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Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined

“To hear a sound is to see a space” 

From a young age I’ve always been frightened of caves. The thought of entering a large, dark and rocky space terrifies me. Although I’ve questioned and criticised these rather odd feelings, I’ve come to terms that these odd feelings are actually something to embrace. The Royal Academy’s exhibition ‘Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined’ epitomises this idea. It intends to morph the familiar spaces we know into something abstract in order for us to feel and engage with our senses so that we, as viewers, create the art. A cave, for me, is one of these abstract forms of architecture displayed in this exhibition as it evokes an unusual response within me.  It’s intention is to evoke feeling within the viewer; much like the fear I feel responding to caves. Though this exhibition is based on architectural design – it’s the way the viewer feels in these spaces that really creates the art. 

The exhibition called in many architects from different areas of the world to showcase their designs and transform the once familiar spaces of the royal academy Royal academy; Diébédo Francis Kéré, Grafton Architects, Pezo Von Ellrichshausen, Alvaro Siza and Eduardo Souto de Moura, Lia Xiaodong and Kengo Kuma. Whilst the exhibition itself took place in 2014, the RA have decided to look back on this work and have created a virtual experience for the viewer. 

“We tasked them with reawakening our visitors’ sensibilities to the spaces around them, inviting an appreciation of the emotional power of architecture.” 

The exhibition itself consisted of lots of differing types of design; from built wooden installations to interactive structures designed around straws. What was interesting about this exhibition was that each architect brought something personal and unique to the gallery. It felt like each architect was designing a space that had the essence of where they were from or what inspires their designs. I felt that this was key for this exhibition as it engaged the viewer to indulge into the personal feelings the architect has and is immersed into a space designed to give the viewer the same response.  

“I always start with something small, breaking down materials into particles or fragments that can be recombined Ito units of the right scale to provide comfort and intimacy”  

My favourite part of this exhibition was the work of Kengo Kuma. He was able to isolate an idea that was very specific but make it have great effect on the senses – its simplicity is what make this installation so provoking and poignant. He centred his work on the use of bamboo that was specially imported from Kyoto in Japan. The bamboo had matured for 4 years making it at a state that can be bent into shape. As well as this, the bamboo has the ability to absorb and slowly release fragrances. By using bamboos that give off fragrances adds to the sensual experience of his space. But what makes this work so effective is the use of light. Kuma had two rooms within the RA where he showcases his work. The bamboos are statically standing in the middle of each rooms. However, Kuma has made the choice to change the luminosity in the two rooms; one being lit and the other in almost complete darkness except for LED lights casting a light on each piece of bamboo. This choice not only differentiates the visual effects of the bamboo but the overall mood and tension of the room.  

This design choice is key for his installation work as the change in luminosity ignites abnormal response within the senses. As a viewer, this change of scenery is almost chilling and uncomfortable – a work that the RA’s walls have never really captured before of this extent. It completely changes the room from a recognisably art gallery to a space that’s hard to describe other than an emotional response. I think what’s also interesting is theirs is a contrast in the darker room; whilst the viewer can just make out the outline of the room and can see the bamboos which give off a ghostly effect, the viewer is then reminded they are in a gallery by the rooms ceiling. The ceiling remains exactly the same, trimmed with the detailing that can be recognisable to RA’s galleries walls. This representation is almost like a ‘reality check’ to the viewer, reminding them of where they are and that the space they’re in is merely a façade. What made this work stand out to me was that it could draw in other external factors to help create the mood of the space. The nature of this room was to elicit the feeling of entering a cave. For me, the  abnormal and uncomfortable feelings I feel when entering a cave became highlighted by this piece of work. Not only does this physically bring  similarity to the work, but it creates a similar psychological response within the viewer too. I think this is what makes the work not only an architectural experience – but a holistic emotional experience. Whilst the architectural design of materials and space shines through , the unfamiliarity it creates is what really transforms this work into an emotional and sensual experience. 

