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Some Saturday Music – Rafaella Carra

A friend of mine shared this video clip with us before jetting off to Ibiza in summer. I have been hooked since, even though I can only recognise certain words in Spanish (corazon de vagabundo sounds particularly familiar). The text of the song makes sense although I’d still not attempt to translate it… but if you know Spanish and can help, please do!

Por si acaso se acaba el mundo
todo el tiempo he de aprovechar,
corazon de vagabundo
voy buscando mi libertad

he viajado por la tierra
y me he dado cuenta de que
donde no hay odio ni guerra
el amor se convierte en rey

Tuve muchas experiencias
y he llegado a la conclusion
que perdida la inocencia
en el Sur se pasa mejor

Para hacer bien el amor hay que venir al sur
para hacer bien el amor e ir donde estas tu
sin amantes!
quien se puede consolar
sin amantes!
esta vida es infernal

Para hacer bien el amor hay que venir al sur
lo importante es que lo hagas con quien quieras tu…
y si te deja no lo pienses mas…
… buscate otro mas bueno
vuelvete a enamorar!!!

Todos dicen que el amor
es amigo de la locura.
Pero a mi que ya estoy loca
es lo unico que me cura
Cuantas veces la inconciencia
rompe con la vulgaridad
venceremos resistencias
para amrnos cada vez mas

Tuve muchas experiencias
y he llegado a la conclusion
que perdida la inocencia
en el Sur se pasa mejor….

Para hacer bien el amor hay que venir al sur
lo importante es que lo hagas con quien quieras tu…
y si te deja no lo pienses mas…
… buscate otro mas bueno
vuelvete a enamorar!!!

Para hacer bien el amor hay que venir al sur
lo importante es que lo hagas con quien quieras tu…
y si te deja no lo pienses mas…
… buscate otro mas bueno
vuelvete a enamorar!!!

… Buscate otro mas bueno
vuelvete a enamorar!!!!!!!!!!!!

(found here).

Buy a Picasso, Save the Planet

Pratically hours after I briefly talked about saving the planet with the help of Social Media at the monthly Social Media Cafe, the UK-wide campaign to cut down emissions by 10% by 2010 has set off an art bomb. They got their hands on an original, signed Picasso and are offering it up for grabs, provided you pay £10.10 to enter the competition. And you can buy yourself as many chances as you like before the 31th of January deadline. The magic hat computer database will then produce one lucky white rabbit who will receive their genuine treat to hang up on the wall. All entry fees will go towards supporting the green cause.

Sadly, the competition is for the UK citizens only, but this will undoubtedly provide some food for thought to other green organisations elsewhere in the world. I have no idea where they’d get their Picassos from (or Matisses, or Leonardos, for that matter), but something will surely be spurred by this marriage of art and ecological initiative.

PS: I know the title is somewhat misleading. You are winning a Picasso, of course. However, because you are buying yourself chances to win the painting, you are effectively buying a Picasso. Not for a princely sum… although that may depend on how many times you choose to enter.

Turner And The Masters – Now With a Special Quiz from Tate

I cannot complain about the number of lovely presents I have received, but to have an app dedicated by Tate Britain on Twitter is very different, so many thanks for such a wonderful surprise. Admittedly, I am not the only recipient: I am in the company of great Twitter folk who enthusiastically took part in discussing The Guardian‘s article back in September. You have read my contribution in this post: The Masters We Choose: Turner vs. Old Masters.

I am not going to tell you who won when I attempted the quiz, although I state that I was not cheating. I was as honest a critic as I could be. Turner goes against Rubens, Rembrandt, Canaletto, and Titian, among others, and the pop-up windows give you a chance to have a close look at the paintings.

To take a quiz, go to Turner & The Masters. And at the end of it you may like to fill in a form for a chance to win a special Turner goodie bag. What’s in it? Hmmm, you’ll have to do the quiz to find out!

People Vs. Artists

I know I’ve not written anything about Roman Polanski’s arrest on this blog – but I have written an article. As always, I allow myself to do what the legal system of some countries evidently cannot: namely, to make my own mind, without falling into either “protectionism” or emotionalism. I sent the article to one of the papers in the UK but have not heard anything. And to judge by the stance taken in this case by The Guardian, in particular, the article like mine is unlikely to be published. To use The Guardian‘s scale, I’ve got French views.

