Category Archives: Human condition

Building Ingmar Bergman’s cathedral…

  • People ask what are my intentions with my films — my aims. It is a difficult and dangerous question, and I usually give an evasive answer: I try to tell the truth about the human condition, the truth as I see it. This answer seems to satisfy everyone, but it is not quite correct. I prefer to describe what I would like my aim to be. There is an old story of how the cathedral of Chartres was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. Then thousands of people came from all points of the compass, like a giant procession of ants, and together they began to rebuild the cathedral on its old site. They worked until the building was completed — master builders, artists, labourers, clowns, noblemen, priests, burghers. But they all remained anonymous, and no one knows to this day who built the cathedral of Chartres.
    Regardless of my own beliefs and my own doubts, which are unimportant in this connection, it is my opinion that art lost its basic creative drive the moment it was separated from worship. It severed
    an umbilical cord and now lives its own sterile life, generating and degenerating itself. In former days the artist remained unknown and his work was to the glory of God. He lived and died without being more or less important than other artisans; ‘eternal values,’ ‘immortality’ and ‘masterpiece’ were terms not applicable in his case. The ability to create was a gift. In such a world flourished invulnerable assurance and natural humility. Today the individual has become the highest form and the greatest bane of artistic creation.
    The smallest wound or pain of the ego is examined under a microscope as if it were of eternal importance. The artist considers his isolation, his subjectivity, his individualism almost holy. Thus we finally gather in one large pen, where we stand and bleat about our loneliness without listening to each other and without realizing that we are smothering each other to death. The individualists stare into each others’ eyes and yet deny the existence of each other.
    We walk in circles, so limited by our own anxieties that we can no longer distinguish between true and false, between the gangster’s whim and the purest ideal. Thus if I am asked what I would like the general purpose of my films to be, I would reply that I want to be one of the artists in the cathedral on the great plain. I want to make a dragon’s head, an angel, a devil — or perhaps a saint — out of stone. It does not matter which; it is the sense of satisfaction that counts.
    Regardless of whether I believe or not, whether I am a Christian or not, I would play my part in the collective building of the cathedral.

    • Four Screenplays of Ingmar Bergman (1960)

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His movies inflict this kind of an acute emotional and spiritual pain that no other sort of celluloid reality is able to do…

It asks for a consideration – is it one’s personal predisposition that makes an individual so vulnerable to the artist’s emotional roulette; or is it ‘just’ the common human feature – that one strives for empathy and compassion identifying with the characters, and always at the expanse of his/her inner equilibrium?

But Bergman is not dancing any genius yet cruel vengeance dance – or so we are bound to believe in … He is building a ‘cathedral’ out of our ‘common’ human clay – the space of some transcendent sense of things… All by carving a piece of art/a movie – a ‘dragon’s head, an angel, a devil’ from the frozen avalanche of our emotions…

Little invention here, little help there; a sacrifice and the apparent brotherhood of tens working arm in arm with the same irrational aims in minds…

Here is the re-building of wonder and awe, here is the struggle to create, the pain to re-connect human beings with themselves and with each other…

But – prosaically speaking – here is also the sweat, the mud, the aborted ‘ego’s and the nearly lethal fatigue….

Here is the artist’s way…

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Inspired by I. Bergman’s ‘Autumn Sonata’


Deleuze and Guattari’s flesh-appeal…

Well, these thinkers are not for faint-hearted or narrow-minded; they not even for those rebellion-minded and lion-hearted…They are someone between and beyond, the very dismissal of any signification or categorization right in the core of their beliefs…

How did I fall for D&G’s double charm? Typically perhaps – via theirs passionate pupils and followers. Manuel Delanda’s lectures at the European Graduate School (below) have slapped me right across my safe, familiar thinking waking me up to a world of another possibility – that there are still highly inspirational thoughts and theories resonating from within the contemporary philosophy – those compelling enough to alter one’s perception of things… And I thought that after Sartre’s death few decades ago it was rather impossible to experience that thrill again…

