These are background notes for UVC A1

My A’level Theatre Studies tutor, Charles, must have been an effective teacher since so much of what he taught in the late 80s has made such a long-lasting impression on me. I remember learning about surrealism and montage in his class, and being shown Le Chien Andelou in preparation for looking at some of Brecht’s work.

Brechtian theory links in to the people and ideas that grew out of those movements and was someone whose work I seemed to understand instinctively when writing about it during my A’ levels. Looking back, for understandable reasons, I struggled academically. However, writing about Brecht seemed the only time I was able to do so with ease and fluidity, gaining good marks that were otherwise less than average.

During my degree at what was Manchester Polytechnic (later Manchester Metropolitan University) I was fortunate to be in a production of The Threepenny Opera, directed by Bill Hopkinson. Actually, the rehearsal process then was difficult. I was an emotional disaster area at the time so it didn’t feel lucky during it, but like my studies with Charles, I have retained a great deal from the experience.

Following graduation I absolutely loved my first acting job, employed by Manchester University, which was a re-enactment of the Cabaret Voltaire. In a company made up of a small group of graduates, we rehearsed a selection of Dadaist poems, songs and sketches. The head of the course we’d been on came along and said she was so pleased to see us own the work so effectively. It was a great first job.

Nearly 20 years later, the first study visit I went to with the OCA was to see Hannah Hoch at the Whitechapel Gallery in 2014. I wasn’t even looking forward to it really. Collage genuinely seemed in my woefully uneducated mind to be almost childish and I thought I’d be underwhelmed. However, I have to say I was blown away by her work. I immediately saw how very wrong I had been.  All the themes and ideas, her rendering of them, especially with the early work that was done under the banner of Dada grabbed me with an intensity that I had not expected at all.

I was thrilled to notice the very obvious influences of Freud and Jung, whose work I now know was intrinsic to Dada and Surrealism. I wrote in my blog, “The other thing that struck me was how much her work seemed to allude to ideas explored by the psychoanalytical movement.  I think this is hardly surprising due to her place on the timeline of Western History, and because the Surrealists, well known for their links to Freudian dream theories, and the Dadaists are closely related although the latter are known to be more anarchic and political. I was instantly reminded of the Jungian concepts I recently read about, in a wonderful book called A Very Short Introduction to Carl Jung, of fragmented, un-individuated personalities especially when looking at images such as Gerhard Hauptman (1919) and The Father (1920)  – which also speak to me of societies in the same state, so the collages work on a micro and macro level.   The whole process of collage seems to lend itself wonderfully to an illustration of Jung’s ideas.  Or perhaps rather they each tap into something that was happening to the outer and inner worlds for humanity at the time.”[1]

During the time I have been studying with the OCA, almost exactly 2 years now, I have found that my interests are repeatedly drawn to work made during the early years of last century where artists were experimenting with the new and rejecting the old. Because of that I am going to talk about two artists from that period; Man Ray, because his work covers a vast array of mediums (although I will focus on photography and film) and also because I like it very much. I am very aware that the role of women in Man Ray’s work represents a narrative that is unpalatable to feminists. I have deliberately chosen his film L’etoile de Mer (1928) as it will serve as a strong contrast to the two other artists I will talk about.

My second artist is Hannah Hoch, whose collage work could not have been made prior to the technological printing processes that developed so rapidly in the late 19th century and early 20th. Although I have already written about her during TAOP I have not looked at any single work in great detail. She provides a good opportunity to look at a women’s work from the same period I discussed, which is, from what I have read, well known for its misogynistic attitudes which were so acceptable and usual in those days (and still present today; openly in many arenas and beneath the surface in others, despite us all having come a long way since then.)

I was going to discuss Nan Goldin and The Ballad of Sexual Dependency which was shown as a slide show as a well as being produced as a book. She’s really interesting to me and I like that her work grew out of the tail end of the Punk movement which has been linked to Dada, both movements utilising new technologies as they emerge – to question and subvert the status quo. I also loved the way in which the title would link back to my love of Brecht’s work, Threepenny Opera, which I mentioned at the beginning of this. But in the end I felt I should venture further from photography. So, I have instead chosen Martha Rosler’s Semiotics of the Kitchen which I read about in an essay titled, Vertical hold: A History of Women’s Video Art by Vanalyne Green.

This allows me to continue exploring my interest in feminine discourse and gives a clear idea about the sort of work I would like to learn from. Video also seems a good area to look at women’s work because, as explained by Green, the medium was new, and not yet dominated by anyone of either sex.

“The introduction of the electronic medium of video occurred as feminism, the most important philosophical movement of the 20th Century, was once again entering the public consciousness of America, this time as the Second Wave.  Video offered new possibilities for women no longer content to be known as male artists’ wives or girlfriends; there were no “founding father” mythologies because no one took video seriously as an art medium. True, men were still capable of self-mythologizing, but they had not yet been historicized in coffee table books about the 20th Video was as close to a “master-free zone” as one could get.[2]

A description of Semiotics from Electronic Art Intermix:  “Semiotics of the Kitchen adopts the form of a parodic cooking demonstration in which, Rosler states, “An anti-Julia Child replaces the domesticated ‘meaning’ of tools with a lexicon of rage and frustration.” In this performance-based work, a static camera is focused on a woman in a kitchen. On a counter before her are a variety of utensils, each of which she picks up, names and proceeds to demonstrate, but with gestures that depart from the normal uses of the tool. In an ironic grammatology of sound and gesture, the woman and her implements enter and transgress the familiar system of everyday kitchen meanings — the securely understood signs of domestic industry and food production erupt into anger and violence. In this alphabet of kitchen implements, states Rosler, “when the woman speaks, she names her own oppression.””[3]

[1] My TAOP Blog about Hannah Hoch

[2] Vertical Hold: A History of Women’s Video Art

[3] Electronic Arts Intermix: Semiotics of the Kitchen

Other research links:

  1. Ten female Dadaists You Should Know 
  2. Huff Post article on Hannah Hoch
  3. A short film made up of some of Man Ray’s work
  4. Man Ray documentary by Jean-Paul Fargier 1998
  5. Man ray films
  6. Essay about postmodernism

(c)Image SJField 2015















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