‘Family Matters’ – In Conversation With Jane McAdam Freud

Jane McAdam’s solo exhibition ‘Family Matters’, hosted by Gazelli Art House.
Jane McAdam Freud, the daughter of Lucian Freud and the great-granddaughter of groundbreaking psychologist Sigmund Freud, is an internationally acclaimed sculptor and multi disciplinary artist with a career extending over twenty years. Most often recognised for her sculpture, her work features in the permanent collections of museums and galleries around the world including the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and The Brooklyn Museum, New York.

Noa Lidor: Doubting Thomas

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I believe that nothing happens totally by chance. And that to be a great art critic you have to believe in God – in order to understand that to be an artist is a God-given gift.

I feel it necessary to preface this essay by introducing myself as a Jewish art critic, who adores Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’; its Apostles and their symbolic roles. That, in itself, is quite a feat for a ‘nice Jewish girl’. The part I find most irresistible is the spilt salt cellar near Judas Iscariot, who, abruptly taken aback, reacts to the sudden revelation of his plan to betray Jesus by tipping over the salt shaker which symbolises … ah, wait, back to all of that later..

For now, I want to tell you how I first became enticed by the artwork of Noa Lidor. In January 2011, I was reviewing an exhibition entitled, ‘Drawn from Life’, at the Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal, Cumbria for BBC Radio 2’s flagship arts programme, ‘The Arts Show with Claudia Winkleman’.  I picked on Noa Lidor’s piece, mentioning how much I enjoyed it, for its symbolism, which I find quite irresistible.  I said that what I liked about Lidor’s artwork was her ability to use salt in a way that shaped channels of communication between localities and epochs as diverse and distinctive, unique and individual, as human characters that have narrated accounts that probe the ‘self’, as seen throughout art history. 

Being an art history lecturer, for me, to see how much they all overlap is particularly exciting.  It was through Lidor’s employment of salt – as a metaphor for tears, decay and aging, whilst simultaneously being a preservative over all that is life-quenching, and life-sustaining, that makes salt a most necessary natural element of the world.

Almost a year later, in December 2011, I visit her in her studio in north London, prior to the exhibition.  As much as she is plain-spoken, proud and intelligent, she is humble, gentle and down-to-earth. Her portfolio is sober and bold, united by an undercurrent of compassion for the human condition.  Not just a collection of ‘singles’, but an ‘album’.

I do like it when an ‘artwork’ comes together.  Be it the artist’s, or mine.  Let me explain.  I recently held a Leonardo da Vinci illustrated slide lecture and drawing from the model studio session at the Hampstead School of Art, London, following the National Gallery’s sell-out ‘Leonardo da Vinci:  Painter at the Court of Milan’ exhibition.  I focused on his symbolism, bringing the most Christian of art to some of the most orthodox and observant Jewish women in north London.  Ironically giving them the most religious of cathartic experiences. And so it happens that I find myself fascinated by Lidor’s work also because, as a Jew, I find the Judeo-Christian connections in her art so appealing.

In Chaim Potok’s book, ‘My Name is Asher Lev’, about a Hasidic Jewish boy living in New York City, the story follows Asher’s maturity as both an artist and a Jew, as he studies the paintings he becomes interested in – Crucifixions; as he explores the conflicting traditions of all that is traditional in art, versus religion.  For Asher, art is his religion, just as to me, it appears to be Noa Lidor’s. Besides which, I’ve always maintained that the artist’s studio is their temple. And I always feel that the Art Museum is a sort of temple for me, and when I visit it I feel like a pilgrim.

One further thing I want to tell you about is of my own sanctimonious practice before starting to write an art review.  I often imagine that I am describing the art to a blind person.

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Lidor’s art is about the free-verse separation that unites poetry with prayer, using Duchampian ‘ready-mades’ that coalesce that which is public, with the personal, so that a ‘blind date’ takes on new meaning, offering much promise.

The installation ‘Field (Andromeda)’ is made of various brass bells deep-rooted, sunk into a double size bed mattress, in a way that exposes their inner, normally concealed, space. The bells, eighteen of them in four different sizes, are positioned to map out the star constellation of Andromeda – named after the princess who, in the legend from Greek mythology, was chained to a rock as a sacrificed to a sea monster. Perseus, the hero who slew the sea monster, saving the beautiful Andromeda from death at the last moment, later becomes her husband. Ah, I love a happy Hollywood ending.

