To what extent can it be argued that Pop Art offered a successful critical commentary on mass culture?

orange-torso-female

Pop Art as a term is problematic in itself, Lawrence Alloway credited with coining the term in his essay The Development of British Pop, explained that the term changed meaning, ‘what I meant by it then is not what it means now. I used the term, and also ‘Pop Culture’, to refer to the products of the mass media, not to works of art that draw upon popular culture.’[1] Robert Indiana describes Pop as ‘love, for it accepts everything. Pop is dropping the bomb. It’s the American dream, optimistic, generous and naïve.’[2] Tate defines Pop Art as ‘an art movement that emerged in the 1950s and flourished in the 1960s in America and Britain’.[3] In 1957 Pop artist Richard Hamilton listed the ‘characteristics of pop art’, I believe his list defines both the meaning of Pop Art and of mass culture ‘Pop Art is: Popular (designed for a mass audience), Transient (short-term solution), Expendable (easily forgotten), Low cost, Mass produced, Young (aimed at youth)… Big business’.[4]

Mass culture more specifically can be defined as ‘Cultural products that are both mass- produced and for mass audiences. Examples include mass-media entertainments—films, television programmes, popular books, newspapers, magazines, popular music, leisure goods, household items, clothing, and mechanically-reproduced art.’[5] Mass culture also incorporates mass politics, the politics of big political parties with wide stretching views and influence, political influence is spread through mass media and, particularly in America mass politics is intertwined with big business.[6] Thus American culture, the culture perpetuated by the mass media is riled against in political protests by Pop Artists.[7]

In this essay I will examine International Pop as ‘Pop Art was never just a celebration of western consumer culture, but was often a subversive international language of protest.’ [8] International Pop Art showcases the themes of Western Pop but in a more direct response to the fallout of WWII, the conflict in Vietnam and the rise of Communism.[9] Specifically European artists working throughout the decade of the 1960s, as they ‘were far more political than their American or British counterparts. While Peter Blake basked in warm nostalgia and Andy Warhol anatomised bland celebrity, European artists attacked American militarism.’[10] European artists attacked mass culture, the themes of western and American culture that were swamping indigenous culture.[11] European Pop Art critiques mass culture through images of war, the body, and advertising.

The critique of war is a major theme in European Pop Artists work- Rancillac’s A Silhouette slimmed to the Waist juxtaposes war with the consumption of the female body.[12] It is part of a series from 1966, in which Rancillac decided to illustrate all key events of that year because he “realised that political events had an impact on me (the Vietnam War)”.[13] He juxtaposes, an image from Paris Match of ‘South Vietnamese soldiers drowning a Viet Cong prisoner to the waist and an advertisement for women’s underwear that defined the waist.’[14]

rancilliac

Fig.1. Bernard Rancillac. (Enfin silhouettes) affinées jusqu’à la taille, 1966. Multimedia. Grenoble: Musée de Grenoble. Purchased from the artist in 1980.

A Silhouette Slimmed to the Waist can be hung either way, in order to emphasise either the advertisement for ‘female underwear or the horrors of the Vietnam War.’[15] Rancillac explained the didactic quality of the piece ‘the viewer is forced to choose a visual and hence political orientation. Comfort here, torture over there.’[16] Every exhibitor of the work has to decide whether to place more importance on the horror of war, or ideals of beauty and the fashion of commercial culture.[17]

By making the canvas ambiguous in its hierarchy of forms, Rancillac is referencing the ubiquitous images of both the female body as a product in catalogues, and war as a product in newspapers and news shows, and how images lose power if they are repeated. Warhol played with this idea in America, but Rancillac draws attention to the real danger of repetition of images in the mass media.[18]

The title is a visual pun, as the piece shows a soldier plunging a Vietcong prisoner headfirst into a large water barrel, he pushes his boot down on his captive’s back, gripping his twisted leg, the soldier submerges the man to the waist. While above/ below are five women in corsets, with labels akin to those found in commercial catalogues, advertising the slimming quality. The piece draws attention to the fetishization of the Vietnam war, with American soldiers and American culture being triumphed throughout the campaign as moral, just and heroic.[19] Through placing war alongside the female body, Rancillac points out how both are fetishized.

There are also themes of mortality in this piece, as the bodies of the soldiers are in danger, and the bodies of the women are in their ‘prime’ physicality, with perhaps hints of the obsession with the female body and the idea of the ultimate demise of the flesh.[20] Rancillac’s imagery in this piece is directly from ‘pictures from the media covering these events.’[21]

The placing of consumer goods next to a scene from war showcases that both the female body and the terror of war have become consumable.[22] This may be a reference to the use of art and the female body in the propaganda of both the U.S.A and Vietnam forces throughout the conflict.[23] [24]The exaggerated pink of the female body suggests the figures are western in ethnicity, perhaps a point against western mass advertising, as America could be seen to be attempting to re-write indigenous beauty ideals to conform with the western view.[25]

poster

Fig.2. Vietnamese Government propaganda poster, “Colonialists, international traitors, think carefully before you take Vietnam,” 1960. 38cm x 27.2cm

axell.png

Fig.3. Evelyne Axell, Valentine 1966. Oil paint, zip-fastener and helmet on canvas, unconfirmed: 1330 x 830 mm. London: Tate Collection, acquired 2016.

Belgian Pop Artist Evelyne Axell plays with body politics in her work, reclaiming the female body from the male gaze of the mass media. She often exhibited under her gender ambiguous last name alone, critiquing mass culture as she plays with the audience’s assertion that ‘the artist’ is always male.[26] In her piece, Valentine she references Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman and also the first civilian to go in to space.[27] [28] Axell places a helmet and zip on the canvas, the zipper is an allusion to the eroticized act of undressing, the viewer is invited to ‘peek’ at the skin beneath.[29] The reference to Tereshkova is key, as the astronaut’s achievement was belittled by descriptions of her physicality in the mass media; her looks and her body superseded her act of discovery.[30] Axell recognized the inequality inherent in the mass media, that women are celebrated not for their achievements but for their body, and what makes them unique is their rarity in certain fields, rather than their own personality traits or talents.[31] In this piece, the critique of mass culture is a critique of a male-dominated culture, and a male-dominated art industry. To highlight further the juxtaposition between men and women in the media, Axell staged a reverse striptease, where a model began naked, only wearing a helmet and proceeded to put on clothes, highlighting very obviously the blindness in which mass culture views women, mostly ignoring everything internal and focusing on the external flesh.[32]

richter.jpg

Fig.4. Gerhard Richter, Folding Dryer, 1962. Oil on canvas, 99.3 cm x 78.6 cm. Stuttgart: Froehlich Collection.

lichentstein

Fig.5. Roy Lichtenstein, Kitchen Range (Kitchen Stove), 1961-62. Oil on canvas, 173.0 x 173.0 cm. Canberra: National Gallery of Australia, purchased 1978.