However, whilst it is important to understand the feeling this work has on the viewer, it must be taken into account that I saw this exhibition ‘virtually’. Seeing and understanding art through a screen can be difficult and can often give a different response than when experienced in person. Not all senses would be able to react to this work for example the viewer would not be able to smell the fragrances given off by the bamboo from virtual experience.  Therefore, these ideas of Kuma’s work are based off a virtual relationship to the work. Whilst seeing the works of these architects may elicit an emotional response, it could be argued that this is not actually the ‘true’ response the viewer would have to these works had they have experienced it in person. This makes the judging the effects of these works difficult because of the virtual boundary. This being said, Kuma’s work ( despite being seen virtually) allows the viewer to experience a close feeling to what experiencing it in person may be like. To me , a piece of work that can give such an effect despite not being experienced first hand is a work that is remarkable as it cannot be limited by the boundaries imposed upon it. 

Architecture , to me, is something I feel that is often overlooked. We live in spaces dominated by architecture and we often ignore the impact these spaces have on us. Therefore putting architectural design from the real world and into the gallery was something I feel was essential to understand and respect the power it has. ‘Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined’ has allowed the viewer to look at architecture in a new light. Much like the abnormal feelings I feel when entering a cave, the exhibition has aimed to change these once known spaces into something redesigned to allow new and abnormal feelings to judge the experience. It helps the viewer to disregard familiarity of architecture in order to experience architecture in its rightful way – with all senses

An ongoing stream of artist’s thoughts and words that resonate with me

“My illustrious lordhip, I’ll show you what a woman can do” – Artemisa Gentileschi”

– Artemisa Gentileschi

“If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all”

– Michaelangelo

“I don’t listen to what art critics say. I don’t know anybody who needs a critic to find out what art is”

– Jean Michel Basquiat

“Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing. Making your unkown known is the important thing – and keeping all the unknown always beyong you”

– Georgia O’Keefe

The Pre-Raphaelite Sisters at the National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition on the Pre-Raphaelite Sisters pushes the focus that has for decades been dominated by the men of the brotherhood and of the movement to the more obvious and pressing matter of the story behind the sitter: the women. What many have overlooked and failed to see is that although much success has come as a result of the men’s work , it was a result of their connections and relations to the strong women in their lives that made their work as renowned as they are now. 

The Pre Raphaelites, formed in 1848, were a rebellious group of artists who set out to revolutionise the world of art from the dooming concepts of old traditions and rules set out by that of Raphael. Paintings of Raphael and his followers were presented as “fanciful and idealised figures in quaint settings” which the Pre Raphaelites wanted to restore back to a more accurate reflection of the world around them. Their work was more realistic and was drawn from real life models and muses that of whom they were in close connection with, for example their lovers. Ultimately, it resulted to women being at the forefront of the Pre-Raphaelite work. But instead of just focusing on the men and women as their ‘subjects’, the exhibition is set out to focus on each woman involved in each aspect in relation to the Pre-Raphaelite movement. It displayed a section devoted to each one of the 12 women: starting with Effie Gray Millais then progressing to Christina Rossetti, Elizabeth Siddal, Annie Miller, Fanny Cornforth, Joanna Boyce Wells, Fanny Eaton, Georgia Burne Jones, Maria Zambaco, Jane Morris, Marie Spartali Stillman and ending with Evelyn De Morgan.  

Naively, before attending the exhibition, I expected all the women to be the sitters of the men’s work and to only display what relations they had to the men artists . It was shocked and surprised to see that some of the women were artists, sculptors, embroiders and more. It was humiliating to say the least to know that I automatically assumed all the women would just be models and to not even consider that they themselves were artists. However, I feel that this demonstrates the lack of representation the women of the Pre- Raphaelite’s had in a male dominated society and art world. However, this perception towards the women being the ‘sitter’ and not the ‘artist’ also provoked the idea that we may still hold these stigmas in a modern-day society which define the way in which perceive women and their roles in society still. This then further stresses the importance of the main question: who were the Pre-Raphaelite Sisters? 

