Lukas Duwenhögger, Probleema (detail), 1995 , Courtesy Malmö Art Museum
Thur, Sep 7, 2017 at 11:21 AM
:(Poetry, of course… but his boys)
Earlier on I was bringing up the hegemony of English and its often mutilating and impoverishing effects on other languages. The inherent problems of translation aside, the most damaging effect, it seems to me, is that as soon as something gets recast in that idiom — that relentless, corrosive idiom, the all-pervading illusion of accessibility, the reduction of meaning through the privileging of “story,” of literal content — it is at the expense of musicality, rhythm, sound, vision, and sense, and the implications of different idioms, historical and modern, demotic and literary, ecclesiastic and erotic, of varying topographic and social provenance, which suffuse Cavafy’s poetry. These lyrical and dramatic qualities are, to a large degree, unintelligible not only to the readers of English translations, but to most contemporary Greek readers, as well. Far from being a deplorable obstacle to a wider appreciation of Cavafy’s work, it is the poet’s very own stance and position in the world that he chose to inhabit — to sing to the few sympathetic and attuned. When you grandiloquently brushed aside poetry in your question (which I called irreverent and which, as unformulated as a shopping list and full of an almost embarrassing anticipation, I wouldn’t even call a question so much as an incitement to gossip), you opened that abysmal void where only instant gratification counts. The thing is, you made me feel you were using Cavafy as a pretext to spice up the text with some boy-elixir. Not that true artists care to be revered, but man, keep your tricks for someone else!
But to give center stage to Cavafy — with the help of the great Peter Mackridge, who wrote the introduction of my edition of the Collected Poems (Oxford World Classics, 2008) —
His name Konstantinos Kavafis is a combination of the Latin Constantinus, the founder of the city of Constantinople and of what later came to be known as the Byzantine Empire, and the Arabic-Turkish word kavaf, meaning dealer in cheap shoes. Cavafy lived in a modern trading town, founded upon cotton with the concurrence of onion and eggs (E. M. Forster). Istanbul is primarily a city of trade, as well. In the absence of major poets and artistic movements, he had to develop his craft all on his own. Went through a long process of maturation — like me. Sees his particular artistic sensibility as having been created by homoerotic desire. Thinks that art depends on the experience of abandonment to the senses. That Eros is nourished by transient beauty, while Art makes beauty permanent. That Art imposes its will upon the art-object, removing it from the contingencies that dominate the natural and social worlds. That the alliance between nature and society is unholy. That to be free is to contravene laws and conventions, where these be natural or social or economic. And that this violation leads to a special kind of pleasure. That the pricelessness of “unnatural” love and its asociality, in that it doesn’t lead to marriage and procreation, links it to art, having no end outside of itself. Creation rather than procreation. That Art and Eros are benevolent deities, providentially controlling the destiny of those they have selected as worthy of their patronage. That loss is redeemed through the reanimation of the past, in the mind and body through memory, a capacity nurtured by solitary enclosure — enamored or trusted and dignified step by step, breath by breath, by city life — precluding the indifferent, eradicating void and uninspiring vastness of, for instance, sunsets.
In his late poems, some characters are depicted bearing the adversity, the unsparing, grinding power of history, with dignity and fortitude, courageously refusing to harbor comforting illusions. To me, Cavafy came late, maybe on the shelves of Prince Eisenherz, let’s say 1992 — and was beyond and beneath alien, unapproachable. I could not grasp, feel, relate, know, extract, gourmandize, instrumentalize, utilize — I couldn’t enjoy anything. Maybe in part because of my humanistic education — Latin and Ancient Greek, taught, I must say, by very good people in a hostile environment, completely erased my potential love for antiquity. Now, approaching old age, it comes as close to me as an embrace. Old age, maybe, is when you can become simply sensitive? Sensitively simple? With Cavafy it became, inadvertently, a love affair.