Gerhard Richter’s work Folding Dryer is based on a newspaper advert for a clothes dryer, Richter recalled that the first piece of Pop Art he ever encountered was a reproduction of Lichtenstein’s Kitchen Stove.[33] Richter responded to the piece ‘because it was anti-painterly. It was directed against peinture’.[34] Richter’s piece is completed in oil paint, but like Lichtenstein, it is the subject matter that is the protest.[35] The woman’s face is smudged and resembles a mask, creating an anonymity that is unsettling and perhaps representative of the mass consumer, hidden as an individual and only defined by capitalist society through their purchases.[36] Richter is thus creating an art that is against the past conventions and hierarchies of art, inspired by American Pop Artists. He is also riling against the mass perception of what is ‘good’ art and what is not, challenging the mass audience to insert this piece, a recreation of a newspaper advert, into the timeline of art history. The motif of the clothes dryer is significant, Richter said he ‘didn’t find the clothes-dryer ironic; there was something tragic about it, because it represented life in low-cost housing with nowhere to hang the washing. It was my own clothes-dryer, which I rediscovered in a newspaper – objectivized, as it were.’[37] Richter goes further than to criticize the mass perceptions of art in this work, he critiques mass culture and consumerism by using a motif that is tragic as it represents shortage of space, a loss of well-being and quality of life.[38] Richter, an Eastern German artist, living in West Germany at the time of this piece, witnessed the cultural shifts that were promoted via the NATO alliance and the Americanization of West Germany.[39] The clothes dryer represents the failings of a capitalist society, modelled on the American system, to ensure equality and opportunity for its inhabitants, as it is a statement of lost space, of space as a consumer good, not as a human right.[40]

To conclude, European Pop Art is filled with the ‘subversive international language of protest.’[41] Artists such as Rancillac question the priorities of mass culture, he ‘copies and pastes’ motifs from consumer catalogues, and juxtaposes the frivolous imagery with the harshness of war. Female artists such as Axell sought to highlight the discrepancies between the mass media’s representation of women and men, and highlight the ridiculousness, with humor. Such as in Valentine the viewer is invited to ‘peek’ beyond the exposed zipper at the naked body beneath. Richter in his art work, Folding Dryer directly references the mass media in copying from an advert, he re-appropriates images to showcase his discomfort at the loss of wellbeing being objectified and celebrated, catalogues are full of objects that are congratulated when really they are the product of the loss of space and the capitalism system commodifying the simplest of presumed rights. I believe European Pop Art is successful in its critique of mass media and culture, it highlights difficult questions and plays with the presumed nature of art by the masses, and also the everyday motifs seen in society. Subversive, playful and nuanced, the examples I have cited utilize the resources of mass media, by incorporating stories from mass media (Valentine), distorting popular images (Affinées jusqu’à la taille) and copying adverts and consumer based images (Folding Dryer), within a new context.

[1] Lawrence Alloway, “The Development of British Pop,” in Pop Art, ed. Lucy R. Lippard (London: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2004), p. 27.

[2] Klaus Honnef, “Robert Indiana- The Big Eight,” in Pop Art, ed. Uta Grosenick (London: Taschen, 2004), p. 45.

[3] “Glossary of terms: Pop Art”, Tate online, accessed February 20, 2016.

[4] “Pop Art: Characteristics and Critical Response”, Tate online, accessed February 20, 2016.

[5] “Overview: Mass Culture,” Oxford Reference Online, accessed February 20, 2016.

[6] Edward P. Morgan, “Roots of the Sixties: Contradictions between Capitalism and Democracy in Post-war America,” in What Really Happened to the 1960s: How Mass Media Culture Failed American Democracy (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2010), p. 22.

[7] Ibid, p. 26.

[8] “International Pop,” Tate Online, accessed February 20, 2016.

[9] Darsie Alexander, Bartholomew Ryan, International Pop (New York: Distributed Art Publishers, 2015), p. 23.

[10] “The Politics of Pop Art: A Dissenting World View”, BBC Online, last updated 17 September 2015, accessed February 20, 2016.

[11] Ibid.

[12] See Figure 1.

[13] “Artist Interview: Bernard Rancillac”, Tate Online, last updated September 2015, accessed February 20, 2016.

[14] Liam Considine, Screen Politics: Pop Art and the Atelier Populaire, Tate Papers No.24 (Autumn 2015): 25, accessed March 2, 2016.

[15] Elsa Coustou for Tate, September 2015, in “The Politics of Pop Art: A Dissenting World View”.

[16] Considine, Screen Politics: Pop Art and the Atelier Populaire.

[17] “Colour me Beautiful: Pop Art at 50”, The Economist Online, last updated September 12, 2015, accessed February 20, 2016.

[18] Elsa Coustou for Tate, September 2015, in “The Politics of Pop Art: A Dissenting World View”.

[19] Caroline Page, “Introduction” in US Propaganda During the Vietnam War, 1965-73: The Limits of Persuasion (London: Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd, 1996), p. 12.

[20] Morgan, “An Awakening Democratic Dialectic: From Action to Empowerment in the 1960s”, p. 42.

[21] “Artist Interview: Bernard Rancillac.”

[22] Coustou, “Bernard Rancillac.”

[23] “Introduction” in US Propaganda During the Vietnam War, 1965-73: The Limits of Persuasion, p. 3.

[24] See Figure 2.

[25] Page, “The Body”, p.43.

[26] Liesbeth Decan, Axellereation: Evelyne Axell 1964-1972 (Tielt: Lannoo International Publishing, 2012), p. 7.

[27] Elsa Coustou, “Evelyne Axell”, Tate Online, September 2015, accessed February 19, 2016.

[28] See Figure 3.

[29] “Think you know Pop Art?”, Tate Online, last updated 11 September 2015, accessed February 19, 2016.

[30] Coustou, “Evelyne Axell”

[31] Ibid.

[32] “Think you know Pop Art?”

[33] “You can kiss a Lichtenstein, but you can’t kiss us”, Tate Online, last updated May 13, 2013, accessed February 29, 2016.

[34] Ibid.

[35] “Gerhard Richter: Folding Dryer”, Gerhard Richter Official website, last updated January 2016, accessed February 29, 2016.

[36] Ibid.

[37] “Interview with Sabine Schütz, 1990in: Gerhard Richter: Text. Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961–2007 (Thames & Hudson, London, 2009), p. 253.

[38] “Gerhard Richter: Folding Dryer”

[39] Ibid.

[40] “Preface” in an Interview with Sabine Schütz, 1990 in: Gerhard Richter: Text. Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961–2007, (Thames & Hudson, London, 2009), p. 3.

[41] “International Pop”

Bibliography

Books

Alexander, Darsie, and Ryan, Bartholomew. International Pop. New York: Distributed Art Publishers, 2015.

Alloway, Lawrence. “The Development of British Pop.” In Pop Art, edited by Lucy R. Lippard, 27-68. London: Thames & Hudson, 2004.

Decan, Liesbeth. Axellereation: Evelyne Axell 1964-1972. Tielt: Lannoo International Publishing, 2012.

