Show Time!

It’s All Part of The Experience

‘Ooooh get it for the insta!’ – too many people at art exhibitions [including myself], 2019.

The factor of the ‘Experience’, within the contemporary context, is a priority when it comes to the notion of ‘the spectacle’. Let’s be honest, one does not simply go to an exhibition anymore to passively stand there, whilst admiring the artwork – you engage with it.

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the show…

It’s a miracle, you’ve all managed to coordinate your busy metropolitan schedules to go to this exhibition! You arrive with your group of friends, all eager to make a day out of this! Possibly even grab a bit of lunch after, or even a coffee from that cute new artisans coffeeshop… You go, walking around as a group whilst you catch up on the latest gossip – Yes Susan, Greg is an idiot. Then you stop, contemplating the work before you – But really, I swear I could do that!… But you didn’t, did you Susan.

Then, your adrenaline rushing…

you’ve trained for this exact moment…

you are well versed in the etiquette of galleries

– deep breath –

[pretend to check the time while taking a photo of your favourite piece]

Victory! I’ll show that to Mom later and also pop that on the snapchat story

Because, let’s be honest, did it really happen if you didn’t post it?

*No Susans were harmed in the making of this blog*

Culture as Commodity

V&A Dundee, 2019, photograph by me

In the traditional sense, when someone hears the word ‘Museum’ the following words may come to mind:

‘Old’, ‘Expensive’, ‘History’, ‘Fragile’, ‘Indiana Jones’

…basically something or somewhere that is somehow detached from the contemporary realm that we presently live in. I like to visualise this concept by thinking about a museum as being like a house. A house that acts as a vacuum for the past, and a place in which one may temporarily enter to cross over the threshold of the ephemeral line which acts to divide past to present. Then suddenly, once you’ve entered these ‘sacred hallows’ of romanticised academia [that’s a debate for another day], you may find yourself face to face with the celebrities of History – be that through the poised and dignified eyes of the bust of Nefertiti, or the flamboyant and entitled face of Bernini’s  bust of Louis XIV.

However, this couldn’t be further from the truth! I will stand to admit that yes, at the beginning of the 19th c. Museums were a bit like that – somewhere where people went to glance at dusty relics from the Golden Age and admire the moral compass of the Pre-Raphaelites. But today, today it’s all about the Experience of going to the Museum.

Why go to the Museum?

In the digital age if I want to look up, for example, a golden torc from the celtic era. Easy!  Who knows how this came up in conversation but let me just type that into google real quick. Why would I trek the whole 20 minutes on the tube to the British Museum when I could get it up on my phone? WAIT, there’s a new interactive area AND exhibition dedicated to the Celts [and as a bonus they do indeed have torcs on show]?! Yep just checked, the Guardian has given it sufficient ratings – and off I go.

Culture is an industry that runs on the fumes of the Experience. The Museum is not a stagnate monument that acts to detach the past from present. Museums could not be more rooted in the present!

The Actors Behind The Scenes

The Museum is one of the largest corporate bodies and long term economic schemes found within the UK. If you can see past the facade of the notion of the museum being simply the residence of the past, you will soon find it’s really the birthplace of the future.

Culture as a Commodity is one of the most successful paradigms in which to develop regeneration schemes in Urban Areas. For example, Tate Modern was used as a catalyst for the boom of NEO Bankside, attracting other creatives in order to build the dynamic, and highly expensive burrow that it is today. People want to live in cool places that make them appear creative and cultured, and businesses that cater to these people follow – FACT. I promise you, Susan and her friends will be at that artisan cafe right after that Van Gogh show.

The Museum is a political instrument, as its architectural dominance on our skyline is  concurrently paralleled by its embodiment as an economic excise in power. Long story short, it’s all about the utopian idealist theory of ‘Supply-side’ economics. If you invest in large scale projects then wealth will trickle down. For example, the V&A Dundee cost a hundred million pounds to build, whilst placing emphasis on the architecture of the building itself, NOT the artefacts or artwork found inside.

Linking back to earlier, the V&A Dundee is more of a shell than a house – it’s there to be admired. BUT does this matter? No, not really. Why? Because we all love a spectacle!

Give us an Experience!

And just like that, alongside a little help from the critics of the Guardian and other newspapers, I myself fell victim to this architectural display. I happily travelled on the train from Edinburgh to Dundee to simply take photos. Would I have ever gone to Dundee for any other reason than to see a new architectural monument? Probably not. Did I then explore the city adding to the economic prosperity of its pub culture as I happily sipped my pint. Yes.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Museums’ work.

V&A Dundee, 2019, Photograph by me.

However, I’m not even done yet with the list of how Museums boost the economy!

They help…

  1. Retail = It is impossible to go to any museum without there being a shop or cafe. The entirety of the V&A Dundee is the shop, and I’m not joking!
  2. Social Engineering = It’s no coincidence that Van Gogh’s prices have spiked in the art market whilst the Tate has been having a field day with his Exhibitions.
  3. City Branding Schemes = Come visit Bilbao with the new Guggenheim or Dundee with the V&A!

Once you’ve drawn back the curtain it is much less the Museum as a building and much more of the Museum as a paradigm.

