The other people’s pictures issue
I have spent quite a lot if time of late looking at artists who interest me for different reasons. Most of the work that follows has a large ‘Gee Whizz that’s big’ factor. I’m struggling to find much work that deals with the wordier end of what I’m dealing with, or that inspires me to think on it. I’ll be commenting on this soon as I think it might need a bit of its own breathing space.
I want the part of this project that’s about the very genesis of language to have a sense of primal origins about it. I think in many of Anselm Kiefer’s paintings there’s an incredibly strong sense of ‘usness’ – this is our history. I love the fact that his work so often feels like part of the fabric of the dawn of a time long before ours. The scale of his pictures lends itself to feeling immersed in the pictures as well. The pictures from his series about the Jewish exodus from Israel show this well. Of course, in these paintings the narrative/mythological background add to the immersive effect; and then there’s the obvious thing of his being a German artist working through a few issues, on a national scale. Just imagine them 20 foot wide and you’re some of the way there.
This place feels like a museum, but also like some place that holds all of our souls, as museums do, in a sense.
I’m potty about his books as well. I’ve no idea how he does it but his work is shot through with this incredibly potent symbolism that actually works outside of language. Many symbols seem to depend on language to work. They refer to a history that depends on literature to stand up. Kiefer utilises something that flourishes outside of that. It may sound a bit contrary but for this project to work I think I need to discover a way of achieving a similar effect; a sense of language adding up to more than the sum of its parts.
Tillmans did a retrospective at the old Tate a few years ago called ‘If one thing matters, everything matters’. It’s almost relevant to my project by dint of the title alone. There are quite a few things I like about these pictures. I particularly like the fact that his friends Alex and Lutz keep on cropping up. There’s a lovely sense of their having lived together a lot, and that being illustrated through the passing years. This is built up with some of the most banal photographs you might care to see, but also with some pictures that catch me off guard. His two friends fighting on the beach, for example. I like them already. There’s none of the grandness of the Kiefers either.
For the record, here’s a picture of one of his shows. Just to demonstrate how he exhibits his work.
I think these photographs pretty much speak for themselves. They’ve got that world buzzing by in all its vastness thing. They might be seen as aspiring to the grail of ‘allness’ but judged by that metre they, like anything else, will never do the job. You just end up looking at it saying ‘Crikey, that’s big! And there’s lots of it/them!’ It points us strongly in the direction of all though. That’s what I like. In stretching to comprehend the bigness in front of me, I stretch to comprehend the bigness of all things.
The cityscapes are stunning and the deserts are fairly amazing too. The city pictures tap into that ‘usness’ again, which (for reasons I have every intention of explaining later) I think is important. And the deserts provide a strong counterfoil to that.
I’m interested in the simplicity of form in his work. He has really straightforward, and slightly overwhelming modes of presentation. It makes for a mesmerising effect. Here’s a link to the Centre Pompidou website, featuring an artistic biography.
He’s used other objects as well as photographs. Most of them seem to be used to reprersent death, or the lives of the people who owned the objects.