Spoleto | Siena
This is brilliant for a number of reasons, not least the music. If you want subtitles, you can get them by clicking “cc” on the bottom of each player.
ALAIN RESNAIS & CHRIS MARKER “Les Statues meurent aussi” (1953)
I have just finished reading “A Picture History of Archaeology” by C.W. Ceram. Its a very readable, well illustrated introduction to archaeology from 1958. Ceram’s real name was Kurt Wilhelm Marek, a German who apparently changed his name to distance himself from his propaganda work for the Third Reich. Ceram’s most famous book is “Gods, Graves & Scholars” which I have, but haven’t read yet. Ceram/Malek is also known for saying
“genius is the ability to reduce the complicated to the simple”
which is just about the opposite of what I seem to do on this blog. Anyway, back to the book. Its from this book that I went on to find the drawings in my previous post from Nimrud.
And so, the vast wealth of ancient history and civilisation that is/was present in Iraq became intriguing. Its no real surprise to anyone that Babylon/Babel was once part of what is now modern Iraq. I wasn’t aware that Saddam Hussein had built a ziggerut palace (which is now a hotel) next to Nebuchadnezzar‘s palace, as well as (re)building on top of the ancient remains of that ancient 600-room palace.
Saddam had written on the bricks “In the era of Saddam Hussein, protector of Iraq, who rebuilt civilisation and rebuilt Babylon” – those bricks apparently lasted just 10 years, compared to the 2,500 years of the others. Interestingly, after the damage caused by Saddam, American and Polish troops then added their own damage to the site after the invasion of Iraq. Once they had established a camp at Babylon in 2003 (intially to stop looting – though Saddam’s palace was extensively looted) which included a fuel farm, ammunition stores, a helipad etc they proceeded to dig trenches into ancient grounds, damage pavements, move around soil (much needed for archaeological research), bring in foreign soil, fill sandbags with ancient soil (and bones) break a bit of the Ishtar Gate and accidentally find ancient vases. UNESCO completed a report into the site after a British Museum report was completed in December 2004. And so, I started to find photos of soldiers hanging out in the ancient sites.
There is an interesting parallel to be drawn with the treatment of some of the monuments commissioned by Saddam during his reign. “Hands of Victory” is the infamous statue of two arms (based on Saddam’s) holding swords across a motorway. The monument was apparently made partly from melted down Iraqi guns and tanks from the Iran-Iraq war.
Around the wrists of the arms supposedly lie over 5000 helmets from Iranian victims of said war. It was decided in 2007, after Saddams capture etc, to dismantle the monument which began in February 2007 – but after the US ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, objected to the Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki‘s decision – the dismantling stopped, and as far as I can work out, the monument is still up.
I read an interesting article about the proposed destruction where Ghaith Abdul Ahad, an Iraqi architect-turned-journalist said
“Nebuchadnezzar was a tyrant and Saddam was a tyrant. Together, they spanned “a continuous line of despotism”
This to me raises interesting issues regarding the nature of archaeology and preservation – I guess with technological advancements the nature of recording and remembering the behaviour (politically and architecturally) of leaders has changed. There are endless photographs, videos, reports, interviews, trials etc that theoretically keep the actions of Saddam alive for future generations. However, if there comes a time of technological breakdown (as described in “A Canticle for Liebowitz”) then all that might be left are the overblown creations (Saddam apparently drew the designs) of an egotistical maniac. If that is to happen though, I’m not sure how important Hands of Victory will really be – they are clearly not the construction of the worlds greatest civilisation of the time.. Nevertheless, the decisions on such things are complicated and loaded, particularly in sectarian environment such as Iraq – it can be very difficult for the Iraqi victims of someone like Saddam to “decide what should happen to them” as British Museum director Neil MacGregor said in 2004.
