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Saturday, 3 March 2018

Spotlight: Water

This month Spotlight bubbles through water art.
  The ritual aspects of water, in religion and for sustenance, have long been represented through art. Water being less focal, typically, than the distinctly figurative elements in a painting, and more of a context than a subject, its contribution and symbolism is often transparent.  Invisible.
  Water conveys rather timeless lessons through religion, when the message can remain alive to a secular viewer, such as the miracle of agriculture, and the generosity of nature and hosts, as seen in Jesus converting water into wine...

Bartolom√© Esteban Murillo (1617-1682), ”The Wedding at Cana”
or travel and freedom...

or overcoming obstacles through dedication, and thereby rising above perceived limitations of mortality, such as by walking on water.

Christo installation, Italy
These are possible modern lessons taken from the important lessons of Christian tales. Narcissus, by comparison, has clear modern parallels with selfies.  
This narcissism portrayal superficially confounds how water can make everything more beautiful by offering a second angle on any subject matter.  The addition of a second perspective on trees, mountains and twigs echoes how we develop stronger emotional attachments to people who we meet, when we learn of their hidden sides, darknesses and weaknesses, as well as their more immediately shown and comprehended upstanding strengths.

'Knot weed' - Andy Goldsworthy
Arthur Rackham drew and painted water extensively. Water’s warmth, and cold dangers, can make it exciting or sensuous, which has often been translated as a form of using water to represent beauty and allure. 
Illustration for John Milton's Comus by Arthur Rackham
It is this kind of appeal which much mystical and ritual imagery uses, in the above examples of Christian and other religious communication, and in mythology.  It is also exactly this kind of conveyance of desire which controversial artist Jeff Koons explores, while conscious of the obviousness of primordial elements' incitement of desire, such as in water or fire.  Koons rarely uses water, but one of his earliest acclaimed works, which was acknowledged as exploring these conundrums, was an embodiment of trying to achieve a desired perfect state of precarious balance within an environment of both strong and fine pressures, and additionally how those concepts manifest in voyeuristic ways in the fame of cultural and sports celebrities. Koons depicted this through sport-hero basketballs depth-balanced in a tank of water.

'Three Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Two Dr J Silver Series, Spalding NBA Tip-Off)'

1985 - Jeff Koons
There are many painted examples of more obvious primordial sides of water’s mystic and primal appeal, which are becoming dated in their simplicity.  ‘Hylas and the Nymphs’ has been removed from the Manchester Art Gallery in recognition of the objectification of women in art, historically and still today. Go there and don’t see it, and consider how you feel.
Removed - 'Hylas and the Nymphs'
But what of ceramics?” I don’t hear you ask...
4,500 years ago a change began in these isles. A new culture arrived, which fairly swiftly and quietly replaced 90% of the native population with immigrants. We are descended from this culture. They are called “the Beaker people” due to a distinctive shape of cup which can be observed, accurately through the historic record, as having moved across Europe. The new culture carried with it many aspects, such as specific uses of jewellery, copper daggers, and a particular shape of button. However it is named after the Beaker - the vessel used to carry water. Or beer – that is one hypothesis.
There are many other aspects of the Beaker people, of course, which do not leave an archaeological imprint. Many materials cannot survive the millennia as robustly as ceramics and copper. A type of wooden spoon, for example, or a way of making head-dresses out of feathers, would leave a comparatively minuscule legacy in the archaeological record. As such, we cannot be sure that “the Beaker people” accurately describes the most significant aspects of that culture which almost entirely displaced the peoples of Albion. 
  “Beaker” is what has been grasped as the representative element – the aspect which reveals their intrinsic nature. It reflects our view of them.

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