Could There be a Common Visual Language, an EU Hieroglyphic?

EU Pluribus Unum?

It is amusing to think that the official European Union website devotes a lengthy link to “A Plain Language Guide to Euro-Jargon.”

Jargon is a kind of insular argot that obscures rather than conveys meaning. It is language in euphemism used only by insiders. Often it is unintelligible to the rest of us. It is undemocratic. Can good design come to the rescue? Could a rebus that replaces jargon be the answer? The Random House Dictionary defines rebus as the representation of a word or phrase by pictures, symbols, etc. that suggest that word or phrase or its syllables:  Two gates and a head is a rebus for “Gateshead,” for example.

Since 1600 rebus has been used to replace words with images, which is the terrain of graphic designers.
 On the one hand, that Euro-Jargon, given the current bewilderment between national and Continental identity, exists at all is telling. At the very least this hybrid language testifies to a common grammar among bureaucrats of all nations who partake in legislative and political wranglings no matter their country of origin. This is a comfort because it implies that decision makers despite their native tongue in some vague way understand each other. This is a great step toward unity.

© The Trustees of The British Museum

In the circa 1700 rebus above, entitled “The Hampton Court Letter, being a reply to The Epsom Ladys Answer,” a British woman spurns her suitor’s ardent advances, which were written to her in a rebus letter. The transliteration reads thus:

“Vain pragmaticall man, The style and assurance of your epistle shows you a daring bogtrotter, what earnest of ye lady’s heart could induce you to fancy your famous party and as you believe handsome overtures would be cordially received. You are a great bear for your pains, too [knave paired?] and lunatic, [straw bed, owl] pottage, Bedlam, and iron bars is what you want; [urinal/flask?] clothes her hatred, esteemed nor regarded of a [?]. The Tonbridge rake that begun this folly is a danmed liar and prevaricator, two nonesuch violents not to be uttered on a spinster, a welshman but she made address to defend herself and waived entering fool’s paradise so ridiculously. On that he charitably belies Mr J-n nobody knows wherefor, but ye scandal would not stick. Ye post stays so I can only beg you repent be content confess your treacheries and we shall become your admirers. To show [basket?], Abel Burnet, Martin Palfrey, Millicent Fane, Rose Cage, Bridget Cooper.”

The words between brackets in the text reflect the translator’s uncertainty about the exact meaning of the pictograms.

Esperanto, a cobbled together language that aimed to unify Romance language speakers, was created in 1887 to be politically neutral, one that Europeans could use as a second tongue. The idea was for the different peoples of one Continent to understand each other despite their individual national backgrounds, thus bringing about international understanding. Is that not the goal of the EU? The name Esperanto means “I hope.” Its architect L.L. Zamenhof clearly hoped for world peace through a universal language that transcended national identity and embraced a global— or for our purposes a Continental— one. Incidentally, there are currently about 1,000 native Esperanto speakers worldwide and between 100,000 and 2 million speakers extant in roughly 115 countries. UNESCO officially recognized Esperanto in 1954. The World Esperanto Association is headquartered in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Oddly, children whose parents speak Esperanto learn it best when they attend world congresses where it is spoken, not on the playground or in the classroom. This sounds startlingly like Euro-Jargon, which is used primarily at EU functions. Here is a look at Esperanto’s 23 letter alphabet and pronunciation, a recording of it, a sample text to read and a recording of that, and the translation.

Esperanto alphabet & pronunciation

Esperanto alphabet & pronunciation

A recording of the Esperanto alphabet by Jan Jurčík

Sample text in Esperanto

Ĉiuj homoj estas denaske liberaj kaj egalaj laŭ digno kaj rajtoj. Ili posedas racion kaj konsciencon, kaj devus konduti unu la alian en spirito de frateco.

A recording of this text by Oliver Ash

Translation

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

The European Union would do well to adopt Esperanto to replace Euro-Jargon because the lingua franca of the world today is broken English thanks to the CNN effect. Yet English is not the language of a united Europe. It is the language of hegemony and the colonizer. The international language of diplomacy used to be French, another conquering tongue that only those fortunate enough to learn it spoke. French was an even more undemocratic mode of expression and lawmaking than English. Replacing Euro-Jargon with rebus, a new visual language free of power connotations and available to all, everywhere— the illiterate among them— is the way to go.

