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.
IN SEARCH OF MEDIEVAL INSPIRATION: PART 4(ii)
Figures 32–39 show some wonderful 14th century glass from Westley Waterless Church, Cambridgeshire.
The great east window at Salle Church has remnants of medieval glass within it, showing the remains of the nine orders of angels (Figs. 40 & 41).
The south transcept’s south window of Salle Church also contains fragments of 15th century Norwich School glass (Figs. 42–45).
Sometimes, the glass of that south transcept window (Fig. 46), from the outside (Fig. 47), can be seen to have that silvery surface which I found on the glass I excavated in the archaeological dig (see, Touching the Medieval, on this website).
Figures 48 and 49 (detail) show the south aisle south window with their medieval glass (Cawston Church).
As can be seen from my visit to Norwich Cathedral, I have a growing interest in bosses. Figure 50 shows the vaulted roof of the south porch at Cley Church, which appears to have been mutilated. However, one boss is clear and shows an old woman throwing her distaff at a fox which is escaping with a chicken (Fig. 51).
Figure 52 shows the base of a medieval cross (cross missing) raised on a hillock at Titchwell and thought to have been used as a preaching place and, later, used as a meeting place or market centre. As a place of communication, I took this photograph so that the crosses column was parallel to the modern telegraph pole, bringing the telephone and internet. One does see the remnants of these crosses occasionally, driving through Norfolk villages, and I am reminded of the one at Binham (Fig. 53).
I came across this sad sight of an ancient wayside cross at Burnham Ulph, which had, by the looks of it, been hit by a motor vehicle (Fig. 54).
Fig. 55 Fig. 56
My grandmother lives in a 17th century chalk and flint cottage. In her front garden there is a wall abutting a field which contains remnants of medieval masonry. The cottage is sited opposite a medieval church which had a mid-Victorian north aisle added to it and one imagines these odd pieces (Fig. 55) come from there, when the original nave wall was taken down. Alternatively, these fragments could come from a second, earlier church in the village, which was largely demolished in the 18th century. Figure 56 shows what was part of a barn wall in the same village. It was built in the Victorian era and contains many pieces of medieval masonry.
Fig. 57 Fig. 58
Brick was used as a building material by the Romans and then fell out of use for nearly one thousand years in England. It reappeared at the beginning of the 14th century of which few examples remain. A fine example of brick being used in the mid 15th century is at Queens’ College, Cambridge. Part of the south facing wall of the northern range at Old Court can be dated exactly to 1448. The first floor marks the original library, the most intact medieval library of all the Oxbridge colleges, notable for the fact that nearly all its books are in their original binding. Figure 57 is a detail of the wall to the left of the door, in shade, in Figure 58. The walls were formed by clunch (loose chalk) bounded on either side by brick. These walls have survived remarkably well. Whereas the north and east ranges of Old Court were built in 1448, the south and west ranges were constructed in 1449.
Fig. 59 shows part of the east range of Cloister Court at Queens’, built c. 1460. The entrance to the left leads to the famous Mathematical Bridge, part of which can be seen. This building marks the earliest of the Cambridge colleges to abut the River Cam.
I have centred the historical base of my M.A. studies mostly on the ecclesiastical and civilian, and whilst not militaristic in any way, I thought that I would visit one medieval military monument for completeness and, of course, one never knows what one might find. I chose for this purpose, Castle Rising (Fig. 60), near King’s Lynn, built in 1138 by William d’Albini, for his wife, the widow of Henry I. It has tremendously impressive earthworks, amongst the mightiest in England, with a dry moat beneath. I was particularly interested in this castle, as it was visited by a number of kings, including Edward III, Edward IV and Richard III (to be). It was also the home of Queen Isabella, the wife of Edward II, after her husband was murdered, a deed to which she may well have been implicated.
Approaching the keep from the gatehouse (Fig. 60), I noted some wonderful exterior Norman masonry work (Fig. 61) under small, decorative Romanesque arches. I thought of the Plantagenet kings of England who could not have failed to have seen the same patterning.
Fig. 62 Fig 63
There were a number of interesting elements to this castle, but one was of particular relevance to my work, because not all is as it might first appear. As one enters the castle keep (Fig. 62), one is greeted by a flight of stairs leading up to a room beyond a door, half of which can be seen in Figure 62. On entering this room, on one’s left is a splendid fireplace (Fig. 63 – I can be seen in the reflection standing next to my father), but this fireplace is something of an imposter, for it was inserted in the16th century and disguises the main entrance way through a Norman arch into the Great Hall, and the room at the top of the stairs is, actually, a waiting room. If one now passes from this waiting room through a small door, one enters what remains of the Great Hall. Figure 64
shows the back of the Tudor red brick fireplace on the far side of what would have been the Great Hall entrance. The wooden beams of the Great Hall have rooted away of course (though beam slots can be seen to the left under the upper arches) and so one has to use one’s imagination. Underneath this floor storage was kept. The kitchen which served the Great Hall was situated at the end of the later (16th century), hacked out corridor, a side view of which can be seen on the left of Figure 64, behind the railings.
Figure 65 shows this corridor hacked out of the castle’s north wall.