Narrative & contemporary art

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<p>Slide 1</p> <p>Narrative in Contemporary ArtDecember 3, 2014 at Christ University, Bangalore</p> <p>What is narrative art?Narrativeor storyart represents events taking place over time. These events may, however, be compressed into a single image that implies something that has already happened or is about to take place.Painting has told stories since at least the time of the ancient Egyptians. Starting in the Renaissance, history paintingpaintings of events from biblical or classical historyacquired the highest status. 19th century painting and sculpture depicted not only great moments in history but also domestic dramas of a decidedly sentimental nature. </p> <p>2Return to sourceSuch subjects were rejected by modern painters during the late nineteenth century in favor of scenes from contemporary life. Later, modern artists sought to purge painting and sculpture of narrative. Storytelling was thought best pursued by writers rather than visual artists, and literary became an insult in the argot of modern art.By the 1960s, the modernist insistence on abstraction and the taboo against narrative had made telling tales irresistible to many artists. Pop art, New Realist painting and sculpture, and Nouveau Ralisme all provided figurative imagery into which narratives could be readwhether or not they were intended by the artist.The most popular form of visual narrative now is painting, with performance, installations, and video art the runners-up. (Words are a frequent element in narrative art.)Extracts from 'Artspeak' by Robert Atkins (copyright () 1990, 1997 by Robert Atkins) reproduced by permission ofAbbeville Press, Inc.</p> <p>Faith Ringgold is one of Americas most gifted and generous visual storytellers. Though originally trained as a painter, she has worked to superb effect across media. Ringgold is best known for the painted story quilts in which she draws on African American folklore tradition, often to dramatizeto humanizeinstitutional and national histories. The quilts are dazzling in their brilliant colors, their patterns and their interplay of the visual and textual.3</p> <p>DefinitionsA text is a finite, structured whole composed of signs. These can be linguistic units, such as words and sentences, but they can also be different signs, such as cinematic shots and sequences, or painted dots, lines, and blots. The finite ensemble of signs does not mean that the text itself is finite, for its meanings, effects, functions, and background are not. It only means that there is a first and a last word to be identified; a first and a last image of a film; a frame of a painting, even if those boundaries, as we will see, are provisional and porous.</p> <p>A narrative text is a text in which an agent or subject conveys to an addressee (tells the reader) a story in a particular medium, such as language, imagery, sound, buildings, or a combination thereof. A story is the content of that text, and produces a particular manifestation, inflection, and colouring of a fabula; the fabula is presented in a certain manner. A fabula is a series of logically and chronologically related events that are caused or experienced by actors.</p> <p>Fabula - its definition contains the elements event and actor. An event is the transition from one state to another state. Actors are agents that perform actions. They are not necessarily human. To act is defined here as to cause or to experience an event. Scriptorium RUN4</p> <p>FocalizorNarrator and focalization together determine the narrative situation. The focalizor is an aspect of the story this narrator tells. It is the represented colouring of the fabula by a specific agent of perception, the holder of the point of view. If we see focalization as part of narration, as is usually done, we fail to make a distinction between linguistic, visual, or auditive hence, textual agents and the purpose, the colouring, the object, of their activity.</p> <p>The Little Girl in Red clip from Schindlers List5</p> <p>The Girl in RedSchindler sees the horror of what he has so far participated in, when he sees a little girl, whose red coat is the only element of colour in the film up to the ending. That scarce use of colour is a stylistic mark of the narration; the fact that Schindler sees it and acts upon that perception is an issue of focalization. That we see him seeing it results from (cinematic) narration. Later at the holocaust one of the bodies on a cart is also coloured in this red; and again, Schindlers look follows it, perhaps her. Thus, the narrator marries Schindlers spiritual itinerary from evil to good with the girls itinerary from life to death. This matching is an act of narration. </p> <p>Girl in Red Video Girl in Red Dead video</p> <p>6</p> <p>Gaze, Seeing, InsightThe filmic narrator has to show cinemas major form of narration what Schindler sees and what that seeing does to him. I didnt know the story when I went to see the film; I didnt know this awful man was going to change into a good man. There was no explication, no moment it happened inside him, but at some point he was a different man. How was this transformation narrated? Was there a conversion? If so, that is a Christian concept. True, Schindler was a Christian, although using the church to do business; but culturally he was. Yet, the reduction of conversion to a Christian meaning would obscure the narrative as well as (inter)cultural importance of that moment.</p> <p>The distinction between narrator and focalizor is crucial here. For the conversion scene implies an important statement on vision: conversion is defined as seeing, not in a positivistic or in a psychological but in a narratological sense; seeing differently, and seeing difference turns the fabula around, makes the character different. And in Jewish culture, as many a biblical text demonstrates, seeing primarily equals insight. The turn-around is, for Schindler, to see individuals instead of the devastating, dehumanizing bureaucracy of numbers. Schindlers moment of insight happens as is visually told when the filmic text tells how he watches the destruction of the ghetto from the top of a hill, and from horseback. The scene emphasizes the seeing from top down, which is usually in the visual discourse of Western culture a mastering, colonizing gaze. Later on, by another intervention of the narrator, this gaze is echoed in the gaze of Schindlers evil twin, Amon Goeth. Goeth oversees the camp from the balcony of his villa, which gives him the impulse to shoot inmates randomly.</p> <p>These are two opposite extremes of what a top-down gaze can produce. It takes an agent of narration to (visually) tell these two opposed reactions to a similar visual event. During this conversion scene, Schindler sees the horror of what he has so far participated in, when he sees a little girl, whose red coat is the only element of colour in the film up to the ending. (Mieke Bal-Introduction to Narratology)</p> <p>Amon Goth video clip from Schindlers List7On authorshipFoucault banishes four different concepts of authorship (What Is an Author?). 