Then I started to read their whimsical yet carefully crafted theories; seasoned generously with the idiosyncratic concepts, which I could not grasp intelligibly even the half of…It took me some time to get the very principle of the philosophy – that is meant to be on the opposite of the ‘proper’ and classical reasoning, that the fact that is seems to grow in all different directions at the same time, fluctuating with co-existent possible readings – that is – what is was designed to be… Not that easily accepted for anyone nurtured on the great, perfectly logical and systematic systems of thought – if you remove one part from them – they fall; if you get one concept – others add on like letters of an alphabet…

Not in D&G’s world though – here the system is anti-hierarchical, not ABC code but rather ASDFG… riddle (letters of your keyboard, second row)… Their called it the ‘rhizomatic’ reasoning – horizontal, open and multi-centered. Just like the chosen organic structure – the thought multiplies in a semi-random pattern of many possible threads springing from the one common source; yet no one can predict which, if any of the threads will survive, or will become the satellite-wombs for another ideas to be born…

Perhaps the easier way to introduce the thought of the two French thinkers is to contra pose the old, classical concept of the ‘body’ with the one of the ‘flesh’. The Greek ‘body’ is the self-contained, dignified object of an admiration – an epitome of beauty and epiphany of the transcendent divine order – just as their thought used to be. The ‘flesh’ is more primitive and Hebrew (‘Bible’ originated) – it’s shapeless, featureless and extremely vulnerable; it’s a place of suffering and weakness – it’s extremely human – it’s so human that it becomes… animal…

D&G’s philosophy is the one of the ‘flesh’ – of a formless lack and a painful transformation, of a celebrated dis-unity and perpetual ‘becoming’. It’s a difficult, yet strangely soothing proposition for someone trying to make sense of the contemporary times…

It’s an anti-philosophy after all, if one keeps up with the rigid standards; that’s why it’s been struggling to sink into the academic grounds – right now it gets more of the deserved attention, with the esoteric texts being translated from French and commentaries being published… Still it remains mostly inaccessible in Polish ( I guess in many other languages too), too bad – over two decades after the original publications…

It’s a remotely optimistic vision for the remotely optimistic times of ours… I hope to present some of its aspects in the posts, which will follow…


A seminar with Francis Bacon …

Well – he has never taught art to others officially, and has never been taught art by others in such a manner

And while not being entirely sure, if just because or despite of that  – Francis Bacon excels as an art (painting) tutor. I found him so lucidly articulated, so continuously and deeply inspiring in his views on the artistic practice that I just couldn’t help not to present his ‘tutorials’ in a customized, yet systematic way.

Bacon took with him his mystery of how to talk about highly complex and irrational matters in an analytical and engaging manner.  And this very ability of his redeems his work, which could otherwise be easily classified as a tormented expression of an idiot-savant. Being himself deeply anti-theoretical he offers an impressive theory of his own oeuvre. With a certain force of authority, though never deliberately,  he shows that an artist’s journey is (should be) a continuous interplay between both challenges: ‘making images’ and making sense of them…

All points below are taken from interviews Bacon gave to D. Sylvester and while taking part in a documentary devoted to his work. They are extracts of the artist’s more elaborated statements. To access the original talks get a book and watch the movie (links below).

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You have to decide, that you are not going to be afraid of making a fool of yourself.

One needs to find his subject – otherwise one will be tempted to escape into a decoration. Most of the problems of the painting now result from the fact that painters don’t know what to paint – they are short of images.

The better the techniques of recording the reality become – the more inventive the painter needs to be in his ways to lock reality into something completely arbitrary. Going back to figuration in a more accepted sense is weak and meaningless.

The image – its power and integrity matters more than the beauty of paint.

Narration speaks louder than paint – avoid telling stories, unless you want to.

Aim at a highly disciplined work, even though the methods of pursuing it need to be ever- experimental and deeply instinctive. To make an image one has to control it.

Use secondary imaginary as a compost which will breed you images.

Painting (if successful) is a process of unlocking sensations and feelings on as many levels and as acutely as possible.

Painting is a ongoing interplay of luck/hazard, instinct and one’s critical sense.

