The Vortex

Vorticism is something of a curio in art history; while the name still carries it with certain associations of notoriety and controversy, the actual paintings themselves are largely absent. As such, a Tate exhibition recreating much of the group’s exhibitions does arouse a certain hesitant curiosity; in Russia a synthesis of Cubism and Futurism became central to the avant garde, why not in England also? As it turns out, part of the reason lies in the group’s composition; figures like Etchells and Wadsworth are not without some merit but are hardly major figures. Artists like Bomberg and Epstein were never formal members, while figures like Nevinson had a more distanced relationship to it. Some figures who were members, like Gaudier-Brzeska, are distinctive in individual terms but hardly representative of the group; his work seems vastly more reminiscent of Modigliani with its emphasis on African and Maori influences. Some of the exhibits are quite exceptional; most obviously Epstein’s Rock Drill, Bomberg’s Mud Bath (which compares rather favourably to the various contributions from Lewis; his portraiture works better) and Brzeska’s Head of Ezra Pound. I also tend to think rather highly of Nevinson’s work, although it rarely seems to get the attention it deserves; works like Exploding Shell and Marching Men deserve more attention. Beyond that, one thing that was new to me was Coburn’s vortographs, an adaptation of the camera to take kaleidoscope style pictures, turning photography into an abstract medium, even as the futurists sought to relinquish realism to photography.

Lukacs once described conservative writers like Scott and Balzac as being the most acute critics of contemporary; reading Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle reads very much like a conservative attack on the modern media; "the spectacle whose function is to bury history in culture… to restructure society without community" even as elsewhere Debord sees the spectacle as inherently conservative; "behind the glitter of the spectacle’s distractions, modern society lies in thrall to a banalizing trend.. the vestiges of religion and the family (still the chief mechanism of the passing on of class power).. can now be seamlessly combined with the advocacy of pleasure."

One of the distinguishing traits of Bret Easton Ellis’s characters has always been their flatness ("Rain’s preferred image of herself; staring blankly at the camera, so that her perfect features speak for themselves, but there’s the beginning of a slight grin she almost manages to make suggestive of an intelligence that the cleavage and her career choice otherwise argue against. And it doesn’t matter if any intelligence really exists as it’s all about the look"); the extent to which they are shells driven by their external environment and little else. As such, Imperial Bedrooms presents something of a challenge. It is told in the first person with Clay looking back over half of his life, inviting a tendency towards introspection on two counts ("you discover new things about yourself that you never thought were possible."), with Clay coming to learn more about himself as the novel proceeds. Ellis tends to distance the narrative from this in postmodern terms, by seeing every character in the novel as if they were a film actor; "the fades, the dissolves, the rewritten scenes.. we’re both writing this movie together… this isn’t a script."

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