Honnef, Klaus. “Robert Indiana- The Big Eight.” In Pop Art, edited by Uta Grosenick, 45. London: Taschen, 2004.

Morgan, Edward P. What Really Happened to the 1960s: How Mass Media Culture Failed American Democracy. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2010.

Lippard, Lucy R. “Introduction.” In Pop Art, edited by Lucy R. Lippard, 11. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2004.

Page, Caroline. US Propaganda During the Vietnam War, 1965-73: The Limits of Persuasion. London: Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd, 1996

Online Papers

Considine, Liam. “Screen Politics: Pop Art and the Atelier Populaire.” Tate Papers No.24 (Autumn 2015): 25, accessed March 2, 2016. ISSN 1753-9854

Websites

BBC Online. “The Politics of Pop Art: A Dissenting World View.” Last updated September 17, 2015. Accessed February 20, 2016, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/gzDdqkjdkcKsFkxRvTNFvq/the-politics-of-pop- art-a-dissenting-world-view

Coustou, Elsa. Tate Online. “Bernard Rancillac.” Last updated September 2015. Accessed February 20, 2016. http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/ey-exhibition- world-goes-pop/artist-biography/bernard-rancillac

Coustou, Elsa. Tate Online. “Evelyne Axell.” Last updated September 2015. Accessed February 19, 2016. http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/ey-exhibition-world- goes-pop/artist-biography/evelyne-axell

“Gerhard Richter Official website. “Gerhard Richter: Folding Dryer.” Last updated January 2016. Accessed February 29, 2016. https://www.gerhard-richter.com/en/art/paintings/photo- paintings/household-icons-39/folding-dryer-5473

Oxford Reference Online. “Overview: Mass Culture.” Accessed February 20, 2016.

http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803100138730

Tate Online. “Artist Interview: Bernard Rancillac.” Last updated September 2015. Accessed February 20, 2016. http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/ey-exhibition- world-goes-pop/artist-interview/bernard-rancillac

Tate Online. “Glossary of terms: Pop Art.” Accessed February 20, 2016.

http://www.tate.org.uk/learn/online-resources/glossary/p/pop-art

Tate Online. “International Pop.” Accessed February 20, 2016.

http://www.tate.org.uk/learn/online-resources/glossary/p/pop-art

Tate Online. “Pop Art: Characteristics and Critical Response.” Accessed February 20, 2016.

http://www.tate.org.uk/learn/online-resources/glossary/p/pop-art

Tate Online. “Think you know Pop Art?” Last updated September 11, 2015. Accessed February 19, 2016. http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/think-you-know-pop-art

Tate Online. “You can kiss a Lichtenstein, but you can’t kiss us.” Last updated May 13, 2013. Accessed February 29, 2016. http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/you-can-kiss- lichtenstein-you-cant-kiss-us-0

The Economist Online. “Colour me Beautiful: Pop Art at 50.” Last updated September 12, 2015. Accessed February 20, 2016. http://www.economist.com/news/books-and- arts/21664052-pop-art-50-colour-me-beautiful

Interviews

Interview with Sabine Schütz, 1990 in: Gerhard Richter: Text. Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961–2007. Thames & Hudson, London, 2009.

https://www.gerhard-richter.com/en/art/paintings/photo-paintings/household-icons- 39/folding-dryer-547

A Commentary: Walter Gropius, On Large Housing Estates

Walter Gropius, “Large Housing Estates”, in Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby (eds.), Metropolis Berlin 1880-1940 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), pp. 484-486

 Following the devastation of the First World War, Germany looked towards housing reform as an answer to the social, political and economic problems of the day.[1] The utopic visions of the Expressionists formulated immediately after the war, evolved into rational and functionalist designs throughout the 1920s.[2] The architect as spiritual leader, combining all the arts, became the architect as engineer.[3] Such a transformation was motivated by sobering hyperinflation between 1919 and 1923, and only after the stabilisation of the mark in November 1923 could housing reform become a built reality.[4] Complimentary to economic stability, the creation of a single administrative entity uniting all of Berlin, which followed coherent and rational planning principals made the large housing estate proposed by Gropius and his contemporaries possible.[5] Gropius responds to the contemporary housing crisis, at the end of the war the housing shortage in Berlin was estimated at 100,000-130,000 dwellings.[6] Between 1924 and 1930, 135,000 social housing units were completed compared to just 9000 between 1919 and 1923.[7] The catalyst for the building of social housing was the trade-union movement, the unions invested heavily in large housing developments and also recruited leading modernist architects to design them.[8] The prime ambition of the GEHAG was to achieve the lowest rents possible through the most efficient, often standardised building practices.[9] Gropius’ text is not merely a theoretical tract on estate building, it is a plan responding to the desires of the trade-unions, a blueprint on how best to produce affordable housing to cope with and last beyond the crisis.[10]

Gropius in his 1930 piece asserts that through regulation and the linear plan mass housing can ensure the wellbeing of both its residents, and the wider city- long term. He seeks to design an estate that finds the balance between financial demands including land price and building costs, and the need for space in the crowded capital city.[11]

Gropius presents an estate plan responding to the ‘basic requirements’ he believes a large residential development must and can fulfil, mirroring the regulatory language of the Greater Berlin administration.[12] He cites limited population density as one such requirement, realised through the ‘building regulations of recent decades’ and contemporary regulation limiting commercial exploitation of residential building land, and so avoiding the creation of city slums created through ‘unscrupulous land development’.[13] The 1925 Reform Building Ordinance introduced zoning of industry and housing, which Gropius incorporates into his plan, with his placing of commercial enterprises and facilities likely to generate noise like schools and playgrounds in ‘relatively isolated positions’, with noise further buffered by the conservation of existing woodland.[14] [15] Gropius blends adherence to regulation and focus on the resident’s welfare to create ‘exceptional tranquillity’ within the estate.[16]

Gropius hints at the tensions within high modernism- the battle of standard, anonymous blocks and organic form, which was characterised by Manfredo Tafuri as ‘one of the most serious ruptures within the modern movement’.[17] Leo Adler in his 1927 criticism of the Horseshoe estate in Berlin by Taut and Wagner asserted that in all aspects of ‘building engineering’ reason must rule. Gropius in his piece favours the standard, anonymous block and celebrates the linear grid plan.[18] The estates Gropius advocates are all north-and-south aligned with individual apartment blocks laterally separated, resulting in consistent sunshine and air flow through every apartment.[19] Gropius cites the lack of sunlight and air circulation apparent in both old courtyard and modernist perimeter block designs, providing a solution by removing transverse blocks and corner apartments within the blocks of the estate.[20] Contextually, the 1925 Ordinance also banned transverse buildings and side wings putting an end to the format that had produced Mietskaserne in Berlin since the 1870s.[21]

