Culture

A Mediated distribution of
the real and the fictional

What’s in a Photograph?

, , No Comment

Wikipedia scores zilch when it comes to introducing the term fine art photography:

Fine art photography is photography created in accordance with the vision of the artist as photographer. Fine art photography stands in contrast to representational photography, such as photojournalism, which provides a documentary visual account of specific subjects and events, literally re-presenting objective reality rather than the subjective intent of the photographer; and commercial photography, the primary focus of which is to advertise products or services.

This begins by implying that non-fine art photography cannot the act of a creative photographer or —  another possibility given the partisan logic of the premise  —  all photography created by an artist belongs to the fine art stable. The error is then compounded by a categorical contrast between the esteemed subject of fine art photography and two other types of photography: the representational sort, such as photojournalism, and the commercial kind. We can take the hint and regard these last two as inferior: one is merely a visual record of what exists and the other merely vulgar advertising.

Two books published by Hatje Cantz embody what is really at stake here. World Wide Order is a collection of photographs by Julian Röder, divided thematically but united by a concern with the incestuous union of power and economics that we know as capitalism. The first section is entitled The Summits, a series that started when Röder was a participant in the protests at Genoa in 2001 and which evolved as he recorded moments from the opposition to the G8 summits in Brussels, Evian, Gleneagles, Heiligendamn, Thessaloniki and Hokkaido. Impressive as the 2003 anti-war protests were, bringing millions of civilians onto the streets around the world, they were essentially passive and cannot be compared with the spirit of protesters that Röder captures with his camera. He records civil disobedience as it should be — organized, focused, prepared to defend itself, courageous – epitomised by a shot taken at Gleneagles in 2005 that calls to mind an infamous  moment photographed during the Battle of Orgreave. As the G8 organizers retreated to rural locations in order to outwit opposition, conflict moved from urban barricades to country lanes and fields. Gentrify this if you can.

Read Post →

4

Early Birthday Poem For President Higgins

, , No Comment

After The Abuse Hurled At Him By Gurriers

after Oliver Goldsmith and Marilyn Monroe

 

You stand stall, your integrity so vast

you need help from an army officer

dragging it up the steps of aircraft.

Your intellect a Gillette disposable

razor, and matched only

by your ability to make

a simple idea sound complex.

Why evade the issue,

when one can instead engage

in circumlocution?

 

You’re bigger to us than Thor,

or Apollo, only with a slightly

different hairstyle. Times

when our thoughts were stuck

on bread and butter, for lack of either;

we’d turn to you for inspiration,

the ripple moving across your

enormous forehead signifying either

impending flatulence or thoughts

on the situation in Nicaragua.

 

The insult thrown at you last week

the worst a head of state has suffered

since Charles the First lost out

to an axe of questionable parentage.

Though rest assured, all

about Galway, men and women

of consequence are having

heart attacks on your behalf,

and raising glasses

to the man we know

never called anyone

a wanker.

Read Post →

exitsign

Cead Mile Failte

, , Comment Closed

Now that all the books have been burned

Now that the sea has told you you’re a fish

Now that the baker has eaten all your cake

Now that you know how the bread gets buttered

Now that you know how the wheels get greased

Now that you’re clear on who owns the jam

Now that your water has been turned in to wine

Now that you lie in a trolley made bed

Now that the bright and the best are in charge

Now that you know your future is history

Now that you know at whose table you sit

Now that you know to keep a civil tongue

Now that you know all you read is the truth

Now that the light has been quenched in the room

Now that the dark is your natural state

Now that fear is a constant companion

Now that the exit sign has been lit

Welcome to the ignorance.

Read Post →

brollyT

When Joe Brolly Met Georg Lukács

, , 1 Comment

Joe Brolly wrote an interesting article on the commodification of sport in this week’s issue of Gaelic Life. It’s a topic that crops up frequently as a critique of capitalist culture, from the Against Modern Football movement to combat the pricing of working-class fans out of the game, to controversies over the proliferation of performing-enhancing drugs in elite sport, to debates over whether college athletes should unionise in the United States.

