Saturday, 31 December 2011

Best Wishes

Two days before Christmas I received 37 wishbones from the eponymously-named  Hilary Friends whom I had had the pleasure to meet at The Other Art Fair. She asked where I got my materials from and I suggested hillsides, museums and the dustbins of universities - and the odd person that sends me things in the post.

Thank you. And may the Odd inherit the Earth.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

J'arrive Jarry

"Perception is merely a hallucination that is true"
Gottfried Liebniz (1646-1716)

"It is conventional to call Monster any blending of dissonant elements. I call Monster every original inexhaustible beauty."
Alfred Jarry (1873-1907)

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Vision and the Veil

From: The Visual and the Visionary, Art and Female Spirituality in Late Medieval Germany. Jeffrey F. Hamburger 1998(Ch. 8 Vision and the Veronica)

Elaine Scarry recently observed, quoting Sartre, that "the face of a beloved friend' if imagined 'will be, by comparison with an actually present face, 'thin', 'dry', 'two-dimensional' and 'inert'". Scarry's words might work well as a description of most medieval representations of the Veronica, were it not for the fact that, at least according to visionary reports, representations of the face of Christ were anything but 'inert'. The images lent life to a face that the viewer longed to see, but had in fact never seen. The unflinching gaze of the Holy Face invited a reciprocal gaze of equal intensity: an exchange that authorised not only the object, but, by extension, empirical experience itself. Images of the Veronica contributed to a process by which vision, once cloaked in subtle distinctions between corporeal and intellectual sight intelligible only to a spiritual elite, became the standard by which all religious experience was authenticated and in which all, in turn could participate.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Written on the body

Between 1909 and 1915 mammalogist Herbert Lang (1879-1957) with assistant James P. Chapin (1889-1964) led the Congo Expedition. The two scientists collected and documented zoological, botanical, and anthropological collections and produced painted and photographic images of the natural and human environment. 

There is a fabulous collection of images here. including many references to the Azande observed by Evans-Pritchard in 'Witchcraft and Magic' and the Mbuti pygmies (who were a particular focus of the expedition) as recorded by Colin Turnbull in 1956/7. The captions appear to be the originals...

All 727 images are available simply by hitting Search.

Secrets in the Open Sea

The Atlas Group Archive
File title: Secrets in the Open Sea 

Secrets in the Open Sea consists of 6 large photographic prints that were found buried 32m under the rubble during the 1992 demolition of Beirut’s war-damaged commercial districts. The prints were different shades of blue and each measured 110x183cm. The Lebanese government entrusted the prints to The Atlas Group in early 1994 for preservation and analysis.
In late 1994, The Atlas Group sent the prints to laboratories in France and the United States for technical analysis. Remarkably, the laboratories recovered small black and white latent images from the prints, and the small images represent group portraits of men and women. The Atlas Group was able to identify all the individuals represented in the small black and white prints, and it turned out that they were all individuals who had been found dead in the Mediterranean between 1975 and 1990.

The Atlas Group published its findings in a report in December 1996. In the report, no determination was made about the size of the large prints nor about their colour.

By and/or attributed to: Anonymous.
Number of plates in file:6
Date of production 2002

From ‘Let’s be honest the rain helped’: excerpts from an interview with the Atlas Group.  

...We have never referred to the Atlas Group as a fictional foundation... Our aim with this project has never been to fool the viewers and listeners by presenting stories and documents about anything and anyone in order to ‘see what we can get away with’. Our interest is in how certain stories and situations capture the attention and belief of viewers and listeners. But we are not investigating this phenomenon in the abstract but specifically in relation to the history of Lebanon. We have always maintained that part of our interest with this project is to examine what has, is and can be said, believed and known about Lebanon, its residents, history, culture, economy and politics. This project operates between what is sayable, believable and known (as true or false). And we do not mean to imply that these terms have a negative relation to each other – that belief is the opposite of knowledge, for example. Nor that belief is a flawed cognitive relation to the world and knowledge a correct one. If we proceed from the understanding that belief is the fundamental attitude that a person has when he or she holds that a proposition is true, and that knowledge is certified true belief (by virtue of evidence), then clearly we need to ask about how any proposition becomes true or false and what constitutes evidence. In this regard and as has been argued, it is clear that what we hold to be true is not necessarily consistent with what is true at the level of the senses, reason, consciousness and discourse but also with what holds to be true at the level of the unconscious. Hence we would urge you to approach these documents we present as we do, as ‘hysterical symptoms’ based not on any one person’s actual memories but on cultural fantasies erected from the material of collective memories.

From: The discourse on Transubstantiation by St Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologica) c.1225-7

Whether the accidents of the bread and wine remain in this sacrament after the change? 

Objection 1. It seems that the accidents of the bread and wine do not remain in this sacrament. For when that which comes first is removed, that which follows is also taken away. But substance is naturally before accident, as is proved in Metaph. vii. Since, then, after consecration, the substance of the bread does not remain in this sacrament, it seems that its accidents cannot remain. 
Objection 2. Further, there ought not to be any deception in a sacrament of truth. But we judge of substance by accidents. It seems, then, that human judgment is deceived, if, while the accidents remain, the substance of the bread does not. Consequently this is unbecoming to this sacrament. 

