Imaging Terror: Gerhard Richter’s ‘October 1, 1977’
Geraint Evans, Thursday 15 November 2018
Text 1: Robert Storr- ‘October 1, 1977’
Text 2: Anthony Downey- ‘Terrorism, Torture and the Spectacle of Images’
Gerhard Richter, Dead, 1988 Marlene Dumas, Stern, 2004
Gerhard Richter used images from various sources, including press and police images, to create a body of work that re-documents the controversial deaths of four Baader Meinhof terrorists, part of the Red Army Factionwhich was a German left-wing terrorist group that perpetrated a number of kidnappings and killings throughout the 1970s. Outspoken, anti-state, activists; Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, Holger Meins and Ulrike Meinhof, all died in jail serving life sentences in Stammheim prison.
This body of work, currently housed at MOMA, is considered one of the most important collections of our time. There were 15 paintings in this exhibition, called “October 1, 1977”, shown at Haus Esters, and painted over a nine-month period between March and December 1988. Various methods of suicide/murder were the subjects Richter did not shy away from, yet holds a neutral position. (It was widely suspected that German state police had murdered them.) “What have I painted?” Richter said at a press conference, listing the shooting of Baader,(3 times), Enslin’s hanging (3 times), “the head of the dead Meinhof after they cut her down”, (three times) ‘the dead Meins’, ( once) an unspecific burial, a record player in which the gun was allegedly hidden, a youthful portrait of Meinhof. All of the paintings are grey and dull. He said, “I am not sure whether these pictures ask anything: they provoke contradictions through their hopelessness and desolation; their lack of partisanship.”
Imitating the source photograph exactly, probably to assist recognition of the original images, he used an ephemeral blurring treatment, which could be a metaphor for memory, softening reality, making the horrific more tolerable. Richter talked about a painting having the ability to create time which a photograph being instant, could not.
We compared Marlene Dumas’ painting of Ulrike Meinhof with Richter’s painting and discussed which one was “more dead”. Dumas’, being more visceral, was the general consensus.
Thinking about these texts and conversations in relation to my work using iconic press images about apartheid, was very interesting. Especially as we discussed the motivation behind the work: Richter said all subjects were equal. I am not sure I agree because his treatment of The Twin Towers 9/11 was much more discreet. It’s a much smaller painting. Anthony Downey writes how Richter could not paint this subject for a while. He was directly affected by a diversion of his aeroplane on 9/11.
Numb to violence and human suffering through media over-exposure which is now streamed, it seems that painting does have a role to slow the message down, and to initiate a more involved response.
Richter controls how the work is seen too; No opening event, in a Public Museum, and that the work remains as a collection, which is interesting because the images he painted from were in the public domain to begin with. I have been thinking about an inclusive witness of my post-apartheid work as an installation, personal and collective memory being equally shared and experienced.
We also talked about how violence manifests in the world today, and as an international MA group, observations in our home countries included coups, riots, wars, detentions, terrorism, uprising, state control, and censorship in Turkey, Pakistan, Japan, China, Hong Kong, South Africa and the UK.
Kill All Normies
How internet subcultures are conquering the mainstream, from 4chan and Tumblr to Trump and the alt-right.
Angela Nagle (2017)
Mark Fairnington, Thursday 29 November
Mark Fairnington introduced today’s Reading Group discussion with his admission to not knowing anything about this, when he was first given the book two years ago.
Ignorant of this online “ironical in-jokey maze”, besides Trump’s obvious tweets, the whole Internet subculture was also somewhat foreign to me. I had no idea about the extreme views, hacking, death threats and the extent of the power and vitriolic defamation possible without recourse. I mentioned how social media gathered political momentum over the Farrage/ Johnston promises regarding the referendum vote on Brexit, closing UK borders, selective immigration, and the EU contribution of £250 million paid weekly to the underfunded NHS. I noticed quick online political bias, even amongst a few of my friends, FB posts and tweets about the motivating promises which went viral and divided families. No one expected the result to be what it was. I don’t blog but I posted something about immigrants making a contribution and got a pile of responses, some informed, but mostly ignorant. The Brexit leavers have resigned, or been fired. The lack of accountability to deliver what was promised, and gained popularity on-line, took no responsibility. This digital revolution in this form is both a powerful and dangerous weapon, and an expression of the ‘unreal instant reality’ out there.
Our MA group is a multi-cultural representing 13 countries, this time giving voice to Pakistan, Japan, South Africa, China, Hong Kong, and the UK, and our experience of on –line stuff, from the ANIME to cyber bullying, DoS and doxing, revenge porn to virtual friends, a shift from public stoning to public defamation on -line and political state manipulation. All of which suggest a mistrust of the systems around us, a need to be in control, if only for a moment, in a celebrity-like race to the top or the bottom, depending on your (left or right) motivation. We discussed how the Internet had changed from a Utopian platform specifically around the time of Obama’s election, to this far right sexist, pornographic annihilation of someone who you disagree with.
