Friday, 29 October 2010

Women - Female Virtue

I am desperate to discuss with you the most beautiful work of art I’ve seen in the last week, and the most intellectual and morally inspirational work of art I’ve seen in the last week. The absolutely perfect coincidence is that they have something in common, Female Virtue.

The work of art who’s beauty is strikingly extravert is, Lady Godiva, c. 1897, by John Collier, at The Herbert museum and art gallery, Coventry. The work of art who’s is an enigmatic introvert is, Innocence between Virtue and Vice, 1790, by Marie Guillhelmine Benoist.

I have no doubt that Collier’s figure is the (for I can recall no other) most beautiful figure I have seen in art. It surpasses even Deigo Velรกquez’s stunning posterior view upon Venus in, The Toilet of Venus (‘The Rokeby Venus’), 1647-51, at the National Gallery, London. For in Collier’s masterpiece, Godiva’s flesh radiates. It is utterly sensuous, and yet wholly dignified. Even the ratty hair standard to Pre-Raphaelite painting, of which Collier’s style could be associated with, that I usually find myself twitching at, does not bother me in this painting. Moreover, it isn’t something of visual surplus, it is in this painting completely visually necessary – it seals the Lady’s virtue.

Though it may seem that her head is head in shame, and as though she is a prostitute paraded about the city; she is in fact a woman of will, whose head is held down to show the sacrifice of shame she has made in order to achieve good. This historic character of Saxon nobility, alive between c.980-1067, rode through the streets of Coventry naked to make a stand against her husband’s unjust leadership. Her spouse, Leofric the Earl of Mercia, enforced unreasonably high taxes upon his tenants, to which Lady Godiva could not support. What a woman of virtue?

Female artist, Maria Guilhelmine, Comtesse Benoist painted Innocence Between Virtue and Vice to retell the didactic mythological story, ‘The Choice of Hercules.’ Hercules, in this case Innocence, is to decide between the characters of morality and immorality, and if [s]he chooses correctly [s]he will reach the temple of innocence and success. The artist (1768-1826) worked at a time of male dominance, when women were often viewed as an evil temptress of sexual immorality. Thomas Gisborne in Enquiry into the Duties of the Female Sex wrote on the supposed instable mental qualities of the female gender, arguing they had the tendency to, ‘frivolousness…a thirst for admiration and applause; to vanity and affection.’

In this painting the balance is readdressed. Vice, or the appealing pleasure, is the male figure the leaps towards Innocence who is appropriately dressed in the colour of purity. Innocence rests into Virtue, who becomes thus the symbol of protection. The nature of Vice’s unexpected and aggressive approach left Innocence little time to consider the temptation upon her, he had planned to whisk her away immediately; yet in Vice she will find freedom as she runs gaily towards the temple. Together the women represent the relentless and unified quality of feminine willpower. They flash Virtue an evil gaze and skidaddle.

A great interactive exhibition on Lady Godiva is at Coventry’s Herbert Museum and Art Gallery, entitled ‘Discover Godiva’ and is one of the permanent exhibitions.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

It has to be this Way2, Lindsay Seers at the Mead Gallery

Whether or not people agree art is becoming increasing inviting, it is becoming increasing involving. The way of contemporary art, and so much of the work exhibited at the Arts centre’s Mead Gallery, is to immerse its audience into the varying 3D and multi-media format of the art. It seems logical that this should become today’s trend when considering how long the average person, students especially, spend in front of screens in a world that is almost completely reproduced virtually. We long for intimacy, to feel, to be amongst it all.

This couldn’t be truer for the work of artist Lindsay Seers, who was mute until she was eight years old. This was due to her feeling overwhelmed by the intensity of her sensory experiences of the word, that, quite literally words weren’t enough. But in this new world, the world created for us in these art exhibitions, do we long for reality or for fantasy?

The artist’s inspiration for the film and fortifying sculptures was the disappearance of her step-sister, perhaps to a diamond smuggling industrial area in west Africa. It appears that Lindsay searches for the facts of the case: for clues to her survival, and records of memories and events. Yet the work is far from a missing persons case; its style of communication reflects the confusion of the data found. Nothing, when viewing the film, appears to be true. It all seems like a surreal, disjointed fantasy. Guardian writer, Laura McLean-Ferris, questioned Seer’s award winning film of 2009, Extramission 6 – ‘Is any of it true?’ Concluding, ‘It doesn’t matter…’ Facts aside, (how can memory ever be fact?) all that is remaining is a range of viewpoints.

Seer’s film It has to be this Way2 imposes its impression in a completely unique and praise-worthy manner. Even though you long for reality, for the truth of the matter, when you discover the darkness of the truth, that it doesn’t embody this ideal image, you become reserved and retreat.

The room in which this short gothic thriller (20 minuets of fear-invoking voices and progressive imagery,) is shown in a mock, true-to-scale slave fort and throughout the film flashes of images of the real and the re-created are integrated until you lose any real sense of location. Seers picks you up and carries you in and out of reality. At times you are very conscious of the view you have down upon the circular screen that imitates looking through the camera; at other times you are completely submerged. At anytime when you are not consumed by baffled thoughts, you can admire her creative ability to relate language, the arts, and experience. A skill fostered during, and in reaction to her time when she couldn’t speak herself.

Get involved in Seer’s work and become the modern viewer. From outside appearances, the white cube design of gallery seems empty of substance. But upon seeing the film inside the slave fortress, you begin to make sense of the sculptures found outside of it. You needn’t stop for 20 minutes to capture Lindsay’s unique and ultra-modern, creative style of film making; even two minutes inside the viewing room gives you a great sense of mystery, intrigue and to some vague extend – insight. And a warning, don’t arrive with the preconception that the work there is to be understood; to enjoy the full glory of contemporary art you mustn’t search for an answer, but enjoy the exploration of the questions.

This essentially is the idea behind Lindsay Seer’s It Has to be this Way2 project. That she is not likely to solve the mystery of her missing step-sister, Christine Parks - as if she thought it possible she would have surely invested some time earlier in her life into it - it is to revel in the unknown of the journey and through a range of interviews and travels, build up a picture of the distortion and frailty of memory itself.

The Mead Gallery, part of the University of Warwick’s art centre, is holding this exhibition until 11th December. Entrance is free!

This article can also be found on Warwick University’s student newspaper – The Boar: