Sunday, 25 February 2018

ELEPHANT COMEDY



I have started writing for the excellent and visually punchy magazine ELEPHANT.  You can see  material from my picture essay on COMEDY for Issue 33 below, including some unpublished material - you always need the odd reserve for such items. The new print Elephant 34 has just come out, featuring my picture essay on the issue's theme of SEX. And you can see my choice for Elephant of what to see in Brussels  here.  

Daniel Firman's elephant balancing on its trunk was a bit too obvious for the comedy article, though the horizontal wall-sucking version is less well-known... (Nasutamanus, various versions since 2008)


ELEPHANT: COMEDY  Issue 33

What makes for successful comedy in art? If there were rules, it wouldn’t work, but the key may be that surprise or incongruity leads to a recognition that there are deeper issues to dig into under the surface of the joke.  That may, of course, bring in disturbing or melancholy or aspects: Richard Prince rubs the punchline in just too hard; Bruce Nauman is one of many artists to edgily play out the cliché of the sadness behind the clown’s mask. Here are six recent examples which lure us with humour only to reverberate with psychological, environmental, economic or social concerns.









Paola Pivi: I am Tired of Eating Fish, 2017


Italian artist Paola Pivi is best-known for working directly with live animals, putting ostriches, zebras and donkeys in surprising, yet unphotoshopped, situations. Her full size bears surprise differently: they act in a far from ursine manner, and are made of feathers, absurdly parodying the possibility of flight and, perhaps, idealists who talk up how ‘you can be whatever you want to be’. Recent examples take the surreal turn a stage further by sporting neon colours and bearing light-hearted titles. It’s almost enough to banish their frightening aspect, but a slight frisson does remain when one looms over you… 



Sarah Anne Johnson: Uck, 2016 – chromogenic print with glitter 


It’s not so easy to be funny about the environment, so credit to Canadian photographer Sarah Anne Johnson: what seems at first like an immature – if still amusing – fallen letter gag turns out to incorporate a protest against immature thinking which betrumps nature. The addition of real glitter ties Uck into her series Field Trip, in which she alters her images with paint and digitally to revisit the in psychedelic colours the idealistic hedonism of her own festival-going youth through a nostalgic yet more knowing lens.



               

 
Martin Creed: Work No. 2814, 2017


2001 Turner Prize winner Martin Creed tries to avoid the stress of taking decisions in his art - not even whether to turn the lights on or off. As something of a hoarder (presumably he can’t decide what to throw away) Creed has recently  been evading choosing his art materials by using stuff that’s piled up incidentally in his house – plastic bags, for example. We’ve all seen the odd bag tangled in branches, but multiplying them into synthetic blossom plays on the language of abstract painting while making for an ominously absurd vision of the dangers of waste displacing nature. 



 



Cao Fei: Rumba II: Nomad, 2015 - 14 min video and installation 


China’s leading new media artist, Cao Fei, set domestic vacuum cleaning robots free to roam a building site on the fringes of Beijing on which – as is the Chinese rule - the structure of the past was being pulled down. The bots come across as alien and threatening yet friendly and comical. Sometimes chickens stand on them to hitch a ride. Evidently, and metaphorically, their ‘cleaning’ task is hopeless: there’s no reversing the rolling cycles of urbanisation. In front of the film, to stress the point, three bots acted out their edge-sensitive dance on top of the traditional form of plinths.










Dana Schutz: Boy with Bubble, 2015 - Oil on canvas 100 x 128 cm


Dana Shutz’s characters tend to seem stuck between composition and decomposition as they attempt the absurd, such as eating their own faces. They’re funny, yes, but troubling. Here she wittily rhymes all sorts of circles, including the head of a bubble-headed lederhosen lad, and sets them against the angularities of the Alps. Is that a smile or just a concentrating tongue as he anticipates popping the bubble? Does art, we might wonder, transform the surroundings or merely reflect its creator? And either way, how long will it - or we - last?



 


 

John Smith: Steve Hates Fish, 2015still from 5 minute video  


John Smith – that’s the John Smith, of course – has subversively exploited misunderstandings since his seminal The Girl Chewing Gum, 1972.  In Steve Hates Fish he scans signs with a translator app – but having set his phone to convert French into English, causing the programme to thrash around hopelessly  when faced by a London street. ‘Fruit & Vegetables’ becomes ‘Profit Venerable’ and ‘Current’ rentals become ‘Surreal’, parodying the verbal clutter of the cityscape and challenging our instinct to make sense of it. And what could it mean, in the Brexit context, to see a Briton self-defeatingly misapply what comes from Europe?






 

 Christian Jankowski: Massage Masters, 2017
   

Christian Jankowski has a way with public statues as part of his wider strategy of playing people outside the art world into his multimedia productions. For Heavy Weight History, he challenged powerlifters to raise the great and the bad, a light-hearted way of engaging with such burdens on history as Stalin and Reagan. Now, he has recruited masseurs to optimise the wellbeing – and, who knows, maybe in consequence the communicative effect - of stone figures around the streets of Yokahama. When he screened his film of the event, viewers in turn received massages, surely rather wasted on flesh.






James Hopkins: Scaled Ladder, 2014 - Wood and Stone


James Hopkins presents an implausible object, its spindly wooden slats bearing heavy rock to no apparent purpose. We’re tempted to seek a logic. Have the small rocks risen because they weigh less? It can’t be that, their density’s the same. Is it that the relative mass of a mountain as you climb it is echoed by the stones’ sizes as we imagine ascending the ladder? Meantime, the title puns on 'scale' as the act of climbing a summit, a fundamental concept of sculpture, and a reference to the diminishing size of the stones – and that brings out the resemblance to an abacus.




Gelitin: Golem, 2015 - Glazed ceramic, 21 × 23 × 25 cm  


The sexual and scatological are perfectly unrespectable zones for art humour, and Gelitin are often found there. That said, their series of Golems seem innocent enough – until you see the film of them being made in what the Austrian collective term ‘an oneiric ritual to unhinge their primordial spirits’ for which, in their gallery's deadpan words, 'they immerse themselves in clay and model it using their own bodies as a medium'. Never mind the macho male artist metaphorically ‘painting with his penis’, or Henry Moore’s spatial use of holes, the film shows the four men literally fucking the forms into being. 







Sofia Hultén, Reality Plural, 2017 – three drain covers, cement, asphalt, preserved leaves


Berlin-based but Birmingham-raised Swede Sofia Hultén draws you in to what looks like three ‘slices of reality’, perhaps in the style of the Boyle Family’s casts of the earth’s surface. Has she pulverised them and recast the material tautologically into a new version of itself, as in her ‘Partical Boredom’ series? No, there’s something else amiss: the tarmac underlay, paving surface and fallen leaves are presented in three different orders, as if the world could easily be differently scrambled. Maybe it could… Hultén has made films documenting such comparable actions as eating an apple before removing it from the plastic bag.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

THE PAINTERLY POST-DIGITAL VERNACULAR: DALE LEWIS AND EMMA COUSIN

THE PAINTERLY POST-DIGITAL VERNACULAR: 
DALE LEWIS AND EMMA COUSIN


Dale Lewis: Devil's Juice, 2017 - Oil, acrylic and spray paint on canvas, 200 x 400 cm

The story of painting has become, in large part, the story of its response to other media, especially photography. That used to lead to lead to questions about whether painting would survive, but we seem to have got beyond that. Now the obvious question is how it relates to the online world and the proliferation of social media. Facebook, for example, started in 2004 so children born this century will have been interacting online since childhood. No doubt that will affect the art their generation produces, but what of artists already at work? Some painters have responded directly, for example Richard Prince and Michael Williams. But indirect approaches are also possible.  Painters have emerged who play an awareness of the streaming prolixity of images and stories into painterly concerns which remain equally rooted in day to day life and art history. That yields an approach which is conscious of the online world but chooses not to foreground it in formal terms. The result is a fresh form of colloquially-driven narrative. There’s something of that spirit in Rose Wiley, Ansel Krut, Lisa Yuskavage, Magnus Plessen, Ryan Mosley, Jana Euler, Katherine Bernhardt, Dana Schutz and Jordan Kasey, for example.

