In response to the current Josephine Pryde exhibition at the Arnolfini, I decided to write a ‘reading list’ to collect together the literature it made me think about or that could be set in dialogue with it. This turned into more of a reflection piece. The bit about hands in art history is in the first gallery guide, and I turned the other two sections into audio guides as part of the Young Arnolfini Soundcloud clips.
Selected reading list for Josephine Pryde’s exhibition, ‘These are just things I say, they are not my opinions’
Photography and Technology
The Image Culture in which we live has been foreseen by many writers, including Guy Debord with his 1967 book, The Society of The Spectacle. Moholy Nagy also predicted the power of images over the whole of society in his essay and theory, The New Vision, 1989. He states, “The illiterate of the future will be the person ignorant of the use of the camera as well as the pen”.
Can images undermine experience? – Susan Sontag in her book, On Photography, 1977, certainly thinks so. The 1970s horror movie, The Messiah of Evil, extends this idea in its culminating cinema scene with self-reflexive effects. However, Heather Phillipson’s film performance, A is to D what E is to H, 2011, asserts a way in which the contemporary body can perform and claim itself within its image-saturated world. This seems to offer similar “critical hooks” to those seen in Pryde’s exhibition at the Arnolfini: Both artists mediate the power of images over the body through the use of devices such as juxtaposition, sound and movement.
The following literature conveys the experience of travel and the character of the traveller, or that of their society, with particular reference to trains and their place within modernity. This selected reading list also aims to question Pryde’s idea that the train is, historically, a “metaphor for freedom”.
The novels Anna Karenina by Tolstoy, 1873-77, and Howard’s End by E. M. Forster, 1910, both convey historical anxieties about trains and the potential violence towards the self, as well as to the cultural and natural landscapes, that they can encourage within modern life. Equally, Turner’s painting, Rain, Steam and Speed, 1844, engages with similar senses of loss, destruction and transition of passing from one world or emotion to another.
Modern and contemporary poetry, such as Philip Larkin’s The Whitsun Wedding, 1968, and Gillian Clarke’s On the Train, 1999, often continues and extrapolates similar themes with emphasis on political and social positions, new technology (such as mobile phones), the place of memory in the construction of identity, and fleeting images triggered by the experience of being on a train.
Perhaps Danny Boyle’s 1996 film, Trainspotting, explores similar sentiments to the passengers’/visitors’ experiences of riding Pryde’s miniature train in her Arnolfini exhibition: Although we can travel on a train, we can only go forwards or backwards and so cannot escape into a tangential world of relief or fantasy.
Hands have featured with prominent religious, spiritual and / or existential associations throughout the history of art.
- Michelangelo – The Creation of Adam, 1511-12
- Rembrandt – Portrait of a Couple as Isaac and Rebecca, Known as ‘The Jewish Bride’ , 1665
- Rodin – The majority of his fragmented or ‘partial’ sculptures are of hands
- Hands of criminals photographed for record and classification purposes in 19th century Britain
- Hands of artists often cast from life in the 19th century
- Barbara Hepworth – The Hospital Drawings, particularly Concentration of Hands, 1948
- Louise Bourgeois – Multiple sculptures of hands
Have these messages, meanings and emotions denoted by the hand become dampened by the hand’s obsessive interactions with technology within contemporary culture?