Your technique needs to be as subjective and unique as your sensibility is.

‘Fresh’ image is the one which has a ‘foam of the unconscious’ still locked around it…

Make your forms memorable – otherwise they will exist only as ‘blobs’ on a wall…

A chance is more important than a conscious intellect because I made images that intellect would never make.

If you going to capture something REALLY REAL – it will be painful…

The most important thing for a painter is – to paint – nothing more…


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D. Sylvester, ‘Interviews with Francis Bacon: The Brutality of fact’, Thames and Hudson

Francis Bacon Documentary’

Here: preview of a new exhibition of Bacon in Dublin: ‘Terrible Beauty’


Contemporary Art (9) Nathalie Djurberg

Nathalie Djurberg (b. 1978 BirthLysekil, Sweden) – young multimedia artist, lives and works in Berlin. She has won the Silver Lion for a Promising Young Artist at this year’s 53rd Venice Biennale. She was awarded for her multimedia installation “Experiment” (above – first photo shows the work still in progress).

Gothic, rich, visceral and provocative work of this girl could not to leave any mark on the viewers’ collective and individual consciousness. I met people who hated it, yet still remained under its dark spell respecting the way this artist had teased their common sense of civilized, dignified beings.

Djurberg’s theater of absurd – devil’s Eden of huge, colorful wax vegetation was seasoned with caves of screens where the true drama of life, lust, violence and death went on over and over again. Sounds were those of some tribal ‘mysteria’ inter-weaved with some primordial  sub-resonance of deep earthy tones which went on creeping into one’s unconscious. Child-like fascination with this chaotic, pre-rational microcosm battled with one’s impulse to treat the entire spectacle as pure fiction, a theater performance with no or little valid reference to the ‘real’ life outside that extravaganza…

Nothing more deceptive… Djurberg’s worldview is hyper-real and indulgent in parts – indeed – yet it’s much more realistic in its portrayal of the human nature and the Nature in itself than many works of so-called ‘Realism’ in art, where polite and dull landscapes or family portraits were given to the public as the ‘truthful’ depiction of life and man…

‘It’s a strange world’ and ‘Owls are not what they seem’… Let’s Breughel’s, Goya’s, the Romantics and the Surrealists’ dreams go on …


Hans Bellmer – subverted fragility

Bellmer considered his works to be a conscious act of defiance against German fascism with its cult of “the perfect body”. He created and photographed two life-size pubescent dolls, which he distorted, dismembered, or menaced in sinister scenarios that sometimes included himself. These scenarios seemed to be nightmarish manifestations of a journey into his unconscious.

I keep wondering what was there exactly that this Polish-born (1902 Katowice), German-blooded and French-based & buried (1975 Paris) artist had been trying to mutilate and to sodomize with such a passion… One or the other part of his multi-national identity? Surreal tragedy of his paranoid, violent times? Or maybe ‘just’ the black hole of his own psyche, the Jung’s ‘shadow’ – that ‘invisible saurian tail that man drags behind him’ and dreads the confrontation more than anything in his life?

I won’t find out for sure…perhaps all the questions bear a seed of an answer in them… What I find fascinating about Bellmer’s artistic exploits is how his dolls can function ambiguously in two contrasting realms: one is the sphere of extremely wounded, violated innocence and fragility – a dismal betrayal, some bestial deeds… The other side of the same coin is these dolls’ hyper-sexual appeal as they are misogynously portrayed as alluring and dangerous man-eaters, who need to be tamed by dismantling them to pieces… Transgressive and sexist odor of this art is as important as the normality (so-called) it yearns for by subverting it.


Raffi Lavie: ‘In the Name of the Father’

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Raffi Lavie (1937-2007) Late Israeli artist representing Israel at the 53rd International Biennale in Venice.

A painter, educator, art critic, music connoisseur, and curator. The most central, charismatic figure in the art scene in Israel for the past four decades until his death in 2007.

