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Inordinate Reflection

Fixation without solution

The Nunnery Gallery has re-launched with a new cafe and the first in a series of exhibitions on the infamous Outsider artist Madge Gill. Although her work hangs in permanent Outsider Art collections around the world, this is the first time that her work has been displayed in a solo exhibition for her modern day neighbours.

The selection of work on display in The Nunnery is a Madge Gill Introduction: it lays out all the themes and images that will be explored in greater detail in the next two exhibitions. There are three distinct but loose categories on display: abstract, women and faces. They all share the sense of a dreamscape, lacking a centre and ignoring perspective. Edge to edge crammed with lines that cross, curve and sweep. Some areas relentlessly drawn in with dense criss-cross markings, others heavily outlined, some hardly touched.

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The pictures of solitary women are both simple and exaggerated. Wide, open faces with a re-imagining of what seems to be late Victorian dress: heavily patterned outlandish skirts, hats and bonnets that inhabit a background that is almost familiar. One is twisted as though playing a piano, another stands in what could be a hallway with steps going off at different angles and rare patches of barely white rectangles presumably intended to be windows. There is speculation that these women are Gill’s self portrait, suggesting that she inhabits a world somewhere between her own spiritual mindscape and a more literal, recognisable reality.

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A reality all but abandoned in the purely abstract pieces that use rich colour combinations and are littered with single, poorly spelled words that are either signifiers of something greater, or just another attempt at layering, a fear of leaving empty spaces. This is most marked in the other abstracts, where dozens of distinct, ghostly faces peer out from a frenetic, densely patterned backgrounds. Just as the women supposedly represent Gill herself, these many androgynous faces have been cited as an attempt to reach out and recapture the two children Gill lost: a son died in 1918 of Spanish Flu and a stillborn daughter followed in 1919. This second death is attributed with triggering the artist’s latent creative impulses.

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These are easily the most haunting and intriguing of the works on display. They linger in the memory and it is not because Gill has directed the eye, rather because they exist almost organically, seamlessly inserted into the hectic space in which foreground and background have merged. From single detached faces blurred with a hint of colour, to every space that is not patterned or written in having eyes and a mouth that peer out at the viewer, or seem to contemplate the organised chaos within its own small yet somehow vast boundaries.

Madge Gill is an hypnotic and fascinating artist who shunned publicity during her own lifetime. The nervous, obsessive energy of her work creates a sense of immediacy, an underlying fear about the loss of control which within the context of her life makes some sense. Being repatriated to Canada by Barnardos at the age of eight to work on a farm, followed by the death of her children, compounded with intense spiritual belief create the outline of a woman struggling to claim her identity yet eager to throw it away at the same time. Gill always signed the pictures “Myrninerst” and rejected the offer of an exhibition because she claimed the work did not belong to her.

By creating something so intensely internal, Gill’s work takes on an aspect of otherness that is somehow familiar to us all. There is no perspective, no narrative, no biography. They remain relevant because without context they are timeless. It is a free exhibition, put on in a space with its own rich spiritual history as a former place of worship for Carmelite nuns. The ideal place to contemplate the complex artistic landscape of a true, East End artist. 

Part 1

Rapunzel seems special because of her singularity. There is something unbearably sinister about a tower so tall it stands alone on a landscape, defiant, without doors or stairs. The story of a woman with hair so long it could fall all the way to the floor and allow a handsome Prince to come to her rescue is a fascinating lie. In reality who rescued who? It only worked because she was a counterweight. With a scalp so strong it could bear the weight of a fully grown man. Naturally because any story requires some tension they were discovered by the old witch, who threw Rapunzel in the desert and scared the Prince so much he fell into some thorns and became blinded. Also left wandering the desert until he heard his beloved Rapunzel singing once again. Her tears returned his sight and they lived happily ever after.

This seems to be a text book romance. They found each other at random, they reunited at random. Love may play a part but there is a different message, not altogether hidden that allowed this to happen in the first place. Rapunzel was given to the witch by her parents, in exchange for their lives. She was named for the radishes they tried to steal. Indeed, it wasn’t the theft that sealed Rapunzel’s fate, but greed. The wife was so sick in longing, if she didn’t get one of the radishes she would die. But the next day she wanted more. So once again her husband agreed to hop over the wall into the Witch’s garden to take some, but this time he was caught. And immediately agreed to hand his newborn daughter over to the Witch, because that was all she wanted. Quite why she chose a daughter is the most mysterious part of the tale. Especially when all she inflicted on Rapunzel was imprisonment, followed by severe abuse once her secret engagement with the Prince had been found out.

