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robertogreco : waysofseeing   20

Are.na / Arrangement Collage
[also here:
https://github.com/dark-industries/dark-zine/blob/master/lukas_collage.md ]

[See also:
https://www.are.na/lukas-w/arrangement-collage ]

[via:
https://urcad.es/writing/new-american-outline/ ]

"In 2015, Frank Chimero wrote on the “Grain” of the Web, focusing on a web-native media that doesn’t try to fight the inherently rectangle-based HTML Document Object Model (DOM)—also shared with XML and XHTML. This remains true: any site that does not look rectilinear is usually just fooling you; strip the CSS and it’s just a pile of blocks. Perhaps tilted and stretched, or with the corners shaved off, but just a pile of blocks.

As McLuhan would have anticipated, this blocky model has substantial effects toward what web-native media looks like. Chimero documents this well. I’d like to add a psychological component, though, in that as an online culture, we’ve grown accustomed to block-based interfaces. We joke at Web 2.0’s desire to round over corners and balk at clunky Flash plugins; nonlinear, non-blocky interfaces are either salient or sore thumbs.

Native internet users consume media through HTML interfaces at an astounding pace; simple rectangles frame a continuous deluge of multimedia updates. In an age of both physical and digital abundance in the Western world, creation of new media from scratch requires ample justification. Acts of synthesis, archiving, compression, and remix are valuable tools for leveraging information otherwise lost to the unsorted heap. These verbs are ways to construct something new from pre-existing media objects, or at least finding some narrative or meaning within them.

A curator, classically, acts as composer and manager of (typically static) objects so as to convey narrative to a willing audience. The internet audience, however, expects more autonomy in the dynamic content they see. Self-selected content is simply a necessary tactic for navigating nearly limitless information. An explosion of digital “curation” caters to the desire, whether by user directly, tuned algorithms, or third-party human. This manifests when you select topics of interest on Quora and construct a twitter feed of only exactly the people you want. Going to a curated museum is now a relinquishing of control compared to typical digital art consumption, which comes mashed-up through various media platforms.

Even with stream moderation, the modern media viewer is accustomed to lack of coherence between adjacent content blocks. In your tumblr dashboard, a peer-reviewed journal article can sit immediately above an anonymously submitted shitpost. We don’t blink. In an arrangement of DOM blocks, each bit of media similarly carries its own context, history, and qualia. I posit we can effectively navigate our feeds not because we can rapidly jump between the context captured by each DOM block, but rather because we interpolate narrative and construct cohesion. Adjacency implies connection and synthesis, or, in the words of John Berger:
[An image reproduction] becomes itself the reference point for other images. The meaning of an image is changed according to what one sees immediately beside it or what comes immediately after it. (Ways Of Seeing)

Marius Watz, in a response on the New Aesthetic, writes on tumblr image culture: “Its art is juxtaposition: If we put this next to that and this other thing, surely a new understanding will emerge.” To be fair, there are uncountably many combinations that may be devoid of meaning—all I mean to point out is that a diptych is a third object, beyond the original two, with the possibility of value. Some find artistic practice in the form of a relentless stream of rectangles. People go nuts over releases of image dumps from Moodmail and JJJJound, and the Lost Image Desk is making professional practice of it.

(A scan of contemporary sculpture demonstrates that selection and arrangement of objects—often found or folk objects—is an ongoing trend. The viewer is trusted with finding meaning in the arrangement, selection, formal qualities, cultural context, and more in a relational tradition.)

HTML is perfectly built for image adjacency—a blank and infinite canvas, empowered by right-click “Copy Image Address.” Our expansive tumblrs and pinterest boards act as collected and performed narratives, collages of found digital media.
[Traditional] collages, […] were probably laid out carefully, aided by facsimiles, white-out, and tape, existed alongside the book, rather than being subsumed or created through the process of publishing and distribution, as is often the case with internet ‘collage’. Computers conceal distance; their collage move consists of juxtaposing elements that might be stored hundreds or thousands of miles apart, giving an illusion of spatial continuity. (Seth Price, Teen Image)

Traditional art collage used the intrigue and power in composing elements pulled from diverse sources. Meaning constructed by selection, editing, and combination. The HTML collage, however, is copy-pasted. What is the HTML-native collage?

I call it the “Arrangement Collage”—rectangular, transcontextual compositions of, ostensibly, found media. The arrangement collage does less work for the viewer than traditional collage: elements are kept fully intact rather than trimmed for blended. The composition often mitigates interaction between elements and instead celebrates raw adjacency.
When the historical avant-garde used valorized cultural objects such as the Mona Lisa or a violin, it profaned, overpowered, and destroyed them before going on to aestheticize them. In contrast, contemporary art uses mass-cultural things virtually intact. (Boris Groys, On The New)

The arrangement collage, while easy to construct in print, is truly native to the web, in which all objects are, by default, level rectangles, context-switching is the norm, and media to compose with is bountiful.

Our feeds, plentiful in the digital landscape, help populate the arrangement collage. Tumblr, ostensibly a micro-blogging site, is largely used for image collection; FFFFound is legendary for its contextless stream of collected imagery (and as birthing the name for JJJJound, when Justin Saunders couldn’t get an account); and Buzzfeed publishes “articles” that are frankly just stacks of image macros. A proliferation of mindless image consumption concerns Bob Gill.
There’s nothing original. ‘The Culture’ is the great mass of images and ideas which bombard us every day, and therefore shape the way we think visually. Only by recognising The Culture’s presence and its power, can designers move away from the clichés it promotes.

Irrefutably, the images we consume affect how we think, and what we can imagine. Gill’s words should be considered, and the internet-native should stay aware of “the clichés” promoted. Gill encourages “first-hand” research, but this points at a cultural gap—there is no line between reality and the internet; “first-hand” research takes place on the social web. In-person discussion and close examination of physical objects can be romanticized, but it should not detract from the fact that meaningful discussion and critical consumption can happen in a digital landscape as well.

Of deeper concern is the stripping of value from imagery in overabundance. Edition MK’s 2010 DDDDoomed (the name, I assume, another reference to FFFFound) gets at the kernel of this problem: Image Aggregators (“IAs”—such as JJJJound and other blogs), which typically present images contextless alongside hundreds of others, can strip imagery of its power. IAs do work that is weaker, semiotically, than traditional collage, and less organized than archiving (which is often a process of attaching or generating metadata, whereas IAs frequently remove it). Images that find political power within a context are reduced to purely aesthetic objects in the stream. If you are a tumblr fiend, this very likely rings true: the multitude of streams filled with gorgeous scenery, motivational quotes, and supermodel women quickly reduce this imagery to banality and objectification.
We [distance ourselves] from our critical faculties as we slide into models of passive spectatorship that reinforce our passivity by promoting a one-way mode of cultural consumption. […] Continuous over-stimulation leads to desensitisation. (Peter Buwert, “Defamiliarization, Brecht and Criticality in Graphic Design” in Modes of Criticism 2: Critique of Method)

The arrangement collage might serve as a tool in this battle against desensitization. In Buwert’s essay, referenced above, he describes how Brecht’s famous defamiliarization of the theater encouraged “a condition of active critical spectatorship within the audience.” DDDDoomed is lamenting the supposed death of this critical spectator, replaced with the numb and passive viewer. Buwert is less concerned with context/lessness than Edition MK, and instead focuses on familiarity.

There are valiant efforts towards an inclusion of context and metadata with online imagery, but it is not built into the structure of the internet. Flickr and twitter use image covers to dissuade copy-pasting (circumnavigable by screen-shotting) and Mediachain attempts to inextricably tie media to metadata using blockchain methods. As of writing, however, the JPG is not going anywhere, and the ease of downloading and re-uploading an image far surpasses digging to find its source. Entropy is not on our side, and Google’s reverse image search will never be quite fast or comprehensive enough to keep up.