Just as English has given rise to Euro-Jargon it is responsible for Bureaucrat-Speak, Corp-Speak, and “The New Doublespeak” (Lutz 1996), three other argots among many that plague humankind in the United States and around the globe. Argot may not be the correct characterization. Euro-Jargon is more a pidgin, which comes into being out of necessity, when people thrown together cannot communicate. It is the language, for example, of slavery, when Africans of different nations were forced into the holds of ships and could not rely on gesture alone to make themselves clear.

Language represents thought. Text represents language. Type expresses text. Type, then, is a symbol for language. And type is the domain of designers. Why not employ symbol in its purest form— rebus— for the clearest communication? From a design perspective symbol is a vehicle that can clearly promote unity and identity at a glance. By definition it is a visual code. Logo or rebus can speak more powerfully and more swiftly than words alone.

Logo takes its origin from the Greek logos or word. Expressed in graphics word replaced by symbol acts on us subliminally. Think of Helvetica, for example. It communicates Modern and International styles; it is the universally preferred font in the design world. We grasp the atmosphere Helvetica expresses instantly in its clean lean sans-seraph form. Yet while Helvetica suggests a time and place, it does not speak to a particular time and place nor a specific identity beyond perhaps its European-ness (at least to the thinking of people from other continents). Helvetica conveys pan-Continental identity but not a national one. It does not connote Spain or Lithuania as much as it connotes Europe as a whole. If rebus were the language of the EU, it would be freed of one-dimensionality. Every nation would be endowed with a neutral visual code, in keeping with the linguistic goal of Esperanto.

In “Politics and the English Language” George Orwell writes about language that conceals rather than reveals, which is self-referential and fails to communicate meaning plainly. His essay was published in 1946, an era when like today after the fall of the Berlin Wall the world was redefining itself. Orwell condemns the insularity and euphemism that jargon implies and its negative consequences for the new world order. What would Orwell make of Euro-Jargon, so pervasive in the EU that it requires its own lexicon on the official website?

Orwell might say that politicians and lawmakers who engage in Euro-Jargon are too timid to make their point in plain-speak because if they did they would flout the unspoken rules of political correctness. Plain-speak means you and I agree on meaning. You and I agree on definition. You and I understand one another despite our backgrounds. Thus you and I would likely understand one another quicker and better in images rather than words. More germane to our purposes, Orwell would say that those who run the European Union shy from stating outright how a particular nation would preserve its identity and embrace a greater Continental one. Those who steer the EU seek to be all things to all peoples. They seek not to offend. Euro-Jargon in effect gives policymakers an excuse not to make plain policy. By implication Euro-Jargon impedes EU citizens in their quest to figure out where they come from, where they belong, what to call themselves.

When the European Union expanded in 2000, identity suddenly pushed its way to the forefront. Europeans realized that they come from both a nation and a Continent. They called themselves Greek and European but not Greek-European because that speaks to hyphenated identity, two traditions thrown together in a diluted and therefore weaker hybrid. In other words, a pidgin. The twinning of identity— Continental and national— begs a question:  Where does primary cultural allegiance lie? How not to lose their ethnic selves? Our goal as designers is to use the language of graphics to represent dual identity. Designing an EU-wide rebus as a lexicon to replace jargon is a good start. From rebus could come a logo that would be a common grammar with a syntax that preserves the European-ness of EU citizens while emphasizing the solidarity that binds without surrendering national-ness. Euro-Jargon, which Orwell would consider a great clouding of plain-speak, would die out.

How could a rebus say more? Take the definition of unanimity on the official EU site, a critical concept of accord, agreement, oneness. What kind of icon would best express that? Four hands wrist over wrist? Four pairs of feet toe-to-toe? Or take non-paper, an official EU term that means off-the-record or an unofficial document. Would a sheet of paper struck through with a red X convey that? How to denote that a document is written in one of the 23 official languages? An open dictionary with the number 23 on it? How would a rebus represent a summit meeting— a mountain crest with a briefcase? So many images come to mind, so many better ones— potent, clever, elegant— could follow. In the hands of a good designer with a ripe imagination, anything is possible.