 This is a very feminine piece, the bed’s symbolism of sleep and subconscious, as flatly laid-down and bare as Tracey Emin’s, ‘My Bed’, is a reflection of the self.  ‘This dark ceiling without a star’ (the title of the solo exhibition in which this piece was first shown) is the closing line of the poem ‘Child’ by Sylvia Plath.  Gazing somewhere in-between heaven and earth Plath shows how, distressed in spirit, she feels she is living a life without light [“this dark ceiling without a star”], ubiquitously stuck between the immense celestial and the small-time small-town, small woman that is herself (or in this case Lidor), quixotically domesticated.

The size of the bell-circles corresponds to the level of brightness of each of the stars. This, in turn, also perhaps looks like a rash developing over skin, or wounds in the surface.

Although silent, the significant positions and sizes of each bell may well be interpreted as tuneful notes on a musical staff that could form a muffled musical composition, gently silenced by the squeeze of padded mattress foam. Bells playing a ‘light’ (through the sense of meaning both ‘not dark’ and ‘not heavy’), albeit silent music, and ring loudly with the immensity of all that we love in big, grave sculpture.

‘Tank’ is a massive mural organized out of Pointillist dots, which, once joined by your eye Dot-to-Dot fashion, form the profile of a military tank. On near inspection you realise the tinny picture is created out of hundreds of thimbles implanted deep into a wall of plaster. Renaissance fresco-like, ‘Tank’, life-sized at 9 metres long, engages the wall as something that both separates and unites.

Think of the Western Wall (also known as Wailing Wall) – a remnant of the broken down temple in Jerusalem, where Jews come to pray, Or the Israeli West Bank security barrier, standing between the Israelis and the Palestinians, just as the walls of Babylon were fortification and the walls of Jericho fell after Joshua’s Israelite army marched around the city blowing trumpets. And Pink Floyd’s album, ‘The Wall’, which features the wall as part of ‘the problem’, realising an urge for destruction.
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This exercise of ‘pointing’ – the thimble can be read as a surrogate for the fingertip – towards the reality outside the exhibition space, allows Lidor to ask the bigger questions we want answered about art. Making art. Making reality. Her pointing out that which might be on the other side of the wall – which we cannot see.

The use of thimbles in today’s BlackBerry and iPad technological age is somewhat out of date, maybe an anachronism yes, but they’re also romantic. Starry-eyed and prosaic; the stuff of fairytales bound up with moral myths of sacred narrative explaining how the world – and humankind – came into being; an abstraction wistful of times gone by, of the lost innocence of the child – suffer the little children to come unto me. It is of the simple, being above suspicion, as with the Chapman Brothers’ ‘Zygotic Acceleration, Biogenetic, De-Sublimated Libidinal Model’, where life – being both magnificent and transcendental, is numbed by God as something impossible.  In this way, Lidor is chief architect of the abstract assembly and parable, working with vessels and negatives. An intuitive artist, whose sagacity of knowing what it means to ‘feel right’ seems as if it originates from a compass she has within her bones, pointing in the right direction beyond ambiguity and beyond belief.

The thimbles, inserted bullet-like into the gallery wall, punctuated mark-making, become like a Leonardo da Vinci Cartoon – a full-size preparatory study. And of course, we know that da Vinci also, conceptually, invented the tank.

Lidor’s wall installation cleverly crosses the periphery of drawing into sculpture, somewhere in between the two and three dimensions. Drawing, as a 2D act, is unmistakably palpable, whilst the 3D upshot becomes mysteriously hard to pin down – so subtly intangible has Lidor made it, reduced in indication, as calculated and absorbed within the wall.  Whereas most artworks sit proud, out, on the wall, out to you, the gallery-goer, Lidor’s does the opposite; which is what I’ve come to expect of her now.  All an oxymoron.  This requisite tempts, invites, you to come closer within finger-reach of the work, enabling you to put your finger into it, to connect to it upfront and personal.  Feel the substance that Lidor’s image is ‘of’, like bullet holes, they punctuate space – like a full stop in the sentence of time – as Lidor’s work speaks of concerns of communication and all that is desire – both tactile and sexual.