Walter Benjamin might lament the loss of contextual sensitivity, as it comes intertwined with a loss of “aura.” The authenticity that drives Benjamin’s aura is dependent on the idea of an original—which, in internet ecosystems, simply isn’t a relevant concept, as the original and reproduction can be… [more]
lukaswinklerprins  2016  frankchimero  arrangementcollage  web  online  feeds  juxtaposition  canon  curation  collections  tumblr  html  webdev  form  imagery  images  webnative  decomposition  composition  peterbuwert  aggregation  ffffound  justinsaunders  bobgill  sethprice  moodmail  lostimagedesk  waysofseeing  johnberger  dom  xml  xhtml  marshallmcluhan 
february 2019 by robertogreco
Library Genesis: Anna Grimshaw - The Ethnographer's Eye: Ways of Seeing in Anthropology
"Grimshaw sets a new agenda for visual anthropology, attempting to transcend the old division between image and text-based ethnography. She argues for the use of vision as a critical tool with which anthropologists can address issues of knowledge and technique. The first part of the book critically examines anthropology's history, focusing on the work of key individuals--Rivers, Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown--in the context of early modern art and cinema. In the book's second part, Grimshaw considers the anthropological films of Jean Rouch, David and Judith MacDougall and Melissa Llewelyn-Davies."
annagrimshaw  ethnography  visualanthropology  anthropology  jeanrouch  davidmacdougall  judithmacdougall  melissallewelyn-davies  cinema  film  filmmaking  seeing  waysofseeing  visualethnography  senses  sensoryethnography 
may 2018 by robertogreco
OBJECT AMERICA
"The Observational Practices Lab, Parsons, (co-directed by Pascal Glissmann and Selena Kimball) launches a multi-phase project and investigation, OBJECT AMERICA, to explore the idea of “America” through everyday objects. The aim is to use comparative research and observational methods—which may range from the scientific to the absurd—to expose unseen histories and speculate about the future of the country as a concept. The contemporary global media landscape is fast-moving and undercut by “fake news” and “alternative facts” which demands that students and researchers build a repertoire of strategies to assess and respond to sources of information. For the first phase of OBJECT AMERICA launching in the fall of 2017, we invited Ellen Lupton, Senior Curator of Contemporary Design at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, to choose an object for this investigation which she believed would represent “America” into the future (she chose the Model 500 Telephone by Henry Dreyfuss designed in 1953). Researchers will investigate this object through different disciplinary lenses — including art, climate science, cultural geography, data visualization, economics, history of mathematics, medicine, media theory, material science, music, poetry, and politics — in order to posit alternative ways of seeing."

[via: https://twitter.com/shannonmattern/status/915366114753990660 ]
objects  pascalglissmann  selenakimball  ellenlupton  art  climate  science  culturalgeography  datavisualization  economics  mathematics  math  medicine  mediatheory  materialscience  music  poetry  politics  seeing  waysofseeing  geography  culture  history  climatescience  dataviz  infoviz 
october 2017 by robertogreco
John Berger on Ways of Seeing, being an artist, and Marxism (2011) - Newsnight archives - YouTube
"John Berger - artist, writer, critic and broadcaster - has died at the age of 90. His best-known work was Ways of Seeing, a criticism of western cultural aesthetics. For Newsnight, Gavin Esler, met him back in 2011."
johnberger  spinoz  descartes  gavinesler  2011  marxism  waysofseeing  seeing  storytelling  lenses  correction  iteration  bento'ssketchbook  looking  culture  aesthetics  future  progress  justice  dignity  capitalism  growth  storytellers  art  artists 
january 2017 by robertogreco
Adrian Searle on John Berger: 'Art for him was never apart from being alive' | Books | The Guardian
"I cannot overestimate John Berger’s importance to me. It wasn’t so much his critical opinions or insights I valued, so much as the man himself, whose vitality and receptiveness to the things about him had a force I have rarely encountered.

It was his freedom as a writer I admired most. He had both backbone and playfulness, approaching things at tangents but always illuminating his subjects in unexpected and often disconcerting ways. In his groundbreaking 1972 television series, Ways of Seeing, Berger described the purposes of art, and artists’ intentions, in ways that felt flexible, undogmatic and grounded both in experience and in delight. He helped us look for ourselves, which is the best a critic can do.

Berger provoked intense loyalties and animosities. There were those who saw his defence of vernacular art as waging war against modernism, a man fighting a rearguard action against all kinds of artistic progress. This was oversimplistic, as his writing shows. I got to know Berger largely through our mutual friendship with the late Spanish artist Juan Muñoz. In the mid 1990s Muñoz and Berger collaborated on a radio play, which won a big prize in Germany and in 2005 was turned into a stage production at the Casa Encendida in Madrid. Berger, acting the part of a radio chatshow host, fielded imaginary calls and talked about illusion and presence and Goya’s dog, while an elderly Turkish foley artist, seated on the edge of the stage, provided sound effects. Already almost 80, Berger performed under sweltering stage lights in the Madrid summer heat and never lost his cool. Although there were several other actors in the work, it was almost a solo performance. John carried it; he had presence.

I asked Berger if he had ever wanted to be an actor and he admitted that he had been approached by an agent who encouraged him to go on the stage after seeing him perform in the annual Chelsea School of Art student revue. His stage presence and manner reminded me, disconcertingly, of Frankie Howerd. He was a natural and one of the reasons Ways of Seeing was so good was that he never came over as the patrician smart-arse superior critic. He made you feel he was thinking on his feet, right there in front of you. John would screw up his face and affect an expression somewhere between bewilderment and anguish, before launching into an argument that seemed to arrive fully formed. He was enormously compelling. He made me aware that writing itself was performative.

He reminisced about his time sharing a Paris apartment with the young David Sylvester, who never let go of an early falling out. It had something to do with Berger’s complaints about Sylvester leaving his “voluminous underpants” draped over a chair in a shared room in the early 1950s. Sylvester, I always thought, was jealous of Berger’s abilities as a writer of fiction as well as of art, though his career-long public animosity was also about Berger’s left-wing politics and his championing of socially engaged art.

It strikes me that art for Berger was the beginning of a journey of his own, a way of igniting responses and provoking thoughts. He approached art with a kind of innocent curiosity. He had enthusiasms I couldn’t share (from Soviet artist Ernst Neizvestny to British painter Maggi Hambling) but was open to work as diverse as Rachel Whiteread’s House and Muñoz’s enigmatic figurations. There are things I wish he had written on, but never did. If he was wrong about Picasso (whom he called a “vertical invader”, slicing through tradition) or just plain weird about Francis Bacon (whose paintings he once compared to Walt Disney animations – though Berger later revised his opinion) it didn’t matter. His ideas remained useful, because they always felt part of a bigger, ongoing conversation. It is healthy for a critic to beware of fixed opinions.

Whatever he did, Berger was a teller of stories, and alert to the complexities of all kinds of art-making and writing. Dip into him anywhere – an essay on Courbet, on drawing hands, or Roman Egypt funerary portraiture – whatever it is, his subject is vivid on the page. His writing is filled with insights. That he trained as a painter gave him a sympathy and understanding of the act of making and its difficulties – rare among critics now.

Intensely observant, Berger had the ability to focus the smallest quotidian detail – a penknife in a boy’s pocket, or a pear grown inside a bottle in a farmer’s orchard, bringing in the cows or sharpening a pencil – in order to tell us something about life and human relations, in an unending chain of acts and expressions. Everything he wrote has humour in it as well as sorrow. His writing never forgets the vagaries of the everyday. He revelled in all this.

Art for him was never something apart from the business of being alive. He was grounded. He struck me as a man who was both supremely astute and perceptive, and a sentimentalist. He could be a wonderfully engaging companion. A 1983 television debate with Susan Sontag – both wrestling with what a story could be – remains electrifying, mostly because they were both struggling with thoughts and ideas rather than trading certainties. Always worth reading, even when one disagrees with him, Berger went his own way, which was the only way to go."
johnberger  adriansearle  2017  art  everyday  publishing  life  living  susansontag  thinking  howwethink  storytelling  conversation  politics  lowbrow  highbrow  presence  performance  waysofseeing  delight  experience  vitality  companionship 
january 2017 by robertogreco
I do not recognise the stereotype of John Berger as a dour Marxist – his work embodied hope | Books | The Guardian
"John Berger had the most amazing eyes. I do not mean that in the abstract, though it is true; his way of seeing the world has become part of the way we understand visual culture. I am thinking simply of those great baby blues. He was never not looking. He was a painter and he took up photography at one point but gave it up because once you have taken a picture “you stop looking at what you’ve shot. I was more interested in looking. I think I gave my camera away.”

When I heard he’d died at the great age of 90, of course I thought of his eyes, of what it was like to have them focused on you – he did that to everyone, it was absolutely compelling. To be human for him meant always seeing, listening, exchanging.

He wrote to me out of the blue when I was a film critic. It was the most brilliant letter of warmth and encouragement that had me floating with joy. He wrote many such letters to many people. It is what he did, that old-fashioned thing: engagement.

He wrote to me about the nature of criticism. Like many, I was interested in criticism as a result of his work, because of the idea that criticism could be radical, that it was a conversation not an evaluation. Yes, that remains idealistic as we live in a world where criticism is debased to stars, to a TripAdvisor mentality that requires no thought or knowledge whatsoever, the precursor to the sneering at experts mentality.

But in 1972 Berger had shown what could be achieved. His TV series and book, Ways of Seeing, remain revelatory. He blew up everything we thought we “knew” about art and its reproduction. He said: “The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled”, freeing up a space for us to wonder about meaning. This is quite beautiful to me still, this wondering.

