Week 6: Research & Reflection – Noticing the Ignored

Week 6 – Noticing the Ignored

I found myself at a bit of an impasse with week 6 if I’m brutally honest. The deeper we dive into art and the theory of art, the more dettached and disenfranchised I become with the course material. I fully take on board the importance of understanding expression of art within design, but for me that side of it was never there.

Our lecture on noticing the ignored lead me down some interesting thought processes though and actually found me exploring some interesting concepts I’d otherwise taken for granted that tie into how experience and globalisation change our view of art.

My first point of conflict was with the video art this week; Girl Chewing Gum is perhaps the most pointless piece of art I’ve yet seen. I really did not enjoy it. I found myself wondering if this was due to it igniting some response in me from the content or the message, to which I discovered there was none. I took the time to read some analysis by the Tate Gallery found here: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/smith-the-girl-chewing-gum-t13237
The author states:

With this film Smith questions the authority of image and word both as objective document and as recorded narrative.

I found neither in this video. Smith had no command of narrative, opting instead for a dry comedic run-through of film-direction, instead of subverting the image, choosing to purely observe it. Were we to look at how narrative could be used in film for comedic and inspirational effect, we could look at how The Twilight Zone found narrative in the ordinary and twisted the narrative to capture the imagination of an audience. Or we could look at how permanent mounted webcams are able to capture our intrigue with little more than a never-moving camera. Smith chooses to both muddle the narrative and undermine the footage with his poor attempt at video art here.

From this weeks lecture though, I did find myself fascinated by the situationists. This group captured my intrigue with their statements on the human experience within our evolving society. The statement:

The spectacle is capital accumulated to the point where it becomes image. – Guy Debord

is something I find particularly interesting in a society so inherently focussed on a shared “social” experience. If you were to pair this statement with the way the documentary “The Social Dilemna” and the way this suggests that we, as humans invested in these platforms have become the commodity. It creates a pretty dystopian look at how the online depictions of ourselves have become the spectacle.

Whilst the parallels of a foreboding future-is-now type look of the situationists is certainly interesting. I found their attempt to return the monetisation of unique experience back on itself an inspiring protest, what’s more interesting is the idea that as artists themselves this ideaology seemed to reject what would be in their own “financial” interest. As it aimed to return art from the big-money spectacle it had become, to it’s more grounded roots. Cultural Socialism… or perhaps more Cultural Communism.

I recently watched a documentary around the forgery of abstract art from the mid-20th century. I thought this tied really well into the topic of the situationists as the documentary focussed around the investment and worth of the paintings that were forged. That high art can fetch such a high price for a forgery only to become worthless when the autentication fails surely proves the situationists point that at the end of the day, the value of art should be it’s experience. In a perfect summarisation of Guy Debord’s statement, this art has truly become a matter of pure investment and capital for the already wealthy.

Moving on from this, I watched the John Berger show on context of art.
Again, I found myself struggling at first to relate to this in any way, as I take no interest or joy in fine-art. John Berger starts by suggesting that the true viewing of art exists because of the context in which we view it. Do we interpret art differently based on the way we view it? Does art’s meaning change with context. Which yes, of course it does.

I remember on visiting the Louvre Gallery that the Mona Lisa takes on a strange new meaning that transcends the painting itself as art. In it’s fame and the globalised context, with the ability to see art in the finest of details digitally or recreated on a napkin or t-shirt, this painting that everyone already knows becomes less an object to be seen for it’s aesthetic quality and more a pilgrimmage of tourism. Much like a photo from the Eiffel Tower or a hug from Mickey Mouse at Disneyland, the Mona Lisa’s removal of context has become a check-list on a “must see” list.
Seeing it surrounded by hundreds of people with their backs turned to the painting and mobile phone set to selfie mode and the painting itself, several feet from view encased in a thick mostly-transparent bullet-proof perspex gives the Mona Lisa this new meaning. It is no longer the mysterious Da Vinci painting with it’s mysterious smile to captivate it’s audience. But instead a shrine on the global tourist circuit.

Photo of crowds at the Louvre, Paris. Taken from The Washington Examiner
Photo I took from that time I visited the Louvre and was more interested by how the Mona Lisa is displayed than in the painting itself.

What’s interesting about this context for art is how it has served to warp the message of even modern art where the narrator is still alive to tell us it’s purpose. I’ve always been fascinated by how the cultural context of the work of Banksy has been subverted by its own success.
By his own admission, Banksy has created political statements and satire. Artwork that aims to interrupt the status quo with messages about equality and social structure in a turbulent United Kingdom. Spray-painting a prison wall (see Reading Prison “Escape” piece by Banksy) would be considered illegal and vandalism. But instead of re-painting the walls (well, not always) these walls become huge lucrative investment pieces for the original wall owner. In some cases being encased in perspex, protected. Or in the case of the “Hula-Hooping Girl” in Nottingham, the artwork (and wall!) are removed and relocated into a gallery: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2021/feb/17/banksy-mural-removed-nottingham-wall-sold-essex-gallery#:~:text=Banksy%20mural%20removed%20from%20Nottingham%20wall%20and%20sold%20to%20Essex%20gallery,-Local%20people%20disappointed&text=A%20Banksy%20mural%20in%20Nottingham,would%20stay%20in%20the%20city.

In this case, the actual meaning and context is lost as the artwork’s ties to its location are lost.

In the case more locally to me of Banksy’s piece in Torquay. The artwork was very literally boarded over (warning: daily mail link, forgive me for I have sinned, but the article was very hard to come by otherwise!) by the wall owners to protect the artwork. It is very interesting to see how the fame and value of artwork have served to undo even the ability for an audience to view the work in this case.

John Berger talked about the mystification of art and how through new context art has “acquired a new impressiveness” and I think this is where fine art has become status oriented and lost it’s aesthetic merits.
For Graphic Design this need for context has always been there, in fact good design thrives on ever-changing context.