Another interesting element to the Hands of Victory is that the bronze-cast hands and arms of the monument were constructed in Britain, by Morris Singer Art Founders, Braintree in 1989. This company, which was established in 1848 and helped make works by Barbara Hepworth and arch conservative Alexander Stoddart, eventually faced liquidation in 2005 largely due to an unpaid bill by Saddam Hussein for a bronze flag. In June of this year, the company was purchased by Nasser Azam and renamed Zahra Modern Art Foundry. Nasser Azam is an interesting figure. He is a former Merrill Lynch banker turned artist, born in Pakistan and brought up in London. His wikipedia entry describes his paintings as being compared to Willem de Kooning and he made the headlines in 2008 for painting “in space” aboard a Russian parabolic aircraft. Then, this year, he painted while hanging out in Antarctica. You can see him doing so on his incredibly annoying, un-navigable website, where he is apparently reacting to the unique landscape in that part of the world by squeezing out brown paint onto big yellow, red and blue squares. There is also an image of a horrible sculpture called “The Dance” which has “AZAM” written all around the plinth.
And so, there we are, two hours spent reading shite on the internet and doing my best not to
“reduce the complicated to the simple”
These beautiful drawings come from “Monuments of Nineveh” by Austen Henry Layard which was published in 1849. I found them at the New York Public Library website. Layard was a fascinating figure who was a traveller, archaeologist, artist, art dealer and politician. In 1847 he discovered the remains (from what I can work out) of Nimrud, but thought it was Nineveh. He died in London in 1897.
These images are all from the book “PICASSO – Linoleum Cuts – The Mr. & Mrs. Charles Kramer Collection”. All of them apart from the one above are posters made specifically for events in the small French town of Vallauris, where Picasso also made most of his ceramics. The photo of at the bottom is from a visit to Vallauris, where Picasso also painted a War & Peace Mural – which to be honest is not nearly as interesting as the ceramics or the printmaking. There is a nice wee museum where his ceramics studio used to be, and you can still buy some of the ceramics there. Apparently, Picasso was highly regarded for making prints of many colours using the same sheet of lino, reducing it after each colour, but I thought thats what everyone did.
I have been reading a book about the Neues Museum in Berlin and it reminded me of visiting it last November. This building is one of my most pleasurable architectural experiences (along with the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, with frescoes by Giotto and the Chapel Saint Pierre in Villefranche sur Mer decorated by Jean Cocteau)…… The Neues Museum was originally designed by Friedrich August Stueler and opened in 1855 on Museum Island in Berlin. During the Second World War it was badly damaged, not really maintained after that (serving as a store for the other museums on the island) until the mid 80’s when the GDR decided to put in some steel on concrete, but didnt finish it. Then after the wall came down, it was decided to renovate the building, and David Chipperfield won the commission (more below)
The new museum opened in October last year and its just incredible. Lots of detail from the original design, damage done during the war, weather beaten parts and the like, have been partially restored. Meaning there are patches of paint, bits of tiles, bricks etc all sitting alongside necessary contemporary intervention such as staircases, walls, flooring and ceilings. There is such a richness of materials and detailing. The building works particularly well as a museum, because it IS a museum piece in itself. Seeing the shrapnel damage to the exterior, the weather beaten wall paintings and more, clearly illustrates the buildings history, but not in an insensitive way. I guess I was bound to like this building for a number of reasons – 1. it was partially ruined, 2.it was a museum, 3.it was in berlin, 4.its got nice tiling. However there are other things that made the visit particularly interesting. The musuem is now (and was until 1939, when it moved to a salt mine for a while) the home of the famous bust of Nefertiti.
I first saw this bust during a family visit to Berlin in the summer of 1989, just before the wall came down. Along with memories of lightweight East German money, men with guns, the giant golden angel, watching the Neverending Story in a caravan, cheap crystal and visiting the East, seeing Nefertiti lit up in a darkened room in the Charlottenburg Palace was magical. I also recall there being a woman dressed in black from head to toe, with long black hair circling the bust as I looked at her.
Nefertiti is clearly one of the most popular and iconic exhibits in the Neues Museum, but for me, I particularly like that the bust seems to reflect the current condition of the museum itself. It is undoubtedly beautiful, with little bits chipped here and there, nice tones to the colours, and is protected in an ultramodern encasing. The museum has a great website where you can take a very in-depth virtual tour and zoom into the details and see what it looked like before the restoration and I am posting some of my photos below (which dont do any justice to the actual architecture). I urge everyone who makes a trip to Berlin to visit the Museum.