Perhaps that positioning is most likely for artists in their thirties: a unique generation, quite probably, for whom the online world is natural without it having been the dominant part of childhood; and for whom painting was a straightforward rather than charged choice of medium at art college, as it wasn’t during the perpetual debates about its status in the preceding century. The way is open for a painterly post-digital vernacular to develop, and two of the most impressive in that mode are currently showing in London: Dale Lewis, who has risen to prominence and gained an international profile over the past year, at Edel Assanti (‘Fat, Sugar, Salt’ to 10 March) and Emma Cousin, with her first big solo show at Lewisham Arthouse (‘Leg Up’ to 18 Feb).


Emma Cousin: Running Scared, 2018 - oil on canvas, 190 x 225 cm

Though their careers are at slightly different stages, they have much in common. Neither can be slotted into the macho-male tradition of painterly assertion: Lewis is gay, which indeed seems to facilitate a particular abandon in his depiction of women, on whom Cousin concentrates with a comparable freedom. Both work at scale so their figures are often life sized, and Lewis in particular has found his distinctive voice over the last couple of years at a widescreen horizontal format of 2 x 4 metres. Neither use photographic sources. Both are open fans of the Renaissance, and you can see it pretty directly in their work. The underlying composition of Lewis’s works tends to come from the National Gallery, explaining how he combines structural clarity with spontaneity. Cousin cites how Pontormo, Tiepolo and Poussin feed into the shapes of her figures and her choices of colour. Both spent much of their twenties in the more measured end of the art business, contributing perhaps to the vertiginous sense in their work of having been freed from constraints: Lewis was assistant to Raqib Shaw, painting with exacting detail; Cousin worked for the secondary art dealer Robin Katz. Both concentrate on the figure, whether in groups or with a dominant individual - though Cousin also operates synechdotally, using a ‘language of legs’ to stand in for the whole person. Both make paintings packed with incident and content. There’s an immediate hit, for sure, but there’s also plenty available to decode. And there’s always a dash of colloquial wit, boosted by the matching informality of the painterly language. That often feeds into their titles: Cousin’s Running Scared repurposes a stock phrase to describe figures who, 'although propelled', as she puts it, 'remain motionless'; and whatever the juice may be in Lewis’  Devil’s Juice – drugs, Southern Comfort or paint? – it’s the cause of a pub brawl sufficiently gloried in to allow for an orgiastic reading. The ‘action painting’ in that fits how Lewis paints: at speed, straight from the tube while the paint can be moved around – sometimes completing a painting within one flat-out day - and preferring to keep a sense of urgency and semi-accidental discovery rather than ‘tidy up’.

The big difference lies in the source of their vernacular visions. Both use the personal to reach the universal, but from different directions. Lewis is primarily an observer: he generates his multi-figure tableaux, ordered by classical principles, from the quick-fire notations he makes around the streets. ‘In London’, he says, ‘you only have to take a walk, a bus or a tube journey and you’ve seen a whole host of people and scenarios that could make it into a painting’. Lewis adds in his own memories, often from childhood, of what affected him emotionally. Sometimes he’ll appear himself, in that remembered role, but I read him as outside looking in: onto the social and geographical scene around him, onto his own past. Cousin, in contrast, inhabits her characters. They’re not self-portraits as such, but they do present the inner experience of being a woman in society now – how it feels to be in a social female body - so that they take on a common relevance. 

So let’s look at a couple of paintings from each...    


         
Dale Lewis: Club Tropicana, 2017 - Oil, acrylic and spray paint on canvas, 200 x 400 cm

Lewis’ most recent paintings originate in his daily walk through London’s East End, from his flat in Leyton to his studio in Bow. Here we’re in Morrison’s supermarket, posited as a scene of exotic ethnic and culinary diversity. Lewis has fun with the pineapple, creamy avocado, fried eggs and a goat’s head (a.k.a. ‘Hoxton Chicken’, from when Hoxton was a poor area).  He playfully imports an upside-down child from the playground, and a more disturbing figure who seems unaware of her exposure. It builds to an upbeat view of how to get on with life in the face of deprivations. 

Regent's Canal, 2017
Dale Lewis: Regent's Canal, 2017 - Oil, acrylic and spray paint on canvas, 200 x 400 cm

Here Lewis starts from the media story of a murdered actress who starred in East Enders. Her body was found cut up in the canal, but Lewis’ riff on the gruesome result is clearly inspired by Henry Moore’s way of dividing a body.  Here again, there is comic detail to relish: the isolated fishermen who, says Lewis, never seem to catch anything, bits of other bodies floating past the shopping trolleys in the canal, the pigeons apparently stoned… 


Emma Cousin: Peeing at 80, 2018 - oil on canvas, 120 x 120 cm

Set aside the subject and this is a formal winner as tilt meets stripes a la Daniel Buren meets a device whereby the car’s windows are delineated but we can see the whole interior. But it is an insistent subject, its head-on engagement with potential embarrassment arising, says Cousin, from personal experience when caught short in her favoured outdoor activities such as climbing and running. Then, despite the deft aiming of the extra yellow stripe, it would be much simpler to be a man. So ‘Peeing at 80’ can – as Luce Garrigues proposes to Cousin in the show’s catalogue –be read as a female existential statement: how can a woman perform the most natural task in a society led at full speed by men?



Emma Cousin: En Masse, 2018 - Oil on canvas, 190 x 190 cm

En Masse fits various types together: a washing-up-gloved mother, shrinking into a floor of restricted activity as she cradles her baby; a gymnast-come-doll; a booted submissive; a  new age meditator with trendy blue hair; an over-eater, who arches over the set-up even as she enacts her own version of ‘having it all’.  Behind a jauntily energetic surface, as society requires, lies a rum set of choices set up to compete as possible facets of a self.

Monday, 12 February 2018

TRAUMA AND CONSOLATION AT ART ROTTERDAM




Levi van Veluw: Sanctum 1, 2017 - wood, ink 85 x 85 cm  

Galerie Ron Mandos, Amsterdam




Art Rotterdam is well presented in the iconic modernist former factory Van Nelle Fabriek and the quality is high. The typical work is relatively restrained: plenty of historically aware abstraction and informative conceptual gambits. Leading Dutch galleries such as Galerie Ron Mandos (above is from an all-blue stand), Martin van Zomeren, Fons Welters and Stigter Van Doesburg had exemplary stands along those lines. The British had a strong presence, with Time Ellis (FOLD) and Tom Dale (Copperfield) having excellent solo shows. I found myself drawn towards work which was as dark as the times of refugees, Trump, Brexit,global warming and North Korean posturing might seem to require, yet at the same time looking for work which took us away from all that with a smile or at least some philosophical acceptance... There's room for ambiguity, but let’s start with stern aspects before moving on to more consolatory works.
            




Matthew Day Jackson: Approaching American Abstraction, 2017

Grimm, Amsterdam / New York


What would be a black monochrome painting seems to have been kicked in. Not quite so: American artist Matthew Day Jackson blasted it away with multiple rounds from a shotgun. The first time, he says, he had used a gun, leaving him with a very sore shoulder and a remnant which speaks to the need for more gun control in the US. In line with that monumental purpose, it’s a one-off bronze we see, the result of direct hot casting of the original shot-through door.