The Museum is not the home of the past but that of politics.


*If you are interested in this topic I recommend reading Guy Debord’s , ‘Society of the Spectacle’, 1967


Big Brother murdered JODI

MAD World

Net Art and Post-Internet Art are our Neo-Fatalist topics for today!

I won’t deny it, when I had my first lecture on Globalisation Theory and the Art Market I was beyond overwhelmed. To keep with the technological theme, one could say my brain had a meltdown and crashed spectacularily. During my first lecture I sat there, as I and my fellow classmates exchanged those universal wide eyed side-glances – both marking and confirming our solidarity in confusion. However, today I will be trying to keep things nice and simple. The topic of Net Art and Post-Internet Art is already a heavy  topic, with the whole Big Brother, we have no agency and Orwell was right reality sinking in…

‘Glitch’, Photograph by me, 2018.

In contemporary society the influence of the Technological Virtual World is inescapable… and in my opinion, it is the defining feature of our generation.

It is how we:

  1. Present ourselves to the world
  2. Communicate with our loved ones = entire relationships are now built online!
  3. Manage the growth of large populations within this rapidly developing Globalised World = *pretentious academic cough* emphasis on Geopolitics and Biopolitics
  4. Sustain our economies, as it acts as the keystone for both the global distribution and the consumption of goods
  5. Express ourselves creatively = entire businesses and artistic practices are now built online! And [apple’s biggest sales point] anyone with a phone can now be a photographer

Technology is our constant companion. It is the paradoxically conceptual and yet concurrently tangible network which allows us to function as a globalised world. There is no longer a clear divide between our physical reality and the virtual.

I tend to think of Technology as less of a ‘something’ but more of a ‘someone’. This may be because I just read George Orwell’s 1984 and now can’t help but overanalyse everything… but Big Brother, or at least the notion of him, is here!

However, before there was Big Brother there was JODI…

Net Art

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JODI, , 1995

So meet JODI. She is my personal favourite prank to play on friends who haven’t been in my History of Art lectures, as she is every tech owning individual’s worst nightmare – the aesthetic of a serious virus. Just type in http:/ and you will find that your entire screen is suddenly screaming at you. That’s it the illegal downloading of movies has finally caught up to you! But no, calm yourself, you’ve simply clicked on a link that has led you to one of the earliest pieces of Net Art. The birthplace of the hacker aesthetic and the drawing back of the curtain to reveal the complex code behind our slick screens.


During the 1990s the mediums of painting, sculpture, and the modern genre of performance, were beginning to shift from Postmodernism and into the realm of Contemporary.  However, out of this anarchist period of anti-art, anti-aesthetic and anti-intellectual came the Internet Boom, and with it a new mode of artwork – Net Art.

Like with every new being, Net Art was born as something pure and full of hope. It was an untouched medium and one that could never be touched by the ‘dirty’ hands of the capitalist art market. The internet was a platform where artists could upload their artwork ON THEIR OWN!

No Gallery and thus no White Cube! No dictation of aesthetics by Institutions! No bias view of the curator or art critic! And with this freedom came a notion that hadn’t been seen since the 60s… Avant-garde is that you?

The Death of the Avant-Garde

Within the landscape of today’s Big Brother surveillance world it is almost impossible to comprehend how the internet was ever perceived to be a space of Democratic Equilibrium. However, 24 years ago, JODI was born into a time which emobodied this Utopian view of digital technology. She was a product of the rhizome-like online artistic community, which in turn thrived on that Avant-garde mindset of ‘shacking off the shackles’ of social constraints and values of aesthetics.

JODI was the flag bearer of the first and seemingly last purely Avant-garde world. Her glitches of disruptive interference; in both her looks and her presence within the cookie cut art market, denied the gallery/curator the ability to sell or display her on a cold white wall. She was simultaneously owned by everyone and nobody. However, like every good thing, Net Art couldn’t resist commodification forever…Big Brother seemingly crept into our lives overnight and JODI was buried.

Post – Internet Art

Firstly, what you must understand is…

Net Art used the Internet ITSELF as a chosen medium


Post-Internet Art uses the Internet as simply a CONCEPT to base its work around

Now with this in mind we can link back to the end of Net Art.

The beginning of the new millennia was characterised by a transitional period for the internet. The 2000s marked the beginning of an easier, faster paced lifestyle with online banking, shopping and the rise of social media. To be perfectly honest, when contemplating the trajectory of the appeal of the notion of ‘convience’ it isn’t surprising that we allowed ourselves to be ignorant to the death of JODI. In the act of merging the everyday with the internet the Avant-Garde potential of the rhizome space was destroyed. Now the internet is no longer a free space but a goldmine fuelled by data mining and surveillance.

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Jordan Wolf, Real Violence, 2017

Jordan Wolf’s work ‘Real Violence’ is a perfect example of Post-Internet Art. Wolf visualises the brutal nature of Virtual Reality, which he in turn deems to be intrinsic to the passive character that is contemporary society. For this piece the viewer experiences the work through VR as they watch a brutal beating where one man  – for no apparent reason – bludgeons another man with a bat. Additionally, the viewer is also made to hold onto a metal bar, forcing them to face the beating. The audience has no agency and is a passive witness to the brutality that is the Virtual world.