People vs. Roman Polanski

The point that Polanski’s supporters seem to be missing has to do with the shift in values that has been occurring over the last couple of decades (at least). The shift in values has to do with what is defined as art, and with who is defined as an artist. The shift in values has to do with how artists are compared and chosen. There is nothing wrong, of course, with listening to Maria Callas and Rufus Wainwright with a similar degree of pleasure. But if we apply “genius” to both of them, the question rises: if we have to choose further, who of these two will be the ‘ultimate’ genius, and why?

Because of this it is futile to argue that Polanski should be pardoned due to the sheer merit of his work. I argue in the article that nobody is interested in the present state of things. Nobody is interested in who Polanski is (or how old he is), just as nobody cares about Samantha Geimer, her family, her children. The entire attention is focused – farcically and paradoxically – on the event that took place 32 years ago, and the present is judged entirely in the light of the past, if with a sprinkle of today’s cynicism. The situation is strangely reminiscent of the one explored in The Tenant, a Polanski film.

Jacques Derrida – a Frenchman, of course – proposed a very valuable but perhaps improbable for our opinionated society idea: to forgive means to forget. Judging by Geimer’s interview of a few years ago, this is exactly what she has been trying to do all this time: to put the incident behind, to forgive, and to move on.

And, honestly, the publicity surrounding it was so traumatic that what he did to me seemed to pale in comparison… Here’s the way I feel about it: I don’t really have any hard feelings toward him, or any sympathy, either. He is a stranger to me. But I believe that Mr. Polanski and his film should be honored according to the quality of the work. What he does for a living and how good he is at it have nothing to do with me or what he did to me. I don’t think it would be fair to take past events into consideration.

It is the society that seems to be unable to grasp the fact that, for all the terrible nature of the incident, its repercussions for the victim were not as gruesome as they could be. It is the society, as well, that continuously blurs the boundary between a child and an adult. We are used to the trend of mass-producing Lolitas and putting the burden of responsibility on adult men, but on this occasion we have a different situation: 32 years later Samantha Geimer, a married woman with children, is still treated as a 13-year-old girl who was raped by a famous film maker.

I argue that Polanski should be pardoned not because of the merit of his work or certain tragic circumstances of his life. The aim of the legal system of each country is intelligent justice, and on this occasion the legal system must be above the public opinion. Rather than taking into account Polanski’s work – the significance of which the current imbroglio cannot detract from – the American legal system should better remember that, with the possible extradition, the country where Polanski is not native will again be robbing him of his family, as it already did once, thanks to Charles Manson’s gang. By re-opening the case, the legal system will also not do any justice to the woman. It is best to admit that there are occasions when legal judgement is non-applicable, especially when a significant period of time has elapsed, and the victim has expressed her opinion.

As for why Hollywood’s defense has provoked a backlash of “average Americans”… getting back to the start of this post, people do not discern between artists, and it is for this very reason “being Polanski” (or Allen, or Scorsese) is no different from “being John Smith”. Whenever there is a chance to bring an artist down – and the public defamation of artists and other public figures has been trendy for a while – the crowd is always up for it. This is not done with Justice in mind. This is merely an opportunity to bring an accompished person down to an average level, to the level where the crowd can treat this person as one of its own.

This antagonism between people and artists is the very antagonism that underpins democracy. Freedom is the paramount condition in which a great work is born; equality challenges it by ascertaining the right to produce an average piece of work rather than an outstanding one. Freedom is associated with artists; equality is close to people’s heart. In democracy, equality both threatens and is threatened by freedom – but it is, in its turn, a pre-condition of democracy. The Polanski case this time round sheds tons of light on this antagonism, and the outcome of the situation may well predict how freedom and equality will co-exist in future.

Diwali in Trafalgar

Diwali in Trafalgar, originally uploaded by loscuadernosdejulia.

Back in April 2004 I travelled to London for the first time in my life. And then I went again at the turn of October and November in 2004, which was when I took this photo. I went to see Raphael’s exhibition at the National Gallery, and there was the Diwali festival happening in Trafalgar Square. This is one of the photos I took with a regular Kodak camera, not a digital one.

