Taking dictation…

29 Mar

Hildegaard's Universal Man (1165)

“But though I saw and heard these things, I refused to write for a long time through doubt and bad opinion and the diversity of human words, not with stubbornness but in the exercise of humility, until, laid low by the scourge of God, I fell upon a bed of sickness.

“Compelled at last by many illnesses, and by the witness of a certain noble maiden of good conduct and of that man whom I had secretly sought and found, I set my hand to the writing.

“While I was doing it, I sensed the deep profundity of scriptural exposition. Raising myself from illness by the strength I received, I brought this work to a close.

“And I spoke and wrote these things not by the invention of my heart or any other person, but as by the secret mysteries of God I heard and received in heavenly places. And again I heard a voice from Heaven saying to me, ‘Cry out therefore, and write thus!’ ”

— Hildegaard of Bingen


Earthly Delights

28 Feb


9 Feb


Essay inspired by the work of Berlin-based Swedish sculptor Veronica Brovall

On Carsten Höller…

23 Dec

for the BBC World Service’s Europe Today programme.

I’m on right at the end  @ 49.38. Just after suicide bombing and CCTV in Copenhagen, IRS bloodhounds and snow chaos in London.

The deers of perception…

22 Dec

On Carsten Höller’s Soma exhibition for The Guardian


16 Dec

Sometimes nothing makes sense. Imagine a world in which is everything is perfectly transparent.
Take JG Ballard’s “Crystal World”: A doctor goes into a jungle in search of a remote leprosy
treatment centre. Looking to cure one disease, he discovers another. A strange phenomenon
is “crystallizing” everything in the jungle. Like other Ballardian worlds, it’s a mechanism for seeing
through the dreck and effluvium of reality and making sense of it. That’s the value of fantasy, as
Börn Dahlem recognizes in his work.

Group shows do a similar thing. They filter the quirks of individual artists’ works by framing
them within a larger world, a technique that art history also uses. It’s the turn of the year. Time for
twisting the kaleidescope and grinding the lenses. Less clear is why all these shows are touching
on the apocalyptic. I don’t think that it’s just that these are apocalyptic times… Time is always
unhinged. It’s been “Out of Joint” since Shakespeare coined the phrase. But when a gallery like
Gerhardsen Gerner gets a bunch of first division artists together in the name of “Nature” – just after
the close the NGBK’s “Nature’s Calling” – something’s stirring.

Nature, like apocalypse, is shorthand for “back to the drawing board”, culturally speaking. In
the poem “Expostulation and Reply” Wordsworth’s friend excoriates him for an intellectual
delinquent: “You look round on your Mother Earth/As if she for no purpose bore you;/As if you
were her first-born birth,/And none have lived before you!” Wordsworth, unlike his friend, is
looking at nature without looking through culture so as not to repeat all its grim mistakes.

“Magma” at the Autocenter (preceded by “Hell Awaits”) proposes that all the dirty old stuff
gets buried as soon as something new erupts. Whereas Carsten Höller’s “SOMA”, ongoing at the
Hamburger Bahnhof, is an invitation to everyone to enter the “seeing state”, purified by a recipe
for a hypothetical drug, in a lands of reindeer and mushroom clocks. Höller’s point, at least one of
them, is that seeing is not just for artists. It’s there for the grab.

Often, critical and visionary art are viewed as opposed. But seen clearly, a thing reveals its flaws, as
a diamond gives up its dazzle under the jeweller’s loupe. Chances of averting apocalypse are good.
At least if the doors of perception are clean./SW


16 Dec

Speaking to Willem De Rooij for the Exberliner
about non-referential art, the trappings of power and fighting birds…