Monday, 19 May 2014

Photography: Robert Mapplethorpe, Paris Grand Palais

My first ever point of reference for Robert Mapplethorpe was Patti Smith's beautiful and poetic autobiography Just Kids (2010). Now, largely because of the influence of Smith herself, the artist is being exhibited at the Grand Palais in Paris.

As someone utterly adoring of the book, I jumped at the chance to see elements of it come to life in such an incredible setting.

Robert Mapplethorpe was foremost an artist and, on the advice of Grand Palais and Mapplehorpe himself, should only ever be defined as an artist who happened to use a camera  when seen in the guise of 'photographer'. This is the right and only advisable starting point.

In the largest retrospective of his work to date, this exhibition presents an artist whose obsession with, and devotion to, the human form is comparable to that of Michelangelo. Mapplethorpe in fact adored Michelangelo and that is clear in his approach. In Thomas (1987) the male form is displayed to its utmost capacity and beauty. Similarly, his portraits of female bodybuilder Lisa Lyon present her body to in as many varied positions as if she were moving around in front of us.

Mapplethorpe's vision is irresistibly erotic, beautiful and lavish. The way he lit and focused his shots make them really pop out of their canvases. There are erotic pictures of plants that look more like pressings than photographs, and the bodies of the nudes are so smooth and close that they appear touchable. These factors heighten the eroticism: the flower stems are inseparable from the male appendage Mapplethorpe is comparing them to; the folds of petals synonymous to the female genitalia. 

"When I've exhibited pictures [...] I've tried to juxtapose a flower, then a picture of a cock, then a portrait, so that you could see they were the same."

A highlight for me was the wall of his photographs of Patti Smith, many of them taken during the pair's time together at the Chelsea Hotel in New York (watch an interview with Patti Smith below about her relationship with Mapplethorpe). Accompanying these was a video made a specific passage from Just Kids real to me. There was a wall dedicated to famous figures, including Debbie Harry, Susan Sarendon, Grace Jones and Andy Warhol.

This is a simply but affectively curated exhbition by Jérôme Neutres.  Mapplethorpe's relentless quest for aesthetic perfection is well represented on walls that guide you in a logical direction. The inclusion of large quotes across some of the space is a nice touch and seeing Mapplethorpe contained in a standalone exhibition is a revelation: a must for anyone interested in photography, the nude and erotic forms in nature.

Robert Mapplethorpe: Thomas (1987)

Robert Mapplethorpe: Lisa Marie (1987)
Robert Mapplethorpe: Debbie Harry (1978)
Robert Mapplethorpe: Patti Smith (1978)

Exposition: Robert Mapplethorpe is showing at the Grand Palais until 13th July 2014.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Cycling from Bristol to Bath

The Bristol & Bath Railway path is the ideal sunny bank holiday Saturday cycle route. Alice Han and I embarked on the mini epic – a 32-mile (52km) round trip to the beautiful historic city of Bath and back – on Saturday, taking in the sights of disused rail stations, old trains and the beautiful British countryside.

We hired our bikes through Cycle The City, which operates from No. 1 Harbourside, and were delighted to be presented with beautiful Dawes numbers with wicker baskets.

The route is just gorgeous for its (mostly) smooth tarmac surface, a lovely lack of hills and the fellow pleasure-seeking day trippers that you tend to encounter. We enjoyed stopping at Warmley for refreshment and our picnic at Bath was just the job after a two-hour cycle. I always forget how unique the city is, so contrasted to the eclectic bohemian bustle of Bristol with its ordered architecture and neatly manicured streets.

We pushed the pace on the way home, stopping briefly for that essential it's-sunny-today-so-we-have-to ice cream, and were greeted with a festival atmosphere in Bristol where Eat Drink Bristol Fashion was in full swing. This was one of those perfect summer days that grants rare relaxation and carefree laughter.

Alice plots our route | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Seeking refreshment | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Photo: Rosie Pentreath
Photo: Rosie Pentreath
The old Warmley station is now a lovely little cafe | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

'Waiting for the train' | Photo: Rosie Pentreath
The Bristol dragon | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

We arrive in Bath | Photo: Rosie Pentreath
Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Friday, 2 May 2014

Not another Sundance movie

I like independent films as much as the next slightly-left-field twenty-something who graduated with an arts degree before becoming a media type. This blog has seen a few: from The Great Beauty (Paolo Sorrentino, 2013) and The Broken Circle Breakdown (Felix Van Groeningen, 2012) to the mesmerising Thursday Till Sunday (Dominga Sotomayor Castillo, 2012). 

Cinematography that is stark-yet-beautiful; story lines that are simple-yet-loaded-with-profundity; characters that are one-dimensional in their complexity: it's what the whole thing is about. Taking in the artful journey of a niche flick is one of my very favourite pastimes. But when I went to Watershed on Wednesday, one such a film left me cold.

Joanna Hogg's Exhibition has been praised for being 'a brilliantly austere and intimate portrait of a marriage' (Kate Muir, The Times), 'superbly glacial' (Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian) and 'a wonderful, bewitching piece' (Ed Cripps, Huffington Post), receiving many four and five-star reviews. This was one that I was pretty excited to see.

I found that it conveyed some artistry – a minimalist and considered commentary on modern life perhaps. And I enjoyed some of the photography, appreciating throughout the director's rare boldness and ability to present completely naturalised conversations between her characters. Hogg is a master of saying a lot without saying anything at all (one of those art film contradictions again). But this film was – well – infuriating.

There are those reading this who will have just uttered 'that's the point!'. I disagree – I would have liked to be infuriated for a good reason. The characters – especially D (played by Viv Albertine) – were detestable and their lack of momentum from point A to even A.5 from beginning to end made me envious of the time Hogg had just stolen from me. Although the film maker attempts to generate some mystery around her creations (there are hints of attempts to start a family and of the male's past depression), they merely bored me. These are just two more frustrated and privileged people existing in the world.

I fear this kind of self-indulgent film making threatens to infiltrate the mix of truly original cinema out there, being mistaken for an 'evocative art installation'. For me, it is important to distinguish between the genuine and not-so-genuine examples of the genre. I think Exhibition can be classed as the latter, whereas something stark and moving like Winter's Bone, which I first watched a couple of months ago and found stunning, will always keep me engaged with independent cinema.

I'm not the only one who is aware that the complexity-through-simplicity art house film experience can miss the point at times. An independent film trailer parody circulated at the beginning of the year that brilliantly sums up how transparent this formula can be in the wrong hands. Despite my indie leanings, it never fails to make me chuckle.