Friday, 30 March 2007
Thursday, 29 March 2007
Rose was his "Rosie, pet and Rosie puss'' and he was her "St Crumpet". Rosie’s death in 1875, at the age of 27 tipped Ruskin over the edge into bouts of insanity. Various authors describe her death as arising either from madness, anorexia, a broken heart, religious mania or hysteria.
Wednesday, 28 March 2007
Walter Benjamin was writing in the 1930’s, in the early days of mass production. As well as writing about the Parisian Arcades, he also wrote about the loss of the aura of a work of art when it is reproduced. Benjamin’s major work on this theme is his 1936 essay ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’. This piece deals with “the consequent impact on art of the mass technologies of reproduction”. What happens to a work of art when it is mechanically reproduced on postcards, posters or even postage stamps without regard to its original size, location or history? “It will lose its aura, its ‘halo’ of uniqueness and authenticity”.
ANDY WARHOL AND MASS REPRODUCTION
Andy Warhol was an artist who understood the power of duplication. Warhol turned mechanical reproduction itself into an art form. Born sometime between 1928 and 1931 (accounts vary) Warhol made much of his reputation as an artist through his multiple identical image paintings, such as ‘The Two Marilyn’s’ of 1962, ‘Triple Elvis’ of 1964 and his 1963 silk-screen of 30 Mona Lisa’s; ‘Thirty Are Better Than One’.
Warhol is often quoted as saying he wanted to be a machine, to “reproduce an image without quality, a presence without desire.”(Baudrillard). By endlessly reproducing the same image he destroys the uniqueness or aura of that image. Warhol’s endless reproductions seem to revel in this loss of singularity.
In 1968 Warhol displayed a series of Campbell’s soup can paintings. This was a series of identical soup cans which differed only in the flavour of the soup. Campbell’s canned soups-Warhol seems to assert-are like people; their names, sexes, ages and tastes may well be different, but a consumer-oriented, technological society squeezes them all into the same mold. In this way these pictures introduce us to one of the major themes of Warhol’s work, the loss of individuality in our technological society.
In recent years the cloning of human beings has become increasingly likely. Like Warhol’s duplicates, human clones can be said to be lacking in uniqueness, in singularity, in aura. Like the mass produced piece of art, the mass produced person becomes superficial. In a world in which everyone looks the same, difference and desire would be eliminated. It is important to remember however, that like Warhol’s reproductions which were all of the same image but coloured differently, human clones would all look superficially the same but would be subtly different, if not in appearance, then certainly in personality.
Human Clones with their implication of human duplicates are the ultimate in serial repetition and the ultimate reflection of our mass reproduced world. With duplication of people they are no longer singular and as such they have lost their individuality, their aura. The aura could correspond to the religious concept of the soul. What is our soul if it isn’t our uniqueness, our individuality, our essence? Many religious groups have condemned human cloning saying that clones would have no soul.
ANDY THE CLONE
It is ironic that Warhol, the man who duplicated others in his work, also duplicated himself in real life. Always aware of the importance of self publicity, Andy would hire people to impersonate him, so that he could be seen at more social events than he could attend alone. He would regularly send a double to attend one party whilst he attended another. In this way ‘Andy’ managed to be everywhere. Amazingly for years these doubles weren’t discovered until an occasion when Andy was celebrating his first commercial success as a film maker with ‘The Chelsea Girls’. Having become bored with giving lectures on the film at American colleges, Andy handed the job over to Allen Midget, who passed himself off as Warhol for a few lectures before being caught out by awkward questioning.
As well as cloning himself, Andy also cloned his pets. He had numerous identical Persian cats all of whom were called Sam, if male and Hestor, if female. Calling all his cats by the same name was not just a joke. It has a sense of a calculated insurance against unhappiness about it. If all his cats are the same they can never die. Making his pets identical gave them a kind of immortality, just as cloning can give people a kind of immortality. There is something of this fear of death about all of Warhol’s work. By fixing an image in time he makes it immortal and hence achieves a kind of immortality himself.
It is ironic that in fiction Warhol’s cloning finally caught up with him. In the graphic novel, ‘Miracleman: The Golden Age’ Neil Gaiman resurrects Andy as the first human clone. Numerous Warhol clones are made who all live together quite happily.
Tuesday, 27 March 2007
Monday, 26 March 2007
Georges Bataille (1897-1962) was a writer, surrealist and anti-philosopher. He safeguarded The Arcades Project notes until they could be published and also wrote many diverse books of his own. His most famous work was the surreal and pornographic novel, The Story of the Eye. He is often quoted as regarding the brothels of Paris as his churches, a sentiment which reflects the concepts at play in his work.