The men of the Pre-Raphaelites, who have used the women presented in the gallery, used reoccurring themes of social concepts such as women from lower backgrounds, ideas of marriage, lust and female sexuality, and the attempts of exploration of the women’s mental state. What the Pre-Raphaelite men managed to do successfully is break the traditional themes displayed in art at the time by including more realistic narratives/scenarios and themes that didn’t satisfy a glorified image of reality which the followers of Raphael aimed to achieve. But what makes their work so influential and impactful is the fact that the subject matter of their pieces were a reflection between the relationship between the women/ model and the painter. Therefore, creating this parallel world of symbolism and meaning of society through the use of their own narratives they live and exist within. This is what makes the women, who were models for the men, so significant; it’s not only a portrait but an insight into their lives. Their work therefore can be seen to be this microscopic insight of women’s place in society through realistic narratives between the sitter and painter that create such an outstanding parallel to the fictional narratives that are created in their work and the narratives of the artists reality. Therefore, crediting the women in the paintings should be equal to the men. It could also be argued that the women, being the men’s inspiration for their masterpieces, should be given more credit for the men’s work. Without the women, the men would never had created the work that changed the art world and it’s systematic artistic ideas. Would the men of the Pre-Raphaelites be as profound and well known if they didn’t have these relationships with these women? 

One example that really stuck out for me was a piece by Dante Gabriel Rossetti ‘Proserpina’ which follows the story of a mythological goddess who was taken to Hades where she had eaten a forbidden fruit, as a result of this she was destined to remain 6 months of each year in an underground prison. Despite the painting depicting this mythological tale, it shares truth into the sitter Jane Morris and the relations between her husband, William Morris, whom she was discontent with and how she was involved in a love affair with the painter – Rossetti. The painting therefore highlights the pain and torture of the situation Jane Morris was in, both in conflict between lust and love and the confinements of her marriage and society. Her thought heavy expression which is exaggerated by her lifeless eyes and hands ,which seem to be positioned to suggest her feelings emptiness or despair, all combine together to display the conflict women feel towards the rules of society and how restricted her sexual desires were because of society’s expectations. Rossetti’s use of the pomegranate ,to suggest the forbidden fruit, evokes a feeling of possibly guilt or humiliation within society and acts as a symbol ,or reminder, to women of the burden ‘reputation’ in a Victorian society – which was highly regarded , empahsising the idea of what was right or wrong. This displays the men of the Pre-Raphaelites to delve into the ideas of women’s sexuality in society which at the time proved to be extremely controversial and artists were usually either looked down upon for displaying it or women were to be a prostitute or the artist’s lover – which meant that life for the model would prove difficult as being a sitter for a painting. Personally, out of the whole exhibition, this painting really stood out to me the most. This painting, to me, really highlights what the Pre-Raphaelites we’re capable of; combing their lives with a fictional tale to explain life as it was, and the struggles women had to face as a result of society’s hypocrisy. Both the paintings ability to capture such a vulnerable and intimate insight that feels like they’re able to psychologically see through and understand what the model is feeling, the painting marks such an interesting event in the artist and models lives that is so perfectly matched to the meaning of the story behind the painting. Because of this, this painting stood out amongst the others because of how it portrays their relationship with women in their lives and women in society as a whole. 

As much as it can be seen that the men of the Pre-Raphaelite works were revolutionary and marked a step forward for the representation of women to be included in art in a more sensual matter, I couldn’t help looking from a modern day attitude and question whether they really valued women’s position in society or just aimed to comment on it. I felt that when I was in the exhibition, the work seemed to reflect contemporary life and society very well and reflected the true position of what women had, but it didn’t seem to appear that they aimed to improve women’s position in the patriarchal society they lived in; if anything it made me think that they aimed reflect on it but not do anything about changing these views . Hunt’s painting of Annie Miller, who was born into the lower class and whom he stubbles upon in a pub, depicts a woman who is having sexual relations with her partner who is perceived to be a wealthy gentleman. However she has a realisatio ; shown by a discarded glove on the floor, she realises that she will be discarded by the man and what she has done has brought her shame and guilt as she then realised that she was stuck in her ‘low’ societal position as a result of being born into a lower’ class of society and as a result of having sexual relations and being promiscuous. Despite him demonstrating the fact women can only exceed in life by the help of men – Hunt then follows on to continue in the same manners that he is criticising in his painting. Hunt paid for Miller to be educated and live a more ‘prosperous’ life than what was intended for her. This felt like Hunt was merely supporting this idea that men could only help fallen women. It made me think whether the well-loved Pre Raphaelites were worthy of praise if what they created and how they acted, was in a way that contradicted each other, and whether it could be argued, that their work was hypocritical.  