The ability to touch and peer closely at this work heightens the obsessive, almost violent dimensions, of the process of means by which Lidor shoots hundreds of thimbles into the wall in this image, the manner of a tank: the metallic material-ness of which echoes the cold hard nose-metal circles of the thimbles, transforming the male fantasy of salvation into a female image bound to the wall surface, with nowhere to run.  No exit holes.  Simply a complex, yet subtle, sculptural disruption of space that maintains a still, pared down, feel of a highly sophisticated Renaissance drawn line in western art.

It is the union that Lidor draws between the two – the tank and the thimble – that establishes for me a rationality of discord and apprehension amid contrary parallels of control, proving that yes, opposites do indeed attract.  It’s the internal and exterior; big and little; masculine and feminine. Tank – a phallic, man-made erection symbolising man’s challenge to triumph over the force of machinery and tools (I cannot help but think of Epstein’s ‘Rock Drill’ being given a new life).  Whilst it is in the round, feminine, thimble that connubial intimacy is symbolised.  The private woman standing aside the public man, each with their ‘to protect-and-provide’ mind-set.

So whilst it is that ‘Tank’ talks about protection and security while denoting areas of danger and battle, it is the humble thimble’s purpose to protect and safeguard the small details that may be missed amid the coliseum of it all – the lady’s finger busy – ‘a stitch in time, saving nine’.  Being a Jewish mother (and Lidor is a Jewish mother too), for me Lidor’s images connect to the Jewish concept of ‘Eshet Chayil’ (Woman of Valour), who is full of life. Virtuous, able, maybe even a little lonely, within her domestic environment, as, self-absorbed and introvert, she tends to her ‘woman’s work’, consumed with a filling quixotic, reflective, worth of ‘home’.

The piece metaphorically invites you to poke a finger into the wall, to assert its solidity and question it at the same time. As in John

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20:24-29: “Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”  Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Lidor made a small graphite drawing in her sketchbook after Caravaggio’s ‘Doubting Thomas’ (not shown in this exhibition).  Caravaggio’s piece has been an influence upon Lidor in the way that Caravaggio depicts the scene with the finger in the wound; the way he chose to interpret the text of the scriptures – in which, by the way, it is never explicitly said that Thomas put his finger into Christ’s wound – only that he said he will not believe unless he does, and later that Jesus invites him to do it – all this, being relevant interplay for Lidor as a stepping stone from Bible to painting, making touching as equal as seeing.  Right down to the fact that we, the viewers, ‘see’ and ‘believe’ this scene as it comes through the painting. The power of it so strong, it brings both assurance of security and shock of horror.

Lidor’s new series of watercolours entitled ‘Doubting Thomas’, in shades of red, pink and brown, features imprints taken from a knitted round doily. She dips the doily into watery paint and rubs her hand over it to print it – blood-like – onto the paper. The result looks like an x-ray or like the imprint of hot metal on skin. Alongside these there are imprints of the artist’s forefinger. In the context of the title, the flower-like images of the doilies seem to represent wounds, pointed at or penetrated into by the finger.

Some flowers in Christianity symbolise wounds and suffering – such are the passion flower, named after the suffering of Christ and representing his five wounds, the poppy which stands for the blood of Christ and the red rose which symbolises martyrdom. The doily imprints in the ‘Doubting Thomas’ series also bring to mind ‘Rose windows’ – the symmetrical stained glass windows with a stylised flower-like shape – found in medieval churches.

Lidor is interested in the way that a natural element – the flower, is turned into a stylised pattern and becomes a decorative object – in this case the doily – by means of repetitive meticulous knitting labour (one might say futile, like masturbation). When she takes an imprint (a simple, quick action) from this object, it reappears on the paper as a general and abstract image of a flower again – as if the image of the flower is reclaimed, freed from the constraints of the decorative object.

After she started making them, some of these watercolours had also begun to remind her of images of sperm swimming towards an egg. I think of Munch’s ‘Madonna’.

In some of these drawings, the meanings expand, as a few of the ‘holes’ or rather the shapes created by the loops of the doily remain white and become like starts, pointed at by the finger. In a drawing that incorporates Van-Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ Lidor traced all of the wavy brush strokes, leaving blank the stars and the tree – the tree like a finger or a phallus pointing towards the stars. In another drawing, the doily is halved, creating a metaphor of a hand-held fan which reminds me of Goya’s ‘Black Series’, his tapestry cartoons and his paintings of Spanish women waving fans.  Although a highly feminine art, fans were also used as weapons.  In Goya’s court of Spain, the fan was used in a more-or-less hush-hush unsaid cryptogram of communiqué.

