David LaChapelle: Earth Laughs in Flowers
Continuing his beef with our celebrity-obsessed society, the surrealist photographer exhibits work inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poetry
Text by Felicity Shaw
From Tuesday February 14, the Robilant & Voena gallery in London will play host to a new series of works by American fine-art photographer David LaChapelle. The ten large-scale images, titled ‘Earth Laughs in Flowers’, will additionally be on display in Milan and at the St. Moritz Art Masters festival this month.
LaChapelle returns to the Robilant & Voena this year after his successful 2010 expo, ‘The Rape of Africa’, with an exhibition that continues his furor into the world of fine-art photography and that cements his position as a critical commentator on modern day consumerist society. The show is inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem ‘Hamatreya’, in which the earth’s flowers ridicule man’s arrogant belief that he holds a permanent and indestructible dominion over the earth he walks on…
‘Where are these men? Asleep beneath their grounds: and strangers, fond as they, their furrows plough. Earth laughs in flowers, to see her boastful boys earth-proud, proud of the earth which is not theirs; who steer the plough, but cannot steer their feet, clear of the grave.’ – Ralph Waldo Emerson.
The photographs reveal a series of themes and images that further LaChapelle’s preoccupation with the degenerative effects of celebrity culture, over-consumption and unnecessary indulgence in today’s media-fattened society
On the first look, the painterly-like photographs appear as vibrant still life images of floral arrangements; colourful and somewhat gaudy, but otherwise beautiful prints. Upon closer inspection, the photographs reveal a series of themes and images that further LaChapelle’s preoccupation with the degenerative effects of celebrity culture, over-consumption and unnecessary indulgence in today’s media-fattened society.
His captivating visual style and use of skulls, flowers and fruit imagery takes influence from traditional Baroque ‘Vanitas’ aesthetics. Literally translating as ‘emptiness’, the reference proves to be a great analogy for the ‘empty’ nature of vanity and vice that the photographs project. LaChapelle brings the genre up to the 21st century by creating a polychromatic version and inserting modern-day objects and products alongside the more traditional motifs, resulting in a greedy clash of colour, style and representation.
Raw chicken feet, decaying flowers and a gloopy oozing mess of sickly pink slush drink results in glycerol chaos, a somewhat slightly repulsive expression of greed
Furthermore, the images, in their large-scale manifestations, in themselves become wholly consuming – the more you stand and gaze, the more they appear to throb with grotesque excess. The fruit, once readily plump and glossy in ‘America’ and ‘The Lovers’ becomes corpse-like, slowly decaying to withered and bruised waste later on in the series. Raw chicken feet, decaying flowers and a gloopy oozing mess of sickly pink slush drink results in glycerol chaos, a somewhat slightly repulsive expression of greed. Gluttony is not the only ‘deadly sin’ present throughout the series though. Vanity, lust, wrath and envy all rear their ugly heads in quick succession through the use of cosmetics, sexual machetes and weaponry. It is a highly effectual method of averting our attentions, as the viewer, to the frivolous nature of consumer activity, and the throw away fashion of today’s popular culture.
This sluggish destruction only reminds us of the fleeting nature of the life cycle, and the pathetic attempt to assert authority over nature, which can never be controlled by man. LaChapelle quite definitely reveals our gaping cracks: the inevitable decay of beauty and the fragility of those ‘boastful boys’ who claim control over the earth but who ‘cannot steer their feet, clear of the grave’. It leads us to question whether the photographs are simply a reflection on the material preoccupations of modern culture and the transient nature of life or if they act as a precautionary warning, to encourage us to open our eyes, to waste not, want not?
Earth Laughs in Flowers is exhibited at the Robilant & Voena, Dover St, London from February 14 – March 24, 2012
Why do we read magazines? What is behind the allure of buying, owning and reading magazines?
There are, of course, many answers to this question. But if we are truly honest with ourselves, we might be able to turn the tide of our businesses or, at the very least, start a process of self-analysis that leads eventually to psychological and financial recoveries.
Some college professors will tell you that it is the form of the product-—rather than its substance—that maintains its hold on the public. I suppose that might be true for some magazine readers. Printed products do have a historic experiential hold on some of the reading public. But is that really it? Is it really the paper substrate and physical form that is the key to our ongoing and future success?
And so I am back to the question I asked: Why do people actually read magazines? The answer: to learn and to enjoy. That is the motivation behind most, if not all, reading adventures. We read to further our knowledge and to enjoy the experience. Sometimes, the learning is forced upon us by a job or by a school, or sometimes it’s just the need for that innate pleasure of discovering something new. Other times, we read solely for pleasure—the pure joy of wandering through a good writer’s brain. The great syntax road of discovery, where page by page you can unearth damn near anything that humans have accomplished, deduced, uncovered or invented.
Reading is one of the best indicators of exactly who the human race is. We can’t help ourselves. As a race of beings, we have a fundamental need to know things. We are driven to explore and attempt to understand, whether it is the spiritual whys, or the scientific hows. It has always been that way. It will always be that way.
So, the reasons we read magazines are much the same as why we read anything. We read to learn and to enjoy.
Books teach and educate, and magazines can do the same. Magazines contain the same things as books—words and pictures. Some magazines have fewer pictures than some books, and some have more. Why do The Atlantic and The New Yorker sometimes have more words than a good book? The answer is embedded in the design and function of those magazines. However brilliant the writing and the research is, the actual product of a magazine is usually designed to be a temporary and inexpensive distribution vehicle. Books are usually meant to have some permanence, and magazines by and large are meant to be periodic and disposable.