The notion of one’s lack of agency simply acts to highlight the extent to which the world’s perception of the Internet has changed. From a Utopian space of creativity to that of brutality and invasiveness. JODI is gone and her replacement is the turbulent  and insatiable invasion that is our modern day technocratic world.

‘If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.’ – Orwell, 1984  

And we stand passive.

A Confrontation!


‘For the Sake of my Grandchildren’, Photograph by me, Climate Strike, Edinburgh, 2019.

We march and gather to demand a change; a change in mindset and policies to save our planet for future generations!

The rhythmic chant of ‘HeyHo, Climate Change has got to go!’ verberated feverishly around me as I scurried through the crowd – my camera knocking against my side. The march, having started as a small gathering outside the McEwan Hall, Edinburgh, now spilled down the Royal Mile – a stream of bodies marching towards Parliament, running over the cobble stones with splashes of vibrantly handmade placards enthusiastically thrust into the air.

‘Lazy & Wasteful’, Photograph by me, Climate Strike, Edinburgh, 2019.

Within the environment of contemporary protests, art and politics seem to naturally go hand in hand – as one furls into the iconic peace sign and the other thrusts a paradoxically humorous, yet poignantly crafted political slogan into the air.

Art, when placed within the context of politics, has been characterised by its alarmingly malleable ability to be implemented as both a tool for one’s success and one’s demise. The fragile pendulum-esque balance of the nature of art as friend or foe, may lie simply in a few brushstrokes. From the carefully crafted allegorical compositions of 17thc. History Paintings; which hang on the walls of prestigious galleries, to the scrawling slogans held in the hands of students, art is shouting to be heard.

However, sometimes this confrontation can be in the simple act of planting a few seeds – and in this instance I’m not referring to the metaphorical kind…

‘The Queen of Land Art’ – The New York Times

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Agnes Denes, ‘Wheatfield: A Confrontation’, Battery Park Landfill With World Trade Centre, 1982.

Agnes Denes is an artist who is often overlooked in the field of Art History, having been drowned out by the machismo of 1980s Neo-Expressionism. However, the world is finally catching up to her! With the newfound – and about time really – media frenzy surrounding the topic of Climate Change, we are finally confronting and questioning our own societal values in regard to the environment.

In 1982 a two-acre wheatfield appeared in lower Manhattan, only two blocks away from Wall Street and the World Trade Centre. The wheat field had been hand sown and grown in a landfill; which would later become known as Battery Park City, by a woman called Agnes Denes. Yet, by the end of August the field was gone. 1000 pounds of healthy, golden wheat had been harvested, and the field’s existence can now only be proven through a few photographs.

However, the ephemeral nature of Agnes Denes’ ‘Wheatfield: A Confrontation’, is obsolete in comparison to the knockoff effect it had on humanitarian activity and other land art projects within the contemporary art world.

Why Plant a Wheatfield?

‘I wanted to do something that was meaningful’ – Agnes Denes

The conscious placement of ‘Wheatfield: A Confrontation’, in lower Manhattan with the World Trade Centre looming above it, was strategically made. The land itself which the wheatfield was grown on was worth $4.5 billion. Successively, the juxtaposing image of the golden field enclosed within the cool tones of the concrete jungle, created a powerful paradox. Agnes Denes draws our attention to the iconoclastic standoff between both past and present,  as both promise mutual destruction if one fails to recognise the other.

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Agnes Denes, ‘Wheatfield: A Confrontation’, Battery Park Landfill, Aerial View, 1982.

In New York, real estate is power. Every year, and without fail, every concrete cubic space that is stacked one on top of the other to create that iconic New York skyline, lifts in price. Therefore, through the simple act of detaching this 2-acre plot from the concrete jungle and choosing to turn it to gold instead of grey, Denes is able to confront and question our own societal values. Through the act of using her 2-acre space as a utopian bubble of functionality, which relies on patience and nature – juxtaposed by the World Trade Centre which relies on the rapid technological frenzy of the Globalised world – Denes is forcing us to question our societal priorities. ‘Wheat field: A Confrontation’ is a symbol of the stark contrast between our economically pastoral dependent past and our technocratic present.

The Wheatfield comes to symbolise the global concerns of Food, Energy, Commerce, World Trade and Economics, as it CONFRONTS the Mismanagement, Waste, World Hunger and Ecological concerns of our capitalist world – which in turn the World Trade Centre represents.

The Harvest

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Agnes Denes, ‘Wheatfield: A Confrontation’, 1982.

As I previously mentioned in August 1982 the Wheatfield disappeared… Agnes Denes had chosen to harvest the grain she had grown, and sent this grain around the world in her exhibition, ‘The International Art Show for the End of World Hunger’. At this show visitors could take a seed and plant it in order to start their own wheatfields – taking their first steps in the direction of their own sustainable living.

Personally, I think the notion of ‘Wheatfield: A Confrontation’, and the travelling exhibition which followed it is truly beautiful. Agnes Denes was a pioneering woman who stood alone, in a wheatfield, confronting all those who said ‘you can’t’ with the simple act of planting a seed – and the ideas which have grown from her project have been immense!