1. He questions the psychological idea of the author2. He questions authorial intention3. He questions the historical author as origin of the work4. He jettisons the last stronghold of the concept of the author, the author-function as the centering of meaning. He does this by demonstrating it to be a projection of a reader who needs semantic centrality to deal with the work. Foucaults alternative is a radical proliferation of meaning, where the author/work becomes a fluctuating function always interacting with other functions in the larger discursive field.</p> <p>American SplendourFilm is framed using the comic genre - uses comic book thought-balloons to convey subtext.Uses real video footage of their protagonists on television: InAmerican SplendorHarvey Pekar's fraught relationship with David Letterman is represented by actual video clips of his original appearances onLate Night instead of reconstruction.Uses a documentary form(at), the nonfiction portrait film, foregrounding the unpleasant and inescapable aspects of Pekar's actual, lived life.Crosses genres - usesframing devices on Pekar's story that replicate the look and feel of Pekar's comic books.Anachronic order - it is autobiographical, but not told in the order in which it occurred.The artistic object, figure, or practice being documented becomes a vehicle to reflect on the film medium itself.Uses tropes and their reversal all Jews are cheapskates he himself is surprised when the trope is broken at the end of the film.</p> <p>American Splendour video clip Jewish Lady.9Graphic memoirsThis aspect of narrative is a conundrum of time and sequential ordering that has to be resolved in the process of generating the narrative. It helps to enter experimental spaces where the narrative can be as montages or mosaics. Harvey Pekar'sAmerican Splendor series (the comic books) is a prime example of graphic memoirs that helped redefine the comic book genre itself. The film version of his life and memoirs uses documentary to deconstruct and critique Hollywood cliches.Not just ones own memoirs but the memoirs of others can also be integrated into a narrative. For example, inNola: A Memoir of Faith, Art, and Madness, Robin Hemley incorporates short stories both by himself and his mother, as well as his sister's letters and artwork, into his own creative nonfiction text.Marjane Satrapi, inPersepolis: The Story of a Childhood, tells her story about growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution through a series of black-and-white illustrations.Lawrence Sutin, inA Postcard Memoir, uses postcards, reproduced in the text, as portals into memory.</p> <p>Two Is</p> <p>In Persepolis, we can see thenarrator starting from the very first frame. The narration ofPersepolis has a complex and rich dimension, because the older Marjane that gives thecaption outside the frame is not the only narrator; the younger Marjane within the frame will takeon the narration too. Starting from the first frame, this complexity of the narrative is already shown. The older Marjane provides the explanation for thepicture of herself, with the caption this is me when I was 10 years old. This was in 1980. But occasionally, when the younger Marjane does not have any dialogue, shetakes the narration. There is one frame in another page (Marjane 2003 p.12), in whichthe younger Marjane becomes the narrator and speaks for herself, replacing the older Marjane who might give a caption to tell the reader how Marjanes parents enlighten her with books.We get to know about Marjane with the twodifferent autobiographical Is, verbally and visually.</p> <p>Persepolis video clip11</p> <p>Tattoo NarrativeThe phenomenon of tattooing became part of mainstream culture in the 1990s. In the Peter Greenaway film The Pillow Book (1997), calligraphy on skin becomes a means to write life. The main character Nagiko has men practising calligraphy on her skin, while she herself practises her fetish on paper and on other peoples skin. Through this procedure they become a book of their own. Like the calligraphy as portrayed in The Pillow Book, tattooing puts a mark on the lives of late modern subjects. More than ever, the body has become an object which is shaped by gym practice and plastic surgery, and which is embellished with body piercings and tattoos.</p> <p>Pillow Book excerpt video clip12Sherin NeshatIn 1993-97, I produced my first body of work, a series of stark black-and-white photographs entitledWomen of Allah, conceptual narratives on the subject of female warriors during the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979. On each photograph, I inscribed calligraphic Farsi text on the female body (eyes, face, hands, feet, and chest); the text is poetry by contemporary Iranian women poets who had written on the subject of martyrdom and the role of women in the Revolution. </p> <p>As the artist, I took on the role of performer, posing for the photographs. These photographs became iconic portraits of willfully armed Muslim women. Yet every image, every womens submissive gaze, suggests a far more complex and paradoxical reality behind the surface.</p> <p>Sherin Neshat video clip13The Body StoryPeter Brooks (1993) states that unveiling is a central feature of narratives. An old scar enables the recognition of Odysseus when he comes back to Ithaca. It is a body that reveals the identity of Odysseus to the others. In the same way, visual stripping in Tattoo magazine is revealing.</p> <p>However, the trick with tattoo narratives in Tattoo magazine is that thoughts are stripped as well as clothing. For example, Tsae Lee Dow refers to her tattoos as footnotes of herself and as a personal history in her skin. She has a tree tattooed in the back of her neck in memory of her brother who at of age of four accidently hung himself from a tree. Becoming tattooed can be seen as a form of a permanent diary that no one can take away.</p> <p>Tattoo narratives involve subjects narrating with their body and of their body. In other words, there are stories on the body and the body in the story. </p> <p>Santa Sangre clip of tattooing of the boy</p> <p>14</p> <p>Onto the StreetAlthough graffiti, street art, stencils, urban culture, etc. are understood as an art form by some, these words still are synonyms of vandalism for others. In many countries street art is considered to be illegal.</p> <p> The idea of subcultures being a representation of a moment in history, therefore we can see that as street art were born out of a feeling of being left out by society, they will continue to survive as subcultures for as long as any one person feels neglected or excluded. (Rose&amp;Strike, 2005, p.200)15</p> <p>THE END The narrative approach seems especially suited to psychological self-examination and the investigation of the role-playing that is so conspicuous an element of late-twentieth-century social interaction.</p>

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