Cecil Beaton: Theatre of War

Having in mind the brief, the second exhibition I went to was Cecil Beaton’s Theatre of War in the Imperial War Museum of London. First time I heard about Cecil Beaton was in the beginning of the course, but I never looked more into his photographs. This was a chance for me to get to know his work and identify why is he so important.

Theatre of War was more of a retrospective than a particular body of work. The exhibition started with Beaton’s early work, documenting his family posing for him in a theatrical manner. Cecil always had a passion about theatre and was a great influence to him as a photographer.

Cecil started working in magazines as a staff photographer, while he setup his own studio and doing mostly fashion photography. In the late 30’s some of his opinions didn’t have a good impact on the public and he lost his job as a staff photographer.

During the Second World War he was employed by the Ministry of Information to record the images from the home front. During the Blitz Beaton recorded many images and report back to ministry where they fed them to the press. One particular image made people forget about his anti-Semitic views and rebuild his reputation.

From this moment Beaton was photographing for the Ministry of Information and dedicated his career in to them. His style was quite different from other war photographers and this is credited mostly to his passion with theatre.

Although I got familiar with his work I didn’t like the idea of putting together almost 250 photographs in one exhibition. There was too much information for me. I felt that the exhibition was more like propaganda, reflecting on Beaton’s and MoI ways of working. It is known that he didn’t take photographs of any person, but just the beautiful ones.

Alighiero Boetti [Game Plan] – A critical reflection

Strangely enough, the same person recommended me one more practitioner
to look at while in Tate for Kusama’s exhibition. Alighiero Boetti was an
Italian conceptual artist who was mostly famous for his series of embroidered
maps of the world. He did many of them, in different decades and thus it
shows the geopolitical changes around the globe. The interesting part is that
he is using different colours for every country or just the flag and even
shows slight changes on the map, due to wars, with different colour tones.

I went to his exhibition in Tate Modern and because I had no idea what to
expect, it gave a feeling of adventure and excitement. This time the curator
had chosen to showcase Boetti’s work through themes. Each room had a
collection of artefacts judged on their common points like the material.

Boetti has worked with a wide variety of materials. I believe that gave him
the freedom to give shape to his visions. As he comes from Turin, a city
known for its heavy industry, that could have been a great influence to his
way of thinking. His name became similar to the Arte Povera movement.

Throughout the gallery’s walls were some really big canvases or embroideries.
I found the repetitive element was in every one of his works. His work was not
a psychedelic as Kusama’s but quite obsessive in some. The fact that he used
biro ball pens to cover areas of more than 20 sq.m. is something really exciting
as it would take him or his students weeks to finish. He also did installations with
wood, carton, electrical devices, and building material.

Alighiero Boetti – I mille fiumi piu lunghi del mondo (1976-78)

Though his most serious work would be the huge maps. Although the maps are
made mostly by Afghan people he met in his travels.  It seems that he was
extremely close with Afghanistan and that’s why he even experiment with
letting people choose some of the colours on the maps.

In my opinion his wokrs could be considered as a documentary of this world.
He is quite consistent throughout his work and the sizes he mostly uses make
his statement look more realistic and alive. You can walk along the canvases
trying to spot details and then move away to get the meaning.

I can’t say that I totally understood the meaning of everything he did but the
consistensy and geometrical accuracy throuout his works really ispires me.

In a way, all of his creations were interactive with the audience or even made
by more than people. For example, the letters he sent out on deliberately wrong
addresses and when returned, sent back again, made possible to collect a huge
amount of stamps, that he then put in order so it actually showed the trails of this
mail around the world. A different example would be his huge canvases made
with ball point pen by giving different pieces of the canvas to his students. Or the
huge map embroideries made by more than 500 Afghan and Pakistani artisans.

Alighiero Boetti – “Mappa” [Map] (1979)
I feel that his work inspires me because it interacts with the audience and much
more because everything I saw that day was absolutely new to me. Boetti is an
artist that translates his thoughts in art, mostly psysical objects. He was looking
at the world from a very straight forward and symmetrical point of view,
something that communicates well with me.

Yayoi Kusama – A critical reflection

A while back I met a person who studied History of Art. We started a generic
discussion on art and various practices, when I found out we were talking
about things just discussed in class. He recommended me many practitioners,
some of them already mentioned in class. Amongst them was Yayoi Kusama.
A Japanese artist that has worked with various mediums. All of her work is
situated in the spectrum of surrealism, often chaotic, to the point of psychedelia.
He told me she was having an exhibition in London in Tate Modern. I started
looking at her work a couple of weeks before the London trip in May hoping to
visit while there.

Her work is quite distinct because of her style. She is mostly known for her
polka dots paintings and installations as well as the repetitive element
throughtout her work. I managed to visit the exhibition on that Friday. The
exhibition was curated in a chronological order. The early years of her practice,
in a way, alerts the audience of what is to come next, as it seemed to not have an
ending. The enormous ammount of patterns in her paintings where to continue
on large scale paintings and then room installations that really draw you in her
world. In my opinion she has managed to please the audience’s senses in a way
I haven’t experienced before. On the one hand, the repetitive element makes
you think of what she could mean, but on the other hand I felt that everything
was open to interpetation.

Yayoi Kusama @ Tate Modern
[photo: www.isabelleoc.co.uk]
The word psychedelia is derived from the Ancient Greek words psuchē
(ψυχή – psyche, “soul”) and dēlōsē (δήλωση – “manifest”), translating to
“soul-manifesting” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychedelia). Hence, the
artist’s inner manifestations of the world. Though these manifestations could
translate to us differently. Kusama claims that her work derives from her
visions, I would like to add that these visions are nothing more than her psysical
interaction with the world infused with deep thoughts and feelings, resulting in
her unique view of this world.

Most of works made me feel lost, as I was trying to understand the surreal from a
realistic point of view. In a way, I can translate the repetitive element as a way to
portray the similarities of us all and the world, that if you look her work from a
distance, a god-like point of view, you can’t make distinctions between people,
animals and every living thing. But if you choose to engage and take closer look,
it would enable the viewers to express their own opinions of these complex
works. Hence, showing the unique view that is shaped from one’s own
experiences of the world.

This work specifically made an impact on me as it surrounds you and void you
of the context you live in. This is an installation that leaves you lost and alone
inside infinity. The infinity of everything that surround you every single
moment only you don’t get to notice as you are lost in the small details of this
world. It’s the room of the bigger picture.

Yayoi Kusama – Infinity Mirror Room (2012)

(The installation is made by a room with mirrors on every wall and seiling.
The floor has a highly reflective material sprinkled over with water to
enhance the effect, apart from the path you walk in. Hundreds of multi-colour
LEDs hanging from the seiling change colours in a patern. Some times one
colour, other times many colours, or just two.)