A Few Works Influenced by / stemmed directly from ‘Wheatfield: A Confrontation’ :

  1. Urban Farming – Agnes Denes was a pioneer of this and 30 years ahead of her time
  2. ‘Tree Mountain’ – Agnes Denes built a mountain in Finland and planted 11,000 trees on it
  3. ‘The Living Pyramid’ – A grassy ziggurat in the Socrates Sculpture Park, Queens
  4. ‘A Forest for New York’ – A project that is currently in process where Denes aims to plant 100,000 trees on another landfill in Queens


As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, art has the power to swing the pendulum of politics. So grab a paintbrush, a camera, a musical instrument, or maybe just your gardening trowel and remember…

 ‘creativity and innovation is the answer in a troubled world to swing the pendulum. Be creative. Never stop. Creativity is hope’ – Agnes Denes


‘No One Is Too Small To Make A Difference’, Photograph taken by me, Climate Strike, Edinburgh, 2019.

Macaroni with a side of Brexit


The role of satire within society has always interested me, mostly because, as anyone who is close to me will know, I have a slight obsession with propaganda and the artwork that comes along with it. Through my seemingly compulsive and slightly obsessive research into satire’s function within society, one can not help but notice the intrinsically interdependent relationship between periods of social transgression and their popular propaganda fuelled counterpart, Satire.

Historically Satire has been and continues to be the visual  autobiography of viewpoints and the fundamental channel of communication between the general public and that of the formal legislation and electoral system. However, in this post I will simply be focusing on the origins of popular political satire in the 18thc. I will analyse the flamboyant character of the Macaroni, whilst attempting to parallel this with everyone’s favourite overused subject of Brexit.

Lets start at the beginning…

The role of satire within society and its ability to be employed as a tool in which to communicate political rhetoric has been prevalent since the consumerist revolution during the 18thc.  As I mentioned previously, the production of satire seems to be historically embodied into a simple equation that inevitably follows any form of social transgression:

Questioning of Social Hierarchy + Nationalism to counteract Instability = Satire

In 18thc. Britain this equation circulated around a fear of foreignness. These anxieties stemmed from an increasing presence of foreign objects within the consumerist world, simultaneously paralleled by Britain undergoing dramatic shifts in its social hierarchical structure. Thus, resulting in the use of satire as a ‘moralising counterexample.’ Consequently, the newfound prominence of the bourgeois class, paralleled by the upturning of traditional gender roles, marked the beginning of a period of social transgression. Thus, concurrently acting to characterise 18thc. Britain as a time of tension and mistrust. The anxieties surround the blurring of class, gender, and nationality became the forefront concerns addressed in satire.

A little bit of context…

During the 18thc. satire was at its height of popularity as Britain underwent dramatic shifts in its social hierarchical structure, providing Bourgeois individuals with the opportunity to ascend the social rankings of British society. These Bourgeois individuals then projected their newfound success through the purchase of fashionable foreign luxury items. Similarly to how in contemporary society somebody may buy a fancy car or pair of shoes, etc. then proceed to obnoxiously post their success on social media.

*please don’t be this person you will be verbally satirised by your envious friends*

Following this thread of resentment… the collection of foreign items in 18thc. Britain was soon to become associated with the over-compensation of ‘the self-made man’, who elevated himself in status through material items. Consequently, these anxieties were simultaneously represented and reinforced through satirised characters such as the Macaroni.

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Philip Daw, Pantheon Macaroni [A Real Character at the Late Masquerade], 1773.

Who is the Macaroni?

The Macaroni character represented the over-indulgent ‘self-made-man’ who participated in the Grand Tour – travelling through Europe and studying the arts. The Macaroni character can be easily identified by his love for European luxuries, with an emphasis on French fashion. The satirised Macaroni character acted to reinforce, as well as represent British anxieties surrounding the idea of moral corruptibility and loss of ‘Britishness’, caused by one’s indulgence in foreign luxuries.

The characteristics associated with ideal British masculinity during the 18thc. were that of ‘thrift, modesty, private [and the] rejection of courtly ornament.’ Therefore, the effeminate Macaroni character reinforced fears of the feminisation of Brititsh culture, as their decorative attire seemingly submerged all sense of the – and if I may say – boring masculine ideal.

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William Hogarth, Marriage a la Mode, Plate 1, The Marriage Contract, 1745.

These feelings of mistrust and disgust are represented and reinforced in William Hogarth’s series Marriage a la Mode, Plate 1. It depicts an interior scene which portrays the negotiations of a marriage contract. The groom-to-be is on the edge of the print, sat gazing at himself, seemingly too enraptured in his own self obsession to give notice to his fiancée. Furthermore, he is easily identified as a Macaroni, as he is depicted in French fashion with elegantly pointed feet, marking him as effeminate in nature.

As I mentioned previously, traditionally the characteristics of ideal masculinity were that of the rejection of overindulgence and preferring to find simplicity in taste. The Macaroni represents the direct opposite to this ideal…

Therefore, through the subversion of ideal British masculinity, Hogarth reinforces the negative connotation, and thus the anxieties associated with the Macaroni. Through visual satire, Hogarth could represent the corruptible capability of foreign luxury objects to the public. Successively, resulting in the Macaroni’s rejection of British values and aligning himself more with the French than the British. Through satire, Hogarth is depicting the negative qualities and anxieties associated with foreignness and embodying them into the character of the Macaroni.