Brolly, a former Derry footballer turned RTÉ pundit, explores it in the context of the amateur GAA and specifically men’s gaelic football. His thesis is that the increasing commercialism of the GAA leadership is driving the sport towards professionalism, instilling a will to win that is sapping the love of the game from the players and producing private bodies which are enriching the few at the expense of the many.

What he’s describing is similar to a process philosopher Georg Lukács called “reification”. This is where human relations or properties are transformed into human-produced things, given a value independently of and surpassing people themselves, and eventually coming to govern our lives. This distorts human relations, forcing us to interact with each other in terms of things rather than as people ourselves, producing a commodity fetishism. The pre-eminence of economic relationships over social relationships also causes a generalised condition of alienation, where we feel divorced from the work we do, the parts of life we enjoy, each other and even ourselves.

Interestingly, Brolly’s analysis reminds us that these processes do not happen in isolation or simply as economics. They are effected by the latent culture. So, in the GAA, commodification is buttressed by existing ideology like the “doctrine of club and county” and “strong community expectation” which produce a “loyalty” to the organisation and make deviating from its line difficult.

Ideology plays an important part in the GAA, which as well as being one of the largest amateur sporting organisations in the world has also, as an institution, often been on the side of conservative forces in Irish politics. In certain respects sport has a similar social function to religion, bonding communities, giving them rituals to share and establishing a sense of tradition – even if anyone who has attended Catholic mass would tell you sport’s entertainment value is a good deal higher. But any organisation of that kind that lasts under capitalism will have the GAA’s contradictions – partly playing a role in reproducing the system, partly providing ordinary people relief from its hardships.

And so on the one hand you have an organisation of over a million members, operating on a communitarian ethos, rooted in local communities, with a genuine sense of ownership for the grassroots, and at the same time its assets are over €2.5billion, many fans are priced out of its biggest games, its former leader sits in the European Parliament with Fine Gael and its most notable moment in 2014 was when it tried to force through a series of multi-million dollar concerts against the wishes of a working-class urban community.

Brolly’s description of the merits of the GAA, an organisation that teaches us “the joys of community and the great satisfaction that comes from collaboration and hard work”, echoes what Liverpool greats said about their sport in the past.Bill Shankly said that football was about “everyone working for each other, everyone having a share of the rewards”. John Barnes said that “for 90 minutes, regardless of whether you are Lionel Messi or the substitute right-back for Argentina, you are all working to the same end.” Both compared this ethic explicitly to socialism.

Read Post →

remb_t2

Rembrandt: Facing the Truth

, , 3 Comments

Visual Art Review: 

Rembrandt The Late Works (The National Gallery, London)

Rembrandt: The Late Works, Jonathan Bikker et al (Yale University Press)

Rembrandt’s Universe, Gary Schwartz (Thames & Hudson)

Rembrandt is one of those names, like Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King, that have ascended to a higher almost ethereal sphere and the person behind the name can only be lauded and lavished with imprecise praise. Shrink-wrapped and simplified for posterity, they are Famous and Exemplary and we are not invited to look too closely at their situations and achievements. Everyone knows Martin Luther King had a dream and that he was a good guy but that’s about it. And we know Rembrandt was a really great painter but not so sure what his greatness consisted in. The exhibition at London’s National Gallery (until 18 January), and two books on the artist, go some way towards taking the man off his pedestal and helping us see what is astonishing about his work.

Good painters are uncanny at playing with the movement of light and colours and Rembrandt is no exception in this regard but not all good painters can depict facial expressions with honesty, compassion and sublime skill. Rembrandt is the unrivalled master when it comes to faces. His abiding concern with capturing moods and emotional states as registered by posture and parts of the body, especially faces and hands, helps explain why he painted his own body some eighty times. Vanity, as you see when stepping into the first room of the National Gallery’s stunning exhibition, doesn’t come into it. The room has four self-portraits in oil and one etching, completed between 1659 and 1669, and they will bowl you over.

A day later I found myself in snooty Knightsbridge and a street mostly dedicated to high-end hairdressers and beauty parlours, one of which offered a ‘bespoke permanent make up service’. Rembrandt is the natural antidote to any such endeavour. He paints himself as he is: limp skin, slack jowls, wiry grey hair, drooping eyelids and a W.C. Fields-like nose. The self-portraits were painted during the years in which his common-law wife, Hendrickje, and his son Titus died, a period of grief compounded by his finances nose-diving into bankruptcy. When he died himself, aged 63, he was buried in an anonymous rented grave.