A letter from Berger was an invitation to be somehow involved in one of his myriad projects – a film, a novel, an idea – so I did meet him, but more often we talked on the phone. Not about geopolitics, though of course he was one of the first people to grasp that migration, “forced or chosen, across national frontiers or from village to metropolis”, was “the quintessential experience of our time”. Instead, he might call to ask how best to describe dreadlocks (dreads or locks?), or about my children, or what colour I was painting the kitchen. This amuses me now, this chatting about the details, but he always wanted the details. The everyday was not trivial to him.

That may be why I simply do not recognise him in some of the snippy obits in which he has been reduced to the stereotype of the dour Marxist. He was the complete opposite. I guess the challenge he presented still stands. Nor is he reducible to a methodology of decoding. This is to miss all his stories, poems and thinking that were so grounded in the material. One does not have to like all his work or agree with his various political stances (many could not stomach his stance on Rushdie) to see his significance is huge.

In any situation where political power was in play, his very instinct was to side with the powerless. He was undeniably a romantic. But everything went back to experience in the end.

Episode two of Ways of Seeing remains seared on my mind. Remarkable television, so far from how the 70s is now often envisioned. Here, Berger talks about the difference between being naked and nude, explaining who owns the gaze – men. Men act and women appear. He talks of how women always survey themselves, even in moments of grief. Then, halfway through the programme, he says that he has shown images of women but not heard their voices so hands over the discussion to a group of women, while he listens and smokes.

Here then are the beginnings of understanding how visual culture – art, TV, film, advertising – depicts women for the presumed male spectator/owner’s pleasure. Feminists took this much further and still use these insights. No wonder Kenneth Clark, Auberon Waugh, Stephen Spender et al – the old elite – did not like Berger. This was an oppositional reading of “their” culture.

Berger’s way of seeing, I came to understand, was a way of being. Here was a public intellectual who never divvied up the world into “politics” and “culture”, a learned man who shied away from academia but could talk to anyone. He knew observation has consequences. He knew that not from theory but because he rode a motorbike.

As he trained his eyes and his ears on whoever he was with, this intense listening meant he was a wonderful storyteller of searing moral clarity. He always seemed to know, implicitly, that protest and anger derive from hope. His work embodies the hope involved in our everyday human exchanges, whatever the circumstances. His very being radiated it.

“Hope,” he once said, “is a contraband passed from hand to hand and story to story.” What contraband. What treasure. I am for ever grateful for it."
johnberger  suzannemoore  2017  hope  marxism  storytelling  listening  seeing  power  powerlessness  politics  waysofseeing  wonder  wondering  engagement  criticism  feminism  kennethclark  auberonwaugh  stephenspender 
january 2017 by robertogreco
When looking became seeing - Creative Review
"When John Berger’s BBC television series Ways of Seeing was transformed into a paperback book in 1972, its design owed much to its origins on screen. Forty years on from its first publication, it remains both an influential text and a pioneering example of the visual essay"



"Yet at its 40th anniversary, Ways of Seeing’s longevity exists largely because of the paperback book which followed the television series in the same year, a co-production from BBC Publications and Penguin. While the four programmes have been re-shown on the BBC (and were screened at the BFI in London earlier this month as part of its Berger season), they only really exist in any watchable form on the internet, in a batch of low res fragments.

The book has much more permanence: it remains not only in print, but as a set text on art and visual culture courses, and Richard Hollis’s design – in particular, his radical treatment of the book’s text and images – is lauded as a pioneering example of the visual essay.

“Everyone knows the book, and because it has a higher cultural standing than the TV programmes, people think it came first,” says Dibb. “But the book would never have been the way it is, if we hadn’t have made the series.”

Hollis’s clean placement of Berger’s text, interspersed with a litany of famous paintings, remains accessible and lucid, but its debt to the television series is notable. Hollis’s aim was to replicate the experience of watching and listening, but in print. “You can have a voiceover on television,” he says, “you can be looking and listening, and it was trying to get as near to that as possible.”


Hollis also treated Berger’s text in a new way. Deciding to set it in sans-serif Univers was one thing, but making it bold seemed to declare its difference from the traditional art book, as much as replicate Berger’s buoyant on-screen delivery.

“I wanted the text to be heavy, so that it was as heavy as the image,” says Hollis. “The idea being that you couldn’t read one without the other. I tried to make the text insistent.” In the majority of art books of the time, he recalls, “you tended to have rather spidery text, so people would go through the book and look at the pictures. There might be an explanatory caption, but often [there was] just an identification. So that’s why we kept the references to what things were in Ways of Seeing as minimal as possible, so that people would look at a picture, not because it was a Vermeer, but because it was interesting in relation to the text.”

In Hollis’s design the images become part of the text; they, too, are intended to be ‘read’, and are even indented at the same line length as the words. The large, colour plates common to more conventional art books exalted the image high above the text; Hollis’s conceit was to raise the level of the words to match the art.

But it was not for everyone – and Penguin’s head of design, Hans Schmoller, made that quite clear to Hollis, who received cover proofs scrawled with the typographer’s comments.

“I remember the biggest remark was ‘Is this meant to be centred?!'” Hollis recalls. But the control of the book was firmly in the BBC camp, in the hands of the late Peter Campbell, and so Schmoller’s objections to its radical appearance – the cover cleverly proffering the very first page of the book – went unheeded. (Hollis has previously told the story of when a finished copy of Ways of Seeing was placed on a Penguin director’s desk, it was promptly hurled down a nearby corridor.)

This violent break with the established traditions of art publishing also had its roots in the ways that Dibb’s 30 minute films reacted to the early conventions of art on television, as epitomised in art historian Kenneth Clark and his Civilisation series from 1969. Shot on 35mm film, Clark’s epic 13-episode history of Western art was one of the first documentaries to be made in colour. Clark’s delivery, as he took the viewer through his “personal view” of what were largely European artworks was establishment, patrician, and decidedly clipped in tone.

“Art history in the mid-1970s seemed to be limited by its commitment to a canon of masterpieces, largely the property of the wealthy,” says Professor David Crowley, head of the Critical Writing in Art and Design programme at the Royal College of Art.

“It was also stymied by connoisseurship; tweedy men talking about brushstrokes and style. Berger’s Marxism meant that he was as interested in the reproduction of images as their origination [and] concerned with the persistence of certain recurrent motifs in our culture, like the nude, whether in the gallery, or in an ad in a glossy magazine. This interest in all forms of visual culture, ignoring the pompous high and low distinction, is now the norm, but it was quite provocative at the time.”

Professor Teal Triggs, who uses Ways of Seeing on the London College of Communication’s Design Writing Criticism course, also acknowledges that Berger’s comments in the programme on the female nude influenced feminist readings on art and design – namely, she says, through his focus on the way of “seeing women” and “how these depictions are positioned in relationship to a male spectator”.

For Triggs, “Berger presents a framework involving the ‘surveyor’ and the ‘surveyed’, as one way we might understand sexuality and the female body, her ‘presence’ and sense of herself, personal relationships and who is actually doing the looking. Women are ‘objects of vision’ [and] such a perspective resonated at a time in the 1970s when women’s liberation was an urgent concern and notions of the body and self were being freshly questioned. Berger took these ideas onto national television.”

While both programmes aired on BBC2, compared to Civilisation, Ways of Seeing had a rather more modest budget. It was filmed over six months, mainly at a studio in Ealing in west London (bar a nighttime visit to the National Gallery) and unlike Clark’s grand tour of churches and museums to see the original works of art, Ways of Seeing relied, rather fittingly, upon a host of reproductions.

According to Dibb, a deeper layer of irony now also exists: the copyright of the works shown as reproductions in Ways of Seeing prevents the series from being available on DVD, whereas the rights to Clark’s films of the artworks themselves are held by the BBC. Hence Civilisation is now in glorious HD via Blu-Ray, while Ways of Seeing is scattered across several uploads on YouTube.

But even though many of the ideas that Berger took forward in the early 1970s are now commonplace (and Benjamin much more widely read), Ways of Seeing’s influence remains pervasive. For one, the use of the term ‘visual culture’, to imply the ubiquity of image-based communications – from art to advertising – was brand new territory when Berger, Dibb and Hollis began documenting its occurrence on film and then in print. Moreover, what Hollis was able to do with the format of the book still influences designers today.

James Goggin, now director of design, publishing and new media at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago says that his design for Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane’s Folk Archive book was a direct homage to Hollis’s design, specifically to his trick of seeming to start the book’s text on the front cover.

“While very much admiring Hollis’s direct approach with the book’s introduction starting right there on the cover, I’d always been slightly disappointed that it didn’t follow through directly on the inside front cover and title page, as one might have expected,” says Goggin. “So in designing Folk Archive with a very functional, almost objectively encyclopedic approach, the preface started on the cover [with] four images in a general text page format, as opposed to one single work in a more art book-like full-bleed. Crucially, the text continued directly across the inside cover and title page. The result was a gesture that I acknowledge as inspired by Hollis, but also a playful one attempting to belatedly fulfil the continuous text promise of his original cover.”