Consequently, the mocking and distaste for foreign luxuries became a ‘patriotic cause’, as the collection of such indulgences became aligned with characters like the Macaroni and their lack of national spirit. The Macaroni and his inability to be categorised into any recognisable traditional social grouping, came to symbolise the anxieties of the British public surrounding foreignness and its tainting of British values.

Full Circle…

Whilst analysing the themes of one’s fear surrounding change and the loss of a nation’s’ identity, one cannot help but see the parallels with contemporary issues like Brexit and the satire used to ridicule the political parties failing to deliver on the referendum and the highlighting of the extreme divide between remain and leave- as cliché and now overused as this parallel is.

However, the satire of today is not only found in prints and cartoons, but on our screens as we watch satirical programmes, such as ‘The Thick of It’ or ‘The Last Leg’, or simply when we read through political commentary on social media. Contemporary satire is no longer simply a medium using humour to emphasise ideal societal values of one social grouping; the elite, but is now a form of journalism in itself. It is used as a ‘watchdog’ of the artifice of governments in our ever increasingly conscious culture media-based society.



Why I love Insular Art

Interlace, It’s a Complicated Story…

Lindisfarne Gospel Iniital page
Gospel of St Matthew, Initial Page, Lindisfarne Gospels

In my previous post I explained how Insular manuscripts were used as a vessel for the Word, as the Word became embodied in image. I am hoping that in this post, and  in the posts to follow, I will be able to shine a light on this often overlooked period of art and its incredibly intricate techniques. I have found that there is often a stigma around artwork  from before the medieval period, and that when mentioned to my peers it’s labelled ‘boring’ or ‘irrelevant’. However, what really makes a piece of artwork ‘relevant’? Is it the space where it is kept? It’s selling price? Or simply the medium of art in which it is crafted. Often we perceive certain mediums as being superior to others. For example, painting and sculpture are often the flagbearers of the pieces which we deem to be eligible of the label of ‘art’. While, objects of functional value are left to debate, rarely labelled as ‘art’ but rather deemed as relics of a time passed. In this post I am hoping to create a cohesive understanding of how even objects of functional value, such as manuscripts, still have the same level of intellectual depth through symbolism which can be found weaved into the work of the ‘genius’ of the Renaissance painting.

I will start with exploring the technique of Interlace, as it will probably be the most familiar. Interlace is the decorative intertwining strands that we see being sold as pieces of ‘Celtic’ jewellery, or (a popular contemporary sighting) as a tattoo to remember one’s Celtic heritage. However, I’m so sorry to break it to you, especially if you have this tattoo, but it’s not Celtic, it’s Insular. Interlace is an incredibly complex technique, not only when addressing its origins, but also in its visual effect. The decorative technique of interlace is often used to simultaneously conceal and reveal ornamentation, which act as a guide for understanding the function of the manuscripts and hint to the period’s cosmological understanding. Insular artwork defies our contemporary, standardised idea of an image, where the image is static. Through the use of interlace Insular art becomes polymorphic, seemingly changing and moving the more you look at it. This ever-changing environment reflects the 5th/9thc. belief of how one could glimpse the divine through the study of the Word made Image. It was believed that if one was to gain a great enough understanding of the gospels that they could glimpse the divine, just as the viewer glimpses an increasing amount of detail by staring at the page.

Chi-Rho page
Chi-Rho page, Book of Kells

An example of where the technique of interlace is used to simultaneously conceal and reveal is the Chi-Rho page, found in the Book of Kells. When discussing this exact image the technique of interlace is used to place emphasis on the concept of ‘the Incarnation of Christ’, discussed in the Gospel of Matthew. It is important to note that interlace isn’t used formulaically and used more as a tool to aid the imagination and heighten the effect of symbolism, translating as biblical narrative. Now, the element of decoration that I am about to mention is probably my favourite little bit of decoration found in the Book of Kells, making me laugh every time I see it. At the end of the Rho, you can see Christ emerging from the end, thus indicating how God took on man’s flesh to save us. Furthermore, zoomorphic imagery of Angels (creatures of heaven), Cats and mice (creatures of the land), and Otter and fish (creatures of the sea) are also hidden within the tapestry of interlace that is the Chi-Rho page. Through the study of the gospels one will learn how God became man in the form of Christ to die to save us all. This teaching takes pages and pages of the bible to explore and explain. However, the scribes of the Book of Kells condense the teaching of the Incarnation of Christ into one page. Christ came to save us, and through this act of emergence from the Rho all the creatures around him are connected to him through interlace and thus are saved.

I am hoping that from this incredibly brief and hopefully not too confusing analysis of the technique of interlace, that you are able to see how Insular art is in fact highly intellectual, as it crafts Word into image. However, the real thing I hope you take away from this is, don’t get a ‘Celtic interlace’ tattoo without double checking it’s Celtic first…

What is Insular Art?

