SPACETIME

Of course, even if thinking and especially academic thinking is characterised by its systematic and strategic analytical dimension, it is surely also influenced by coincidences – contingent occurrences that are determined by what is happening around us, what is actually by our mere positioning in the world visible, perceivable to us.

And one of these coincidences may well be my recent return from a multi-million city, the 2nd largest city of a multi-million country and occupying a rank of 5 to 10[1] on the list of the largest cities of a multi-billion world.[2]

But it is not simply this experience that brings space in some specific way my attention – others are since some time engaging in social science: be it the geographer David Harvey, or the (amongst others:) urban theorist Mike David, looking at the Planet of Slums.

*******

It is early July now – I booked the ticket for the Museum of Fine Arts some time back. If I would not have this ticket, determining even the time slot of my visit, I probably would not go there – well, Egon Schiele is actually not my favourite artist, and his rather blunt view on nudity and exhibition of himself[3] would not invite me to leave to Hősök tere on this nice summer day. Or are his 170 self-portraits actually more about honesty than about exhibitionism? Honesty ablout the search for identity at times when society itself lost identity?

Anyway, the ticket is booked, and it is also a little bit of an obligatory act for the art historian that is dormant in me 😉

And there I am: the bright, sunny day left behind the doors through which I entered the gallery – behind the doors now being outside.

I am actually fascinated, drawn to or even into the painting that is right opposite of the door through which I enter the even darker room on the ground floor of the eclectic neoclassical building:

Self-Portrait with Chinese Lantern Plant from 1912

It is well known and, having seen it frequently in books, on post-cards and on the internet, I always asked my self why it is such a widely reproduced painting. Seeing now the original, and seeing it stepping out of the dark surrounding, I know immediately what causes the fascination: space.[4]

There is something that goes much beyond the painting which is actually a rather simple small composition: the painter depicting himself against the background of a lantern plant; the person captured with its contradiction of a relatively bright appearance of the distorted and grave face.

The upper body stands sharp contrast – in the bold dark suit against the shiny background, a space that has something playful, given by the lantern flower.

And after the recent visit this flower adds surely to the fascination – a kind of call from another world.

Not these contrasts but the order of space cause an irritation that arouses an utmost positive sensation of the view.

It is difficult to grasp – photography fails to picture it, and words surely fail too. It is a dialectical tension of mutual capturing and conquest. The question is if the person occupies, surrounds the space or if the space surrounds, occupies the person. Is it this loss of clarity about space and its occupation, these ‘blurring borders’ of hegemony that cause this outstanding face?

In the words of the Museum of Fine Arts’ smart phone application we look into

[a] face filled with torment, dishevelled hair standing on end, and hands clenched in anguish.

It is the question – but nevertheless it is a question that is not asked and that still seems to be answered without a single word.

Space then becomes more and actually different to what geography proposes. It emerges as immediate social space in its genuine meaning:

In the decade preceding World War I, Vienna was still an imperial city enjoying an Indian summer of refined sensual pleasures for the privileged few. However to later generations it appears rather as a laboratory febrile ‘end-of-the-world experiments’ (Karl Kraus) then a model for a multicultural, pluralistic and incredibly multifaceted society.

(Sármány-Parsons, Ilona: Vienna, City of Eros and Thanatos; in: Egon Schiele and his Age. Masterpieces from the Leopold Museum Vienna. Exhibition Catalogue. 26 June -29 September 2013; Budapest: Museum of fine Arts; 9-37; here: 10)

Strolling through the exhibition, I am another time convinced: Social science can hardly do without looking at arts as a mirror of society, surely not showing the entirety , but depicting some important elements of the Zeitgeist. And playing with it – turning space and time around, against each other …; moving in space and being moved by spaces … – and thus exploring the dialectical tension of mutual capturing and conquest of space, movement in space and thus time.