But the impoverishment of the current EU flag or an early proposal for it like the one below is stunning:

Does this image express anything at all about a new European identity? “I Heart Any City or Country”— anything at all on the planet— can only, ever, and always mean New York. It is the city’s defining icon, a borrowed icon. The circle of 12 stars on this proposal as on the current flag doesn’t speak to culture, heritage, or national pride. A country’s own colors do that. But the most egregious design deficit of the circle is political:  The number of stars is fixed at 12. Currently 27 countries are members of the Union. The circle is mute. Like the heart is borrowed.

Borrowed perhaps from that great model of Continental Unum, the United States. Take a look at the first version of the Stars and Stripes from 1777 designed and sewn by Betsy Ross and fellow seamstresses. Note especially the circle of stars in a field of blue denoting the original 13 colonies. Does this look familiar?

Of course the circle of 13 grew into a field of 50 to represent the number of states that joined the Union. Betsy Ross’s design was elastic enough to embrace the belief that the Union would grow. Out of many, one. The current European Union flag is static.

By contrast the Bar Code flag proposal below was designed to accommodate countries to come just like the original Red, White, and Blue in an ingenious piece of 21st Century visual language. It is Orwellian plain-speak in an image. Not a soul would call it derivative. The Bar Code is the creation of Rem Koolhaas of OMA, the architecture, urbanism, and cultural analysis group based in Rotterdam, and Reinier de Graaf of AMO, the research studio counterpart.

OMA © All rights reserved

AMO sought to revamp the Continent’s symbol and visual language as a whole because it

“found Europe’s representations to be mute, limp, anti modern [sic] and ineffective in an age dominated by mass media. They [We] went on to suggest a direct relation between the absence of a visual language— Europe’s iconographic deficit— and a widespread ignorance about the activities and the origins of the EU among the general public.”

— Rem Koolhaas

Koolhaas and de Graaf achieved much more than a redesign. Their proposal was a powerful and unmistakable rebus for the parts and the whole of the Europe. EU Pluribus Unum.

The Bar Code would have spoken far more eloquently to the new face of Europe than the circle of 12 and only 12 stars because of its elasticity and the designers’ foresight. It can stretch to accommodate countries to come. The colors are those of each nation’s flag representing culture, heritage, pride. Thus it is accurate and democratic. The current flag was created nearly 60 years ago during the old order, the Cold War order. Neither unity nor individuality— certainly not design— was on the minds of the world then. Stale era, stale design. What Koolhaas and de Graaf made is fresh, heralding Orwell’s new world order and the New World of Betsy Ross. What the European Commission chose fixes the Continent firmly in the Old World. The statement behind the choice is loud:  We are comfortable in our vague visual argot.

Pictures can express what Esperanto cannot. Worked right, they can create a democratic semaphore for European unity and national identity. So take a lesson from George Orwell on Euro-Jargon or Koolhaas and de Graaf on visual syntax: Bin it (that’s a picture of an open rubbish container with an arrow pointing into it). And use rebus to design a new identity for Europe.

A different form of this essay originally appeared in “What to do with Design and European Identities,” part of Atelier Tipografic 2, an initiative of the Association of Dutch Designers and Leiden University among others. The project aims to give undergraduate students from Austria, The Netherlands, and Romania a theoretical framework to design fresh visual identities for EU countries and the greater Union.

References

Books

William Lutz, “The New Doublespeak, Why No One Knows What Anyone’s Saying Anymore”, New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1996.

George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language, A Collection of Essays”, New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1946, pp. 156-171.

Websites

“A Plain Language Guide to Euro-Jargon.”  http://europa.eu/abc/eurojargon/index_en.htm#top

Betsy Ross flag:  http://www.sonofthesouth.net/revolutionary-war/political/american-flag.htm

Esperanto audio and print materials:  http://www.omniglot.com/writing/esperanto.htm

Koolhaas and de Graaf Bar Code:  http://oma.eu/projects/2001/eu-barcode

Koolhaas quotation:  http://oma.eu/projects/2001/eu-barcode

“Politics and the English Language” cover image:  http://www.brown.edu/Facilities/University_Library/libs/hay/collections/orwell/leab.html

“The Hampton Court Letter, being a reply to The Epsom Ladys Answer” engraving housed in The British museum archives:  AN354003001, © The Trustees of the British Museum

 

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The Art of Masturbation

Paysage Fautif

 

