Monday, 18 October 2010

Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow

Lead books, Installation in Berlin, German

I have been to a documentary film about the
German artist Anselm Kiefer. He has lived for nearly 20 years in Barjac, southern France, and worked in a huge space, a derelict silk factory.

The film silently journeys through this space, the excavations under the building, the outside area and installations, and the huge painting studio. There is then a sequence of Kiefer working with his team of assistants, in the studio and the grounds.

His paintings are on a massiv
e scale, perhaps 6 x 10 metres or more, and are moved about on specially constructed free-standing trolleys. No holds are barred, the canvasses, already deeply scarred and textured, are laid horizontal, covered by roughly thrown paint or plaster or glue, followed by a layer of soil or dust. The canvas is then replaced to replaced to vertical and shaken hard "once". Some of this new texture remains.

Gallery in Berlin, Germany, showing a sculpture and painting by Kiefer in the background.

Kiefer is also a sculptor, working with different scales and materials. He m
akes relatively small wooden objects such as boats or submarines, which are moved by crane to sit against the canvasses. He has a fascination with lead, which is apparently quite instable on a molecular level and changes shape over time, for example in old cathedral roofs. Kiefer makes huge lead books, actual books with pages that turn. Sometimes these are incorporated into the paintings, sometimes they are an independent sculpture.

He also uses the earth as a mat
erial. In the film large earthmoving machinery scoops masses of soil or subsoil from one location to another, sometimes covered with liquid lead.

He has an apocalyptic vision, hence the title of this film, and is f
ascinated by ruins and destruction, and fragments of once great and strong buildings. One exterior installation is inside an enormous glasshouse. It consists of twisted steel girders and huge crumbling and broken chunks of concrete.

He also makes precarious almost toppling towers (as in illustration above), which have a bleak rawness and desolate poignancy.

There is an interview in the film. This takes place in Kiefer's library, and the artist talks about his ideas, his fascination with the Bible (from which the title is taken), and the figure of Lilith, a biblical figure who inhabited ruins. He also disparages the mind as a minor and small area of consciousness, claiming that the whole body, at a cellular level, is far more dominant than we know. Blood has almost the same composition of sea water, this reflects our origin and explains our deep longing for water and the sea.

He says that boredom is a place where we can know ourselves. Children experience boredom, he says, and this is a blessing for them, but as adults we try to escape from it. He quotes an essay by Heidegger on this subject.

Kiefer is strongly influenced by Joseph Beuys, with whom he studied, and by the writings of the Jewish poet, Celan. He is deeply affected by twentieth German history, and most of his work reflects this.

I had no idea of the range of his work until I saw this film. I was inspired by the physical energy and scale with which he works, and by the power of his subject matter. He is the same generation as myself, perhaps some of us are haunted by history.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Steam textile mill in Burnley, Lancashire

Two weeks ago, I was in Lancashire for a few days, and had the opportunity to discover some of the history of the local area, known as "Pendle".

Barnoldswick from hill, showing the last remaining mill chimney

Lancashire was famously one of the "cradles" of the industrial revolution in eighteenth and nineteenth century England
Many small towns, such as Barnoldswick, Colne and Burnley, had numerous large mills where cotton was woven and exported throughout the world. It is difficult to imagine now. These towns, surrounded by beautiful green hills, are quiet and the mill chimneys are gone, except for the occasional museum piece.

I had the privilege of visiti
ng the only remaining steam textile mill in the world, at Queen Street Textile Museum in Burnley. This mill is preserved intact, just as it was when it closed a few decades ago. It is a perfect example of how the huge boilers created steam for the engine room, which then powered a great wheel, whose energy was transmitted throughout the entire factory to power individual looms. The racket in these mills was literally deafening. Another visitor told me that her mother eventually became completely deaf from this work.

Boiler room

Detail of steam engine

Weaving mill

Tapestry Studio at Stirling Castle

Yesterday I visited the Tapestry Studio at Stirling Castle. This project, which is organised by West Dean Tapestry Studio in Sussex, is taking twelve years. The weavers in Stirling and Sussex are recreating, on a very slightly smaller scale, the famous Unicorn Tapestry series, now in Metropolitan Museum in New York. These works will hang in a recently restored part of Stirling Castle when completed, and some of them are currently on view in the Chapel.

Two weavers work on the loom all the time. They are responsible for making the drawing or "cartoon" which is located behind the upright loom and acts as a guide for the very precise work. They also make numerous small woven samples of particular details before they start on the main piece.

It is fascinating to watch as they recreate small flowers and animals and details of faces. Louise Martin, one of the weavers, tells me that all the yarn is specially dyed so that they get the exact colour.

A detail from one of the new hangings in Stirling Castle Chapel

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Coming up for air The Red Tree exhibition

"The Red Tree"
View from studio window

Busy month, no blog for several weeks. But now quite a bit to write about. Firstly, the exhibition for The Red Tree, which was last weekend, was a great success. Exhibitors were: May Chipulina, Catherine Froy, Libby Yule, Jose de Unamuno and myself.

Lots of people came and
some of us sold work.

Diana Hand

Jose de Unamuno