Read Post →

gram_letter

Antonio Gramsci: A New Year’s Letter

, , Comment Closed

This translation originally appeared on William Wall’s website on the 17th of December.

Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) was one of the great political philosophers of the 20th century. Founder of the Italian Communist Party (PCI), he was imprisoned by Mussolini in 1926 despite his parliamentary immunity. He would spend the rest of his life in prison. He is most famous for his philosophical and cultural writings collected in various volumes as ‘prison notebooks’, often written on scrap paper, in a sort of code, and smuggled out to friends, in particular Palmiro Togliatti who would succeed him as head of the PCI. But he was also a father and family man, and many of his letters to his wife, his sister-in-law and his children still exist. Tender, amusing, nostalgic, loving and paternal, they show a different side to the great thinker. This letter, to Tania Schucht, his sister-in-law who had charge of his affairs, is a good example. It was probably written on the prison island of Ustica.

The text of this letter comes from Fiabe, Antonio Gramsci (Edizioni Clichy, Firenze). I am grateful to the editor, Tommaso Gurrieri for his approval of this translation. The translation is Creative Commons, as is all my work on this blog. See the note at the end of this page.

Dearest Tania,

And so the new year has begun. It is necessary to make plans for a new life, according to tradition: but even though I have thought a lot about such a plan I have never managed to achieve it. This has always been a great difficulty in my life from my earliest rational years.

In those days the elementary schools would assign, at this time of year, as a theme for composition, the question: ‘What will you do with your life?’

A difficult question, which I resolved for the first time, at eight years of age, fixing my sights on the profession of carter. I found that the carter unites all of the characteristics of usefulness and delight: he flicks the reins and guides the horses, but, at the same time, he performs a work that ennobles the man and earns him his daily bread.

Read Post →

3

The Disillusioned Citizen

, , Comment Closed

The disillusioned Citizen

As I sit in my cold, cold house

Sticking bubble wrap to my single glaze,

The slap of the letter box like a slap to the face,

Cold as the air, in an unemployed haze.

s

Each day the horrors of my future lie in suspension

No letters of job offers, hope and acceptance; its beyond comprehension.

Dangerous ground the post man dictates,

My mood, my emotions, my worries, my fate.

s

Plenty of bills though, they keep rolling in,

Unwanted, unopened and thrown in the bin.

For their demands just cannot be met,

It’s a number of weeks till my house is for let.

s

Never have I experienced such rejection,

Something is wrong with this country, a malaise; no, an infection.

A glitch in the system, an error of ways,

The dismissal of citizens through their ivory tower gaze.

Read Post →

paintingsetfree

The Power of Paint

, , Comment Closed

Exhibition Review: The EY Exhibition Late Turner: Painting Set Free

Turner turned 60 in 1835 and the paintings and watercolours he went on to produce are the subject of the exhibition at Tate Britain (running until January 2015). Work labelled as ‘late’ can carry a double-edged evaluation, pointing upwards to acclaim  ascent to new ground or downwards to indicate a decline into staleness. It can go either way: late Heidegger is radical, late Wordsworth is drearily conservative and if late Dylan comes into the equation the term’s uncertainty wobbles close to collapse.

Tate Britain’s tag line for late Turner, Painting Set Free, makes clear the gallery’s pitch, indicating that we view these post-1835 works as a liberation from classical canons and traditional notions of art as merely pictorial representation. Turner, suggests the sub-text, was a modernist avant la lettre who prepared the way for Impressionism, anticipated the spirit of abstract art and educated our sensibilities towards receiving a non-mimetic notion of art.

This has been a familiar way of viewing Turner for half a century now so there is nothing shockingly new in Tate Britain’s approach but what does distinguish this exhibition is the concentrated gathering in one space of so many works by Turner over a precise period of time. The result is a visual feast that takes narrative moments from myths, the bible and history and stirs in a heady blend of watery mists and hazy but vibrant colours to enact ethereal dramas of light and dark.

