The Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, who died yesterday at the age of seventy-six, was simply one of the most original and influential directors in the history of cinema. He achieved something that few filmmakers ever have: he seemed to create a national identity with his own cinematic style. He was the first Iranian filmmaker who expanded the history of cinema not merely in a sociological sense but in an artistic one, and his tenacious, bold, restless originality—an inventive audacity that carried through to his two last features, made outside of Iran—focussed the attention of the world on the Iranian cinema and opened the Iranian cinema to other directors who have followed his path.
Art is born of a confluence of temperament and circumstances. It’s amazing that Kiarostami was able to work copiously and free-spiritedly within the rigid constraints imposed by the religious and political doctrines of the Iranian regime. Yet he also seemed to thrive on conflict, arising from his over-all sense of resistance to authority and defiance of norms, which he expressed subtly but decisively in dramatic action and in cinematic form. He was one of the greatest ironists and symbolists in the history of cinema, bringing out grand philosophical ideas and depicting independent-minded characters, while nonetheless apparently deferring to imposed conventions and expectations.
In the nineteen-seventies, Kiarostami made his earliest films under the auspices of the Kanun, or Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults. They were didactic films, for and about young people. After the Islamic Revolution, he continued to make educational films, but a sense of his sly radicalism appears in the short film “Orderly or Disorderly,” from 1981, a sort of cinematic “Goofus and Gallant” of large groups, in which the orderly one appears terrifyingly dehumanized (and enforced by the authority of the police) and the disorderly appears lively and vital—but not without risks and conflicts. It’s also a reflexive film, in which each sequence is prefaced by a slate and a clap, as well as a film of passionate observation, expressing the sheer joy in seeing and filming the alluring details and large-scale patterns of daily life.
The first paradox of Kiarostami’s career is the clash between documentary and dramatic elements, between the observed and the imposed, between the discovered and the determined—and between the closed world of the movie shoot and the total one behind the camera. He worked mainly with non-actors whom he encountered on location, as in his 1987 feature “Where Is the Friend’s Home?,” the story of a schoolboy in the rural village of Koker who travels to another village to give a classmate a notebook, in the process defying parental authority, and other authorities as well. That region was devastated in 1990 by an earthquake; in the 1992 feature “Life and Nothing More,” Kiarostami dramatized his trip to Koker after the disaster to inquire about the movie’s young star, with an actor playing the director. One of the film’s key incidents is an encounter with a newlywed man who married his fiancée the day after the earthquake (they spend their first nights together in the shelter of ruins). Kiarostami followed that film with “Through the Olive Trees,” a story based on the life of the local mason who played the newlywed groom in “Life and Nothing More.” The director is a character, too, and he gets involved in the couple’s relationship. For that matter, the movie opens with an actor addressing the viewer, identifying himself as an actor playing a director who has come to Koker to choose an actress for a film.
Freddie Gray, the twenty-five-year-old black man whose death at the hands of Baltimore police touched off last spring’s urban rebellions, was arrested and beaten simply for making eye contact and running. It was a case not so much of “wrong place, wrong time” as “wrong person, wrong world.” So many neighborhoods like Gray’s resemble the creeping dystopia of Delany’s Bellona or Prince’s Minneapolis. Even more strongly than they did thirty years ago. Their residents are treated as if their skin color makes them unworthy to move and relate to the world as they please.
At the heart of uprisings like Baltimore aren’t just the indignities committed against those like Gray but the idea that people’s environments should belong to them, and that they deserve better than blight and brutality from the state.
Reenter the Purple One. In the days since his death it has come out that he secretly gave large sums of money to the family of Trayvon Martin after he was murdered by George Zimmerman. At the Grammys two months prior to Gray’s death, he had dropped a subtle hint: “Like books and black lives, albums still matter.” A radical Prince may never have been, but he was still a black man in America.
He also, by the time of Baltimore, had come to be regarded as a progenitor of Afrofuturism in music: Sun Ra, P-Funk, Alice Coltrane, Prince. The role his songs played in reimagining the black experience had already inspired the standard-bearer of Afrofuturism, Janelle Monae, to have him guest on her landmark album The Electric Lady.
When he released “Baltimore” — a song dedicated to Gray, Michael Brown, and the protesters — it was something of a convergence. Black rebellion had infused the soul and funk of two generations before. Prince was now reviving these sounds by once again paring them down. The song uses minimal instrumentation, and listeners find themselves weaving through subtle cracks of empty space, asking where they might fit. A crying guitar line, clockwork drums, and nouveau-gospel backup vocals subtly help them find their place.
