in-between

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They say your home is where your heart is

But what if your heart is always

in-between

Climbing up mountains
Running down with rivers
Dreaming under stars

Home is with those you love
But what if you love the wind,
the rain
Sky splattered with clouds or stars or airplane trails

What if you love the road,
the leaving,
the returning,
the hundred-thousand steps

in-between

Where, then, is home?

All content copyright Anni Kruus 2017

Impromptu musings on Ana Mendieta and phenomenology

“…the human body provides the fundamental mediation point between thought and the world. The world and the subject reflect and flow into each other through the body that provides the living bond with the world.”

Maurice Merleau-Ponty: Phenomenology of Perception

Ana Mendieta was a Cuban artist and a refugee in America from the age of 12, escaping Fidel Castro’s regime with her family. Her artworks in land-art, video, sculpture and photography are all centered  around the relationship of the body and landscape, our physical connection the earth. The artist herself states that the intention of the work is to repair the bond the she lost to her homeland as an adolescent, to address the displacement and feeling of otherness as an immigrant in the US. The mythical link of femininity and nature – the presence of the concept of Mother Earth; but also effects of colonialism and the violence that women’s bodies in areas of civil unrest are subjected to, are powerful readings of Mendieta’s Silueta series.

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The Silueta are sort of land sculptures preserved in photographs – and there is a vast collection of them, created through Ana’s career. She would create silhouettes of her own body in grass, dirt, snow etc. sometimes using plants to enhance the outline, sometimes digging, and later, blood. Sometimes she would be present in the flesh, and sometimes the work would be a performance rather than a sculpture. What connects all of the Silueta is the raw, corporeal connection to the Earth, performed countless times in different locations like a compulsive search for a connection with one’s surroundings, a desire to return to the roots of one’s being.

What strikes me as fascinating is that seeking of tangible relationship to Earth, especially today when we live most of our lives through digital media. At the time of their making, the Silueta were very much a commentary on feminism, violence and cultural identity. Those critiques are obviously still just as relevant. However, these earth-body works can also illustrate the ever-growing concern of the state of the environment and the detachment to nature in our everyday lives. The force with which Mendieta inserts her body into the landscape, becoming part of it has the effect of being shaken awake from a slumber; do I remember how it feels to lay on grass, make snow angels or be buried in fine sand on a beach?

Although Ana Mendieta’s work is political and serious, springing from a chaotic experience of displacement, there is also joy and a sense of security in it. In phenomenology, the approach to the world is to observe whatever sensations and experiences are present in consciousness. It is sort of an immersive way of studying the surrounding world and phenomena through direct experience. As such, this is not a particularly scientific method of discovery, but one that focuses on the subjective realities that each of experience.

The body is the vantage point from which the world is apprehended, and through the combination of physical and sensory input, one’s experience becomes part of the fabric of reality. There is also an interesting parallel to vipassana meditation, which I practice irregularly. The whole point of that school of meditative practice is to simply observe whatever rises in consciousness whether it be a physical sensation, a sound or a worry – none of those are more or less important pieces of reality at that moment; they just happen to draw our attention. Especially the practice of walking meditation seems to be connected to the notion of body as a mediator between things we understand as internal or external to our minds. The meticulous, conscious act of lifting, moving and placing one’s feet one at a time creates spatial awareness and builds one’s understanding of space and place from the bottom up unlike the all-too familiar reality in which we live most of our lives in: the constant hurrying from point A to B while looking at our phones and being irritated by slow walkers blocking the way to the soon closing train doors.

Going back to Silueta, as physical imprints, immobile and quiet, they speak loudly a message of grounded, self-aware existence. Despite the morbid link, which the crime scene like outlines of bodies of Silueta have, to the way the artist passed away; by falling from the 34th floor onto the roof of a below deli, the work is more about action, overcoming and strength; and less about defeat and victimhood. Albeit mere shapes of bodies on the ground, their raised hands and sheer physicality of being dug, drawn and shaped in the earth, they seem oddly full of live.