The atmosphere of his paintings comes from light-drenched vistas that exist independently of whatever set of humans, nymphs, gods or goddesses happen to inhabit one portion of a canvas. Turner is not afraid to add touches of impasto while remaining loyal to his palette of airy blue, creamy to murky white, golden yellow, russet that mutates to scalding red and burnt orange.

Read Post →

roll

An Taoiseach’s Ode to Self

, , Comment Closed

Four years ago, I took charge

of a country that had forgotten

how to tie its shoe laces; a nation

that no longer knew where

its undergarments were;

the saddest little great country

on this small part of the planet

many of whose people

had woken up to find

themselves on lavatory seats

not of their own making,

and those who hadn’t

could feel something

cold against their faces

and, on opening their eyes, discovered

it was the pavement. With policies got

from the late Herbert Hoover’s crypt

to encourage a flowering of

pound shops all over the country,

we taught the people of Ireland

how to properly wipe

their own rear ends again.

_

Giving people the confidence

and security to clean themselves

in the privacy of their own bathrooms

is what this Government is all about.

I’m glad to say that some people

are experiencing this as I speak.

Many more don’t yet

have the confidence

to tear off the toilet paper

themselves, and still need our help.

_

And as my government enters

this new phase of

final collapse, I want to pay tribute

to our workers. Despite waves

of economic incontinence,

they went out each morning,

on anxious and galling days.

_

We have learned from our ridiculous past

only to make sure we repeat it.

When I look at myself

in the giant gold mirror

you bought me, I still

can’t quite believe I’m here,

And know very soon

I won’t be.

_

KEVIN HIGGINS

Read Post →

1_t

Progressive Film Club: Films on Conflict Around the World

, , Comment Closed

Films on Conflict Around the World

Saturday 29th November 3.00 pm

The New Theatre 43 East Essex Street, Dublin 2

Admission Free

www.progressivefilmclub.ie

  • “Mi Fink”: Make it happen – 3.00 pm
  • Road to Revolution – 3.30 pm

“Mi Fink”: Make it happen – 3.00 pm

“Mi Fink”-Make it happen! shows the process of community organization and resistance. This participatory action arose in the face of vulnerability to losing the land: one of the few things that keep the community united and free. Since the abolition of slavery in Colombia, the land has sustained the food supply and the economy of the Afrodescendant people of Villa Rica. Today the sugar companies dominate the area, planting sugar cane as a monoculture, thereby forcing out the traditional small farms of the region. Some families are resisting this eviction and the loss of their livelihoods. As a result, the life of Jota, one of the community leaders,is being threatend.

Road to Revolution 3.30 pm

Taking off from Istanbul, the “Road to Revolution” crosses some of the most tense territories on the planet – Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. Tiago Carrasco, João Henriques and João Fontes will be determined to find out more about the lifestyle, culture and beliefs in those territories. Three journalists travel 15.000 kilometers and 10 countries in the Maghreb & Middle Eastern region, following the path of the Arab Spring.

Read Post →

bogco

The Blue Moon Women

, , Comment Closed

Sing bog cotton carols, speak
in soft whisperings,
blow cool wind  to calm summer’s  heat,
clawing gloopy smells of faded day.
 f
Their suitcases laughing,
filled with cruciform spinning tops
songs and incantations
a flock of giggling  goats.
 f
They frighten  indoctrinated bombosities
shiny political pomposities
yellow beasts wandering
whose  paws choke the night
 f
To de-indoctrinate them
from that cronied  sycophant in them
they’re impaled on Celtic Crosses
and left swirling on the bog.
 f
The Blue Moon Women sing to them
soft and sweet they sing to them
and the goats circle round
nibbling at their toes.
 f
Till they squeal out all their vanity
return to normal sanity
and serve the people properly
walking humbly down the roads

Read Post →

road

The Road To Ireland & The Water Thief

, , 1 Comment

I would like to live in the West, at the edge

of the world, on a small holding,

walk my cow each day to the milk shed

and see which hen I am beholding to

s

for laying an egg. I would change

wheat into loaves, fill my plate from the field,

stack turf like gold bars for the kitchen range,

and conceal my distillery in creels.

s

Instead, I have stood at the town’s crossroads

and listened to who is ‘Wanted’ across the border,

who is being adulterous on the old bog roads

and who sprayed ‘Ireland is out of order!’