Bataille’s behavior was often extreme, one particular example being the night before his mother’s funeral, when he masturbated in front of his mother’s corpse whilst his pregnant wife slept in a neighboring room.
Let us return to OK Comics in Thornton’s Arcade, Leeds, where the sellers of formulaic, infantile male power fantasies still yearn for more from life than their prostitution of the commodity-soul. OK Comics is opposite The Pen Shop (20 Thornton’s Arcade). Every day, the boys of OK Comics, whenever they glance out of the window, are confronted by the girls of The Pen Shop. As they look across the 4.5 metres of Thornton’s Arcade, that comparatively wide distance is easily bridged by the longing stares of Mr X, Mr Y and Mr Z. Every day they watch the Pen Shop girls amidst their dazzling cornucopia of writing instruments. The glitter of distraction of the calligraphic instruments may dazzle you and I, but for the males of OK Comics it is the beauty of The Pen Shop girls that dazzles.
The Boys have affectionately nicknamed The Pen Shop Girls, PSG’s, and rated them according to their attractiveness PSG1, PSG2, PSG3 and PSG4, where 1 is the most beautiful and 4 the least. Of late PSG1 has cemented her position by switching from spectacles to contact lenses, hence increasing her desirability and being rechristened, PSG Prime. We can see a photograph of The Pen Shop and PSG Prime above. She is, somewhat appropriately, standing on a ladder, as if to emphasize the pedestal on which she has been placed.
I am told that at night, when all the shops are closed, Mr Z posts notes through the door of The Pen Shop. What the contents of those notes are, we can only wonder….
Sunday, 25 March 2007
From a letter from Flaubert to Louis Bouilhet, 1st December 1849:-
Max and Gustave have been to a whorehouse in Cairo and watched a woman dance. Sometime later Gustave finds himself alone upstairs with the dancer:
"On the matting: firm flesh, bronze arse, shaven cunt, dry though fatty; the whole thing gave the effect of a plague victim or a leperhouse. Our eyes entered into each other's; the intensity of our gaze doubled.
I performed on a mat that a family of cats had to be shooed off-a strange coitus, looking at each other without being able to exchange a word, and the exchange of looks is all the deeper for the curiosity and the surprize. My brain was too stimulated for me to enjoy it much otherwize. These shaved cunts make a strange effect-the flesh is hard as bronze, and my girl had a splendid arse.
Goodbye, write to me, write to my mother sometimes."
Friday, 23 March 2007
Sir Walter Scott, (1771-1832) was a prolific Scottish novelist. His most famous novel, Ivanhoe follows Wilfred of Ivanhoe, and his allegiance to King Richard, who is returning from the Crusades incognito amidst the plotting of his brother, John. The legendary Robin Hood, Friar Tuck and the loyal servant Gurth help king Richard regain his throne. The epitome of the chivalric novel, Ivanhoe sweeps readers into Medieval England and the lives of a colourfull cast of characters.
If ever you find yourself in Thornton's Arcade it is worth waiting around to try to catch this arresting performance.
Thursday, 22 March 2007
Fourier declared that concern and cooperation were the secrets of social success. He believed that a society that cooperated would see an immense improvement in productivity. Workers would be recompensed for their labors according to their contribution. Fourier saw such cooperation occurring in communities he called "phalanxes".
Phalanxes were based around structures called "grand hotels," (or Phalanstere). These buildings were four level apartment complexes where the richest had the uppermost apartments and the poorest enjoyed a ground floor residence. Wealth was determined by one's job; jobs were assigned based on the interests and desires of the individual. There were incentives: jobs people might not enjoy doing would receive higher pay.
He believed that there were twelve common passions which resulted in 810 types of character, so the ideal phalanx would have exactly 1620 people. One day there would be six million of these, loosely ruled by a world "omniarch", or a World Congress of Phalanxes.
He had a strong concern for the sexually rejected - jilted suitors would be led away by a corps of "fairies" who would soon cure them of their lovesickness. Visitors to Harmony could consult the card-index of personality types for suitable partners for casual sex. He also defended homosexuality as a personal preference for some people.
Fourier also coined the word féminisme in 1837 and inspired the founding of several utopian communities within the USA.
Wednesday, 21 March 2007
The cause of this mysterious "disgust" has led to the speculation that he was horrified by the sight of her pubic hair. Ruskin may have known the female form only through Greek statues and paintings of the nude which were lacking pubic hair and found the reality shocking. Other theories are that he was frightened on the wedding night by the sight of her menstrual blood or that body-odor may have been the problem.
Tuesday, 20 March 2007
I am afraid to stop-it's the engine of my life;
Love galls me so; I do not want to love.
Move on then, on with your bitter travels!
