Friday, 31 October 2008

The darker side of love

“Love does this to us / shows us its darker side as loss.”

Move me. Imperative. This is what I want poetry/painting/music to do.

The best art rubs against us, makes us tectonic plates, and like the moving of land masses, reveals us as greater, at the very least different, than before our moment of experience. Especially now, when we’ve all become so post-modernly cynical – indeed, I feel cynical just writing about humanism and I am a humanist. We need art to reflect beauty, but also truth. This reads like some vague bohemian manifesto, unless you’ve experienced an “encounter” which brings the immediacy of the importance of “truth” as an ideal to light.

Dooley’s poem (which I’ve copied out in full below) serves as a fine example. She transcends metaphor and avoids being trapped by the modernist obsession with linguistic novelty. In my mind she manages to make a remarkably beautiful statement of truth about a rather commonplace truism: that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone (courtesy of Joni Mitchell) or as my mother always used to say, you need the bad times to appreciate the good times. But using the loss of a lover’s gift of earrings as a wider metaphor for the darker side of love is subtle and haunting.

I’m not afraid to reveal my aesthetic prejudices: I think, especially as a humanist, it’s important to understand and use language to explain why I find beautiful what the girl sitting next to me on the tube in the morning finds disinteresting at best. I like beauty in its traditional sense, of course, but I also need that spark (which having gone on about defining prejudices is quite a flighty use of language, I realise); that quality which moves, provokes, and surprises. But what I really find interesting about the idea of truth is its companion, recognition: the idea that this “other,” entirely separate human being sees the same thing, the same truth, but in a completely different way. You read the poem and you think, ah yes, loss of love, of course, but you now, because of this person’s alternate understanding, conceive of the commonplace in an entirely fresh way. And that is what gets me really excited.

In which Paula loses an earring and has it restored to her

An orb spinning
slips from its ken,
from your certain touch,
and is lost.
We search all that can be held
try to picture all that cannot.

It matters terribly at such a moment,
this shift in your earth’s axis,
the disappearance of a nameless planet.

Good then, that at the water’s edge
and just in time,
ornament resurfaces as lucky charm.

You hold it now, in trembling hands, joyous.

Love does this to us,
shows us its darker side as loss.

For now, your head is straight again,
you are well-balanced.
Those earrings catch the happy salty light.

Maura Dooley

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Sleepless nights

Ryoji Ikeda, spectra [paris]
Commissioned for Nuit Blanche Paris, 2008
Paris may be the ‘City of Lights’ but Ryoji Ikeda’s blinding tower of light, spectra [paris], elevates the cliché from banal to stratospheric. This new work by the Japanese artist was commissioned for Nuit Blanche, the city’s annual all night contemporary arts festival. Ikeda’s initial proposal was to make the 210-metre tall Montparnasse Tower disappear by surrounding it on all four sides with light. This proved to be a technical impossibility but also a stroke of luck, for the installation undoubtedly benefits from the Tower despite its unpopular appearance. A ghostly and compelling alternative imagining of the Tower, spectra [paris] softens the skyscraper’s harsh façade, supplying an awe and delicacy lacking in the original.

The 64 floodlights are arranged in an 8 x 8 formation, two metres apart, so that visitors can walk between and interact with the lights. The grid of lamps is accompanied by a matrix of speakers, broadcasting a 30 minute looped pattern of sine waves of varying frequencies. The audio element transforms the ephemeral lights into an altogether more physical sensation: an aural skin for floodlit bones.

While spectra [paris] acts as an artistic affirmation of the Tower, it’s also a sublime experience in its own right. The lights and sounds of spectra teeter precariously between sensory pleasure and pain: the high-pitched frequencies are sometimes unbearable and the lights are too bright to look at directly. But this environment is primal and addictive and when you start to walk away, an immediate desire to return takes over.

Initially I wasn’t convinced the installation would work, given the relatively low lines of Paris’s skyline. Ultimately the location couldn’t have been more appropriate. Had spectra [paris] been near the Eiffel Tower, it would have been obvious and self-defeating; anywhere else, and it would have been operating in a vacuum. Ikeda’s installation provides a new lens with which to view this sky-scraping behemoth, rendering it simply stunning, no mean feat given this is one of the least attractive buildings in a very beautiful city.