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Art in a Time of War – The New Yorker

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Art in a Time of War

The images produced by artists historicize war’s sick seductiveness while concentrating the mind on past, present, and, ineluctably, future calamity.

March 14, 2022

This is what you were born for by Francisco Goya.
Francisco Goya’s “This is what you were born for,” from his series “The Disasters of War” (1810-20).

War is the worst evil that people have inflicted upon one another, at costs to themselves, since some hominid discovered the lethal efficacy of rocks. It is waged continually somewhere or other in every generation, furiously now, in Ukraine, and fitfully in the Middle East and Africa. The recurring horror has paused on a global scale—holding its breath, you may feel—only because, post-Hiroshima, nuclear weaponry bodes suicide for the next power to use it. Or so we have thought, and perhaps still think, but with shaken complacency. What never ends is the primordial emotional tug toward organized mayhem, which is playing out, yet again, in Eastern Europe in the face of widespread revulsion. Putin: Monster! But a madman? Diagnosing him as such assumes that sanity is the normative state of people with power.

By an unforeseen coincidence, the Clark Art Institute, in Williamstown, Massachusetts, has opened a show, “As They Saw It: Artists Witnessing War,” that consists of archival prints, drawings, and photographs that historicize war’s sick seductiveness. The images are displayed chronologically, focussed by turns on the Napoleonic Wars, the Crimean War, the American Civil War, the Siege of Paris in 1870-71, and the First World War. The ensemble is a small, smattery affair that nonetheless concentrates the mind on past, present, and, ineluctably, future calamity. At its core is a slide show of Francisco Goya’s eighty intaglio prints, “The Disasters of War” (1810-20). For fear of censorship, the works were first published in 1863, as an album, thirty-five years after the artist’s death. The Clark owns a copy.

The “Disasters” are philosophically dire like nothing else in art history. Derived partly from Goya’s personal observation of battlefields, they begin soon after the onset of the Peninsular War, launched by Napoleon in 1808 with a misbegotten invasion of Spain, and proceed to gruesome renderings of war-induced famine and subsequent collisions of Royalist and liberal Spanish factions. They include instances of torture that make death seem merciful. Each of the plates zooms in on what the artist deemed an innate human capacity for savagery that never expires, persisting at a simmer in peacetime. What is it like to suffer atrocity and, alternatively, to perpetrate it? Goya generally plays no favorites among the parties to his nightmarish scenarios.

Jumping out at me is the twelfth plate, captioned “This is what you were born for,” in which a man vomits at the sight of heaped corpses. Though ugly, the man’s reaction is a rare hint, in the series, of compassionate feeling. He could be anyone civilized (that is, with inborn instincts inhibited) who comes upon carnage. By comparison, most of the other items in the show, with the exception of a sobering print by Édouard Manet, are banally or viciously propagandistic, demonizing enemies, or else remaining professionally detached—in either case, rhetorically akin to genres of spectator sport. Photographs can’t help spectacularizing violence, given that a disinterested object, the camera, is interposed between the viewer and the viewed. While perhaps stirring emotion, they are chiefly informational.

The same goes, in the show, for the rote thrills and martial sentiments of gaudy late-Baroque battle scenes; fetishized military garb and accoutrements that were popular magazine fare in the nineteenth century; and laconic reportage by the likes of Winslow Homer and Mathew Brady. All set us at a distance. Coping intimately with the truths of war requires either firsthand experience or, if one has blessedly been spared it, introspection, which Goya exercised in abyssal depth and which the news of our day might kindle in us.

In 1966, when my draft number came up, I presented myself at the Army Induction Center on Whitehall Street in Manhattan. I did so in a condition that was curatorially drug-addled, sleepless, and unwashed. Already underweight, more weak than strong, and chronically nerve-racked—I was not someone whose comradeship you’d want in your foxhole—I probably could have done without the frills, but fright drove me to load the odds in my salvific disfavor. Briskly rejected, I was giddy with relief.

Then shame set in. Another guy would have to go in what might, after all, have been my place. In addition, there was the betrayal of my youthful conviction that of course I would serve someday, as the firstborn son of a father who had won a medal during the Second World War, in the Battle of the Bulge. Only much later did I understand that he had probably incurred lifelong psychic hurt from the ordeal, which may have explained his jumpy elusiveness as a dad. Even now, at the Clark, I can summon tingles of the vicarious bloody glamour that, as a boy, I felt when I imagined my father’s war.