In 1946 Marcel Duchamp made a present of his own semen to his Brazilian lover, sculptor Maria Martins. Hard as it is to imagine, he preserved his spoor on Astralon, a forerunner to Acrylic, gave it a black satin backing, and framed it with wood. The naughty abstraction, Paysage Fautif, comments perversely on the childishness of Jackson Pollock’s paint spillage technique, anarchic at the time, and gratuitous. Duchamp on Paysage:  “It’s olfactory masturbation, dare I say. Each morning a painter, on working, needs apart from his breakfast, a whiff of turpentine…. A form of great pleasure alone, onanistic almost.”1

Art around the globe and through the ages has always depicted the erotic. Exactly when masturbation became a subject unto itself is unknowable, so we’ve chosen a ceramic amphora from 6th Century Greece to represent the agelessness of our topic (image below left). But it’s Duchamp’s immediate predecessors who most intrigue us. Their works surely resonated with him, the former librarian, theorist, global nomad, and of course, man of rogue intellect.

Duchamp’s pleasure in Paysage Fautif was a private act, causing not much stir in the Post-War decade, when the social order already had fallen apart. In 1912, the year of the ankle length skirt and the broad brimmed hat, when the horseless carriage was just four years old, the great dancer Vaslav Nijinsky hinted at pleasuring himself with a chiffon scarf. Paris went wild (see Nureyev in the Joffrey Ballet’s 1979 hommage, below).

A tremendous amount has been written on the web about this moment in time, this poet, this composer, this piece of music, this Nijinsky dancing with Les Ballets Russes and the impresario Sergei Diaghilev, and set and costume designer Léon Bakst. The ferment was rich and held within it the birth of the Modern. Yet the research and writing surrounding it is littered with conflicting dates, misspelled names, photos incorrectly credited and captioned, incomplete information. These and other inaccuracies mar both the narrative and the record. We’ve tried to correct the misinformation, digging up original texts, images, and sources, and citing the collections where artworks, and video and audio clips are currently held. Please let us know of any inaccuracies you find here. We hate the idea of misinformation circulating around the globe because soon enough they turn into facts.

In the case of Mallarmé’s poem (below left), you’ll see a copy of the original cover with a line drawing by his great friend Édouard Manet (below right). We’ve chosen clips that we think represent faithfully Debussy’s orchestration and the re-staging of Diaghilev’s choreography as re-interpreted by Rudolf Nureyev with the Joffrey Ballet in 1979. We’ve also posted 26-second flickering instance of Nijinsky himself dancing the role of the faun in 1912, the only live one extant (below).

To find the review of L’Après-Midi d’un Faune in a 1912 issue of Le Figaro archived at the Bibliotheque Nationale de France (below)to read about the fracas that ensued the morning after the show and the bickering that broke out between the arts reviewer and the great national sculptor Auguste Rodin– this makes us think about art in the round, thinkart360. Society was still innocent in those days in its expectations for entertainment. The world had not yet been pornified. The audience— remember, women still wore roped girdles and men, monocles and white gloves– was easily abashed.

The dream of the avant-garde was and still is gesamtkunstwerk or the harmony of the arts working in concert. We can’t express it in one word in English. “Multi-media installation” doesn’t even come close. Back then the concept was just coming to life. Think about it: L’Après-Midi d’un Faune presented a poem set to an orchestral piece written for a ballet choreographed with set and costume design that suggested the realm of the bestial deep within us, publicized with stunning lithographs of exceptional artistry (see below), all celebrating the freedom of body and soul. The glory of the arts came together that evening on a single stage. No wonder the audience was beside itself. Art, not just masturbation art, wielded its tremendous power to shock.

What Debussy heard

Crátera ática de Columnas

The moment occurred at Théâtre du Châtelet near the end of L’Après-Midi d’un Faune, the ballet set to Claude Debussy’s 10-minute composition, Prélude de L’Après-Midi d’un Faune. The piece was inspired by the poem written by Stéphane Mallarmé in 1876. The ballet opened with a plaintive flute solo drawing the audience into the lush visual and aural experience that was about to unwind before them. The melody, hung alone and naked in the air. The faun is sensuous; in Greek mythology he plays the flute like the god Pan. Debussy chose the flute to insinuate melody and sensuality throughout Prélude à L’Après-Midi d’un Faune. As a solo orchestral instrument the flute is naked, elusive, and insistent, like the contours of desire. It is vague and suggestive, waxing and waning. In Debussy’s 1894 score the flute moves down a tritone in whole steps and conveys mood chromatically. The flute suggests a move towards atonality and, in 10 short years to come will liberate music from a known key.

