Wednesday, 30 September 2015

"Memoria: Memories of light" an exhibition by David Bridges at Armley Mills

Thanks to my volunteer role at Leeds Art Gallery, I went to visit another site of Leeds Museums and Galleries: Armley Mills. I have heard about this industrial museum but I was not able to visit until a few days ago while attending an exhibition opening, Common Threads 2 an exhibition about (art)works made by volunteers in the community (I posted a few pictures on Twitter)

The day before my visit I followed a Twitter Tour of the exhibition and fall in love with the new exhibition: Memoria: Memories of Light by David Bridges. The artist is based in Bradford, where he studied, and works with different media including steel, porcelain and light. 

Waves by David Bridges (2015)

The exhibition takes part in several parts of the museum and has four sculptures in total. David Bridges created sculptures which reflects the everyday life, sensorial life, of the mill's workers. He was helped by volunteers to find and interview workers, then he played the interview and music while seating in the mill, waiting for an idea to emerge from the dark (literally as the mill is a damp and dark place!).  He also wanted to create a new archive and contacted the  descendant of the last owner of the mill and found his granddaughter in New Zealand. She agreed to participate to the project and gave her collection of photographs and documents to the museum. 

Wing by David Bridges (2015)

What is really interesting in this exhibition is how it works, on a visual and on an emotional level. The sculptures are placed at different places in the museum and the visitor is surprised by their presence in the middle of old machinery. Nevertheless, the beauty of the pieces and their poetic language bring life to the place. The light is really the memory of the workers, the artist talks about "filming sculpture", he recreates a memory. By looking and admiring these artworks you pay tribute to the past. 

Aerial by David Bridges (2015)

One sculpture, Aerial, is situated on a damp and dark wall which has some water running on it, the anecdote says that no one knows where the water comes from and where it goes. It has an aura of magic to the sculpture. 

Gleam by David Bridges (2015)

The last piece, Gleam, is a full immersion into the mill's world, you have to wear an helmet and the guide (a volunteer) closes the door behind you. You are left on your own in a cold and damp space but the feeling is amazing. You look at the sculpture which follows the form of the tank and brings light to the place. 

Gleam by David Bridges (2015) (detail) 

The exhibition is running until 3rd October and I couldn't recommend it enough! Thank you Leeds Museums and Galleries for this experience. 

Have a look at the artist's blog! 

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Chinese Art and Patronage

Another post based on a paper I wrote at Middlebury College, this time on Chinese paintings and their Patronage. Enjoy! 

China has three main religions ; Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism. The aristocratic families and the emperors started commissioning artists to decorate the temples and to create painting for their private devotion. 

Temples, especially in Buddhism, often included several works of art that are used during worship. During the Six Dynasty period (220-589), Buddhism spread with the help of the rich families that commissioned artist to create sculptures and painting for Buddhist temples. For instance, the sculpture of Bodhisattva from the Longmen grottoes were commissioned by several patrons to promote this new religion. 

Anon., Vairocana Buddha, Fengxian Temple at Longmen, 672-675, Grey Limestone. Longmen, China.

Patrons wanted to be depicted in the temples so everyone could know their involvement in supporting the religious life of the community. Commissioning a deity figure and donating it to a temple was a way to gain prestige and to improve one's social status. 

Anon., Cave 428, Corridor, South Wall, N. Zhou (557-581), Pebbled sandstone. Mogao Caves, Dunhuang, Gansu Province, China. 

Private patrons also commissioned to paint scrolls as guides to proper Confucian behaviour in the society. Through the painting of landscape, the artists were able to help the patrons to understand the Confucian rules and the hierarchy of the society as in Fan Kuan's painting with the emperor at the top of the mountain. 

Fan Kuan, Travelers Among Mountains and Streams, 1000, ink on silk, National Palace Museum, Taipei. 

Emperors understood the importance of the religious patronage to reinforcing their own power. For instance, the painting The Emperor as the Bodhisattva Manjusri depicted the emperor as a Bodhisattva who has to help people to reach Buddha, in the middle of the Buddhist cosmos. In this case, the emperor wanted to be identified as the center of spiritual life. 

Giuseppe Castiglione, The Emperor as the Bodhisattva Manjusri, 1735-1795, ink and color on silk,  Palace Museum, Beijing

In summary, rich and aristocratic or the emperor himself became patrons for religious reasons but also to prove their economic and political power. Patronage is not only designed to help artists but also to enhance the social status of the donor. 

