Look! New Acquisitions @ the Albertina

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Look! New Acquisitions

Curated by Klaus Albrecht Schröder and Antonia Hoerschelmann

Albertina, Vienna

6 July to 1 October 2017

Anselm Kiefer Woglinde, 1982-2013 The Albertina Museum, Vienna © Anselm Kiefer and The Albertina Museum, Vienna

Anselm Kiefer
Woglinde, 1982-2013
The Albertina Museum, Vienna © Anselm Kiefer and The Albertina Museum, Vienna

If you are in Vienna and have a hankering to view modern or contemporary art, the Albertina, MUMOK and 21er Haus are the places to visit.

At the Albertina their permanent exhibition, Monet to Picasso, includes every modern artist of importance up to about the mid-twentieth century (from memory, there are works by Klee, Chagall, Matisse, Giacometti, Bacon, Miro… and many others), so you have a guarantee of viewing exceptional art whatever you find in their current exhibitions. These, frankly, can be of variable quality, but they are usually interesting and often excellent. On previous occasions I saw a brilliant exhibition built around Antonioni’s great film Blow-Up (it had scenes from the film itself, some of Antonioni’s paintings, photography by David Bailey and Don McCullin, etc.) and another, equally memorable, devoted to Lee Miller’s war photography. There was also a Gottfried Helnwein retrospective, reviewed at this site.

This year at the Albertina I saw some works by Helnwein again; his images still have the power to disturb. They were in the Look! New Acquisitions exhibition, alongside works by William Kentridge, Anselm Kiefer (his Woglinde above), Adolf Frohner and others. Most arresting here, however, was Csaba Nemes’ Hotel Metropole series, drawings centred on the building that was the headquarters of the Gestapo during the Anchluss. It is the place where the protagonist of Stefan Zweig’s Schachnovelle is taken to be interrogated.

Details of the Albertina’s current exhibitions can be found here.

Csaba Nemes’ website is here.

Some drawings from the Hotel Metropole drawing installation are here.

My review of Stefan Zweig’s Schachnovelle is here.

 

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The Wedding @ HOME

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The Wedding

Created by Amit Lahav

Gecko

HOME, 12 September 2016

The Wedding

Is this another metaphor for Brexit?

People arrive through a chute and quite quickly put on a wedding dress. They do this under the watchful eye of a uniformed official carrying a hardwood clipboard. No doubt she records whether the brides are bearded or clean shaven, along with their other characteristics.

The thematic thread of the show – it purported to explore such notions as weddings, union, obligations, divorce – was pretty woolly and the discernible narrative ropey and frayed, but the dance and the music was impressive. Top-notch, very entertaining.

One problem with shows like this is that they cannot do emotion, or they do it poorly. Dancers are not actors, and anyway you seldom see their faces in close up. And gestures in the middle distance don’t really cut it.

The Wedding is showing at HOME until 16 September and then at other UK venues until 7 October, details here and here.

The Work

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The Work

Directed by Gethin Aldous and Jairus McLeary

USA, 2017

HOME, 13 September 2017

The Work

Men at work.

Folsom Prison runs intensive group therapy sessions where members of the public can participate. Convicts and civilians, all men, sit in a circle and talk. Whatever they want to talk about, whatever they want to say, they are allowed to take that step. Anything they want, they can breach any subject. It is telling, therefore, that pretty much only one subject comes up: fathers and sons, and the burden of hurt and anger as the baton of masculinity is passed from one generation to the next.

All these men carry that weight of hurt and aggression and why one man is in prison and another not, well, accident seems as good an explanation as any other.’Like looking into a mirror’, two convicts agree, after speaking to a civilian they have been paired with.

There are perilous moments and emotions here. It is a dangerous, high voltage film. Beware.

Insyriated

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Insyriated

Directed by Philippe Van Leeuw

Belgium, 2017

HOME, 13 September 2017

Insyriated

We are in a fortified flat in an apartment block somewhere in Syria, a matriarch and her family holding out against the bombing, trying to survive day by day.

One scene is disturbing, as it should be: the rape of a woman. These people are anxious, dreadfully security-conscious, afraid, and not quite in tune with the world outside. Their plight is desperate. But, well, what else is there to say?

In truth this is a lacklustre, ill-thrown together, albeit very worthy film. It is though those involved thought: a film ‘about’ Syria – that will be enough to earn accolades. It is not enough, sorry.

Wind River

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Wind River

Directed by Taylor Sheridan

USA, 2017

HOME, 13 September 2017

Wind River

What you’ve got is another excellent crime drama by Taylor Sheridan, the screenwriter of Hell or High Water.

As with the prior film, the feel of locale is palpable – we are on a Native American reservation, not in desert-hot New Mexico as in Tony Hillerman’s novels, but in snow-bound Wyoming – and everything somehow flows from that. A young woman has been killed and the wildlife officer (Jeremy Renner), a man whose only daughter died in tragic circumstances, helps the FBI officer (Elizabeth Olsen) and the tribal police to find those responsible. This is what he does, like the man says: he hunts predators.

Not an inch of slack at all to the narrative, and it manages to say important things about grief and responsibility and care.

A very fine film indeed.

Letters to Morrissey @ HOME

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Letters to Morrissey

Created by Gary McNair and Gareth Nicholls

Traverse Theatre

HOME, 14 September 2016

Letters to Morrissey

There is a light and it never goes out.

Gary McNair’s play revisits his (or his teenage persona’s) adolescence, a moment in time when Morrissey was at his peak – all those lyric-perfect singles, the gnomic pronouncements in NME – and offered his fans, if not salvation, then at least understanding. He had that impossible image, an amalgam of Hilda Ogden and Ronald Firbank, and bestrode the world with an haute, arch Mancunian swagger.