Georges Seurat, Une baignade à Asnières, 1884. Oil on canvas, 201 x 300 cm. Courtesy National Gallery, London
Thur, Sep 7, 2017, at 11:55 AM
Georges Seurat in Une Baignade, Asnières: Jonathan Crary considers this cherished painting still to adhere to notions of the central perspective, illuminating the fact that Seurat’s illumination is not mine, in that I don’t care about central perspective at all. Evoke the Gilles by Antoine Watteau and maybe you can talk about displacements, connected with vaporous hot weather, colors — I say vaporous, where Jonathan Crary speaks of a disrupted harmony created mathematically, or by a refraction of sound, light, and trouble.
Seurat’s thinking in a push and pull, there is no solidity at all in my mind right now. I need fresh air. I suggest to catch a vapur and cross to the other side. Good bye .
" The end of the season ", oil on canvas, 121 x 156 cm, 2007-8, private collection
This portfolio consists of 19 works on paper in a variety of techniques , executed from 1995 to 2013 ,each framed by a passepartout and protected by a magnificent case replete with a table of contents , purpose-built by the Wyvern Bindery , London. They are a mix of preperatory sketches and fully developed illustrations for a ready-to-wear collection which never came into being. The title refers to the German toys of the same name which influenced the style. They were first shown - without the case - in the " Made in Hot Wheather " show at RODEO in London , 2014 , and with the case and the table of contents in the" Undoolay " show at Artist's Space in NYC , 2016. Lukas Duwenhögger , 2.6.2021 , İstanbul
The following text was commissioned by the quarterly PICPUS , edited by Charles Asprey & Simon Grant, in 2014
Sometime in 2004 " The Rift " was rolled up in the Tom Tom neighborhood of İstanbul , while pink doves waved good-bye with their jet black eyes , and carried to Dresden , a city of former baroque resplendence which became a test-side for blanket napalm bombing at the close of WWII. There it was to be conjoined with a frame , a large , dark and forbidding affair , as part of a group show called " Nuclear War " . But the fact that the painting suited that overwrought title like a glove at a time of heightened Islamophobic paranoia in the wake of 9/11 maybe obstructed my Degas-inspired , onomatopoetic intentions and my take on official portraiture and its discontents. That frame had been built in 1999 to lay emphasis on the very different , yet related painting " A Roman Holiday " , destined to be suspended from the ceiling of a gallery in the holy city of Dölm by a slightly disciplinary if not outright sadistic system of ropes , in a solo show called " Diplomatica ". I still lived in Berlin at that time , notorious Berlin. " Diplomatica " sold out , but in the hushed-up process, like in a heist, frame and picture were ripped apart. The strands of thought which had made them one unified meaningful body were severed. The coveted Roman went unclad , and the ignored Holiday went into hibernation. " A Roman Holiday " depicts the central nursery of the eternal city where all the plants for her public gardens are grown. Like other factories producing life-enhancing , edifying and embellishing things such as spirits , cigarettes , marrons glaces , movies , records ,newspapers , to name but a few , they were - before the onslaught of health and information - and in some places still are , signs of civic pride and achievement. The countless representations of these sites of production , on wine labels , stationary , cans and boxes , or in solemnly framed oils and photographs , hung above doors , counters , desks or bars testify to their almost talismanic power, putting them on a par with the ubiquitous likenesses of the godfathers and mothers of what we are taught to cherish - or to smash. To call these objects " visual paths of dignity " is both poetic and precise , but neither would we be far from the truth with calling them " propaganda ". I don't know whether Lucien Freud's portrait of Queen Elizabeth II comes with a frame but the pictures I have in mind always do. Like interpreters or translators , frames are one of the many unacknowledged forces in the mechanics of a society. They form little catafalques you trot behind while thinking about being somewhere else. They stoically contain the fickleness of their subjects and calm the shaky ground on which these idols and temples stand. Bleak it may be , but they provide shelter for their flag-like readability , endearing as stone. Their monumental self-assurance , implying demise. Their ostentatious simplicity , the stealth of their exposure , their authoritarian vulnerability , their temporal timelessness , their sculpted flatness , their stuffed blankness , their cruel benevolence , their evasive presence , their formulaic love . All meaning and no content. Or the banality of evil. Yet , if