I am posting this photo to wish a Happy Diwali to all readers who celebrate this holiday!

Museum Photography: Examples from Three Countries (UK, USA, and Russia)

How do museums regulate permissions for museum photography, and is there a conflict between personal photos and official museum merchandise?

museum-photography
Industrial Gallery, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (@Julia Shuvalova, 2008)

In the first week of December I went to Birmingham, and one my destinations was the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery that houses the works of some leading Pre-Raphaelites. Taught by experience, I asked about museum photography. Yes, I had to fill out the form again, but this time the rules were set out in more detail, although once more there is a clause or two that may potentially be difficult to interpret even for the staff themselves:

1. Any copyrights (including publication rights) created in the photographic materials produced under the conditions stated below are reassigned to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

2. Any photography is for personal reference only. No permission for any reproduction rights of any kind is granted or may be assumed. Permission for reproduction rights should be applied for, in writing, to the Picture Library. Each case will be evaluated independently.

3. Any work, which is protected by the artists’ copyright, may not be photographed without the permission of the copyright holder.

4. Any works on loan, including temporary exhibitions, may not be photographed.

5. Flash photography is permitted unless otherwise specified.

6. The use of professional photographic equipment is prohibited. Tripods and monopods may not be used under any circumstances.

7. Video cameras or camcorders may not be used under any circumstances. Filming is prohibited.

Fair enough, reading these rules may put an intrepid visitor off taking pictures in the gallery altogether. However, the first two points just further reinforce what I have highlighted in the previous post on the question of reproduction. The problem is seemingly not only about a picture’s commercial use, but about the multiplicity of such uses. Naturally, if the photo is included in a book, it will be reproduced as many time as the book. For this, it is essential to apply for a permission to a museum.

Regarding the 3rd point, my feeling is that this needs to be discussed with the copyright holder before their work actually gets to be displayed. This is something that many professional artists’ and photographers’ websites tend to lose the sight of. By creating a website and making it public, they by default agree that this information can be shared. It is the same as with the printed word: if it was printed, you cannot stop people from quoting it. This is not to say that their work can be reproduced for commercial purposes by other people, but this should mean that a blogger may wish to not only write about them and give a link to their website, but also to include an image in the post, to illustrate why it would be good to visit the website at all.

Likewise, when an artist is displaying their work at the museum or gallery where photography is generally permitted, they have to be aware that a visitor can upload a taken photo online. It makes every sense to restrict this, on the one hand; but, on the other hand, the world has grown bigger with the Internet, and this potentially means that artists, especially young, may find it more and more difficult to compete with other artists and to assert themselves in the world. Social Media tools, and particularly photosharing, will facilitate this to an extent.

With loaned works and temporary exhibitions, I feel the galleries would need to spare some resources to clearly display the permission signs in such spaces of the gallery. As more and more often galleries intercept the regular display with a temporary exhibition, it is difficult for a visitor to understand where a photography permission ends and where it resumes again.

Regarding the specialist photography permission, this is a good point and the one that I think can be reinforced to avoid the taken photos being reproduced to a commercial end. This is how the Brooklyn Museum defines their stance on photography in the gallery:

Photography and videography are allowed in the Museum so long as the images are taken using existing light only (no flash) and are for personal, non-commercial use. Photography and videography are often restricted in special exhibition galleries.

Add to this also that many paintings are displayed under the glass, hence the photographic image of a painting in the gallery space can be far from ideal for reproduction.

A different take on photography and videography in the museum comes from the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, Russia. As you need to purchase tickets to view the collection, you can also purchase a permission to make photos or videos in the museum. The website explains that there are warning pictograms in the halls where it is not permitted to take photos or to use flash. I did use this permission once myself in 2002, and this was great to show the museum to my parents who happened to have never visited the Hermitage.