Le Trajet and The Pre-Raphaelite obsession with dying ladies

Le Trajet | Romaine Brooks | C. 1900

Le Trajet | Romaine Brooks | C. 1900

As I’ve previously referred to my profound fascination of Pre-Raphaelite art, and its symbolically saturated way of replaying feminine tropes, I thought I’d share a bit of picture research and analysis with you. A chapter in Bram Dijkstra’s Idols of Perversity discusses how the ‘cult of invalidism’ encouraged Victorian women to both physically and mentally sacrifice themselves in order to arrive at the pinnacle of femininity as defined by men in power. Historically physical prowess has not been among the most sought for and admired feminine qualities but in the tour-de-siècle environment where frailty and submissiveness were regarded as particularly desirable, any demonstration of female empowerment received moral scorn. It is not a massive stretch to make a connection to the first-wave feminist movement that started fighting for women’s rights by campaigning for equal vote.  The ruling elite’s unease of the thought of sharing political and social power translated to visual art, among other things, in the form of strictly conservative stereotypes of women as fragile, controllable and unthreateningly simple.
The stirring term ‘Cult of Invalidism’ connotes an aura of mystery and underlying plot – and indeed, numerous depictions of thin, sickly, sleeping and dead women from the late 19th and early 20th centuries suggest an increasing popularity of fetishising physical and mental invalidity in women.

Carl Larsson C. 1899

Convalescence | Carl Larsson | C. 1899

Ophelia 1851-2 Sir John Everett Millais,

Ophelia | Sir John Everett Millais | 1851

Romaine Brooks’ painting from the early 1900’s, Le Trajet (The Crossing) portrays a pale, naked androgynously thin woman lying on her deathbed, detached from the reality surrounded by bluish darkness. There is nothing hinting at he surrounding environment or preceding events. Even in her deathlike sleep, the woman has been positioned generously on display, her hips turned towards the spectator to offer a direct view on her hairless pubis; her hair brushed back, pouring over the pillow like a black stream merging with the dark background, leaving every inch of her anorexic body bare. Bram Dijkstra sees this particular image as representative of the self-abusive fashion in which women of the time tried to be in control of their lives “through a supposedly self-elected ideal of physical invalidism and consumptive fragility” – that is, by carrying out the patriarchal ideal of femininity to the point of starvation and catching grave diseases in a desperate quest to become perfect, these women could experience the only form of control of themselves that was allowed by their restricted role in the society. Le Trajet fully conforms to the ideal of a porcelain woman whose starved, childlike body has no imprint of sexuality; whose bony limbs offer no resistance; and whose state of unconsciousness makes her utterly vulnerable to the gaze and actions of the spectator.
A detail that doesn’t quite match up is that the artist, Romaine Brooks, was a woman, and openly lesbian no less. The woman in the painting was her lover at the time, Ida Rubinstein, a Russian ballet dancer and a sort of a beauty icon of the time. It seems puzzling that an otherwise non-conforming artist who was known for cross-dressing would portray another woman in such a way. Why go along with the prevailing, destructive view of femininity? Perhaps there is an illusion of control there: that shrinking into skin and bones is really a way of taking back the ownership of one’s body.
This notion is nowadays supported by a number of  psychological studies into eating disorders – especially in instances where they coincide with sexual trauma. Some sexual abuse survivors cope with their trauma by attacking against their own body; through food restriction, purging and losing weight, the victims are able to feel like their bodies are again under their control. Another aspect is the desire to make oneself unattractive and small – in a way invisible to another attacker. But whether one is rebelling against society on the whole or a sole perpetrator, the war is really being fought within her body, and there is no winner in such a war.
For compelling and eye-opening survivor stories I would recommend a brilliant podcast called The Mental Illness Happy Hour. On the ripples of sexual trauma and eating disorders: Episode 74Episode 70 and Episode 14.

The thin figure of Ida Rubinstein seems lifeless apart from her elevated chin. She is limp but the strong profile of her face bears a shade of assertiveness. Furthermore, the eeriness of a pale figure on an equally white bed floating in nondescript darkness creates an emotional distance between the viewer and the painting. The lack of colour, objects and landscape renders the scene a very surreal one. There is nothing to reveal details of the woman’s life or personality; she is just a ghostly human figure between in a state of death or sleep. And perhaps there is the key to her existence in this scenario. Removed from a bourgeois family setting or a compelling story, she only exists in and for herself. The two most popular scenarios for these all but dead ladies were the domestic and the fantasy. Ophelia and Sleeping Beauty come up regularly alongside with bourgeois ladies tucked in their beds, immobilised by an illness.