we only had eyes , their charmes discrets could remind us of our own absurd ambitions , of the old adage that our courtship of disaster is the creation of our pedantry and overbearing , and of the modesty and potential beauty within " the everyday ". Ahh , give us the smoke-filled rooms of yore , the brandy-trays and yellow fingernails ! Adversities like lung cancer can be blessings in disguise. They can sharpen our minds dulled by habit and complacency. If the frame had not been discarded , its resurrection and " The Rift " would not have happened. In the end , disruptions in the palace-routine are the muse ; not some cherry-picked information by an aloof mastermind.The understated eastern vehemence in " The Rift " does coincide with my residence in İstanbul , but does not mean that I am a newsreel on two legs. Before it became " The Rift " , my boy-next-door used to call it " The Nervous Politician " .İt was his way of brushing aside that obnoxious world of people having no qualms whatsoever to be shown in the most unfavorable of lights, boxed in by that mysterious conviction of ever-lasting appeal. Unlike the honorable Daumier I am not a political artist , and largely ignorant of the politics of the region. But why split hairs when you are drenched in it anyhow. Politicians don't leave me cold. On the contrary , it is the compassion , deeply felt by a subdued population-of which against my will I feel myself to be a part-for the self-sacrificing , unflinching leader , the superhuman distress and torment they must endure in the face of the endless tedium , inefficacy , waste and even meretriciousness of their travails for the sake of our national well-being. But their once applauded rhetorics may inadvertently meet incomprehension , impatience and finally disapproval , if not disgust. The shining Dilma Rousseff becomes a merciless game promoter and the lower lip of Erdoğan speaks of a residue of tenderness. Exile is a fate , whether chosen or enforced. It can blind you or make the scales drop from your eyes. Misunderstandings and analogies can rejuvenate and bend you. What you see is how little you know. I don't know why education is brought up all the time as the ultimate remedy for our social malaise , when schools and families and churches are surely the first things to avoid. Without a doubt the Catholic upbringing tied me to narrative and signification as the driving forces of a composition. A cult instills an aversion to the traceability of a sign ; but the new cult is traceability , and surely I can't tell which one is worse. I have strewn other paintings with references , precious to me but obscure to others - like billets d'amour - with the wish to demonstrate that the world is not served on a silver platter , that you can " refute the undimmable grasp of totality ". ( T.J Clark ) I already mentioned interpreters. The following anecdote , related by Lynn Visson , a member of the guild , may help us understand their stressful plight. " A delegate who is monitoring but who has only a limited knowledge of English can easily fluster the interpreter. One Russian kept using the word openasiya , which tranlates into English as apprehension or fears. Tired of repeating these synonyms a colleague said : misgivings. Dead silence , followed by the delegate's announcement : ' Is wrong interpretation - we are not giving anything away '. That kind of thing can drive us to drink ". Then there are different national approaches to the size of a chair or the height of a ceiling. Like Madame de Sable the " Nervous Politican " is celebrity - size , meaning petit. George Eliot in " Silly Novels by Lady Novelists " connects Gallic shortness and agility with the unrivaled intellectual power of the servants of 17th - century France while she sees a diluting effect on the brain by the bigger , more placid , Nordic physique. When West Berlin commissioned Le Corbusier to build one of his Unites in the showcase Hansa - Viertel , he got admonished for his low ceilings , maybe accommodating the Latins , but certainly not the Teutons. In exasperation he cried out : " But maybe for once you could take off your Pickelhauben ! " He disowned the project. Febrile vegetation , gnawing lichens , leaking liquid , abandoned chairs and cars , defiant tea and kıtlama sugar ... dial 333 if you want to know more. And what , for that matter , should we call my reverence for the man I bedecked with the full regalia of the Greenberg architect , rallying against the muffige Konrad Adenauer - Zeit ? Grey flannel , white shirt , woven or knitted cravat from wool ? When they told us that the lassitude and indulgence of Arabs left the country barren and unattended ; the orange blossoms brought about by iron hands. What is he : an architect , a politician , a refined fearless beautiful man ? Who alone speaks the truth about the Euphrates and Tigris ? Or counting the shoes of the dead ?