The question rises, of course: why would I film, and not buy a video cassette or a DVD? Well, we all count our pennies, and on my memory even 6 years ago it was cheaper to pay for a photography pass rather than to buy a DVD set. I have been taking a notice of what people photograph and film, and I have never seen any of them making a complete record of the collection. If any of the readers have been to the Hermitage, they vividly imagine the sheer grandeur of the place: you would not know what to photograph because there is too much to see, and all too splendid! They say it takes 5 hours to quickly run through the entire Hermitage (i.e. only stopping at a few paintings), so imagine the weight of this on your photo- or videocamera. But what the Hermitage achieving with this is very valuable. On the one hand, they allow people to create a personal record of a visit to this art depository, a historic monument, and one of the most beautiful sights in the world altogether. On the other hand, by asking for a small fee for a photography permit they also bring in money to the museum.

More on Photography and Blogs and Social Media

More on Photography in Museum: The Question of Reproduction

Photography in museum: the conflict of copyright and “personal use”. What museums can do to protect their collections.

photography in museums
Visitors taking photos at the John Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool (@Julia Shuvalova, 2008)

It looks like more and more art depositories are beginning to ask visitors to fill in a photography in museum permission form. I do think that this is likely to be requested in a smaller gallery rather than in a big one. Imagine the huge queue of tourists at the British Museum, all filling out permission forms…

As I stated before, I do not see any problem with restricting photography in museum at the special exhibitions, and then there is a tricky situation with the works of art by contemporary artists, as not only is there a “regular” sort of copyright which we all acquire by virtue of producing a work of art, but there is also a 70-years copyright restriction. On the other hand, those works of art can often be found online anyway, so the first question is whether the artist and the art depository by restricting the permission actually end up pushing away the benefits of being directly credited in the image?

Another problem is how to define the concept of “reproduction”. Indeed, if I take a photo of a painting (sculpture, photograph by the like of Man Ray, etc), I am effectively “reproducing” it. Yet again, there are so many reproductions of these works of art on the Internet, and services like AllPosters.com not only provide links to a large number of online images, they also produce quality prints. I never ordered any posters from the mentioned site or others, but it would certainly be interesting to leverage the number of prints bought by those who visited, say, the National Gallery shop online or in person, and the number of prints bought through a poster-making website.

I must admit I never looked into the relationship between AllPosters.com and any of the art depositories, whose works they print: perhaps, there is a sale commission agreement, or some such. Whatever is the answer, this is clearly the case of an image being reproduced for commercial purposes. How is this different from uploading a photo to a blog or to Flickr? As far as Flickr goes, this is currently a non-commercial service, so “reproducing” an image there should not be constituted as a commercial move.

Uploading a photo to a blog can be more complicated to an extent, if the publisher uses AdSense. My personal view, however, going off the fact that many of the images are available online via different resources, is that if the publisher intends to earn their income by “reproducing” the works of art on their blog, there is little need for them to visit a museum and twist the brains over photography permission. They can find very many images on the web, or they can scan “reproductions” from a book.

Two things may be kept in mind. First, art depositories need to assume that people who do fill out a photography permission form may be intending to upload photos to the web: this constitutes the “personal use” for them. This intention cannot be denied simply because photosharing services are one of the most powerful communicative tools online at the moment, and it would be a pity to see the depository restricting this. Rather, a depository should have the means to see where people upload photos taken in the depository, and how these are being used. The question of an image credit is usually not disputed by the online community, but there is nothing wrong about reinforcing it.

And the second thing is that an art depository that asks for a photography in museum permission form to be filled in, can in fact include in it a question about how the visitor is planning on using the photo. Better yet, visitors can be asked to apply for a permission online, and if they are an online publisher (i.e. blogger or website owner), the depository will be able to evaluate the resource prior to giving a consent to photography. Needless to say, such requirement would have to be very clearly displayed on the website or in the gallery.

More on Photography and Blogs and Social Media

What Do You Think an Artist Is?

Is pain-inflicting, self-mutilating “art” worthy of such name? Can we not sympathise with another person until we literally wear his shoes and physically experience his sufferings?

Update (29 July 2009):

Almost three years on, this has become one of the most popular posts on Los Cuadernos blog. And in the first half of 2009 I saw one site and one video that presented individuals performing self-mutilating acts for art’s sake. First, a pair of twin brothers exchanged arms: one brother’s arm was cut off from his body and reattached to his twin’s body. Thus one man remained with only one arm, while another ended up with three. And the video below taken from TrendHunter explores artistic self-mutilation further, with ten jaw-dropping examples of what is considered art.