The sad road awaits you: meet your fate.
(Maxime Du Camp, 1822-1894, was a French photographer and writer. He travelled extensively in Europe and Egypt with Gustave Flaubert. Du Camp authored a valuable book on the daily life of Paris, "Paris, ses organes, ses fonctions, sa vie dans la seconde moitié du XIX siècle". We will look at Du Camp and Flaubert's adventures in Egypt in the coming weeks.)
Genius done in by a cruel twist of fate or petulant artiste dying of his own ineffectuality? Benjamin's death was even sadder and more ridiculous: The Gestapo wasn't after him, the bureaucratic quirk was a one-day snafu; if Benjamin had just waited until morning, he would have made it into Spain and on to freedom in America as intended.
Sunday, 18 March 2007
But what of the psyche of the fetish commodity purveyor, does he not yearn for love in the midst of his aura-less, soul-less commodities? Amidst the emptiness of the mass produced does his soul not reach out, seeking some kind of greater meaning?
In OK Comics (19 Thornton’s Arcade) the sellers of formulaic, infantile male power fantasies yearn for something deeper, an escape from their prostitution of the commodity-soul. It was here that I spoke to MrX and discovered his love for the girl in Starbucks coffee shop (80 Thornton’s Arcade).
[Starbucks, vilified representation of globalisation, and yet an employer firmly committed to servant leadership and other flattened hierarchy principles].
MrY meanwhile harbours a longing for the girl in Bon Bon's Chocolateers (13 Thornton’s Arcade). The highlight of his day is not the arrival of the latest adolescent escapist fantasy, but seeing her pass by or perhaps the chance of meeting her in Lillian’s Sandwich Shop (21 Thornton’s Arcade) as she buys her daily sandwich.
At the end of the day we must all surely be in agreement with Baudelaire that the 'holy prostitution of the soul' compared with
By 1923 Benjamin and Dora were separated (they divorced in 1930) and Benjamin spent the rest of his life travelling alone.
Saturday, 17 March 2007
The flaneur is a person who strolls the city in order to experience it.
The term was first used by the poet Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), who characterized the flaneur as a "gentleman stroller of city streets", who played a role in city life but also remained a detached observer.
Benjamin believed that the Arcade was the natural home of the Flaneur, the natural precinct of flanerie.
According to Benjamin, ‘the flaneur seeks refuge in the crowd. The crowd is the veil through which the familiar city is transformed for the flaneur into phantasmagoria…The flaneur is the observer of the marketplace. He is a spy for the capitalists, on assignment in the realm of consumers.’
In time the idea of the flaneur merged with the idea of the undomesticed conspirator, the Bohemian artist, the outsider.
Friday, 16 March 2007
Ruskin is significant here in that we can see his book, The Stones of Venice as the precursor of Benjamin's Arcades Project. Benjamin’s book was planned to be what Ruskin's books are; a cultural history told through the relationships of people with buildings, in Benjamin's case the Paris arcades, in Ruskin’s the buildings of Venice.
Both Ruskin and Benjamin were mystical materialists, who understood the technological and economic changes afflicting the world they lived in and, aware that one cannot go back, remained nostalgic for a lost past. When Ruskin laments the loss of "awe" and Benjamin laments the loss of "aura," they are both talking about the same loss.
Thursday, 15 March 2007
In the early to mid-19th century there had been a fashion for building arcades, which exploited the new possibilities of iron and glass technology. Benjamin believed the arcade was significant because it was "both a public space and a shopping street"; it allowed one to be both outside and inside at the same time.
For Benjamin, the arcade liberated the window-shopper's gaze and gave rise to a new character, the 'flaneur', or idler, the urban stroller.
Wednesday, 14 March 2007
Part1: Thornton's Arcade
1877-8 by George Smith
The earliest of the eight arcades built in Leeds is the Gothic Thornton's Arcade, designed by George Smith, for Charles Thornton.
The arcade is made from brick and painted stone. The lancet windows are grouped in threes with columns between. The high arched entrance bay is topped off by a pavilion with a chateau roof.
The arcade is long and narrow (74 by 4.5 metres). It has no upper floor but instead tall Gothic arches and lancet windows above the shop fronts which gives a church-like impression.
The tops of the pillars which divide the shop fronts are summounted by dragons.
Above the West end entrance is a clock tableau made by Potts and Sons. Its bell is struck by an odd grouping of cast-iron figures by J.W.Appleyard, including Friar Tuck, Richard The Lionheart, Robin Hood and Gurth the Swineherd, from Scott’s 'Ivanhoe'.
At the other end of the arcade is the head of a woman, with long curling hair and a large hat. It is modelled on the painting of the Duchess of Devonshire by Gainsborough.