WHAT YOU SEE İS GENE KELLY OF ARAB DESTİNATİON FLYİNG OUT OF A KONRAD ADENAUER CHAİR , İN UTTER DİİS MAY OF THE ENTİRE HOSTİLİTY OF SURROUNDİNG
A Roman Holiday , 1999 , Oil on canvas 170 x 240 cm
The Rift , 2004 , Oil on canvas , İn artist's frame , 170 x 240 cm
"A Roman Holiday , how it was originally displayed in 1999 , in the show " Diplomatica" at Galerie Daniel Buchholz , before the ropes and the frame were discarded . This display , back then , elicited stunning reactions , from refering maybe the Star of David or sadistic sexual practices .
26. February - 24 March 1999, Galerie Buchholz, Köln
Invitation card for Diplomatica
"A Roman Holiday , how it was originally displayed in 1999 , in the show " Diplomatica" at Galerie Daniel Buchholz, with the Leporello called "Voie de fleurs sans pleurs"
The following text, written by Dominick Eichler for the occasion was offered as a free take away leaflet in the show.
What if the right audience for this [spectacle] were exactly me ? What if for instance, the resistant, oblique, tangential investments of attention and attraction that I am able to bring to this spectacle are actually uncannily responsive to the resistant, oblique, tangential investments of the person … who created it ? (EKS) 1
And in the closed little shop behind the heavy moucharaby now that they had all gone, the exhalations of the flowers arose; pungent, concerted odours, expressive of natural antipathies and feuds, suave alliances, suffering, pride and joy … (Firbank) 2
Diplomacy is the art of words as action. Diplomacy is also the art of detailed relations. Yes .. but Diplomatica … really must be a little Scherz ? Lukas Duwenhögger seems hardly – how can I put this … you know – the diplomatic type. His forceful fiercely gay output of works and writing do after all divide opininon, make complacency impossible, point out uncomfortable blind spots in the ruling intelligentsia’s vocabulary and go against all kinds of non-exotic aesthetic grains. I suppose the need for diplomacy arises when dealing with conflicting powers and a potential battlefield. (Here in issue the veritable battlefield of sexual definition, gender, identity politics et al.) While gearing up, to write this text, Lukas placed in my open hands (as he has thankfully – many piquant texts before it) a volume of Ronald Firbank’s novels. The first in the series entitled ‘The Flower beneath the foot‘ satirises the Court of an imaginary land whose principle business is diplomacy, fashion, literature, intricate social relations and the sexual relations that may or may not accompany them. I imagined the visual art sphere as just such a Court and some things began to make sense.
You encounter a view which detains. Not one of the spectacular variety; not an obvious picture postcard contestant, no heroic ruins or urban monoliths. But, nevertheless and somehow perversely, a view in the centre of Rome. A modest scene: a huddle of buildings, a nursery; a row of white-washed glass houses, and half a dozen other miscellaneous practical economic structures. All around are elegant canopy pines and foliage cast in after-midday light. A shadowy lavender road sweeps around the compound like a moat. Three white cars are parked by the entrance. Somewhere a water main has burst, or some other minor aquatic catastrophe has occured and gone unnoticed. Rivulets of water trickle across the hot asphalt unchecked. There is no-one around.
This evocative scene is the subject of one of Lukas’ two new paintings entitled Roman Holiday (1999). It took me aback at first. I have previously revelled (admittedly after a courting period of bashful uncertainty)3 in his palette of Victorian sorbets enjoyed in high summer and his Inszenierungen of desirable male characters, lingering and gazing. With them in mind, what might this moody, vacant and subdued scene mean ? Its pensive quality seems tangible considering the multitude of little precisely toned brush strokes, each a tender visitor to the canvas.