In ‘And indeed there will be time’ (the title an excerpt from TS Elliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’), Lidor stacks about two hundred hand knitted cotton doilies under a small wooden side table. A hole in the tabletop, cut out in the shape and size of the doily, reveals the top doily in the stack, which is level with the tabletop, as if it lies upon it.

A knitted doily on a side table is very middle-class, bourgeoisie. It speaks of the woman at home. In this installation it seems as if, like in a Magritte painting, the doily has suddenly bitten through the tabletop like acid and has multiplied – like a mutated cell, like cancer. Penetrating the surface of the table right down to the floor; even through the floor to the centre of the earth, like a meteorite piercing the clay soil of life’s cycle, taking root in its sobriety and offering stability in its ground(ing). The radial symmetry of the doilies appears to fall through the table towards the ground with as much energy as Michelangelo’s God breathing the spark of life through the Earth’s atmosphere into Adam (Sistine ceiling), when Adam’s finger and God’s finger are about to … touch. Like Leonardo’s knot pattern engraving, or an Indian Dream Catcher, so beautiful, the doilies are suggestive in shape of a snowflake too – white in colour (spiritual and pure) that changes into something ‘clear’ once melted, almost as if it is traded for water – as it becomes see-through and unseen, like a ghost.
Lidor’s works make me think of a matriarch coming to repair and fix, as in Vermeer’s ‘The Lacemaker’, and the way Louise Bourgeois sews up her past. At the same time, she is questioning the flat surface, searching for depth and meaning. It is in this same way that you’ll look at Caravaggio’s ‘Doubting Thomas’, you too assuming the Doubting Thomas refusal to believe in something without direct, physical or personal evidence of it. You, the sceptic, invited by Lidor to ‘believe’.  It is in this approach that Lidor uses her basic household items. Establishing their ordinariness and familiarity. Yours for the discovery.

Lidor explores space that is disrupted through sculpture, which is inspired by the realities of (her) life. For the installation titled ‘I have heard the mermaids singing’, several lines from TS Elliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ were transcribed into Braille, blown up and recreated with small hills of table salt. The text becomes unreadable to the seeing eye as it is to the unseeing touch. Standing up by the force of gravity alone, à la Anish Kapoor, the salt mounds are arranged like mini sculptures on top of a family-sized wooden dining table, that seats the perfect family, of four, in order to take on a cultural dimension – like Joseph Beuys’, ‘How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare’.

Lidor has created a few series of drawings onto pages from a Braille book. In the series ‘Getting on with Gardening’ (2004-5), she imprinted parts of her fingers and palms onto the pages, creating floral images. The Doily series (2011) is done with black marker pen. Her current series includes images such as a tank, a bell tower and a lighthouse, all created in a (literally) Pointillist manner by repeatedly imprinting the tip of her finger onto the Braille page.
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Back to the use of salt that I started talking about at the beginning of this essay.  Salt, as a symbol for enlightenment from the Old Testament to the New.

To ‘betray the salt’ is to betray the Master.  Judas Iscariot knocks over the salt to symbolise the final days of Jesus, as told in the Gospel of John (13:21), when Jesus announces that one of his Twelve Apostles would betray him, rubbing salt in the wound in the absence of both instruction and obstruction.

The salting of the condemned indicates the severity of punishment too.  St. Mark (9:50) reads, “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”  The salt here, referring to the goodwill that ‘seasons’ relationships, friendships and the compassionate intelligent considerations between people.

It’s of preservation; brine water – a necessity of life.  A mineral used since ancient times in many cultures as a seasoning, preservative, disinfectant, ceremonial offering, unit of exchange.  Metaphorically it signifies permanence, loyalty, durability, fidelity, usefulness, value and purification.