Far from decrying anything you see in the video, I will, however, reiterate the point I made in the original post: why, after all wars and losses, do people still need to “practise” pain and mutilation, as if viewing the images of the dead and disabled people is not enough to understand what pain and death is? Three years on, I think I know the answer.

Humanity is fascinated by Death because, like Love and Pain, this is an eternal secret. It is a mystery. Camus said that suicide is the only true philosophical problem, but since the result of a suicide is death, it means that death itself may be the only true philosophical problem. Philosophy, since its origins, has been preoccupied with making sense of Life and of Man as a living being; but much rarely has it delved into the mystery of Death, and this may be its biggest challenge and hurdle.

It is human therefore that everything morbid fascinates, intrigues, and perplexes us. (Zizek comes to mind: people are forever concerned with what they cannot change). Memento mori. Danse macabre. The theme of Death and the Maiden in art (e.g., Hans Baldung, 1517 (right)). Venus at the Mirror as the parable of the fleeting beauty and deplorable life… the list can be continued, and all it will serve to do is to prove to us how truly interested artists are in what philosophy isn’t so eager to discuss. And in this regard it is probably only normal that there are people who use their own bodies to understand the mystery of pain or the secret of being on the brink of dying. In order to live on, art must be experimental, even if it has to experiment with itself.

Having said so, I’d rather not have this kind of art being performed publicly, let alone covered by the media. With our inclination to build hype around things it would be hard to see the forest for the trees.

Most importantly, I am always somewhat confused when artists, writers in particular, claim that in order to write about something they must know it, experience it first-hand. I’m uttering things, but does that mean that Dostoyevsky would need to kill a couple of old ladies to be able to write Crime and Punishment? And at the same time, speaking of literature, can it not help us gain the life experience that we seek?

It may depend on how we read, of course. Reading is both mental and emotional process. However, what is interesting is that because we most often use words to express ourselves, our entire life is one huge text, and each of us is reading it and making sense of it according to our aptitude and experience. We have to translate this text, either in the language of our experience, or in the foreign language, or in the language of other arts or disciplines.

Can it be therefore that after all the millenia humanity has learnt to do pretty much everything, including the genetic engineering and flying into space, but is still rubbish at such important thing as reading? Reading is understanding. Understanding gives one a key to influence things, to change the world. But what is there at the heart of it? Love, no doubt. For we only care to understand things we care about. And nothing can drive us to care about something as much as Love does. However…

…if we cannot love enough to care to understand, does it not mean that even in our Christian world we have never taken Jesus as an example? Does it not mean that we broke the teaching into citations and took to memorise the words without understanding (sic!) their meaning? It’s been a while since I thought: how odd it is that we are told to love God – but not people. How odd that people love God but distrust their neighbours. Maybe it simply means that people inherently distrust themselves. Maybe it means that they find it easier to trust in the Object that is forever absent and therefore cannot let them down more than it already does, rather than trusting another human being whose money isn’t always where the mouth is. But if Art is born in Love, and the present generation of artists often lacks empathy, does this not explain the rising concerns that contemporary art is devoid of essence?

Original post (2 October, 2006)

Several sayings by Pablo Picasso have already appeared on The LOOK’s front page in the past. I also love this photo of him made by Robert Doisneau. A genuine portrait of the genius.

Another portrait of the genius was made by Jean Dieuzaide, and I’ll leave it for you to guess, whose historic moustache you’re gazing at.


I’ve also found this phrase by Picasso a while ago on the web:

What do you think an artist is? An imbecile who has only eyes, if he is a painter, or ears if he is a musician, or a lyre in every chamber of his heart if he is a poet, or even, if he is a boxer, just his muscles? Far from it: at the same time, he is also a political being, constantly aware of the heartbreaking, passionate, or delightful things that happen in the world, shaping himself completely in their image. How could it be possible to feel no interest in other people, and with a cool indifference to detach yourself from the very life which they bring to you so abundantly? No, painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war.

