After six hours spent wading through the human scrum of the BETT conference floor yesterday, I put my time to better use today and split the day in two. The morning therefore was spent at the Tate Modern, looking through the main galleries for the first time since they were all re-hung. It looks good, and whilst I naturally skimmed through several rooms of over-familiar material, there was nevertheless enough new things to be excited about, or old familiar friends to enthuse anew over. My Moleskine notebook was put into practice for the first time in a while, with some furiously scribbled notes about potential project ideas, or at least new artists or works to use as starting or reference points. What follows is an attempt to make sense of those ideas and to collect them for posterity. Am I more likely to remember to read my blog in six months than I am to look in my notebooks? Who knows. Maybe that’s part of the experiment of life.
So I started off with Mark Tobey’s ‘Northwest Drift’, a lovely piece about local colour and flavour. “Colours which seem indigenous to the locale” as he put it.
Next I went into the Rothko room. Now, I have some glorious memories of this when it was in the Tate Britain. Arguably it worked better there surrounded by the wood panelling, but nevertheless it felt like being back home. I know it’s cliché to say it, but the Rothko room really is a spiritual experience. The paintings force you to empty your mind and to contemplate both the universal vastness and the minutiae of existence. It’s to do with the fields of colour reverberating in the soul (today they seem like the colour of coagulated or dried blood) and the detail of the tonal variances I think. Sitting looking at length at the paintings, I am aware of the banks of colour and tone on the peripheries of vision, and these seem to be as important as the picture in front of me. For some time I have the luxury of being in the room alone. Later, several young people wander in and quickly leave. They don’t get it. Which is fair enough. I’m not sure I do either, although I do know I love it passionately.
Next it’s Tacita Dean. I saw these blackboard drawings ten years ago at the Turner Prize show, and really liked them then. They seem even better now. The sea swell drawing is exquisite. The ‘lost at sea’ video is compelling also, and I sit for longer than I really have time for.
I pass swiftly through the glut of surrealist schtick (brimming with school kids inexplicably drooling over Dali) pausing only to admire ‘The Autobiography of An Embryo’ by Eileen Agar because it looks like it could be a great starting point for a Visual Arts / Science project.
Cindy Sherman is better by far. I have long had a soft spot for Sherman and remember Clare doing some lovely Sherman influence work at EDC many years ago. Looking at the Film Stills afresh, I’m struck by how they might be used as an impetus for creative writing that explores the potential narrative behind the images. Also, working in digital photography and then putting the images back into advertisement or magazine layout forms, thereby making some kind of influential feedback loop. This would be good for the Digital Graphics course, particularly if we then looked at some of Brody’s Face layouts, or the old Ray Gun pages.
Thomas Schutte’s photographs of caricature models are even more inspiring. The opportunities for mixing 3D modelling and photography are enormous. I’m not sure what materials have been used for the models, but students could easily use plasticine or clay.
As with Sherman, I’ve liked Jenny Holzer’s work for a long time too. I’m not sure if I had just forgotten about her ‘Truisims’ piece but it really tickles me today, particularly having seen these LED displays at the BETT show yesterday. We should invest in some for the gallery and other public spaces at school and use them for displaying creative writing made specifically for the media. As well as the boring messages of school life of course…
I’m sure I posted about this before some years ago, but it really is unspeakably spooky looking at Layla Curtis’ UK Maps and seeing Exeter where Troon should geographically be. For those who don’t know, I grew up in Troon (Scotland) and for the past fifteen years have lived in or around Exeter. As I say, it’s spooky.
Its gorgeous to see some Kurt Schwitters collages in the flesh again. They really are exquisite. For some reason I also start thinking about Poem posters too, and that ties in with the Tomato typography work for Underworld which in turns brings me around to Jasper John’s always inspirational ‘0 thru 9’. Text as shape and form. I need to explore these ideas with my Digital Arts students.
There are also some lovely little details I picked up today. Like seeing some photos by High Noon director Fred Zinnemann, most notable amongst which was a 1932 shot of a six day bike racing event at Madison Square Garden (hence the origin of the name of the ‘Madison’ track race for cyclists). Also I didn’t know that the photo source for Richard Hamilton’s ‘Interior II’ was a promotional shot for Shockproof, which I have to say I have never seen.
Best of all though (well, alongside the Rothko room) was seeing Christian Marclay’s extraordinary ‘Video Quartet’ piece from 2002. This is surely the best piece of Video installation work I have ever seen. Maybe it’s because it’s so firmly rooted in filmic reference (Marclay uses clips from a huge range of Hollywood movies as his source material which makes it a gricer’s paradise), or maybe it’s because it makes such fine use of sound and music, but whatever, I wanted to applaud when it had finished. If you have never seen it, then I’d suggest you get along to the Tate Modern pronto.
And finally, passing through one of the rooms, I spot an abandoned backpack and sketchbook sitting on the floor beneath the hanging Robert Morris sculpture. The tension between the sculpture and the objects is palpable. Shortly afterwards a young girl and her friend return to the sketchbook and sit in the same position drawing the blue wall hung Donald Judd. It is a beautiful moment.