Tuesday, 30 June 2009

John Berger

I heard on the news the other day that John Berger has donated his Archive to the British Library and that Jamie Andrews, Head of Modern Literary Manuscripts, was going out to Berger's home in France to have a preliminary look at the material. What an adventure - to get to be the first 'outsider' to look at someones Archive. I'm sure there is a huge amount of interesting material there but what immediately caught my interest in reading about it was a short piece in The Guardian which notes that there are 'papers relating to an aborted collaboration between Berger and Tom Waits' - that sounds very intriguing, I'll look forward to reading more about that later! Maybe the British Library will start a blog for the cataloguing of the Archive like they have with the Harold Pinter and Ted Hughes Collections.

Friday, 26 June 2009

The Fire Raisers

Leaflet for The Fire Raisers at the Royal Court Theatre 1961
© The Royal Court Theatre, London

At the moment I'm cataloguing A-Z correspondence files from the Anderson Collection and it's great the amount of surprises it throws up. There are lots of interesting letters from members of the public and from some big names as well. The other day I catalogued a letter from the playwright, author and architect, Max Frisch, congratulating Anderson on his production of Frisch's play The Fire Raisers. Lindsay Anderson produced this play at the Royal Court Theatre in 1961 and the production starred Alfred Marks, James Booth, Colin Blakely, John Thaw and Doris Hare.

Stage shot of The Fire Raisers at the Royal Court Theatre 1961
© The Lindsay Anderson Collection, University of Stirling

The play concerns Mr Biedermann ('honest man' or 'worthy man'), a wealthy bourgeois man suffering guilt over how he made his fortune. Living in a town recently subject to a string of arson attacks Mr Biedermann refuses to believe that two dodgy characters who have managed to work their way into his home are the culprits of these attacks. The two arsonists build up a collection of petrol drums in Biedermann's attic and even then he refuses to believe they are the arsonists, in the end giving them the match they use to set his home on fire. Written in 1953 this play was intended as a metaphor for Nazism and Communism but I think it works well as a parable about the dangers of pretending not to see what is going on around you.

In a contemporary review of the play the theatre critic Irving Wardle used a Brecht poem in his review, part of which I thought I would reproduce here:
"In one of Brecht's didactic poems the Buddha answers a doubting pupil by telling a story about a burning house. Its occupants, he says, were in no hurry to leave: -
One of them
While the heat was already scorching his eyebrows,
Asked me what it was like outside,
Whether it wasn't raining,
Whether the wind wasn't blowing,
perhaps, whether there was
Another house for them, and more
of this kind. Without answering
I went out again. These people here,
I thought,
Must burn to death before they stop asking questions.
This uncomfortable little parable could stand as an epigraph for Max Frisch's The Fire Raisers, a streamlined satire on bourgeois idealism which would have earned the approval of the Master....
The final third of the play in Lindsay Anderson's production is nothing short of terrifying... as the incendiarists deliver a solid blow to one's sense of security." (Irving Wardle, Fire up above, The Observer, 1961).

Alfred Marks and chorus of Firemen
in The Fire Raisers, Royal Court Theatre 1961
© The Lindsay Anderson Collection, University of Stirling

Back of above photo with Lindsay Anderson's handwritten description
© The Lindsay Anderson Collection, University of Stirling

I went to see a production of the play, this time entitled The Arsonists, at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 2007. It was directed by Ramin Gray in the Jerwood Theatre downstairs and this was its first major UK revival since Anderson's production in 1961. I really enjoyed seeing the play, and it was great to just be sitting in the Royal Court Theatre, somewhere where Lindsay Anderson spent so much of his time.