The Barricade by Édouard Manet.
“The Barricade,” by Édouard Manet, from 1871.

Wisdom came later, albeit incompletely. I am a frequent reader of military histories. I swear, especially, by the work of the late John Keegan, who is at once humane in his focus on the fates of common soldiers—in his breakthrough book, “The Face of Battle” (1976), he details the specific vicissitudes of those who fought at Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme—and unillusioned about the justifications, however compelling, that sent men into harm’s way and kept them there, whether from incentives of patriotism or, failing that, remorseless coercion.

Keegan, like Goya, leaves you with the belief that he sees war-making as hardwired in humanity. In “A History of Warfare” (1993), he noted that when the natives of Easter Island, after more than a millennium in isolation, fell to fighting over dwindling resources, they spontaneously hit upon two of the three classic means of defensive strategy: reinforced refuges and a huge ditch. (The island was too tiny to warrant the third expedient: regional fortresses.) Nor did the combatants need to consult the Iliad, say, to grasp what they were about. Havoc with obsidian spearheads developed naturally.

Do wars start with reasons? Always, and they accumulate supplementary imperatives from the first shot onward. You know that life is hell, someone once remarked, when you reflect that everyone has reasons, albeit often delusory. Keegan recalled that the deciders on all sides of the First World War, having been schooled in the Clausewitzian dogma that war is the continuation of politics by other means, directed a catastrophe that made practically no political sense whatsoever. Cause or no cause, war is something that people do because they can: it “reaches into the most secret places of the human heart,” Keegan wrote. Set aside for a moment the fact that the conduct of a war can ennoble even when the outcome is likely doomed, as is generally believed of the Ukrainians, led by the astonishing Volodymyr Zelensky.

Inevitably, one takes sides. I keep replaying the video of a Russian helicopter gunship being shot down with, I assume, a Western-gifted Stinger missile. I don’t like to think of the men who perished in that ball of fire. Instead, I contemplate the event as something cartoonishly abstract: the copter “Russia,” the missile “Ukraine.” It counts for something that the crew died while on a death-dealing mission, but they were fellow human beings. Simply, there’s no getting around the moral repercussions of a rooting interest once a conflict has been internalized.

Manet updated Goya in a modernizing, strangely urbane manner. He made his lithograph “The Barricade” in 1871, the same year as the deadly suppression of the Paris Commune, which he had witnessed. Soldiers let loose a volley at defenders of a street obstacle. We see only one victim distinctly, in a sophisticated composition that is largely obscured and formally flattened by a cloud of smoke, which effectively eliminates a middle ground between the shooters and the shot.

Had the scene’s passionate Communards been properly armed, they might have reversed their encounter with the dutiful soldiery, piling up uniformed bodies. They weren’t, and therefore couldn’t. Manet, for all his temperamental sympathy with the rebels, doesn’t dramatize the slaughter. He fatalistically records it. Whatever uncertainty attends a war’s commencement, each conflict ends with facts. Artists have no say in the matter, but, if they are honest about a phenomenon that makes a treason of honesty, they can at least disabuse us of naïve projections.

Goya’s penultimate “Disaster” depicts a glowing female figure supine, and apparently lifeless, amid a mob of standing monsters. The caption reads, “Truth has died.” The following, final image, “Will she rise again?,” repeats the same composition. The woman’s posture and hopeless situation are unchanged. Only, in this one, she has opened her eyes. ♦

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TRAMPS! looks at the art movement behind the The New Romantics – CBC.ca

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TRAMPS! (Game Theory Films)

Cutaways is a personal essay series where filmmakers tell the story of how their film was made. This is one of 5 essays from directors featured at the 2022 Inside Out 2SLGBTQ+ Film Festival

Rising from the nihilistic ashes of the punk movement in the late 1970s, a fresh crowd of flamboyant fashionistas, who would later be christened the New Romantics, began to materialize on the streets of London, England. 

My new feature film, TRAMPS! repositions the iconic 80s subculture as an art movement rather than solely a pop-cultural one.