Gropius also contributes to the contemporary discourse on standardisation of housing, which gained momentum within the realms of architecture and interior design throughout the 1920s. [22] Ludwig Hilberseimer championed standardisation of the tenement block in 1926, asserting that standardisation represents an effort and solution to reduce costs, perfect design, and addresses the needs of the user (the tenants) first. [23] Gropius represents another supporter of standardisation, believing that it ‘is not an impediment to the development of civilisation’ but one of its prerequisites.[24] Standardisation became championed by the trade-union building departments, as it was seen to ensure both equality and good economics.[25] In Gropius’ estate plan no apartment is in a better position than another, there is no marker of class, wealth or stature present within the design. No decoration individual to a block is described, and Gropius asserts that the ‘natural accidents of the terrain’, alongside trees and vegetation planted around the estate will ‘relax and and enliven the grid plan’.[26] One can see in this comment a defence of urban modernism contemporary to the backlash against functionalist modernism that was gaining pace by 1930, and that found national, administrative support after 1933 in the Nationalist Socialist ideology that damned modernist architecture as Bolshevist and funded architecture reflecting the ‘simple life on German soil’.[27]

In terms of efficiency and cost-saving within the estate, motor roads are designed to intersect only at right angles past the ends of the blocks, which are further distanced from the noise and dirt of the roads by grass areas, there are also access footpaths reserved for pedestrians, and estate traffic is entirely separate from general city traffic.[28] Gropius’ design of transport systems within the estate ensures overall tranquillity and also ‘reduces the estate’s road-building and access costs’ echoing Hilberseimer’s belief that standardisation is a solution to reduce costs and address the user’s needs.[29]

Gropius’ estate plan was realised through developments such as the Siemensstadt estate, where Gropius and Bartning created blocks that were both rational and anonymous.[30] With the gathering pace of the economic crisis and the discontinuation of house-building subsidies in Berlin in 1931, the working man soon found no support in the architectural ambitions of the administration, and the modernist designs of Gropius and others fell out of favour.[31]

[1] Iain Boyd Whyte, “Chapter 15: Housing”, Metropolis Berlin 1880-1940, eds. Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), p. 463

[2] Ibid, p. 463.

[3] Ibid, p. 463.

[4] Whyte, “Chapter 15: Housing”, p. 463.

[5] Ibid, p. 464.

[6] Ibid, p. 463.

[7] Ibid, p. 464.

[8] Whyte, “Chapter 15: Housing”, p. 464. E.g. The establishment of a central agency in 1923 within the German Trade-Union Congress (on the initiative of Martin Wagner) with the purpose of funding cooperative housing, and the establishment of the GEHAG (the Berlin arm of DEWOG) in 1924.

[9] Ibid, p. 464.

[10] Walter Gropius, “Large Housing Estates”, in Metropolis Berlin 1880-1940, eds. Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), p. 485-486.

[11] Ibid, p. 486.

[12] Ibid, p.485.

[13] Ibid, p. 485.

[14] Whyte, “Chapter 15: Housing”, p. 464.

[15] Gropius, “Large Housing Estates, p. 485.

[16] Ibid, p.485.

[17] Manfredo Tafuri, Architecture and Utopia: Design and Capitalist Development. (Cambridge: Mass, MIT Press, 1976), p. 117.

[18] Gropius, “Large Housing Estates”, p.485.

[19] Gropius, “Large Housing Estates”, p.485.

[20] Ibid, p.485.

[21] Whyte, “Chapter 15: Housing”, p. 464.

[22] Christine Frederick, Household Engineering: Scientific Management in the Home. (Chicago: American School of Home Economics, 1920). Through Frederick’s book, the housewife becomes the engineer, and the kitchen of the home is her control room. The concept of Taylorism already employed in the factory, became employed in the domestic sphere- ultimate efficiency and time management became the ultimate goal. The architect and interior designer could aid this efficiency by carefully planning how one would complete tasks within certain spaces.

[23] Ludwig Hilberseimer, “On Standardizing the Tenement Block”, in Metropolis Berlin 1880-1940, eds. Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), p. 480.

[24] Walter Gropius, “Standardisation” in The New Architecture and The Bauhaus, trans. P. Morton Shand. (London: Faber and Faber Ltd, 1935), p. 34.

[25] Whyte, “Chapter 15: Housing”, p. 464.

[26] Gropius, “Large Housing Estates”, p. 486.

[27] Whyte, “Chapter 15: Housing”, p. 467.

[28] Gropius, “Large Housing Estates”, p. 485.

[29] Ibid, p. 485.

[30] Ibid, p. 466. Manfredo Tafuri, Architecture and Utopia: Design and Capitalist Development. (Cambridge: Mass, MIT Press, 1976), p. 117.

[31] Whyte, “Chapter 15: Housing”, p. 466.

 

 

Bibliography

Books

Adler, Leo. “Housing Estates in the Britz District of Berlin” In Metropolis Berlin 1880-1940, edited by Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby, 482-484. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.

Boyd Whyte, Iain. “Chapter 15: Housing.” In Metropolis Berlin 1880-1940, edited by Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby, 463-467. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.

Frederick, Christine. Household Engineering: Scientific Management in the Home. Chicago: American School of Home Economics, 1920.

Gropius, Walter. “Large Housing Estates.” In Metropolis Berlin 1880-1940, edited by Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby, 484-486. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.

Gropius, Walter. The New Architecture and the Bauhaus. Translated by P. Morton Shand. London: Faber and Faber Ltd, 1935.

Hilberseimer, Ludwig. “On Standardizing the Tenement Block.” In Metropolis Berlin 1880-1940, edited by Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby, 480-481. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.

Tafuri, Manfredo. Architecture and Utopia: Design and Capitalist Development. Cambridge: Mass, MIT Press, 1976.

 

 

A Commentary: Bruno Taut, The City Crown, 1919

Bruno Taut, “The City Crown”, in Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby (eds.), Metropolis Berlin 1880-1940 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), pp. 295-301.

 

The intention to flee, from the dangerous city, to the safe haven of the countryside or small town, is an intention that defines the architecture of the early twentieth century within Germany.[1] Berlin during the war years of 1914-1918 was one such dangerous city, and architects such as Bruno Taut sought to provide an alternative plan for the city where the spiritual and profane aspects of city life were separated.[2] Influenced by the Garden City movement and Gothic architecture, Taut in ‘The City Crown’ provides a polemical blueprint for the new city in which brotherhood and harmony are championed.[3] [4]

Taut’s vision of ‘The City Crown’ contributes to calls for the return to the land which gained strength in Germany at the turn of the century, and became institutionalised with the founding of the German Garden City Association in 1902.[5] The world’s first garden city was founded by Ebenezer Howard in Letchworth in 1903 and is continually referenced by Taut and contemporary writers such as Paul Wolf.[6]  The housing within Taut’s plan is modelled on the simple cottage structures that he had designed for the German Garden City Association from 1913-1916 in Falkenberg, in the Berlin suburbs.[7] First published in 1919, Taut’s piece also reflects the very real and un-romantic need to return to the land due to the food shortages that had become apparent in Berlin and other German cities by the early months of 1915, that had by 1918,  progressed to mass starvation.[8]