Look at The Hermits, also from 1912; or the Klimtian Portrait of Henryka Cohn by Richard Gerstl (1908)

Sure, all this is about Early Viennese expressionism – and we learn from the exhibitions comment

The secession was still enjoying its golden age when the new generation appeared on the scene in Vienna, who’s members were eager to move on from the kind of stylised art that smothered everything in ornament and refined elegance, and which was turning the Secession, in a majority of cases, into nothing more than decoration. The desire to replenish form with content – symbols and emotions – flooded forth with elemental power where som artist were concerned (Richard Gerstl, Oskar Kokoschka) but trickled as more of an undercurrent with others (Egon Schiele, Max Oppnheimer). By replacing the gently curving contours with robust field of colour, the new generation broke the dominant trend that ruled around the year 1900. Carefully evaluated balances of colour and form were discarded, and in their place, in Schiele’s art around 1910, came an expression of form that was motivated by feelings and instincts that welled from deep within.

*******

The lantern flower from Schiele’s portrait had been mentioned – and there may be more to it: aren’t lanterns also offering guidance? Aren’t they also offering security, hope – the hope of moving towards the light at the end of the tunnel, its perception always suggesting that it is not the light of the train entering from the other end.

So we return to the catalogue from which we learn that

[a]fter 1903, and more pronouncedly after 1905, Viennese art was more influenced by the many foreign works that were shown at exhibitions in the city than had been the case earlier. These works unveiled stylistic trends which could no longer be judged according to traditional critical categories based on mimesis. The principal yardsticks for judgement now became originality and the boldness of a picture’s formal experiment.

(Sármány-Parsons, Ilona: Vienna, City of Eros and Thanatos; in: Egon Schiele and his Age. Masterpieces from the Leopold Museum Vienna. Exhibition Catalogue. 26 June -29 September 2013; Budapest: Museum of fine Arts; 9-37; here: 22)

Thus we may say that Schiele is only looking for the light, being caught by the lack of direction; Anton Faistauer only a little bit later (in 1913) being confronted with the answer, with one answer. At least this is what he suggests in his painting

Street towards Duerstein (1913)

But this one answer is actually only focussing the diffuse helplessness – confronting us with the alternative of the coming and the going. Facing the original we are challenged to decide: are we coming, or are we actually going? What is the end, the goal – and (how) can determine it … – glimpses only can be seen, vague, very vague. But at least these glimpses of Cubism can be seen, shining through while the era is facing in reality the loss of hope, answering with the roar of a wounded animal.

What happened a short time later did give one answer: the answer that is most definitely a non-answer, an option we should never consider again as it will not lead us anywhere!!

And cum grano salis this also the question I had been facing recently – not as question of war, of such a war.. – but the question of the clash of cultures: standstill and development and development in which way ….? The question Lv, Xuxiang and their mates will have to answer …

The question that stands in multi-million cities and villages of a view people alike.

*******

I return to the office, walk buried in thoughts along the Andrássy út, the noble street, street of the former nobles, then and now the street of embassies; the street that celebrated the turn of the century by opening the first metro in the year 1896; the street that, today divides the Pest of the ordinary people and the heroes by its stretch of noble shops: the international brands, spacetimes of today’s nobility: global efforts of maintaining hegemony; global efforts of tying down the not of governance that needs to be opened with a complex strategy, taking up four ends at the very same time: the four-in-one strategy, that constitutes hegemony and counter-hegemony alike – Frigga Haug worked extensively on such strategy.

It is  long walk – listening to Ludovico Einaudi’s Divenire is accompanying me ….


[1]            The ranks are extremely difficult to determine – relevant lists show different figures without allowing an insight in clear definitions of relevant criteria.

[2]            According to http://countrymeters.info/ the data are as follows:

07-07-2013 20:56:26: 7 105 642 573 (Current world population); 3 583 606 273 (Current male population); 3 522 036 300 (Current female population); for China: 1 361 022 180 (Current population); 706 618 530 (Current male population); 654 403 665 (Current female population)

[3]            says the blogger … – … Hic Rhodus, hic salta!

[4]            Admittedly it is also the way of exhibiting the painting. I saw it earlier in Vienna, without being caught in the same way.

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