This period in British history was particularly unique because kids could attend art or fashion school for free, and also lived in massive squatted houses with other fledgling artists. In a pre-AIDS era, this way of living provided a lifestyle with very little sense of consequence and resulted in a flourish of art being produced that straddled film, music, art and fashion causing waves around the world that resonate to this day. 

Their radical, proto-drag confused the media, who couldn’t look away — like a cultural car crash, and soon enough they were brought into homes internationally with the rocket-like rise-to-fame of the likes of Boy George and his band Culture Club.

TRAMPS! (Game Theory Films)

The idea for the film originates back to my trip to London, England with my first movie back in 2013. Admittedly, I came to the city with a well-developed obsession with UK music, arts and subculture going all the way back to my youth. I was struck by the proximity of these artists who were both central to my preexisting obsessions, and those who permeated the margins of the cultures I had come to love. 

I knew straight away that I needed to spend time getting under its skin for my next movie, and it wasn’t until a series of coincidences revealed to me what that movie would be, that things started falling into place.

As my research plunged to its depths I realized that I wanted to shift the focus away from megastars and instead shine a light on people like painter Trojan, who had to this point been thrust into the shadows of his partner in crime, performance artist Leigh Bowery. These shadows were also cast by the onslaught of AIDS and rampant drug use, which effectively banished so much of the creative community to obscurity. 

I crossed paths with incredible artists like fashion designers BodyMap, jewelry designer and stylist extraordinaire Judy Blame, choreographer Michael Clark and style icons Princess Julia and Scarlett Cannon. I was obsessed with their images, having permeated the pages of revolutionary cultural magazines like I-D and The Face, but seemed to flounder in terms of being celebrated as part of this movement which really was born out of a diversity of art practises, rather than strictly pop music aimed at straight people and dominant culture.

TRAMPS! (Game Theory Films)

For me, TRAMPS! is a movie about youth culture, the central characters just happen to be more advanced in their years. Of course, night life in London still thrives, and although they seem to be slipping away to the annals of the digitization of gay culture, the East End alternative gay bars still teem with boundary pushing queer artists and festive freaks. DJ’s like Princess Julia and Jeffrey Hinton are still very much at the centre of it. They’ve been at it since the early 80s — Jeffrey Hinton was the resident DJ at Leigh Bowery’s nightclub Taboo, which was infamously debaucherous. 

People like Julia and Jeffrey are a well of energy and I was eager to dip my bucket in! I wanted to bridge the gap between the archaic divide between so-called “kids these days” and the generations that predated them. I think the adage goes, if you’re not interested, you’re not interesting. The subjects in my film continue to engage with and produce art in whatever guise that may be — even just dressing up! 

Making a documentary can be pretty depleting, especially when you spend years chasing pennies from granting bodies. For me that also extended into a sense of unworthiness — like the project I cared so deeply for didn’t have the worth I felt it had. It can also be costly in many other ways, such as a forced unsustainable lifestyle, especially when other filmmakers seem to sail through things like financing and distribution, where I felt I was destined to flounder. 

That’s why when I would look at the subjects in TRAMPS! I began to see them not as just members of bygone subculture, but instead as a sort of mystical source of inspiration. To be an artist is to be a survivalist, resilience is at its centre, and so the narrative of the movie began to develop around those themes. Because I needed to hear it, I assumed others like me would also benefit from their secrets. What was the source of that resilience? How do they survive? How will I continue to make art and survive? 

TRAMPS! (Game Theory Films)

The New Romantics were essentially living what we are now seeing in what is sometimes referred to as the precariat generation; those whose income and employment are entirely insecure today. While working small jobs in friends shops, and a variety of other side gigs, trying to survive while making this movie — this fear-filled existence became central in my life and the narrative of the movie as well. Very dramatic I know, but these are undeniably dramatic times. 

I hoped the answer, and inspiration to continue down this path existed somewhere in their story.  This was the inspiration I needed to grow as a filmmaker and as a person, and so TRAMPS! was born.

I wanted to find some tenderness in a community that was so well-known for its aesthetic alone, and through this concept and cliché of the “artists struggle” I feel we really did find a lot of heart in that. It wasn’t until the movie was invited to play BFI Flare, and I stood on the stage at two sold out screenings that I realized that pursuit I so desperately needed to continue, truly did manifest in this documentary. I’m so excited to be able to share that with anyone and everyone who may continue to be in that position. 

