Forgive the crappy photography – an amazing disused Boulangerie in St Gilles. Bone like enamelled Art Nouveau supports, for skeleton loaves. I think that I might like Art Nouveau because it really challenges taste, it is beautiful but also ugly and florid, not good taste at all by current standards, and that is interesting.
Brussels’ architectural composition is heavily laced with Art Noveau, butted up against annonymous tiled apartments, golden glass skyscrapers and peeling wooden shutters. Walking around my local area of Ixelles there are many beautiful sgraffito murals and bronze door knockers to be seen despite the uncontrolled developments of the 1960s. On Wednesday I visited the Victor Horta museum, which attempts to restore and preserve his house and studio. As a structure it evokes a strange uneasiness of Modernism that is not Modern, in the sense of Art History. In fact it is a blind spot of Art History, too decorative, louche and well, freaky to be fitted into the canon properly.
Horta subscribed to the gesamtkunstwerk, or ‘total work of art’, a term first used by K. F. E. Trahndorff in an essay in 1827. Richard Wagner also used thMORE
J and I are now living in Brussels for a while. By the kind auspices of friends of friends in the arts community we have found a wonderful flat to sublet for the first few weeks. The flat inhabits the body of an old ballroom, in a slowly decaying Art Nouveau house. We live mainly in one grandly proportioned room with magnificent windows and intricate parquet floor. In the manner of hermit crabs we live in this grand shell, it feels like camping, or breaking into an abandoned castle – and reminds me a little of the parts of Varda’s ‘Sans Toit ni loi’, where Mona lives in the chateau. It is a beautiful space, and we are now spoilt for ‘normal’ flats.
You know Art Nouveau? I used to really like it when I was a teenager (my parents are big fans), the rich and delicate curves, lush vegetable asymmetry, and it’s romantic qualities. Then I went to art school and it started seeming increasingly kitsch and irrelevant. Now that I am using a lot of plant forms in my work, and trying to work with forms that seem both familiar (observed or constructed from the natural world) and alien (abstract and fantastical), Art Nouveau seems strangely relevant again. Only now I am looking at it from the other end of the telescope.
Lately I have been watching a lot of early films from the 1890s- 1900s, and discovered films of the Serpentine and Flame dances made famous by Loie Fuller and represented in many Art Nouveau statuettes.
Shown in this (link above) early hand coloured film, a Serpentine dance of a similarMORE