Archive for the ‘image’ Tag
Loss has been a bit of a theme in this blog off and on. The previous post was called ‘Losing Banksy’ (about the destruction of a Banksy stencil in Melbourne’s CBD), and back in October I wrote about how I felt upon discovering that one of my favourite C215 stencils had been buffed (‘Losing the image’).
And now, more loss…. But here’s why: last week I had been scrolling through photos that I’ve taken on various trips recently, and I came across this image:
The location is a side-street near the Tate Modern; I had been doing the ‘walking tour’ that the Tate organised as part of its Street Art exhibition. A number of works had been created and installed in locations close to the museum, and then maps indicating these locations were given to Tate visitors. I had been dutifully walking around the relevant streets, looking at the various images, and feeling that there was something a little sterile, a little forced, about the whole exercise, when I came across these words, meticulously painted onto a wall, not part of the walking tour, placed there by some unknown writer who knows how long ago.
In some respects, its meaning is so plain. ‘I know I have lost’: what ambiguity could possibly be said to exist in those words? And yet, it’s worth hesitating over… Lost what, exactly? The way? Self-respect? A ten-pound note? Love?
And why not just state “I have lost’? It’s the conjoining of ‘I know’ with ‘I have lost’ that makes it so powerful - it’s not simply that something has been lost. Loss is registered through our knowledge of the fact of loss.
Over the weekend, I had been going to write about how simple and how satisfying I think this is; however, the destruction of the Banksy stencil, and the media reaction to it, provided a more pressing issue. But then Monday brought news of another loss: my partner learned that his father had died suddenly. It’s hard to do justice to the magnitude of that kind of pain, but in some strange way the ambiguity of those simple words on a wall in Southwark have sedimented the grief and sadness experienced over the last few days. ‘I know I have lost’.
Today I went to see a film called Hunger. I haven’t written at all yet in this blog about moving images, despite a significant part of my time revolving around thinking, teaching, and writing about cinema. Seems appropriate, then, to make the first cinema-related post on this blog about Hunger, the first film by Steve McQueen, a visual artist, photographer and sculptor who won the Turner Prize in 1999. Hunger is certainly the work of someone who understands the visual, but one of the great things about it is that it is not only outstanding for its its composition of images, with an artist’s eye for the huge image on the cinema screen. The film also shows how the visual imagination in cinema can be intermeshed with sound and narrative, so that when you are watching the film you are captured in several simultaneous ways. (Here’s a link to a very good article in The Guardian about the film and about McQueen.)
The film is about the hunger strikes organised by the IRA in the Maze prison in Belfast in 1981. Many IRA members in the prison took part in a series of protests, in an attempt to compel Thatcher’s government to recognise the political nature of IRA activities. The British government refused to do so. The prisoners, for many years, refused to wash and to wear prison uniform. The prison authorities gave them each a single blanket, rarely cleaned their cells or their bodies, beat them and tortured them. Unlike the scandals at Abu Ghraib, which led to the trials of several soldiers, as far as I’m aware no member of the Maze prison authorities ever stood trial for what was carried out there. And after the ‘no-wash’ and the ‘blanket’ protests had seen no success, a hunger strike was begun. Bobby Sands was the first to go on hunger strike; a further prisoner began a hunger strike every fortnight after the commencement of the protest. Sands was the first to die; a further nine prisoners died too.
Here’s a still showing Bobby Sands (played by Michael Fassbender), in the film’s amazing central scene (filmed in one 22-minute take), as he describes his commitment to the hunger strike in conversation with a priest visiting the prison:
These hunger strikes were a huge part of my early years at university. The newspapers were filled with stories about the hunger strikers; Bobby Sands was elected as an MP during his hunger strike; he also was elected President of the Student Union at Glasgow University (I grew up and lived in the West of Scotland, an area filled with strongly sectarian sentiment).
Seeing Hunger today brought back many memories from that period, and it’s amazing to me that so little is now talked about the Maze hunger strikes, and the ‘dirty’ protest, and the abuse that was perpetrated within the prison walls.
The film is very difficult to watch, in that it unsparingly shows Sands’s physical decline as he starves to death. But the film-making demands that we watch. I simply want to mention the first few scenes, which show a man getting dressed in his bedroom, washing his hands, and then going downstairs to eat a plate of food prepared for him by his wife. There’s no dialogue or music in these scenes. We don’t know who this man is (later, we learn that he is a prison officer). But what is so beautifully rendered is the simplicity of these everyday activities – dressing, washing, eating – activities which have been, as the film is later to reveal, rendered absolutely impossible for the IRA prisoners (who must live in faeces-smeared cells, with maggot-infested piles of rotting food on the cell floor, naked except for a blanket, filthy and unable to wash). These scenes take only a few brief minutes at the film’s outset, and they would be easy to miss. If you see the film – and I recommend you do – take note of these scenes, and the activities they show. They’re easy to overlook, we do them everyday. How luxurious are our lives that we are able to do them without giving them a second thought. How great is Steve McQueen’s film in that it shows what life can become when that freedom (to wash, to eat, to wear our clothes) is taken away.
Welcome to this blog. I hope to use this site as a place in which to think and write about the place and significance of the image in everyday life. Sometimes that will mean writing about an actual image – such as an artwork, or a piece of graffiti, or a movie – and sometimes it will mean simply reflecting on how images work on us, on the purchase that images have in contemporary life.
I’m a university academic, and I teach and write about images. I teach one subject which deals primarily with film, particularly films that focus upon violence, crime, law and justice. At the moment, I’m writing a book about that, and much of the ideas for that book have come from the experience of teaching this topic over the last 12 years. The book is called Visions of Violence: Cinema, Crime, Affect, and it is two thirds completed. No doubt there are going to be some posts arising out of the process of finishing the book over the next 6 months.
I also teach a course, also focusing on violence, which engages with images as well as textual representations: post-Holocaust art, for example, or photo-documentation, or comic books. And for years I’ve been fascinated by the intersections and interconnections of law and the image. I wrote a book a few years ago called Judging the Image: Art, Value, Law – it looked at the encounter between law and image and tried to imagine it as a relation of co-implication, rather than the collision or struggle it is so often conceived as.
When I was writing that book, I became very interested in trying to write about the experience of spectatorship: that is, trying to say what it is like to look at an artwork. That’s definitely something that I would like to pursue here: to think about spectatorship of images, to call attention to the looking that gets done in the quotidien spaces of the everyday. Part of that is going to be about the phenomenon of subjectivity in the city. I’m also writing about street art – artworks that appear in the urban spaces of cities such as London, Melbourne, New York, Sao Paulo. Looking at such artworks often occurs in the most mundane and yet exciting ways: walking past a wall on the way to work, or turning a corner to take a shortcut and suddenly coming across a painting on a peeling concrete wall.
So this blog is intended as a space for the recounting of sites of spectatorship. It was my partner Peter who had the idea of blogging about this: I owe him thanks! It feels like a new relationship – a new way of thinking and writing, and I’m excited to see where it will go.
And to mark this inaugural post, I’m including what I consider to be one of the most beautiful street artworks I’ve seen in a long time. This is by the French artist C215, and I took this photograph in Shoreditch, London, in July 2008.