Sleeping Beauty | Henry Meynell Rheam | C. 1899

Sleeping Beauty | Henry Meynell Rheam | C. 1899

Brooks’s woman wears no traces of physical, emotional or spiritual connection to anything outside of herself, and that makes her different from other women portrayed like her. The convention was to implant these sickly women in domestic settings with friends and family, where their weakness was juxtaposed with the vitality of their family members, expressing concern, sorrow, despair over her state. Brooks has not portrayed her muse fainting in a man’s arms, nor being surrounded by grieving friends and children.

The Convalescent | Gustave Léonard de Jonghe | 1893

The Convalescent | Gustave Léonard de Jonghe | 1893

Peaceful and alone, she simply is. Moreover, at the time Romaine Brooks was practicing art, the nude was a controversial topic for a woman to paint, and so already by definition Le Trajet – as well as many other artworks by the artist – is more than its surface at first suggests. What is most fascinating to me is the subtlety with which certain conventions of image making were rooted in the aesthetics that still prevail. The reclining female body continues to inhabit the space of admiration and visual pleasure in the contemporary mind in whatever setting it may be.

Tattoo musings

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I thought I had sort of narrowed down the kind of content I was going to be posting here but as it turns out  random topics – or formats – outside my predetermined spectrum keep popping up. And who am I to resist the urge to write when the mood strikes?
With this briefer than brief prologue let’s jump into the world of tattoos, or rather one specific tattoo: my most recent one.

For some of us, tattoos are a way of self-expression, for others they represent significant things in their life. One gets a tattoo because they like the look of it, the other builds an image around a carefully thought out concept. Personally, my tattoos must have a meaning deeper than their aesthetic. I had my first one designed by a friend following my instructions, the second I borrowed from the cover art of an album, and the third was an idea, sparked by words. I simply told the tattoo artist this:
“I want a small green butterfly, on the right side of my neck. No outlines, just a splash of colour. About 5 centimetres across.”

Here, I have to cross over to a topic that I more than enjoy talking about, but that I usually refrain from writing about especially if I’m attempting to seem like I know what I’m saying. See, the source of the words that morphed into my latest tattoo, is one so emotionally laden for me that discussing it in a calm and collected manner feels like holding my breath while running up the stairs. This is a territory that my analytical grip cannot reach despite my best efforts. You are possibly wondering what sort of deity or magic I am referring to, but rest assured it’s nothing more mysterious than a rock band. How’s that for an anti-climax?
I do actually have some thoughts on the nature of music, and why I find it so difficult to describe with words but that shall be a discussion for another day.

There’s this band called Nightwish. And everyone who knows me well and is reading this, I’m imagining all of you sitting there with a smug grin upon your faces because you know how much I’m struggling to keep this together. The danger of soppiness is looming.
All you really need to know about Nightwish is that their music has been one of the nearest and dearest things to me for about a decade now, and that many of my most vivid and treasured memories are related to it. For the longest time I wanted to get a Nightwish themed tattoo, but one that wouldn’t be super obvious e.g. the band members’ faces as a sleeve (not judging anyone who likes that sort of thing though). Long story short, from amongst gazillions of lyrics there was one passage that, at a certain moment just lit up in my mind. I’m picturing this as one of those cartoon moments where a lightbulb appears above your head.
This is how it goes:

An obese girl enters an elevator with me, all dressed-up fancy,
a green butterfly on her neck.
Terribly sweet perfume deafens me.
She’s going to dinner, alone.
That makes her even more beautiful.”

The simultaneous strength and fragility and everydayness of this situation always resonated with me, but then again, there are countless other bits in Nightwish lyrics that do. This it the one that feels personal enough to be the story of my tattoo though.

Let’s start with the butterfly. I am very profound when it comes to research, even the research of a tattoo. As I was already very drawn to how a butterfly would look like as an image on my skin, I focused on getting familiar with its symbolism. Across cultures and religions butterflies tend to represent some aspect of rebirth and freedom from earthly burdens. I don’t practice any religion but the thought of escaping from the weight of life is a compelling one; not through death but rather through dreaming, forgetting and letting go for a moment. A more mundane rebirth of the tired mind.
Very much alike, the colour green is the colour of life and growth. It can also be the colour of envy or of sickness, but perhaps the weightless existence of a butterfly can counteract those aspects; and of course any symbol carries a multitude of meanings depending on the person reading it. Nevertheless, my green butterfly is first and foremost a vessel of life and energy.
It is also a reminder of the temporariness of all things. The lifespan of a butterfly is brief, and its flight past one’s eyes easily missed in the blink of an eye. Kind of like the many little details of our everyday existence that are left unnoticed as we rush past them.