Reply to Objection 1. As is said in the book De Causis, an effect depends more on the first cause than on the second. And therefore by God's power, which is the first cause of all things, it is possible for that which follows to remain, while that which is first is taken away. 
Reply to Objection 2. There is no deception in this sacrament; for the accidents which are discerned by the senses are truly present. But the intellect, whose proper object is substance as is said in De Anima iii, is preserved by faith from deception. And this serves as answer to the third argument; because faith is not contrary to the senses, but concerns things to which sense does not reach.

Secrets in the Open Sea and The Atlas Group are the work of the artist Walid Raad.
The four images above are from the StPaul archive and are opyright patrickstpaul 2011.
All rights reserved.

The Absurd Sublime

In the Arcades Project Chapter L (Dream House, Museum, Spa) Benjamin’s most striking and persistent passages concern waxworks, sewers and the dead. In particular Victor Hugo’s description of Bruneseau’s descent into the Paris sewers to undertake a survey designed to expiate the cholera epidemics then common...

‘Nothing equalled the horror of this old voiding crypt, ... cavern, grave, gulf pierced with streets, titanic molehill in which the mind seems to see prowling through the shadow... that enormous blind mole, the past.’ Victor Hugo, Oeuvres Complete vol9 1881 (Les Miserables, L’intestin de Leviathan).

In dark reflection, this is an image of the shining city of human culture, as a tamed behemoth, resting sublimely indifferent on the mountain of its excrement. The Behemoth is the primal unconquerable beast of the land (as Leviathan is that of the sea) who can only be tamed by God. Hugo’s mole is then the shadow of this golden calf as the past is the shade of the present.

As the cemetery mirrors the city so the museum mirrors the sewer - its halls awash with the detritus of civilisation, its walls encrusted with the earnest yearnings of forgotten lives: gods prayed to and died for held up at the same level of importance as the combs used to untangle the hair of our forebears and the toy carts pushed by their children. In this place the reek of the past is overwhelming and it is quite possible to drown – one turns a corner and simply disappears in the fathomless sink of human creativity.

In this place is collected the sum of human experience: from agonising death to beatific generosity; from the strictest of book-keeping to the loudest laughter; all that has been dreamed, all that has been eaten, everything built, made, worn, played and fought over is here alongside all that we know of it; all of its purposes, all of its trials and its trivialities, all of its contradictions and its repetitions. It is in effect the nearest we might get to God on Earth - unknowable in its entirety and ineffable. Too sacred to be uttered, too absurd to be reasoned with.

Monday, 12 December 2011


The creative process... consists in an unconscious activation of the archetype and in an... elaboration of this original image into the finished work. By giving it shape, the artist in some measure translates this image into the language of the present... Therein lies the social significance of art... it conjures up the forms in which the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the age, is most lacking. 

The unsatisfied yearning of the artist reaches back into the primordial image in the unconscious which is best fitted to compensate the... one-sidedness of the spirit of the age. This image his longing seizes on, and as he brings it to consciousness, the image changes its form until it can be accepted by the minds of his contemporaries, according to their powers.

C.G.Jung Uber die Beziehungen der analytischen Pschologie zum dichterischen Kunstwerk, 1932

It's not that what is past

It's not that what is past casts its light on what is present, or what is present its light on what is past; rather Image is that wherein what has been comes together in the now to form a constellation. In other words, image is dialectics at a standstill. For while the relation of the present to the past is a purely temporal, continuous one, the relation of what has been to the now is dialectical: is not progression but image, suddenly emergent. - Only dialectical images are genuine images (that is, not archaic); and the place where one encounters them is Language.

Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, On the theory of knowledge, N2a.3

On the figure of the collector

One may start from the fact that the true collector detaches the object from its fundamental relations. But that is hardly an exhaustive description of this remarkable mode of behaviour. For this isn't the foundation (to speak with Kant and Schopenhauer) of that 'disinterested' contemplation by virtue of which the collector attains to an unequalled view of the object - a view which takes in more, and other, than that of the profane owner and which we would do best to the gaze of the great physiognomist? But how his eye comes to rest on the object is a matter elucidated much more sharply through another consideration.

Walter Benjamin, Sketches for the Arcades Project, c.1927

The Rue Legendre

In a shop in the Rue Legendre, in Batignolles, a whole series of female busts, without heads or legs, with curtain hooks in place of arms and a percaline skin of arbitrary hue – bean brown, glaring pink, hard black – are lined up like a row of onions, impaled on rods or set out on tables... 

The sight of this ebb-tide of bosoms, this Musee Curtius of breasts, puts one vaguely in mind of those vaults in the Louvre where classical sculptures are housed, where one and the same torso, eternally repeated, beguiles the time for those who look it over, with a yawn on rainy days... 

How superior to the dreary statues of Venus they are, these dressmakers’ mannequins with their lifelike comportment; how much more provocative these padded busts, which, exposed there, bring on a train of reveries: libertine reveries, inspired by ephebic nibbles and slightly bruised bubs; charitable reveries, recalling old breasts, shrivelled with chlorosis or bloated with fat.

For one thinks of the sorrows of women who... experience the growing indifference of a husband, or the imminent desertion of a lover, or the final disarming of those charms which allowed them once to conquer, in the unavoidable battles they wage for the closed-up wallet of the man.

J.K. Huysmans Croquis Parisiens, 1886