The Friends

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Les Amies-Germaine Krull 1924
While searching for work by the excellent photographer Germaine Krull (see Dreams of Desire 18) who Man Ray highly admired, I came across her extraordinary series Les Amies (The Friends) which features pairs of female lovers in an intimate setting. The photographs are unashamedly erotic, however unlike similar images taken by Man Ray where the women are objects of the male gaze, here the women are actively involved in acting upon their own sensual desires for themselves.

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The Process of Perfection

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Etant Donnes: 1 La Chute D’Eau 2 Le Gaz  D’Eclairage-Marcel Duchamp (1946-1966)
After WWII the enigmatic Marcel Duchamp, arch avant-gardist and art world provocateur was widely have believed to have turned his back on art to dedicate himself to competitive chess. However for the next twenty years  Duchamp would work in secret on his tableau Etant Donnes: 1 La Chute D’Eau 2 Le Gaz D’Eclairage (Given: 1 The Waterfall 2 The Illuminating Gas), it was to be his final work. The tableau was only installed after Duchamp’s death in 1968 in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

It immediately caused a sensation. The tableau is only visible through two tiny peep holes which presents a mysterious scene whose meaning remains elusive. In the foreground against the painted sylvan landscape is a naked female (comprised of parchment, hair, glass, paint, cloths-pegs, and lights). Her head is hidden, all that is visible above the torso is strands of blonde hair. The posture of the body is extremely disturbing, the immediate impression is of violence against the supine figure. The model for most of the figure was Duchamp’s lover from 1946 to 1951, the Brazilian sculptor Maria Martins. After meeting Martins Duchamp increasingly introduced the erotic into his previously cerebral art and he would obsessively draw her voluptuous figure. Duchamp’s second wife Alexina (Teeny) was the model for the arm. Duchamp consulted extensively with both women during the artistic process.

A work as opaque as Etant Donnes invites all manner of interpretations. For me several features are highly suggestive of alchemy and Hermeticism. The oil lamp could be alluding to the alchemical fire that accelerates the process of perfection in the Great Work. The headless women was a frequent symbol of Mother Nature in early cultures and her position could be taken as someone ready for either childbirth or sexual intercourse. If this is the case then the spring would refer to the womb where new life is formed and nourished. Is Etant Donnes an alchemical allegory on artistic creation?

The Art of Provocation II

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Papin Sisters Before, After-Le Surrealisme au Service de la Revolution May 1933
A dramatic subversion of a convention even before it had become a commonplace. The Papin sisters were responsible for one of the most sensational murder cases in 1930’s France. After seven years exemplary service as domestics in the Lancelin household they killed and mutilated Madame Lancelin and her daughter when a blown fuse threw the house into darkness. The sisters promptly confessed, however it was revealed during the brief trial that they were locked in an incestous lesbian relationship.

This wasn’t the first time nor would it be the last that the Surrealists venerated criminals. Earlier in the first issue of La Revolution Surrealiste they had placed mugshots of themselves around a photograph of Germaine Berton, an anarchist who had assassinated the leader of a far right party organization. Later they would advocate for Violette Noziere who poisoned both of her parents and whose subsequent spectacularly deranged testimony gripped the nation.

Island In the Sun

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A succession of balconies
The series of hotel rooms
At the cruciform sun staring
Sinking beyond depthless sea
Sipping slowly sweet drinks
And swallowing bitter pills
We succumb to the dreams
That engender existence
And surrender our identity
To counter-poised influences;
Our desires equidistant
Beneath the giant fronds
Amidst this lunar landscape
With its cratered valleys
Among the cankered beaches
Away from the horror
Of our unremembered home
This sun-scorched skin
Is a torrid equatorial zone.

Spent

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Sometimes I doubt
If you ever existed.
The perfected portrait
So crookedly hung yet
Prominently positioned,
With pride of place
In my memory’s gallery
Now undergoing
Further renovations.
Constantly bleached
All the impurities
Swept up and away
Yet it all is just
An ideal revision
After all what did
I ever mean to you?
And what did you
Ever mean to me?
A momentary pause
Afternoon delight
A brief holiday
From responsibility
In between times
Decided ambiguity
Immediate recognition
You were unique
I was enigmatic
The germ of genius
Residing within
Where slyly perverse
Inclinations strange
And/or unobtainable
Occasionally hinted at,
Accurately guessed.
You liked me for
My wide coppery eyes
And smooth skin.
I loved you for
Your elfin build
And slow Sapphic kisses
Together united
We should have completed
But all we managed
Was to botch
Our romance
Allowed the affair
To fade and fail
You could afford
To forget:
You had time
Other erotics awaited,
But I could never
Forgive the fact
That I was used up,
Spent;
With my love wasted.

Unearthly Raptures

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Another time, a different season
Another place, without reason
You and I indivisible
With desires non-negotiable

Instead I observe obsessed
Your body remaining uncaressed
Breasts uncapped by my hands
Your thighs undiscovered lands
Leading to untouched territory
An unchartered perilous country
Where there lies unknown pleasure
Unearthly rapture beyond measure
Your eyes cause ecstatic distress
Your lips an agony of excess
Your breath to me untasted
My lust so terminally belated.

With desires non-negotiable
You and I indivisible
Another place, without reason
Another time, a different season

Stars of The Atrocity Exhibition: Ronald Reagan

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Ronald Reagan
The motion picture studies of Ronald Reagan Reagan’s hairstyle. Studies were conducted on the marked fascination exercised by the Presidential contender’s hairstyle. 65 percent of male subjects made positive connections between the hairstyle and their own pubic hair. A series of optimum hairstyles were constructed.

