turning the page

Imagine, the history of the nation hinged on an art book. One of the most dangerous anti-apartheid activists was arrested while reading an art book? What book? Until we find out, we can only speculate, that either it was a Dada, surrealist or abstract art book that sought a clear break from tradition, a rupture from art history, or a work of Old Masters rooted in the humanism going back to antiquity.

---Book publisher Benedikt Taschen, left, and photographer Helmut Newton pose with a copy of Sumo, a book of Newton's photographs. The first copy, autographed by more than 80 of the celebrities featured in it, sold for $430,000 in 2000, and broke all previous records to become the most expensive book produced in the 20th century---Read More:http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/gallery/2009/aug/18/limited-edition-photography-books

Perhaps he was perusing Max Ernst’s Une Semaine de Bonté  which were  collages from  images and photos  from Victorian books, or, Marcel Duchamp’s cover for Le Surréalisme’ , published just after the war which was a  three-dimensional pink breast made of latex. Or, socialist  Russian  Alexei Remizov who picked up on on medieval Russian literature,  then combining it with  dreams and reality.

Read More:http://www.nickteplov.com/commissioned/remizov/

…When Denis Goldberg looks back on his life as the top-ranking white South African revolutionary and a former maximum-security prisoner, the memories become infused with ideology, intellectualism and irony. In June, 1963, South African security forces captured the short, stocky military leader of the anti apartheid African National Congress in a hideout outside Johannesburg, along with the rest of the ANC leadership.

---Catherine Deneuve (1983), one of Helmut Newton's celebrity subjects in Sumo--- Read More:http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/gallery/2009/aug/18/limited-edition-photography-books#/?picture=351740762&index=1

Goldberg was caught because he had hung around after a secret meeting to browse through an art book.

Goldberg and five others, including national ANC chief Nelson Mandela, were sentenced to life in prison for plotting to overthrow the Pretoria government by force. For the next 22 years he languished in prison, his devout Marxism and violent revolutionary convictions unshaken. Because he is white, South African officials considered him doubly dangerous.( Jonathan Broder, 1985 ) Read More:http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1985-03-21/news/8501160166_1_anc-leadership-denis-goldberg-nelson-mandela

Its hard to know what fateful light struck Goldberg to relax with an art book. Was it a contemplation on the influence of modern media on the social consequences of art? Or the influence of film on our way of perception and measure of mediating images? In any event, its refreshing to know he wasn’t reading the racing results or the horoscope page. But, maybe it comes back to the Marxist conception of art which leads us to Benjamin, and his “angel of history” , and ramblings on messianic violence. That is, how to reconcile political violence with a utopian vision, an idealistic which rubbed against nihilism. Could he have surmised on the confusion of revolution as product and commodity; products of distraction and entertainment , an aesthetic equivalent to the production of works of art. In Marxist terms that Walter Benjamin employed, they may just be different commodities geared to different markets, with unique contexts.

---Rembrandt. Beggars at the Doorstep.---Contrary to the basic assumptions in Marxist utopianism, Horkheimer assumed that as long as some amount of freedom persisted collective violence would also persist. He equally opposed the idea of merging freedom and justice in the future ideal society: he argued that there was no room for positive utopianism because in principle freedom and justice were opposed. "In the end, whatever hopes Marx did hold on behalf of true society, apparently they seem to be the wrong ones, if - and this issue is important for Critical Theory - freedom and justice are interlaced in a mutual opposition; the more justice there is, freedom will diminish accordingly” Read More:http://construct.haifa.ac.il/~ilangz/Utopia4.html

Most central to Benjamin’s project is the critique of allegory, understood as a real religious position. In a surrealistic manner his position is close to the Cabalistic, lacking a positive religious faith. His pessimism discloses the presence of violent conflict between two tendencies: a positive optimistic utopian tendency and a pessimistic – the latter culminating in a negative utopianism and merging into the tradition of thought of Jewish redemption. His pessimism discloses the presence of violence within the continuity of “the whole time everything is the same” as a cosmic fate, a fate grounded in mystic necessity. He regards reality as essentially tragic, jet not as a partial historical stage or as an accident, but as normality itself. “The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’, in which we live is not an exception, but a rule.” The fact that “everything continues as usual” is the eternal “catastrophe,” which according to Benjamin discloses the boundless dominance of the mythical. This is the basis of the “Kafka-like situation,” which determine

e subject as described in the article “Franz Kafka.” The “original sin” makes itself present at each moment in history, and according to Benjamin it turns out to be a reaction to the subject’s being a victim of cosmic injustice permanently directed against him. Read More:http://construct.haifa.ac.il/~ilangz/Utopia4.html  …

