exploring art and writing

Objects in Time.

In Fine Arts on October 10, 2011 at 10:40 am

'Inhale (Yellow', 2002, Michael Craig-Martin

I think very well in lectures. That isn’t meant to be insulting to the speakers, because I genuinely try my best to listen attentively. Maybe it’s just the concentrated atmosphere of listening and thinking from the general audience. Today, for instance, I went to see a talk given by artist Michael Craig-Martin. One of the perks of being a student again is access to events such as this, and I felt a calming rush of excitement (contradictory, I know, but that’s what it was) as people thronged in and settled in their chairs. Once the infectious buzz abruptly receded with the first introductory taps of the microphone, I almost felt at home again. It didn’t matter that I was in a new town, with new people. Art is home.

That sounds hopelessly tacky, but I’m all for being honest and that’s how I felt. Comfort wasn’t my immediate reaction, however; whilst the audience had been buzzing, two women were talking across me about various goings on in the art world surrounding us here in this little town, prompting an initial rush of displeasure. This didn’t stem from the two women, who were pleasant and enthusiastic; it stemmed from my sudden awareness that I am completely out of the loop. Clueless. I’m having to start all over again.

When London-based curator David Sturgess began his interview with Craig-Martin I started to pay attention. And a focused mind for me is a productive mind; strangely, I can’t concentrate on one thing without concentrating on another.

Michael Craig-Martin’s work is not to my taste, although I can greatly appreciate his talent and boundless dedication. I can see the value in what he does. Whether or not I like looking at it seems irrelevant. You don’t have to like a person’s work to like them and their philosophies.

And so I started thinking about images. That sounds broad – bear with me.

I was thinking about images through time, and how certain objects (for the sake of argument I’m including living beings in this definition of ‘objects’) have appeared continuously through time, and how their representation has changed. It sounds so obvious it almost appears a worthless topic to mention, let alone write about. But I can’t shake the idea of an object existing hundreds of years ago and existing now (I’m not talking about literally the same object, but the same type of object) and it being represented in completely varying ways over time.

This thought may sound broad and slightly objective, as I could refer to variants in social trends and cultural ideologies when I talk about the re-representation of an object, but I am also considering it from a smaller, more subjective standpoint. This was prompted by Craig-Martin’s discussion of his own representation of images. He draws an object, a table for instance, depicting only its most common features, its edges and surfaces. He uses line to create a universally recognised image of that object and when he needs a picture of that object once more, he reuses it. Perhaps its proportions will change in relation to other items surrounding it, but it is essentially the exact same image. So throughout his painting repertoire we are presented with reproduced images again and again.

'The Ambassadors', 1533, Hans Holbein the Younger

It was the globe in Craig-Martin’s Reading With Globe (1980) that sparked questions about representation through time. When I saw it I immediately thought of Hans Holbein’s Ambassadors (1533). It is one of my favourite paintings and I spent many an hour studying reproductions of it when I was young. I used to suffer a sense of awe and wonderment when I looked at it, an experience magnified a thousand-fold when I visited it in the flesh.

And here was Craig-Martin’s globe, simplified and reproduced. It didn’t tantalise me in the same way that Holbein’s did, but the contrast between each artists’ portrayal of this object fascinated me for new reasons.

Reading with Globe, 1980, Michael Craig-Martin

An image of a globe in one painting symbolises power and omniscience, in another it represents normality and mass production. One object, two images and various interpretations and meanings.

As of yet I haven’t quantified whether I’m trying to come to some conclusion about artists or about objects. It may be that I care about neither and instead am interested in social and cultural trends in representation. Umberto Eco records these developments magnificently in his book On Beauty (Maclehose Press, 2004), in which he charts our depictions of Madonna and Christ throughout history. The array of contrasts and transformations are intriguing.


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