[audio:http://www.thinkart360.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Rudolf-Nureyev-dança-_LAprès-midi-dun-Faune_-de-Debussy.mp3|titles=Rudolf Nureyev dança _LAprès-midi dun Faune_, de Debussy]

Pierre Boulez, a leading contemporary classical composer of the 20th Century, sees Debussy’s work as visionary. “Just as modern poetry surely took root in certain of Baudelaire’s poems [the first Modern poet], so one is justified in saying that modern music was awakened by L’Après-Midi d’un Faune.”2

Creator of the twelve tone compositional technique, Arnold Schoenberg is credited with revolutionizing classical music in the 20th century. No coincidence then that one his first completely atonal pieces, Pierrot Lunaire Op.21, reflects the spectrum Boulez credits Debussy with awakening. It debuted in 1912 in Berlin, the same year as L’Après-Midi d’un Faune premiered in Paris. The piece was based on Albert Giraud’s Dreimal sieben Gedichte aus Albert Giraud’s ‘Pierrot Lunaire’. Like Mallarmé, Giraud was a Symbolist.

[audio:http://www.thinkart360.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Pierrot-Lunaire-Pierre-Boulez.mp3]

Edouard Manet’s drawing for L’Après-Midi d’un Faune.

The Symbolists were a group of poets in late-19th Century France who wrote highly associative and obscure verse. Mallarmé gave them a second name, the Decadents. Their style diverged from poetry at the time, which was based on a strictly linear narrative. For our purposes Mallarmé and the new thinking his poem gave birth to bears directly on Duchamp. Surrealists and Dadaists drew inspiration from the Symbolists. Surrealists were nothing if not decadent, at least in their thinking, and endlessly associative for audiences who understood the tropes.

The Afternoon of a Faun (1876)

by Stéphane Mallarmé

These nymphs I would perpetuate.
So clear
Their light carnation, that it floats in the air
Heavy with tufted slumbers.
Was it a dream I loved?

All alone I gave
Myself for triumph the ideal sin of roses.

No water murmurs but what my flute pours
On the chord sprinkled thicket; and the sole wind
Prompt to exhale from my two pipes, before
It scatters the sound in a waterless shower,
Is, on the horizon’s unwrinkled space,
The visible serene artificial breath
Of inspiration, which regains the sky.

Inert, all burns in the fierce hour

Then shall I awake to the primitive fervor,
Straight and alone, ‘neath antique floods of light,
Lilies and one of you all through my ingenuousness.

Exceptional programme cover for premiere of L’Après-Midi d’un Faune by Léon Bakst.

My breast, though proofless, still attests a bite
Mysterious, due to some august tooth;
But enough! For confidant such mystery chose.
The great double reed which one plays ‘neath the blue.

I, proud of my rumour, for long I will talk
Of goddesses; and by picturings idolatrous,
From their shades unloose yet more of their girdles:
So when of grapes the clearness I’ve sucked,
To banish regret by my ruse disavowed,
Laughing, I lift the empty bunch to the sky,
Blowing into its luminous skins and a thirst
To be drunk, till the evening I keep looking through.
Oh nymphs, we diverse MEMORIES [sic] refill.

Ah well, towards happiness others will lead me
With their tresses knotted to the horns of my brow:
You know, my passion, that purple and just ripe,
The pomegranates burst and murmur with bees;
And our blood, aflame for her who will take it,
Flows for all the eternal swarm of desire.

Etna! ’tis amid you, visited by Venus
On your lava fields placing her candid feet,
When a sad stillness thunders wherein the flame dies.
I hold the queen!

No more, I must sleep, forgetting the outrage,
On the thirsty sand lying, and as I delight
Open my mouth to wine’s potent star!
Adieu, both! I shall see the shade you became.

Shall we dance?

On the evening of May 29 at Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris the audience was scandalously titillated (or titillated scandalously) as they watched Nijinsky’s erotic pleasure dancing the lead to Claude Debussy’s Prélude à L’Après-Midi d’un Faune. The audience was captive to and captivated by the great exhibitionist in a dark brown and white costume designed by Léon Bakst and based on a Greek satyr (above) enthralled with his erection the size of a tree trunk. (Nureyev as the faun in the Joffrey Ballet’s 1979 production, right). Audiences at the time would have been schooled in the image. Diaghilev and his corps de ballet reinforced the reference.