The influence of Hollis’s approach is also evident on the graphic design journal, dot dot dot. Peter Bil’ak, who worked on the publication with designer Stuart Bailey recalls “the directness and clarity of Hollis’s no-nonsense approach. Very often, designers see text as grey blocks, [in Ways of Seeing] Hollis is engaged deeply with the text, and helped the message to come across.”

For Crowley the idea of the visual essay as a kind of ‘filmic object’ is a construct with roots in the 1970s, within the ideas brought about by Jean-Luc Godard’s Dziga Vertov group, for example, and has become a concern of contemporary artists such as Ryan Gander and the Otolith Group."



"“There’s a nice connection between I, Eye, Hollis’s early visual essay recording his visit to Cuba in the early 1960s and the visual essay in Ways of Seeing,” Crowley adds, “despite the differences in content.” It’s significant that, in terms of charting his own influences, Hollis also looked to film, most notably to French filmmaker Chris Marker’s book, Commentaires I (1961), where the placement of text and image directly affected the way Hollis would treat Berger’s material.

For Goggin, Ways of Seeing continues the trend in the late 1960s where the trade paperback was used as a vehicle for communicating progressive ideas to a wider audience. He cites works by Marshall McLuhan, Buckminster Fuller and Quentin Fiore, Victor Papanek, Carl Sagan, and Bruno Munari as precedents.

But while the avant-garde nature of these texts has recently been re-examined in Adam Michaels and Jeffrey T Schnapp’s The Electric Information Age Book (CR April), it’s possible that Ways of Seeing is, in the UK at least, one of very few 60p paperbacks to have had … [more]
johnberger  2012  waysofseeing  books  television  tv  visualessays  design  walterbenjamin  richardhollis 
january 2017 by robertogreco
Instagram and Art Theory - artnet News
"Isn’t it striking that the most-typical and most-maligned genres of Instagram imagery happen to correspond to the primary genres of Western secular art? All that #foodporn is still-life; all those #selfies, self-portraits. All those vacation vistas are #landscape; art-historically speaking, #beachday pics evoke the hoariest cliché of middle-class leisure iconography. (As for the #nudes, I guess they are going on over on Snapchat.)"



"Maybe it seems as if there’s a tension between Berger’s enthusiasm for image-sharing and the criticism of the inanity of what technology actually does. But it’s the fact that Ways of Seeing helps square this circle, to break out of the choice between dismissive traditionalism and easy techno-optimism, that I think makes it useful. The whole purpose, for Berger, of having a political take on how images function in society is to point beyond this binary: technology makes possible many good things; political and economic conditions guarantee, however, that it is constantly warped so that the same kinds of bad patterns repeat themselves, in new and improved forms."

[via: http://jarrettfuller.tumblr.com/post/90462499802/isnt-it-striking-that-the-most-typical-and ]
instagram  bendavis  via:jarrettfuller  waysofseeing  johnberger  2014  photography  noticing  still-life  landscapes  self-portraits 
january 2017 by robertogreco
A Smuggling Operation: John Berger’s Theory of Art - Los Angeles Review of Books
"EARLY IN HIS CAREER, John Berger’s weekly art criticism for the New Statesman provoked outraged letters and public condemnation. Once, the British Council issued a formal apology to Henry Moore because Berger had suggested his latest work showed a decline. Nor was the hostility limited to such comic passive-aggression. Berger’s politics were deemed so objectionable that his publisher was compelled to withdraw his first novel, A Painter of Our Time (1958), from circulation.

At 90, Berger is harvesting a sudden flowering of praise. It is well deserved. For more than half a century, he has been our greatest art critic — as well as a superior novelist, a poet, and the star and screenwriter of one of the best art documentaries ever made, Ways of Seeing. Most of the writers currently rushing to canonize him, however, avoid dwelling on the heart of Berger’s point of view — his Marxism. No doubt avoiding this disfavored topic makes eulogy easier, but it reminds me of something Berger wrote about Frederick Antal: “the importance of his Marxism tends to be underestimated. In a curious way this is probably done out of respect for him: as though to say ‘He was brilliant despite that — so let’s charitably forget it.’ Yet, in fact, to do this is to deny all that Antal was.” To make such a denial about Berger should no longer be possible after the publication of Landscapes: John Berger on Art.

Landscapes and its companion volume, Portraits: John Berger on Artists (Verso, 2015), are the best summation to date of Berger’s career as a critic. Both volumes were edited by Tom Overton. In Portraits, Overton made selections from decades of essays on the whole historical gamut of art, from the prehistoric cave paintings of Lascaux to the work of 33-year-old Randa Mdah, and organized them chronologically into a history and appraisal of the art of painting. To read it was to be reminded of Berger’s unique virtues: the clarity of his writing, the historical and technical erudition of his insight, and above all his unique focus on each artist’s way of looking. What Landscapes in turn makes clear, through its assemblage of more programmatic pieces — book reviews, manifestos, autobiography — is that Berger is a rigorous thinker with a theory of art. That theory evolved considerably between the 1950s and the 2010s. Yet two threads hold it together with the tenacity of spider silk: a critique of the political economy of art and a sophisticated account of its human value, each rooted in a committed but elastic Marxism.

A Marxist art criticism of any real subtlety has to be elastic, because it must deal with a problem Marx himself diagnosed but failed to solve. Berger puts it like this:
A question which Marx posed but could not answer: If art in the last analysis is a superstructure of an economic base, why does its power to move us endure long after the base has been transformed? Why, asked Marx, do we still look towards Greek art as an ideal? He began to answer the question […] and then broke off the manuscript and was far too occupied ever to return to the question.

Berger takes up the thread where Marx broke off. He is not, of course, the first Marxist to address the question of art, and he is familiar with most of those who tried before him, sorting through and furthering their legacy.

The most famous of Berger’s influences, Walter Benjamin, wrote the essay “Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” from which came most of the ideas in Berger’s documentary, Ways of Seeing. But Landscapes reveals that his most important influence as a practicing art critic was Max Raphael.

Raphael, an undeservedly obscure theorist, located the value of art in the activity of the artist. According to him, an artist performs two operations. On the one hand, the artist turns raw material into artistic material by shaping it to represent an idea or an object; this is true both of Michelangelo shaping a block of marble into David and of Jackson Pollock embodying the rhythms of jazz in drip paintings. On the other, the artist turns his perception into something external and objective, a representation. The work of art is the result of these two transformations, of raw stuff and of subjective perception into an art object. For Raphael, the point of art is these two transformations: they are the artist’s way of “undoing the world of things” and constructing “the world of values.”

So Raphael’s answer to Marx’s problem — why is art enduringly moving even though it merely reflects its social context? — is to say that art doesn’t merely reflect its social context. It does reflect it, because the artist’s material, style, the things they want to represent, even the way they see, are historically conditioned; but it doesn’t merely reflect it, because the transformed material speaks of something deeper and more voluntary. It speaks of humanity’s ability to make its own world, to become the subject and not merely the victim of history. “The function of the work of art,” Berger sums up Raphael, “is to lead us from the work to the process of creation which it contains.”

Anyone familiar with Berger’s own writing will sit up with a shock of recognition. Here is a theory of art directly correlated to his practice of criticism. Berger takes art out of the sanitizing temples where we store it and drops it firmly back onto the easel, in a messy studio, where a sweaty artist bites her lip and stores her way of looking in an object. Over and over again, he asks us to imagine the artist at work. Many have attributed this to his own training as a painter, which might have inspired his fascination with technique, as I, an amateur pianist, am fascinated by the technique of my favorite recording artists. But I think his admiring discussion of Raphael suggests a much deeper reason. If Berger believes that the most important meaning of art is what it shows us of our ability to create the world we want, it turns out that his criticism is connected to his Marxism much more fundamentally than through the borrowing of a few insights from Walter Benjamin.

For Berger, art criticism is a revolutionary practice. It prepares the ground for a new society. In Landscapes, Overton includes a translation by Berger and Anya Rostock of a poem by Bertolt Brecht. It includes this passage:
Yet how to begin? How to show
The living together of men
That it may be understood
And become a world that can be mastered?
How to reveal not only yourselves and others
Floundering in the net
But also make clear how the net of fate
Is knotted and cast,
Cast and knotted by men?
[…] only he who knows that the fate of man is man
Can see his fellow men keenly with accuracy.

How to begin? Berger answers: In art. There we find proof and prophecy of a different world. In another essay, he writes:
We can no longer “use” most paintings today as they were intended to be used: for religious worship, for celebrating the wealth of the wealthy, for immediate political enlightenment, for proving the romantic sublime, and so on. Nevertheless, painting is especially well suited to developing the very faculty of understanding which has rendered its earlier uses obsolete: that is to say, to developing our historical and evolutionary self-consciousness.

