Leonora Carrington and the House of Fear

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Kim Evans’ 50-minute TV profile of Leonora Carrington finally turned up on YouTube in December, in a slightly truncated copy. I taped this when it was first broadcast by the BBC in November 1992, and had the foresight to digitise it before my video recorder stopped working, but I’ve never wanted a YT account so I resisted the urge to upload it myself. If I was going to do so I’d offer things to Ubuweb instead, but I haven’t managed that either.

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Leonora Carrington and the House of Fear was shown a few months after Carrington’s paintings had been the subject of a retrospective exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery in London, two events that made nonsense of Tate Modern’s subsequent labelling of her as a “lost” artist. Most artists would be happy to be described as “lost” if it meant being given almost an hour of screen-time on BBC 1 together with a retrospective show at a major London gallery. Describing Carrington as “lost” was a convenient way for the Tate and any art critics playing catch-up to sidestep their having ignored her work for decades. (Joanna Moorhead embarrassed Tate Modern about this neglect in 2007.) Surrealism lost its avant-garde status in the late 1940s, and became increasingly disreputable thanks in part to Salvador Dalí’s prominence and self-promotion. There were Surrealist exhibitions in London prior to 1992—notably the expansive Dada and Surrealism show at the Hayward Gallery in 1978—but the British art and literary world has always been suspicious of an excess of imagination, the very thing that’s too the fore in Kim Evans’ film. This follows the standard BBC template of the time, combining a biographical sketch with a view of the artist’s day-to-day life which here includes a visit to a crypt full of mummified corpses, and a lesson in how to make egg tempera. Marina Warner championed Carrington’s art and writing throughout the “lost” years, and she turns up briefly to offer some comment.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Temptations
The Secret Life of Edward James
Leonora Carrington, 1917–2011

Weekend links 562

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Teenage Lightning (Les Éclairs au-dessous de quatorze ans) (c. 1925) by Max Ernst.

• “There has never been another director who has lain in wait for us with the same wrath or disgust. He is so complicated that finally he became the very thing he was nervous of admitting, a true artist best measured in the company of Patrick Hamilton, Francis Bacon, or Harold Pinter. He saw no reason to like us or himself.” David Thomson on why Alfred Hitchcock’s films still feel dangerous.

• New music: “Habitat, an environmental music collaboration by Berlin based composer Niklas Kramer and percussionist Joda Foerster, is inspired by the drawings of Italian architect Ettore Sottsass. Each of the eight tracks represents a room in an imaginary building.”

• “You could describe Lambkin’s work as a rich sort of ambient music, but largely without the synthetic textures that ambient music often possesses.” Geeta Dayal reviews Solos, a collection of recordings by Graham Lambkin.

Tom of Finland: Pen and Ink, 1965–1989 is an exhibition at the David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles, which runs to 1st May. The website includes a virtual tour.

• More revenant gay art: Bibliothèque Gay reviews a new Spanish translation of Baiser de Narcisse by Jacques d’Adelswärd-Fersen.

• Introducing Ark Surreal: “Surreal collages by Allan Randolph Kausch. Some cute and sweet, others dark and intriguing.”

• At Artforum: Albert Mobilio on Extra Ordinary: Magic, Mystery, and Imagination in American Realism.

• At Spoon & Tamago: Shizuoka is installing monuments inspired by their plastic model industry.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Jordan Belson Day.

Museum of Everything Else

• RIP Bertrand Tavernier.

Teenage Lightning 2 (1991) by Coil | Teenage Lightning (1992) by Skullflower | Teenage Lightning (Surgeon Remix) (2001) by Coil

Weekend links 557

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Poster by Milan Grygar for the 1969 Czech release of Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits.

• “By encouraging composers to engage with sound as something more than just ‘notes on a keyboard’, the result [of the Buchla] was the kind of intricate sound design last heard in musique concrète. Works such as Morton Subotnick’s, Silver Apples of the Moon (1967) show a futurism completely absent on Wendy Carlos’ otherwise highly influential Switched-on Bach (1968), which used the keyboard-controlled Moog modular as if it were merely a glorified organ.” Oli Freke on the evolution of the synthesizer.

• “As humans began settling more consistently in one place to grow and thrive, the penis—or, more specifically, its erect form, the phallus—often came into use as a protector of fields that would prove fertile. In contrast to the comparative prudery of today, the phallus adorned everything from gods to shrines to personal homes and jewellery.” Emily Willingham on penial evolution in the animal kingdom.

• “The Trumpets of Jericho is, in part, so uniquely unsettling because it allows the woman in question to narrate her own horror. She is eager to give birth not to meet her child but so that she can go ahead and kill it.” Reed McConnell on the writings of Unica Zürn and (once again) Leonora Carrington.

At the center of it all, there was one director whom everyone knew, one artist whose name was synonymous with cinema and what it could do. It was a name that instantly evoked a certain style, a certain attitude toward the world. In fact, it became an adjective. Let’s say you wanted to describe the surreal atmosphere at a dinner party, or a wedding, or a funeral, or a political convention, or for that matter, the madness of the entire planet—all you had to do was say the word ‘Felliniesque’ and people knew exactly what you meant.