 

 

Sergei Diaghilev (portrait by Léon Baskt, 1906) established the Ballets Russes in Paris in 1909. The ballet company featured top dancers from the Tsar’s Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg, Russia. The company ran until 1929 and premiered many controversial performances such as the L’Après d’un Faune in 1912 and The Rite of Spring in 1913, both choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky.

Diaghilev understood gesamkunstwerk, working with anarchic artists (Picasso, Matisse, and Cocteau) and composers (Prokofiev and Stravinsky) whose art was radical to the eyes and ears of Parisian audiences in the early 1900s. Even reaching into fashion, Diaghilev commissioned Coco Chanel to design costumes in the elegant simplicity of her signature. He understood that he was introducing, through the Faune, not only masturbation, but Modernism and Cubism to Paris and thus the world.

 

 

“Faux Pas,” said the critic

Gaston Calmette, editor of Le Figaro, stood in for the Arts editor on May 30, 1912, to review (see left) the opening of L’Après-Midi d’un Faune, claiming ignorance of both the music and the ballet. That did not keep him from slamming the performance as bestially erotic, replete with shameless gestures, libidinous, and mocking the audience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Pas Faux,” said Rodin

French is the only tongue and a sculptor the only writer able to capture the plasticity in the tableau that vivified the satyr’s paean to lust. Rodin writes that each minute movement of Nijinsky— nervous, angular, extended, open— utterly embodied the spirit frozen in the ancient statuary. One could say the dancer himself was the frieze, Rodin writes, from the time the curtain rose until the denouement, when Nijinsky, rent with pleasure, heaped himself face down upon the nymph’s chiffon scarf. Pas de faux pas ici.

 

Vaslav Nijinsky in “L’Après-Midi d’un Faune” in 1912

 

 

Naughty sketches

Rodin was living in the Hôtel Biron at the time, now the home of the Musée Rodin. He already had achieved national popularity as  a sculptor and artist. Although generally known for his sculptures, he also produced more than 3,000 sketches and drawings. A large portion of sketches from this period were of female nudes in erotic poses of masturbation and acts of lesbianism. These are most likely the sketches which Mr. Calmette of  Le Figaro is referring to as “crayons libidineux” that reflect the “attitudes impudiques du faune,” which were then on exhibition in the the Sacred Heart Chapel of the Hôtel Biron. Rodin was well versed in the erotic. The Hôtel Biron was a municipal building where he maintained a studio and kept company with his models, not generally women of Parisian society. He enjoyed living large pas comme il faut. In fact Calmette complains that the real scandal here is that the French State was paying for Rodin’s erotic, masturbatory art.


Auguste Rodin’s “crayons libidineux”: Femme Nue, Une Main Entre Les Cuisses Dite Naissance De Vénus (above) and Femme Nue Allongée, Une Main Passée Sous Une Jambe Relèvée.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hôtel Biron, 1910, rue de Varenne, Paris

Sacré-Coeur Chapel at the Hôtel Biron

Everybody: Get up off the couch!

Was there something in the air in 1912? Erotic art was the taste of the time, the forbidden country charted on Freud’s couch (his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality was published in 1905), Klimt’s canvas, Rodin’s clay, Diaghilev’s corps, and Bakst’s sets. Nijinsky was simply the frolicking libido making merry with it on an evening at Théâtre du Châtelet. How could the public, acting in the role of salacious voyeur, but disapprove of the shameful pleasure?

While Freud was treating patients for sexual neuroses like masturbating, Gustav Klimt, his Viennese contemporary, was siring seven children with different women and sketching hundreds of crayons libidineux depicting women doing just that (two sketches appear below). Klimt was a founder of the Viennese Secession movement that wanted to break free of artistic stricture, convention, historicism in subject, medium, and approach. Hence his choice of erotic poses, often with lesbian subjects, his eccentric taste in garb (deep blue smock with white epaulettes), and his bizarre choice, despite his promiscuity, of living at home with his mother and sisters. Yet his artistic pleasure was, like Rodin’s, private and static, bordered by picture frame. By contrast, Nijinsky’s was deliberately public and acted out. It occupied the whole stage. It was choreographed to shock and scandalize.