 Where is that girl in the lift in all this then?
Although obesity is heavily frowned upon and considered anything but beautiful in today’s world, in this context it seems to bear no more a negative than a positive connotation. However, for me the notion of physical bigness relates to a challenge of my own. I admittedly view myself through somewhat dysmorphic lenses. Separating the distorted picture from actuality is a struggle that perseveres, and although I have never actually been of a size considered obese, something like that is how I tend to experience my bodily form. And of course the majority of women can relate to the sense of unhappiness regarding their appearance.


I find the thought that the aloneness of this girl makes her “even more beautiful” a particularly endearing one. Going out alone is another strange social taboo. As if we weren’t good enough just to be by ourselves. As if loneliness, or aloneness ought to be kept from sight.
That girl then, being obese – yet dressing up, and being alone – yet going out, directly opposes what is considered normal and acceptable, thus rising above criticism to live her life with a lighter mind. To resist condoning to norms and expectations asks for a little bit of bravery and faith in oneself and that in the long run many of the things we are easily judged by don’t really matter all that much. In the whole of the universe a human lifetime is only a blip in time, which might sound dramatic and deep but what it really gives me, is perspective and the license to stop and appreciate all of those other small, temporary things that will be gone in the next minute.

And there is the story of my butterfly, and how it represents things that I aspire to be and things that I find important to remember.

Favourite non-fiction books: Part 2

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Here we have another instalment of my top non-fiction books to talk about today. All of the following four volumes are fairly new additions to my bookshelf but have immediately secured their place at my literary inspiration station. Being recent purchases I haven’t actually properly read through all of them, hence the little introductions/ reviews that you are about read are not conclusive in any way.
As if any of my ideas were. But let’s cut to the chase.

Barbara G. Walker: The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects

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I didn’t know I specifically needed a woman’s symbol book until I saw it.
This book is very simply exactly what its title implies – a dictionary of symbols related to women and femininity. I am fascinated by universal symbols, local symbols, religious symbols, you name it, and have been on the lookout for a symbol encyclopedia for quite while. More often than not these kinds of manuals are very pricey, and so I was thrilled to stumble upon this bargain at my local second hand book shop.
The Woman’s Dictionary has been divided into sub chapters where interrelated symbols can be studied individually as well as a group. Of course there is also an index at the end for when you want to find a specific object – or use the “blind selection method” and start reading from the first page that you happen upon. That’s how I usually do it.

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Whitney Chadwick: Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement

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This is another brilliant find from the aforementioned second hand book store (that I’m going to miss when I move next week!). I love surrealism, I love women and I love books. I used to browse through collective art books like this at my university library all the time, and I even wrote an essay about women and surrealism at one point of my studies. I don’t think I ever saw this particular one before because when I first leafed through the pages I discovered so much gorgeous, poignant art from the surrealist movement made by women that I had never seen before that it took my breath away. It is such a shame how women have historically been treated in the creative arts, how their art in any media has been erased from the art history.

In addition to the visuals, the essays in the book are also right up my alley discussing women’s place in the arts as primarily muses and the passive objects as opposed to active practitioners, and how the societal change has enabled them to start occupying a more visible and acknowledged space as creators and storytellers.
Nothing like a little bit of female empowerment to get those ideas coming.

Michael Gill: Image of the Body – Aspects of the Nude

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Guess what. Another bargain!
When I saw the cover of this book I instantly knew I was going to need it. If you read the first part of my favourite non-fiction books, you’ll know that the human body is one of the most fascinating things to me creatively and academically, and I will not stop hoarding related books. I have only read the first few chapters but based on that and a quick browse through, the book seems to offer a very rich view into the cultural history of the nude from the very first depictions of humans in pre-historic caves to contemporary photography.

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Quite unlike my usual experience with introduction chapters that feel like a never-ending hike through mud to the real content, this one was captivating on its own right. The cover photo that drew me in was in fact the theme of the intro. It is a commission made by Robert Mapplethorpe, and the creation of the image is described in such a detailed way, intertwined with paragraphs concerning those cave paintings that I mentioned, that I couldn’t but see it all happening right before my eyes. As a visual person I relish language that paints vivid pictures in my mind. And to be able to observe Mapplethorpe working with the models through the author’s eyes is quite unlike anything that I’ve read before. A big thumbs-up for this one!

