A visit to the current Dan Flavin exhibition in the Vienna Museum of Modern Art (MUMOK) evokes a number of interesting questions as to the art of light and the related domain of photography, often also described as “painting with light” (as if e.g. oil paintings would not equally need light as a quintessential element). The exhibition is placed in a very reduced environment so that the visitor often finds him- or herself alone with the light source (which uniquely consists of neon light tubes of different colours). This reduced-ness makes for a visually very interesting backdrop to photograph, and one is suddenly tempted to photograph other people’s art, expecting to create with this one’s own. This fallacy can not easily be contoured, even if one tries – as I have done here – to include other people, but it is equally difficult to not press the shutter when confronted with such clear lines, overpowering colours and otherwise lifeless, wide-open spaces.
Light art has existed for a long time in such artistic spaces as architecture – only to mention here stained glass windows in churches and mosques – but it only came into its own as a singular form of expression with the ascent of the artificial light bulb. Since then, it has entered modern art as a defining feature, whether as projections, sculptures, light installations or ephemeral firework displays. A very interesting recent example is also the video paining project by Sweatshoppe.
In terms of photography, light is obviously fundamental. But the deliberate and conscientious use of light as a method goes beyond this. Surrealist photography such as the work of Man Ray prepared the ground for this, and in more recent times artists such as Trent Parke or Alex Webb integrate light as a defining part of a picture. Webb’s latest publication, “The Suffering of Light”, is harking back to Goethe’s Theory of Colours, which ties together the nature of light, shadow and colours and has exerted a direct influence on the arts.
The strong emphasis on light and colour is by far not undisputed. Aside from the group of photographers who – mostly unthinkable in the world of painting – expressively confine themselves to the “realism” of black and white, there are many who refuse to have light dominate form and content, and shy away from strongly lit or highly contrasted subjects, since the play of light and shadow would artificially detract from the meaning of the picture.
When it rains, it pours. That’s sort of my approach to keeping a blog – two months nothing, then two entries back to back. But then, my approach to media – as a guy working in that field – is to only say something if you have something to say.
What did I want to say? Ah yes, about that blog-writing. I never kept a diary, not even as a child. Mainly because I didn’t find much worthy to preserve for future readers, but also because I was just doing too much to write it all down. Or perhaps I was just plain lazy. Yes, that’s what it was.
So if you, dear reader, are now finding these notes, keep in mind that they were scribbled down on a minute keyboard by someone who had only ever had the habit of writing down his thoughts in an illegible handwriting on the flimsy paper napkins that came with his beer. And to then throw them away.
Since I have found out that I will spend some time in Istanbul courtesy Turkish Airlines (I remember having had that pleasure not so long ago already; what IS it with their timekeeping?), I thought I might write something about Turkey. Right after Tajikistan, world-wise that I am.
Now, I have never seen anything else of Turkey than Istanbul and, a long time ago, some stretch of beach down at Antalya. Which I regret, very much. Not the beach, but not to have seen more. In any case, Istanbul is a wonderful city. I hardly ever go there anymore out of my own free will, because I don’t have to. For some odd reason I regularly end up there for business. Generally, I am passing through, and I don’t always leave the terminal, but when I do, I enjoy it. Sadly, it always seems to be in winter or early spring.
I remember several visits where I would stare into the waters of the Bosporus or across it, admiring the Eastern shore, when I had to pull up my socks and my jumper against the icy winds coming down from the Marmara. I am convinced that the Blue Mosque was built out of that specific marble to reflect the bluish quality of the Istanbul air in winter. They have a word in French for it: it’s bluâtre – blue like the early morning, like a winter dawn in the European North, like the veins of mould in young blue cheese. A blue transparency rather than a prime colour.
Writing this from the plane two hours before touch down, I have no chance yet to take a picture, but I will endeavour to capture this capital-lettered Blue. No doubt will I fail, but I will try.
What else did I want to say about Istanbul (for I cannot be so daring as to give an opinion on an entire country as large as this one)?
