Thursday, 21 April 2016

Audre Lorde

I discovered Audre Lorde, a black lesbian feminist poet and writer last week at the Feminist Readings 2 conference at the University of Leeds where I presented on reading gesture in Sharon Lockhart's interrogations into the work of Isreali choreographer Noa Eshkol. I have since been reading Lorde's book of essays and speeches under the title Sister Outsider first published in 1984. A few quotes by Lorde that have struck me deeply and have captured in words aspects of life as a woman that I have been thinking about for a long time. Some of these issues include: conflicted relationships with food and labour, poetry or creative writing vs academic prose, silence and the expression of emotions with regard to both therapy and to friendship.

Here is Lorde:

“in Russia you carry your own bags in airports and hotels. This, at first, struck me as oppressive because, of course, carrying a laden bag up seven flights of stairs when the elevator isn’t working is not fun. But the longer I stayed there the fairer it seemed, because in this country it appears that everything is seen in terms of food. That is, the labor of one’s hands is measured by how much food you can produce, and then you take that and compare its importance to the worth of the other work that you do”1

“the white fathers told us: I think therefore I am. The Black mother within each of us – the poet – whispers in our dreams: I feel, therefore I can be free. Poetry coins the language to express and charter this revolutionary demand, the implementation of that freedom”2

“and of course I am afraid, because the transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation, and that always seems fraught with danger. But my daughter, when I told her of our topic and my difficulty with it, said, “Tell them about how you’re never really a whole person if you remain silent, because there’s always that one little piece inside you that wants to be spoken out, and if you keep ignoring it, it gets madder and madder and hotter and hotter, and if you don’t speak it out one day it will just up and punch you in the mouth from the inside’”3

1 Lorde, “Trip to Russia”, 15.

2 Lorde, “Poetry Is Not a Luxury”, 38.

3 Lorde, “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action”, 42.

Image taken from

Tuesday, 19 April 2016


I wrote a review on York Art Gallery's exhibition called Truth and Memory, which they published on their blog:

Or read here:

The heat emanating from the second room of York Art Gallery’s current exhibition, Truth and Memory: British Art of the First World War is nearly palpable; the closer I approach Anna Airy’s large-scale paintings, the more the factory blaze described by a surprising fluorescent orange makes its way to enshroud my almost reddening face.

Perhaps too quickly, I am reminded of the real chill in the gallery made actual by the controlled humidity levels designed to comfort me and to keep the works around me safe and preserved. It is curious then, that an exhibition on the Great War should make me feel at once hot, nearly fervent and then immediately frigid, but more than anything, secure, unharmed, ultimately protected.

Airy’s 1918 painting, A Shell Forge at a National Projectile Factory, Hackney Marshes, London, depicts men and women labouring, bending over to service firey machinery. Bright orange cylindrical logs light up the painting, patches of this staggering orange, glowing onto the skin of focused workers.

In the same year she painted this work, Airy, who studied at the Slade, in 1918, constituted one of the first women to work for the Imperial War Museums and to receive commissions from the institution. Notably, on A Shell Forge, the Imperial War Museums relay that as a result of the intense heat in the factory, during a particular visit, Airy’s shoes had become so hot from the floor that they “burnt off her feet” (1).

Airy’s technical expression recounts the movement and vibrations of this particular yet familiar and widespread scene; such stirrings actively respond to the physical labour of the factory workers or to the waves and sparks caused by the heat, both instances rendering the atmosphere vibrant and kinetic.

Moreover, not only are her paintings reflective of the increasingly modernist style that favors descriptive planes (such as with CĂ©zanne’s landscapes) to suggest three dimensional objects or perspectival space, but indeed to witness such affecting canvases at this impressive and monumental scale made by a woman artist is both a treat for the feminist art historian, but also a definitive acknowledgment of the various, and at times unconventional roles that women occupied during war time.

The unexpected fact of the production of these massive paintings having been produced by a woman artist at the beginning of the twentieth century instinctively brings to mind Linda Nochlin’s iconic essay, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”. Her wish in this paper is not to suggest we dig up women artists who had been neglected to be acknowledged, nor is it to attempt to locate a “quintessential feminine style”.