Angus Hyland & Angharad Lewis: The Purple Book – Symbolism & Sensuality in Contemporary Art and Illustration

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Last but not least is my most recent gem, The Purple Book, which I first saw at Saatchi Gallery and fell in love at first sight (well actually my good friend Kimberley, pointed it out to me saying: “I found your book”). The price was a bit steep though, so I googled around until I found the best deal – nearly half of the original – and placed the order. Can you tell I’m a chronic bargain hunter?
Unlike all of the previous books that I’ve talked about this one is total eye candy with it’s canvas spine, purple and black divider pages and romantic typography. The content  consists of artwork from 23 contemporary artists paired with interviews, short stories and excerpts.

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Again I have only read the introduction and stared longingly at the pictures, and all I can say that it is a beautiful thing inside and out. Not to mention that purple is my favourite colour.
If you’re into tour-de-siécle kind of aesthetic and eroticism, dark romanticism, Tim Burton, Edgar Allan Poe, burlesque and sensual nudity this might be your cup of tea as much it is mine.

Of course, there are shelves upon shelves of other books that I’ve come across in my research that have left their mark. These are just the ones that either caught my eye in the right place at the right time, or I connected so deeply with that I just had to posses them.

Leave any recommendations below if you wish. One can never own too many books. Right?

Creative Ideas: Access Denied

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I have been in a very persistent state of creative block for several months now, not really knowing how to dodge it. However, very recently it seems like a glimmering light has appeared at the end of the tunnel, and suddenly I feel like I have some new insights into easing or even defeating that state of lacking productivity.

First of all, I think it’s important to accept that your artistic juices aren’t flowing like you’d want them to. Accept that it is goddamn frustrating that the most creative effort you can manage is the shopping list. Also remember that you are definitely not the only one having to fight the fight; everyone is sometimes faced with a brick wall.

Something that helps me to deal with the swamp of non-creativity is trying to work out whether there is anything going on in my life that could be the cause of it. For example, I’ve had a couple of stressful and ungrateful jobs that completely ate up my energy and motivation. I’ve also struggled with some mental health issues, and the change from university to working life has added its weight to the baggage to be sure. In this light, it isn’t such a curiosity that I’ve been lacking ideas and excitation. When you can name some of the things that might be taking over your mental capacity, leaving nothing for the arty side, it’s easier to get over the frustration of the situation.

So now that you’ve accepted you’ve hit a wall, and maybe understood some reasoning behind it, it’s time to do something that at least for me feels scary: take your mind off of it. Whatever creative task you need to be doing, just forget it for a couple of hours – or even days if you can. Do something else, something that you really genuinely enjoy. What works best with me is physically getting away from the place that I would otherwise be working at. Somewhere that I can be completely detached. A couple of weeks ago, I spent some time in Finland and went to see three incredible shows by my favourite band with some of my favourite people in the world. I didn’t spare a single thought to all of the wiring and image-making that I should be doing, but fully immersed myself in the experience. I returned home absolutely exhausted but also buzzing with new energy. I believe that creativity comes from a genuine place, a place of honesty and childlike wonder. Re-connecting with that place within you will most likely have a huge impact on your productivity and creativity.

Another thing that I always neglect is talking to other people about my work. In university, I got used to brainstorming with my peers and tutors, explaining my ideas, finding strengths and weaknesses and challenging my thinking. Out of the academia, not only do I not have the structured way of making work, but also there are no people at hand to discuss my research and practical issues with. Of course I can shoot a message at any one of my friends at any time, but the constant support of the peer group is just not there in the same way as it used to be. Having someone else give their opinion on your project is extremely valuable especially when they genuinely put their mind into it. For me, hearing someone talk about a project from three years ago was an eye-opening experience, which encouraged me to go back to it and expand those ideas. The most unlikely conversations can give you the best ideas, which leads us to my next point.

Keep an open mind. It’s sounds like a cliché but it rings true. Don’t try to assume how anything will unravel. Maybe the first way you’ve thought out of a problem is not the best one in the end. Maybe something that seems completely unrelated and irrelevant to what you are doing is exactly what you need in order to overcome your mental block. Creativity is after all, exploring and discovering something new.

