Archives for posts with tag: Caryl Churchill

If my artist statement had to be condensed into human form it would be John Dee.  1602 John Dee 2

He studied astronomy but also astrology, mathematics and also alchemy, geometry and also the language of angels. Living at a time when science and religion clashed as the source of truth he was the most intriguing Elizabethan polymath, setting the mould for future  magicians his reputation waxed and waned like the celestial objects he observed. John Dee’s curiosity for how the world was put together fired his imagination and thirst for learning. In his lifetime he collected the largest library of books and manuscripts in Europe.

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This great treasure was ransacked from his home in Mortlake while he was abroad and sections are now scattered across the world. The Royal College of Physicians were donated a substantial number of his books in 1680 and their exhibition Scholar, courtier, magician: the lost library of John Dee is a celebration of this collection, his life and contribution to so many spheres of knowledge. On display are his personal notebooks and other volumes and editions many with his annotations and diagrams in the margins.

These books are available for viewing at the college outside of the exhibition period so would be worth a trip back to see them in detail, unfortunately for me they are mostly in Latin but the illustrations would be amazing to look at more closely.

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John Dee Monas Hieroglyphica

The symbol Monas Hieroglyphica  combines the moon, the sun, the elements and fire. It is also the title of his repository of knowledge on all things numerological, astronomical, cosmological, alchemical, magical and mystically spiritual written in coded language to protect his secrets.

1602 John Dee Claude Glass

John Dee’s Claude Glass

John Dee used a medium or scryer to communicate with angels on his behalf and collected many magical objects to assist in divining the future and accessing the spirit world.

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John Dee’s Crystal Ball

I was surprised how small his crystal ball was but it does have a deep smoky quality.

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John Dee – Gold Magical Disc

The gold disc is engraved with a vision of four castles seen by his medium Edward Kelly  and the notations and scripts of an Enochain Code devised by John Dee as a system of communication with angels.

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Painting by Henry Gillard Glindoni

Even today John Dee surprises us  – an x-ray of a Victorian painting showing Dee in the court of Queen Elizabeth I reveals him to be performing within a circle of skulls which were painted over and hidden but are beginning to emerge as the chemical composition of the paint changes with time.

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I leant about another medieval mystic and polymath from Professor Christopher Page at a lecture at St Sepulchre-Without -Newgate, Holborn – The Mystery of Women part of his series of discussions on Music, imagination and experience in the Medieval World. The remarkable abbess Hildegard of Bingen claimed to see visions and receive spiritual communications from an early age and that it was baptism in the Pentecostal tongues of fire which taught her the mysteries of the faith and enabled her to write her rapturous music and Latin verse. Education was denied to girls at this time as was much of civic and religious life so perhaps claiming divine intervention gave her authority to write, compose and involve herself in scientific research without condemnation.

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Illumination from the Liber Scivias showing Hildegard receiving a vision


The Elmgreen and Dragset exhibition Self-Portraits at Victoria Miro was a sideways look at the proliferation of the selfie and the impossibility of capturing a persona. Looking for other ways to visualise a memory they looked for a trigger to an image in the mind.

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Choosing personally significant artworks they elevated the exhibition label to permanent tribute in marble – in memoriam, a gravestone.

Memories are left with other people. We just leave our bones. I visited Carol Wyss at The Montage where she had a show with fellow Slade graduate Tessa Holmes.

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Carol Wyss

Carol’s deep and rich large etchings are flowers carefully constructed from human bones.

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Carol Wyss

In the simple height differences of charred paper tubes in Past Future Qin Chong gives a blunt reminder that some of us burn out faster than others.

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Qin Chong Past Future

I unexpectedly found myself with a ticket to Here We Go a short play about death by Caryl Churchill at the National Theatre. Divided into three scenes it opens with a funeral wake and the staccato abbreviated and truncated conversations that pass amongst family and strangers  on such occasions. There were sharp one liners and at intervals each person turned to the audience to state their future time and means of death. We then move to a darkened stage and the recently deceased bare chested old man who is in a state of confusion as to his whereabouts, backtracking through his past beliefs to find a footing to explain his predicament.

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The play was insightful, funny and touching. It was also a brave production especially the last scene which proceeds in silence as a care worker methodically undresses and dresses our protagonist from pyjamas to day wear and back again as he painfully shuffles on his walker from bed to chair and chair to bed in the interminable routine that had become his life before death.

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He gazes helplessly out at the audience as the stage lights grow almost imperceptibly dimmer until blackness ensues.

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From our material remains to our spiritual engagement Susan Hiller’s exhibition at Lisson embraced the portrayal of the paranormal, the unconscious and subliminal desire for a world beyond logic. Entering a ritualised arena we witness successive examples of the psychic powers of children taken from popular films.

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Alchemical flasks hold the cremated ashes of paintings.

A stitched canvas makes me think of the construction of space, how we image it and how we collage it together from fragments of knowledge.

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Susan Hiller

My lightbox Entrance was showing at the exhibition Signs That Say What You Want Them To Say at Lights of Soho selected by Robert Montgomery.

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It was a great setting for this work in the underground cavern bar. Contemplating the other side. A traffic warden considering the possibility of angels.

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Susan Eyre Entrance

entrance n. 1. an opening allowing access. 2. an act of entering. 3. the right, means, or opportunity to enter.

entrance v. fill with wonder and delight. >cast a spell on.

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Susan Eyre Yellow Sky

I also had Yellow Sky showing here which is more about looking for refuge and reliance on a controlled environment, the other side of the apocalypse. Both pieces sold which is always a mixture of delight that someone has responded so positively to your work and mild grieving at losing something you had brought into the world.

Arriving rather late for International Lawns Field Trip No.7 at Domo Baal Gallery I felt I had missed the party. Great poster image by Craig Burnett.

