Tuesday saw a walk on the theme of the Blitz with some students that finished in an old home, The Approach Tavern. The Approach was itself blitzed during the war and has the photographs on its walls to prove it. Further, the barman told me, its landlord not only carried on living on the premises, once the rubble of the top storey had been cleared away he continued trading the very next day. Which you might say perfectly encapsulates the ‘Blitz spirit’, a much abused term but in this context surely appropriate. I commented as I ordered a pint of Ordinary, London has always been a very thirsty city.
On our walk from the City to the East End we had passed through Bank station to see the photographs that recorded the damage done when it was hit by a HE bomb in January 1940. Being paid to be loquacious as a guide I nevertheless thought it was wiser to let the images speak for themselves at this point, commentary being unnecessary given what happened this week.
Despite having been a regular of The Approach in the 2000s, when my children went to school around the corner, I’d never been to an exhibition in the gallery on the first floor – I always had an exactly FT crossword and pint-sized gap in my day. So it was serendipitous in the light of the events in Brussels that the first time I should visit, at the insistence of a friend I’d met for lunch, it was a Belgian artist whose work was on display.* Her work reminded me of why I love Belgium, why I love Brussels and why I want to go back as soon as I can.
Like all good art the work of Cris Brodahl is not flattered by being photographed. This is why those photographing hordes clogging up the galleries of the world who see without looking are to be pitied and disparaged. The illustration above is more to underline a point about how the work in this show needs to be seen as a whole rather than as a collection of individual canvases. It is a suite, like a suite of music (emphasised by the spare title of each canvas). The shifting colours and interventions in the structure of the frame act as variations on a theme and I think would be far less effective if seen in isolation. Which is a good argument for going to see them now isn’t it?
The work itself, to quote the bumf, may ‘explore the hauntological’. It certainly operates in the hinterland ‘between Surrealism and Symbolism, photography and painting.’ Each is an image of a woman, a glamorous woman, one might say noir-ish, a woman whose image is cut up, obscured and stretched. Magritte obviously comes to mind but Brodahl is less quotidian in her motifs than him, her work is distinctly filmic.
They seem less portraits of an individual than expressions of a type of personality – a personality disrupted or obscured. This made me think of the Bazille in the Delacroix exhibition at the NG where the central woman in a portrait of three stares back at us brazenly, with an erotic charge that surely mostly comes from the artist’s (and his client’s) desire of what a woman should be. Brodahl seems to take that female subjectivity and look inside it and re-present it fractured by the spectator’s gaze until it explodes the traditional frame of portraiture.
Ok, maybe that’s the Ordinary talking, although it wasn’t that long a lunch. But the show made me think, and that’s what shows should do. I urge you to go to it. And then go to Brussels, or indeed anywhere else in Belgium, as soon as you feel that you can.
* Lunch was paid for at the bar and therefore not subject to the Rules of 2016. Thank heavens! I feel like I’ve done nothing but write about food (and mark essays) for the past week or so. For the record the haddock and chips were excellent. 8/10
Blue Badge guide to London and academic specialising in early twentieth century history. Blogging on history, academia, and food and culture in the capital (and occasionally elsewhere).