A Rough Outline

What is Insular Art? The very question I asked myself when turning up to my first Art History lecture at Edinburgh University. Before my first year of studying Art History, (which I finished last week – success) I was very much stuck in the Vsari dictated mindset of believing that Art History really started in the 15thc. with the Renaissance and anything before that was simply a precursor to ‘real’ art. I can now safely say that I couldn’t have been more wrong, and consequently, and to my own surprise, art before the 15thc. might just now be my favourite period of Art History. My family, close friends and boyfriend know all too well how I can drown on for hours about the ‘concept of seeing’ and  the mysteries that lie hidden within interlace. However, I’ll do my best to keep this post short and informative, as I discuss the 5th-9thc. artistic style of Insular Art. I would never claim to be an expert in the field of Insular Art, as I’ve only dipped my toe into the study and understanding of this incredibly complex style, both in its use of decoration and its metaphorical, non-linear approach to the depiction of the periods cosmological understanding of the world.

In this post I will address the function of Insular Manuscripts and explore specific pieces of artwork in a series which will shortly follow this post. To begin with, the function of Insular manuscripts are as a vessel for the Word. In this post when using the term ‘the Word’ I am referring to the Word of God, recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The Insular Manuscripts were used as a tool for teaching faith through study and contemplation. It is important to understand that during this period the concept of the Word was believed to be the embodiment of the creator himself. I recognise how difficult it is to understand the function of these manuscripts through the study of their imagery, as medieval thought was not as linear as our own, using imagery both symbolically and metaphorically to understand the surrounding world through a biblical narrative.

The decoration and imagery of Insular manuscripts was used symbolically in order to convey the spiritual meaning behind the biblical narrative. Through the combination of religious symbols and decorative techniques, such as interlace, scribes were able to create complicated, interweaving patterns, often merging nomina sacra, the Chi-Rho, into biblical or symbolic scenes. Consequently, these depictions became a visual manifestation of the Word, referencing the presence of the creator throughout the gospels and one’s ability to glimpse the divine through the study of text.

In the following blog posts I will further explore the decorative techniques used in Insular manuscripts, as the Word became embodied in image.

Images I will explore in this series of posts:

Modern Artist or Visual Politician? – Dada (part 6)


The pieces which I have previously analysed are obviously politically triggered. However, the question which I have been exploring throughout this blog series is, does the artist who produces the politically based artwork act as a visual politician or as a social critic? If acting as the latter, I would have to conclude that that artist would maintain the title of ‘Modern Artist’ instead gaining the new title of ‘Visual Politician’?

During the short period of time studying History of Art, I have been exposed to a vast range of political art. This consisting of everything from the famous portrait of ‘Louis XIV’ by Hyacinthe Rigaud to cartoons in the newspaper, produced by the likes of David Lowe. However, even though I have only been studying this subject for all of 3 months, one can already recognize that a political artist has the choice of taking two roots in his art. The artist can either choose to take part in propaganda, thus reinforcing the person in power, or they can stand to oppose and criticise the society they live in or the government they live under. It is the latter that I have discussed in this essay.

Both Höch and Hausmann use photomontage to cultivate their campaigns and use the Dada movement to catapult their views into the spotlight. By exploring the question, ‘Modern Artist or Visual Politician’ over this series of 6 blogs, I can conclude that the Dada artist shares many common traits with the standard politician.  The divide that acts to separate the two roles is that one results to the use of words to express his or her ideals and the other uses images; Visual Politician. However, the flaw of the political modern artist, such as Haussmann, is that of their lack of a solution for the flaws of society that they highlight in their work. Therefore, I have concluded that without the support of a realistic solution one cannot label them a ‘Visual Politician’ but simply as a political modern artist or a social critic. It is a politician’s role in society to live by their manifesto; which Dada does, and provide a solution to solve the countries problems, which in turn supports the manifesto and gains people’s support; which Husmann’s ‘Dada Siegt’ does not. Without the presence of a solution the artist is simply being a social critic.

However, Hannah Höch can be labeled a Visual Politician because she focalizes her artwork onto a single subject; misrepresentation of women in society. Therefore, Höch is able to clearly state both her view on society and the changes that she believes must be made. By providing one main topic to criticize, the viewer can only come to one rational conclusion, that she is fighting for the opposite of what the present is providing; equality of men and women. Therefore, the modern artist Hannah Höch can be called a Visual Politician as she has crafted a powerful campaign through photomontage, called the public to support her ideology and supported this with an answer, just like a politician.