In tandem with the defeat of the nation in World War One and mass starvation, came the Spanish influenza.[9] 250,000 Germans are thought to have died in the pandemic flu in 1918 and 1919, one can see in ‘The City Crown’ that the importance Taut places on the orientation of the city- in order to let good air flow into the city and bad air be contained within the factory district, may be contextually informed by the pandemic.[10] [11] If the pandemic spread like wildfire due to the high density living conditions in Berlin, Taut illustrates an ideal city vision with 150 people per hectare, ample space for each resident.[12]

Taut’s major point is that the new, reformed city must have a building that champions and showcases the highest ideals to be striven for by the people. Without some spiritual centrepiece, the city has no concrete illustration of faith and thus no way for the individual to rise above his own personal concerns.[13] The glass temple creating Taut’s Crown, can be seen in terms of a modern equivalent to the Gothic cathedral.[14] A glass crystalline building, ‘conceived both as a protest against the insanity of war and as a pointer to a better society.’ [15] [16] The sheer amount of light Taut describes within the Crown and the light it reflects ‘like a diamond over everything, sparkling in the sunlight’, provides an alternative to the Mietskaserne and the dark courtyards of Wilhelmine Berlin. [17] [18]

The crystal motif recurs throughout architectural theory of the early twentieth century. Walter Gropius described architecture as ‘the crystalline expression of human beings’ noblest thoughts’.[19] Taut describes his City Crown as the ‘Crystal House’, championing glass architecture’s ‘purity and transcendence’.[20] The inspiration for the glass architecture of Taut and his associates in the Arbeitstrat fur Kunst and the Glaserne Kette group stems from the fantasy author Paul Scheerbart. [21] Scheerbart created worlds of wonder, describing utopian existences lived out under new transparent and colourful architecture.[22] Taut met Scheerbart in 1912, and in February 1914, Taut published ‘A Necessity’, an article calling for the collaboration of all the arts in constructing a new building of glass, steel and concrete.[23] The building would have no function apart from transcendence, and one can see in ‘The City Crown’, that the Crown itself ‘contains nothing apart from an incredibly beautiful room’ that causes ‘every major sensation’ to be awakened when walking around it.[24] [25] The Crown also represents the union of all the arts, directed by the architect.[26]

Contrary to advocating the abandonment of cities, as Taut later advocates in his 1920 piece, ‘Dissolution of Cities’, ‘The City Crown’ offers an alternative vision for the urban landscape- in which both the material and spiritual needs of the population are met.[27] [28] Taut was located on the political left, but arguments for the return to the land appeared on the far right also.[29] The Expressionist fantasies of the 1920s, of which Taut created many, were made manifest in part by housing associations and trade unions, under the Socialist City Council towards the end of the decade.[30]  Glass, steel and concrete architecture to Taut represented a new age, of spiritual enlightenment and of collaboration between the arts, a peaceful age, yearned for by the post-war generation of Germany.

 

[1] Iain Boyd Whyte, “Chapter 10: Critical Responses”, Metropolis Berlin 1880-1940, eds. Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), p. 291.

[2] Whyte, “Chapter 10: Critical Responses”, p. 292.

[3] Whyte, “Chapter 10: Critical Responses”, p. 293.

[4] Bruno Taut, “The City Crown” in Metropolis Berlin 1880-1940, eds. Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), p. 296.

[5] Whyte, “Chapter 10: Critical Responses”, p. 291.

[6] Paul Wolf, “The Basic Layout of the New City”, in Metropolis Berlin 1880-1940, eds. Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), p. 295. Although he advocates a relocation from the city to the country, advocating the creation of garden cities modelled on Letchworth in England.

[7] Whyte, “Chapter 10: Critical Responses”, p. 292.

[8] Whyte, “Chapter 10: Critical Responses”, p. 291.

[9] Iain Boyd Whyte, “Chapter 9: City in Crisis”, Metropolis Berlin 1880-1940, eds. Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), p. 275.

[10] Ibid, p. 275.

[11] Taut, “The City Crown”, p. 298.

[12] Ibid, p. 299.

[13] Ibid, p. 296.

[14] Whyte, “Chapter 10: Critical Responses”, p. 292.

[15] Whyte, “The Expressionist Sublime”, p. 118.

[16] Ibid, p. 296.

[17] Taut, “The City Crown,” p. 301.

[18] Whyte, “Chapter 10: Critical Responses”, p. 292.

[19] Walter Gropius, “The New Architectural Idea” in Metropolis Berlin 1880-1940, eds. Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), p. 286.

[20] Taut, “The City Crown,” p. 301.

[21] Whyte, “The Expressionist Sublime”, p. 126.

[22] Whyte, “The Expressionist Sublime”, p. 126.

[23] Bruno Taut, “A Necessity” in Metropolis Berlin 1880-1940, eds. Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), p. 276-278.

[24] Taut, “A Necessity”, p. 278. ‘All idea of social purpose must be avoided’

[25] Taut, “The City Crown,” p. 300.

[26] Taut, “The City Crown,” p. 300.

[27] Bruno Taut, Dissolution of Cities (Hagen: Folkwang, 1920), pl. 1. Illustrates Taut’s alternative settlement plans, contrasting a crowded city with his organic, petal like settlements.

[28] Taut, “The City Crown,” p. 296.

[29] Whyte, “Chapter 10: Critical Responses”, p. 292.

[30] Whyte, “Chapter 10: Critical Responses”, p. 293.

 

Bibliography

Books

Boyd Whyte, Iain. “Chapter 10: Critical Responses.” In Metropolis Berlin 1880-1940, edited by Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby, 291-293. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.

Boyd Whyte, Iain. “The Expressionist Sublime.” In Expressionist Utopias: Paradise, Metropolis, Architectural Fantasy, exhibition catalogue edited by Timothy O. Benson, 118-137. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art / Washington University Press, 1993.

Gropius, Walter. “The New Architectural Idea.” In Metropolis Berlin 1880-1940, edited by Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby, 286-287. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.

Taut, Bruno. Dissolution of Cities. Hagen: Folkwang, 1920.

Taut, Bruno. “The City Crown.” In Metropolis Berlin 1880-1940, edited by Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby, 295-301. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.

Taut, Bruno. “A Necessity.” In Metropolis Berlin 1880-1940, edited by Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby, 276-278. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.

Wolf, Paul. “The Basic Layout of the New City.” In Metropolis Berlin 1880-1940, edited by Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby, 293-295. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.

 

A Commentary: Karl Scheffler, The Tenement Block (1911)

Scheffler, “The Tenement Block”, in Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby (eds.), Metropolis Berlin 1880-1940 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), pp. 158-163.

The four decades after the unification of Germany in 1871 witnessed a construction rush- particularly the construction of tenement buildings. With no centralised planning authority, speculative developers and land-owners ruled building in Berlin. Scheffler in his 1911 piece, articulates his view that the developer becoming king of all building is a detriment to the people and the city of Berlin.

