Adventures of the Black Square: Abstract Art and Society 1915 – 2015

Whilst planning a visit to London and looking at exhibitions in gallerys that I could visit, I came across an exhibition in the Whitechapel gallery called, "The Adventures of The Black Square". The premise of the exhibition is to show and reflect the black square's presence in art throughout the past century. The exhibition has four themes which are utopia, architectonics, communication and the everyday. The themes are explored throughout the exhibition, through photography, film, installation and performance. 

Black Square 1915 Kazmir Malevich
The black square started at the beginning of the 20th century with this painting by Kazmir Malevich. The painting itself was the start of a new movement declared by Malevich as supermatism, in which he described this square as being, ‘face of the new art ... the first step of pure creation’. By this he is referring to the beginning of the idea of abstract art, in that this square is absolute, in that it is not representing anything literal. More the feeling it gives and emotionally what it represents, in terms of Malevich's feelings towards art at that time, in particular towards movements such as cubism and fugurative art in general. 

What I find interesting about this piece of work is how conceptual it actually is and how this effects critics and everyday people's opinions of it. If you understand the statement of this piece and Malevich's ideas and intentions, and what this square really represents for him, this symbolic square sets an incredibly, powerful tone across this exhibition. As stemming from these pieces by Malevich, this black square has been used throughout the past century in abstract art and in particular has really linked with ideas about politics and society during the past 100 years. 

One of Malevich's iconic black squares starts off the exhibition and also the theme of utopia, which in this context relates to the black square in relation to the idea of abstraction, in being both the death and birth of art as we know it. In terms of being the death of art, this idea stems from the fact that this black, non representative square, with no narrative really feels like a full stop for art, in it's very obstructive sense of being. However as this exhibition explores, this square was actually the stepping stone for what became a global phenomena of modern art.

For me this square is a metaphor and represents the structures and confines of our society in general. In terms of art I think this is very much challenging the idea of what is art and as a fan of abstract work, I think the black square is a very powerful statement of how contemporary art has transformed over the past century. I also think the black square sets a powerful statement in that art does not have to be representational, and I think the way the square is slanted slightly and is not completely symmetrical, is really communicating these ideas about bending the confines of art in the past and how expression, does not necessarily have to come from directly representing a subject matter. In terms of my own work these ideas have made me think more about how I could use subject matter such as white noise that I've looked at, to make a comment about something more than what is literally shown within the image. 

Dóra Maurer Seven Rotations 1 – 6, 1979
When researching artwork that is displayed in the exhibition, I was instantly drawn to this complex piece of work by Dora Maurer, entitled Seven Rotations. Dora Maurer uses a range of mediums for her work including printmaking, film, photography, collage and various forms of performance art. Her most recognisable work was created during the 1970's, where Maurer created a large amount of experimental, conceptual work. Which usually consisted as a record of different actions, usually including Maurer's hands.

I decided to look more into Maurer's work and ideas, as I really love Seven Rotations as a piece of visual art. For me this photographic piece is really powerful, in that it is a very introspective piece of work, that feels very intimidate as we see Maurer peeking behind these pieces of paper. To create this piece, as you can see in the middle, Maurer took a photograph of herself holding a white square and then layered and rotated the image, so that each photograph would fill one another. I really like this minimal way of creating a very complex looking piece of work, that to me reminds me of a Kaleidoscope. I also find it interesting this effect she has created of revealing, moving, altering and hiding parts of herself and the image, which I find really intriguing and also quite emotional in the way this piece feels very human, in the way Maurer hides behind the image, looking straight at us. Really making us question how she wants us to react to this piece and also what she is maybe trying to express about herself, through this work.

The exhibition curator for Adventures of the Black Square, has spoken about this connection that the black square has to themes such as politics over the past century. Whilst reading about Maurer and her work, it became very apparent that as an artist, her work was never intended to be political, however due to the time and circumstances in Hungary where she was based, her work was very much interpreted as being politically influenced. I find this really interesting because it's made me think a lot more about how my own work could be interpreted, and how these interpretations can vary with conceptual work, which I am hoping to create.

Another interesting element of Maurer's work, is this use of almost seduction and enticement that we feel through her very personal work, that you often need to stop and stare at to really understand and gather an interpretation, of what exactly it means to you. This is particularly interesting to me as Maurer's work always seems so well calculated, in it's process that she demonstrates in her works, and also the way she presents pieces such as Etude 4, where we see the catching of a ball represented through various movements, that are presented almost mathematically in a table. This more cold process of creating work, really creates this enticement for a viewer in wanting to get some kind of emotional connection to a piece of her work.

Maurer's works are also particularly clever in that despite these complex calculated processes that she uses, her work is accessible and easy to interpret and get some kind of reaction from. I think this comes from the fact she records actions and movements that we could perform ourselves, bringing a much more physical reality to her imagery. In that we actually partake in these actions ourselves, as well as being able to simply read a piece of artwork.

I also love that this work enables you to make such complex social and political interpretations, despite being so introspective and human. I love the use that Maurer makes of herself and the human form, to really record and communicate her own exploration and feelings as an artist. For me Maurer's work is not about art, but reality and the way we are constantly changing.

This work has made me think about how I can communicate these ideas I currently have about mass media and the changing of technology within our daily lives. I love this idea of integrating the human form into my pieces and I'd also love to incorporate these elements of geometrical obstruction, that the exhibition looks at, across the time scale that really covers this advancing of the technological age, and I really believe that what I've looked at from this exhibition is going to be a huge influence on my final piece of work. 








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