I’m interested in how Lidor uses Braille to expose the limitations of her media and to explore the anomalies of life and human experiences, in a way that suggests a failure to contain these experiences. One of the means by which Lidor gives this expression is through the (im)possibility of actual finger contact by you; the drawings are behind glass, and any attempt to touch the mounds of salt would mean catastrophic failure since they’d inevitably disintegrate and disrupt the work’s ability to bear any sort of symbolic meaning.
Salt is also all that’s left as the residual remains after a dead body has decayed and the tears of the mourners have evaporated. In Genesis (19:26) an angel led Lot out of Sodom before destroying the city, and turned his wife into a pillar of salt for looking back whilst fleeing.  The punishment for nostalgia is ossification.  As a history that interacts with the present, let Lidor’s artworks serve as a warning to you, to be on your guard; to be in the world, but not of the world.
Like a diamond, salt is, in itself, indestructible.  From the most expensive material to the cheapest, when salt looses its taste it can be interpreted as being in a world filled with sin and deceit where one becomes contaminated and thus unsuccessful at being an effective ‘disciple’.  This – being the spiritual essence of life as in the New Testament, in the Sermon on the Mount passage, referencing salt, as in Matthew’s account (5:13) that refers to his disciples as “the salt of the earth.”  And as Leviticus (2:13) reads, “And every offering of your grain offering you shall season with salt; you shall not allow the salt of the covenant of your God to be lacking from your grain offering. With all your offerings you shall offer salt.”

Exploring the space between reality and our memory, Lidor’s work appears misleading; being minimal and sparse, but actually, it is the opposite.  So ‘heavy’, that only a tank, or a woman, could cope with the emotional load.

The fact that you cannot touch it forces you to use other senses. Like Doubting Thomas pointing a finger into the wounds of Christ, while trying to point out the reality behind everything. It is our inability to touch or hear Lidor’s artwork that brings about the true believers in all of us, just as it is Thomas’s inability to touch the risen Christ’s chest cavity that gives rise to his need to substitute ‘touch’ with ‘faith’. Lidor’s art is accessible through its inaccessibility.

©Estelle Lovatt FRSA

Anti-Americanism in the Art World

The public resentment and hostility for America is striking in the art world as well as the political arena. It has been for a spell. The penchant to burden America for all the evils of the world, even the art world, is completely surreal. But it is real.

The exhibition Saved! (100 Years of the National Art Collections Fund, Hayward Gallery, London), 2004, shows anti-Americanism in the European art circuit, with the saving of Botticelli’s The Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ Child, c. 1485 (National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh). This painting was saved for the nation in 1999 with the aid of 550,000, the biggest grant the National Art Collections Fund has ever transferred. It is one of the greatest Renaissance paintings secured for any museum in the UK since the Second World War. It was about to be sold to the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, USA, when the Art Fund learned of its impending export to America from editorial in the press and saved it. The idea that America would have plundered and deprived us of this Botticelli masterpiece had us digging deep into golden purses, crying and hissing that America is not worthy of it.

But how much do we in this country really think of art? Consider, that in Britain, history of art was not thought of as being important enough to be taught as an academic subject until 1932. By then it was all too late, for the French and German art fascists had already invented anti-Americanism way back in the 1920s and 1930s. The French and German were partisans of a close-mouthed pure country, against the cosmopolitan melting pot of America.

Why had the French and German such disrelish for America, when on the whole and for various reasons, the USA was more receptive to the art of continental Europe with L’Esprit Nouveau, the School of Paris and the Bauhaus? Proven, when the Nazis shut the Bauhaus, and many teachers and artists went into exile in the United States.

France and Germany wanted to challenge the United States. The anti-American feeling spread amongst the arts world intended to blitz the command of the American art scene. Why? Such a slow project, you’d go through purgatory quicker than understand this. Today it is the 1930s all over again. European artists are jealous of their American cousins.

I thought art was supposed to deliver the universal qualities within us. To pass boundaries. To identify us from one another. To be the best form of diplomacy. Instead, it is surprising that European artists should have so little respect for American art and culture. A bit too humdrum and impotent in their anti-Americanism, what the Europeans don’t realise, is that America’s culture, makes America the greatest mechanism of modern art. Remember that America has two margins; The Atlantic and the Pacific. On the one side it looks towards Europe, on the other to the Far East. From European art to Oriental painting. This is an example of the roads of culture crossing paths. And that from the USA began the all-influential shaping of an international art and culture, that I shall name Internationalism.