Scheffler’s major point is that the failing of the city council to invest in public land when it was indeed public and to create imaginative building regulations has led to sporadic building practices within Berlin, which only aid developers and land owners rather than the city and its people. Scheffler’s critique of the council is a critique linked to the contemporary condemnations of the conservative art policies of Kaiser Wilhelm II, featured in periodicals championing the avant-garde including Pan (1895-1900) and Kunst und Kunstler (1903-1933), edited by Scheffler from 1906 onwards.[1]

Scheffler enters the contemporary discourse on the issue of over-crowding and poor housing quality in Europe and particularly within the city of Berlin.[2] Writers such as Werner Sombart writing in 1906, cited the common European tenement apartment block as making ‘civilised family life impossible’, through its over-crowding caused by the actual design of the building and the economic strains on tenants.[3] Scheffler mirrors his sentiment, although on a more practical level- citing the modern tenement apartment within Berlin as being ‘so cramped that man and wife simply cannot allow themselves a family of any size’, thus the contemporary tenement apartment is a physical barrier to the creation of family and the growth of a community.[4] In 1893  a study was published focusing on 803 apartments located in the Sorauer Strasse, which housed 3.383 people, it established that in 30 percent of the apartments, tenants were taking in night lodgers and as a direct consequence, each person had less than twenty cubic metres of air.[5] Scheffler continues the contemporary critique of tenement blocks, theorising a solution for the problems and horrifying results of such studies, rooted in building regulation and the championing of public rather than private interest.

Scheffler believes the colloquial term Mietskaserne, translated as tenement barracks, represents an innate longing for one’s own space.[6] A contemporary, Rudolf Eberstadt, states that the composition of the Mietskaserne is characterised by the entire plot being taken up by the house, ‘the individual apartment disappears’, the individual is therefore lost within mass architecture and profit is created for the few.[7] [8] Scheffler advocates that the modern tenement block must be built in conditions that take into account ‘real public needs’- not the profit of the developers.[9] Throughout his piece, Scheffler references the speculative nature of building in Berlin, which he believes follows a capitalist methodology; ‘the population is set to decline because housing policy is capitalist in nature’.[10] He presents Capitalists as the antagonists- so appears to be writing for the educated, politically aware, who believe in Socialist principles- at least within the realm of architecture.

Contrary to presenting an architectural alternative to the tenement block, Scheffler as his solution, advocates a complete revision of the conditions that create over-crowding and poor quality of life within the current tenement blocks. Conditions he lists as including; speculative landowners pushing up land prices through building method, building regulations set by the local government focused on bureaucratic public health rules and lack of a communal goal and focus in building.  

[1] Carl Georg Heise and Johannes Langner, “Karl Scheffler” in Metzler art historian Lexicon: two hundred portraits of German-speaking authors from four centuries (Stuggart: Metzler, 1999), pp. 343-6.

[2] Writers such as Walter Sombart, “Domesticity” (1906), Theodor Goecke, “The Working-Class Tenement Block in Berlin” (1890) and Max Jacob, “From Apartment House to Mass Apartment House” (1912) all commented on the modern development of the tenement block, both within a European and Berlin-centric sphere.

[3] Werner Sombart, “Domesticity” (1906) in Metropolis Berlin: 1880-1940, ed. Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby. (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2012), p. 151.

[4] Karl Scheffler, “The Tenement Block” (1911) in Metropolis Berlin: 1880-1940, ed. Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby. (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2012), p. 160.

[5] Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby, “The Proletarian City”, in Metropolis Berlin: 1880-1940. Edited by Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby. (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2012), p. 136.

[6] Ibid p. 159.

[7] Whyte and Frisby, “The Proletarian City”, in Metropolis Berlin: 1880-1940, p. 135.

[8] Rudolf Eberstadt, Abwehr der gegen die systematische Wohnungersreform gerichteten Angriffe (1907), quoted in Johann Freidrich Geist and Klaus Kurvers, Das Berliner Mietshaus, 1862-1945. (Munich: Prestel, 1984), p. 219.

[9]Scheffler, “The Tenement Block” (1911) in Metropolis Berlin: 1880-1940, p. 163

[10] Ibid p. 160

 

Bibliography

Books

Boyd Whyte, Iain and Frisby, David. “The Proletarian City.” In Metropolis Berlin: 1880-1940. Edited by Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby. (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2012), 134-137.

Goecke, Theodor. “The Working-Class Tenement Block in Berlin” (1890). In Metropolis Berlin: 1880-1940. Edited by Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby. (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2012), 137-143.

Heise, Carl Georg and Langner, Johannes. “Karl Scheffler.” In Metzler art historian Lexicon: two hundred portraits of German-speaking authors from four centuries. Stuggart: Metzler, 1999.

Jacob, Max. “From Apartment House to Mass Apartment House” (1912). In Metropolis Berlin: 1880-1940. Edited by Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby. (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2012), 164-167.

Scheffler, Karl. “The Tenement Block,” (1911). In Metropolis Berlin: 1880-1940. Edited by Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby. (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2012), 158-163.

Sombart, Werner. “Domesticity,” (1906). In Metropolis Berlin: 1880-1940. Edited by Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby. (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2012), 150-153.

 

 

 

 

Prohibited Pleasures

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A poem written by Megan Wallace, the talented founder and editor of Spectrum Zine, an online publication testing the boundaries of where queer feminism can go. The words were inspired by Rossetti’s Goblin Market, a literary gem in erotic poetry that is swathed in metaphor.

I created three panels illustrating the poem that are intended to be read in a cycle- endlessly repeating.

As we walked hand-in-hand and silent,
basking in the streetlamp’s judgmental glare,
I would watch the interlocking shapes of our shadows
keeping time on the pavement.

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~
Later, I traced eternity with my eyes shut,
following the outlines of your body
as we lay in the wrinkled sheets
of my single bed.

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~
And now,
I will lay my body down,
As offering
As sacrifice
As feast.

16467213_1340861152624377_1061644798_n
~
I will stretch my legs out
as wide as they will go
I will wrap my arms around you
to form a bridge
between then and now

Check out Megan’s beautiful Instagram- @_go_fish

This work is featured in the newest edition of Spectrum- https://spectrumfeministzine.com/2017/02/13/our-new-issue/

Rotten: A Provocative Poem

This is a poem to repulse and anger, to convey the brutality and indignity of rape, but what should shock you readers, is that the scariest thing about rape is not its violence, but its commonality. Rape and sexual assault must not be a shared experience.

My record of service is scarred yet I return to the front.

45% ready for service. Mutilated at 17. Maimed at 18. Discharged at 19.

Rotting away on leave.

Once nearly raped, twice, three times a lady.

Words written by birds. Who peck and scratch at the surface but flee when they see raw bone.

Skin ripped away in the morning, blood stains by midday, wounds gouged in the night.

My flesh will die and you will lick the corpse. More fool you, to feast on flesh marked by you, Putrefying in your nostrils,

Don’t touch me, I’m Rotten.

But you didn’t listen the first time.

