I remember looking at Rob van Koningsbruggen’s work when I was an art student around 1990. He was held up as an example of a type of abstract painter who was much admired by teaching staff at the college where I was studying. He had taken on board in his work the lessons of American abstraction of the mid twentieth century without losing his European roots. Better still, he belonged to the Dutch lineage of abstraction.
Rob van Koningsbruggen, Untitled, 1985
I have regularly come across examples of his work in Dutch galleries and museums, but today, when visiting the Kunstmuseum (formerly known as the Gemeentemuseum) in The Hague I have seen a full-scale museum show of his paintings for the first time.
They were a succulent collection of canvases from the past decade of the now 71 year old painter. The paint and colour does quite literally on occasions ooze from the surface.
Peter Roseman, Composition on Drape, 1990
It was strange to walk around the rooms; I hadn’t expected it to feel quite such a visual reminder of the paintings I remember from the college studio spaces back in 1990. I just wish I had more photos from our work place back then. A very likeable exhibition, but at the same time strangely familiar.
As the titles moved up the screen, a silence held the cinema, nobody moved.
The film we had just watched was Ken Loach’s Sorry we missed you. Loach is well known for films with a social charge. His previous film I, Daniel Blake followed the struggles of and unemployed carpenter and a single mother through the UK’s social security system. In Sorry we missed you we follow the life of a delivery van driver, his wife who is a care worker and their family.
The film is captivating, but anything but an easy watch. There are small glimmers of hope to be found here and there. The resilience of family bonds even in the most demanding of circumstances for example. But overall, it is a grim and punishing indictment of the world we live in of zero-hours contracts, scant employment rights and impossible demands thrown down on employees who are left with few choices or opportunities to build a career or even a stable existence.
Loach offers an insight into what goes on behind our online orders, it is not a pretty sight. As it is presented in the film it is no understatement to say that it is an abusive system.
As my wife and I discussed the film on the way home, we both felt like the film had put us through a emotional mangle, where social compassion and responsibility had been all but squeezed out. We were struck by how Dickensian it all felt. This is a free market economy at its extreme where the workers at the end of the chain have few rights and protections.
It is a very British film, set in a clearly very British context. The EU does have its faults and difficulties, but it does take issues such as employment rights relatively seriously. Is a post Brexit UK is unlikely to see improvements in this area?
A film for school?
Whenever I watch a movie, be it at home or in the cinema, always at the back of my mind is whether the film could be one that finds its way into the film study course I do with the 15 year olds that teach. Sorry we missed you is no exception. And yes, part of me really wants to give my pupils a look at this one.
It would be a massive step outside of their normal film consumption of super-hero movies and rom-coms. But given the right framing up in the lesson material leading up to it I think it could be incredibly interesting.
The crucial question is always whether the film would engage them and capture the attention? Well, it portrays a world that would be recognizable in the sense that it is a family unit with teenage children, and does it using a narrative than progresses with considerable twists and turns.The social injustices of this particular strand of the working world would certainly be an interesting discussion to have. There is a lot on offer here, and we haven’t yet started to consider the aspects of filmmaking beyond the narrative and, in this case, the social points being made.
When teaching in the art room it is often surprising how hard you have to push pupils to get them to think creatively and challenge them to get them to go a step further than the familiar or their initial idea. There are of course various issues that contribute to their cautious approach. The pupils’ age, peer group pressure, the comfort and security provided by a familiar approach all play a part. The whole general structure of an educational system that encourages pupils to think that there is often only a single way to be ‘right’ and an ‘interesting failure’ isn’t valued in many other areas other than in the art room.
All these sorts of thoughts occur to me often enough when working with the children that I teach who are all aged between the ages of 12 and 16. But perhaps there is one assignment that I hand out once a year to the oldest groups that I teach that underlines the conservative artistic approaches more than most. It is a fashion design assignment. I should stress at the start that it is a ‘design’ assignment and not a ‘make’ assignment. We have neither the time or the facilities to actually attempt to make the outfits that the pupils dream up. In some ways this is a shame, but it does mean that the final assignment is only ever result in a drawing. This in turn means that the pupils can let their imagination run wild, their design is not ever going to be limited by their (or mine) abilities with a sewing machine!
I’ll be setting this assignment in motion again this week and I’ll be leaning heavily on the work of two designers who don’t necessarily let the practicalities of wearing of their creations be a limiting factor. Most of the pupils are aware, at least to a degree, of the catwalk shows from the various fashion week shows around the world. They may, from time to time, have seen images of one or two ‘over the top’ designs. However, asking them to push their imagination into these areas of creativity is very much the challenge.
The assignment that a colleague reworked last year to draw on the work of Dutch designer Iris van Herpen fits very much into these sorts of intentions and we will be making use of here creative process again. Added to this will be photographs that I have made this week whilst visiting the Kunsthal in Rotterdam to see the exhibition by Thierry Mugler. It was a very theatrical experience to visit the show. Video projections met you as you entered the space and each separate room was referred to as an ‘Act’. Some designs were stylish and elegant evening wear, but others were extraordinary for their exuberance strangely retro qualities. Bodices modelled on classic American automobile styling, sometimes complete with wing mirrors. A series of ‘fembot’ cladding with their roots seemingly in the sci-fi cinema of the 1920s and 30s. And finally, one outfit that was constructed with an array of exhaust pipes with clear motorcycle references.
I’m left with two thoughts. Are these the designs to tempt my teenage designers to push the creative boat out, and are Mugler and van Herpen’s designs the ones to tempt the boys away from choosing the parallel running architect design assignment instead?