After walking into a room where the artist wasn’t by one of the men and realising that the exhibition also demonstrated that some of the women were also artists – one thing became apparent. The women’s work were equal to the men’s work and was created with the full capacity of a professional artist – their work was so similar in quality; it was hard to distinguish the difference between which paintings were by the men or women. 

 What this showed in comparison to how the men perceived women in society was that the social rules imposed on women, essentially by men’s fantasy of society, was not a construct that should limit women. This was displayed by the women rising to the same levels of the men and creating art that was no different from the men , potentially better, and becoming vital players of the Pre- Raphaelite movement with their artwork. It also challenged the repetitive idea that the Pre Raphaelite women were just a product of muses, lovers and discontented marriages by displaying the fact that the women were more than what the men perceived them to be as if they were always facing a  ‘dead end’ of society’s rules . Whereas, the women artists broke these social constructs of women and pushed their role within life into a new light. There was one painting in particular, painted by a man called Henry Tanworth Wells who captured an image of his wife ,who was a very successful painter Joanna Boyce Wells, which I felt captured this rare image in this exhibition of this strong self-confident women who felt content with her position in society which was painted by a man . This piece really stood out because the exhibition felt restricted with by a deception of a confined woman, but this piece broke away from what the other men painted of the women and conveyed Boyce’s defiant attitudes. Boyce’s work proves to be the most prominent of the movement and of the women , her work is fearless to the ideas of what society expects of her and she embraces the challenge of her being an emerging women artist by committedly practicing her work and exploring themes that question what is expected of women such as beauty and marriage in her most renowned piece Elgiva.  

To me, the exhibition seemed to just explain the women painter’s life’s and their origins of finding creative talent and only momentarily touched on how each women shaped the movement as a whole. The exhibition did however include immense detail on each woman who was involved and how they related to one another ,and the men of the Pre-Raphaelite’s, but there wasn’t any written areas or rooms which tied in the significance of the women combined as a whole and how it compared to the men, it felt almost to factual and there were very few areas which analysed the women’s significance as a whole rather than just individually. This made the exhibition still feel slightly in focus to the men’s relations to the women instead of how the women impacted the women. The exhibition felt like it was associating the women to the men. On the other hand the exhibition was very much needed and the representation of the women involved acted as a great insight to the world of Pre-Raphaelite’s . It felt like the exhibition unveiled the curtain to show the other side of the story. Despite there in some cases being limited judgement of their significance overall, with further research and studying over both the women and men, a more analytical judgement over the women can be made. 

The exhibition demonstrates that both the women and the men were mutually exclusive to produce work that reflected the true nature of society rather than a glorified ideal intended to fantasise what life should be like. I think one of the main aspects that can be taken away from the exhibition is that both the men and the women had the need for rebellion in common. The men rebelled the ideals of was expected to be displayed in a painting by exploiting the raw realism displayed by the women whom surrounded them, whilst the women artists broke what society expected of them and they lived up to the same artistic capabilities as the men and contributed immensely within the Pre-Raphaelite movement whilst also succeeding greatly despite the lack of recognition their work had been given. As my naivety has taught me by attending this exhibition; we should not underestimate the impact women have had in the past and the increasing impact women will have as time continues. 

Date visited : 30 December 2019 

Exhibition from: 17 October – 26 January 2020 

Lucian Freud – The self portraits exhibition in the Royal Academy of Arts 

Lucian Freud – The self portraits exhibition in the Royal Academy of Arts  

Exhibition dates : 27 October 2019- 26 January 2020 

Lucian Freud can be seen as one of the foremost 20th century portraitists who is known for his figurative style that evolved through his years of practice . He is the grandson of the infamous psychologist Sigmund Freud . While he is not directly influenced by his grandfather , Lucian’s work can be seen to cut back behind people psychologically and create a discomforting examination of of the relationship between between the artist and model : in this case being himself. Born in Berlin in 1922 , Freud being the son of a Jewish architect (Edwin .L Freud ) , Freud moves to the UK with his family to escape Nazi Germany. By the year 1940 he chose to focus primarily on portraiture a for his practice . His development in portraiture transformed his style and practice in art from a style based around surrealism to a figurative style that touches at both abstract ideas and realism . This shift in his work is not subtle but dramatic and the exhibition itself physically demonstrates a visual progression of each phase and evolution his art took.  