The resultant melancholy and reflective atmosphere seems to invite a metaphorical interpretation. For this there is prompting enough. A whitewashed glass house: a site of production and reproduction; here we are behind-the-scene of many a public floral bed and avenue of trees. It brings with it connotations of a public life beyond, and by virtue of the whitewash-ideas of protection, privacy and internal nurturing and some kind of intimacy shielded from pryers. In addition, a sense and sensibility for both open secrecy and secret openness. The activities in the house of cultivation are kept from us. Maybe its the development of new hybrids – bigger blooms with shocking colours and proportionately exaggerated names. (Gilded Rose, Spanked Cheek, Ms Joy Explosion – now I am just guessing, getting carried away). Whatever the case, who would not like to be the soil kneaded by the gardener’s hand while the siesta is lasting ? All the time the creeper needs to find root even on the hot glass roof, the parasite !
The binarisms suggested by Roman Holiday (i.e. artificial / natural, new / old, growth / decadence, urbane / provincial, art /kitsch, sincerity / sentimantality – to name some) are according to theorist, poet, editor Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick in her book The Epistemology of the Closet (1990)4 are loaded in a specific way. She explains the link between these and other pairings basic to modern cultural organisation and what she calls the permeative suffusing stain of the homo / heterosexual 5 definition crisis.
But back to the painting. In Roman Holiday the painterly problem of representing foliage has been solved in an intentionally ambiguous fashion. Each tree diverse, its own species, some more sculptural than others, some more graphic or detailed than others. My favourites are the trees and bushes that have been metamorphosed into whipped-up green punkish or just-out-of-bed Frisuren. Unlike fashion, gardens are more closely related to social codes and structures than often appreciated. Think of the contrast between the flamboyant but highly organised displays of Victorian England’s public gardens and the parched lassitude of the Roman equivalent, and their corresponding reputations regarding social mores. In The Flower beneath the Foot the palace garden and its grottoes provide a place of retreat, a private refuge and the possibility of physical intimacy – even though that activity may only lead to broken hearts and retreat to monastic life 6.
Even a lazy viewer transforms the viewed. When that viewer is a painter, that transformation, with the problem of representation as its axis, has material expression. There are many good reasons for an unhappy relationship with the Herrschaft of genre. Especially so when one sets out to represent something in paint on canvas. Confronted by this, Lukas has often turned to a range of alternative visual resources like fashion photography, film, commercial illustrations and New Yorker comics, to name some. One inspiration for Roman Holiday, for example, is a form of resorting to the bottle. No ! – not just the contents, but as found on the more charming varieties – label illustrations; typically the place of production, a few vines, perhaps a glimpse of the surrounding landscape somewhat idealised – where necessary.
The second of the two paintings in the exhibition, Chéri (1999)7, is exuberance itself. The single almost life size male figure might be a new catholic saint – considering his festive elegance and communion with the Roman view opposite. But he is one who rejects the idea of his own original sin or martyrdom, and the patriarchal bureaucracy and the yearning for the sublime found in the official capital C religion. He is a Lahore-look model with a yellow banded straw boater tipped flirtatiously deep. Behind him there is an illusionist abstract space (of a type favoured in haute couture fashion photography) which has more to do with good theatre than with the now mainstream pop-ish fascination of the real street. The former filled with colour, intention, plot and drama – anticipation. The painting’s photographic cyc is a zebra crossing that becomes a kind of abstracted high rise as it travels up the wall. This motif is a nod in the direction of a series of fashion shots by Richard Avedon which show models crossing the black and white and smoking while on-lookers stand agape (smoking in public being for women then something shocking). The zebra crossing is here identified with something attractively urbane. Its graphic certainty amounting to an invitation to transgress. In Chéri that transgressive quality is signalled by the choice of modulated lavender and pink hues instead of white, and a military green (that’s lost its aggressiveness in this company) instead of black.
