Monday, 18 June 2007
Jewels e Jim
The Associazione Culturale Azimut is about promoting new art; I stumble across its latest show, “The Joy of Repetition” in the Piazza de Città. In fact I am returning from a forlorn and ‘mournful’ visit to the ‘multi-ethnic’ hot spots north of the market square, where there are many bars; me and a cat.
In the Piazza de Città there is jazz guitar, free Camparis, interesting art, a large crowd, outside in the square thunder and lightning: why not? Part of the joy of travel is precisely not the following of guidebooks, ticking off churches or buying postcards in the national or regional gallery. Armed with Tom’s places (thankfully, in some senses, Tom is hungover in Turin and has no ideas about it, sees nothing, as far as he writes), buzzing with memories to re-haunt – I should concentrate on Eco and Pavese, perhaps later…
“The Joy of Repetition” is about the relationship between the ‘serial nature’ of reproduced art, and a restating of a “forfeited individuality”. Sculpture largely, the show by Jim Hake, an American, is in complete contrast, an antithesis, to the techniques and modes I am using: copying of data, art; the shuffling of culture, words, images and sounds by digital means. The memory stick as geo-social GPS system.
If the lifestyle I follow on the journey is slow, following the – actually rather speedy, given his options – footsteps of Thomas Coryat, my creative lifestyle is hyper fast: see, write, cut, photograph, edit – post. An entire morning’s sensory experience reduced to 500 words, written at speed to a self-imposed set of blogger deadlines. A friend wrote in the second week of the journey to say he’d written 400 words in the time I’d posted about 4000. Then again, he writes for the New Yorker, where accuracy, depth, and the “right” words are everything. The blogging life imposes a different, guilty, time frame.
In “Loneliness & Time, British Travel Writing in the Twentieth Century”, Mark Cocker, notes that Patrick Leigh Fermour, one of the “great” English travel writers, “could agonise for years over the mot juste…”. Fermour’s trilogy about walking across 1930s Europe was begun 25 years after the events. Which makes it art, I suppose.
“The Joy of Repetition” is the first solo show of the 41 year-old Jim Hake. He’s lived in Turin for eleven years with his Italian wife, Silvia. Time, the very time that the digital appears to efface, is a major element in Hake’s work: in process, in the methodology of creation, and finally in our reception of the finished items. Hake’s work asks us to consider “speed”, particularly those of us used to the “click to learn about Cesare Pavese” school of instant scholarship.
Isn’t blogging in fact the motor-biking of writing? Where journalism is the cycling, and Rousseau-esque hiking in the hills, the novel? Just a thought; passing around Jim’s show.
He was born in Baltimore, and followed a frequent pattern in American life, of changing city “once every two years for a decade or so…” He is used to impermanence, perhaps this drives the solidity of his work, and his like of staying in Turin now. “I’d already met my wife by graduate school [she is a cultural anthropologist, the one, Jim says, who makes him travel these days] and I thought: what shall I be, one of 100,000 artist graduates in the US, or an artist living in the Mecca of art, Italy? I had a very romantic vision about Italian art, working in Italy. Of course in reality it is the art restoration Mecca, about the past rather than now.”
Down the road is the Foundation Sandretti, glamorously run by a man who curated the last Venice Bienale. Almost every famous contemporary artist is likely to drop by: it being a nodal point where money, fashion, art and style crash together, like atoms at CERN.
“I’m out of that scene,” Jim says. “That’s not such an easy place. To begin with when I moved here, curators were happy to put me in group shows because of my name, it was chic. It wasn’t Italian. That’s what they like here, the foreign, it comes with the scene. It’s not an easy scene, it’s about power, fame and influence.”
Jim says the change in continents changed his art utterly. He’d been used to space, a “big house, a garden…openness.” In Turin it was an attic and “no money.” He taught sculpture, worked in restoration to pay the bills and get started. Now with two children, Noah and Gaia, he strives to develop his artistic concerns. The next show is Toronto. “My wife is the one who gets me to move, I need time, to be ‘in’ one place. She’s a cultural anthropologist, so it is her that takes me to Africa, to ‘see’ the world.”
When he arrived, “people told me I had to meet this English speaker or that, because then my Italian wasn’t very good. Now I sometimes stumble in English, like now, because I speak Italian almost always. So I met some “English speakers” and the thing is, just because they speak English, so what? The question is: are they nice people. That’s the ex-pat thing.”
In the catalogue to the show Diletta Benedetto says: “In Hake’s art, every repeated action provides us with an opportunity for investigating, discussing and approaching a truth, a truth that is ultimately a composite image…”
In the work, as in the experience of living “elsewhere”, it is evident that repetition is a very modern and widespread concern. When Thomas Coryat came to a town or City literally everything was new. Was he also, perhaps, the first Englishman (though not the last) to have a hangover in Turin? In 2007 it can seem that everything is about variation on repetition. My journey is repeating Tom’s; in turn it repeats the journey of Tim Moore, and of Chris, “the Peregrine of Odcombe” who made the journey two years ago. In turn, being a voluntary exile, as Jim has become (like Olen in Budapest), is in itself brimmed full of historical resonance: is this like Stein or Hemingway; am I inspired by my location, does it affect the concerns of my work? Is it just about, as the high-school graduates told me, imagining somewhere else as “better”? As Jim says, his rational for Italy was that it is the art Mecca. Certainly that was true in Tom’s time, but now that Mecca has shifted: to London and New York, perhaps. More realistically, it has shifted to the transient troubadours that inhabit art fairs to sell their artists’ work” Freeze or Basle, or wherever…there are hundreds of art fairs now.
In using the “model” of mechanical reproduction, variegated through the ultimately human process of finishing a piece, Jim considers not just art but the infinity of repetitions, in mood, moment and method, of travel itself.
This is one of the Google-Generation’s largest paradoxes, the more we can know, the more we realize it has been done before. The “Me” era, when Time magazine makes “us” the person of the year, is about our individual self-improvement, our “rights” as consumers in the marketplace, who must in order to stay sane, deny the self-evident truth that someone else has done it before. Until technology (and whatever social forces that emerge to encourage community, rather than singular “scared of other” or “too chic to bother”, estrangements) can help to provide us with a balance between the serial repetitions of life, and the unique human variations of ‘our’ life, then it is perhaps better to be like Tom in Turin: too hungover to experience anything.
Tom as Easyjetter. Never thought I’d see the day. Thanks Jim: for me anyway, the work makes sense.