The exhibition combines around 56 years of work, dedication and drive in one exclusive space. The exhibition , which is a world first to combine all of his self portraits to be displayed in this way, presents his journey in his practice of art and how unlike any other artist of this degree , relentlessly kept coming back decade after decade to use himself as the model. His teenage years depict himself in a surrealist manner with pencil sketches and drawings and also the occasional oil painting . At this point his style is very clean cut but has a sense of unusual and unsettling depth partly reflected through his use of surrealism. Most of his pieces of this time can be seen to be almost ‘blank’ as the canvas is left white with small areas sketched or marked out . However he contrasts this with large shaded areas to confuse and intrigue the viewer. While his teenage years are purely simplistic and defined or what several writers thought of him at the time to be “linear” – he wanted to change this in response to that idea. His self portraits took a turn in style but kept the same principals that were present before in his surrealism ; keeping the unsettling and discomforting nature that was soon to bloom into what defined his work .From this point onwards his work became more free handed , loose and explored further in paint and rejected the idea of drawing entirely. He focused more on style and the exactitude of observation in his work and rejected the idea of narratives or symbols in his work. Not only did he strictly stick to the traditional self portrait but the exhibition shows he pushed his boundaries by experimenting with mirrors , reflections and shadows which show himself in and unusual compositions which shows his relentless desire to keep bending his capabilities and pushing the normal structure of design. 

 The exhibition being positioned to start from his teenage years to his later years is set up almost in a circular format so that once each different aspect of his growth in style is witnessed , the viewer is back at the start to the teenage years again. This was extremely interesting . Once his growth and development is witnessed , it is at the end end point staring back at Freuds surrealistic ,simple  sketches how much Freud changed and how he broke down barriers between him and himself to achieve an objective breakdown of himself and delve into his figurative style to create a new language that psychologically penetrates. The exhibition itself which displays his own development within his own practice also leaves room to question how any artist can develop and push their own boundaries to grow and opens the idea that noting is permanent but is always changing. 

“People thought and said and wrote that my paintings were linear and defined by my drawing. I’ve never been that affected by writing, but I thought if that’s all true , I must stop” 

Other artists that are associated with Freud are Francis Bacon and Frank Auberach all of whom , like Freud, were figurative painters working against the grain of abstract expressionism and later the conceptual and experimental art. Bacon in particular influenced his work and inspired Freud to change his brushes to change up the style of his paintwork. This channeled his transition in style and can be seen to be the most interesting parts in the exhibition . What makes his work so captivating is that he was ahead of his time when it came to his work and didn’t conform to traditional ideas or techniques and pushed his work in every way possible away from realism but still capturing a likeness among strange unfamiliar lines and forms. One piece in particular that captures this is is “Mans Head “(Self portrait I) 1963 that can be argued to be part of his turning point in his self portraits to break away layers within both his relationship with his art but also himself through maximum concentration observations that lead him to mask like paintings . In particular this piece stood out as the painting almost feels alive with each brush stroke going in particular directions that suggest a feeling that the paint will melt and mould away . His use of heavy and thick amounts of paint build such a strong constraint against his abstract background to continue to break realism and also capture it at the same time. 

The exhibition is not only a chance to witness some of Freuds greatest pieces but a chance to experience a sense of development, growth and transition and how he was able to capture deep rooted emotions and feelings in composition, texture and colour both in his earlier years and his later years. The idea that all of his self portraits are brought together to display against each other allows a unique experience to use the same subject matter moulded differently over his lifespan relentlessly to understand truly his relationship with art but as a whole – his relationship with himself . 

Date visited : 2nd October 2019