Chéri, strides forward, half-dancing. He looks like he might just hop off the canvas and walk out of the gallery. Hopefully he’ll have no reason to ! Although intentionally rendered in an unphoto realistic manner, he still feels present enough to generate the sense of a forceful bodily encounter. A delicious confusion might set in as one is confronted with the world of fashion and dangerously domestic idea of gay good living in a fine art context. Something which at its most tyrannically puritan has long banished such pin-ups to the lower aesthetic orders. The reparatory (to use a EKS word – see Novel Gazing (1997)) program here involves a careful weighting of joyous frivolity and serious sexual political implications.
The men figured in Lukas’ paintings are usually working (in restaurants, fashion houses), İn confident motion (dancing) or consciously posing. As far as paintings of men go they are all somehow the colourful antithesis of the likes of the stoic Chairman-of-the-Board oily portrait (often a grease job). He quipped to me that some of his characters might be young gay sons set to disperse their families’ respective fortunes. I imagine them doing so with impunity; with style, ease and absolutely no guilty conciousness. Chéri is in the grand tradition of representing an ideal. That seems easy enough but it is the cultural implications and certain knowledge that your ideal will not be shared in any other way than diplomatic politeness (at best) that gives the expression a sharp edge.
As if nonchalantly or pretending to half notice the actual walls of the gallery, the installation sketches the outline of an alternative decorous space. The paintings mask corners. Roman Holiday hangs free floating from crossed gymnastic ropes and Chéri sits on his console and leans back. It gives you the sense of furnishing an imaginary room beyond or in contradistinction to the actual one. The works form their independent circle like a privileged clique that all the same invites participation. In part, it is a somewhat symbolic but necessary action; at the same time an affirmation of the idea of a gallery ( itself ideally a protective hot house ?) as a sophisticated and valid sphere of action, and insistence on a fierce artistic independence nonetheless.
On the floor, meadow height and linking the paintings is a delicate, twenty meters long leporello called “Voie de Fleurs, sans Pleurs” (way of flowers, without tears), an anti-clerical variation on the medieval indoctrination by the church which stipulated “Voie de Fleurs, Voie de Pleurs” (way of flowers, way of tears) which meant that pleasure-seekers were going to pay a bitter price for their indulgence. The individual vignettes (I didn’t count them) are separated by a photocopied passe-partout framing in the rococo shape of a venetian balustrade. These vignettes, modest images from Lukas’ clipping collection and personal snapshots, are images mostly of flowers (with the occasional interruption of fruit, and, much less occasional, gravestones). These flowers are presented in a vast range of incarnations : real, growing in gardens public and private, unfolding al impromptu in city and country settings, sometimes printed, painted, woven, cut, arranged as bouqets in vases, sometimes as devotional offerings to the ideal of love, friendship and guidance. Also a lover of flowers (if ever there was one), Firbank uses them in his novel not just as emblems of natural beauty but as deeply socially bound symbols ; accompanying as they do all the main events of life – one’s floral accumen may indeed say all that there is to say.
But there is the bloom of childhood, when lying in a meadow, the stalks towered above you, and you could see the flowers from beneath, beetles crawling up the culm, their antennae finding the way to the bath of pollen, imbibing light, warmth and sweet nourishment unkown to the Church.
This is true of “Voie de Fleurs, sans Pleurs”. Hidden deep inside it are the graveside photographs of the final resting places of Firbank and Lady Una Troubridge (friend and lover of John Radclyffe Hall – author of the Well of Loneliness) both uncoincidentally to be found in Campo Verano, Rome. You can see, beneath your foot, Lady Troubrigde’s thrilling epitaph, a quotation from her friend : THERE İS NO DEATH.
Floral innuendo is, since time immemorial, the sweetest form of name-calling for men of supra-normal sexual tendencies. Here is the bloom : severed, clutched, worn or displayed indoors, and with companions in a well proportioned brilliant display. What new knowledge is here you may ask yourself and you may. But beware your diploma may never be granted unless you prove yourself its worthy recipient.
Dominic Eichler February 1999, Berlin
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