NaHaiWriMo prompt: jog
Photo: River Ammer, Ettal valley.
A global discussion is being held today, October 16th, on the topic of inequality. Organized by Blog Action Day, this year’s event brings together bloggers from over 100 countries to consider an issue of vital importance.
Inequality evokes images of poverty, abuse, injustice, discrimination, suffering, so ubiquitous that we often feel there is little that we can do to address these problems. Sometimes, they are even considered part of the human condition to be simply accepted and endured. Yet, inequality is mostly man-made, and amenable to intervention and change. There are numerous ways open to us to redress skewed balances, and perhaps the most effective ones start right here, right now: from each one of us becoming aware of our own contribution to the layers of inequality in everyday life.
In my earlier posts I reflected on the language of art and its role in bringing awareness into the equation. Looking at artists’ creations not usually associated with inequality, I noted how Anselm Kiefer’s work embodies remembrance in his use of materials such as clay and metal fragments; how Frank Auerbach’s long preoccupation with repair manifests in his heavily encrusted paintings of the same subjects, over and over again; Kader Attia’s concern with the fragility and malleability of meaning and the cyclical processes of creation, recycling, and re-appropriation. Phyllida Barlow’s juxtapositions connecting us to the history of use and abuse of materials and resources. Malevich’s ways of lifting painting out of the necessity of depicting reality… All these ‘revolutionary’ approaches to painting and sculpture, I saw as being instances of digging under layers of appearance, bringing out the asymmetries, the inequalities in the building blocks of our world. In this sense, good art becomes a language mediating our preconceptions, and experience, re-shaping our ways of seeing the world.
Specifically, becoming aware of the subtle ways inequality arises, expresses, and perpetuates itself in our everyday interactions, is the first important step in helping rebalance unequal relationships.
For instance, common words we use unthinkingly can be a major way of maintaining inequality as well as a vehicle for change. Mary Beard, Cambridge professor in classics, in her recent call for a grey revolution, noting this double-edged potential in language, urges us to reclaim the word ‘old’ from the negative connotations it has acquired. In particular, our associating old age with negative traits, rather than acknowledging it as a source of pride, needs to be examined: in our accepting comments such as “you don’t look your age” as a compliment, she observes, we come to maintain this form of imbalance. We prefer to deny the reality of a natural stage of life, because we have come to see it as only riddled with problems: wrinkles, forgetting, instability, unemployablility, illness. The wisdom, acceptance, achievements, survival, reflectiveness,… that go with it, seem powerless to counteract the negative values we have come to associate with ageing. And this matters because attitudes towards the older generation are at the core of governmental policies making available, or denying, further opportunity, adult education, support, healthcare, and social resources.
In addition to ageing, further examples could be drawn from areas of mental ill-health, poverty, homelessness, unemployment, immigration, conflict… Attributing the cause of these predicaments to the individuals concerned – e.g. genetic or acquired traits, social, or national character – and keeping them separate through linguistic devices, only continues our turning a blind eye to what we have the power to address and change.
Becoming aware/re-minded of this tendency in ourselves, helps us redirect our attention to, and question the assumptions determining our relationship to others. This awareness enables each one of us to make a positive contribution, however small, to the big problem of inequality. But let literature have the last word. Let E. M. Forster’s “Only connect” become a motto for the day, and the year ahead.
This year, Blog Action Day is partnering with Oxfam, whose work and involvement around the world has brought in-depth understanding of the issues involved in inequality.
On October 16th, 2014, a global discussion is being held on the topic of inequality. Organized by Blog Action Day, this year’s theme brings together bloggers from over 100 countries to contribute on a matter that becomes increasingly urgent.
Wars, civil and religious violence, scarcity of materials and ecological concerns, the spread of disease, are increasingly diverting our attention from the inequalities that abound, and increase in our societies. Yet, to a large degree, inequality is the result of all those processes individually and cumulatively. Wars, for instance, are about real or perceived biases in resource distribution, in turn often resulting in huge increases in inequality. Just think of the thousands of refugees looking for safety in the Mediterranean, and the response they get when (and if) they make it to the European shores. (see here
all the refugees asleep
It is ubiquitous, but so are the processes that ameliorate and even help reverse it: awareness and reflection, empathy, generosity; pooling of resources and co-operation; language, art, literature; institutions, policies, humanitarian approaches at national and international levels are just a few that come to mind.
