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Sunday, 30 June 2013

The past is not even past

Having been to see Saints Alive by Michael Landy at the National Gallery, Laura Cumming's Observor review seems to me to be the one which captures the significance of this exhibition best:

"It is remarkable that the National Gallery had such faith in Landy, never mind reinforcing the floors for his giants. But the result is a tremendous event that seizes the viewer, involving us in a spectacle of passion, conviction, suffering and belief driven both literally and mechanically by violence. Their true subject, in this respect, is awe. These sculptures take you into the paintings, but above all into the lives of the saints, in the most eye-popping, nerve-touching, heart-wrenching way."

As Cumming notes "Landy has spent the past two years looking hard at paintings of saints and thinking about the complete self-abnegation of their lives." Similarly, Tim Rollins and K.O.S. also regularly create contemporary art based on art of the past. William Faulkner's statement - ‘The past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past.’ - is a guiding light for their work. Accordingly, they "embrace the idea of the arena of art existing in the fourth dimension of a social imagination beyond space and time, contingency and possibility."

Inspired by the Time Traveller in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine (1895) the group have endeavoured to explore this idea in their current exhibition at the Maureen Paley Gallery and have made work based on imaginary ‘visitations’ with Shakespeare, Mendelssohn, Haydn, Darwin and Strauss:

"Their journey begins in 1590 at the time when Shakespeare was writing A Midsummer Night’s Dream and simultaneously in 1826 when Mendelssohn at 17 years of age began work on his own score for a production of this play. In their work A Midsummer Night’s Dream (after Shakespeare, 1590-1596 and Mendelssohn 1826–1842) they invited young people to transform into the character of Puck, painting flowers and blossom over sheet music from Mendelssohn’s score that was completed in 1842. Next they imagined the first performance of The Seven Last Words of Christ by Haydn in 1786 and created seven paintings that use black Spinel pigment that they applied onto pages from this score. They then visited Charles Darwin in 1837 as he began sketching out his idea of a ‘Tree of Life’ in one image that would be developed into his theory of evolution described in On the Origin of Species published in 1859.

In 1945 they meet with Richard Strauss in the final days of WWII while he was composing his elegiac and mournful Metamorphosen (in Memorium). This music created a deep desire within the group to reflect on their experiences working in the South Bronx that brought up feelings of tragedy and transformation, destruction and rebirth. They have created a meditation in this new body of work that memorializes, researches and remains hopeful by existing in past, present and future tenses."


Joseph Haydn - The Seven Last Words Of Our Saviour On The Cross.

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