When cataloguing the letter from Max Frisch to Lindsay Anderson I checked online and found that there is a Max Frish Archive at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich - where the papers of Thomas Mann are also held.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Photographs from the Lindsay Anderson Collection

Lindsay Anderson and Richard Harris rehearsing a scene from This Sporting Life
© Lindsay Anderson Collection, University of Stirling

The Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London has just finished screenings of Lindsay Anderson's 1963 classic This Sporting Life, starring Richard Harris and Rachel Roberts. In addition to this they showed three of his short films, Wakefield Express, The White Bus and O Dreamland. Hmmn, I think this post may have been more useful at the beginning of the month but anyway I thought I would use it as a chance to show some of the wonderful on-set photographs we've got here in the Lindsay Anderson Collection.

Of the short films being shown my favourite would be The White Bus - I love the feel of the film, the loneliness of Patricia Healey's character even when surrounded by people, the funny and surreal elements to the film, and the beautiful camerawork by Miroslav Ondricek (the Czechoslovakian cinematographer who would go on to work with Anderson on If... and O Lucky Man!).

Lindsay Anderson directing a scene on the set of The White Bus
© Lindsay Anderson Collection, University of Stirling

Lindsay Anderson, Miroslav Ondricek and interpreter on set of The White Bus
© Lindsay Anderson Collection, University of Stirling

The film was originally supposed to be part of a trilogy of films called Red, White and Zero, the other parts being directed by Tony Richardson and Peter Brook. The trilogy was never released and we've got some wonderful correspondence where the reasons behind this are discussed. Lindsay Anderson felt the other two films had deviated far too far from the original remit of a short film based on a story by Shelagh Delaney. I love this film and I wish someone would release it on DVD as it is an essential part of Anderson's film output.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Picasso, Malaga and Guernica

Malaga, 2009
© Kathryn Mackenzie

I've just returned from a week's yoga holiday in the idyllic surroundings of Casa Mayor, a beautiful villa in the mountains of AndalucĂ­a, about 40 minutes drive from Malaga. I wouldn't have thought I could fit archives into a yoga holiday but I managed it with a visit to the wonderful Picasso Museum in Malaga.

I hadn't realised that Pablo Picasso was born in Malaga so it seems only fitting that there is a museum in his honour in the city. I had been told Malaga wasn't worth seeing but nothing could be further from the truth. It was a lovely old town with a really interesting history, lots of beautiful buildings and parks, and the Picasso Museum. I wish I'd remembered to take some photos of the outside of the building as it's a lovely building, and there were absolutely no photos allowed inside the building. The work in the collection was donated by Picasso's daughter-in-law, Christine Ruiz-Picasso and his grandson, Bernard Ruiz-Picasso.

View of Malaga from the Gibralfaro Castle, 2009
© Kathryn Mackenzie

There is a huge variety of work on display, reflecting the breadth of Picasso's talents and interests. The collection includes, in addition to paintings, sculptures, drawings, sketchbooks, ceramics, engravings, photographs of the artist at work on outdoor sculptures, and various forms of print-making. It was great seeing all his drawings and sketch books and getting an idea of how the creative process worked. For me it is as important and rewarding to see the sketchbooks and drawings as it is to see the finished work as without all this extra information there's no way of knowing how the finished work is arrived at. Though I guess you could take the view of the artist as 'genius', a creative mind working alone to create art, I would rather see how the ideas developed and who else was involved in the creative process (there is work by a number of artists with whom Picasso collaborated, including the sculptor Julio Gonzalez). It was also very useful to see that so much of the work was dated, even the sketchbooks in some cases. Dating his work was something he had been doing for a long time, maybe this has something to do with being so famous in his own lifetime - he was already aware of how well his art was and would be regarded and therefore could see the value in attributing works in time and space, creating his own archive as he went along.

Whilst at the Museum I bought a really interesting book Picasso's War: the destruction of Guernica, and the masterpiece that changed the world, by Russell Martin. I've still never seen Picasso's Guernica but one day I'll make the trip to Madrid. The book charts the history of the Spanish Civil War and Guernica, the place, and how it was that Picasso came to paint Guernica, and then goes on to discuss the reception of the painting at the time, and in the decades that followed. There are a couple of points from the book that stick in my mind. The first being that, as with other work, Picasso dated his sketches and development work for this painting, but in addition, for the first time, Guernica was also photographed at many stages of its development by Dora Maar, a photographer and artist who at that time was also the lover of Picasso.

