Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Keith Piper 'The Perfect City' on vimeo

Keith Piper 'The Perfect City'.  2007 12mins. Vimeo.

This video work was first shown as a two screen installation in PM Gallery London, funded by Film London.

The version on Vimeo is a compelling short narrative by the artist with a complex visual series of images. There is the paper model of the design he is making of an archetypal city. There are shots of people in London, of police, of beautiful scripts in different languages, of fire and water, ofthe Tower of Babel in past art, of maps.
The sound includes quietly sonorous menacing music and a ticking clock.
Piper speaks of the 'memory of drowning'- floods- the refuge Tower of Babel that he says challenged God.
Aptly for our time of Coronavirus  there is a section on contamination, pandemics, the use of infected bodies as weapons, of smallpox inflicted on  Native Americans.
What Piper calls 'the memory of amputation' shows boundaries between areas of wealth and poverty. This is followed by 'cleansing', regulation, surveillance, the words are spoken calmly with the disquieting soundtrack behind them.
Finally there is burning, the destruction by God of Sodom and Gomorrah, his angels having failed to find ten pious people. Fires are mentioned that destroyed St.Pierre in Martinique, and in  Monserrat, both in the twentieth century, and before that the Fire of London, 1666,  that ended the Plague. Piper says that God seems to have a fondness for fire.
It ends with Piper reciting that God gave Noah the rainbow sign- still as we see recently a symbol of hope as we in lock down to  escape our current pestilence put rainbows in our wi- but 'it won't be water but fire next time'.

I don't know if Piper believes in God or simply finds the Biblical stories suitably apocalyptic. It's not a narrative with a clear plot but what is clear is that he expects the worst.

Keith Piper, born 1960 in Malta but brought up and living in Britain as a black artist, part of a group called the BLK art group, has done a great deal of work, exhibited widely,  and teaches at Middlesex University.
I loved his work that  I saw in Derby about how everyone has moved from one place to another, everyone's family have been migrants for personal betterment or to escape something. This was done very cleverly by inviting visitors to answer a questionnaire which was projected on the wall to reveal every person as a migrant.
He has done work about slavery- the 'Lost Vitrines' that were installed in the V & A to bring a new awareness about the Georgian exhibits and that era.
Recently in 2017 his 'Unearthing the bankers' bones' used fiction, history painting and video to make a complicated show about the evils of class and race discrimination.

Keith Piper is not an artist to repeat a signature piece. His work tackles serious and political themes in a variety of media. It's often complicated and requires time to absorb.
I think he is saying important things in imaginative and powerful ways.

Somehow this doesn't make him well known but he keeps at it with a controlled passion.

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Leonardo da Vinci - on tv

Leonardo da Vinci   

BBC One - Da Vinci: The Lost Treasure

I am watching Fiona Bruce go from country to country showing on tv Leonardo da Vinci's work.
She started with the Salvator Mundi in New York thought to be by him. To me it looks unlike his work, too ill defined and fuzzy.
She is good at this exposition, rather self consciously strutting about in Italian sunshine in a very expensive looking yellow dress, then in a dark embroidered number.
There are lovely Italian words - the sound entrances me, thinking of a visit to Florence with my beloved husband, sadly killed by docetaxl. How glad I am we went as he had always wanted to.

When I was an undergraduate we had a trip to Italy to study art but the Last Supper was closed as it was Easter, so I have only seen a copy in Caglieri in Sicily. Fiona Bruce shows a us a richly coloured English copy. Such a lively composition.

Then it's the Madonna of the Rocks - Luke Syson from our National Gallery talks about light and sfumato. A restorer is shown working on it.

We get a good explanation of Leonardo's multi faceted explorations into weapon design and anatomy.

Now we get to the Mona Lisa, which I remember feeling surprised to find so small.
I think it's the way the background doesn't match up in a straight line that keeps us looking, and of course the slight smile, about to change, to react to us as the viewer as if we have just met her, and the quiet glow of her in the darkness.

So, ten minutes left for the discovered painting, revealed by infra red photography.
I still don't buy it - not that I could afford it.

They say it's a real Leonardo.

If so its his worst.