This is the promise, the positive function of art. By looking at it, we are, in effect, looking through an artist’s eyes, entering into a concretized instance of their gaze. We are looking at a looking. And from within an artist’s looking, we learn about the capacities of our kind and the possibilities of our future: “A classical Greek sculpture increases our awareness of our own potential physical dignity; a Rembrandt of our potential moral courage; a Matisse of our potential sensual awareness.”

At the same time, Berger is of the opinion that the modern history of art is a history of failure. He won’t compromise on this point, and it is undoubtedly the reason for the stiff resistance that he has often met.

In modern times, Berger believes, the art world has hosted a titanic battle between two conceptions of art. One conception declares that art is valuable because it bodies forth the vision of an artist; it is a good in itself just to the degree that it succeeds at this task. This is Berger’s conception, and it is large enough to embrace all the varying and contradictory proclamations and provocations of the successive factions of modern art. The other conception declares that art is valuable because it is expensive — that, fundamentally, art is property:
Since 1848 every artist unready to be a mere paid entertainer has tried to resist the bourgeoisation of his finished work, the transformation of the spiritual value of his work into property value. This regardless of his political opinions as such. […] What Constructivism, Dadaism, Surrealism, and so on, all shared was their opposition to art-as-property and art-as-a-cultural-alibi-for-existing-society. We know the extremes to which they went […] and we see that their resistance was […] ineffective.

In other words, artists, like all other workers, are victims of a capitalism that alienates them from the fruit of their labor. Berger has nothing but scorn for the commercialization of art: “If you could fuck works of art as well as buy them,” he writes, dealers “would be pimps: but, if that were the case, one might assume a kind of love; as it is they dream of money and honour.” Everything about the modern art world is constructed on the assumption that art is precious in proportion to its price. Even among those who profess a genuine love of art, that passion is often tainted by its ideological function:
A love of art has been a useful concept to the European ruling classes for over a century and a half. The love was said to be their own. With it they could claim kinship with the civilisations of … [more]
johnberger  2017  robertminto  marxism  art  artists  artcriticism  criticism  henrymoore  politics  waysofseeing  frederickantal  tomoverton  economics  walterbenjamin  raphael  jacksonpollock  michelangelo  elitism  anyarostock  bertoltbrecht  process  craftsmanship  arthistory  resistance  constuctivism  dadaism  surrealism  property  society  culture  ownership  beauty  aesthetics  museums  artappreciation  creativity  creation  praxis  canon  objects  mystique  products  action  achievement  making  wealth  ideology  consumerism  consumption 
january 2017 by robertogreco
The Art of Resistance | Commonweal Magazine
"Writing in the aftermath of the fall of communism, John Berger, the world’s preeminent Marxist (patience, dear readers) writer on art, faced the apparently decisive and irreversible victory of capitalism. Rather than concede defeat and join in the triumphal chorus heralding the end of history, Berger drew an unlikely lesson from the ostensible cessation of the old hostilities. In the conclusion of Keeping a Rendezvous (1991), he studied a photograph of people assembled in recently liberated Prague and discerned in their faces both elation and a dread that an even more primordial conflict was in the offing. The class struggle, he now suggested, partakes of a broader and deeper contest over ways of being in the world. “The soul and the operator have come out of hiding together.”

For two centuries, Berger explained, the soul’s longings had been perverted or marginalized in both capitalist and socialist societies, identified with or subordinated to the imperatives of material progress. Yet humanity “has great difficulty in living strictly within the confines of a materialist practice or philosophy. It dreams, like a dog in its basket, of hares in the open.” Heir, for many, to the hope once contained in religion, Marxism had been the secular abode for the soul; but with the dialectic of “historical materialism” now discredited by history, “the spiritual,” Berger observed, aimed “to reclaim its lost terrain,” surging through fundamentalist and nationalist movements. At the same time, the poor were being “written off as trash” by the soul’s implacable adversary, “the operator,” the forces of pecuniary and technological utility united under the aegis of capital. For Berger, art remained not only a potent weapon against injustice but also an enclave for the qualities of the soul. In a powerful letter to the miners who unsuccessfully resisted Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s attempt to close down mines in 1984, Berger wrote:
I can’t tell you what art does and how it does it, but I know that art has often judged the judges, pleaded revenge to the innocent and shown to the future what the past has suffered, so that it has never been forgotten. I know too that the powerful fear art, whatever its form, when it does this, and that amongst the people such art sometimes runs like a rumor or a legend because it makes sense of what life’s brutalities cannot, a sense that unites us, for it is inseparable from a justice at last. Art, when it functions like this, becomes a meeting-place of the invisible, the irreducible, the enduring, guts and honor.

Characterized by the lack of a credible alternative to the glittering imperium of capital, the ensuing twenty-five years have been the Age of the Operator: neoliberal economics, a hustling ethos, the divinization of markets and technology, the hegemony of a consumer society given over to spectacle and fueled by debt. As Berger writes in his latest book, Portraits (Verso, $44.95, 544 pp.), “the future has been downsized,” restricted to the mercenary parameters of finance capital and digital technocracy. Neoliberal capitalism fulfills the “strange prophecy” depicted in the hellish right-hand panel of Hieronymus Bosch’s Millennium Triptych: “no glimpse of an elsewhere or an otherwise.” The poor—and increasingly anyone outside the gilded circle of “the 1 percent”—are indeed “written off as trash,” detritus of the quest for efficiency, human refuse piling up not only in Calcutta, Mumbai, or Mexico City, but also in Palo Alto and San Francisco, where the technocrats of Silicon Valley dispossess workers from their homes to build mansions scaled to their colossal self-regard.

The Operator remains in the saddle, riding humankind; but with anger and dissent on the rise—Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, Bernie Sanders and Black Lives Matter here at home—the Soul may be gathering strength to embark on another, more enduring reclamation of terrain, and, if it does, John Berger will deserve our attention as one of its greatest contemporary prophets. Renowned and even beloved as both novelist and art critic, Berger has also become an unlikely moral and metaphysical sage. “You can’t talk about aesthetics without talking about the principle of hope and the existence of evil,” he declared in The Sense of Sight (1985). Not that his revolutionary spirit has withered; that flame is lower but remains incandescent. But Portraits, a miscellany from his career as a writer, records the evolution of this “principle of hope”—a reference, no doubt, to Ernst Bloch, the closest thing to a theologian ever produced by the Marxist tradition. Like the other two panels of Bosch’s triptych—The Garden of Eden and The Garden of Earthly Delights—Portraits offers “a torchlight in the dark,” a glimpse of an elsewhere or an otherwise, a way of seeing the visible world that Berger might agree to call sacramental.



BERGER WAS BORN in 1926 in London, the son of a middle-class Hungarian immigrant from Trieste and an English working-class suffragette. As a youth growing up in Oxford, he drew and painted for relief from his “monstrous and brutal” education at a local private school. He also read anarchist literature and ardently embraced the radical left; yet unlike most anarchists, Berger felt no visceral hostility to religion. As he told the Guardian in 2011, since his teenage years two convictions have “coexisted” within him: “a kind of materialism,” as he put it, along with “a sense of the sacred, the religious if you like.” This coexistence has never felt anomalous to him, even when “most other people thought it was.” Indeed, the philosopher of whom Berger has been most fond is not Marx but Baruch Spinoza, whose monist ontology sought to overcome the Cartesian dualism of matter and spirit.

Conscripted at the age of eighteen, Berger spent World War II stationed in Belfast. After the war he enrolled in the Chelsea School of Art and exhibited in London galleries. While working as a teacher, he began writing reviews for the New Statesman, Britain’s flagship left periodical. In the early years of the Cold War, Berger embraced Marxism (despite his aversion to Joseph Stalin). He even maintained that, until the Soviet Union gained nuclear parity with the United States, left writers and artists should support Moscow. In the late 1940s, Berger made a deliberate decision to set aside his painting and embark on a career as a writer.

Although the New Statesman published his essays for more than a decade (some of which he collected in 1960 as Permanent Red), Berger was its most beleaguered contributor. Adamantly pro-Soviet, he wrote for a magazine that opposed Stalinism. (In his controversial 1958 novel A Painter of Our Time, Berger hinted his support for the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian Revolution.) Where the New Statesman reflected the broad sympathy toward literary and artistic modernism characteristic of liberal and social-democratic intellectuals, Berger championed realism and called for art that would “help or encourage men to know and claim their social rights.” His profoundly ambivalent view of abstract expressionism challenged its celebration by most Western intellectuals as a token of “free expression.” Although he marveled at Jackson Pollock’s formal skills, Berger argued that the drip paintings registered a collapse of “faith” in the visible world that heralded “the disintegration of our culture.” Berger asked strikingly traditionalist questions for an enfant terrible of Marxist criticism. “How far can talent exempt an artist,” he asked, who “does not think beyond or question the decadence of the cultural situation to which he belongs?”

