds have an influential role in literature, they serve as metaphorical images for social struggles and as symbols of the human soul. While literature has the function of "restoring to the animal the significance it once has for humans" (Lutwack, p. 250) With a balanced and transparent critical style, Lutwack evidences the presence of birds in poetry," few poets fail to respond to birds". (Lutwack, p. xii) Works by Emily Dickinson, D. H. Lawrence and Thomas Hardy are probed, along with the central figure of the bird, which is ultimately used to evoke meaning and express relationships between people.
Lutwack suggests that the sense of familiarity that one experiences in connection to birds, occurs when birds are observed flying, singing and migrating. “The unfailing rhythms of migration, song and silence, nesting and fledging, have supplied poets with easily comprehended symbols of the circle of life and death that all nature seems to suggest.” (Lutwack, p. 24)
The author divided the study of the European literary tradition in chapters, forming his discussions by evidencing his ornithological knowledge.
"Familiarity and transcendence have given birds a wider range of meaning and symbol in literature than any other animal" (Lutwack, p. xi) Although birds have attributes that seem familiar, they are still considered to be enigmatic creatures and therefore, are adopted in the depiction of the mysteries of the human condition. Bird imagery is considered alongside notions of confinement, escape, eroticism, freedom and womanhood.
In the end, despite their familiarity, birds will continue to be wild, unpossessed by humans, existing "beside us, but alone." (Arnold,1945, p. 457)
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