Fragmenting Form

This illustration took inspiration from the painting I focused on in my article, Otto Dix’s Card Players showcases the fragmented form of war veterans in an exaggerated and grotesque manner. I wanted to show a man of the 1920s, thus the slick, shiny hair and fragment just his face, to combine the inorganic and organic together.

Initially, one of the figures ears was a trumpet, trying to channel some of the humour and absurdity found in Dada, but I felt the addition confused the clarity of the piece, so with some Photoshop magic, poof another ear replaced the instrument. This piece was also inspired by Dada heads created by Sophie Taeuber throughout the 1920s.

Recently I’ve been playing around with creating doubles, rather like Victorian profile portraits, you can see this in my previous work for spectrum https://becktait.com/2016/10/25/to-assume-is-to-make-an-ass-out-of-you-and-me/?iframe=true&theme_preview=true

dada-head-singledada-head-intial

Both my article and illustration will feature in the next issue of Spectrum Magazine, check it out here- https://spectrumfeministzine.files.wordpress.com/2016/09/spectrum-issue-14.pdf

Narratives of the flesh: The Fragmented Male Body in Dada

 

This article is indebted to the work of Mia Fineman, and specifically her landmark essay Ecce Homo Prostheticus of 1999

In Weimar Germany, the classical ideal of the perfect male form had been shattered by the bombs and artillery of the first world war. The government had imposed a ban on the publication of images showing soldiers and mutilated and maimed, yet the public could see with their own eyes “war cripples” propped up on street corners, abandoned by the state. In the turbulence that followed the war, an entirely new industry was born, prosthetics were not just objects to relieve suffering, they became layered with their own philosophies and ideals, the inorganic and the organic merged together represented a new age of man and the masculine ideal.

The state’s censorship of the truth via the ban on images showcased a stance of denial, the allowance of two prostheses per person created a horror of a situation where the worst off had to choose their most valuable limbs. The prosthetics industry boomed, for those who had the cash, prosthetics were slick, efficient and represented a new age of man. Freud’s belief that all man’s weaknesses in regards to productivity could be solved by technology peppered major essays released by the industry at the time.

One such collection of essays, published in 1919, titled “Artificial Limbs and Work Aids for War Cripples and Accident “contains many of the images one would expect, of fresh amputees and shiny new prostheses. The Freudian narrative of ‘better with technology’ is sang and themes of the Nietschian super-man also ring out, the machine man, the “Homo Prostheticus” becomes a new masculine ideal within the industry.

Within the expected images, the reader is confronted with two small photographs that evoke a line of questioning that traces a different line of narrative, one of the history of art and the historical representation of the male body. Shown front on and in profile, the Spitzy Statue is a modern classical sculpture, which prior to the prosthetic accessories, represented the classical ideals of the perfect man. Youth, strength and fertility. The addition of a chest strap and a prosthetic leg, creates a man that is now an Other to the classical ideal. Perhaps intended to represent the improvement and bettering of the classical form, the almost grotesque abstraction of flesh from the use of prosthetics in these images, connote the darker elements of the age of prosthetics. The stigma attached to male suffering in Weimar Germany was severe in regards to both physical and especially mental injuries. The classical form of the Spitzy statue cannot help but be subverted by the addition of prosthetics, the fig leaf, once a symbol of modesty and decency in the archaic ideal, coupled with the prosthetics, now becomes a symbol of emasculation. The cultural fear of the loss of masculinity via mental and physical injury manifests itself regularly in references to castration.

Figure 1 The “Spitzy Statue,” from Artificial Limbs and Work-Aids for War-Cripples and Accident Victims, featured in Mia Fineman’s ground-breaking essay. untitled.png

The classical masculine narrative of provider, hunter and saviour was being re-written, and even in texts such as “Artificial Limbs”, one can see the struggle to address the problem of physical weakness, even when supplemented and repaired, belittling the masculine ideal of strength.

Where the prosthetics industry sought to re-define the male as the machine man, new and improved, many state images sought to ignore the wounded and maimed. The still from Ways to Strength and Beauty by Wilhelm Prager, showcases the narrative of young, healthy and fit veterans returning from War in noble circumstances, now performing their duty in the world of work. The Free Body movement also gaining momentum in Germany at this time was seemingly ignorant of the mass mutilation caused by war and the Prosthetic industry’s ideal of the mechanised man.

Neither narrative, the gleaming iron-man or the perfect physical specimen, ring true. But within both, one is able to witness the re-writing of the male narrative in a time of huge societal upheaval, and to also witness the fears over the loss of key pillar stones of masculine identity- recreation, physical and mental strength.

Artists such as Otto Dix, sought to shatter all narratives, to abandon the classical ideal, attack the modern archetype of the German Man, proliferated by the state and the Free Body movement and to make grotesque the machine man of the prosthetics industry.

In Dix’s most famous work The Card Players of 1920, three veterans, representing from left to right, British, French and German forces sit at a small table playing cards, seemingly unaware of their own grotesqueness.

The new ideal of the mechanised man is parodied as the veterans adapt their malformed bodies to new purposes, that aren’t more efficient, they are more grotesque and unsettling. The British soldier holds his deck of his cards with his foot and what appears to be his spinal cord, doubles up as a handy telephone perched on the table. The idea of the organic and inorganic seamlessly blending in this new prosthetic man is lampooned and exaggerated by Dix. The veteran is deemed useful, because he now is an electronic mode of communication, not a basic human being. This facet of the picture relates to the prosthetic industry designing prosthetics to aid workers, to close the distance between their tools and labour as they are now the tools of their labour.[1]

The German soldier is the smallest of the trio, an obvious subversion of the pride Dix should feel in his nation and highlighting the failure of the German state in the provision of prosthetics and after war care. The sheer scale of the German soldier also mocks the idea of the strong and healthy body proliferated by the Free Body movement and showcases what really is left of Germany’s war heroes. Dix actively lampoons the narrative of the strong German soldier in the contrast of the Iron Cross medal, a medal for bravery and prowess in battle with the broken and badly put together state of the soldier in the Card Players.

the-card-players

Figure 2 Otto Dix, The Skat Players, Card Playing War Invalids, (1920) Oil and collage on canvas, 110 × 87 cm, Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin

The narrative of castration anxiety seen in the Spitzy statue is repeated in the German soldier’s prosthetics, he is crudely cut in half, but inserted into his stomach are a tiny pair of genitals. Dix shatters the idea of repairing the broken masculinity with modern technology. The archaic classical ideal of men as providers is showcased to be present in Weimar Germany, so strong an idea, that even soldiers so poorly put together, are provided with prosthetic means of reproduction.

George Grosz, another prominent Dadaist, was also fascinated with mutilation and the changing narrative of the male body in the face of the world war. In his autobiography, he recounts an exaggerated conversation about an unfortunate soldier who had lost his genitals due to a bomb blast, “No more fun with the girls for him,” said the medical orderly. The sergeant was of a different opinion. “Don’t believe it, my boy,” he said. “They’ll bloody well give him a brand new custom-built cock made of bloody wood.”[2]

The idea that the soldier will feel no sexual pleasure, but the girls can still have fun with him, shatters the notion of the male body as active. In this instance, the male body is passive, and the female body, still intact in terms of the classical ideal, is active. The French and British soldiers both are partially blind, the British soldier particularly, may be fully blind as we can only see his profile. The theme of blindness links with the idea of castration, as blindness causes passivity, the once strong soldier now needs assistance from his peers. The active ideal of the male body is subverted, showcased in the reliance on machine in Dix’s work, and the themes of blindness and castration, creating a new, passive male entity.

