By Emily Feibusch
ARTiculation Alumna (recent graduate of History of Art, University of Birmingham)
A big thank you to the seven speakers who took part in the ARTiculation London Regional Heat hosted by The Courtauld Institute of Art on Zoom Webinar last Thursday (21.01.2021). They provided insightful, personal and expressive accounts of their chosen artworks. The morning included a range of themes, mediums, and time periods, from baroque painting to a late twentieth-century photography installation. To hear these provoking and thoughtful discussions, especially during a time where the feeling of isolation is not unfamiliar, was uplifting. I’m sure many members of the audience would agree that the desire for the reopening of artistic events and galleries was somewhat fulfilled by tuning into these stimulating talks, which were akin to private gallery viewings.
Despite the absence of the usual gallery or museum backdrop, the event was well-coordinated online and was seamless in its delivery. I still gave a standing ovation to all the speakers from my living room. A huge congratulations for presenting to a largely invisible audience!
To start off, Ella began by providing a detailed and powerful feminist discussion of Artemisia Gentileschi’s Susanna and the Elders (1610). The focus on compositional analysis and how this contributed to the efficacy of the piece was particularly enlightening. For example, the Elders’ bodies span the entire width of the composition which, combined with the wall in the middle ground, trap Susanna allowing the beholder to focus on the increasing dramatic tension engendered by her vulnerability. Interestingly, Ella offered a new way of looking at the painting by mentioning that the blue sky in the upper right could be indicative of the story’s ending – Susanna was exonerated and virtue triumphed.
Viktor then took the audience on a gripping story-telling journey, tracing his own investigative work into Edward Okuń’s little-known coloured lithograph Matka muchomor i jej dzieci. In true art historical spirit, Viktor praised the ambiguity of his chosen artwork, uttering that it was this mystery that drove him to enjoy the detective-like research and multiple interpretations. I loved how Viktor’s passion for research and art engaged the audience. Nuanced biographical and political readings of Matka muchomor i jej dzieciwere offered, sparking the audience’s own imagination.
The artist Adrian Brandon was then powerfully presented by Jasmine who showed how he used time as a medium in his series Stolen; Brandon depicted portraits of black lives lost to the police by using a timer that was set according to the age of the victim. One year alive equalled one minute of colour added to their portrait. Jasmine’s focused analysis on the portrait of Jordan Edwards urgently pleaded the audience to condemn unforgivable violent discrimination by the police. Jasmine emotionally compared the unfinished formal element of the portrait to Jordan’s lost opportunity to explore the colours of his life; just as we will not see the finished painting, Jordan will never see what life could have been.
Paris then gave a personal and thought-provoking discussion of Jamie Hewlett’s illustrations for the Gorillaz album covers. The presentation was derived from a conversation with her previous art teacher, who claimed that illustration was not art. As an illustrator herself, this presentation uncovered its power and ability to not only provide social commentary through symbolism, but also its varied and complex styles. Illustration evolves just like any other artistic form of expression, which Paris described by comparing the front cover of the Gorillaz albums Demon Days (2005) with Humanz (2017).
After a short interval, Eftela used Nan Goldin’s The Ballad of Sexual Dependency to confront uncomfortable living consequences of human relationships by asking the audience to reflect upon the thin line between desire and need, between vice and virtue. Eftela tapped into the audience’s emotions by juxtaposing assault with dependency showing the images Nan One Month After Being Battered (an image of Nan after being abused by her lover Brian) and Nan and Brian in Bed, New York City. Eftela sowed a thread through her presentation by showing a shocking image, posing universally relatable questions, and then revealing the uncomfortable context of raw humanity: an evocative talk.
Stella thence took us into colour. She conveyed her own experience of Olafur Eliasson’s Colour Experiment No.61 with a personal evocation that encapsulated the true nature and challenge of art historical writing. How can a visual, tangible, and personal experience with an artwork be articulated into words? Instead of showing the audience digital images of the artwork in the gallery, she described her experience of the installation using great analytical visual descriptions. This technique truly captured the audience emotionally. Her compelling reference to ‘the master of light’ (Turner), provided a true example of a circuitous art history, explaining how colour can be used to alter human emotion.
Sienna provided the audience with a thought-provoking personal response to Edgar Degas’ sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, by contrasting her chosen childhood bedtime story, Laurence Anholt’s Degas and the Little Dancer, with the harsh and uncomfortable realities of the lives of ballerinas or so-called ‘opera rats’. The shocking juxtaposition of the elegant and fairy-tale-like ballerina with the true pain of physiological degeneracy and sexual exploitation was effectively exposed. With great attention to detail, Sienna indicated that the Little Dancer Aged Fourteen could be compared to Degas’ drawings of murderers by comparing their similar primitive bodily forms, providing a deeper context to the sculpture that one may not have drawn in a gallery.
The heat was adjudicated by Dr Wenny Teo, Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Asian Art at The Courtauld Institute of Art, whose choice was a challenging one to make. Only two speakers could be selected to move on to the next round. She chose Viktor and Jasmine to proceed to the London and South East Final on 4 March 2021 hosted online by Clare College, Cambridge. Dr Wenny Teo congratulated everyone on their excellent work and thanked all for the uplifting day.
The Grand Final will be hosted by The National Gallery on 18 March 2021.
If you are interested in finding out more, head to:
https://rochecourteducationaltrust.co.uk/articulation/england/, for the 2021 programme and email firstname.lastname@example.org to register and tune in for another undoubtedly stimulating online heat!