 

Freddie Mercury wanted to break free in the pop group Queen’s video for the song “I Want to Break Free” (1984). He worked with the Royal Ballet’s then choreographer Wayne Eagling to create the ballet section of the video. This hommage to Nijinsky and L’Après-Midi d’un Faune was filmed off-hours at night using dancers from the Royal Ballet without the knowledge of Artistic Director Norman Morrice.

 

Duchamp, whence our blog began, knew these precedents. How could he not? How could Freddie Mercury, acting the outrageous spotted faun in a 1984, not? No ribbon of chiffon or rocky crag for Queen; only a conveyor belt of women in the mist would do. Crude or not, Mercury was a Vienna Secessionist in a modern key wanting to break free.

Klimt used sketches in the same way a musician uses scales. He produced thousands of them, hundreds of which were of women pleasuring themselves, like the two poses you see here. Before he died, he destroyed the majority of his drawings, which were stacked to the ceiling in his mother’s house.

Gustav Klimt

In 2008 an exhibition of Klimt’s paintings and erotic drawings was held at the Neue Galerie in New York. The museum was founded and endowed by Ronald Lauder, the legendary patron of the arts. The Economist expressed no shock in its review of the show at the time. No fracas à la Le Figaro ensued between the Arts Critic and any sculptor of renown. Pas de scandale de tout. That country is no longer fautif.  Society was pornified long ago.

Notes

1 Demos, T.J. The Exiles of Marcel Duchamp. Cambridge: MIT, 2007. 59.

2 Boulez, Pierre. “Entries for a Musical Encyclopedia: Claude Debussy”, Stocktakings from an Apprenticeship, Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1991, pp. 259-277.

Sources

General

Ballet Histories – Russian Ballet History. Web. 23 Oct. 2011. <http://www.russianballethistory.com>.

Bouttell, Liz. “Wayne Eagling Artistic Director, English National Ballet.” Wayne Eagling, Artistic Director, English National Ballet Interviewed at Ballet Association. The Ballet Association. Web. 12 Nov. 2011. <http://www.ballet.co.uk/magazines/yr_10/feb10/interview_wayne_eagling.htm>.

Calmette, Gaston. “Un Faux Pas.” Le Figaro [Paris] 30 May 1912: 1. Print.

Calmette, Gaston. Le Figaro [Paris] 31 May 1912: 1. Print.

Mallarmé, Stéphane. Mallarmé: Poems. Ed. Julian Bell. Trans. Roger Fry. New York: Directions, 1949. Print.

Rodin, Auguste. Le Figaro [Paris] 31 May 1912: 1. Print.

“Sergei Diaghilev: Ballet’s Master Networker Provocateur – Features – Theatre & Dance – The Independent.” Sergei Diaghilev: Ballet’s Master Networker Provocateur – Features – Theatre & Dance – The Independent. The Independent. Web. 12 Nov. 2011. <http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre-dance/features/sergei-diaghilev-ballets-master-networker-provocateur-2073914.html>.

The Economist. “Gustav Klimt, A Lover of Women.” The Economist 15 Nov. 2007. The Economist Newspaper Limited. Web. 15 Oct. 2011. <http://www.economist.com/node/10130719>.

The Economist. “Gustav Klimt’s Erotic Drawings. Private Passions.” The Economist 7 Apr. 2005. The Economist Newspaper Limited, 12 Oct. 2011. Web. <http://www.economist.com/node/10130719>.

Art

Bakst, Léon. Portrait of Sergei Diaghilev and His Nanny. Digital image. Moscow & St. Petersburg 1900-1920: Art, Life, & Culture of the Russian Silver Age by John E. Bowlt. California Literary Review, 02 Feb. 2009. Web. <http://calitreview.com/2465>.

Baskt, Léon. Programe cover, L’Après-Midi d’un Faune. Digital image. Ballet Histories– Russian Ballet History. Russian Ballet History Collection. Web. <http://www.russianballethistory.com/ballethistories.htm>.

Berthelomier, Charles. L’Hôtel Biron, Côté Jardin, Vers 1910. Digital image. The Hôtel Biron | Musée Rodin. Musée Rodin. Web. 11 Nov. 2011. <http://rs.musee-rodin.fr/filestore/3/4/7/3_c64aa25f0c63382/3473_7b690d2f0186287.jpg>.