The ban on mutilated images was lifted in 1920. Perhaps the government recognised that public opinion on the war couldn’t become more sour by seeing images that had already been faced with in their personal lives. Dix showcases the flaws in nationalist, classical and technological narratives. By exaggerating the forms and figures of the maimed veterans, he showcases how the classical ideal of the male body is redundant, but also the new ideal proposed by the state, of a strong, healthy young man, who has performed his duty in battle and now performs his duty in work, is a myth. Dix also creates grotesque images that confront the bubbling Free Body movement in Germany at this time, the movement celebrated the natural body, but the prosthetic body, the body maimed by metal, was ubiquitous and seemed to have no place in the celebration.

Dix’s comments on the male body narrative in his pictures question the ideal physicality of Man, confronting classical ideals, state myths and utopian movements. However, Dix’s questioning of the narrative of the male as a strong minded entity is less obvious, ‘Male Hysteria’ was a topic that questioned the masculine perhaps more than representations of physicality. Yet, Dix as a veteran himself, was perhaps reluctant to discuss this narrative as in a society of stigma, it belittled the credit, sympathy and support due to the veteran.

In the Card Players of 1920, Dix provides a cutting caricature to contribute to the narrative of the male body, by shattering the myths spread by its biggest story tellers. The male body is emasculated, castrated, blinded and metamorphoses into a machine, it is not celebrated or championed.

The male narrative is transformed into a grotesque and tragic tale, with a lampooning of all physical ideals of the male body. A new passive, pieced together male entity is formed, Dix showcases a masculine identity that is to be run away from, far from ideals often narrated in art.

 

 

 

[1] Mia Fineman, “Ecce Homo Prostheticus,” New German Critique No.76, Special Issue on Weimar Visual Culture (Winter, 1999):

George Grosz, A small yes and a big no, trans. Arnold J. Pomeras (London: Alli- son & Busby, 1982) 88.

[2] George Grosz, A small yes and a big no, trans. Arnold J. Pomeras (London: Alli- son & Busby, 1982) 88.

The Woman in Black Article.

the-woman-in-balck-title-done-wordpress

I always wear the same thing.

Black trousers, black turtleneck, black Dr Martens with my hair tied up and a black tote bag or backpack. I do vary my socks, striped, woollen or mustard usually, but that’s about it.

Always mostly in black, every day, every evening. No choice, no deviation.

My experience with dressing myself and my journey of self-discovery through fashion and style is not an unusual one. Desperate to carve out an identity for myself that was one I could be proud of, I floundered and panic bought items for their pure aesthetic quality and the stereotypes they connoted. So obsessed was I of my appearance to others, I spent sums of money on clothing I never really wore and that just perpetuated my insecurities as surprise, surprise that one pair of boots didn’t fulfil my hopes and dreams.

As a consumer of ‘alternative’ media, such as feminist zines, publications such as Oh Comely and an interest in Esoteric Art and systems, I was smitten with the idea of being on par creatively and intellectually with the people featured. Mass media in my case cannot be blamed for my over consumption, and perhaps it cannot be blamed for anyone’s. The ease of purchasing and consuming only encourages a basic human trait that can be crippling- to affect how others see you in order to project and shape your own filtered idea of selfhood.

Actual progression and production requires hard work, attaining an aesthetic is easy, you just need the cash. So if there was an illustrator I admired featured in Oh Comely, I would want to look like them. It takes time to work on a talent or to make things, but it takes just days for a pair of horn rimmed glasses to arrive in the post so I can look like that artist .

It took me a long time to realise that what I really admired, and what all people admire in others, is what they do, not what they look like.

Imitation is not the best form of flattery .

My interest in wearing a uniform sprung from the idea of characters in fiction, they are memorable and instantly recognizable from that same outfit they wear in all scenarios. So, initially, the idea of a uniform for myself was perhaps a vain one, to be remembered.

I cannot pinpoint when the vanity dissipated, perhaps when I reached an all-time low in my mental health, which coincided with a nasty car crash. I needed to feel in control of my self-hood and my body. I floated around for months, and then I began to make choices, which deliberately made me feel uncomfortable like not wearing makeup- so I couldn’t hide my blemishes and scars- so I had to accept them. Cutting my hair, so I could not hide behind swathes of locks, so I had to face the world and it had to face me- with no distractions. And finally, wearing the same thing, all the time in order to force myself to not consume, to not lust after things and to really look at my body and my face with no variation in the material that cloaked it from the world.

For a while, the things I owned slightly disgusted me, I hated the idea of being chained to anything through stuff. The initial vanity inspired idea of the uniform morphed into wanting to own less and less stuff. To separate myself, my real self with the stuff I consume.

My uniform is all black, I decided on black because it is the most transitory colour. It can look arty, classical, morbid, casual, formal, youthful or archaic. Other people can project what they wish onto my body, but I am making no effort to shape what they see. Black also blends in, bright colours rebut against the grey Edinburgh buildings, black reflects the greyness. I wanted something that transitions easily from day to night, something I could wear to university lectures and to go dancing. Black is never inappropriate, you’re never over or under dressed.

Wearing the same thing perhaps makes little impact on strangers, but to the people who see you every day, it changes how they see you- that casual small talk opener of a complement on your appearance doesn’t really work if you always look the same. The beauty of a uniform is people stop noticing what you are wearing all together and thus, you, yourself don’t think what other people look like or wear is important.

A huge aspect of my way of dressing centres around my ideas on gender, which developed through numerous experiences and factors, I identify as completely gender fluid and I am attracted to people, not their assigned gender or societal roles. Clothing started to become an issue as I found it a land mine, androgynous dressing assumes you want to look more masculine, and that masculinity is heteronormative. Deciding to wear the same thing, every day was empowering for me, as I don’t have to think about it. I am a static body cloaked in black, my gender fluidity represented by my rejection of clothing as a representation of self-hood. Others can assume certain things, but at some point, assumptions will have to be replaced by discussion and connection with me, as my aesthetic is static.

I have realised that my physical self, my biological and anatomical body, is a tiny part of my self-hood, it ages, tires and betrays my mind and soul, it does not define me nor should it anyone. In a world where your self-hood is judged by your appearance and what you choose to cloak your skin with, wearing a uniform is a punk statement. A uniform escapes the allures of consumerism and forces the individual to look at themselves, their real selves and work on that.I always wear the same thing, because I want to do, not appear as if I am doing.

 

This piece was for Venus Magazine’s online Zine project, check Venus out here- http://www.venusfems.com/#!