With judgments and questions like these, Berger found himself “fighting for every sentence,” not only against his editors and skeptical readers but also against curators, gallery owners, and art critics. (One less-than-enthusiastic review of Henry Moore earned him the everlasting enmity of Sir Herbert Read, then Britain’s most respected critic.) Berger railed helplessly as the London cultural establishment—like that of New York—transformed modernism into an aesthetic for corporate suites and an emblem of Western individualism.

Weary of his travails among the London intelligentsia, Berger left England in 1962 and lived an itinerant but productive life on the continent for the next fifteen years. He published studies of Picasso and cubism as well as several other volumes of essays on painting, sculpture, photography, and politics; chronicled, in collaboration with the photographer Jean Mohr, the life of a country doctor in A Fortunate Man (1967); wrote several screenplays, including Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000 (1976), a wise and sympathetic story about disappointed radicals; and authored three novels, including G. (1972), a political and erotic bildungsroman that won him the Booker Prize. Berger promptly caused an uproar when he donated half of his prize money to the British Black Panthers (the Booker fortune having been amassed, he pointed out, through the exploitation of Caribbean slaves) and used the other half to fund a project on the condition of migrant workers that became A Seventh Man (1975). Whatever one thinks of his politics, there can be no denying that Berger is a writer who acts on his convictions.

But Berger’s most enduring achievement from this period was his landmark BBC television series Ways of Seeing (1972), notable if only because it disseminated a radical perspective to a mass audience. Published in book form in the same year, Ways of Seeing was a response to another television milestone, Civilisation (1969), hosted by Sir Kenneth Clark, doyen of the British art establishment. Loftily indifferent to social and political context, Clark’s parade-of-masterpieces approach to the history of Western art epitomized the patrician didacticism that Berger loathed. Focusing … [more]
johnberger  resistance  eugenemccarraher  2017  communism  capitalism  marxism  spirituality  anarchism  religion  materialism  sacredness  neoliberalism  mutualaid  craftsmanship  materiality  pleasure  convivilaity  soul  revolution  waysofseeing  art  artists  peasants  biography 
january 2017 by robertogreco
BBC Four - John Berger: The Art of Looking
[video currently available on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3VhbsXk9Ds ]

"Art, politics and motorcycles - on the occasion of his 90th birthday John Berger or the Art of Looking is an intimate portrait of the writer and art critic whose ground-breaking work on seeing has shaped our understanding of the concept for over five decades. The film explores how paintings become narratives and stories turn into images, and rarely does anybody demonstrate this as poignantly as Berger.

Berger lived and worked for decades in a small mountain village in the French Alps, where the nearness to nature, the world of the peasants and his motorcycle, which for him deals so much with presence, inspired his drawing and writing.

The film introduces Berger's art of looking with theatre wizard Simon McBurney, film-director Michael Dibb, visual artist John Christie, cartoonist Selçuk Demiral, photographer Jean Mohr as well as two of his children, film-critic Katya Berger and the painter Yves Berger.

The prelude and starting point is Berger's mind-boggling experience of restored vision following a successful cataract removal surgery. There, in the cusp of his clouding eyesight, Berger re-discovers the irredeemable wonder of seeing.

Realised as a portrait in works and collaborations, this creative documentary takes a different approach to biography, with John Berger leading in his favourite role of the storyteller."
2016  johnberger  documentary  towatch  simonmcburney  michaeldibb  johnchristie  selçukdemiral  jeanmohr  katyaberger  yvesberger  waysofseeing  seeing  looking  noticing  biography  storytelling  skepticism  photography  rebellion  writing  howwewrite  collaboration  canon  conspirators  rebels  friendship  community  migration  motorcycles  presence  being  living  life  interestedness  interested  painting  art  history  france  belonging  place  labor  home  identity  work  peasants  craft  craftsmanship  aesthetics  design  vision  cataracts  sight  teaching  howweteach  attention  focus  agriculture  memory  memories  shit  pigs  humans  animals  childhood  perception  freedom  independence  storytellers  travelers  nomads  trickster  dead  death  meaning  meaningmaking  companionship  listening  discovery  understanding  sfsh  srg  books  publishing  television  tv  communication  engagement  certainly  uncertainty 
january 2017 by robertogreco
Meetings: John Berger In the Library - from ‘A Jar of Wild Flowers’ | Blog | London Review Bookshop
"On the shelves under the small section of the local library labelled ‘Sociology’, I found John Berger’s book Ways of Seeing. The book foregrounds how the relationship between what we see and what we know is never settled. I was then, in my teens, trying to decide if I wanted to study the rather unknown subject called Sociology at A level. Stoke library, in Coventry, was a familiar space. My family were regular visitors. We lived a minute’s walk away. As children we frequented it at least three or four times a week. Within this fan-shaped building there were different zones. The children’s room consisted of fiction as well as the important general-knowledge and reference- based encyclopaedic tombs used for homework. This room led off from the more adult room carrying general knowledge and reference books, as well as fiction in several languages, including Urdu, Punjabi and Gujarati.

The neighbourhood and the city of Coventry became a work mecca for arrivants from the British ex-colonies in the period between the two world wars and especially the post-1945 period. It was considered a boomtown for employment and training in engineering and the car industry. Reflecting some of the interests of the arrivants – who were, before they even knew it, settling into the city as ‘home’ – the library started stocking a ‘multicultural’ collection, including a large selection of Asian vinyl records and cassettes. In time, following on from changes in music technologies, this collection shifted to CDs and DVDs. In the zone leading off from the central room, which carried these items as well as local reference materials and fiction, one walked into a space with further adult books, sitting under authoritative labels such as ‘History’. Though the shelf space was much smaller, nevertheless the subject ‘Sociology’ was granted the recognition of a heading, reassuring a teenager that sociology was becoming a proper subject to study.

Finding John Berger’s Ways of Seeing in this section added to the intrigue of a somewhat esoteric subject with an ‘ology’ attached to it. The only other ology I knew of then was biology. While the classifications in biology of the human and plant world appealed to me, I knew I was not heading towards a scientific specialism. Interestingly, the books in our home, in a room which became a study with shelves, consisted of scientific works, on chemistry, physics, maths, technical drawing. This was the (male) educational tradition in the family. As I held John Berger’s Ways of Seeing in my hands, I doubt if I understood much of it. I still remember, though, that what impressed me was the form. The compilation of the book from words, paintings, advertisements and statements was fascinating. The very emphasis in the title on ways of seeing spoke to me more than the commentary on specific historic paintings. Little did I know then that this kind of compilation was a million miles away from what was considered proper or authoritative sociology. Neither did I know then that I would never actually be taught Berger."



"Interiors of learning don’t have to become museumified. Libraries are very specific domains where the private thoughts and interaction with a range of reading materials occurs in public. They are public-private rooms of research as well as writing. For years, scholars, researchers and writers continued to visit the same circular room of the British Library in London, just as Karl Marx had done when he penned his own writing tomes. The public library in Manchester carries on this tradition too. Thus these public-private rooms of research and reading continue to be forms of heritage which are in Stuart Hall’s terminology ‘living archives’ – archives which breath, grow and invite engagement.

It is in the tradition of the living archive that I would like to return to the fan-shaped library in Coventry. If Berger had visited and sat at the circular table with the newspapers and magazines from different countries, he would have found a tall elderly Asian man, with a full head of hair, pulling newspapers up close to him, while setting his glasses on and off, between nose and table. Depending on which year Berger visited the library, he would have found either just his coat hanging on the chair, or one walking stick, or two walking sticks, or a zimmer frame nearby, or a wheelchair. Each of these aids characterised his ageing as well as the resurgence of injuries endured during wartime in Burma in his younger years in the Second World War as a recruit to the Indian British Army.

Herein, I have become, in Berger’s sense, Death’s Secretary. I am referring to my father, Sawarn Singh. He started visiting the local library several times a day after he retired. He actually retired twice, first in the seventies when he left the night shift on the Ford assembly line and then again in the mid eighties from his job as an attendant at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum. In contrast to his time at Ford, in the museum he walked the much grander, and cleaner, corridors across several floors. As nighttime security guards, he and his co-worker took tea together while sharing the hourly walk through the gallery as a security check throughout the night. Sculptures by Barbara Hepworth and penny-farthing bicycles as well as halls of transport items filled the large space they kept guard over. Six-foot canvases of Lady Godiva naked on horseback, painted by John Collier (in 1898), craned the necks of viewers walking up the grand staircases.