 



Marcel van Eeden at Galerie Barbara Seiler, Zürich, Galerie Maurits van de Laar, The Hague and Galerie Zink, Waldkirchen, Germany

Dutch artist Marcel van Eeden hasn’t altered his sources: all from the world prior to his birth in 1965, so building in his own historical insignificance in a paradoxically significant manner. But where he used to convert those to predominantly monochrome drawings which coalesced into narratives, here colour – often period hues from the 1960’s which have subsequently faded – came to the fore, and the unsequenced images have been drawn from computer-spun versions of the originals, creating a vortex effect suggestive of the rush of time and the hole down into which the past gets sucked. The effect was enhanced by his having coordinated three galleries to choose different bright colours to display them on: pink, blue and green. 

           
Thomas Hämén: Submission, 2017

Rod Barton, London

Plenty of people find that their anxiety sharpened by the intrusive visibility of security and its technologies. The Swedish artist Thomas Hämén gives form to just such fears, seeming to show the sequence whereby an airport wave scanner, rather than generating an image of the body as dressed in transparent clothes, has melted a traveller into toast. Consistent with the scanner’s intended function, it is made on semi-transparent nylon stretch fabric, the material which nylon stockings use to resemble human skin and by doing so conceal its imperfections.





Enrique 
Ramirez: Barco, 2015 

Michel Rein, Brussels / Paris

It isn’t hard to imagine that this boat in the colours of an intense sea stands in for a practice tied to the perils of migration and more, and so it proves: Enrique Ramirez deals with the troubled history along the long coast of his native Chile. He has, for example, shown sails made by his father - who has a sail-making workshop in Santiago - inverted, and bearing the traces of their use. In 2013 he travelled on a cargo ship to make a continuous twenty four day shot of the passage from Valparaíso north along the Pacific coast, through the Panama Canal, and then across the Atlantic to Dunkirk.


     


Sofia Goscinski : Les Damnés, 2017

unttld contemporary, Vienna

Austrian artist Sofia Goscinski has a complex practice: her ideal viewer is familiar with Franz Fanon's positions on symbolic race reversal and anti-colonialism. That said, no theory is required to be struck by a photograph of a white couple with black masks, and in the male case a black prosthetic penis; or the presence of a rat beneath a chair with a large hole in the seat, representing the possibility that the underclass will leap up and administer a nasty nip to the unprosthetic pallus of any member of the ruling class at rest. I did not sit down.



       


Jacob Aue Sobol: Untitled # 09 from the series 'Home', 2012

Galerie Wouter van Leeuwen, Amsterdam

The Danish photographer Jacob Aue Sobol has said ‘I photograph people because something about them is beautiful and I want to share a moment with them’ and, though this image is bound to foreground our mortality, that applies most strikingly here. Sobel has roamed the world to put together portfolios famous for capturing communities facing harsh conditions in stark yet intimate black and white tonal range. This image of 89 year old Axel kissing his 99 year old girlfriend Onse, though, was taken in Copenhagen in 2010.






Jessica Lajard: Smokers, 2014-16

Irène Laub, Brussels

Or should that 'lighten up' be 'light up'? The imaginative ceramics of French artist Jessica Lajard included several vases which she made of glazed Jingdezhen porcelain and clay in China, where she studied with master craftsmen who were forever offering her a smoke. Those trails of smoke may not be traditional blue and white decorations – yet they do retain a hint of fiery dragons. The vases’ necks turns to lips, and the only flowers present are cigarettes. I guess I could put this in the dark section, with the floral Vanitas of the still life tradition replaced by the deathly implications of smoking. Go further, and the vases are lungs. But they still made me laugh…

    


Karen Tang: Magnetic Combo, 2016 onwards

l'étrangère, London


Karen Tang uses the clean colours and shapes of geometric and biomorphic sculpture. Yet just as we wonder how critically nuanced the relationships of form and hue might be, her gallerist Joanna Gemes is liable – as shown – to pluck off a piece. For these are fibreglass elements with magnets, which can be moved around or even between their galvanised steel supports, or as it turned out at Art Rotterdam, attached to the desk and part of the booth’s wall which had metal behind it. The result is by turns futuristic, democratic and subversive – but most obviously fun.






Nikita Alexeev: Dessins dialectiques, 2015

Galerie Iragui, Moscow

Moscow conceptualist Nikita Alexeev, a founder member in 1976 of the group ‘Collective Actions’, says he was in a state of bliss on a Greek beach – swimming, sunbathing, collecting sticks that the sea had tossed onto the shore – when he got to wondering what conversations the sticks would have among themselves, and placed them into groups of three. He imagined the somewhat philosophical triad ‘Why?’, ‘Because’. ‘So what, then?’ and set to work drawing the groups just so. It’s a template you can apply to any matter which may be troubling you.




Sander Breure and Witte Van Hulzen: How can we know the dancer from the dance?  Video registration from performance, 2016 
 
tegenboschvanvreden, Amsterdam


Over six months, Dutch artist duo Sander Breure and Witte Van Hulzen choreographed a rotating cast of four actors to mimic twenty minutes of movements typical of commuters awaiting a train at Utrecht’s central station, but to do in unison. That alerted the genuine travellers, whose uploaded phone films of synchronised text checking and the like were edited by the artists to form the work: Breure and Van Hulzen took no footage. The public, it transpired, had not only provided the basis for the work, they had recorded it, too. Moreover actions which were utterly mundane became amusing and curiously uplifting in their new form.





Peter Dreher: from Tag um Tag Guter Tag

Wagner + Partner, Berlin

Every day is a good day to see Peter Dreher’s Day by Day, Good Day paintings of an empty water glass, which he rendered - by day and by night, spot the difference - some 5,000 times from 1972-2015. He demonstrates an ability to accept the flux of the world with equanimity by losing himself in the act of painting, consistent with the Zen maxim of his title - applies here to a block of twenty examples, all 25 x 20 cm.




Jacqueline Hassink: Onoaida 3, on the Japanese island of Yakushima (2016) from the project 'Unwired'

Among the subsidiary events were a retrospective of Paul Delvaux, showing that his famous work is a small proportion of a rarely-seen - if unconvincing - wider picture; 'Kunsthalle for Music' turned Witte de With into an innovative concert venue with deconstructions of musical traditional popping up unpredictably across two floors; Jacqueline Hassink hunted down and photographed places with no digital footprint (Nederlands Fotomuseum); Walter van Beirendonck installed a riot of masks - from ethnography, art and his home field of fashion - at the World Museum; British artist Anne Hardy installed Rotterdam atmospheres to great effect in the Museum Boijamans Van Beuningen, which led with a show dedicated especially to the works from the collections which are too big to get shown very often (some were great, others you could see why they were let out rarely); and Gary Hill understandably needed plenty of whiskey to get through a 24 hour marathon of interviews with art critics.

~

Thursday, 8 February 2018

EARS FOR THE EYES




at Transition Gallery, Unit 25a Regent Studios, 8 Andrews Road,  London E8 4QN

10 Feb - 4 March 2017

ARTY magazine launch and evening viewing 
Friday 24 Feb 6-9 pm 


Art from Alli Sharma, Clare Price, Jonny Briggs, EJ Major, Kate Lyddon, Cathy Lomax, Adam Dix, Emma Cousin, John Banting and Kelvin Okafor

Writing by Matthew Francis, Joan McGavin, Stephanie Carey-Kent, Claire Crowther,  Tamar Yoseloff, Julian Stannard, Saradha Soobrayen, Paul Carey-Kent, Emma Cousin, Cathy Lomax, Alli Sharma and EJ Major.