Instead, she proposes a revision of the custom to describe art as “personal expression of individual emotional experience” made by an intrinsic genius, and instead insists that we attend to the socio-political and historical contexts that would have either made it possible or impossible for women artists to be the authors of great art (2).

Airy is indeed an example of just this: it is commonly understood that it was as a result of the war and the consequent absence of husbands and sons made soldiers, that, for perhaps the first time in recent Western history, women were abruptly rooted out of their domestic havens (of labour still) and projected into the public work force.

While most of the works within Truth and Memory, like Airy’s paintings, describe the dynamism of war, be it in the factory or on the front line, included in the exhibition is also George Clausen’s Youth Morning of 1916. A kneeled over naked woman holds her weeping face before a wooden cross in a battlefield; behind her water has filled the craters of the sunken terrain.

She represents not only the artist’s mourning daughter after the loss of her fiancĂ©, but also behaves as the emblem of a sorrowed and heart-broken nation, and of the intimacies of loss (3).

Other artists in the exhibition include: William Orpen, Jacob Epstein, Paul Nash, Percy Wyndham Lewis, CRW Nevinson, and Stanley Spencer. Truth and Memory will be on view at the York Art Gallery until September 4, 2016.

(1) Imperial War Museums,
(2) Nochlin, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”, 5.
(3) Imperial War Museums,

Thursday, 14 April 2016


I feel still, almost an agitated paralysis just now having finished watching Charlie Kaufman's new film, Anomalisa. It is probably one of the most touching, honest and real films I have seen in a long time and my stillness is one that I welcome, one that is rare, in the same way that Lisa is an anomaly both to herself and to Michael, a customer service specialist and public speaker she meets in a hotel the eve before a conference she is to attend and at which Michael is the speaker.

The stop motion animation as a medium for this particular film reflects its narrative in such a way that it describes the on and off experience of what might otherwise be a mundane or prosaic existence. This flux at times organically and at other moments, almost too mechanically functions to create movement and the illusional or real feeling of time passing, one moment sewed into the next to convince you of the natural continuity of days and nights. It is clear from the outset that Michael, the protagonist, is at a crossroads: he is lost, frustrated with everyone he meets, and is convinced he has psychological problems. He feels impeded by something unknown to him and is utterly unable to find any pleasure in his life, where everything and everyone appears to be the same. About his own life and existence, he is incapable of feeling turned "on".

Curiously, and the audience quickly determines this film narrates a subjective relay of Michael's experience whereby every character has the same male voice, be they his wife, his child, other women he encounters as well as all of the men he speaks to. This is until he meets Lisa, a woman who has been single for eight years, and who's esteem of herself is unusually low, made emblematic by a large scar on the side of her face, the cause of which she chooses not to disclose. Upon meeting Lisa, and after sharing a few drinks with her and her coworker, Michael invites Lisa back to her room. Astonished and deeply moved by her voice, he gets her to sing a song: she chooses Cyndi Lauper's Girls Just Want to Have Fun. Her voice, the only female one in the entire film is instantly beautiful, not for its technical skill or correct tone, but for its very quality of being unremarkable, gorgeously human, and ultimately original. Such a honeymoon is short lived, and after the pair make love and fall asleep together, Lisa's voice begins to morph into that of everyone else and as her brilliance goes dim and murky, Michael's anxiety is again unleashed. He is left unable to cry, contorting his face as best he can; he feels empty, nothing, and fails to recognize his friends.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Two quotes by Gaston Bachelard on verticality and horizontality

“Verticality is ensured by the polarity of cellar and attic, the marks of which are so deep that, in a way, they open up two very different perspectives for a phenomenology of the imagination. Indeed, it is possible, almost without commentary, to oppose the rationality of the roof to the irrationality of the cellar”[1]

“But the height of city buildings is a purely exterior one. Elevators do away with the heroism of stair climbing so that there is no longer any virtue in living up near the sky. Home has become mere horizontality. The different rooms that compose living quarters jammed into one floor all lack one of the fundamental principles for distinguishing and classifying the values of intimacy”[2]

[1] Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, 18.
[2] Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, 27.

Agnes Martin, Untitled #9, 1999. acrylic and graphite on linen, 12 x 12 (30.5 x 30.5 cm).  

Adolf Loos, Josephine Baker House, Unbuilt, 1928

Drawings (one of Adam)


Just love these... (