On 17th November 2017, I was, like a moth, instantly attracted to the bright lights of the Bruce Nauman exhibition (Tate Modern). His work demanded the viewer to (literally) take a step back and consider the purpose and context of his work. Nauman's extensive and imaginative use of media transmits a multitude of different ideas simultaneously. It is clear that his previous studies in Mathematics and Physics informed his practice and are a domineering influence on his work. One piece which caught my attention was 'Violins, Violence, Silence' (1981).
Violins, Violence, Silence
The artwork itself was made of coloured neon tubing with a clear glass suspension frame. As the letters overlap, it is hard to initially distinguish what the piece is actually conveying, proving rather disorientating. Additionally, the buzzing noise which accompanies the piece (originating from the neon tubing) is somewhat distracting. However, it is ironic that while reading 'violins' evokes a pure and unpolluted noise, in reality you are faced with a low, droning buzz. I enjoy the irony of Nauman's work and the complex ideas which lie behind the lights. There is much more to this piece than is initially apparent and I hope that other visitors to the gallery take the time to consider its complexity.
Another piece in the exhibition which caught my attention was 'Raw Material Washing Hands'(1996). The video, which documents one individual washing their hands constantly for 55 minutes is difficult viewing. It is reminiscent of a person suffering from obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD) in which the individual is performing a routine repeatedly, as though it were a ritual. The video becomes painful to watch as we see the individuals skin being overworked by the soap and water and I must admit that although the video runs for just under an hour, I watched it for no longer than 10 minutes.
Raw Material Washing Hands,
After seeing Nauman's work, it is clear that he questions and stretches the boundaries of what it is to make art. He has purposefully left behind traditional notions of 'fine art' and has distanced himself from paint as a medium.
NOTRE DAME CATHEDRAL
On the 6th April, 2018, I visited Notre Dame Cathedral to view the medieval glass. I had been inspired to go to Paris, partly, by the fragments of 13th –15th century glass that I had occasionally seen in my visits to English churches (see, In Search of Medieval Inspiration, on this website). Unfortunately, the cathedral was very busy, with a queue to get in and packed with people once in. I managed to take some photographs of the remarkable windows and glass, which must have been truly jaw-dropping for a pilgrim who lived a rustic life – it’s jaw-dropping today too!
The North Rose Window, 12.9m in diameter, in the Gothic Rayonnant style (mid 13th century)
A fine example of momento mori, with death (a hooded skeleton) in the background
Although part of a memorial for the dead, the statue of the skeleton (pictured above) was more a warning to the living. The medieval period, especially following the Black Death, saw a transformation in the arts, and one would be pushed to find any tombs or churches that didn’t feature a skeleton (the personification of death) of some kind. The theme infiltrated literature as well, and Danse Macabre, or Dance of Death become a popular artistic genre of allegory. The Danse Macabre tells of death summoning individuals in society who varied in their wealth, often including a King, a Pope and a laborer.
An example of a Danse Macabre scene c. 1495
Momento mori pieces such as this were used as a tool to instal fear into the population and to remind everyone of the fragility of life and the unimportance of worldly riches. Art such as this informs my practice regularly, as it reminds me of how powerful a tool fine art can be. Although sculptures such as these (see above) can be imposing, often paintings can muster similar feelings of despair.