Curated / edited by Paul Carey-Kent

Arty stockists are listed here

And the magazine can be bought from Transition's website here








 




Installation images






We think naturally of sound when considering the ear, so there's a certain wilful perversity in making it the subject of a show of paintings, drawings and photographs with no sound directly featured. It does mean, though, that the walls have ears. And that provides an opportunity for different perspectives, looking at the ear as a design, signifier, analogy, symbol etc, and always with the sense that there is something beyond what we see...

The show is accompanied by poets' and artists' writings in a special edition of ARTY magazine, which also includes a suitably quirky roll-call of the ear's appearances in art.



WORKS IN THE SHOW 





Cathy Lomax: Audrey's Ear, 2017

Oil on linen, 40 x 40 cm

Cathy Lomax is fascinated by the romance of cinema, and her paintings – which she often shows in groups - link iconic scenes to form visual narratives in which we suspect she’d like to take part.  Here Audrey Hepburn’s gamine beauty updates Vermeer’s pearl earring, while taking us back to a time of glamour in which the excesses of celebrity culture seem no more than incipient. Is there a snake in the idyllic grass, though – or, rather, smuggled into her famous hair?  

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Clare Price: t.h.10, 2016



oil and acrylic on canvas,  31x36cm

If pareidolia most often stands for our tendency to see faces in the natural world, perhaps it’s aureidolia which leads me to see ear shapes in Clare Price’s abstractions, titled by a personal code and evoked a certain hesitant vulnerability. Or are those sound waves? Or are we inside the ear? Poised lyrically between trembling borders and invasive mist, they both seem to be listening to the other’s muted echo of geometric abstraction, so posing the question: what made the original sound?



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EJ Major: Matiére Signalétique, 2017


Selected film stills


E.J. Major’s selected film stills set up visual parallels between Haneke’s La Pianiste and two other films, analysing the scene, as Deleuze proposes, not by traditional genres, but by what is intrinsic to the images themselves (their material as signals). A long take of Erika, the film’s central protagonist (a woman whose contrasting worlds are classical music and voyeuristic sex) recalls a moment of contemplation in Ozu’s Late Spring. Like the music interrupted in Haneke’s scene, says Major 'the suggestive function of the association is open'. Similarly as Erika enters a lift with her mother and bars access to a young man who has entered the apartment block behind them, is there something in the scene that we are not seeing? There's a visual echo of Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris, but, says Major 'as one sheet of past is recognized, another, the sound, underwhelms the connection'. If in our mind’s ear we can hear the desperation in Schneider‘s voice as Brando chases up the stairs after her in the scene before the film’s tragic denouement, that suggests a darker side to Haneke’s filmic pun. Can we, Major asks, ‘see’ that? In looking, what do we hear?



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John Banting: Dead Gossip, 1931

Gouache on card - 48 x 63.5 cm (courtesy Austin Desmond Fine Art)

It’s no surprise, seeing this alluringly creepy painting, to learn that John Banting (1902-72) was associated with the British surrealist movement in the 1930’s. An animal’s skull seems to have retained not just some well-formed teeth, but a reptilian eye, the sensing tip of a porcine nose, a fleshy and implausibly human ear, and some vestigial system of circulation.  Is that all that’s needed to talk ill of the dead from their own perspective?


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Alli Sharma: from the Bats series, 2017,



each oil on board, 20 x 15 cm

Alli Sharma makes lush and openly sentimental paintings of objects or animals to which we might imagine ourselves relating: keepsakes and jewellery, for example, or cats and birds. Her series of bats tweak that somewhat, as few people see them in the same sweet light.  Nor, I suspect, do they differentiate one bat from another too much, but what comes across in Sharma’s set is the attractive personality of different animals.

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Adam Dix: The Collectors2013.



Ink and oil on paper - 72 x 52 cm



Adam Dix generates a haunting atmosphere with his 'oil as if it were watercolour' technique by presenting figures redolent of the past in would-be sci-fi landscapes. Here the peculiar ritualistic uniforms – was this Laura Ashley’s design for the Ku Klux Klan? – reveal no ears. Perhaps hearing has been outsourced in this ambiguous timescape, hence the prominence of a communications tower to which obeisance must, it would seem, be paid. The mystery is increased by the obvious question: what are they collecting?





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Kelvin Okafor: Katherine's Interlude, 2016

Graphite, charcoal & black coloured pencil on archival paper 79 x 67 cm 
It makes sense to hear, given the technical assurance of his graphite and charcoal portraits, that 30 year old Londoner Kelvin Okafor has been drawing people obsessively since he was eight. His ‘Interlude’ series captures fourteen of his rather good-looking friends - but departs from the usual convention of engaging through the eyes as portals to the soul. Instead, we are led to wonder what Katherine might be thinking – or hearing. 

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Kate Lyddon: The Shell-Like Loop​, 2017

Oil on canvas - 30x40cm

A central orifice acts as mouth to a red head, ear to a blue head, and general entry and exit point for what Kate Lyddon calls 'a medley of fleshy dripping drinking body parts'. It's  tasty enough to eat, judged by the knife and fork wielded as he tries to eat her while she drinks him in a disturbing interaction of fluids. If that feels like a collage of myth, medievalism and body trauma to arrive at an alluring grotesquerie, then it's typical of her work.
 
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Jonny Briggs: Forward Slashes Series # 1, 2013



Altered family photograph, 15 x 18cm



Much of Jonny Briggs’ practice creates new versions of his lost childhood through re-enactments involving his parents. The results are typically both more real than expected (as they look Photoshopped but are not) and psychologically charged. Here an old photo of the family pet is subject to an edit which proposes a disjuncture of the senses. The eyes now rhyme with the long ears as if the dog were seeing through them in the absence of eyes from their usual place.


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Emma Cousin: Falling on Deaf Ears, 2017

Oil on canvas, 70 x 50cm


Emma Cousin’s paintings have an engagingly up front personality, bordering on the comic but balanced by a good deal of painterly acumen. The colloquial and the art-historical play off each other here, as an absurdly literal interpretation of an everyday phrase is delivered with a hint of Tiepolo. How fool is Cousin being, though? There may be a barb in the title, should anyone be visually tin-eared enough not to appreciate what she’s doing.



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Clare Price: t.h.9, 2016



acrylic on canvas,  31x36cm

POEMS

Earring


I love the time of dangle-down -

my flesh in her flesh, my movements
her movements, my panorama hers -

the days when his whispers are mine.



I hate the time of jumbled up.

Unjewelled by the dark, I sweat:

why should she take me off by night?

What rumours are these about studs?





Paul Carey-Kent


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Her Peculiar Oblations

 



sorted it weeks ago
so I don't have to pour oil
down my ears. I do anyway.

'Twice a day, twenty minutes'
said Nurse Florid in April
and then quite dreamily

as if considering the eye of the needle
'April is the cruellest month.'
Then she heaved herself

around the Treatment Room
in a miasma of giggles
'Oh, I do love ears!'

shooting her syringe
towards the ceiling
like the cowgirl in a B-movie

who gives it hard
and takes it hard
and who, by the end, is just one of the boys.

When I walked out
of Nurse Florid's Treatment Room
in dazzling April

my ears were so clean
I thought of banging out
an Alleluia with the Baptists.

I miss Nurse Florid
and her peculiar oblations.
I do it for her mostly.