The song dropped alongside an announcement that Prince would hold a “Rally 4 Peace” concert on May 10, 2015. The concert, powerful as it may have been for those in attendance, also bore the mark of another celebrity benefit, easily integrated back into mealy-mouthed notions of “tolerance” and “can’t we all get along?” Even the notion of a concert for “peace” while young people were doing battle with police in the city itself rang of equating the violence of oppressor and oppressed.
Prince himself was far less equivocal. “The system is broken,” he said in a press release. The lyrics in “Baltimore” strike a less confrontational tone, but one that leaves very little question of sides:
Nobody got in nobody’s way So I guess you could say it was a good day Least a little better than the day in Baltimore
Does anybody hear us pray For Michael Brown or Freddie Gray? Peace is more than the absence of war
The spiritual and religious overtones are unmistakable here. So is the invitation to not just imagine something different, but to place yourself within that imagined world. It’s not the most remarkable of Prince’s songs, but it certainly holds enough in common with his signature methodology that it deserves to be remembered. It’s not something that can be reduced to funk or rock or R&B or neo-soul or any of its components. It’s various straws spun into something simply golden, ultimately human beyond restrictions.
Genres, like all boundaries, are fictions. They deserve to be erased.
When I met Daisuke Yokota for our interview in Tokyo's Shinjuku district, he said it was the earliest he'd been up in a while. It was already about 11:45 in the morning, and I wondered aloud whether he'd been working a late-night job. "Nope," he said. "Making work." Yokota has created a small image-making factory in his apartment, which he uses to create his haunting, distorted black-and-white images. Many Japanese photographers, led by Daido Moriyama, take black-and-white photographs with similarly strong, almost extreme contrast. At first glance, Yokota's photographs seem to fit neatly into this tradition. However, in talking with him, it’s clear that he hasn’t set out to copy this style because it looks cool. Instead, he’s been led there by electronic musicians like Aphex Twin, taking the musical ideas of echo, delay and reverb and applying them to photography. In practice, this means that to make the series "Back Yard" (featured in the gallery above), Yokota shot, developed, printed and re-photographed each image—not once, but about 10 times. That does seem like enough work to keep you up all through the night.
How did you make “Back Yard”?
At first I used a compact digital camera, and printed the image out. Then I photographed that image with a 6x7 film camera, using color film, even though the image is later black and white. I developed it at home, in a way so that imperfections or noise will appear—I make the water extra warm, or don’t agitate the film. Even before that, I let some light hit the film; I’m developing in my bathroom, so it’s not even a real darkroom, which helps, but I’ll hold a lighter up to the film, or whatever is around. I’m always experimenting—the goal is to not do it the same way twice. So then, to produce more and more variations in the final image, I re-photographed the image about ten times.
Ten times? You mean, you developed and printed and re-shot each image ten times?
Yeah, more or less. There’s no set number, but about that much. It’s not so much about realizing an image I had in my head from before, but finding something in the process. “Back Yard” was pretty simple, just that. “Site” was more complicated—taking digital photos of the same thing and combining them in Photoshop—that took a lot of time.
And re-photographing photos doesn’t take so much time?
I guess so, yeah.
Photoshop is not really about adding the noise then?
Doing that in Photoshop makes it look tampered with. Adding the noise with film, it looks natural.
In some of your other interviews, I see you’ve mentioned Aphex Twin and David Lynch as influences. Why is that?
There are two reasons. First, Aphex Twin has a lot of aliases, so his work is less about seeing his real name as some kind of symbol, and more about the songs themselves. There’s a sense that you can’t really see him, and this kind of confusion is interesting to me. Then, to speak about his music, there’s a lot of experimentation with delay, reverb and echo, which is playing with the way that you perceive time. Of course there’s no time in a photograph, but I thought about how to apply this kind of effect, or filter, to photography. I was definitely influenced by the idea of “ambience.” David Lynch is probably the same for me, in the way that he works with time and perception.
So how does all of this apply to your photographs?
If you look at music or film, there is time there. In other words, the work has a clear beginning and end, and in between, you shut out your daily life—you throw yourself into the work. There’s no element of duration to your experience of a photograph; it’s closer to an object. I felt that this was an extremely weak point of photography. So, I’m aware that photography can’t function in the same way as films or music, but I wonder whether it isn’t possible to create a way for photographs to carry time within them. When you’re going to sleep, you think about the stuff that happened to you that day, right? You might see some images, but they’re completely distant from what really happened—they’re hazy. You’re trying to recall something, and photography can also recall things in this way. Of course my photographs do function as some sort of record, but there’s no agreement between the photograph and my own recollection of what happened. The impression is completely different. I think using these effects of delay, reverb, and echo (in photographic terms, developing the film "badly" and so on) might be a way to alter the sensation of time in a visual way.
