Saturday 24 May 2014

The Decoration on August's Wire Drawing Bench

The wire drawing bench in Écouen is the only remaining object of its type. Although many plain wooden goldsmith's benches can be found in museum collections, this one from 1565 is unique. Just as modern scientific instruments are functional and lack a certain mystery, these plain workaday benches are nothing like the Elector of Saxony's wire drawing bench. They have been employed as indispensable goldsmith tools since the middle ages. An engraving by Etienne Delaune demonstrates how the bench was used; the long wooden beam was equipped with a crank, pliers and pulling iron, and used for drawing and profiling metal wires.

Art markets and social bankruptcy: We didn't start the fire...

It's often about timing; sometimes dates, events, circumstances, planetary alignments* combine to make an extraordinary moment in time. From the local elections, the evacuation of people from Birkbeck School of Arts, or a period of artistic bankruptcy; all these came together for the final talk at Birkbeck Arts Week 2014. Professor Dr Harald Falckenberg came to speak to a number of us about international contemporary art trends, specifically viewed from Germany.**

Whether the lecture we got was what he precisely intended is another matter. Ten minutes in and the persistent fire alarm roused even the most stubborn academic, and we decided that the place should be evacuated. It was a beautiful evening for an outdoor lecture. Thus a previously formal academic group stood around the gardens of Gordon Square and heard one of the most scurrilous confidential insights into the murky amoral world of the art market.

Thursday 22 May 2014

Enter the Dragon and the Birds

© The Trustees of the British Museum
Perhaps I’m getting sensitive to the geography of art, or I’ve always fancied exotic places at lunch, but today I went to China. Room 91 at the British Museum affords visitors the opportunity to go on a voyage along the Yangzi River. There is nothing standard sized about the real or depicted landscapes. The scrolled horizontal ones are like a slow journey along the canal; the vertical banners offer a glimpse of a lush garden through an open window.

I want to focus on one image. It shows figures on a mountainous pathway, their voluminous clothing buffeted by the unexpected animation of a dragon to the top right. The artist is witness to the miracle from behind a rocky, wild outcrop which he puts in the foreground. The heavily shaded and emphasised tumbling rocks and foliage emphasise the reality of the locale, where the lightly sketched figures seem ephemeral in comparison. The dragon just is; scaly, snaky and hanging in the sky, surrounded by shading to make it stand out.

Tuesday 20 May 2014

From Stigmata to Golf: Praying through the ages

This was an interesting start to Birkbeck Arts Week. Given the MA Catholic reformation module, I thought it would be a on topic diversion. As the blurb said, 'in our secular world, prayer has become unfamiliar, and past cultures where prayer was more central are harder to understand. Dr Isabel Davis (Birkbeck), Revd Dr Jessica Martin and Dr Nicola Bown (Birkbeck) discuss representations of prayer in literature and art in the Middle Ages, the seventeenth century and the Victorian period. Technique of prayer; what it is and what it is like'.

Dr Isabel Davis and her band of pilgrims set out from the late Middle Ages. For the church going population kneeling was a natural, obvious, submissive posture. And yet, where did this invented and culturally specific idea come from?