Picasso entrusted Guernica to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York in 1938 and it would stay in America, with short tours elsewhere, until 1981. MoMA weren't keen to return the work but the Government of Spain used archives to help secure its return to Spain. They provided assurances that the work would be safe, they gained the support of a number of Picasso's family members', and they used documents to prove that, in 1937, the Spanish government had paid Picasso for his materials for the painting (Picasso didn't want payment from the Government for painting the work as it was his way of supporting the cause of the Republican Government), and that Picasso had gifted the painting to Spain.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Art and Archives

There is a two-day conference coming up at the Monash Centre in Prato, Italy, 'Archive/Counter Archive', which sounds really interesting. The aim of the conference is to offer "fresh thinking and dialogues on the current relations between contemporary art and the archive. The focus of the conference has been shaped by the ways artists are responding to the archive, but also by the histories - and future possibilities - of practices of collecting and drawing" (quote from the announcement about the conference on Art & Education, link as above). It's not something that is really a part of my current job, hence the reason I'll be in Scotland in July and not Italy, but it's a use of Archives that seems to be increasingly common - or maybe it's always been there and it's just that I'm looking for it now. If anyone is going I'd love to hear about it!

Although I said it's not part of my job, working with artists is something that has been going on for some time now at Stirling University Archives. The Archivist Karl Magee has worked with The Changing Rooms Gallery in Stirling in the past and there is another exhibition coming up which I'm pretty excited about. It is an exhibition about John Grierson and Norman McLaren entitled 'Art is not a mirror, it's a hammer!' (an oft-quoted line by John Grierson). The exhibition is still in the planning stages but going by the information below it is going to be a great show

"Launching a long-term project with artists Katy Dove, Simon Yuill and Luke Fowler The Changing Room is working with the University of Stirling to investigate their Grierson and McLaren archives and develop new work in web, music and film. The exhibition presents an exploration of the lives of Stirling born filmmakers Norman McLaren and John Grierson as a starting point for the contemporary artists’ new works.
John Grierson, the ‘father of documentary’ and Norman McLaren, an Oscar-winning experimental filmmaker, animator and artist were brought up in Stirling and both attended Stirling High School. Grierson’s contribution to the development of film is well documented but he also had an important role in shaping McLaren’s career. In 1935, when McLaren was a student at the Glasgow School of Art, he won first prize at the Scottish Amateur Film Festival from a jury led by Grierson. The following year Grierson invited him to London to work in the creative hothouse that was the GPO film unit. Several years later Grierson brought McLaren to Canada and set him up with his own studio and full artistic freedom at the National Film Board, which Grierson had established in 1941. A string of international awards for McLaren’s pioneering, experimental work followed including an Oscar for his film Neighbours in 1953."

Both the John Grierson Archive and the Norman McLaren Archive are held at the University of Stirling. I have included an image below from the Norman McLaren Archive as it's such a beautiful letter, and a wonderful example of the wealth of material in the Archives. I love how he finishes the letter "P.S. the fighting is nowhere near this place" - I wonder if his reassurances to his mother worked, probably not!

Letter from Norman McLaren to his mother whilst he was in China, 1949
© Norman McLaren Collection, University of Stirling

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Jane and Louise Wilson at the Edinburgh Art Festival

In March of this year I went to see Unfolding the Aryan Papers, a film by Jane and Louise Wilson based on their research in the Stanley Kubrick Archive, showing at the British Film Institute Southbank. I recently found out that this piece of work is going to be shown at the Talbot Rice Gallery in Edinburgh as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival. In addition there is also going to be 'rarely seen archive material from the artists' studio'. I had wanted to get back to the BFI to see the film again but I didn't manage to fit it in on that visit so I'm really pleased I've now got the opportunity to do so, and to visit their first solo show in Scotland.