In my post on the enigmatic French architect Jean-Jacques Lequeu I mentioned two other Utopian revolutionary Neoclassical architects whose visions remained largely on paper, Étienne-Louis Boullée and Claude-Nicholas Ledoux. As both architects produced interesting work in their own right and help situate Lequeu in the correct historical, intellectual and aesthetic context I felt follow up posts were necessary, starting with the originator of visionary architecture, Étienne-Louis Boullée.
Born in 1728, Boullée reacted against the frivolous decadence of the Rococo by returning to Classical forms (hence Neoclassicism), removing all unnecessary ornamentation and developing an abstract geometric style. Boullée stated that regularity, symmetry and variety were the golden rules of architecture. Another defining feature of Boullée’s projected work was it monumentalism, designed to invoke the sublime.
Boullée’s most famous work is the Cenotaph for Newton, a gargantuan monument consisting of a sphere taller than the Great Pyramid, to the idol of the Enlightenment. He also planned other Cenotaphs and tombs.
Peter Greenaway’s 1987 film The Belly of an Architect centers on an American architect staging an exhibition in Rome on Boullée. At one point a character remarks that Boullée’s work seems like a vision of Hell and I have to agree, though Boullée remains something of a hero of the Age of Reason.
Below are images of planned projects, including the Cenotaph for Newton, and two pieces of music from The Belly of an Architect.
The figure of the witch has haunted many an artists work, from the strange and disturbing phantasmagorias of Albrecht Durer and Hans Baldung Grien at the time when the Early Modern witch trials were sweeping across large swathes of Europe to the feminist re-envisionings of Leonora Carrington, Leonor Fini and Alison Blickle.
The archetypal image of the witch created in the Early Modern period is of a women, alternatively a hideous crone or a beautiful temptress, engaging in nocturnal flights upon enchanted broomsticks or diabolical animals to attend Sabbaths presided over by the Devil in animal form, where they participate in sexual orgies and blood rites. This delirious but potent fantasy contributed to the hysteria that resulted in around 50,000 executions between 1424 to 1785. Even after the witch craze abated she lingered in art as a femme fatale in the 19th Century, only to be reborn and recast in spectacular fashion in the 20th and 21st Centuries as an unlikely heroine and High Priestess of a new religion.
Below is a brief tour of pictorial representations across the centuries from the 16th to the 21st that highlights the spell that the witch and her craft has cast across cultures and periods.
I’m sure that there’ll come a time
When I’ll forget exactly…
…Who I’m supposed to be.
You see it’s a matter of quantity,
(Quality no longer enters into it)
All manner of obscure equations,
Metrics of analyzing othering,
With its multiplication of voices
And sub-division of selves;
While the host of personalities
Residing parasitically within
The remote fortress of my mind
Stake their claim,
Plant the flag.
For all the world
And its interlopers to see ;
Then identity will be little more
Than a possession
By outside forces unknown,
Be they alien, spectral or angelic:
But by then I will be passed caring,
For my empty hallucinating eyes
Will focus on the apparition
Hidden behind the revelation
Of the rent and torn veils:
Our glistening bodies glamorous,
All shimmering and stardusted.
Near the beginning of Gaspar Noé’s dance-horror movie Climax, we are introduced to the dancers via their audition interviews, which are played on a TV surrounded by VHS titles (it is set in 1996), which include such gonzo avant-garde/horror films as Suspiria, Possession, Salo, Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome and Un Chien Andalou, further signalling (just in case you missed the bloodied body crawling through the snow at the start, and that it is a Noé movie) that what is to follow is going to be a full frontal assault on the senses. Whether you love it or hate it, Climax certainly succeeds as an overwhelming experience.
But before we go down to Hell, we get a glimpse of Heaven in the extraordinary dance scene. Shot in one very long take, the young and diverse dancers, in their final rehearsal before leaving France to tour America, produce a thing of beauty as they krump, vogue, freestyle and strut their awe-inspiring stuff. The exuberance, energy and sense of collective euphoria on display is truly joyous to watch. Naturally the beautiful people want to party after such a success. Simmering with polymorphous sexual tension, a note of discord is introduced in the bitchy and potentially amorous conversations. Following another stunning series of set pieces by individual dancers, filmed from above, and around the time Thomas Bangalter’s Sangria kicks in, the dance crew begin to realise that the sangria which they have been drinking (most of them anyway) has in fact been spiked with LSD, the mood accordingly darkens and the party degenerates rapidly.
What follows is the mother of all bummer trips, an epic Grand Guignol freak out that is almost unbearably intense as the dancers descend into a netherworld of paranoia, violence, debauched sexual excess and over-saturated primary colours, perfectly captured in the nausea inducing camera angles.
Full credit to the cast, who with the exception Sofia Boutella are dancers not actors, and the spectacular choreography of Nina McNelly. The pulsating soundtrack charts the journey from sublime ecstasy to raging madness wonderfully, below are two tracks that feature when the vibes start to get heavy.
Andre Breton’s apartment at Rue Fontane, above the strip clubs and clip joints of the Pigalle red light district was by most accounts almost a work of art in its own right. In 2003 the French auctioneers Calmels Cohen put over 5,300 lots under the hammer from Breton’s vast collection of books, manuscripts, works of art and objects at Drouot-Richelieu; the catalogue alone extends to 8 volumes. The sale included 150 items of Oceanic art, the most important being the magnificent Uli statue from Central New Ireland, Papua New Guinea that graced his desk for many years.
Once again it is instructive to look at the Surrealist Map of the World (reference my previous post Redraw the Map, Re-Write History and Re-Invent Reality) to see the importance official Surrealism attached to the islands of the Pacific. In this idealised rendering of how the world should be according to the Surrealists, Papua New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago is centrally located and larger than both Europe and Africa and truly dwarfs Australia.
Central to Papua New Guinea artistic reputation within Surrealist circles were the Uli, ancestor figures used for rites and endowed with immense magical powers. When a chieftain died his skull was buried and a tree planted on top of the burial place. After the tree had matured it was then cut down and the Uli was fashioned from the wood. The Uli are often bearded with protruding jaw and phallus to represent the traditional masculine attributes of strength and protection, while also possessing breasts as the ideal chieftain must maternally nurture and provide. When the Uli wasn’t participating in fertility, initiation and funerary rituals it would be kept in its own special enclosure away from prying eyes.
Breton was very taken with the Uli, naming a beloved Skye terrier Uli and dedicating a poem which I have included below. I have also included photographs for some of the most outstanding examples of this figure that Breton calls Grand Dieu, as well as the Future Sound of London’s seminal dance track Papua New Guinea, the video of which doesn’t include either the Uli or Papua New Guinea much as far as I can see, but does have some magic squares.
Surely you are a great god
I have seen you with my own eyes like no one else has
You are still covered with earth and blood you have just created
You are an old peasant who knows nothing
To recover you have eaten like a pig
You are covered with the stains of man
One sees that you have stuffed yourself to the ears
You listen no more
You leer at us from the bottom of a seashell
Your creation tells you hands up, and you still threaten
You frighten, you astonish.