Julian Stannard





____________________





Charm for Earwigs



Witchy-beetle, forkin-robin,
no one heard you as you clambered
up the nursery slopes of pillow,

felt your way in heaving darkness
where a dreamer breathed siroccos,
scaled the north face of an earlobe,

stumbled on the antihelix
where the cartilage was ruckled
into an upended mizmaze,

teetered round its corrugations,
to the vortex where the tragus
overhung a bloodwarm grotto.

There was curl-room in the concha
but the scent of earwax drew you
through a straight and oozy burrow,

thrumming with a distant heartbeat.
First the walls were soft, then bony,
then antennae scratched a membrane.

Arrywiggle, horny-gollach,
you awoke me from my stupor,
rasping with a chitin stylus

on my mind’s long-playing vinyl,
ratcheting my taut tympanum
with your cacophonic tarsi,

set my ossicles percussing
with the clangour of rough music,
dustbins, copper saucepans, kettles.

Now I smear a linen poultice
with the pulp of roasted apple,
press it, wincing, on my pinna.

Malic steam pervades my chambers
to entice you with a perfume
sweeter than November compost.

Clipshears, codgybell, twitch-ballock,
lift your bristles from my eardrum,
let the sea of cochlea settle,

turn back from the labyrinth.


Matthew Francis




witchy-beetle, forkin-robin, arrywiggle,

horny-gollach, clipshears, codgybell,

twitch-ballock = dialect words for earwig - MF


               ____________________


and speaking of Van Gogh’s ear…






Most of the ear, or the lobe alone?
The latest thought is that most of the ear
was cut off by Van Gogh just before Christmas.

Cut by himself or by Gauguin’s sword?

The consensus seems that he did it himself
at the Yellow House, having threatened the friend
who was threatening to leave, whom he saw
as a traitor, a kind of a murderer.

Given to a whore or a young woman he knew?

Not a whore, but poor Gaby, whom a rabid dog bit.
The wound had been cauterized, scarring her arm;
her life saved by injections in a Paris hospital
that her job in the brothel helped to pay for.

And what became of the ear?

It made Gaby faint when she opened the paper,
saw what it contained. She dropped the gift.
It went to the hospital, I read, but couldn’t
be sewn back on. Since then, I don’t know.

*

I suppose it’s nowhere now
though, like Shelley’s heart, or Cromwell’s skull,
or Thomas More’s head, someone may have kept it,
decided they must garder cet object
précieusement
as a keepsake, a touchstone, an almost holy relic,
to be perfumed or bound in special linen
or buried by night in a secret place
away from prying eyes, researchers
and perhaps unbalanced future fans.

Joan McGavin



Note: Van Gogh was living with Gauguin in Arles when the famous incident occurred on December 23, 1888.  Gauguin was a keen fencer, lending some credence to the suggestion that he might have sliced the ear off in a fight which was followed by a pact of silence. A diagram drawn by Van Gogh’s physician, Dr. Felix Rey, has recently been found, indicating that the whole ear was cut off. And the identity of the young woman to whom he gave the ear - saying the words quoted in French -  has been established.  JM



____________________







Marcus and Me


Marcus and me like to wear
three jumpers to school.
The teacher tells me to say
the word warm at least
seven times a day. But Marcus
says that warm is too small
a word, it moves away
too quickly like a mouse.

Marcus says that Anaemia
are little creatures, like lice.
He thinks he’s caught them
by sucking the daisy foam
off my wallpaper.
Mum might have it too,
her pale face and kisses
taste of copper coins.

She doesn’t mind Dad’s
barking. Will it kill her?
Like her too tight shoes or
an Asthma Attack? Marcus
sometimes hides outside
my parents’ room. His ear
to the wall, his finger scraping
the paint off the radiator.

When Marcus and me have
an earache we go to my mum
and kneel like a donkey, my head
sideways on her lap, catching
the splashes one drop,
two drops. Mum rounds up
the wild hair from my ear but
her thumb can’t shut out the thunder.




Saradha Soobrayen
 
                           ______________________



Hearing aids


When she first got them she wore
them every day like a new
dress, twirling in the racket
and tumble of words like rain.
Now she delays putting them
in for as long as possible.
She likes the cool deep silence
of unravelling iced velvet.
Frank jerks his head and whispers
"Tell gran not to drink her ears”,
nodding conspiratorially
at the plastic snails coiled in a tumbler.
Far away as a pigeon up a tree she shouts
“I haven’t put my ears in."
We know she’ll drink her tea
then loop them up and over
between dry cartilage and
stiff grey perm into deaf ears,
pretending to switch them on.

Emma Cousin



____________________


Hear


I am reading a poem about silence
where Beethoven appears in the last line,
straining to hear his own symphony.
The waiting room is full of muffled coughs,
whispered conversations, the soft tread
of the intern’s surgery slippers on the tiled floor.

The doctor looks deep inside, probes a thin needle
into the inner chamber, applies suction,
I can hear a long roar, then pop. The room is full
of creeks and songs, a sonic hum
I've never heard before, the low tone of dog whistles.
I am Super Ear. The doctor’s voice resonates
inside my body. I carry his clear vowels home

and on the way I try to remember everything
I didn't hear, the thousand daily sounds
that just washed over, or disappeared,
in case I have lost something important,
a phrase that might have changed my life,
the music of a new language.



Tamar Yoseloff

 


____________________

 

Ears for the Eyes

We’re out riding, me and you in the New Forest, along a sandy track.

You stop: I see from your ears you have spotted a bird (or two) in the bush way, 
way ahead, beyond me. Your ears pricking forward, stalky and strained, say it all.

We wait – one of us patient, one of us tense. My legs pressure your sides, asking you
to walk us on. Lowering your head, you acquiesce.

You like to scan the land, seeking threats, as when your wide-scoping eye finds 
the loping dog behind: no sounds find my ears, but yours, flat back, shout high alertso that I tense to your spring forward, your dismissing of the dog-foe, the kick across its bows.

And on we trot.

Yes, you are good at dogs. But not so snakes, masked under cover of heather edging 
our track. Snakes who, if there, quicken to trit-trotting hooves.

You start, you snort, you spook to the side. Your ears let me down, too quick for me,
and sharp down I go, striking the track, vibrating your snakes away.

You wait, regarding me, as if to say it’s safe, it’s safe for you back on my back.

So on we trot.



Stephanie Carey-Kent



                                           ____________________



Hear in the Art



Jump red tick
Drum my rib

Jump red tick
Ear in the heart

Jump red tick
Sound me out

Jump red tick
Herd this us

Jump red tick
Bug lug vamp 



Claire Crowther



'I saw a red tick and I have a friend with Lyme disease, which has kind of ruined his life except he’s anything but a ruined person, and the tick jumped and looked to me like a heart - shape, colour, jump-jumpiness.' - CC


____________________





Her Earrings 

Cautiously - is that the door? -
I quantify her habit:
three boxes with thirty four

pairs (admittedly five from me),
two lonely extras (one mine -
a parrot whose mate flew free

in high winds at Devil’s Dyke)
plus the six she always wears.
Eighty-odd, of which I like

especially the bamboo
drops which, looking so heavy,
yet fall light; the dangle-zoo

with lizards and swinging apes;
the yellow shells - with the surge
of the sea on tap, perhaps –

and the abstracts which make her
a miniature gallery.
But enactments talk louder

than taste; and more than suggest
that of all her adornments
I love this repertoire best –

for what do I tend to buy
as proof? And what does she wear
that I never even try

to take off? In ears we share
a mild imbalance - with which
we’re happy, being a pair.





Paul Carey-Kent
 



LEND ME YOUR EARS

Or, rather, don't: here are a few things which aren't in the show, but which came to mind in putting it together. Let's start with what I would guess are the three most famous paintings on the theme.