In the Sixties, Federico Fellini became more than a filmmaker. Like Chaplin and Picasso and the Beatles, he was much bigger than his own art. At a certain point, it was no longer a matter of this or that film but all the films combined as one grand gesture written across the galaxy. Going to see a Fellini film was like going to hear Callas sing or Olivier act or Nureyev dance. His films even started to incorporate his name—Fellini Satyricon, Fellini’s Casanova. The only comparable example in film was Hitchcock, but that was something else: a brand, a genre in and of itself. Fellini was the cinema’s virtuoso.

Martin Scorsese on “Il Maestro”, Federico Fellini

• At Dennis Cooper’s: For Your Crushed Right Eye: The instrumental films of Takahiro Iimura, Tetsuji Takechi, Toshi Matsumoto, Masao Adachi and Takashi Ito.

• “We wanted people to see that we exist.” Joan E. Biren, the photographer who recorded lesbian life in the 70s.

•New music: Alkisah by Senyawa, and Bishintai by Unknown Me.

• Mix of the week: XLR8R Podcast 683 by Laila Sakini.

Phallus Dei (1969) by Amon Düül II | Sidereal Hands At The Temple Of Omphalos (1996) by Scenic | Starman (feat. Peter Brötzmann) (2017) by Phallus Dei

More Isles of the Dead

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Die Toteninsel by Georg Janny.

Arnold Böcklin’s masterpiece, The Isle of the Dead, is a perennial source of fascination here, in part for the way the picture has fascinated other artists, writers, film-makers, etc, for the past 140 years. Something about the image compels people to rework it according to their own predilections, or to incorporate it into a narrative. Böcklin began this process himself, painting five different versions from 1880 to 1886, one of which was lost during the Second World War. The final version, which is now at the Museum der bildenden Künste in Leipzig, seems to be the favourite among the copyists. Toteninsel.net is a site devoted to cataloguing the influence of the picture but despite considerable thoroughness they don’t seem to have added this watercolour homage by Georg Janny (1864–1935), an Austrian artist and scenic designer.

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Toteninsel (c. 1905) by Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach.

They do have an entry for Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach’s painting but not the painting itself which is a surprising reworking of the Leipzig version. An ostensibly Greek island has gained a domineering portico in an Egyptian style. Böcklin was Swiss but his paintings made a huge impression on the younger generation of German and Austrian artists.

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Toteninsel (nach Böcklin) (1975) by HR Giger.

Diefenbach’s picture reminds me of a favourite variation by another Swiss artist, HR Giger, who painted two homages to the Leipzig version in the 1970s. One of these is a fairly close copy, albeit without the funeral boat, and with the addition of Giger’s usual biomechanical details. The other version adds an industrial structure to the stand of cypresses. This is a hatch from the rear of a German refuse vehicle which had provided Giger with a subject for several paintings in his Passagen series. The Surrealist juxtaposition is worthy of Magritte (who also alluded to Böcklin in The Annunciation), drawing a parallel with bodily interment and waste disposal.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Isles of the Dead
A Picture to Dream Over: The Isle of the Dead
The Isle of the Dead in detail
Arnold Böcklin and The Isle of the Dead

Weekend links 554

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Tadanori Yokoo Emphasizes Deliberate Misalignment in Contemporary Woodblock Series.

• Another week, another Paris Review essay on Leonora Carrington. This time it’s Olga Tokarczuk exploring eccentricity as feminism. At the same publication there’s more eccentricity in Lucy Scholes‘ feature about the neglected novels of Irene Handl, a woman best known for the characters she played in many British films and TV dramas. I’ve long been curious about Handl’s writing career so this was good to see.

• “The denial of our participation in the world, [Fisher] implies—the disavowal of our desire for iPhones even as we diligently think anti-capitalist thoughts—is incapacitating. It leads to a regressive utopianism that cannot envision going through capitalism, but only retreating or escaping from it, into a primitive past or fictional future.” Lola Seaton on the ghosts of Mark Fisher.

• More ghosts: Paranormal is the latest collection of spooky, atmospheric electronica from Grey Frequency, “an audio document exploring extraordinary phenomena which have challenged orthodox science, but which have also grown and evolved as part of contemporary culture and a wider folkloric landscape.”

• “Items billed as THE BEST EVER can stop us cold, and even cause us to take them for granted, never reassessing them, as we instead gesture, often without thought, to where they sit in the corner, under a halo and backdrop of blue ribbons.” Colin Fleming on Miles Davis and Kind Of Blue.

• “Diaboliques and Psycho both achieve something very rare: a perfect plot twist but an unspoilable movie,” says Milan Terlunen.

• Richard Kirk returns once more as “Cabaret Voltaire” with a new recording, Billion Dollar.

• Even more Leonora Carrington: some of the cards from her Tarot deck.

DJ Food on Zodiac Posters by Simboli Design, 1969.

Kodak Ghosts (1970) by Michael Chapman | Plight (The Spiralling Of Winter Ghosts) (1988) by David Sylvian & Holger Czukay | The Ghosts Of Animals (1995) by Paul Schütze