Influenced by Paul Klee, Jean Dubuffet, and Robert Rauschenberg, as well as by local artists such as Aviva Uri and Arie Aroch, he introduced the avant-garde of his time to Israel by adapting its components into a local discourse. Lavie was the founder of the “10+” group which started its activities in 1965 in a series of theme exhibitions that brought home current international trends.

He was also the key figure in the style that formed around him in the 1970s, which would become known as the “Want of Matter” due to its adherence to inexpensive, ascetic materials such as plywood, and the use of collage; a style associated with the city of Tel Aviv, conveying urban, secular, local values untainted by the narratives of any given ideology.

In some respects, Lavie succeeded in distilling an Israeli aesthetic; by giving it form, he reaffirmed the ethos of the place. His genius stems from the fact that his art reflects our values, ideals, and aspirations that have gone awry. An exhibition of Raffi Lavie’s work at the present Biennale attests to the yearnings invoked by his art, forcing us to question what is it that we wish to remember, and why this therapeutic memory has the taste of urgency.

Observing Lavie’s works, two qualities stand out: the child-like painting, and the obsessive erasure of images via scribbling, carving, and generous color strokes. These practices are connected to his perception of the periphery’s double role as an actual place and as a spiritual dimension. The acts of erasing and starting anew are closely related to Lavie’s cultural heritage as an Israeli and a Jew. Working from within a scopophobic tradition, far-removed from any center, he created an idiosyncratic language, specific to the place, its needs, and desires. (Biennale Information Note on the painter)

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Despite of bearing similarities and invoking comparisons to other artists and trends in the contemporary art (mostly to Cy Twomby, abstract expressionist art or Outsiders Art) Lavie’s works stand out as singularities – created outside the mainstream of art-world, by an alpha – individual, they got that sort of an authority and idiosyncrasy about them, which makes them both commanding and closed to any simplified, superficial reading.

When I entered the Israeli Pavilion in Giardini I saw these works as a manifest of pure, raw creativity without any superfluous conceptual or political scaffolding around them. Their  predominant whites and reds brought to mind the troubled history of the land they were created in, the simplicity of the technique and modest materials (plywood) had the power of some explosives, instead of undermining the message. Some of the paintings were arranged on a wall as a sort of an assemblage in paint telling a story perhaps, or just supporting each other in the common struggle for the survival in viewers’ eyes and minds.

All that felt fresh and inspiring after some hours spent in the national pavilions of the 53rd Biennale. I saw Raffie Lavie as one of those really good artists, which are rare to be found nowadays, partly because they don’t necessary seek any wider recognition. I read his paintings as a personal statement, personal one-man exhibition and as a comment on his and his land human condition. A that was a sort of a relief to experience in Venice, among the sea of (just) entertaining, ‘smart’, in parts dull and often painfully self-conscious art about art…


Contemporary Art (7) – Marlene Dumas

“My best works are erotic displays of mental confusions (with intrusions of irrelevant information).”

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Marlene Dumas (b. 1953, Cape Town) – one of the most important, influential figurative painters working today.

With Dumas one may easy get into a trap of ‘an infatuated viewer’. Trap she has crafted herself – deliberately or not- it is working well, and blinding all those moths that had dared to approach these paintings too close, well beyond the line of their personal zones…

They are there to seduce, to spit at taboo, to provoke, to lit the flames of all sorts of powerful emotions… Embodied femmes fatales, dark and alluring, doomed and the born survivors…

To form any theoretical apparatus for Dumas’ work is a waste of time. Yet, it doesn’t mean the paintings are irrational. Quite opposite is true – to experience them means to approach them with some sort of a keen intelligence, yet it’s a special kind of intelligence; even not the emotional one – more sensual, passionate one… And some deeply fleshly logic has to be put to hard work… Painted with brooding, intense sensations they reveal themselves under the touch of a viewer’s neurological stir…

As paintings-artworks they are deliciously painterly and ardent in execution. Paint is being laid (poured) loosely and in a number of visceral, beautifully transparent layers; highly expressive marks co-exist with a smooth, detailed finish in one part or another. The overall impression is that of a juicy, bitter-sweet forbidden fruit – to be taken of left behind….

Mmmm…


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