Mai Wada spoke about ‘Hikikomori’, a virtual life lived by a single person in isolation in Japan where their only connection to the outside world is via the internet. They are young people who choose to never leave the room and are funded by their parents. Kecheng Xu, from China, said Japan has a negative birth rate, and a decreasing population, and there is little chance of real relationships.
In terms of art we discussed “transgression”, which challenges the status quo for the sake of doing so and considered at what point does this “dark information” become norm. Jeremy Ip said people in Hong Kong, who are liberal are shifting away from reliance 24/7 on technology, “choosing to put your phones down and to go for a walk.” Utopian pendulum swings, which is a relief because chapter 2 is about the greater suffering of the masses being less important than individual pleasure.
“Lieber Maler, male mir…”
Text by Alison M. Gingeras
Geraint Evans, Wednesday 6 February
Martin Kippenberger, (1981) Acrylic on canvas, 200 x 300 cm
Learning from Kippenberger: Figurative painting as provocative and sincere, critical and sentimental
Lesson one: A good title is everything
The text begins with the lesson that “A good title is everything”, this one translates as “Dear Painter, Paint me” and is a radical contemporary statement about the status of the painter. In its sarcasm it is also self-exposure suggesting that like mass culture the position of the painter is “interchangeable, empty, and untrustworthy.” We expect truth but this contemporary alliance subverts it. Kippenberger commissioned advertising agency Werner to make a series of 12 “self portraits” set in banal scenes. By doing this Kippenberger challenges the idea of the artist as as the autonomous author “creating entirely out of his inner depths.” The hyper-realism of the poster genre opposes the emotional extremes in “Neue Wilden”, Transavanguardia, the Italian version of Neo –Expressionism in the late 70’s and 80’s.
Lesson two: Form is strategy
The return to figuration takes an antagonistic position to the weight of painting’s history, and questions the conventions of Modernism. “Can figurative painting be simultaneously provocative, and sincere, critical and sentimental?” John Currin suggests that the return to figurative painting in the 1990’s, is no longer the primary source of image making since mass media displaced it. He explains the death of painting culture, not the death of painting as a practice.
Currin suggests that “visual pleasure is off limits”, but figurative painting became synonymous with a political agenda, even through its loss of currency during and after the Second World War, it also gained a freedom from previous dogma. This shift in the cultural status of painting meant that figurative painting could convey conceptual content whilst also giving visual pleasure, making style and technique conceptual tools.
“Figurative painting for these artists is more than an act of conceptual art. It is also an act of love. It is this passion that makes their work seem so direct and so shameless, and what ultimately sets their work apart from their forerunners and their less adventurous contemporaries.”
Laura Hopman, exhibition of John Currin, Elizabeth Peyton and Luc Tuymans in 1997
(Lesson three: Beyond the portrait, and Lesson Four; Genealogy and hagiography.)
Signs and Wonders
Mark Fairnington, Wednesday 19 June
Tom Hawkinson, Bird made from fingernail clippings
I was lured into a botanist’s collection in a Norfolk greenhouse, or so I thought. Stainbridge’s greenhouses made me reconsider what was real, or not, the first greenhouse seemingly natural and the second housing perfect replicas of nature. This reminded me of Mark Fairnington’s work with natural collections.
Olivia Turnbull reviews a contemporary art exhibition at the Serpentine where a realist fly sculpture with 2,200 mushrooms is life-sized simulacra in a display in a gallery space, referring to Stainbridge’s idea, which transformed nature into creations of artifice. His work in the greenhouses according to an essay by Dr Gassblau not only asked a rhetorical question, “Were they greenhouses or museums of art?” it was also seen as an anti –Modernist protest against fashionable museology of the Victorian Wunderkammers which categorised and ordered the world. Stainbridge offered hybrid nature to cross these rigid “nature- cultures”.
“The ingenious material transformations imbue their mundane subjects with an aura of the fantastic” exhibited in a gallery off set by a natural city park thereby creating an uncanny sense of which was real and which was art?
Constructed realities have been a theme in my practice and research so this was particularly relevant, especially regarding my visit to Kew Gardens Temperate Greenhouse to research plants from South African gardens I remember.
Fake nature, or simulacra, is a subject I have worked with in the past in an exhibition about constructed and temporary botanical and industrial landscapes which also questioned a sense of wonder. (The Wonder of it All, Liverpool Independents Biennial 2016). This idea triggered by the greenhouse simulacra as a fabricated nature, free of decay and Modernism’s fear of messy mortality, sparked a lively conversation. We asked whether children only, because of their lack of preconceived expectation of the natural world, delighted in wonder or whether this translated to an adult as the sublime. In my case I think it did. Some argued that wonder is supported by science and knowledge citing Alex Von Humbold and the Age of Enlightenment.