Jacob Robert Whibley creates collage-based works that foreground two histories, simultaneously: that of early modernist art, architecture and design, as well as that of the materials he uses. Russian Constructivism, the Bauhaus and de Stijl, and the artists affiliated with those movements – Wassily Kandinsky, El Lissitzky, Josef Albers and Piet Mondrian – come to mind when looking at Whibley’s work, but his collages do more than pay homage. Whibley skilfully, and with great sensitivity, exploits the pre-existing folds, tears, markings and discolouration of the vintage papers he uses, some dating back to the late-1800s. The result is work that manages to feel historical, contemporary and timeless all at once.
Based in Toronto, Jacob Whibley graduated from the Ontario College of Art and Design in 2005 and has been showing his work since 2007. His first solo exhibition in Europe took place in June 2014 at Bourouina Gallery in Berlin. In May, he was included in the group exhibition Space Squared at White Walls in San Francisco. He has also had solo exhibitions at the Wyatt Art Centre in Rochester, NY and at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto. Group exhibitions in Montreal, Los Angeles and Portland have featured his work, as well. He is represented by Narwhal Art Projects in Toronto.
Yes, that urinal - "an icon of twentieth-century art" (tate.org), "the loo that shook the world" (Independent). Reputedly Marcel Duchamp (Dada* hero) signed a mass produced urinal R.MUTT and, in a radical gesture in 1917, submitted it to an open exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists, New York, under the title Fountain. It was rejected in what is now seen as a crucial turning point in art. Since then it has been celebrated (and castigated!) as the starting point for all the subsequent installation and conceptual artwork that dominates contemporary art today.
But, as a convincing article in this November’s Art Newspaper argues, Duchamp stole this iconic act from fabulous Dada poet and artist Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven.
The evidence is pretty damning: two days before Fountain was rejected, Duchamp wrote to his sister (Dada artist Suzanne) to tell her that "one of my female friends, under the masculine pseudonym, Richard Mutt, sent in a porcelain urinal as a sculpture."
It was not until decades later, in the late 50s/early 60s, that Duchamp, wanting to re-establish his position as an artist, started laying claim to Fountain. However he made a rather telling error: the supplier he says he got it from never stocked this particular urinal. The original was long lost but a photo survived (above) and Duchamp authorized his dealer to make copies that he authenticated and are now showcased in premier art museums around the world.
Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, however, has been lost from mainstream histories. Friend and colleague of Duchamp, she made Dada sculptures out of found objects and had a track record in plumbing as art – the sculpture entitled God (below) was an S-bend mounted on a wooden block.
Jane Heap, the editor of an influential journal, The Little Review, described the Baroness as "the only one living anywhere who dresses dada, loves dada, lives dada" and published her poetry alongside the first appearance of James Joyce’s Ulyesses.
Born in Germany in 1874, Elsa acquired her title from her third marriage (to an impoverished aristocrat who deserted her) and pitched up (alone) in New York in the teens of the century, a fully formed avant-gardist. She was integral to the free verse movement and one of the New York Dada group that including Duchamp, Man Ray, Francis Picabia et al. She was outrageous, a kleptomaniac and proto punk challenging all codes of behavior, arrested for dressing in men’s clothes or not dressing at all (going about semi naked). One of the first performance artists she concocted and sported amazing costumes – tomato soup tins as a bra; hats of a bird cage (with bird) or a birthday cake complete with burning candles; tea-balls and cocktail spoons as jewelry. She shaved her head and lacquered it red, wore yellow face powder with black painted lips. She demanded equality in sexual agency and mused on ejaculation, orgasm, oral sex and impotence in her poetry which broke all boundaries of form as well as content.
Breaking the rules of gendered behaviour and totally uncompromising in her commitment to Dada, the Baroness was deeply threatening to the men in her circle. Just as I have argued in relation to Pauline Boty (Pop artist), I think that, as a woman, she perhaps presented a transgression too far: dying, poverty stricken, in Paris in 1927 she has been written out of the mainstream histories.
How different the story of 20th century culture would feel now if a woman had been acclaimed as an epoch shattering, free thinking, paradigm shifting creator.
But hang on. Scholars have been aware of the Duchamp’s letter since the 1980s! It’s in the news now because, although reprinting and praising the book in which the revelation is made, Museum of Modern Art (NY) has still refused to acknowledge Elsa’s role – as does Tate (check out Tate’s website account of Fountainno mention of Elsa!) And this deceit is the really shocking news. There is just too much is invested in the fiction of Duchamp’s heroic act. For a re-vision to be made acres of critical theory, art historical and curatorial analysis would, and should, be disrupted along with comfortable, (gendered) notions of genius and innovation,
Doubly transgressive in rejecting both their social role as women and all accepted notions of art they offer a radical, innovative take on the Modernist shake up of art. Artists like Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven need to be put back into the frame – foremothers of punk, riot grrls, pussy riot et al and inspiration to all women challenging the status quo.