Well, it is a multitude. Like any metropolis, I’d say. It is hip for its bars and cafés and students, it is traditional for its architecture and its glorious past (which now, however, appears strangely vacuous, like a shell without its crab), and it is fresh and slightly dirty and gritty, like any decent harbour city. I really like it.
When I come home, I shall have to dig up my photographic memories of the city, and perhaps I shall find something Blue as well…
Arrival in the dark, leaving in the dark, decent photography impossible. Hence the only picture showing any measure of Blue had to be taken at the airport, which it was. Back home to Vienna, to a few more months of blogging silence. Or maybe not!
Of course reality hit us as we headed home to Vienna and saw all the boxes. We wanted to renovate our city loft before we moved in, but hey ho. We pulled up our sleeves and started to sand, paint, oil and clean. The kids went off to camp for two weeks to help them prepare for school; a programme consisting of early mornings, followed by four hours of maths and German, then horse-riding or rafting, finally homework. A boon for parents.
The kids’ new school is quite interesting. The school is a normal state secondary school but offers a sort of bilingual IB (International Baccalaureate) in modern languages. In most of the lessons there are two teachers, one an English native speaker, and they take it in turn to teach the lesson. How the heck this works we do not know but it was voted the best school in Austria a few years ago. The kids are settling in quite well and managing in German, better than we hoped.
In fact it is Georgina who has the most problems adapting to the Austrian system, lamenting the lack of school teams, choirs and facilities. We both don’t understand the odd lessons in the afternoon, up to four hours after school finished. But they do have hot lunches and a supervised homework club – now that is nice after Rygaards, the school Maddie and Tristan attended in Hellerup.
After our two-year office sabbatical in Lyngby at the edge of forests, fields, and all forms of water, we realise that we are meant for the city. We love eating out, busy parks, nightlife. We like trams and grand piazzas. Our loft is near the centre and we have been taking work breaks in street cafés, or tap away on our laptops in the shade of vine trees at our local restaurant. We have been out more in the last two weeks than in the two years before. We came to the painful realisation that we cannot settle in a non-wine producing country with very hard water and so far from the action – so Denmark had to go. Still, we do perceive Vienna differently now.
After Copenhagen we find the city here a bit rough, dirty and positively Eastern European. We miss Scandinavia’s elegant simplicity of dress and style; the perfectly wrapped scarf, razor sharp design, homely hygge (google it. too hard to explain) and municipal neatness. Their national furnishing tones: white, light blue, sand and dove grey are stained on our memory. We have good feelings for Denmark and life in the North.
The life plan is now for Georgina to go back to work in January after she completes her dissertation, while Alex will probably continue consulting (one of the reasons we moved back is that 80% of his clients are Vienna-based). We will finish our flat and perhaps look for a new real estate project. We thought we would miss the dimensions of our previous homes, but in fact we love our unusual loft. There is so much noise from the balconies and streets that we feel part of an urban theatre. The balcony opposite ours frequently sports a set of teenage daughters gauging their singing talent by chanting the latest X-factor stuff in the middle of the night.
Our neighbourhood has also become somewhat more diversified. The families and pensioners in Fortunvænget have been replaced with fin de siècle architecture, grand avenue promenades, coffee bars and pastries, and galleries and theatres and palatial museums. Just next door, there are some of the most peculiar outlets one could imagine: the bandagist, the bristle specialist, the House of Foam, shops selling only juggling equipment or inflatable artifacts… you name it. Further afield, there are, of course, the thermal spas, forest hikes and river tours, not to mention skiing, skating and magical Christmas markets and Heurige.
In summary, we can say that there is a lot to be said about living in the North, we just can’t think about anything right now. Oh no, not true: we will always remember the long Sundays Alex spent mowing our indomitable lawn, the walks in Dyrehavn during which we had very very close encounters with wild deers, then got lost and had to take 4 1/2 detours to get home, the cycle rides through the forest to the beach, where even in winter people strip naked to dive into holes in the ice.
All in all, it was a blast, but a quiet one.
Georgina, Alex, Madelene and Tristan