The American dream then shifted, as the new artist hijacked art of its antique responsibility of bearing witness to events, to political beliefs that enabled us to ‘live’ in art, politically. When Andrew Wyeth, Grant Wood or Grandma Moses painted a farmer and his wife, the American painter was unconditionally preoccupied in the passion that is only the American life – the American dream.

American art and culture is not only songs by Madonna and sci-fi action films starring Schwarzenegger the governor of California; it is 1,700 symphony orchestras, opera visited by 7.5 million people annually, and museums that are seen by 500 million every year. All American museums where entrance is free owe their existence and subsidy to private supporters. Isabella Stewart Gardner is an inspiration. So is the Harvard University Art Museums collection donated from past graduates. And the Las Vegas casino billionaire, and one of the world’s biggest private art collectors Steve Wynn.

The narcissistic use of American symbolism grows as the world becomes more fearful of terrorism. Why? Because the animosity attached to America is stuck on American culture, as American culture is so all-powerful.

Take a look as German artist Sigmar Polke takes pot shots at American gun law, Afghanistan, Iraq and al-Qa’eda. And the French, who opened Disneyland Paris in 1992 and unveiled the event as a ?cultural Chernobyl.? But, the Europeans can’t get enough of America’s 3 Cs (culture, cinema and consumerism). Ironically, the anti-American extremists triumph in making Europe even more clinging on the United States.

Works by Turner Prize artists Jake & Dinos Chapman show African masks and fetishes as ideal and appropriate for celebrating contemporary leading culture by applying American McDonalds symbols and emblems.

Inasmuch as six hundred galleries up and down the country benefit from the NACF, the Arts Council is supposed to be the national development agency for the arts in England. The problem was, and is, the total inadequacy of government funding for the arts here in this country to create anything of any benefit. Distributing public money from Government and the National Lottery, where are Tessa Jowell and Estelle Morris keeping England in the first rank of world arts?

The Arts Council England serves the truly talentless. With a grant from the Arts Council, a replica of Camp X-Ray complete with blindfolded prisoners in orange boiler suits was built in Manchester. This mock Guantanamo Bay prison is nothing but a Herculean political misappropriation and an outrageous waste of public money, on a political subject, that has nothing to do with art. The Arts Council is simply being dishonest funding this as art, when it is nothing more than anti-Americanism expressiveness.

The influence of American culture is now so all-pervasive, it seems like art history has come full circle, and imperious European artists just about cope with their American peers. Take a look at Paul McCarthy’s video, showing the Queen hosting a disgusting tea-party orgy for George Bush, with Bin Laden. It’s a cathartic artless and boring insult, screened at you.

Bill Viola best uses video to illustrate his interest in religion. I’ve heard people say “what a waste of money! Religious voices drive us mad!” But they are positively at home in a country whose money has “In God We Trust” on each coin and note. Viola champions differences between the religious right and the non-religious left, between conservatives and liberals.

America’s monumental personality is victorious in symbolising free-expression in art. We can bear democracy and individualism, so long as it’s not American. When you get to this, the scale of antipathy and disdain of the perverted level of which you would associate with propaganda about an enemy in wartime, you realise European art that is anti-American is nothing more than a little cultural jerk, done by the same.

© Estelle Lovatt FRSA

Art, War and Religion

The Post 9/11 Relationship Between The Artistic, Political and Moral Stance Created By Artists During The Bush Administration.

Part 1

 

The public resentment and hostility for America, is striking in the art world.  Since 9/11, the Iraq war, and the Bush administration, art has been created to target America and her loyalist allies in the ‘war against terror’ – the UK and Israel.

When artist Damien Hirst said the terrorists responsible for the September 11 attacks “need congratulating” because they attained “something which nobody would ever have thought possible” on an artistic level, artists went political for publicity.  Describing the image of the hijacked planes crashing into the twin towers as “visually stunning,” Hirst said “you’ve got to hand it to them on some level because they’ve achieved something which nobody would have ever have thought possible, especially to a country as big as America.”

Consider too, 9/11 as a sculptural experience happening, in which two minimalist architectural shiny iconic totemic symbols were brought down to debris by the fundamental act of fierce philistines.  The reality is no other art form has been as closely concerned in the worldwide unscrambling of humankind.  All the time, the news tells us again of the exclusive bond that art and sculpture has to our past.

As the world becomes more fearful of terrorism, the narcissistic use of American symbolism grows. Why? Because the animosity attached to America and its government is stuck on American culture as American culture is so all-powerful.