1601 international-lawns-field-trip-no7-2015-domobaalBut I did hear the fantastical tale delivered by a dead pan  Jonathan Meades which as best as I can recall was of a French political activist, drug addict, convict turned business and policy advisor who died crashing his high spec car on route to give an after dinner speech while over the limit on the very best of French wine.

Daniel Rubenstein’s paper Graven Images: Photography after Heidegger, Lyotard and Deleuze aimed to have us consider the latent image, the image held in some kind of stasis as yet to be brought to life. To be made visible. To explain the idea of a latent image he told us the story of the Swedish expedition to the North Pole in 1897.

1602 Swedish Balloon Explorers

Pioneering balloonist S. A. Andrée envisaged a plan to restore the national pride of Sweden in the race to the North Pole and artic discovery. Setting off in a hydrogen balloon the three explorers hoped to avoid weeks of hard slog over the treacherous landscape and at the same time make cartographic observations of the terrain from the sky. Unfortunately they soon were lost and their fate remained a mystery for over 30 years until their frozen corpses were discovered by walrus hunters on the island of Kvitøya, the most remote island of the Svalbard archipelago.

1602 Swedish Balloon Crash 1897Found with the bodies were a number of exposed frames of film. Despite the terrible plight they found themselves in crashing on an uninhabited ice cap with no means of communication they continued to document their journey with images that then lay dormant for the intervening years.

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Daniel Rubenstein is interested in this state when an image is held as index, as possibility before its transformation in becoming visible to us. To make the photograph the index must be washed away – from negative to positive – something had to die. He sees the latent image as the third space, the space of the void, the nothingness that Heidegger questions. A metaphysical state. He reminds us that what makes us think is not objects but encounters.

Things slightly out of control.

Another sharply intelligent play by Caryl Churchill, Escaped Alone bats us back and forth from cosy garden chatter to the heart a dystopian future world of civic anarchy.  The scenarios the character Cassandra paints of a poisoned world run by the media where the obese slice off their own bodies for food and fashion choices revolve around which colour gas mask to choose appear just the other side of a thin membrane. Great review of the play here. As Cassandra stepped from bright sunshine into dark void to deliver her visions of spiralling societal collapse one of which included people trapped in tunnels underground resorting to cannibalism and giving birth to blind children I wondered how I will react to going down the deepest mine in the UK to visit the science labs at Boulby. Our trip is planned for May.

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Linda Bassett as Cassandra in Escaped Alone  by Caryl Churchill

Shivering is usually a temporary condition triggered by cold, fear or excitement. Damir Očko looks at the involuntary actions of our body and the physicality of the flesh in which we must live. His videos show a man shaking with Parkinson’s disease desperately trying to write the word tranquillity; the muscle spasms of young healthy men freezing as they stand near naked in a frozen landscape; flesh scarred through burning to a rough meaty texture.

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Damir Ocko The Third Degree

We walk between fragmented mirrors glimpsing our broken selves.

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Damir Ocko installation at The Croatian Pavilion 2015

Tulipmania swept the world in the 17h Century. The passion for the perfect bloom inflated prices out of control and fortunes  were made and lost in the worlds first recorded financial crash. This was the subject of  Gordon Cheung’s Breaking Tulips  exhibition at  Alan Cristea. The most desired blooms with their striated petals were the result of a virus, unknown at the time which added to the speculative nature of trade in not knowing whether a bulb would go on to produce the requisite flower or not. He sets his tulips against the background of the financial papers and comments; “In the context of the Dutch Golden Age the Tulip Breaking virus is both a biological and mind virus where a distorted sense of economic value has taken hold in a herd mentality.”

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Conflating history in his new work we see Dutch 17th-century still life paintings cascade like sand though our fingers. In frozen apocalyptic moments the solid world disintegrates before our eyes.  The collision of Dutch Master and Kim Asendorf’s open source algorithm computer glitch program has created a new kind of sublime; that mix of fear and beauty seen in entropy. We fear losing our history and also fear the ever changing new world of pixels. We are witness to a transient state.

I thought Filip Markiewicz installation Paradiso Lussemburgo was a bit heavy handed, but then considering his topic – the violence of reality seen through greed and the injustice of world economics maybe it was OK to shout about it.

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Filip Marckiewicz Paradiso Luxemburgo


There was no missing his point that the world of finance is corrupt.  Money doesn’t go where it is needed most. The packed boat precariously hangs over a blood bath. Making a political point can be blunt. Mark Fromm’s packed boat of waving lucky cats set in a perpetual cycle of sailing to disaster is titled Lampedusa Good Luck!  Smiling fixedly and clad in shiny gold like the refugees gold survival blankets it is an unsettling analogy but it does open the question of how we see the thousands of migrants who risk their lives to escape terror in their homeland – left to the mercy of so many forces; the war, the sea, our generosity.

Nidhal Chamekh  makes considered connections between contemporary realities and the sprawling nature of human history. The Anti-Clock Project looks at the destruction of an urban monument in Tunis through the use of models of the city and drawings.

Tunis, like any city is a testament to the forces that built it and as Nidhal Chamekh reminds us through the construction and destruction of its architecture is witness to society and the political forces which govern it.

Consider two bullets colliding head on. Art Collective The Propeller Group were intrigued when they came across the remains of a bullet from the American Civil War in a museum which had apparently smashed head on with another bullet on the battlefield. They decided to apply this mythology to the guns used in the cold war era.  The work they made AK47 vs M16 captures the colliding bullets in an FBI clear ballistics gel block accompanied by a video of the collision.

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The Propeller Group Ak47 vs M16


By collapsing/colliding two pasts together they explore possibilities.

Possibilities always lie in the future.