Couch in Freud’s study. Digital image. Austrian Information. Austrian Press and Information Service. Web. <http://www.austrianinformation.org/september-october/2006/11/8/sigmund-freud-symposium.html>.

Duchamp, Marcel. Paysage Fautif, 1946, semen on Astralon, 21 x 16.5 cm. Museum of Modern Art, Toyama, Japan. <http://www.toutfait.com/issues/volume2/issue_5/articles/powers/powers6.html#N_81_top>.

Garcia, Luis. Crátera ática De Columnas. Digital image. File:Crátera ática De Columnas (M.A.N. 1999-99-65) 02.jpg – Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia.org, 11 Sept. 2009. Web. 25 Oct. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cr%C3%A1tera_%C3%A1tica_de_columnas_%28M.A.N._1999-99-65%29_02.jpg>

“M. Nijinsky”. Le Figaro [Paris] 30 May 1912: 6. Print.

Manet, Édouard. Manet’s drawing of the faun for Mallarmé’s poem. Digital image. Stéphane Mallarmé and Édouard Manet– Graphic Arts. The Trustees of Princeton University, 01 Feb. 2011. Web <http://blogs.princeton.edu/graphicarts/2011/02/stephane_mallarme_1842-1898_la.html>.

Metzger, Rainer, and Gustav Klimt. Gustav Klimt: Das Graphische Werk. Wien: Brandstätter, 2005. Print.

Rodin, Auguste. Femme Nue, Une Main Entre Les Cuisses Dite Naissance De Vénus. Digital image. Joconde– Catalogue– Dictionnaires. Culture.gouv.fr. Web. <http://www.culture.gouv.fr/public/mistral/joconde_fr>.

Rodin, Auguste, Femme Nue Allongée, Une Main Passée Sous Une Jambe Relèvée. Digital image. Joconde – Catalogue – Dictionnaires. Culture.gouv.fr. Web. <http://www.culture.gouv.fr/public/mistral/joconde_fr>.

Sacré-Coeur Chapel at the Hôtel Biron. Digital image. La Chapelle Musée Rodin. Musée Rodin. Web. <http://www.musee-rodin.fr/fr/le-musee/le-musee-rodin-paris/la-chapelle>.

Vaslav Nijinsky in “L’Après-Midi d’un Faune” in 1912. Digital image. Dance– Ballets Russes’ 100-Year-Old Revolution Still Dazzles– NYTimes.com: Nytimes.com, Feb. 2009. Web. <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/08/arts/dance/08maca.html?pagewanted=all>.

Audio

Debussy, Claude. “Prelude à L’Après-Midi d’un Faune.”  Nureyev and the Joffrey Ballet in A Tribute to Nijinsky, Perf. Rudolph Nureyev. :esuch Dance Collection, Nonesuch Records, New York, 1980. Rudolph Nureyev: “L’Après-Midi d’un Faune” Youtube.com, 11 Sept. 2008. Web. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7b1FkZYarU>.

Ensemble Musique Oblique. “Pierrot Lunaire.” Cond. Pierre Boulez. Rec. 2003. Schönberg: Pierrot Lunaire Op. 21. Web.

Video

I Want to Break Free. Perf. Queen. Youtube.com. Web. <http://youtu.be/f4Mc-NYPHaQ>.

Nijinsky 2 – Afternoon of a Faun. Perf. Vaslav Nijinsky. Youtube.com. Web. <http://www.youtube.com/embed/nMqLLYrEF60>.

Nureyev and the Joffrey Ballet in A Tribute to Nijinsky, Perf. Rudolph Nureyev. :esuch Dance Collection, Nonesuch Records, New York, 1980. Rudolph Nureyev: “L’Après-Midi d’un Faune” Youtube.com, 11 Sept. 2008. Web. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7b1FkZYarU>.

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Faces

Marcel Duchamp had many faces. Chance musician. Short film maker. Exhibition designer. Multi-media artist. Sculptor. Theorist. Painter. Global nomad. And of course, creator of the readymade. Duchamp thought in the round about the arts. We are inspired to do the same.

Portrait of Marcel Duchamp, photograph by Victor Obsatz, vintage silver print, 26 x 21 cm., 1953, private collection.

 

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