The letters capture the vulnerability of adolescence, the intimacy that fans, perhaps especially Morrissey fans, feel towards their heroes and the sense of being part of a cult. But at heart the letters (not unlike the great man’s songs?) are an SOS: and no one can rescue this boy, least of all you-know-who. He has to find the resources in his own life.

It is a fine play about growing up and accepting the world, at once engaging and smart and emotionally satisfying. This humdinger of a play hits our humdrum town for only a few days more, until 16 September. Details here.

The Limehouse Golem

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The Limehouse Golem

Directed by Juan Carlos Medina

UK, 2016

HOME, 7 September 2017

The Limehouse Golem

This one is a shilling shocker, and good value at twice the price.

In return for your hard-earned silver, you get lurid murder in Victorian London, with Bill Nighy as an intrepid Scotland Yard inspector on the hunt for a serial killer going by the name of the Limehouse Golem. That’s out on the streets. Inside, in the music halls and in the reading room of the British Museum, there is a lot of malice and intrigue going on as well. Everywhere, there are dingy shadows and gaudy colours, characters gross and grotesque, as worlds respectable and desperate collide.

Incidentally, it is curious to see Karl Marx, a suspect here, pulling the ‘Is it because I is Jewish?’ act: he was one of the great Jewish anti-Semites, someone who in his writings often equated Jews with capitalism. See the relevant chapter in David Nirenberg’s Anti-Judaism.

The film is based on Peter Ackroyd’s novel, quite a tedious read as I remember it, unlike his earlier Hawksmoor, which is brilliant. It is an entertaining watch which, despite a prodigious spurting of blood, shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

God’s Own Country

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God’s Own Country

Directed by Francis Lee

UK, 2017

HOME, 6 September 2017

God’s Own Country

A love story turbulent and tender, with two men coming together over time.

Johnny (Josh O’Connor) works on his father’s farm in deepest, darkest Yorkshire. The family hire a worker, a Romanian named Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), to help out because the father has had a stroke and Johnny is working the farm, virtually on his own. As the two men rebuild walls and spread muck and tend sheep, they develop an affection for each that is brotherly and carnal. Though this film doesn’t plough new ground (we have had James Purdy’s pastoral romances and most recently Moonlight, to name two) it is well written and well directed and well acted an’ all. A very effective film and a moving experience overall.

Una

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Una

Directed by Benedict Andrews

UK, 2016

HOME, 6 September 2017
Una

An intense film, at many moments uncomfortable to watch – like Blackbird, the play on which it is based – which sees Rooney Mara as a young woman, Una, confronting the man who sexually abused her when she was a teenage girl.

Her motives are conflicted: there is vengeance and anger and feelings of betrayal, yes, alongside concern about where her abuser is now, what he might be doing to others (as her name suggests, perhaps she was just the first). Yet there are also vestiges of love and trust (her abuser has groomed her well). Is his life virtuous and calm and happy now? Well, the life she leads is not.

In a tour de force of dramatic irony, most of the film is set in a large warehouse – it is where the man now works – and we see myriad storage boxes neatly arranged by letter and number, in well organised rows. Nothing messy; a place for everything and everything in its place. Not like that with human lives, unfortunately.

There are excellent performances by Rooney Mara, Ben Mendelsohn and Riz Ahmed (for my money, the next James Bond). A very fine film.

Evolution and Conversion: Dialogues on the Origins of Culture

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Evolution and Conversion: Dialogues on the Origins of Culture

By Rene Girard

Continuum, 2008

ISBN: 9780567032522

Evolution and Conversion: Dialogues on the Origins of Culture

These interviews will serve the inquiring reader well as a relatively painless elucidation of Rene Girard’s thought.

About Girard, you need to know that he has two key notions, which are not at all hard to understand: mimetic desire and the scapegoat mechanism. The first involves the claim that desire arises through observing and imitating others: ‘There is no authentic desire and any desire is mediated by others’, is one of Girard’s formulations. Hence envy and jealousy, an urge to covet what our neighbour possesses. Desire can become escalatory, a contagion – I want what you have; you want what I have, etc. – and has the potential to be violent in nature. When violence (engendered by desire, what else?) threatens chaos and the breakdown of social order, as it inevitably will, people look around for a scapegoat, someone to blame. They kill the scapegoat and so feel cleansed of blame. Order is restored, at least temporarily. This is the scapegoat mechanism, Girard’s other key notion. And then, after a short while, the cycle begins all over again.

All cultures, whether primitive or modern, can be described and explained in important respects using these two notions, according to Girard, and one can find instances in art and literature (perhaps Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar above all) and, of course, religion. What is most interesting about Rene Girard’s life – and this in part explains the title of the book – is that his theories led him to convert to Catholicism. As he writes, ‘It was my work that oriented me towards Christianity and convinced me of its truth.’ Christ is, as it were, the ultimate scapegoat (the Lamb of God) but He is innocent. With Him the cycle of violence can (in theory at least) be bought to an end: ‘The Cross has destroyed once and for all the cathartic power of the scapegoat mechanism.’

To this, one might respond that many Christians, not least Luther, have been all too willing to scapegoat the Jews… but that is an argument for another day.

Through a series of interviews organised into seven chapters, Pierpaolo Antonello and Joao Cezar de Castro Rocha have done a good job of teasing out the basic tenets and the applications and implications of Girard work. The publisher’s description of Evolution and Conversion: Dialogues on the Origins of Culture can be read here.