Ultimately, TRAMPS! is an allegorical gesture to artists of any generation trying to navigate how to produce work in an aggressively capitalist political economy. It happens to take place in London, but I hope it speaks to artists everywhere.


TRAMPS! screens in Toronto at the Inside Out 2SLGBTQ+ Film Festival on Tuesday, May 31. It is available to stream across Ontario from May 26 to June 5.

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Downtown Art Alley unveiled – Windsor Star

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An expanded art space, illuminated by colourful overhead lanterns and lush hanging flower baskets, now greets visitors to what was a dark, dingy alley behind the Pelissier Street parking garage.

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Officially unveiled Thursday, Art Alley is a vibrant, colourful public space that its creator, the Downtown Windsor Business Revitalization Association, hopes will attract visitors to the city core.

With support from the Downtown Windsor Business Improvement Association, the Downtown Districting Committee, the City of Windsor and partner contractors, and $25,000 from the federal government’s Healthy Communities Initiative, the laneway transformed into an outdoor art gallery.

“On behalf of the Downtown Windsor Business Revitalization Association, I cannot express how delighted we are to unveil one of the most exciting, innovative and collaborative projects the board has ever seen,” said Pat Papadeas, vice-chairwoman of the DBRWA board of directors.

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Public spaces like this one are glue in our communities

These works encompass significant art installations in the core and include graffiti art installations and the magnificent lampshade art installation dreamed up, developed and dedicated by some of the region’s finest artists.”

Art in the air: Phase one of Art Alley, located north of Maiden Lane, between Pelissier Street and Ouellette Avenue, is unveiled during a press event highlighting the $794,000 in funding provided to projects as part of the Canada Healthy Communities Initiative, on Thursday, May 27, 2022.
Art in the air: Phase one of Art Alley, located north of Maiden Lane, between Pelissier Street and Ouellette Avenue, is unveiled during a press event highlighting the $794,000 in funding provided to projects as part of the Canada Healthy Communities Initiative, on Thursday, May 27, 2022. Photo by Dax Melmer /Windsor Star

Papadeas credited artists Julia Hall, Kiki Simone, Talysha Bujold-Abu, Tony Castro, Ostoro Petahtegoose and graffiti artist DERKZ, for the dazzling display.

“Public spaces like this one are glue in our communities,” said Richard Wyma, chairman of the WindsorEssex Community Foundation board of directors. “They enable a feeling of belonging and social cohesion.

“They’re a big part of what makes community’s safe and vibrant and connected.”

Wyma said the WindsorEssex Community Foundation worked alongside community foundations from across southwestern Ontario to determine recipients of $794,000 as part of the second round of the Canada Healthy Communities Initiative.

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Seven local projects shared $165,000.

Wyma said funding was allocated to projects in three overall categories — safe and vibrant public spaces, improved mobility options and digital solutions.

The other local recipients include Bike Windsor Essex for its Safe Windsor Cycling program, CJAM FM student media to support its technology lending library program, the Downtown Windsor Business Accelerator supporting its development of the accelerator community patio, Essex County Library supporting its library book bike and mobile information kiosk program, the Polish People’s Home Association supporting the creation and transformation of an eco-friendly pavilion for safe gatherings and the Rotary Club of Windsor 1918 for Windsor Essex Rainbow Alliance supporting the re-development and enhancement of Lanspeary Park.

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Art Alley was made possible in part thanks to the $794,000 in funding provided to projects as part of the Canada Healthy Communities Initiative, on Thursday, May 27, 2022. The Downtown Windsor Business Revitalization Association’s Art Alley is one of the projects funded through the initiative.
Art Alley was made possible in part thanks to the $794,000 in funding provided to projects as part of the Canada Healthy Communities Initiative, on Thursday, May 27, 2022. The Downtown Windsor Business Revitalization Association’s Art Alley is one of the projects funded through the initiative. Photo by Dax Melmer /Windsor Star

Windsor-Tecumseh MP Irek Kusmierczyk said the goal of the fund is to bring the community and community partners together.

“Wow, this is absolutely incredible,” Kusmierczyk said. “Look at this. This is an absolutely incredible transformation.

“And it takes a little bit of vision, it takes a little bit of hard work. And it also takes collaboration and partnerships and this is the end result.”