Hieronymus Bosch: Detail from The Garden of Earthly Delights, c. 1490-1510

Two enormous ears, pierced by an arrow and cut by a knife, are prominent in the bizarre goings-on in Bosch's Hell. Interpretations of his symbols are speculative, but this       contraption has been said to symbolise man's deafness to the New Testament exhortation: 'If any man have ears to listen, let him hear.' Sadly, Bosch's great triptych never leaves Madrid.



Johannes Vermeer: Girl with a Pearl Earring, c. 1665

Not many paintings have inspired a best-selling novel... I suspect it's the way the pearl earring echoes the eyes which makes this the most subtly erotic painting, a well as the most famous, to draw attention to the auricular zone.


 

Vincent van GoghSelf-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, 1889

The outcome of the most notorious ear incident isn't far way - the Courtauld owns  this painting - but arranging a loan might have been awkward...   The latest research confirms that Vincent cut off the whole ear, so giving an automatic art reference to the various more recent sculptural treatments of an ear.





Kelvin Okafor: Identity Series - Ear, 2014

Kelvin Okafor is known for his stunningly achieved graphite and charcoal portrait drawings of his friends, such as the exhibition's  Katherine's Interlude. Here though is a self-portrait which, paradoxically, shows only his ear, posing the question: how many people could you recognise from such a view?



       


Vincent van Gogh: Ears of Wheat, 1890

There are actually two strands to van Gogh's ear works, as he painted wheat fields consistently during 1885-90: drawn to biblical parables, his empathy with manual labourers and colour in nature: 'Are we not ourselves very much like wheat... to be reaped when we are ripe?', he asked.  This, from his late Auvers-sur-Oise months, is one of his most  'all-over' compositions.






Emmanuel Sougez: Three Ears of Wheat, 1929/30


While we're on cereal, Emmanuel Sougez (1899-1972) was a French photographer known for an intense metaphysical focus on still life objects, as in this monumental, almost architectural, gelatin print of three partial ears of wheat.       




   

Meret Oppenheim: Giacometti's Ear, 1935

Oppenheim befriended Giacometti when she arrived in Paris in 1932, and may be referring to his use of cast body parts in the elegant construction of this ear from other elements.  Comparison with photographs of Giacometti suggests, however, that is a far from accurate portrait in terms of his earshape, rather normalising the sculptor's own elongated form.

Salvador Dalí: Madonna, 1958

This is an unusual twist on Dalí's paranoiac-critical method of 'systematising confusion' by ambiguating images 'to descredit the world of reality'. For it is a dot abstract up close (which Dalí saw as molecular activity), as well as being both the Virgin Mary and an ear (the Pope's and the one cut from  the high priest's servant during Jesus' arrest, in another doubling). 

Guillaume Leblon: Portrait, 2016

I can't vouch for the accuracy of French artist Guillaume Leblon's portrait of his young son through the synecdoche of his ear, but I'd be surprised is such a tender portrayal were not accurate in its opaline rose glass. It gives rise to the thought: how many other parts could one use similarly without it looking rather more disturbing than affecting?




David Shepherd: Wise Old Elephant - unlimited print  from his 1962 painting

This was the world's best-selling print in the 1960's, launching  David Shepherd's career as a wildlife artist and conservationist. His commercial success was built on two failures: when, on leaving school, he travelled to Kenya hoping  to become a game warden; and when he was rejected by the Slade on his return to England. Critical acclaim has eluded him, too, but few paintings have such a high proportion of ear. 




Joyce Pensato: On the Way, 2008

Mickey Mouse probably has the most famous ears in popular culture, and many artists have used him. Joyce Pensato deconstructs pop art's cartoon icons by crossing them rather brutally with  Abstract Expressionism. The battered energy of her charcoal and pastel here leads to a typical balance of humour and grotesquery.
 

Rachel Maclean: still from Germs (2013)

The ears are often striking parts of Rachel Maclean's many ways of dressing herself up to appear as the only actor in her super-saturated worlds. As a germ, appearing in parody adverts for killing them, does she have five hands, three of them oddly placed - or three hand-like ears, only one curiously  located? 




Euan Uglow: Marigold, 1969 


Typically, this night painting  reaches what Lawrence Gowing termed Uglow's ‘subversive traditionalism’ by forcing  close examination through the process of measurement. Unlike any other Uglow work, though, Marigold features a black model - and centres on her ear.



Suzanne Dworsky:  Sea Breeze, 1978

This is from the American photographer's a set of close-cropped images of Cape Cod. What's nice here is  the intimacy of focus, enhanced by the rainbow heart, and the implications teed up by the title: of action - through the blown hair - and sound: breeze, breath, waves.

         

Clive Hodgson: Untitled, 2014

Only in the context of the other works is this abstraction likely to appear auricular. Hodgson certainly had no such intention, but its typically prominent signature (calling knowing attention to its making) might then make it a self-portrait of sorts, so I relate it to van Gogh, whereas the following has more of a Vermeer connection...

            

Jonathan MonkPierced Portraits (#22) (Woman with gold earring), 2004

In typically mischievous style, Monk has simply pushed a red drawing pin  into a series of found vintage drawings of women, a violent subversion referencing Fontana, playing with the differing realities of image and object, and suggesting some sort of rebellious intent to this mid-20th century subject's earwear. Or is it just that the drawing is sold?


John Deakin: Francis Bacon, 1960

Bacon commissioned his drinking partner Deakin to take photographs he then used as source material, including many of George Dyer - the three of them even holidayed together. He was drawn to the double exposures Deakin sometimes made, and fed some of those effects into paintings. 





Georgia O'Keeffe: Red Hill And White Shell, 1938     

Not so much a word in your shell-like as a suggestion that the landscape might be listening to us, just as we should listen to it. That aside, one of O'Keeffe's best meldings of geometry and colour in the guise of representations in which the body never seems far away.



Alex Dordoy: Sleepwalker, 2015


Sticking with shells, this super-delicate application of acrylic and watercolour to a slipper oyster suggests fragile record of night movement, playing on the closeness of the ear to the site of dream formation – and consistent with Dordoy’s wider infection of apparent abstraction with natural forms and narratives.



René Magritte: The Music Lesson, 1965

And staying with the ear's listening function, hear the pinkness of the bell suggests an analogy between clapper and anvil, while the floating through the air is a famous feature of rock in some of Magritte's work, takes on the logic of the medium of sound.




Wendy Saunders: Untitled (Head in Four Colours), 2018

Wendy Saunders' head is sufficiently close to abstraction that the pink add-on could be a displaced mouth or rotated eye in the spirit of Picasso, but an ear is the most likely reading. The fourth colour is a red stripe on the side not visible here!

 


    
Colin Crumplin: Ear (Evander Holyfield), 2000
               

At 286x238cm this was just too big for the space, but it references perhaps the second most famous ear wound  in history - Mike Tyson taking a chunk out of Evander Holyfield's ear in 1997. It also illustrates Crumplin's unique process of matching a semi-randomly generated abstraction with a found image which he then paints in realistic manner - it often takes him years to find a match, so this was pretty quick.


Asger Carlsen: Black Digital, 2015
New York based Asger Carlsen digitally distorts and collages his original photographic material, whihc he presents as large black and white prints. If this looks like a lump of clay, it's human clay merged it's surroundings, a self-portrait in which Carlsen's nose and a oddly central ear merge with architectural features from his home.





Bruce Nauman: Westermann's Ear, 1968

Bruce Nauman cast the ear of the artist HC Westermann, then surrounded the greenish plaster with a rope which both echoes the loops of the ear and can be read as the completion of a head to make a portrait which might well characterise his friend as a good listener.