Lastly, as a counteraction to my first pointer: instead of getting excited, get bored. When you’re sick of sitting with the non-existence of creative ideas, you automatically reach for a distraction. I play bubble shooter or hidden object games, and although sometimes the mechanic, mindless activity will actually help to massage those brain cells, just letting yourself be bored can be a whole other way to rekindle the artistic fire in your mind. For me this is again about being a little bit brave because in our world boredom is practically the worst faith anyone could be faced with. We all have the smartphones and tablets within an arm’s reach, and so we never have to just be with our thoughts in silence doing nothing, embracing the dullness of life. But how can we expect to come up with new ideas if our minds are constantly engaged with pointless distractions?
Maybe a creative block is just our minds’ way of saying: “give me a break, I need to rest”.

What helps you to find a way out of a mental dead end?

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty

DSC_1139The V&A Museum in London iscurrently hosting an exhibition of fashion designer Alexander McQueen’s work. It has been open since March but there is still a constant queue outside the dedicated gallery space. I went there already a month or two ago, but as the show is still on until August I thought I’d share my thoughts on it.
As soon as you enter the first room of the exhibition you’ll know it’s not going to be just another clothing exhibit. Then again, this is Alexander McQueen so you probably guessed that already. The visitor is immediately confronted with mortality as the artist’s suicide is addressed. A wall-sized video piece of his face slowly blending into an image of a skull in a completely dark room accompanied by an eerie soundtrack sets the mood for what’s to come – dark, romantic, thought-provoking.

Fashion is not really my forte, nor am I remarkably familiar with McQueen’s story as much as his reputation and a few key catwalk looks. So on that point of view the exhibition offered a lot of information about the designer and his path to success and fame. I read a few snippets here and there but the real strength of the show is in the visceral experience that the fantastical garments in cohesion with meticulously constructed gallery spaces including backdrops, lights, sounds and even air currents create. Having previously seen another fashion exhibition occupying the same space really emphasised how incredibly versatile white cubes are: how passive or active the environment can be in relation to the display. But back to Alexander. Can I call him Alexander? Are that close? Al, my pal. Maybe not.

The first room after the entrance video is an overview to the beginning of the artist’s take on the craft of dressmaking. We know Alexander McQueen’s collections as filled with romanticism and fantasy, over-the-top, sculptural, shocking works of art. He did begin with the basics though, and thought alike many other masters of their craft that in order for one to break the rules one first must know them like the back of their hand. That he did. I used to dabble in dressmaking so I know something about patterns and cuts, and how damn hard it is to make it all work out like it does in your head. Judging by the sculptural, asymmetrical shapes of the jackets and trousers on display, and the accompanying technical drawings, Alexander knew somewhat more than I. This first room is all about the form, and its dismantlement. It’s simple, all black and white and business throughout. It immediately guides the viewer’s gaze toward a principal element of McQueen’s work – the deconstruction and reconstruction of the form, whose primal beauty gets sometimes swallowed by the spectacle. It shows the integrity of the work, the craftsmanship, and the singularity of the man behind it.

Everything after the first room, the intro, is a rock concert. There is leather and lace, deep colours, bright colours, feathers, bones and fur, leaves, flowers and butterflies, regal gowns and latex hoods. The mood changes completely as you enter another room, and another. I can’t but marvel at how skilfully each room has been decorated to compliment the garments, worn by mannequins but seeming strangely alive. The clothes and accessories are absolutely stunning in their total disregard of such mundane things as gravity, and the imagination in the choice and combination of materials and colours can be added to the list of ‘things that blew my mind’. However it is always the form that my eyes fall back to. Most of the pieces can be viewed from all angles, granting rightfully earned attention to the three-dimensionality of their design. It’s almost infuriating how perfectly thought out these garments are; whichever point you choose to view them from, you’ll find something you couldn’t see before. They are essentially sculptures that look like something a human body could wear, and the overall curation of the exhibition does a wonderful  job at obscuring the line between art and fashion in Alexander McQueen’s legacy.