J.G Ballard-Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan-The Atrocity Exhibition 1968

At the 1980 Republican Convention in San Francisco a copy of my Reagan text, minus its title and the running sideheads, and furnished with the seal of the Republican Party, was distributed to delegates. I’m told it was accepted for what it resembled, a psychological position paper on the candidate’s subliminal appeal, commissioned from some maverick think-tank.

Annotations-The Atrocity Exhibition 1990

Stars of The Atrocity Exhibition: Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Diptych 1962 by Andy Warhol 1928-1987
Andy Warhol-Marilyn Diptych 1962
The ‘Soft’ Death of Marilyn Monroe. Standing in front of him as she dressed, Karen Novotny’s body seemed as smooth and annealed as those frozen planes. Yet a displacement of time would drain away the soft interstices, leaving walls like scraped clinkers. He remembered Ernst’s ‘Robing’; Marilyn’s pitted skin, breasts of carved pumice, volcanic thighs, a face of ash. The widowed bride of Vesuvius.

J.G Ballard-You:Coma: Marilyn Monroe-The Atrocity Exhibition 1966

Marilyn Monroe’s death was another psychic cataclysm. Here was the first and greatest of the new-style film goddess, whose images, unlike those of their predecessors, were fashioned from something close to the truth, not from utter fiction. We know everything about Marilyn’s sleazy past-the modest background, the foster homes and mother with mental problems, the long struggle as a starlet on the fringes of prostitution, then spectacular success as the world embraced her flawed charm, loved by sporting idols, intellectuals and, to cap it all, the US President. But she killed herself, slamming the door in the world’s face.

A kind of banalisation of celebrity has occurred; we are now offered an instant, ready to mix fame as nutritious as packet soup. Warhol’s screen-prints show the process at work. His portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy drain the tragedy from the lives of these desperate women, while his day glow palette returns them to the innocent world of the child’s colouring book.

Annotations-The Atrocity Exhibition 1990

 

 

 

Super-Imposed Love

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I was seeking a greater resolution
Wishing to bring life into focus
Love, I thought,
Would throw into sharp relief
The chiaroscuro background,
The shadowed contours
Of my hidden existence.
Yes love would lend clarity
To the inane hours
Expose the precious beauty
Of everything that happens,
Just because it happens.

Compare, for instance,
The blunt contrast
Between the monochromatic
Intercityscape
With it glistening rot;
Everything is hard here
Oh so fucking hard
Surfaces bodies smiles
All so unyielding
So potentially damaging
If you happen to
Fuck it up,
The concrete is unforgiving
Of accidental missteps
If you happen to fall
You will find
That plenty
Take advantage
Of weakness
They are unforgiving
Towards failure;
So different are
My fever dreams
That I dream of you
I envision you
Bedecked with jewels
Dripping with pearls
Surrounded by
Blank-eyes studs
And pretty doll-
Like girls that smell faintly
Of honey and vanilla,
Throughout the night,
They anoint you with oils
As they fondle
Your heavy breasts,
Tender lips bruise
Your neck
Loving finger caress
And part your sex
Many hands glide over
Your contours
Travelling to the places
Where your pleasure
Resorts:
The whole world feasts
On the banquet of your body,
Beloved slut,
Divine whore of my heart
You reside in a region
A timeless azure realm
Beyond good and evil
How I envy you
For reasons you can never know.
If I unlock the cage
And set you free
Would you one day
Return to me?

Melencolia I

Melencolia I (B. 74; M., HOLL. 75)*engraving  *24 x 18.8 cm *1514
Albrecht Durer-Melencolia I-1514
The most famous of the many outstanding works by the genius of the Northern Renaissance, Albrecht Durer’s etching Melencolia I (Melancholy I), is replete with esoteric and alchemical  references and has been the subject of much debate and interpenetration. The title is taken from the German occultist Cornelius Agrippa’s theory of melancholy, in his influential book  On the Occult Philosophy he states that in artists Melencolia Imaginativa predominates over both mind and reason.

A winged figure, Lady Melancholy sits slumped surrounded by symbolic objects. In Medieval and Renaissance medicine, melancholy was a humour caused by an excess of black bile and her posture suggests the  contemplative attitude and the mental anguish produced in people who suffer with this temperament. Artists, philosophers, theologians and craftsmen were thought to particularly susceptible to melancholy and were often said to have a Saturnine nature, that is to be under the influence of the planet Saturn. Further allusions to Saturn can be found in the purse and keys which are traditional attributes of the patron god of melancholy.

Directly above Melancholy’s head is an hourglass showing the passing of time, and a magic square that adds up to 34 every which way. Additional references to alchemy can be found in the darkened countenance of the brooding figure, the so-called facies nigra, pointing to the adept that the first stage of the Great Work is nigredo (blackness), the putrefaction necessary for all creation. The geometric tools are symbols of various other stages of the magistery, leading up to the six-sided prism (imprinted with a faint human skull) which represents Prime Matter and the seven steps of the ladder, each rung a phrase in the Magnum Opus. The blazing comet in the sky and the rainbow heralds its final completion.

Contrary to the contemporary belief that melancholy has to be banished at all costs, either by chemical means or positive thinking, the Renaissance view of melancholy was that it was the necessary, preliminary stage of all creativity.  Without the putrefaction of melancholy you cannot take the first step on the journey that will led to a transformation of matter and, more importantly, the self. Only art can produce this metamorphosis.