      

Tony Cragg: We, 2016

This is a somewhat atypical Tony Cragg, given he's known for suggesting the face only on careful examination of his 'Rational Beings' series. It's very much the royal we of self-portraits, with 250-odd cragg-heads built into a giant conehead. It may well have more ears than any other sculpture. So much listening power put me in mind of...



 
Nedko Solakov: Ears, 2016

Nedko Solakov tells stories which may or may not be literally true, though he has said that he didn't invent his youthful involvement with the Bulgarian Secret Service. That inspired his Top Secret installation made just after the fall of the Berlin Wall, which gained attention at Documenta 12 in 2007, and lies behind this combination of aluminium casts and text as we approach Documenta 14.





Femmy Otten: The discomfort of rationality, 2016 

Upcoming Dutch artist Femmy Otten mixes mythologies and eras liberally, and there's something of Gaugin's sculpture in this oil on burl wood face-of-sorts. The theme of ear inversion recurs: has the mind gone beyond normal physiognomy as well as its awkward rationality to reach a  transcendental space of dream colour?  

                

Eva Kotátková: image from Anatomical Orchestra, 2014
Back at East European listening, the Czech Eva Kotátková explores how conditions constrain the individual. She says the installation and performances of Anatomical Orchestra explore 'an ill or disabled body, one whose senses are not functioning, as a result of which the body becomes a partially empty shell not able to fully use its potential, or one missing sense becomes replaced by another that’s far more sensitive and developed' - as when a blind man develops enhanced hearing. 

 

Peter Liversidge: Proposal for Kate McGarry, 2017
Peter Liversidge works from written proposals which set out his intentions for a show: for Kate McGarry he opted to make work inspired by pareidolia - our tendency to read images into abstraction. One wall of many photographs parodies that somewhat, as mouth and eyes are blatantly imposed rather than found - indeed, one pair of eyes reads as ears.. .



John Baldesarri: Beethoven's Trumpet (With Ear) Opus # 133,  2007   


This stick-your-head-in sculpture was inspired by Beethoven's own collection of ear trumpets, and is silent until the viewer speaks into it - then a random section from a late Beethoven quartet is heard. It's as if a communicative link has been made, yet if this is the composer's deaf ear, then the surreal absurdity extends from how it looks to what it does...



Nicolás Guagnini: Hard of Hearing, 2013


Deleuze – see EJ Major for more on him – developed the concept of the body without organs to represent depth over surface. Argentinian Nicolás Guagnini prefers organs without bodies: heaps of ceramic penises, noses and ears. This installation of ‘Heads’ and ‘Hard of Hearing’ at the Lars Freidrich Gallery in Berlin gives the impression that all might have been stolen from ancient statues, consistent with Guagnini’s general appetite for cultural plunder.




Penelope Slinger, I Hear What You Say, 1973 - photographic collage on card, 24 x 19 cm


Penelope Slinger’s anarcho-feminist collages from the 1970’s fell out of view in Britain for 40 years after she emigrated to the US in 1979, but – championed by Riflemaker - have recently featured in several shows.  This striking self-portrait is from the series ‘Eat My Words’ (1971-77), which also features eye in mouth and mouth in mouth combinations but not, I think, any attempt on ‘eye in ear’.


 Jana Euler: "        " , 2016

German painter Jana Euler has a way with compellingly experiential body images. Here, in one of a coruscating series of paintings on the theme of the absent centre (and with an absent centre of a title for each in the set) , she collapses a body around a void which pivots on the ears.




David Altmejd: Small Loop with Focus, 2017

The Canadian's 2018 show with Modern Art consisted of white plaster-like reliefs enacting  transformation and creation, often with hands making the work of which they were part. Here, though, what look like the conversion of man to floppy-eared dog seems to end up being heard rather than moulded.





Aly Helyer: The Forbidden Ear, 2017

Aly Helyer's distorted and oddly coloured apparent portraits draw us in to doubts about whether we can pin down a unified self - and in this case an ear seems to arrive from some other place, illegitimately judged by the title, to complement the Picassoesque line-up of the eyes.




Prunella Clough: Ears, c. 1990  

Prunella Clough was good at converting apparent abstraction into simplified figuration by means of a title. Could this shapely scenario, here with more subtly blue-tinged lobes than Helyer gave us, alternatively have been titled 'tree'?  As it is, my question is: one person or an ear each from two?






Jonathan Baldock: Candle from 'There's No Place Like Home', 2017

Jonathan Baldock's installation at CGP's Dilston Grove project space tweaked the formative psychodramas of childhood. It included a  version of the candles his grandmother used to make, big enough that you almost lose the delicately waxed ears, which are at full human size (indeed Baldock told me he sought out especially large and prominent ears to cast).





    




Richard Deacon: Tall Tree in the Ear, 1984



This two part sculpture isn't so much tree and ear as, according to Deacon, a title which fits the work as 'the shiny metal could be aerial and the blue could be sky or water, and the shape could be an ear or whatever, and the height is the height of the tree'. But it was 'the difference between the inside and the outside as the material gathers on the inside' that he thought was the interesting bit - which does suggest how what we hear isn't simply what arrives. 



Pieter Hugo Escort Kama, Enugu, Nigeria, 2008

This is from South African photographer Pieter Hugo's 'Nollywood' series, for which he asked a  prolific director to help him work  with actors from the world's third largest film industry - Nigeria makes 1,000 films a year. The scenes are staged melodramatically as myths in which everything is exaggerated - here including the ears - yet that could be just the documentation of a highly theatrical movie.


Roger Ballen: Dersie and Casie Twins , Western Transvaal,1993

Yet perhaps that wasn't such an exaggeration... It's hard not to focus on the ears in the most famous of Roger Ballen's images of rural white South African communities in the apartheid years, which focused on the failure of the regime to treat equitably even the whites who didn't fit the agenda of the privileged class. One was working inside, one outside when Ballen came across them, hence the contrast in shirts.

 


David Lynch: still from Blue Velvet, 1986

Cathy Lomax, who invited me to put together 'Ears for the Eyes', combines the worlds of film and painting, so it seems only fair to conclude with the most famous cinematic organ of hearing: Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) discovers a severed ear in Blue Velvet's opening scene, and it triggers a journey into the seedy underbelly behind suburban appearances. You never know where an ear will lead...



Ways of Seeing: Echolocation


Of all the mammals, bats are probably still considered the most unpopular. Nevertheless, they are also one of the most extraordinary and we are fortunate to have 18 species in the UK.

Using a high frequency system called echolocation, bats are able to see in the dark by using their ears. Echolocation works in a similar way to sonar. Bats make calls as they fly and listen to the returning echoes that bounce off objects or prey to build up a sonic map of their surroundings. They emit sounds through an open mouth, at a frequency too high for adult humans to hear, and use their ears as receivers. A bat can tell how far away something is by how long it takes the sounds to return. Individual bat species echolocate within specific frequency ranges that suit their environment and prey types so we can distinguish different types of bat using bat detectors. Most bats, including the well-known pipistrelle and long-eared species, operate in the range 40-50 kHz, but British bats are spread from as low as 20 kHz for the Noctule Nyctalus noctula to 110 kHz for the Lesser Horseshoe Rhinolophus hipposideros.
Alli Sharma: Brown Long-Eared Bat, 2017
The volume of calls also varies. The Brown Long-Eared bat Plecotus auritus is our most distinctive species, medium-sized with very long ears. The ears are nearly as long as the body but when at rest they curl their ears back or tuck them away completely under their wings, leaving only the pointed inner lobe of the ear (the tragus) visible. Sometimes called ‘whispering bats’, they have developed a very quiet echolocation system, which is inaudible to moths and other prey, but not to them, thanks to the evolution of their own enormous ears.