One may say that Picasso’s viewpoint is somewhat outdated, in that people want to live in the world as peaceful as possible, hence art-as-war is no longer interesting. But there are many kinds of war, and not all are fought with tanks and missiles. There are language wars, religious wars, ‘moral’ wars, media wars, and all use art as a type of warfare. Furthermore, as George Orwell has put it, there are four main reasons to write prose, one of which is ‘political purpose‘ – ‘using the word “political” in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certan direction, to alter other people’s idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude‘ (Orwell, G., Why I write).

It would be very hard indeed to disagree with either Picasso or Orwell, and there are modern artists who follow in their footsteps. Perhaps, they don’t get involved in politics very much, but they nonetheless admit that their art exists because of people. One such artist is Dave McKean, who put it this way:

My own world is just trying to make sense of the real world. I don’t like the sort of science-fiction art and fantasy art that is just about goblins and fairies and spaceships. I don’t really see the point of that. It’s entertaining and it’s fine, but I couldn’t do it. I needed to be about people, who I have to deal with every day, and that’s what I’m interested in. I’m interested in what people think and how they think, and the things that they believe in, and desire, and are frightened of. So I’m interested in that side of life, really. And then I’m trying to sort of look at those things from a different point of view, or from metaphor, or from dreams, or from these other angles, because I think they are just interesting ways of seeing things, you know, that you have to deal with everyday for fresh, and you see them with different eyes, I think. [read full article based on McKean’s interview].
Finally, however, comes this passage from The Wicked and Unfaithful Song of Marcel Duchamp to His Queen by Paul Carroll:

 

Art? A form
of intimate hygiene for
the ghosts we really are.

This brings to my mind a TV programme made by Channel 4, which explored the anti-art, particularly in the form of inflicting pain on oneself as a means of teaching the audience a lesson of empathy. One of my ‘favourite’ moments on the programme was the couple who drank tea with biscuits, while literally “hanging down” from the ceiling on chains, hooks perceing their skin. The idea was to explore their experience of pain and also to expand people’s understanding of pain through such performances.

Having read the entire 120 Days of Sodome by de Sade, I wasn’t scared or repulsed by what I saw on screen, but it made me think. The question I asked myself was this: why in the world where there are so many wars and where the footage of deaths and casualties is already available on the Internet, is it necessary to appeal to people’s empathy by sticking iron hooks in your chest? Far from telling the artists what not to do for their art’s sake, I’m simply wondering about the purpose of such art. If the knowledge of the two World Wars and many other military conflicts doesn’t automatically make people detest the very idea of an offensive war, if the photos of destroyed houses, orphaned children and open wounds don’t change people’s view of loss and pain, then why would seeing two able-bodied adults hanging on chains drinking tea influence people’s idea of pain, or make people more compassionate? I’d imagine that after watching such ‘performance’ people would lose interest in pain altogether. If it’s endurable, then what’s the problem?

Some people with whom I discussed this previously have pointed out that this practice of piercing and inflicting pain is ritual in some countries and cultures. The problem, though, is that the only instance of it on our continent that springs to my mind was flagellantism that had spread in Europe in the 13-14th c. and was later revived as a sexual practice. There is evidently a difference between the culture of piercing in African or Aboriginous societies and this ‘hygienic’ European movement, and as far as I am concerned, this difference is much bigger than someone may think. This ‘civilized’ pain-inflicting art, given its purposes, is – in my opinion – exactly the kind of ‘personal hygiene’ Carroll had written about. An artist, no matter how politically involved, is above all a human being, and when he lacks empathy and cannot relate to other people’s experience, unless he shares it physically, forces to raise questions as to how worthwhile, creative and useful his art is.

And don’t quote Wilde’s ‘all art is quite useless‘. Unknowingly, in this witticism Wilde precluded Sartre who would say that culture doesn’t save or justify anyone – but that it is the mirror in which humanity sees itself. Considering that the Wildean phrase comes from The Portrait of Dorian Gray, culture or art as the mirror symbolically connects Wilde and Sartre. Perhaps it is good if humanity finally notices that it spends more time destructing and inflicting pain instead of learning to love. But will it finally start doing something about it?

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