---Ernst Kirschner. ---However, the earth on which enlightenment has exhausted itself radiates a terrifying victory of the enslavement of man to non-intelligible, almighty forces. Modern - and more specially postmodern man - controls nature relentlessly, and such enslavement places him within a reality in which his sovereignity is more limited than that of those men who lived a life of misery and fear in the mythical culture. This position is closely related to Benjamin's conception of the struggle of the divine power with mythical violence. Like Benjamin before him, Horkheimer did not present this reality as a malfunction in the serene march of enlightenment towards the perfection of humanity, but identified its cause in the essence of enlightenment itself and in the essence of existence. He did not locate enlightenment's origins in the 18th century but already at the dawn of western civilization, at the foundation of culture. Culture essentially means oppression. "Culture has developed with the protection of the executioner... All work and pleasure are protected by the hangman. To contradict this fact is to deny all science and logic. It is impossible to abolish...terror and retain civilization. Even the lessening of terror implies a beginning of the process of dissolution" Read More:http://construct.haifa.ac.il/~ilangz/Utopia4.html

…Dadaists destroyed the aura of art and outraged the public. Film is shock replaced by shock….The artist enters the painting — the masses absorb the work of art. Concentration is contrasted with distraction. The public is a distracted examiner. (Modes of perception are altered in the masses, through film.)…Fascism allows masses to express themselves, not changing the property relations. War delivers the artistic gratification of a sense of perception altered by technology. Arts’s self-alienation can experience its own annihilation. The aestheicizing of politics by fasicm, countered by the politicizing of art by communism…. ( Walter Benjamin )
Dennis was a member of the Congress of Democrats, which carried out work among white South Africans. He recalls, “You would knock on a door wanting to talk to people and you’d say ‘I’d like to talk to you about the pass laws.’…

---Slim Aarons's book, A Wonderful Time (1974), collected together his portraits of glamorous celebrities and their parties. It has had continuing commercial success, with first editions fetching up to £650. In this picture, author Truman Capote poses with a book and cigarette in his New York apartment--- Read More:http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/gallery/2009/aug/18/limited-edition-photography-books#/?picture=351768232&index=4

“‘We don’t like communists,’ would be the reply. It was automatic. If you opposed apartheid then you had to be a communist. The fact that some of us were is irrelevant.

“Being in favour of apartheid was seen as being anti-communist and being anti-communist was justified. I raise this because this is one of the big defences used by the security police and the agents of apartheid for their murders and violence. They did it in the name of anti-communism.”…

---This gentle giant of a man is an engaging speaker and a lover of the hand-crafted and the lovingly made. However, towards the end of his talk, I found myself feeling more and more uncomfortable. Was it because I could never see myself living in a bomb ruined house in Afghanistan for months to photographically document US Marines? Or that I would never place myself at the kind of risk required to photograph 'Raskols' with their home-made weapons in Port Moreseby. I'm still not sure where my discomfort lies. But I think it has something to do with this perceived and probably real contradiction: An artist producing high value artworks to be consumed by an elite, made possible by taking images of the dispossessed, disadvantaged, or those in peril.--- Read More:http://www.schuetzdesign.com/2011_05_01_archive.html

…In 1960 Dennis was detained for four months under the State of Emergency after the Sharpeville massacre and lost his job in the process. The failure of political progress by peaceful means led to a new strategy of armed struggle by the anti-apartheid forces and Dennis joined the African National Congress’s armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK)….

---"Cover for Le Surréalisme en 1947, (Prière de Toucher) ," 1947, Marcel Duchamp --- Read More:http://joshuaabelow.blogspot.com/2011/02/cover-for-le-surrealisme-en-1947-priere.html

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One Response to turning the page

  1. Dear Dave,

    Glad to see Remizov’s illustrations on your blog. One tiny correction, he was far from being a “socialist,” in fact, he was quite apolitical his entire life despite being sentenced as a political prisoner and sent to Siberia in the 1890s. He was simply walking home that day, and ran into a demonstration. The police arrested two people and Remizov was one of them.
    If you would like to see more of his artwork (he was an incredible graphic artist) please take a look at my recent illustrated monograph “Beyond Symbolism and Surrealism: Alexei Remizov’s Synthetic Art” published by Northwestern University Press earlier this year. Here is a link to it: http://www.nupress.northwestern.edu/Title/tabid/68/ISBN/0-8101-2617-6/Default.aspx

    Julia Friedman

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