Post 9/11 political artworks by some artists display such disrelish for America and former President George. W. Bush when, on the whole and for various reasons historically, it is recorded that the U.S. has always been more receptive to the art of continental Europe (from L’Esprit Nouveau, the School of Paris and the Bauhaus – when the Nazis shut the Bauhaus and many teachers and artists went into exile in the United States).  So one must consider and investigate why.  Why this artistic challenge to the United States, results through ‘anti-America-ism’ art.

While art is supposed to be the best form of diplomacy, delivering universal qualities within us which pass boundaries, which identify us from one another, and identify us to one another, simultaneously. Instead we have seen the opposite in this critical representation of America.

While it is, on some levels, not surprising that artists have chosen to create images that show little respect for America, Americana, American art and culture, what the Europeans don’t realise, is that America’s culture, makes America the greatest mechanism of, and for, modern art that artists are in today.  Remember, America has two margins; The Atlantic and the Pacific.  So from the one side it looks towards Europe, and on the other to the Far East; from European art to Oriental painting, the roads of culture cross paths and amalgamate in the jamboree of all visual worlds.

The paradox being that America is growing ever-more monumental and victorious in symbolising free-expression in art.  Realising America as the nucleus of 21st century art looking towards the 22nd century.

Today artists hijack art of its unique antique responsibility, to bear witness to events.  Instead choosing to live their art, politically; to make a personal political statement that includes depicting the all-powerful former President Bush as a monkey.

The framework and approach upon which to base, research, and look at why the narcissistic use of American symbolism grows, is triggered as the world becomes more fearful of terrorism.

Albeit conditional and some believe to be caused by America’s capitalist consumer society, the United States’ feeling-of-plenty and premium has always been reflected through its art.  Think of Andy Warhol and Claus Oldenburg, with their food-inspired artworks, maintaining that with communism you hunger for food, whereas in capitalist America there are dozens of foods from which you have choice.  Choice that is opportunity.  From huge sides of smoked ham to one hundred cans of Campbell’s soup.

Researching, investigating and analysing exhibitions and artists, from the Tate to the R.A. etc, include counting German artist Sigmar Polke taking pot shots at American gun law, Afghanistan, Iraq and al-Qaeda.  And works by British Turner Prize artists Jake & Dinos Chapman showing American ideals that celebrate our contemporary world, and its much appreciated culture, by employing American McDonalds symbols and emblems as part structure of their sculptures.  Brilliantly.   And what of an artist’s replica of Camp X-Ray, this mock Guantanamo Bay prison, complete with blindfolded prisoners in orange boiler suits, built in Manchester, England?

Likewise compare Paul McCarthy’s video, showing the Queen hosting a tea-party orgy for George W. Bush with Bin Laden, to Bill Viola’s video illustrating his interest in religion – that drives Europeans quite mad, but are positively at home in a country whose money has “In God We Trust” engraved on each coin and note!  Viola champions differences between the religious right and the non-religious left; between conservatives and liberals; between Americans and the rest of the world in Europe.

Discovering how political art, post 9/11, was triggered by artists looking at the world in which they live and, more specifically the war in Iraq.  And by looking at how the ‘Christian’ artist’s vision – being a totally different vision and truth to Christians Bush and Blair – uses Christian iconography, which is poles apart from that traditionally associated, as universal matter for the artist.

It is neither unanticipated nor casual, that post 9/11, the veil as a form of clothing has been relied on as a potent abbreviation, taking on dress codes symbolic of oppression.  The veil, observed as a declaration of religious and cultural differences affiliated with foreign political assumptions of the East, has appeared in the art world as a symbol of cultural suppression.

Look at the art exhibition Veil, Modern Art Oxford, Oxford, England, 2004, where a more perplexing interpretation of this garment is explored.  Showing that under spin, bound with censorship, the sexuality and limits of the body reveal the veil as being the visible symbol of women, history, religion and politics.

Barely an Islamic innovation, the veil has been used in art from the earliest Biblical illustrations of the Old Testament –Genesis, when Jacob fell in love with Rachel but was tricked into marrying her sister Leah instead — to paintings of the Virgin Mary in prayer.  Here the veil is overworked with symbolism: brides put on white veils, as widows’ parade black ones.  Consequently the veil symbolises death and wedded joy.  From black to white.  Good to bad.  As of artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe to Matisse.