If I hadn’t seen this show and was reading what I just wrote I’d probably deem the writer a tiny bit mad for getting so emotional over some dresses on mannequins. Having seen it, I have no trouble understanding why Savage Beauty has been all the rage in London since its opening. It really is worth the hype. And just to add a few more degrees of choked-up-ness to this mess, I would say that the show is a worthy memorial to a brilliant artist who evidently was in a lot of pain. (I have a soft spot for brilliant suffering artists, don’t judge.) The gloomy beginning is cleverly mirrored by another video installation at the end of the show. In the enchanting hologram projection in the middle of a dark room a white dress worn by Kate Moss, floats and flutters in the wind making her look ethereal, like a fairy or an angel. Symbolic or not, Savage Beauty is one of the most memorable exhibitions I have visited in a long, long time.

→Exhibition info←

Favourite non-fiction books: Part 1

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It is sometimes (well, most of the time – let’s be real) hard to work out a topic to write about, so today I wanted to discuss some of my favourite books that I frequently use for research and inspiration. I won’t be doing in depth reviews of each of them as there are quite a few. Let’s just browse through the pile chronologically from when these publications made their way into my bookshelf.

William A. Ewing: The Body

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I bought this book on my first year of uni when I got really into the representation of body in photography. It’s a handy little (and when I say little – it’s actually pretty heavy) reference book of the body covering various types of photographic practices and artists. The content has been split into 12 chapters, each having their own angle into body-centred photography making it convenient for someone looking for a reference to a specific sub-topic within the practice. And because the titles can seem somewhat vague, to help the reader even further, there is an introduction of sorts preceding the actual content of the book briefly describing the central themes in each chapter. Accompanying essays offer invaluable insight to each theme expanding the reader’s perception.

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With a lot of artists and pictures, The Body is a really useful starting point for someone who’s interested in the human form in contemporary photography. It’s like a tasting menu with an abundance of dishes to try out. Quite a handful, this book, which is why sometimes the best approach is to just pick a page at random and start reading – or just look at the pictures.

Bram Dijkstra: Idols of Perversity – Fantasies of feminine evil in fin-de-siecle culture

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I only purchased this book recently but was already profoundly hooked on the second year of university when I first used it in one of my essays. Luckily no one else ever seemed to borrow this from the library so I got to keep it to myself most of the time. About a month ago I finally found a good deal online for a used item and now it is officially mine.

The title is pretty specific about the content which is a blessing for both you and I as I cannot promise that my explanation of what Idols of Perversity is all about would do it justice.

It is the book that got me into pre-Raphaelite art and the surrounding Victorian culture. To me this is the book. It is full of absolutely fascinating research about the school of painters in the turning point of 19th and 20th centuries. Not only am I completely obsessed about the double standards of the Victorian culture, the madwomen at the wake of psychiatry, the rich symbolism in pre-Raphaelite painting and the strange beliefs combined of myths, legends, religion and science, but the way in which the author brings his research into words is captivating, poetic – and hence for some readers probably unbearably annoying. So who should read this book? Someone enthralled by symbolism, Shakespearean mythology and Victorian society in the context of how women were perceived, treated and represented in art. Maybe someone who likes the word ‘enthralling’ ?

I am practically married to this book.

Judith Butler: Bodies That Matter – On the discursive limits of “sex”

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Oh Judith – my favourite person!
I found Judith Butler at some point in university but became a full on fangirl only after finding some of her talks online thanks to a recommendation from my dissertation tutor (shoutout to Eileen!). I literally spent most of my Christmas holiday that year with headphones on listening to her talk hour after hour whilst playing solitaire on my laptop. Riveting, I know. Half of my bibliography was Judith Butler even though most of her research didn’t really have anything to do with my topic. But when you’re obsessed enough you will find a way to include your favourite author.

Bodies That Matter is not an easy read. The vocabulary is very academic and the ideas very abstract. Someone with a better understanding of philosophy would probably fare much better with this book than little me but I love reading it anyway. I’m a big fan of Butler’s writing and lecturing style (and that shows in my dissertation). She seems very present in the book, which makes it anything but boring and dry theoretical text. Even so, I can’t really explain what exactly this theory is about.

If you’re into the semantics of sex, gender and body, give it a go. Or try Gender Trouble, which is a slightly friendlier read. It isn’t at Young Adult level either but definitely easier to grasp. Judith, oh Judith. I am seriously in love with this woman.

Since I still have four books to talk about I’ll finish up for now and get into those another time. Those four are actually very new additions to my collection so I haven’t had a chance to explore them that much yet anyway. Hopefully, you got something out of this post, which essentially was a love letter to my most cherished books and authors. I enjoyed it.

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