We questioned what wilderness meant to us individually. Most views were that there were none left, that our perceived wild places are artificially managed.
The Wunderkammer, Cabinet of Curiosities, opened up a comparison between Victorian collectors and us as Internet browsers in a superficial overload asking who has control, each of us? I was part of a group exhibition that responded to this idea of Victorian Collections and led a Liverpool Independents’ Biennial exhibition at the Albert Dock in response to the Warrington’s museum’s new development. (Cabinet of Curiosities, 2014, www:// jacquichapman.com)
Mark talked about the Henry Welcome Collection, the personal investment he made annually (£60,000 per year) and controlled the collection as a secret until after his death, when all was revealed. Was this controlling philanthropy, or egotistical, or simply stories about personal relationships with objects in the world?
Since this talk I have thought about constructed realities, what is perceived as real, or knowingly refigured as fake.
Visit to the National Gallery
Painter’s Forum 2
Geraint Evans, Thursday 20 June
Rembrandt, self-portrait age 63, (1669), Oil on canvas, 86 x 70.5cm
This was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon talking about paintings we liked in the National Gallery. One of my all time favourite paintings this self-portrait of Rembrandt, the last he ever painted. Not only in its apparent simplicity, but because it reveals so much humanity; with honour and dignity despite his fall from riches to bankruptcy, he chose to portray himself nobly, yet the treatment of his face and knowing eyes offers a fragility of flesh and life that is both tangible and tragic.
Gerard David, The Virgin and Child with Saints and Donor, probably 1510
Gerard David’s painting is a scene inside a walled garden of The Virgin and Child with Saints. The walled garden is seen as a symbol of the Virgin’s purity and was most likely commissioned by the cantor, Richard de Visch de la Chapelle, kneeling to the left of the painting. The intricate detail of everything being in sharp focus necessitates an extraordinary, finely crafted painting skill. As the subject of my work is about what is behind the walls in a contemporary gated community, this painting was of particular interest. The treatment of violence has a close proximity inside the walls; the wheel on which Saint Catherine was tortured, the tower in which Saint Barbara was imprisoned, and Mary Magdalene with a jar of ointment. I am also interested in the portrayal of dogs as they are a necessity in South African homes for protection and have a long history in painting.
Francisco de Zurbarin Saint Francis in meditation, 1639, here meditating with a skull, symbol of mortality. Oil on canvas, 162 x 137 cm.
Cloth, from its humble presentation with holes as symbols of Christ’s wounds in St Francis of Asisi’s habit, to the sheer brilliance of white silk, or deep rich velvets, tapestries and drapes, all painted with precision and an understanding of light and paint. The treatment of the cloth holes in the detail of the simple cloth will inform the land rights painting I am making with slashed and damaged canvas/tarpaulin.
Henri Rousseau, Surpris, (1891), Oil on canvas, 129.8 x 161.9 cm
The constructed landscape of Rousseau’s rain swept tiger in a monsoon where the picture plane is divided geometrically and where plants are stylised has dynamism, is bold and slightly uncanny. I have looked at this painting many times before but didn’t realise why it was so captivating. I learned a lot from it, where reality is not the intention but rather the mood of the place, the weather and plants intrinsic to the viewer’s experience of the place, a storm in the jungle. It was exhibited in 1891 in Salon Des Independents, the plants probably researched in the Botanical Gardens in Paris and the tiger, believed to be based on a pastel drawing by Delacroix.
Secret Gerhard Richter Tutorial Workshop
Alex Veness, Thursday 27 June
Painter’s Forum 3
In preparation for this we were asked to select a black and white image and make a pencil drawing of it on prepared canvas or paper.
Alex Veness introduced his talk about painting technique with an analogy of Brian Eno’s old guitar, still with its original strings which he never changes and which produce fantastic music. Technique, like the instrument, is of itself not the objective. The aim is to know what is available, and to find a way to use combinations of mediums, brushes, and colours. I was especially interested in alternatives for black and white from Zinc Buff which is off-white to Vine Black which is a deep green and Chevanings Warm Grey, all of which I will try. Referring to religious paintings where light seems to emanate from the skin, he suggested mixing metallic gold, copper and gold bronze with Zinc White to create glowing skin tones.
Photo-realism has run its course so the idea in this workshop was to learn how to blur tones as Richter did in the 1960’s, using oil paint with a mixture of stand oil and linseed oil, fanning the dark to light areas with a dry brush. I have never done this before and was pleased with the results. Alex was too and said my little painting was a bit like Elizabeth Peyton’s, which he had shown us in the introduction.
Small sketch 40 x 50 cm using linseed oil and stand oil in a quick tonal study
I used this technique in my large scale black and white figurative work as it has a vitality, especially in areas where the original brush mark still has a life and energy.