If Berger had sat at the table in the library my father visited he would have found a collage of materials that contributed to my father’s ways of seeing. His own compilation of Ways of Seeing would have been a bit different from the one Berger assembled. He kept company with an eclectic mix of reading materials. He read the Daily Jang Urdu newspaper, the weekly Punjabi Des Pardes, as well as the tabloid Mirror. In fact, at times he cut out from the English papers to share with his family advertisements for products –possible items to buy – which promised an easier life. These might be slip-on shoes, elasticated trousers or a Ford car, on which he was entitled to get a discount as a former employee. His routine consisted of regularly checking out Urdu novels from the library to read at home, especially before bedtime. Romantic and adventure stories comprised the ever-changing books in his bedside drawer. Not wanting to feel the weight of material items in his care, he usually limited himself to taking out two to three books at a time. Towards the very last years of his life he would continually throw items away, avoiding what he perceived as the stress of having to look after stuff. In contrast to Proust he was not into making snuff out of stuff.

When he passed away in 2013 (aged 94) the library staff, a good number of whom were South Asian, sent a message saying that they would miss his presence: for them he had become a part of the furniture for at least twenty years. Rather like the long-gone mother who appears in Lisbon in Berger’s Here Is Where we Meet, the staff might look up from their counter only to see Sawarn Singh’s large frame walking in, leaning in on his zimmer frame, with his greeting smile – the outline of his trace bearing a ghostly presence and reminder of his loss. The architectural emplacement of the body in the built environment like all architectures gives way to the play of time. Should Berger also come back on this occasion to Stoke library, he might trace a line drawing of Sawarn Singh, offering us a portraiture. He has often painted to shed light on the labour and life of welders, steelworkers, fisherman and performers.

If Berger had come to the table in Stoke library he would not only have met Sawarn Singh reading and holding in his hands very different materials to those Berger sifted through to make Ways of Seeing. He would have also have met a man handling pen and paper, as a person who wrote, somebody who made sentences with words without being a formal writer like Berger; a common relationship to pen, paper and word of working-class men and women. In the library, letters were penned on sky-blue airmail paper for ‘home’. Now and again my father would lend a writing hand to those fellow travellers to the mother country in need of a letter ‘home’. Sitting at the table in the library he occasionally wrote shayari (poetry in Urdu), to be later recited among other older Asian men who met weekly with food and drink in a local school annexe. Since his death, I have been told by some of his poet friends (Prem Sharma and Ram Krishan Prashar) that he wrote – in Urdu, the language of his schooling – his life story, something akin to a memoir or autobiographical notes. As a family we are yet to stumble across them. Herein we are quite literally tasked with being Death’s Secretary. Such is the stuff that meetings with people and their materials are made of."
johnberger  2016  nirmalpuwar  death  waysofseeing  libraries  learning  museums 
january 2017 by robertogreco
2 × 4: Essay: Ways of Seeing
"Everyone is talking about the way in which digital media is destabilizing print. I thought it was interesting to choose the reverse scenario: something that started digital but found its real audience in print. Ways of Seeing started as a four-part television series on the BBC in England conceived of and written by art critic John Berger. Berger was reacting specifically to the traditional connoisseurship of Kenneth Clark in the Civilisation series, another famous television program, which inscribed the canonical march of Western culture in heroic terms. As a critique of Clark, Berger created a popular reading of the icons of western art not as aesthetic objects, but deeply cultural artifacts that reveal, upon close “reading”, the limitation, prejudice, bias, and obsession of the culture from which they sprang.

This form of cultural criticism was established in the Universities, especially Marxist leaning polytechnics, but had never before had such a popular airing. The idea that classic paintings could be decoded to reveal social facts — and in fact Berger compared them to modern advertising — was heretical and his work was met with incredulity and anger in the hallowed halls of University Art History departments around the country, But Berger’s position, especially his proto-feminist critique of female nudes, would grow to become the dominant form of art criticism in the years ahead.

The television program had moderate success but shortly after it aired Berger joined with producer Mike Dibb and graphic designer Richard Hollis to produce a printed version of the televised series. Clark had also produced a book to accompany Civilisation: a huge, lavish, full-color coffee table monster that must have weighted 10 kilos. In contrast Berger, Dibb and Hollis produced a slim paperback, 127 x 203mm, of only 166 pages. Even more radical, the book was produced in black + white, reducing the famous art to mere notations on standard, uncoated paper of a trade book. It was published by the BBC Books under the Pelican Books imprint, a division of the venerable Penguin Press organized to publish books to educate rather than entertain the reading public.

Even more striking was the book’s design. Hollis starts the text of the first essay on the cover: “Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.” This simple typographic trick gives the book both a certain modesty (saves on pages) and an urgency (no time to waste). Starting on the outside also suggests a digital quality, the content is broadcast to the reader even as they pass the shelf.

The interior is equally unusual. Hollis set the entire book in a bold sans serif font, a very unlikely choice and aggressively un-civilized. There is no nod to classicism, the book is an entirely modern form. The text is broken down into short bursts, usually no more than a paragraph coupled with a visual example. Again reflecting its origin as a televisual experience the text and images work simultaneously, one form leveraging the other. There are five such text-and-image essays on everything from renaissance nudes to modern advertising. But Berger also adds for entirely visual essays. He assembles a series of examples that by the power of his selection and through their aggressive juxtaposition, he makes his thesis without any words at all. In so doing he presages the development of the curated playlist as a predominant contemporary form and creates the first pre-digital book."
johnberger  michaelrock  waysofseeing  books  2011  bookdesign  richardhollis  fiveparagraphessays 
march 2016 by robertogreco
Reading Right-to-Left | booktwo.org
"At a conference I attended recently, one of the speakers noted how the US army trains observers to “read” a landscape from right to left. The idea is that, as Anglophones accustomed to reading left to right, reversing the direction of attention brings more concentration to bear on the situation. Moving from right to left disrupts the soldier’s instinctual recognition patterns, and so they are more likely to spot things. This skill has apparently migrated from soldiers to photographers:
“One of the first tricks I learned many years ago had nothing to do with photography, but was drilled into me by an army sergeant. It only took a few smacks up the back of my head to learn how to look from right-to-left when scanning a landscape in an effort to see the hidden “enemy” in our mock battles. This process of reverse reading forced me to slow down and read each tree as if it were a syllable I was seeing for the first time. Even today, about thirty years after I called that sergeant every adjective not found in a decent dictionary, I still find myself scanning a landscape from right-to-left.”

The conference speaker contrasted this way of seeing, and the assumptions explicit within it, with the Japanese way of reading, which may be right-to-left, or vertical:

[image]

One might also, in the context of today’s military operations consider the right-to-leftness of Hebrew and Arabic script (and Farsi, and Urdu) – and from there consider the verticality and three-dimensionality of text and thought online, the way it branches and deepens, how it recedes through the screen, through hyperlinks, into an endless chain of connections and relationships.

This reversal and inversion of language patterns has many historical and thus military uses. In Reality is Plenty, Kevin Slavin relates a tale told to him by a photography professor, who was trained as a World War II radar operator.

When radar signals were received aboard an aircraft carrier, they were displayed on a radar oscilloscope. But in order for this information be used in the midst of battle, the positions needed to be transcribed to a large glass viewing pane, and as part of this process they needed to be inverted and reversed. To perform this operation quickly and accurately, the radar operators were trained and drilled extensively in “upside down and backwards town”, a classified location where everything from newspapers to street signs were printed upside down and backwards. This experience would not so much create a new ability for the radar operators, as break down their existing biases towards left-to-right text, allowing them to operate in multiple dimensions at once.

[image]

This process, in Kevin’s reading and in mine, is akin to much of our experience of new technology, when our existing frameworks of reference, both literary and otherwise, are broken down, and we must learn over once again how to operate in the world, how to transform and transliterate information, how to absorb it, think it, search for it and deploy it. We must relearn our relationship not only with information, but with knowledge itself.

And I was reminded of this once again when I found myself at the weekend defending, for the first time in a long time, but certainly not for the first time ever, the kind of thinking and knowledge production which is native to the internet. In this oft-rehearsed argument, whether it be about ebooks or social media or news cycles or or or, the central thrust is that x technology is somehow bad for us, for our thought, our attention, our cognitive processes etc., where x always tends towards “the internet”, as the ur-technology of our time.

And the truth is that I cannot abide this kind of talk. I know people don’t read books like they used to, and they don’t think like they used to, but I struggle to care. Most of this talk is pure nostalgia, a kind of mostly knee-jerk, mostly uncritical (although not thoughtless) response to entirely rational fears about technological opacity and complexity (this nostalgia, of course, was the basis for the New Aesthetic). But this understandable reaction also erases all the new and different modes of attention and thought which, while they are difficult to articulate because we are still developing and discovering the language to articulate them with, are nonetheless present and growing within us. And I simply do not see the damage that is ascribed to this perceived “loss” – I don’t see the generations coming up being any less engaged in culture and society, reading less, thinking less, acting less, even when they are by any measure poorer, less supported, forced to struggle harder for education and employment, and, to compound the injury, derided at every opportunity as feckless, distracted, and disengaged. I see the opposite.