Further readings:

Cahill, James. The Painter's Practice: How Artists lived and Worked in Traditional China. New York: Columbia University. 1994.

Hongman,Kim. The Life of a Patron: Zhou Lianggong (1612-1672) and the Painters of Seventeenth-century China. New York: China Institute of America. 1996.

Jenyns, Soame. A Background to Chinese Painting. New York: Shocken Books. 1966.

Li Chu-Tsing, James Cahill, Wai-Kam Ho, and Claudia Brown. Artists and Patrons: Some Social and Economic Aspects of Chinese Painting. Lawrence, Ks: Kress Foundation Dept. of Art History, University of Kansas, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City in Association with the University of Washington Press. 1989. 

Monday, 7 September 2015

Colonial American Design: A Chippendale style Chair

This article is based on a paper I handed while studying for a year at Middlebury College in the US. I followed a great course on American design by Professor Glenn Andres which changed my life! Thanks to him and its course I started working on Design and Decorative Arts. This article is a tribute to my time at Middlebury and to its great professors!

Furniture was an important art in Colonial America and American craftsmen were influenced by European style but they adapted their techniques and styles to their needs. In the Sheldon Museum in Middlebury some of the furniture has characteristics of Colonial America especially an armchair that has a Chippendale style (1755-1790) from the High Georgian period.

Chippendale Style Chair from Henry Sheldon Museum(Middlebury)

            High Georgian arrived in Colonial America around 1750, via publications of English architectural books. English society looked for a more classic architecture and started discovering Italian Renaissance. This new style also spread in furniture and was defined by the ability of craftsmen to mix different styles to create a new style. Thomas Chippendale, who gave his name to this style, compiled in his book, The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director in 1754, different style of furniture.
            The Sheldon Museum’s armchair respects the proportions that are defined by the “Rule of taste”. The symmetry is one of the keys of these rules and the armchair, even if it has a lot of curves, but it is still perfectly symmetric. The structure with the two legs at the back remains simple and clear. The seat is trapezoidal to stay simple and it is more convenient to sit. The simplicity and clarity of the shape was really important for Thomas Chippendale who emphasised these qualities in his book. In fact they symbolise the classic side of the Chippendale style that was directly inspired by English Classicism. Also the legs are curvy but not as much as the Queen Anne style. Also they have a slight curve for cabriole legs and they finish with a ball and claw foot. Besides they are carved with vegetal motifs probably acanthus leaves coming from a Roman heritage. These feet are a Chinese inspiration with their eagle’s claws. The fabric that is on the armchair can also be seen as a Chinese influence with its pink colour and the fabric looks like silk. Thereby mix of taste is one of the most important characteristics of this style. Besides Chinese influence the armchair is reminiscence of Rococo especially with the curves and the serpentine lines at the top of the back of the seat. These lines are more characteristic of Philadelphia Chippendale that was more influenced by French Rococo. The colour of the armchair can also be interpreted as a Rococo influence with this pastel pink and the motifs of bouquets of flowers. These elements are more feminine and so are related to Rococo style that was more of a women’s style. The armchair has different influences (Chinese, Rococo, Classic) that make it a good example of the Chippendale style.
The Chippendale style reflects a new way of life in the colonies. Colonial America started being well connected with the world. Influences from Europe as for example the discovery of Italian Renaissance through the gaze of English Classicism is expressed in the Chippendale style with the symmetry and French Rococo’s influence in the fabric and the curves of the back seat. Also Chinese influence, in the feet of the armchair, expresses the vitality of the trade between America and China during the 18th century especially in New England. It also reveals a new domestic way of life in which comfort starts being important. America’s prosperity allowed people to focus more on their comfort than utility. The armchair has a big and comfy seat that was made for  private use probably in the bedroom to rest. It expresses a new life in Colonial America that emphasises more privacy and comfort over utility and public representation.

Further readings:
Chippendale, Thomas. 1762. The gentleman and 
cabinet-maker's director being a large collection of 
the most elegant and useful designs of household 

furniture in the most fashionable taste

London: [publisher not identified]. 

Chippendale, Thomas, J. Munro Bell, and Arthur 

Hayden. 1910. The furniture designs of Thomas 

Chippendale. London: Gibbings and Co.

Layton Art Collection, Brock Jobe, and Gerald W. 
R. Ward. 1991. American furniture with related 

decorative arts, 1660-1830New York: Hudson 

Hills Press.