Sunday, 31 March 2013

People and Crowd

A bustling crowd is like an absorbent sponge, sucking water in and out. It should be appreciated if disciplines and orders suddenly come in the way, and each restless, abandoned entity is made to march in straight lines, shedding the disguise of inapt boisterousness and simulating a performance of solemnity. This orderly crowd resembles piles of clouds that occupy the sky: rarely is there a prodigal son wandering off the group liberally. They always travel together; as a family they should. People can divine no explanations when seeing themselves constantly flanked by others of their kinds. The faces bespeak stupor and insensitivity, but once a knell breaks every head looks up in unquestionable promptitude.

The crowd of devout religious believers merits a close inspection in Paul Gauguin’s Vision after the Sermon (1888). A slender trunk of a tree diagonally separates the present scene with the “vision”- the biblical scene of Jacob wrestling with an angel. Reality and illusion coexist so harmoniously and almost imperceptibly on the same plane. The colours, although grainy, do not show any sign of disintegrating like those in a person’s faint remembrance, where everything will eventually peter out with the smoke. These women in white do not wrangle or contend with the confusion of the real and the novel, but simply closing their palms in reverence- a placid disposition not dissimilar to a peaceful lake, where water flows unconcernedly even when a leaf falls.

Blind submission renders each member of the crowd a wooden doll. Any emotional display seems like a jagged trigger of the doll’s limbs: ostentatious and unnatural to a fault. For sure a tumult will ensue when silence and calm no longer reign. The solidarity is still there amongst the crowd, but this time it is predicated on the people’s irrepressible urge to rebel, fuelled by their inner strife. In Otto Griebel’s The International (1928) an imposing group of people, despite their miscellaneous vocations, stand shoulder-to-shoulder as they belt out, presumably, the song of the downtrodden. Rarely in Western art do we frequent upon dauntless depictions of civilians in revolt. Mostly we are presented with the aftermath of the remonstrance (the graphic violence of martyrdom) or the stasis of those who are too sheepish to make a difference and preferring to while away their lives with a hangdog look about them.

It is moot whether the protestors will gain the upper hand. In a pessimistic light the song they sing might be so thunderous that in the end it leaves no impression on the superiors. But what they merit is the spectacle they create; as long as there is a crowd the attention is on them. The orderliness of a crowd is finally broken when attending a funeral, as seen in Gustave Courbet’s A Burial at Ornans (1849-50), some hang their heads in bereavement, others shed tears like opened floodgates, but the majority is stinted on exhibiting undue emotions. Blankness predominates.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Solitude and Loneliness

She who is solitary rarely lives invariably in contentment. Therefore she makes up dramas that seem consequential. Everything can be so easily dilated upon even when the surrounding is dreary, and days are padded out with insipidness and weariness. A sudden creaking sound can be construed, in her ears, as a romantic ballad still vivid in her remembrance- back in the days when she was the happiest and that song would repeat itself endlessly amidst the extended silence. She will later come to fear anything that refuses to be cowed to stillness. She often shudders when the streams of light flood in and dusts flit about.

Not all self-willed solitudes are reduced to such incurable ennui and depression. For the viewers who choose to be ignorant of the psychological aspects of living creatures, a lonesome figure set against a sparsely populated landscape can seem an exalted sight. The partial view of the mother’s face in Fritz Mackensen’s Mother and Infant (1892) bears only a flimsy testimony to my dogged conviction that the mother looks sorrowfully at her suckling child, brows imperceptibly furrowed. However the painting does impart a sense of peacefulness. The whole world lays still in deference to the Holy Mother and the Child, who are insulated in their imperturbable bliss of having each other. If Mackensen were inane enough to disturb this beautiful serenity by verging on melodrama, he would perhaps show a barely trembling leaf. But thankfully he did not. Instead an image of unassuming divinity that frequents many devotional pieces of Renaissance art is offered.

The power of being in solitude is often underestimated. I do believe that a consummate loner can effortlessly have nature and fate in subjugation. It is usually the most unaffected and calculated that will reign the little kingdom of his own, the wise will say. But it isn’t so easy when the loner’s life is suddenly invaded with two or three of his mirrored selves, all permanently plagued by insufferable monotony and chased by the shadow of his own fancy. Edward Hopper’s paintings are like vignettes of cinematic stills; the cinematic world Joseph Losey would have favoured. The acrid colours generate nerviness and render the pictorial space wider and more imposing. Again someone might want to charge me an overinterpretation, but for me the usherette indulges in somber contemplation whilst only a knot of audience are watching a black-and-white film. Different rooms yet loners are sprinkled here and there.

Overall solitude is a song, a song that dances and swirls at its will, and its melody lingers on even when arriving at the ending note. There is no coda of life in solitude. If one would like to consider his life an everlasting game then he was always fighting on his own, gambling away or battling through to ensure his existence in the world. The existence to die. The morass of contemplations and meanings of solitary figures can be best summed up in Edvard Munch’s The Voice (1893)- everyone is part-human, part-apparition.