Exhibition: The Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement is at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London SW7 from 2 April to 17 July 2011.
"The movement started in a small way in the 1860s in the studios and houses of a radical group of artists and designers, including William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. These were angry young reformers who explored new ways of living in defiance of the horrendous design standards of the age as revealed in the 1851 Great Exhibition.
Over the next two decades aestheticism burgeoned, drawing in architects and craftworkers, poets, critics and philosophers to create a movement dedicated to pure beauty. The aesthetic movement stood in stark and sometimes shocking contrast to the crass materialism of Britain in the 19th century. "Art for art's sake" was its battle cry, a slogan that originated with the French poet Théophile Gautier."
(Fiona MacCarthy, 26 March 2011, The Guardian)
"[Mikhail] Bakhtin's concept of carnival as a subversive, disruptive world–upside–down event in which the repressive views, lies, and hypocrisy of the officially run and dominated everyday world are unmasked provides a powerful theoretical concept for any study of Iranian popular theatrical and related musical forms. Bakhtin was concerned with polyvocality and the fact that from the onset of the European Renaissance the voices of the common people were increasingly not heard. The Islamic Republic's ban on the performance of improvisational comic theater would seem to support this theoretical stance with empirical evidence of official reaction. In the European context analyzed by Bakhtin, a writer, exemplified by Rabelais, enacts an important role because he or she reflects the voices of the low, the peasant, the outcast. In Bakhtin's view, the healthy voice of the low, which questions the high–the church and the state–is an important check on oppressive officials in a healthy society.
A full–fledged carnival–such as those in Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans–does not exist in the Iranian culture sphere. By carnival I mean a massive demonstration of excessive eating, drinking, and sexual and bodily exposure, popularly associated with Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, that does not occur within an Islamic/Iranian context. Threads and themes of carnivalesque and grotesque subversion, however, can be found woven through the fabric of the Iranian world. Here the needle that pricks the official religious, social, and political powers most is the traditional comic theater in its many guises.
In many ways siyah–bazi and ru–howzi embody Bakhtin's notions of the grotesque and the carnivalesque. Gholam–siyah, the blackface clown, the 'low Other,' always wins over his master: the world upside down. Gholam–siyah's extravagant clothing, movements, speech, and lower–class language demonstrate Bakhtin's dictum, 'the grotesque...cannot be separated from folk humor and carnival spirit' (Stallybrass and White 1986, 43). Gholam's bright red costume and conical hat, for example, are probably the closest thing to carnival costume in the entire Middle East. William O. Beeman, a scholar of Iranian linguistics, discusses the blackface clown: 'The clown distorts normal physical movement by jumping, running, flailing his arms, and twisting his body into odd shapes' (1981, 515). This is, of course, part of his repertoire, for sight gags make up much of the comedy of traditional comic theater. This grotesque twisting of the body is also part of the dancing that occurs in the comic theater, especially by the male characters."
"A time–capsule cult movie from 1982: A pleasure–seeking alien lands in downtown New York and gets caught up in a world of casual sex and heroin abuse (the title itself is slang for 'heroin') by insinuating itself into the lives androgynous hipsters Margaret and Larry (both played by Anne Carlisle). Curiously cool, with plenty of early '80s fashion, a vivid colour scheme and a weird, pulsing electronic score.
Dir Slava Tsukerman US 1982, 112 mins, cert 18"
(Institute of Contemporary Arts, UK)
"The child–mannequin–type figures of the sculpture 'Zygotic acceleration, biogenetic, de–sublimated libidinal model (enlarged x 1000),' 1995, are also removed from biological reality, and yet the body with its multiple girl heads, legs, and arms conveys the impression of a living creature. They are mutated organisms – fused together at their torsi; anus, vulva or penis replace nose, ears, or mouth – who seem to offer themselves sexually to the viewer. The theme of the work is, if one sticks to the title, cell reproduction and sexuality. A work that captures the self–reproductive manifestations of excessive, errant libido and reveals the obsessions of genetic engineering."
(The Kunsthaus Bregenz)