Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Ancient Photograph: Looking Twice at Sara VanDerBeek's Roman Women

At the bookshop in the Tate Modern last weekend I picked up this curious book:

Scattered throughout the book I came across several photographs of ancient sculpture (all women).

Some were frontal views of well-preserved busts: 

Others were frontal views of broken figures:
 Some were side-views of well-preserved busts:
 Others were side views of broken figures:
 Some were broken busts on the right-hand page:
 Some were well-preserved figures across two pages:
 Others were broken busts on the left-hand page:
On turning back to the contents page, I discovered that all of them were the work of Sara VanDerBeek from a series called Roman Women.

I left the Tate Modern bookshop wanting to know more about these strange ancient photographic sculptures and when I was finally able discover more online by searching on GoogleImage, I was startled to find that those I could find were all, in some way, the colour blue.

Some were blue frontal views of broken figures:
Others were blue frontal views of well-preserved busts:
Some were blue frontal views of blurred broken figures:
Others were blue blurred close-up views of (broken?) figures:
Some were double blue portraits facing the same directions:
Others were blue double portraits facing slightly different directions:
Both my experience with the book in the Tate and the GoogleImage results online had the same effect: I want to see these photographs in the flesh.

For more on Sara VanDerBeek go here.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

2003 - the year of Ovid by José Antonio Suárez Londoño

I have just visited the Colombian artist José Antonio Suárez Londoño's brilliant, bright and colourful retrospective exhibition Muestrario ('Samples') at La Casa Encendida in Madrid. Here is the catalogue, with a substantial and representative selection of Londoño's intricate and surreal sketches throughout his career:


Since 1997, Londoño has kept drawing notebooks based on reading a particular book or author during that year. Authors have included Franz Kafka, Rainer Maria Rilke, W. G. Sebald, Blaise Cendrars, Patti Smith and Brian Eno. Back in 2003, it was our own Ovid who had his year in the limelight, with his masterpiece the Metamorphosis (sic). You can see how his tales generate weird and wonderful drawings by flipping to pages 64-67 of the beautiful book produced for the 2012 exhibition of Londoño's work at The Drawing Center, New York, below:


If you look at page 62, you can even see how Londoño annotates Ovid's Book 11 account of Peleus and Thetis to pave the way for his diary of remarkable drawings (from underlined words like 'snares' to the notes of his daily activities in the margins). Although I guess we have Kafka's English translators to blame for the fact that Londoño and his exegetes refer to Ovid's Metamorphosis, right?

For more (in Spanish) on Londoño's current exhibition in Madrid, go here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Seeing the wood for the trees: New Graphic Plots for Van Sickle's Virgil

I generally wish I could be in Los Angeles, but even more so this Thursday March 12th for Prof. John Van Sickle's talk Picturing Virgil’s Pastorals in Graphic Novel Style at the USC Dornsife Department of Classics.


Prof. Van Sickle, who teaches Classics at Brooklyn College and Comparative Literature at CUNY, has devoted his career to the ten poems that make up Virgil's slender book of singing goatherds known as the Eclogues or Bucolics. Most recently he has published a new 'Illustrated Digital Edition' of his 2010 book Virgil's Book of Bucolics, the Ten Eclogues Translated into English Verse: Framed by Cues for Reading Aloud and Clues for Threading Texts and Themes with Bare Knuckles Press (see and click below).


I had the pleasure of meeting Prof. Van Sickle during a talk at Ohio State a few years ago, as the first speaker in a series I organized called Ten Talks on Virgil's Eclogues. On that occasion, amid lively discussions about art, trees and poetry, I took it upon myself to describe him as 'the conscience of the Eclogues' and this new e-book is a case in point. Not only does he bring Virgil's pastoral poems to a whole new audience with this accessibly 'clickable' and clued-in edition, giving a hands on guide to to Virgil's cast of lovers, losers, singers, drunks and satyrs, he directly participates in the long tradition of illustrating Virgil's poetry through his close collaboration with the graphic novelist Winston Blakely. Below is Blakeley's wonderful illustration of the plots of all ten of Virgil's poems, created from storyboards made by Prof. Van Sickle.

If I was in Los Angeles this Thursday, I would ask Prof. Van Sickle about Blakely's depiction of Virgil the Necromancer in his Dark World Now. Echoes of the vates Moeris in Eclogue 8 perhaps?

See here for more information about Prof. Van Sickle's USC talk.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Animating Pneuma: Paul Chan's 'Breezies' and Ancient Philosophy in Vogue

O art swifter than pneuma!

 - Anth. Pal. 16. 54a (epigram on Myron's bronze statue of the runner Ladas)


'In his readings about Greek thought, Chan was struck by the word pneuma. "For the Greeks, pneuma, breath, is the same as the word for spirit," he tells me. "It's the breath that engenders life. You can't see it, but it is essential to how we live, and its constantly moving." The new work he will show at the Guggenheim embodies this notion. Some early stages of it are in the adjoining room, where we go next. At first, all I can see are clumps of what looks like white sailcloth on round black bases, and a great tangle of electric cords. Chan goes over to one of them and flips a switch on the base that activates a fan. Within seconds, the inert fabric comes alive. It jumps up and becomes an elephant's trunk, moving and swaying in different directions.He turns on another, a grayish-green nylon ghost that grows to twice his height and then drops down and quivers on the floor. A few more join the dance, hilariously animated sculptures that seem to be playing games with one another. The elephant's trunk cuddles up to Chan, who pets it and says, "Aw-w-w." He calls them "Breezies".'


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Being Euripides, Being Seneca, Reading Markson

Publilius Syrus
[EuripidesThe Trojan Women]
Seneca's Thyestes 
Benjamin Jowett
[Ovid Amores 1. 8. 40?]
Plutarch re Caesar
Aristotle (again)
Slain at
Lucretius wrote
Being Euripides (again)
Being Seneca (again?)
[Horace Odes 4. 7 16]
Quoth Horace
Odysseus once says 
Asks someone in Aristophanes


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Empedocles on the CIA, William E. Jones in Milan

"What looks like destruction is really just 'disposal', getting something out of sight and out of mind. It still is." (Brad Inwood on Empedocles Fragment 18/DK 12) 

Next week I will be going to Milan for the opening of the new William E. Jones exhibition at Galleria Raffaella Cortese. The exhibition presents works, in two different formats, that ostensibly deal with the CIA: the film Psychic Driving about their secret psychiatric experiments performed on unwitting victims and their declassified documents of blacked out information. 

However, as with Jones' exhibition Heraclitus Fragment 124: Automatically Illustrated, in Los Angeles at the David Kordansky Gallery last year, there is more to his interest in the CIA than meets the eye. Just ask Empedocles! 

For more information on the Milan exhibition, visit here