Before you got to know them, did you know much about Gerald and Sara Murphy?
I had heard about them. The Murphys were legendary because people knew vaguely about their life in Paris in the twenties, but nobody really knew them very well. They had a party a year, I think—a garden party with candles in paper bags. More or less the whole community was invited. But otherwise, they kept to themselves. We were all very curious about them. It seemed to us that we had these exotic creatures living in our midst.
You had read Tender Is the Night—Fitzgerald’s fourth novel, published nine years after The Great Gatsby—by happenstance before meeting them. At the time, the novel had been all but forgotten.
Yes, my wife at the time and I had gone to live in Santa Fe for almost a year. I was writing a novel and we were actually caretakers of a house whose owners had gone with their children to France for the summer. There was a nice library there. One of the books I pulled out to read was Tender Is the Night, which I had not read before. I had read Gatsby in college and a few Fitzgerald short stories, but I had never read Tender. It was one of those reading experiences that you get maybe two or three times in your life, when a book just takes you over. I was deeply immersed in that book and in the world it had conjured up. I still think it’s by far his best work.
But as you know it was not a success at the time. It came out during the Depression, and it was considered frivolous—a narrative about rich people on the Riviera, with no relevance for the period people were living in. But ever since then it’s been gradually assuming more and more of a place in American literature.
I was really upset by the book. It made me deeply sad and troubled because I became emotionally involved in the life of those two people, Dick and Nicole Diver. It seemed like such an extraordinary coincidence that a few years later I would move next door to the people who were their models.
You make a number of interesting observations throughout Living Well, most notably that some people, including the Murphys themselves, felt that Tender was a disingenuous representation of that period, and of Gerald and Sara in particular. More than fifty years after reporting this story, how do you remember Fitzgerald’s relations to the Murphys?
Gerald and Sara were not at all happy when they found out that Scott was writing a novel about them. Scott’s way of going about it was extremely annoying. He would ask them intrusive questions, like, How much money do you really have? and How did you get into Skull and Bones at Yale? They felt that many of his questions were quite hostile. He had a somewhat disapproving attitude of them by then. They had met in Paris in 1922 or 1923, and the Fitzgeralds started coming to the south of France largely because the Murphys were there.
For several summers they were very close. Gerald admired Fitzgerald as a writer. He thought thatGatsby was an extraordinary achievement, and that some of the short stories were first-rate, but he didn’t have a great deal of respect for the work that Fitzgerald was doing then. He was writing mainly for the Saturday Evening Post—short stories. A lot of them seemed to Gerald too commercial, and not up to the standards of his earlier work. Fitzgerald never seemed to Gerald and Sara to be a writer on the same level as Hemingway, who took himself far more seriously. They felt that Hemingway was the important writer, the one who was breaking new ground in prose. I don’t think they had the same feeling about Scott, and as a consequence, the idea that he was writing a novel about them did not fill them with joy.
All forgers learn from their predecessors, and the German forger Wolfgang Beltracchi (born 1951) built upon these cunning techniques. In French and German gallery exposition catalogues dating from the 1910s and 1920s, he searched for paintings considered forever lost, ones whose images had never been replicated and reprinted. Since only titles existed, Beltracchi would produce counterfeits according to the title.
Similar to the other forgers before him, Beltracchi saw himself as an artist belonging to another era. Like Elmyr and van Meegeren – whose own artwork was panned for being out-of-date – these men would insert themselves into the periods in which they thought they belonged. Beltracchi considered himself a kindred soul to the early 20th-century Expressionists, to whose oeuvres he made additions. (To his credit, he did so quite convincingly.)
But he also understood that artworks were judged on their provenance; he needed to ensure that each painting’s backstory and history of ownership checked out.
Beltracchi even photographed his wife posing as her grandmother, with period furniture and his forgeries hanging on the wall, since an archival photograph is the Holy Grail of provenance documentation. Increasingly, the Sammlung Werner Jägers Koeln stamp was enough to validate any work on the German art market.
Beltracchi also knew exactly which paints to avoid, and worked with only period pigments. He did not, however, realize that his tube of Zinc White (a 19th-century pigment) might be mixed with Titanium Dioxide (a post-1920 invention), and this is what spelled his doom.
At the time of his arrest in 2010, he claims he had been sending out his works out to labs to see if they were “science proof.”
Beltracchi’s attempts to manipulate both provenance and science illuminates the future of art forgery in the 21st century: the really dangerous forgers are the ones who can infiltrate and corrupt the core of the knowledge system upon which the art world relies.