Modern Artist or Visual Politician?- Dada (part 5)

Analysis of ‘Cut with the kitchen knife Dada through the last Epoch of Weimar Beer-Belly Culture in Germany’ by Hannah Höch 

Last summer I was lucky enough to visit Berlin with my family, who I am still having to apologise to after turning our 4 day family holiday into an intense gallery hunt, as I was determined to visit each and every famous art museum. During this visit I was lucky enough to find a gallery that specialised in Dada art and was able to see my favourite piece of artwork by Höch, which is not only my favourite for its narrative qualities but also for it absurdly long title, ‘Cut with the kitchen knife Dada through the last Epoch of Weimar Beer-Belly Culture in Germany’ (Cut with the Kitchen Knife), made in 1919[1]. Höch purposely bombards the viewer visually with a mass of images and slogans in order to create a sense of being overwhelmed, thus reflecting how the mass media was constantly churning out manufactured slogans and representations of ‘the ideal’. The feeling of confusion that one is supposed to feel when standing in front of this piece, and which I can confirm is effectively achieved, is supposed to reflect the complex nature of politicians and politics as a whole.Picture4.pngHöch, Hannah. Cut with the kitchen knife Dada through the last Epoch of Weimar Beer-Belly Culture in Germany. 1919. Photomontage. Staaliche Museum, Berlin (photo taken by me while visiting)

Mario Haves; writer of ‘A daughter of Dada: Hannah Höch at MOMA’[2], wrote that “Not only was this piece a testament to the Dada movement but was a political commentary that highlighted feminism and gender issues among its content”.[3] The piece can be split into four quarters with the top right hand side consisting of ‘Anti-Dadaists’, top left made of ‘Dada Propaganda’, bottom left ‘Dada Persuasion’ and bottom right ‘Dadaists’[4]. Höch has assigned an easily recognizable public [5]figure to each section so that even with all the visual chaos the viewer can still relate to the piece. In politics is easier for the public to understand a ‘campaign’ if there is a face to put to the ideology. For example, when asked about the UK Conservative party the face of Theresa May or David Cameron springs to mind. When trying to understand politics one can often find it to be complex and confusing, which Höch mimics through the mass of images that confronts the viewer.[6] Therefore, in order to maintain the focalisation of her message; which i will address in the following paragraph, Höch adopts the same technique of a political party and, quite literally in this case, sticks a face to the campaign.

   Picture4small      Picture4small2

The large figure found in the ‘Dada Propaganda’ section can easily be identified as Albert Einstein[7] surrounded by slogans that can be translated as ‘invest your money in dada!’[8] and ‘he he, young man…dada is not an art trend’[9]. In the ‘Anti-Dadaists’ section you can recognise the face of the German politician,  Friedrich Ebert[10] , who Höch has humorously depicted as having the body of a topless woman. When analysing ‘Cut with the Kitchen Knife’ one will very quickly notice that there is a common motif throughout the piece, that being of the head of a man attached to the female body[11]. For example, in the section ‘Dadaists’, Dada artists such as George Grosz, Herzfelde, Johana Baader and Karl Radek, the leader of communist Party in Germany, can all be found to have the body of small female dancers. It is through the use of this motif that Höch is able to addresses the topic of gender issues and inequality.[12] In Weimar society Höch, through her own experience of being regularly ignored or patronised by her fellow Dadaists, had observed how by simply being of the male gender one is automatically deemed to be more dominant than a woman. Therefore, Höch chooses to display her male comrades, and other male figures as having the body of females. In the act of doing so the viewer’s perception of gender is obscured, thus stripping her male comrades of their masculinity and in turn stripping them of their power.[14]

‘Cut with the Kitchen Knife’ is arguably one of Höch’s most personal and important pieces, as it addresses not only the inequality that all women suffered in Weimar Germany but also directly addresses Höch’s own personal experiences, as she was constantly seen as ‘lesser’ than other male Dadaists. Therefore, I would conclude that ‘Cut with the Kitchen Knife’ does have a political narrative, but in this moment Höch is not trying to embody the role of the Visual Politician, but is simply using her artwork to express her own anger and frustration that she felt towards the society that placed restrictions upon her own artistic progression.

[1] “Feminist Artist”. Une Femme. N.p., 2013. Web. 14 August. 2016.

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] “Cut With The Kitchen Knife”. Utopia/Dystopia. N.p., 2013. Web. 13 August. 2016.

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10] Ibid

[11] Cumming, Laura. “Hannah Höch- Review”. The Guardian. N.p.,2014. Web. 16 August. 2016.

[12] “Cut With The Kitchen Knife”. Utopia/Dystopia. N.p., 2013. Web. 13 August. 2016.

[13] Ibid

[14] Ibid

Modern Artist or Visual Politician? – Dada (part 4)

Analysis of ‘Dada Ernst’ by Hannah Höch


Höch, Hannah. Dada-Ernst. 1920. Photomontage. The Israel Museum, Jerusalem.[1]

In my blog post, ‘Modern Artist or Visual Politician- Dada (part 2)’, I discussed how an artist is able to adapt similar characteristics to that of a politician when cultivating a piece of political artwork that evokes the audience to question the society they live in and the people they entrust the role of leadership to. This is evident in Hannah Höch’s photomontage ‘Dada-Ernst’. Like a politician Höch analyses her environment and transfers the flaws that she observes onto the canvas, thus creating the physical manifestation of her ‘campaign’. Through the medium of photomontage Höch is able to generate a visual message that the public can relate to, as it is consistent with their surroundings.