Ward 3 councillor Rino Bortolin was praised by both Papadeas and Kusmierczyk for his tireless work to improve the downtown area and especially to bring out the potential of the city’s alleys.

“There’s been no bigger, better champion for downtown than Rino Bortolin,” Kusmierczyk said. “I wanted to thank you Coun. Bortolin for your vision, your steadfast advocacy.”

Thursday’s reveal was just the first phase of the development of Art Alley, according to Papadeas, who hinted that another announcement will soon be coming regarding the newly updated space.

“This is not scientific, but our sense is that 80 per cent of any issues we have downtown will actually solve themselves by people being down here,” she said. “People moving, people walking, people shopping, people sitting around and enjoying the day.

“This is a welcoming space and this is for the community.”

jkotsis@postmedia.com

twitter.com/KotsisStar

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Your Arts Council talks Cornwall Art Walk, Apples & Art at AGM – Standard Freeholder

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Your Arts Council (YAC) hosted its annual general meeting (AGM) on Tuesday, and the organization is looking forward to upcoming community events.

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To kick off the meeting, YAC executive director Richard Salem discussed some of the upcoming art-focused initiatives that are happening throughout the region. This included chatting about the 31st Apples and Art Studio Tour, which typically spans a weekend in September. The tour has 39 confirmed artists participating so far, across 26 locations. Registration is due at the end of May.

Salem also discussed two events taking place this coming Saturday.

One is Art For All at the Cornwall Square, hosted by Cornwall Art Hive. This weekend’s event is set to host representatives from the international Art Hive initiative, to see what is being created in Cornwall, and discuss future opportunities.

And, the city will be unveiling its First Paint Brush event in Lamoureux Park on Saturday. This wall art event, hosted in partnership with Cornwall Art Hive and YAC, will create a focus on local street art, with the possibility of future expansion.

In terms of ongoing projects, Salem said YAC is looking to pick up its YouTube series profiling local artists again come fall. The long-term intention of this vignette-style project is to archive artists’ information, and advertise our art-positive community.

“There’s a lot of events now that things are starting to open up, and we are doing are best to publicize them,” said Salem.

  1. Local artist Yafa Goawily showing a mandala she created, on Saturday, during the first Art 4 All event. Handout/Cornwall Standard-Freeholder/Postmedia Network

    Cornwall Hive’s Art 4 All event hopes to grow

  2. The Your Arts Council of Cornwall and SDG unveiled a new logo in collaboration with the Cornwall Art Hive at its general meeting on Tuesday, June 22, 2021 over Zoom. Handout/Cornwall Standard-Freeholder/Postmedia Network

    Your Arts Council struggled in pandemic, but excited for the year ahead

  3. The old Bank of Montreal building on Pitt Street on Friday July 6, 2018 in Cornwall, Ont. The building will soon become Cornwall's new arts centre.
Lois Ann Baker/Cornwall Standard-Freeholder/Postmedia Network

    YAC interested in running Cornwall’s arts centre

Mandy Prevost, Cornwall Art Walk co-ordinator, discussed what can be expected June 24 and Aug. 26, such as art of all natures — including visual art demonstrations, musicians, and acting performances. She was excited to announce the event has received a $5,000 grant from the Tourism Development Corp. of Cornwall

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YAC’s new chairperson Neil Carriere shared some words of optimism to close out the meeting.

“I was embraced by this incredible, creative, dynamic, wonderful community that I really didn’t know existed until I kind of got into it myself. And this is kind of something I think we should be shouting from the rooftops: what a wonderful art community we have here in Cornwall,” said Carriere.

Carriere spoke highly of the Art Walk and is looking forward to seeing residents out, enjoying each other’s creations. He said he believes now that COVID-19 restrictions are shifting, artists are hungry to create a powerful difference.

“We need to show our presence in this city with the arts. I think we can be that presence,” he said, suggesting Cornwall can be recognized as a city for its great art.

While treasurer Jenelle Bulloch was unable to attend the AGM, financial records indicate that YAC received $22,000 in grants in 2021, contributing to an overall revenue of $38,286. Expenses were reduced this year, coming in at a total of $30,286, for special projects, salaries, insurance, and more.

shoneill@postmedia.com

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