So the internet has graced me this week with serendipity and discovery. Natasha forwarded me a link, previously forwarded to her, of the website of a woman who has instantly become my new favourite modern artist. Although I don’t think I’ve had a favourite modern artist before, so maybe she’ll be my first favourite modern artist.
Either way, my mind exploded when I saw her work. Her practice seems to consist of dreaming up some of the most charmingly ambitious, cosmic and inventive human responses to the awesome (in the original sense of the word) universe… and then doing them. I’ve only seen her website, but in a way feel like I don’t need to see any more, an exhibition or whatever… her ideas are the thing, and they are communicated very clearly and concisely through that medium. Actually the ideas are not the only thing, it’s also the fact that she has made these things, dreamed up the sort of ideas I used to have in stoned conversations in my youth (except more inventive than mine were) when anything seemed possible – ‘what if we were able to take this thing, then stitch it on to that, stretch it all out to a million times it’s length and then… (toke)… That would be AMAZING!’…
But of course you always wake up the next morning and go into college and forget about it… or I did. Not Katie Paterson. She heads off to Iceland, records the sound of a glacier moving, gathers buckets of glacial meltwater (from the same glacier) then comes back and makes a (physical) record of the sound of the glacier by refreezing the water in some kind of press, which then plays on a record player, once, while melting. Fucking genius. My favourite piece on her website is this:
“E.M.E (Earth-Moon-Earth) is a form of radio transmission whereby messages are sent in Morse code from earth, reflected from the surface of the moon, and then received back on earth. The moon reflects only part of the information back – some is absorbed in its shadows, ‘lost’ in its craters.
For this work, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata has been translated into Morse code and sent to the moon via E.M.E. Returning to earth ‘fragmented’ by the moon’s surface, it has been re-translated into a new score, the gaps and absences becoming intervals and rests. In the exhibition space the new ‘moon–altered’ score plays on a Disklavier grand piano.”
I love it, and I’ve been reflecting on why I feel that way when so much conceptual modern art leaves me cold.
This is what I’ve arrived at: it is totally outward looking. It is about the universe; it has nature at it’s centre and is imbued with a sense of wonder – at the same time as being rigorously scientific and precise. This strikes me as so different from the art du jour of the last few decades, so often self-obsessed, egotistical, knowingly clever without really saying anything of value… so emotionless so much of it. Maybe I’m an old romantic, but if you offer me the majesty of the universe or the filthy remnants of someone else’s bedroom, I know what makes my heart sing.
So I’d been reflecting on this for a few days, when Simone sent me a link to a TED talk of Alain de Botton where he talks about just this:
The part I was really interested in was this:
“Another thing about modern society and why it causes us anxiety is that we have nothing at it’s centre that is non-human. We are the first society to be living in a world where we don’t worship anything other than ourselves. We think very highly of ourselves, and so we should, we’ve put people on the moon, and done all sorts of extraordinary things, and so we tend to worship ourselves, our heroes are human heroes. That’s a very new situation. Most other societies have had right at their centre the worship of something transcendent, a god, a spirit, a natural force, the universe, whatever it is, something else that is being worshipped.”
I’m not a religious person (or maybe I am), but I remember as a child looking up at the night sky and feeling tiny, but feeling part of something bigger too… a feeling of reassurance and maybe even belonging. As I’ve grown up I’ve lost that, at least most of the time, and I think as a society maybe we have too. It seems a bad thing to have lost.