Wednesday, 29 March 2017

The Writer

For a few months in the middle of 2005 there was a giant table and chair on Hampstead Heath. It was a sculpture called The Writer by footballer-turned-artist* Giancarlo Neri. It had been exhibited in 2003 in Rome and went on tour to Hampstead Heath in 2005. After that it was sent to Monza, where it remains. Is it the same thing, or a recreation? I can't tell. It has held up surprisingly well.

* NB I don't want to imply that footballers are not artists. They are different artists.

I stumbled on it entirely by chance. It's in the giant park in Monza, but downhill a bit, and unless you go off the main drag you might miss it. Despite living in London I was unaware of the sculpture back in 2005, but then again I was unaware of many things in 2005, not just The Writer. I didn't know what the word sublime meant, for example; I understood that it meant "very good, like trifle for example", but beyond that it was just a word.

I know now that the sublime is something awesomely vast, too huge to comprehend, and that it is better than the beautiful, which is merely pretty.

Depending on the weather, Monza's park is either a lovely picnic spot or a terrific location for a 1970s horror film.

Can art achieve the sublime in a media-saturated age? Is the concept relevant at all? The likes of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and 2001 tried to evoke the sublime - but once the giant spaceships had become boring, what then?

I grew up during the tail end of a postmodern age, during a period which lofty grandiosity was as unfashionable as Newtonian physics. I associate the concept with Caspar Friedrich's Wanderer Above the Sea of Clouds. But it wasn't really postmodernism that killed off the sublime. At the end of The Wizard of Oz we learn that the great wizard is just an old man pulling levers, but even before then science had done much to dispel the fog. A part of the sublime died when someone discovered that you can make a frog's leg twitch by putting electricity through it.

We experience infinity every time we fall asleep; each and every one of us experiences the sublime when we fall unconscious and surrender to the void. For children, everything is sublime, but we grow up, we wake up, and find there is nothing there. As adults we learn that there is nothing. The merely beautiful may not shake the heavens, but it amuses and excites us during the short time we have between birth and death, and what more is there?

The remains of a previous large-scale artwork. Monza seems to be a graveyard for public art.

Monza itself is lovely as always. As a tourist destination it tends to be overshadowed by nearby Milan and Lake Como, and the majority of visitors go to see the racing cars. When I was there the park was getting ready for a visit from The Pope.

The park is the main event - it's huge - but the centre itself is a neat, pedestrianised collection of shops and of course I imagine it is extremely expensive to live there. The train station has the typical collection of people hanging out. There is a McDonalds. For the images in this post I took along a Nikon F-301 film camera, a Vivitar 70-150mm f/3.8, some long-expired Kodak Ektachrome, and some Fuji Superia, all of which I will no doubt write about in great detail at some point. I'm going to write something about Nikon's short-lived AI-S system as well.

Also it was a nice day and I developed blisters on my toes. Later on I had a strange dream in which I was having a shower and a European man handed me some soap while a load of elderly Italian people watched me shower, and it dawned on me that I was using up all of the water, but they were happy just to watch me have a shower. Why is that? I will never know.