Looking at the symbolic consequences of the veil, and veiling, in contemporary art post-9/11, seen in the work of international artists as painting, photography, film, video and sculpture, they merge historic material with the present-day.  See how large-scale photographs by the Jewish Moscow-based art collective, AES art group, from the series ‘The Witnesses of the Future’, is created for maximum political force.  AES art group consists of three Russian Jewish artists, Tatiana Arzamasova, Lev Evzovich and Evgeny Svyatsky, creating deceptive, actually even quite odd, looking and deceiving Machiavellian cityscapes of the leading Western capitals from New York to Paris, Rome to Sydney and Moscow to Berlin.  Of how they could look under the rise under a changed regime.  But not as we would instantly know or recognise them;  As in AES’s photograph of the Statue of Liberty, dressed in a full white burka carrying a Koranic text where the Declaration of Independence should be can be identified as ridiculous and foolish.  This photograph, ‘New Freedom 2006, AES The Witness of the Future’, is particularly anti-American because it is the gravest assault on American civil liberties.  The French gave the statue to the people of the United States over one hundred years ago in recognition of the friendship established during the American Revolution.  It was back in 1886, that President Grover Cleveland accepted the Statue on behalf of the United States and said “We will not forget that Liberty has here made her home; nor shall her chosen altar be neglected.”  And so it is, that, over the years, the Statue of Liberty has grown to embrace freedom and democracy.

As this bizarre exercise of wrapping of the Statue of Liberty, a la Christo, will not convert its nature, or its significance, why do it?  Is this artwork a cheap and tacky political joke by these AES artists?  Who, especially being Jews, should know better about Judaism teaching respect for women, and female liberation.  Not to mention the thousands of first generation Jews, only in the last one-hundred years, escaping the pogroms of Russia or the Nazi death camps of Europe, who came through nearby Ellis Island, witnessing the Statue and partaking of the fruits of American independence first hand – for them and their artistic descendants.

In fact, it is the rights of free expressions, recognised and guaranteed in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, that has allowed people who, under totalitarian regimes would, as servants of the state, not be allowed to express themselves in such a manner –in some instances facing re-education camps, even the death penalty.  In the States, this guarantee of expression has allowed scientists, musicians and artists to flourish.  To expand and advance their respective fields.  All while questioning the authority of the U.S. government; if not the First Amendment itself.

With artists visualising the veil as an Islamic institution associated with Muslims and Islam, is it not, that art that incorporates the image of a veil anything but anti-Islamic?   Or, in fact, just simply insulting and abusive to Westerners, in what can be nothing more than an invidious and crude attack, in these post 9/11 times.

Satirical computer digitally-manipulated images, such as the above mentioned AES photographs, are like Hollywood-esque storyboards.  Chasing the deep-rooted phobia of today’s post-modern, postcolonial, post-Cold War alliance, their artwork is lost in taste and discernment for truth that is acquired by a surreptitious anti-Americanism?

Another AES photograph, ‘London 2006’ has an onion dome capping the top of Big Ben and columns on top of the Houses of Parliament looking like a mosque, surely giving false credence and testimony to the invention that Islam is totalitarian.

This is surprising, as Islamic art has dominated Western artistic traditions for over five hundred years, and opened up the possibilities of abstraction; of colour fields; and of relationships between form and content.  It begs questions about why art, that is supposed to transform barriers, is actually creating them.

Even Edward Said’s influence – being the spirit of left post-structuralism and Orientalism – shows, the alliance between al-Qaida, the Taliban, the Afghanis and the anti-war artist is ever strong, following the brush-marked-footsteps of British graffiti artist Bansky, painting over Israel’s West Bank security wall with images that no doubt politically challenge Israel, and America.

By exploring how the artist has an uncanny knack of having his finger on the pulse of what is concerning people, by asking is anti-Americanism in art a Herculean political expression (against Bush or America), or, somewhat independently, a mere misappropriation of artistic skills – that has nothing to do with any President, or indeed art.  Nevertheless has in fact more to do with consciously insulting the skeleton of the American people per se.  Remember, according to artist Robert Rauschenberg, “it’s only through the arts that people can speak to each other, that’s why artists are more dangerous than soldiers.”