Krzysztof’s lecture 3rd Sept – Don’t look back

I found Krzysztof’s lecture last week really interesting and it has been the first time I felt I really needed to make notes on it. Perhaps this is because it is close to some topics I have been researching or perhaps because I can relate to it in research terms. The following are notes I made:

  • What’s gone before (in terms of styles of art) tend to be ‘collapsed’ into current work. All sources – those mocking and celebrating – all get collapsed into a current theme.
  • Art movements are not about individuals in isolation, but are groups of people. Not just artists, but writers, musicians, photographers, film-makers, theorists and pushing out into manifestos and magazines etc. It is about a time and place not an individual. An engagement with the world.
  • Surrealism pans a large historical timeframe (including the modern-day). It asks us to consider what is real and what is imaginary – and contemporary art still asks us to consider this. Contemporary artists take add unexpected, dream-like qualities to something familiar.
  • Political elitism seems to have disappeared from contemporary art practice, so individuals are no longer excluded from a movement because they don’t share the groups views.
  • Andre Breton used to discover his inner, subconscious voice, by using automatic writing/drawing/painting. These can show explicit ‘hidden’ ideas of desire and identity.
  • In figurative painting these have been explored by artists ‘staging their own identity’ – e.g. Kahlo and Cindy Sherman (a more recent example).
  • We can’t help being influenced by what we see and experience throughout our lives. Therefore all art that has gone before helps to inform our current work. All influenced consciously and subconsciously – as Derren Brown aptly proved in his ‘Animal Heaven’ Mind Control programme.
  • Surrealism often appropriates objects from the everyday world. This is because they are ‘troubling’ in a poetic or revelationary way when looked at differently or because the objects are put together in an unexpected way (i.e. Man Ray’s The Gift – an iron with nails in it – which would destroy the item you intend to iron – thus subverting the objects use and therefore existence).
  • Subject and object are no longer two separate threads and are now combined.
  • Everyday things can be made monstrous or irrelevant by dramatically changing their scale.
  • By digging through layers of consciousness in relation to an object, it can become revelationary
  • Surrealism still continues today. Bourgeois hung out with the original surrealists and continued to make work in the vein until her death – and other artists continue to do so. She says that we SHOULD look back on previous art. This is because art is not a linear history, it is not a ‘before and after’ but is a spider’s web of links.
  • Dadaism is all about humour and subversion. It is an anti-cultural and anti-art movement which revels in engagement with scandal and transgression. Traditions, skill, style and technique are all thrown out of the window and things that would usually define an artist are frequently changed and therefore hard to pin down.
  • David Shrigley (who did the taxidermy dog with the “I’m Dead” sign) is also humourous – his work is both light and profound at the same time.
  • John Stezaker (who I saw at the Saatchi Gallery in the summer) uses collage to turn simple things into complex and poetic ones. Two photographs split and rejoined to become one disjointed image with an appropriate title create a profound overall ‘whole’.
  • We need to remember that we still revere photographs as areal and this gives them an authority in themselves – even though we know that they are likely to have been manipulated these days.
  • Readymades. The importance of these works is in their contextualisation. It is the idea and the authority of the idea that matters here. The gallery is the ‘staging’ and ‘frame’ that ‘authorises’ the artwork – almost ‘allowing’ the piece to therefore BE art by it now appearing in a gallery – it becomes removed from its original intended purpose. No skill or training is required in these works – it is all about the idea.
  • Sherrie Levine has taken this to another level by making her own piece entitled Fountain (after Marcel Duchamp: A.P.) by re-appropriating Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’.
  • Many modern artists put readymade objects where they don’t belong to ‘disturb’ us. Such as Hirst’s shark (‘The Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’) and Emin’s ‘Knowing My Enemy’. Both put familiar objects/subjects in an unfamiliar and unexpected surrounding to disturb us and knock us off kilter. This may rile you or irritate – but ultimately they do their job of making you question what art is and how and where you see it – in a gallery or everyday. They are a massive springboard for thinking and discussion – which is often the intention.
  • Simon Starling also looks at readymade objects – but he changes them as well as placing them out of context. He looks at the logic and history of an object and how that might reveal more profound, philosophical thinking about it. Changes in history and culture change the perception of the object over time.
  • Contemporary artists strive to change the world and see the world with new eyes, in a different way.

So we SHOULD look back to the past – both our own personal past and the larger historical one to reinvent it and apply it to now.


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