Read Post →

joan

A Brief History of Those Who Made Their Point Politely And Then Went Home

, , Comment Closed

this poem is rededicated to the protesters in Jobstown, Sligo and elsewhere

On this day of tear-gas in Seoul
and windows broken at Dickins & Jones,
I can’t help wondering why a history
of those, who made their point politely
and then went home, has never been written.

Those who, in the heat of the moment,
never dislodged a policeman’s helmet,
never blocked the traffic or held the country to ransom.
Someone should ask them: “Was it all worth it?”

All those proud men and women, who never
had the National Guard sent in against them;
who left everything exactly as they found it,
without adding as much as a scratch to the paintwork;
who no-one bothered asking: “Are you or have you ever been?”,
because we all knew damn well they never ever were.

KEVIN HIGGINS

Read Post →

minofthirst

Look How Our Leaders Tremble When They See Us Together

, , 1 Comment

Our leaders would like to inform us
that they are fine with protest
in fact they really respect us
so long as we follow their rules and do it
without any disruption of business, (preferably
at home in our own bedrooms where no one can see us,
and without any unnecessary shouting
that might upset the neighbours)
they’re fine with it then,
so they are.

Our leaders would prefer if we fought with each other
and if we absolutely have to protest in public they’d rather
we did it in the form of a strongly worded letter to the paper
or a phone call to Joe which their straw men could deal with
by saying they’ve launched an inquiry that’ll never be finished
and that they agree with us about whatever it is
that should never have happened,
haven’t they’ve always said it,
sure?

If the worst comes to the worst and, despite them warning us
that we should have due consideration
for the inevitable, unspecified but extremely sinister consequences,
we mount a demonstration against them
they’ll counter by saying that some of the people out marching
are reported to have once been spotted by someone
eating ice cream in Bangor which everyone knows
is north of the border
and you know what that means
or don’t you?

Our leaders would prefer if we’d focus our anger
on the unemployed carpenter who put up some shelves
for his mother when he knew full well that accepting
more than two biscuits counts as a nixer-
he’s the type that has ruined our country
they call him the benefit scrounger,
who was fully employed until 2009
but now has managed to squander something something million,
yes that exact figure, would you like to report him?
Click here please…
oh yes your call is important.

Our leaders would love us to whinge about the imaginary asylum seeker
who is rumoured to have left a thousand prams
at a thousand bus stops in every single city, small town and village
you know the woman? No, me neither,
because no one has ever actually met her
but it’s rumoured that her skin was darker than yours is,
or so they’ll tell us, our leaders,
because they’d love us to fight with each other
over any small difference and leave them alone while we’re doing it,

they’d love if we picked on the gays instead of the bankers
they’d love you to get riled up about Panti Bliss who wants
to come into your house and ruin your marriage instead of wondering
how the hell they themselves put us in bondage
to repay 60 billion to loan sharks we never did business with,
and they’d love if those in negative equity
squabbled with the people from council estates
and if they in turn would fight with the renters
who’d pick on with the travelers
and they’d rather you made like a fascist
and blamed the Roma who, they are happy to tell us
are the cause of the economy collapsing
and were somehow involved in causing global warming
I mean have you not spotted the sea levels rising
did you not see the floods in Cork like?
Of course you did, they won’t stand for it,
or something.

And it’s nothing personal that our leaders have
against any particular ethnicity,
it just that they hate to see us united and mobilised
they are afraid we might compare notes
and realize that the same things affect us all the same way,
they’re afraid we might lose the run of ourselves
and run them the hell out of office,
and what should we tell them?

That we’re in this together?
That every person of every class, creed and race
who wants something better is welcome? Is one of us?
Or should we tell them that when 85 individuals own more
of the wealth in the world than three point five billion
the problem goes deeper than skin colour, deeper than factions
deeper than their strategies for permanent growth on one tiny planet
should we tell them that our system is broken?
Or should we just say nothing
and watch how they tremble,
when they see us all sticking together.

Sarah Clancy
spacer

Read Post →