Inequality is an urgent and vital topic for discussion, and you may have noticed, I am taking part this year with a series of posts.* Are you? If you are not sure what to write about, Blog Action Day on FB has a number of tips for bloggers. If you don’t have a blog, you may use your FB account or other social media. See also the Blog Action Day 2014 site.
If you are looking for literary inspiration on themes of poverty, homelessness, begging, and poetic resonances to these issues reflecting perspective and culture, see The Kindness of Strangers, a six-part series by Swedish poet Anna Maris on The Haiku Foundation site (you’ll need to scroll down the blog entries for the earlier posts).
Bye for now! See you on the 16th, online.
#Blogaction14, #Inequality, #Oct16
* Anselm Kiefer at the RA and Museum Walter
Malevich at Tate Modern
Phyllida Barlow at Tate Britain
Kader Attia, Whitechapel Gallery
Frank Auerbach at Tate Britain
two kids make space
for their granny
NaHaiWriMo prompt: jet
all the refugees asleep
NaHaiWriMo prompt: Jail
the slow beating
of your heart
For moon jelly see here
Good news! I am delighted to report that Fruit Dove Press is taking part in the 55th Munich Book Show, at the Gasteig, in Munich, which takes place from the 20 November – 7 December 2014. Various interesting events are planned: authors’ readings, interviews, talks, and above all the opportunity to leaf through wonderful books. Look for Fruit Dove Press here
If you are around, drop in and take a look. I am very much looking forward to the events, especially listening to authors talk about their work.
Auf der Muenchner Buecherschau
Wir von Fruit Dove Press, Neusaess, freuen uns sehr, an der 55. Muenchner Buecherschau 2014 (20. November – 07. Dezember) teilzunehmen. Von uns ausgestellt werden folgende englischsprachigen Titel von Stella Pierides:
Die Kurzgeschichtensammlung Feeding the Doves wurde exzellent rezensiert. Die neue Sammlung The Heart and Its Reasons erscheint rechtzeitig zur Muenchner Buecherschau. Wir freuen uns auf Ihren Besuch.
berries falling down…
scents from the marsh floor
all jumbled up
NaHaiWriMo prompt: jumble
growing pains —
the destroying angel
under the bell jar
NaHaiWriMo prompt: jar
For ‘destroying angel’ see here
Forthcoming: The Heart and Its Reasons
Steering a path around islands of the past and the present, mythology and history, locals and expatriates, refugees and emigrants, loneliness and aloneness, the fragrance of herbs and the stink of prejudices, the stories in this book traverse the multifarious landscapes of the heart. Setting course by Greece – a country filled with the light and darkness of its past, with wounds still oozing from its wars – the stories explore a space that is both familiar, unfamiliar, and uncannily universal: the haunted, multilayered, enticing, and bewitching chambers of the heart. The sutures keeping it together are pride and longing: for mother, for father, for home; for recognition, for acceptance, for love, for truth; for a better world.
From the Back Cover
“Pierides reads and renders our soul with the spectacular clarity of the Greek classics and the depth of the world’s greatest introspective writers. Masterfully portrayed characters, whether they find themselves at crossroads or in seemingly everyday situations, wrestle the often Procrustean tendencies of time, traditions, and heartaches, to ultimately glimpse surprising answers to riddles old and new. These eloquent, hypnotic stories translate the experience of Greek expatriates, contemporary hermits, war veterans, daughters, mothers, and many others, into the universal language of a perpetually searching, truth-thirsty humanity. At once actual and mythic, they blend individual memory and the memory of history, to generate a distinct portrait of the European spirit…”
—Mia Avramut, writer, Essen, Germany
“Wistful and bittersweet: a collection of engaging stories. Stella Pierides does not shy away from depicting suffering and loss, but a distinctive feature of her work is how she shows her clearly-drawn characters gradually making sense of even the most chaotic of lives. She calls upon her Greek heritage and pan-European outlook to tackle themes of youth and age, the burdens of history, and the irrepressibility of hope.”
—Katie Low, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
Updated regularly: please come back for the latest!
Cover painting: ‘Port Isaac’ by Maria Pierides
Fruit Dove Press / http://www.fruitdovepress.com
Perfect softbound / 104 pages, 90gm cream interior paper / Full-color laminated cover / 129 mm x 198 mm trim size / ISBN: 978-3-944155-04-3
Inequality and Memory
The day before Anselm Kiefer was born, the house next door to his parents’ was completely destroyed. Only a sewing machine had remained intact. This event is linked, in several articles I came across, to his painter’s vision, his choice of subject, painting technique, and use of materials.