Alli Sharma

__________________________

Images of Sound


Where is the ear?

One thing, it is rarely singular. Humans, like most animals, tend to have a pair. A set, in the case of humans, of strange appendages protruding more or less obviously from the head connected to inner canals which facilitate the transmission of vibration and sound signals to the brain, the organ of exchange.


When I hear what you hear do we imagine the same? If I shut my eyes and listen to the voice of John Pilger, I see Clive James. You? What separates what I hear from what I see? For Gilles Deleuze what is more interesting is their interrelationship and to impose a separation is to falsify experience. For a hearing person you might say. To some extent yes, but the deaf community also talk of an awareness of condensed inner speech. A voice that can be heard in the mind may not sound the same to all.




Gilles Deleuze calls sound signals, like visual signals, or any other stimuli for that matter, images. A more accurate description would be images of sound as it suggests both matter and its memory in a constant state of becoming. This becoming-nature of things is the continuum of being. Deleuzes conception stems from Bergson whose materialist philosophy collapses the typical dualities of Western thought, subject and object, body and brain, reality and the virtual, image and its perception. In place is a coexistence of tenses within an unfolding present, never static, never given and received in equal measure but giving and receiving together, all at once and at the same time.


 As I write I have one of Beethovens Piano Trios playing. Ladah deedo dee doodley do, deedodeedo ladade doode doode doode doode do. Hear it? For the most part I dont. My focus is here. However, playing music with lyrics when I write interrupts my thoughts. Hardly unique but I may not be the same as you in this regard. Relations, says Deleuze, are what matter but they are constantly in flux. Relations operate both normatively and subjectively. The visual or sound image suggested to one mind is particular even when it is similar. This is Deleuzes difference and repetition, wherein repetition as sameness extends into difference. They co-exist.


Deleuze saw in cinema a means through which to envisage thought. Despite perhaps the dark theatre, movement and time do not stop whilst a film plays, though it may feel like they do. Cinema, far from being a closed set, simultaneously implicates what lies outside. This movement implicit in the Whole breaks down the separation between spectator/actor, real/imaginary, sound/vision, fact/fiction. The brain is the organ of exchange with which we receive, interpret and create simultaneously. The Whole becomes the Open where nothing rests. Cinema, Deleuze suggested, is an externalization of the narrativization of life that we do with our eyes, ears and minds all the time.




Im still wondering, where is the ear?



EJ Major

Beautiful Ears



The peculiar looking openings on the sides of our head are not obviously attractive and exactly what constitutes a beautiful ear is not as easy to define as an eye, mouth or nose. The main aesthetic ear worry is that they are too large, oddly shaped or protruding, and surgery (referred to as otoplasty or pinnaplasty) to ‘correct’ the position of ears is one of the most commonly performed cosmetic procedures. The tradition, it seems, is for ears to be discreet. Sometimes as Madge Garland in her book The Changing Face of Beauty points out, women’s ears vanish for a century at a time, hidden by curtains of hair in the Victorian era or under coifs and hoods during the Tudor era.


When ears are on show their primary beauty function is as a receptacle for jewellery, which is usually attached by piercing the ear, one of the oldest known forms of body modification. Faces are our identity and an earring, as the piece of jewellery that sits closest to our face, can be seen as a kind of frame. In the grand tradition of nonsensical beauty advice, theories about which earrings you should wear abound. The website jewellerypassion.net states that


      Long earrings optically elongate the face and neck. They are suitable for women with round faces and short necks.

      Earrings with geometric shapes sharpen the features. If your features are angular, you can soften them by wearing round or oval earrings.

      If your face is long, small round earrings are the ones for you, while ladies with the square face type should go for long, dangling earrings.

      Large earrings are great for faces with small features. Massive ones should be worn without a necklace.

      Brunettes can bravely wear earrings with brightly coloured gems, while blondes should stick to the light-coloured ones.

      Young girls can wear earrings of any material, while mature ladies should only wear jewels fashioned out of precious metals and stones.


Luckily most people take no notice of such unscientific rules, a position exemplified by Elizabeth Taylor, who had what could justifiably be called a jewellery addiction. Taylor’s earrings, which came in all shapes and sizes and were often made from the most precious materials, really do seem to accentuate her classical looks and beautifully coloured eyes. ‘I’ve always loved dangling earrings’, she recounts in the book Elizabeth Taylor: My Love Affair with Jewellery, ‘I wanted a pair of what I call chandelier earrings… I tried on these long earrings and the more I swished my head back and forth, the more they twinkled… I was smitten…. And these were paste – not even real diamonds.’ A couple of months later back in New York, Liz looked for her earrings. She eventually found them but, she told her then husband Mike Todd, they felt different. ‘He chuckled and told me he had taken the paste ones and had them made up with real diamonds.’ Thus the Mike Todd diamond ear pendants were born.


Image of Liz with earrings


In the endless search for newness, where everything has been done to eyes, cheeks and lips, the humble ear has taken on a new role in the world of high fashion. At the 2014 Paris Fashion Week ear makeup became a micro trend. ‘Designer Anthony Vaccarello sent his models down the runway with graphic, inky lobes... Makeup artist Tom Pecheux was going for a quasi jewellery look. Kind of like a second-skin ear cuff’, wrote Lauren Valenti at marieclaire.com. Pecheux’s black lobes were influenced by Douglas Gordon’s photograph series Three Inches Black, which shows a finger tattooed entirely in black as though it has been dipped in ink. To create his graphic black ear look Pecheux coloured in the bottom half of the models' earlobes with a liquid liner pen. Then reported Sophia Panych at allure.com, ‘to make it look more luxurious and less aggressive, he covered the liner in a chunky, iridescent black glitter.’ Pecheux’s ground breaking lobes made the ear a legitimate site for makeup and in Spring 2016 superstar makeup artist Pat McGrath created a silver statement ear for Louis Vuitton, while at Opening Ceremony Yadim applied full glitter ears to her models.


Image of Black ear makeup


So far so ornate but away from the exaggerated other-worldly looks of the high fashion catwalk the ear has also featured in the ridiculous world of reality star self-obsession where the make-up ideal is less Leigh Bowery and more perfect CGI mask. In early 2016 it was reported that Kylie liked to apply makeup to her ears. Contouring, for the uninitiated, is a makeup technique that has become something of a Kardashian trademark. It is akin to painting and involves applying different coloured products to the face to emphasise shadows and highlights. Kylie later revealed that she didn’t actually contour her ears, rather her makeup artist applied foundation to them so they matched her face rather than the red carpet.


Image of Kylie Jenner’s ear

This is where makeup application drifts from artistry to pointless self-obsession.  In February 2016 the Daily Mail reported on two models experimenting with contouring each other’s ears. Charlie Lankston described the results: ‘I just went with trying to emphasise the existing shadows, in the same way that I would do when contouring my face. However, while the results were visible - upon very close inspection - both Lindsey and I surmised that the entire process of actually applying the make-up to the ear took a lot more effort than either of us would care to take on a normal everyday basis.’

Cathy Lomax

Emma Cousin reading at the opening
 
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About Me

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Southampton, Hampshire, United Kingdom
I was in my leisure time Editor at Large of Art World magazine (which ran 2007-09) and now write freelance for such as Art Monthly, Frieze, Photomonitor, Elephant and Border Crossings. I have curated 20 shows during 2013-17 with more on the way. Going back a bit my main writing background is poetry. My day job is public sector financial management.

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