This is because Rapunzel isn’t about romance, but power. Her parents, to protect themselves, handed their daughter to a woman known to be evil. They aren’t mentioned again. Indeed, the story takes on an X-Factor style mission of redemption. Her singing drew the attention of the man that could save her, but he failed. Broken by the witch, he is blinded. Rapunzel heals him, which makes Rapunzel magical. Had she learned from the Witch? Was her slip an accident or deliberate? Surely Rapunzel knew that the Witch would throw her out of the tower when her lies were made known? Was it she who had lured the Prince and brought this on him? It could be inferred that Rapunzel used the talents of the woman that imprisoned her and took a chance on the Prince finding her again.

Therefore, Rapunzel wins. But just. Rapunzel was named for a radish. Her parents were peasants without the imagination to name her after anything more significant. Mistreated by anyone in a position of authority, Rapunzel’s survival is nothing short of a miracle. Consider what the world is like today, especially in our bastion of modern social democracy.

One of the best things about The Guardian. They sometimes have pictures of dogs in costumes.

I defy anyone not to find pictures like this:

And this:

Absolutely hilarious.

If your lips do not even twitch, if for a moment you do not question what it would be like if dogs really could be cowboys or be as magical as leprechauns then you are broken.

Broken.

The more popular something becomes, the more control it exerts.

I cannot remove the widgets I want from the sidebar. I do not want blogroll to appear anywhere, nor do I want to share meta information. I cannot have nothing. The template I have chosen will not allow that. Instead it supplies defaults.

Defaults are of no benefit to me.

I am going to change the template.

There is no definition. There aren’t even any loosely connected attributes.

But there are a great deal of misconceptions. The main one being that in order to qualify as an anti-capitalist it is necessary to avoid any capitalist endeavour.

Needless to say, that is impossible.

The very idea that anyone could consider stepping outside our extremely comfortable and far reaching system of control was established last week.

It’s a cheap shot to claim that anti-capitalist protesters are hypocrites because they’ve purchased things from capitalist institutions. Just for a moment contemplate what the phrase “They claim to be anti-capitalist but they’re all on Twitter and pay for everything in sterling” even means.

1)To use sterling it is necessary to acknowledge that much of it is raised in the enterprising private sector. It is therefore necessary to surrender to it. And if you do not surrender then you must be excluded from our society. Because our society=money. And that is all. Apparently.

2)A socialist group using social media is wrong. Even though they both come from the same latin word socialis which means “united, living with others”. Medium, incidentally, is also an old latin word (medius) meaning “intermediate agency”.

3) Twitter is a brand. It may be accessed on site from smartphones. But to critcise anti-capitalist protesters for using a phone to access this site says far more about the critics values than the protesters. The reason? Because it assumes what a person owns=what a person is=what a person believes. All the dogma of advertising has been swallowed whole.

However, the main reason to be disquieted by any attempt to cosy up with Capitalism is the threat underlying any attack on supposed anti-capitalist hypocrisy. It dictates that they are one thing. We are something else. We are not guilty of such inconsistencies because we have never claimed to be ungrateful for any of the good things capitalism has given to us. And there have been good things. But to attack socialists for having surrendered to the high street at some point in their lives is to place them in the same category as politicians and priests. Alien, incorrigible yet corrupt, out-of-touch. It is basic at best. Something else at worst.

There is nothing wrong with clinging to the obvious. And the attack is catchier than the refute. But the problem lies in the definition. A socialist is homegenised, allied with commodities and seemingly ‘caught-out’. As though every single day people live up to their own expectations. Without a single misstep or contradiction in what they believe.

Anti-capitalist protestors are guilty of the same generalisations, the same romanticisms, often straying into violent rhetoric. Because socialism is violent. But they are the minority and the whiff of history hanging about the camp, the fact that they are even attempting to make a change and refusing to accept that just because there is a lot of something, it has to be the right thing, should be admired.

It isn’t done enough.