‘Dada-Ernst’ portrays the two contradictory roles that women were cast in Weimar society.[2] In post-WW1 Germany women were expected to work and the ‘new woman’ was idolised as being independent. However, the mass media was simultaneously promoting romanticised and sexualised images of the ‘ideal woman’. To highlight these two juxtaposing depictions[3] Höch incorporates the two portrayals of women, taken directly from images she had cut from magazines and newspapers. In the bottom left-had corner of ‘Dada-Ernst’ a squatting gymnast can be found, representing the active woman who strives for her goals through hard work and determination.[4] The woman is crouching, like a frog, which is not the traditional, feminine pose you would anticipate a woman to be depicted in. However, the woman found above the crouching woman portrays the traditional romanticised nude found throughout art history; thus creating disparity between the two juxtapositions. Höch is speaking out against; as the title references, the serious misrepresentation of women in Weimar society.

Höch is able to build a strong campaign through both her use of evidence and focalisation. The medium of photomontage is key to Höch’s campaign as it makes it both relatable and convincing. By providing the public with visual evidence of the misrepresentation of women; taking images from public forms of mass media, Höch is able to draw the public’s eye to the flaw she is campaigning against; misrepresentation of women, while using a visual form that cannot be dismissed as being misleading. The figures have been cut straight from the commercial everyday and therefore, unlike when phrasing a sentence, cannot be labelled as being ambiguous or false. Höch has taken the phrase ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’ to heart, and delivers the evidence in the visual form so the viewer is forced to confront the romanticised ideal woman. Therefore, Höch’s title could arguably be changed from ‘Modern Artist’ to ‘Visual Politician’ as she has successfully cultivated her campaign and provided a solution for her critique. This sets Höch apart from the modern artist who simply produces artwork that it politically based. The latter, if labelled differently would be called a social critic as they solely analyse society and highlight the flaws. However, they lack the support of a solution for these ills. Like Haussmann’s ‘Dada Siegt’ their message is too broad to focalize on a single solution, and in turn leaves them undeserving of the name ‘Visual Politician’, as they do not meet the criteria needed for the title.

In ‘Modern Artist or Visual Politician- Dada (part 5)’ I will be discussing another one of Höch’s works, which is not only famous for its political narrative but also for its incredibly long name of ‘Cut with the Kitchen Knife Dada through the last Epoch of Weimar Beer-Belly Culture in Germany’.

[1] “Hannah Hoch Dada-Ernst 1920-21”. Dada Portraits. N.p., 2012. Web. 16 August. 2016.

[2] Dillon, Brian. “Hannah Höch: Art’s Original Punk”. the Guardian. N.p.,2014. Web. 13 August 2016

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

Modern Artist or Visual Politician? – Dada (part 3)


Analysis of ‘Da-Dandy’ by Hannah Höch 


Höch, Hannah, Da-Dandy. 1919. Photomontage. Private Collection, Berlin

Hannah Höch was a Dada artist, who is famous for her feminist based photomontages, which she used to draw the public’s eye to the problem of mis-representation of women in the media. Höch worked as a designer of sewing patterns at  Ullstein Verlug[1], a large publishing house in Berlin, where she was able to obtain images of the new idealised woman, which she used to create her photomontages.[2] This accessibility allowed Höch to monitor the slightest change in fashion or the depiction of the female as she was regularly provided with the latest trends. In ‘Da-Dandy’ the composition is built out of fetishised features of the female body.[3] The purpose of constructing the piece in this manner was to critique the portrayal of women and how they were presented as sexualised beings in mainstream media.[4] Höch argues that the sexualised image of the female is manufactured and therefore unrealistic. It is a fantasy that was created for the pleasure of men and to isolate women, as they were unable to relate to the glossy figures encapsulated in the magazine pages. The reoccurring motif of the woman’s face in ‘Da-Dandy’ symbolises this mass production and the objectification of the idealized woman[5]. Unlike her male comrade Haussman, Höch used her work to focus on a specific topic and it was this focalisation that allowed Höch to support her feminist based political agenda with a solution; women to be portrayed equally to men and not as an unattainable fantasy.

Höch provides a solution alongside her campaign for equality, just as a traditional politician would do. In order to win favour with the public a politician must first state his campaign and then conclude with a solution for the flaws he has observed and highlighted. The public may already be aware of the ills of society however it is the remedy they lack. Therefore, for the politician to gain support he or she must provide the solution to these flaws. Höch rises to this criterion by narrowing her political agenda to one main topic; the misrepresentation of women by the mainstream media. In her photomontage ‘Da-Dandy’ she clearly depicts the sexualised images of the female body, and in keeping her message focalized the viewer is able to draw a rational conclusion from her work by simply observing their own environment. The woman of reality who they see in the streets must work for her keep, however the manufactured woman on the magazine pages is a romanticised character who oozes elegance. The two depictions are juxtaposed, and by recognising this one can only rationally come to a single conclusion; women are misrepresented.

I will discuss the work of Hannah Höch in my next post as she revisits the dilemma of the depiction of women in Weimar society in her piece ‘Dada-Ernst’, translated as ‘Dada- Seriousness’. [6]

[1] “Hannah Hoch | German Artist”. Encyclopedia Britannica. N.p., 2015. Web. 8 Oct. 2016.

[2] Ibid

[3] “Hannah Höch | Da-Dandy (1919) | Artsy”. N.p., 2016. Web. 16 August. 2016.

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Dillon, Brian. “Hannah Höch: Art’s Original Punk”. the Guardian. N.p.,2014. Web. 13 August 2016