I’m getting more radical in my view of the internet, this unconsciously-generated machine for unconscious generation. I’m feeling more sure of its cultural value and legacy, and more assertive about stating it. We built this thing, and like all directed culture of the past, it has an agency and a desire, and if you pay attention to it you can see which way it wants to go, and what it wants to fight. We made that, all of us, in time, but we don’t have full control of it. Rather, like the grain of wood, it’s something to be worked with and shaped, but also thought about and conceptualised, both matter and metaphor.

It’s possible, despite the faults of data and design, to be an unchurched follower of the internet: undogmatic, non-sectarian, wary of its faults, all too conscious of its occupation by the forces of capital and control, but retaining a deep faith in its message and meaning. A meaning which it is still up to us to explore and enact, to defend where possible and oppose when necessary. If there is progress, if things can be improved, then they must be improved by new inventions, by the things we have not tried before. No going backwards to the future."
culture  knowledge  internet  japanese  arabic  howweread  understanding  noticing  books  reading  meadia  online  socialmedia  newaesthetic  future  bookfuturism  control  change  data  design  technology  criticalthinking  kevinslavin  observation  seeing  howwesee  waysofseeing  perspective  rewiring  attention  knowledgeproduction  society  difference  cv  canon 
october 2015 by robertogreco
The Filmic Page: Chris Marker's Commentaires: Observatory: Design Observer
"Commentaires presents the scripts of five films directed by Marker: Les statues meurent aussi (1953, co-directed with Alain Resnais), Dimanche à Pékin (1955), Lettre de Sibérie (1957), Description d’un combat (1960) and Cuba si (1961), as well as an unmade project, L’Amérique rêve (1959). In each case, Marker puts stills from the film into or alongside the text. It would be easy to take such plasticity for granted today, although this degree of integration of text and image in a film book, or any kind of small-format book for continuous reading rather than reference, is still unusual. At the time, it was a remarkable accentuation of the image in relation to the text. Marker uses wide fore-edge margins, and spaces between the paragraphs and other kinds of writing, such as song lyrics, to create open, dynamically organized layouts. The effect is to make all the elements appear to float in loosely placed, almost provisional arrangements. Turning the book’s pages, text and image strike the eye as being equally important.

“As you read [Commentaires] you knew exactly what was being talked about,” Richard Hollis notes in an interview with Eye. “It was a substitute for description: instead of talking about something, you show the objective visual evidence. That’s how I wanted to do Ways of Seeing, rather than have images by the side or text followed by a page of images.” In Commentaires, though, the image isn’t a substitute for the text (as it was sometimes in Berger’s book) but rather a selective approximation and evocation of the film experience, running in parallel with the words."



"In one of the film’s most audacious conceits, Marker shows the same sequence three times: a bus goes past, some men work on the road, another man walks by. With each viewing, the voiceover changes to describe the city of Yakutsk first as a worker’s paradise, then as hell on earth, and finally in more measured terms. The man walking by transforms from a “picturesque denizen of the Arctic reaches” into a “sinister looking Asiatic” before becoming merely a worker “afflicted with an eye disorder.” But even objectivity, notes Marker, can end up being a form of distortion; Yakutsk cannot be understood just by walking (and filming) the streets. After this piece of demystification, the reliability of any documentary, including his own, must forever be in doubt. When the sequence is translated into a layout in Commentaires, there is no need to repeat it to make the point. Marker compresses the narrative into a triptych of representative images displayed opposite the three competing modes of voiceover.

One final example taken from a sequence about the Siberian gold rush that turned the Aldan district into a lawless territory over which the Soviet government, a decade after the revolution, could maintain no control. Marker teases the viewer: “You expected to see Indians? There were Indians, cowboys, sorcerers, trappers, fights and romances.” The oval vignettes used on the page on either side of the descriptions are a direct re-creation of the devices employed ironically in the film to mythologize the figures in these old photographs. A bearded, modern-day worker living in the area is shown in the same manner before the moving image expands, like an iris-in, to fill the full frame.

The final likely reason that Commentaires has been neglected as a piece of advanced editorial design is that its layout was not the work of an established graphic designer. We are back to the familiar limitation that graphic design history tends to concern itself with the output of people formally identified as professional designers. As it happens, Marker was an outstanding example of the kind of communicator many designers now aspire to be, a versatile, multi-talented figure able to cross disciplinary boundaries — in his case writing, photography, filmmaking and design — and combine these endeavors in a unified personal life project. It’s hardly surprising that critics who analyse his work primarily as a filmmaker haven’t taken a close interest in Commentaires, the multi-volume Petite Planète series (1954-64), or Coréennes (1959), his book of photographs of Korean women, as designed objects. The two volumes of Commentaires are highly imaginative, inventive and challenging interpretations of the book form and, quite apart from their importance as documents in film history, they rightly also belong within an expanded historical understanding of editorial design."
rickpoynor  chrismarker  books  via:litherland  documentary  film  bookdesign  graphicdesign  objectivity  2014  commentaires  johnberger  waysofseeing 
march 2014 by robertogreco
Digital Ethnography: Subjects or Subjectivites?
"As an alternative to the idea that we teach “subjects,” I’ve been playing with the idea that what we really teach are “subjectivities”: ways of approaching, understanding, and interacting with the world. Subjectivities cannot be “taught” – only practiced. They involve an introspective intellectual throw-down in the minds of students. Learning a new subjectivity is often painful because it almost always involves what psychologist Thomas Szasz referred to as “an injury to one’s self-esteem.” You have to unlearn perspectives that may have become central to your sense of self…

So here’s my question to everybody: Within your own particular field, is there a particular “subjectivity,” perspective, or way of seeing and interacting with the world that you are trying to inspire in your students? In your mind, is this perspective more important than the “content” or “subject-matter” of the course?"

[via: http://bettyann.tumblr.com/post/17206962390 ]
content  teaching  waysofseeing  introspection  classideas  tcsnmy  deschooling  unschooling  understanding  self-image  senseofself  self-esteem  inquiry  unlearning  thomasszasz  perspective  perspectives  self-awareness  learning  2011  subjectivities  subjects  michaelwesch 
february 2012 by robertogreco
James Bridle – Waving at the Machines | Web Directions
"These are sculptures by Shawn Smith. There’s going to be an ongoing problem with this, that if you sit way at the back, you might not see quite how pixelated these things are. There’s a whole different art-​​historical dissertation about what that means, the distance of the viewer."

"James Bridle’s closing keynote from Web Directions South 2011 was a a terrific end to an amazing couple of days, but don’t despair if you weren’t there. You can watch a full length video, read a transcript with the bonus of all the links James refers to, or even listen to a podcast.

So sit back, relax and enjoy Waving at the Machines."

[Video also at: http://vimeo.com/32976928 ]
newaesthetic  stml  artisyourfriend  vantagepoints  via:straup  art  future  robotflaneur  hawk-eye  gta  gregkessler  jenhesse  renderghosts  imaginaryplaces  carinaow  shawnsmith  maloescouture  minecraft  andygilmore  coll-barreau  gerhardrichter  helmutsmits  douglascoupland  beforeandafter  architecture  2011  fashion  camouflage  pixelization  waysofseeing  humans  design  8-bit  satelliteimages  googleearth  googlestreetview  tomarmitage  tomtaylor  thenewaesthetic  jamesbridle  jenshesse  marloescouture  gehardrichter  grandtheftauto 
december 2011 by robertogreco
John Berger: a life in writing | Culture | The Guardian
"At 16 Berger left school and enrolled at the Central School of Art, where he encountered "older painters and teachers". Lucian Freud was there briefly at the same time. "I'm not saying we predicted what would happen with his career, but equally it is not that much of a surprise. He was an outstanding student, and it was clear that he was very gifted and also very confident.""

""The only rule in collaborations is that one should never strike deals and never compromise," he says. "If you disagree on something you shouldn't yield and you shouldn't insist on winning. Instead you should just accept that the solution is not right and carry on until it is right. The temptation to say 'you can have this one and I will have the next one' is fatal.""

[via: http://www.gyford.com/phil/writing/2011/05/03/easter-reading.php ]
johnberger  collaboration  compromise  marxism  karlmarx  waysofseeing  books  writing  spinoza  ruralcomp  kennethclark  2011  activism  biography  materialism  history  religion  christianity  socialism  managementtheory  lucianfreud  painting  renatogattuso 
may 2011 by robertogreco

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