It is as if he still breathes the dust he breathed in as a newborn; still lives among the rubble he creates in his painting/sculptures; still looks for the diverse, as if bomb-strewn, materials for the surfaces of his constructions. There is a correspondence, an analogy, an equivalence between his original circumstances and his continued practice and vision in his work. A way of reconstructing memory, making it tangible; of keeping alive an event by reproducing its aftermath, expanding it in time. The Guardian’s Jonathan Jones would agree to this, as in his preview of the Royal Academy exhibition, he describes Kiefer’s show as
“an astonishing look at the awful burden of history”.
From the moment in time to expanding time, Kiefer’s objects do not stop this process of ‘remembering’ even when ‘finished’: the clay he uses shrinks, crumbles, and drops off; dried bits of material disintegrate, fall down, and become litter on the gallery floor to be returned to him. Even when the works don’t disintegrate, Kiefer ‘damages’ them deliberately, as if the state of being damaged, used, wounded, is the reality of painting. Here is where Kader Attia’s concern with re-appropriation of materials comes alive. Making/finding the rubble and turning it into a work of art, then turning this/letting this grow into rubble again, only to use the bits that come off in new work. Like the particles of the cosmos, on a microscopic level, Kiefer’s materials, and creations, belong together, morph, develop, die, and are reborn to a new form.
If this sounds benign, it is because Kiefer’s work reminds us to see it this way; it is a meditation on the ongoing, day to day processes of growth, decay, and regeneration. War, though, a main concern for Kiefer, and our time, is one of the most urgent and sudden, both violently disruptive and accelerative processes there are. When we linger in front of, or indeed around, a Kiefer piece, the terror and horror of the destruction of war; the awe of the immensity of scale come to mind: the holocaust (for Kiefer, perhaps the most personal reference); Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Congo, Gaza, Syria, Hiroshima… The beauty of the arrangements, of the depictions, and the terror of the depicted resonate with Rilke’s terrible angel which seems to be haunting Kiefer’s work.
So, inequality found in the polarities and the equivalences: Heaven and Earth; the moment and eternity; life and death; beauty and terror; growth and decay; memory and catastrophe. Claudia Pritchard, in The Independent, noting polarities in Kiefer’s work, quotes the claim of his being, arguably, ‘our greatest living artist’. Kiefer’s handling of the topic of memory as tangible and ever present will most probably ensure the continuing truth of this statement. Like the sunflower symbol he uses in his work, a head full of blackened seeds and beauty, Kiefer’s work contains the seeds of its own perpetuation. Pritchard quotes the exhibition curator, Kathleen Soriano,
“What I want people to take away from this show is not only the knowledge that he is a great painter, but also that he has great relevance.” Indeed Kiefer, she adds, is looking, like all of us, with great anxiety at today’s turbulent world. “He says you have to remember that history is cyclical.”
Recently, I revisited some of Anselm Kiefer’s work at the “Art Museum Walter” at the “Glass Palace”, an industrial monument in Augsburg: Eleven ‘paintings’ and two sculptures on show. While they are not new — forty per cent of the Royal Academy work is said to have been created for the show — the Walter collection displays excellent work firmly rooted in time and memory, while remaining open to possibilities of interpretation (the photos included here are from the Art Museum Walter) .
A privately and expertly run gallery, Kunstmuseum Walter, is housed in the Glass Palace — a monument to the past of the textile industry — which aims to show history being alive in the present,
“[involving] a continual confrontation with the present. The concept of a living museum is an essential part of the TIM [Textile Industry Museum] programme. In the textile machine section, former textile workers demonstrate the machines with an authenticity not to be found elsewhere.”
Here too is an equivalence: the metaphor of the sewing machine from Anselm Kiefer’s past finds an echo in Germany’s textile industry surviving destruction. Interesting to note that, in this context, some have referred to Augsburg as the ‘Manchester of Germany’, echoing the transition from a crafts-/guild-based industry to one of machine-based mass production, including the exploitation, poverty, and social upheaval this involved. In this juxtaposition, Kiefer’s work, in bringing together the themes of inequality and memory, continues to weave anew the fabric of history.
If you are not in Augsburg, or London, you need not worry. In Kent, there is an exhibition to console your artistic longings: my daughter Maria Pierides’ solo show at Creek Creative Studios in Faversham. 23 — 28 September 2014. Rush there, the Studios are open only till 4 pm on Sunday the 28th!
This post is part of a series of articles on the theme of Inequality, written for Blog Action Day 2014:
*Photos: Stella Pierides, Kunstmuseum Walter