Schwitters in Britain, Tate Britain: 30th January – 12th May 2013

It seems apt, for Kurt Schwitters, to be the pioneer of an underrated art form: the collage. Whilst some of his contemporaries may be more recognisable to the average person, Schwitters’ influence is often overlooked. In fact, he was a revolutionary Dadaist; making art out of anything and everything, he created the concept of Merz, ‘the combination, for artistic purposes of all conceivable materials’. So, when you question ‘is this art?’ with reference to 21st century artists, you have the likes of Schwitters to blame. Interested more in the aesthetics of his work, Schwitters himself would dissuade viewers to look for a deeper meaning than a record of modern culture at the time. However, what is interesting about the visual arts is that, like poetry, the audience can interpret the meaning as they wish.

Schwitters proves his technical ability through his portraiture work. Yet, it is the collage that really makes you think. You peer closer to inspect the materials, the texture, the composition. The apparent juxtaposition of various papering is sometimes amusing, such as an untitled piece with an early portrait of the artist himself (1937-8). Others seem to suggest a sense of despair and melancholy, for example, En Morn (1947) which included the words ‘these are the things we are fighting for’ alongside scraps of newspaper, chocolate wrappers, and bus tickets. He extended this work beyond the flat surface with collages of objects such as Merz Picture 46 A. The Skittle Picture (1921). As you walk around the Tate Britain gallery space, you can’t help but wonder beyond the pure visual surface to depict a meaning.

Other highlights of the exhibition include the cabinets of articles and letters, which include rejection letters. These provoke a feeling of hope due to his obvious success, with the knowledge of his reputation and influence in the art world today. The sound poetry Ursonate (1922–32) plays alongside shots of Schwitters reciting the piece. This complements the visual components of the exhibition, whilst also giving further insight to the history behind the work.

Fleeing from Germany and eventually ending up in the Isle of Man, Schwitters was detained in a camp there as an enemy. This gives practical reason for Schwitters’ need to create from found objects and scraps, given that there were limited resources. He also created pictures of his confined surroundings. However, he continued to push the boundaries of what it means to be a painter, even after his release in 1941. He created sculptural work such as Untitled (Opening Blossom), dated 1942-45 and Painted Stone (1945-47) which again looked at the idea of surfaces and texture, and showed the abilities to be free of apparent limitations of the medium of paint, as something which must be two-dimensional.

The Merzbarn is the crescendo of the exhibition and epitomises how radical Schwitters’ artistic practice was during this time. He started creating the piece in 1923, and on his third attempt at its manifestation; it was still unfinished when he died in 1948. It shows Schwitters as a true artist, whereby art is his lifeline. His passion for creation was all-consuming. Such a grand installation shows how inspirational a figure Schwitters has become, and this is translated by the end of the exhibition through the exhibition of inspired work from Adam Chodzko and Laure Prouvost. Whilst Chodzko takes on the more architectural and environmental, exploring the contextual side of the work, Prouvost shows a video installation and creates a narrative based around a grandfather figure, looking at the way an artist has no control over interpretations of their work.

May the Birthweek Commence

Yesterday I handed in my latest four pieces of coursework, including my interview piece with Benjamin Zephaniah. I met with my Gran at the Tate Modern, where we started our day with the Yayoi Kusama exhibition.

I first came across Kusama whilst studying my art foundation at Central Saint Martins and I became fascinated by her use of polka-dots and her use bright colours, and her poetry. I bought a book of hers which I sadly lost in a photocopier (or so I suspect). I did write down this quote:

“A polka-dot has the form of the sun, which is a symbol of the energy of the whole world and our living life, and also the form of the moon, which is calm Round, soft, colourful, senseless and unknowing. Polka-dots can’t stay alone; like the communicative life of people, two or three polka-dots become a movement.”

I was also inspired by use of cherry blossom depicted in the poem below, which I used in my paintings in order to symbolise the conflict between childhood and adulthood.

I want to eat cherry blossoms.
I want to kiss their pink colors.
Their scent that would have reached the universe dissipated in my youth.
Remembering that, now tears roll down my eyes.
Scattering cherry blossom petals on the path of my faint love, I will be facing death someday.
When that day arrives, all the love that I have had in my past, I will enwrap life.
On that moment, the flower path of cherry blossoms will envelop the whole of me without fail.
Cherry blossoms, cherry blossoms, cherry blossoms.
They explore my life and death.
Dear Cherry blossoms, I thank you

I first saw her exhibition at White Cube, and so this exhibition was interesting in terms of exploring the variety of her work, of which I loved every bit.

We went for a quick meal at Mon Plaisir which was nice. The main meal was quite small, but the desert was lovely – a rich chocolate mouse with a passion-fruit ice cream. Then, it was time for my birthday treat – Matilda the Musical! I thought it was good that it was faithful to the story-line but also was not restricted by it, making adaptions, and infusing more magical threads to the narrative. It did feel really magical and I loved the songs, as well as some of the messages they conveyed about being the writer of the story of your life, and although the main star, Matilda, is generally a good girl, that ‘sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty’ when you feel like something is not right to you.

In other news, I’ve had a couple of rejections – the Charles Pick Fellowship and my first application for Arts Council funding. I was disappointed that I’d had to email to ask about the Fellowship and that I would have not been contacted otherwise. I’d had a nightmare about not being accepted for it so it was really gutting that I’d not even made the short-list. Next year I think I’ll reapply with my novel idea, as maybe proposing to write a series of children’s short stories was not good enough, especially as a faculty member at UEA had told of the polarised views of children’s literature by the other staff.

I didn’t expect to be successful for my first arts council application. As I have the money to put my event on from being a Poet Shadow in Shake the Dust, I don’t have to worry about actually not being able to afford it. Though, making a profit will be unlikely. And although you can’t make a profit with Arts Council funding, it does mean the money isn’t coming out of your own pocket, resulting in a loss. Anyway, I emailed for further feedback and got a great response and so have lots to learn for any future applications. Particularly the idea of whether I actually do want to do any more events – do I want to be a writer or a producer? I’d say 100% a writer, first and foremost, but that I would like involvements in events and sometimes enjoy putting on my own events. Also, this pilot project is more about just putting myself out there and learning from the experience, so we’ll have to wait and see!