By Daniel Smith
In a world of instant information it would seem that the sale of magazines would be obsolete. After all, why purchase a periodical when you can have information texted to you with lightening speed. Why take the time to leaf through the pages of a magazine when you can look up online, anything you could possibly ever want to know. While the spread of electronic knowledge and information is on the rise it doesnt seem to put a damper on the purchase of Magazine subscriptions. There is something about the feel of the pages between your finger tips that a computer screen just cant duplicate. There is an indescribable joy in the luxury of words that can be spent on the pages of a magazine but tend to be lost on a Blackberry. Women will always enjoy the pleasure of paging through their favorite celebrity gossip magazine while under the dryer at the beauty shop just as many men enjoy catching up on the sporting or financial news while commuting on public transportation. There is just something rich and real about reading a magazine that supersedes the ease of information from electronic sources. The history of the magazine dates all the way back to the 1700s when the aristocracy read periodicals that contained news of parliament, book lists and reviews, and social and political essays written by the foremost thinkers of the time. Only the rich could afford to purchase magazines and only the few educated people of the time had the skills to read them. By the 1830s magazines were much less expensive and therefore available to the masses. Because they had a different target as their audience, popular themes for magazines included self improvement and personal enlightenment. After a while publishers began to realize that many people would buy magazines for their entertainment value and started printing interesting news stories and serializing horror, romance and fiction novels. During the late 1800s improvements to magazines came about through the process of better printing techniques. In 1870, printers experimented with better uses of color and were soon able to print adequate reproductions of famous paintings, so that the masses could enjoy what had been restricted to the upper classes for so long. In 1880 tremendous advances in the art of photography were made and soon it was possible for magazines to contain photographs. This opened people up to the things of the world they had never seen before. When publishers combined printed text with photographs, merchants saw the possibilities and suddenly the advertisements sections in magazines grew. What better way to sell a product than to have a description and a true to life photograph in your ad? With the turn of the century came better education. As more and more people were able to receive at least some form of education, more people were able to read and the demand for magazines grew in leaps and bounds. By the thirties, advertising in magazines hit a high mark, showing that the popularity of the medium had grown extensively. Soon publishers began to find niche markets from which to create unique magazines. Out of this movement grew the vast variety of specialty magazines available on the market today. For any hobby you can think of, there is at least one magazine dedicated to the pursuit of that form of entertainment. There are trade magazines geared toward just about every industry in existence. There are magazines geared for the interest of every age group, special interest group, and even many clubs and organizations.
The popularity of magazines is sustained because you can pick up a magazine at anytime and browse through it. Then you can put it back and come right back to where you left off. They are entertaining and informative, and great for casual readers who are looking for a pleasant way to pass the time while being entertained and picking up a little useful information.
The next time you’re having trouble appreciating Jackson Pollock, try seeing a horror movie first.
According to a new study, feeling fear may actually help people to better engage with abstract art.
In the study, which used 85 Brooklyn College students as a sample, participants were assigned randomly to one of five conditions: fear, happiness, high physiological arousal, low physiological arousal or a control group.
Fear was induced with a video of a screaming, zombie-like face, happiness with a clip of a baby and dog interacting, and high and low physiological arousal by having participants complete 30 or 15 jumping jacks, respectively. Participants were then shown four paintings by abstract artist El Lissitzky.
When results were tabulated, fear was the only factor shown to significantly increase the strength of viewers’ reactions to the art. “Art’s allure may… be a byproduct of one’s tendency to be alarmed by such environmental features as novelty, ambiguity, and the fantastic,” the study concluded.
“I wanted to focus on how our body literally shapes the way we think. The body is not just a vessel for the mind, it is the mind, it’s all the same stuff,” said Kendall Eskine, the study’s lead author, in an interview with The Huffington Post
Eskine, a research psychologist at Loyola New Orleans, is interested in the field known as embodied cognition, which explores the ways that physical states can influence the way that people think. Eskine is particular interested in how people process abstract concepts like beauty, truth, or morality.
One study in this field showed that participants holding a hot cup of coffee had more positive first impressions upon meeting a stranger than those holding a cold cup of coffee. Another study, run by Eskine, highlighted the connection between eating bitter food and increased feelings of moral disgust.
In the case of abstract art, Eskine explained, fear might stimulate viewers to the painting in front of them, in part because of the emotion’s evolutionary basis.
“When you’re in a fear state, it promotes fight or flight,” he said. “When you’re scared, [you focus on] the object that is involved in your fear state in a very special way. You couple the physical, visceral experience of fear with this object that has taken over your mental world — a way of describing the sublime.”
Eskine’s definition of the sublime is taken from 18th century philosopher Edmund Burke, who believed that a truly great work of art should inspire both fear and pleasure. Though 18th century philosophy might seem out of place in a contemporary psych study, taking old philosophical ideas and testing them with empirical evidence is one of Eskine’s passions.
“People for centuries have had provocative and interesting ideas and it doesn’t hurt to see if they work,” he said. “It’s a great way to disseminate information to people who aren’t scientifically trained.”
Eskine plans to continue researching different aspects of aesthetic experience, including dance, film, music, and more. In one recent project, which has not yet been published, Eskine had participants sit on the edges of their seat. Afterwards, they expressed “more excitement/anxiousness,” according to Eskine.
Eskine also pointed out that the results of his study could even be applied in reverse.
“Whenever you’re asking people to look at art, if they’re trying to get a sense of whether they like it, they could consider how it physically makes them feel and use that information as a cue to understand what it meant,” he said.