Tom Bland writes a response to the exhibition Aspirational Bucolics by Benjamin Fitton at LUNGLEY Gallery, London which ran from 20th January 2023 - 25th February 2023.
I went off one morning to visit a few galleries
A grey January day in London
I have to say that I was so taken by Fitton’s show
(The other ones went their way)
One might have said ‘seriousness’ because it is very precise;
Very carefully orchestrated, but it is also funny;
There is an excellent sense of humour in this work;
And the serious and studied awareness of art in all the corners that are present to us;
But are not always picked out and observed.
I was so happy to be there with work that was thinking, allowing, friendly and knowing
It’s not very often one walks into a space and feels one is being given something.
The last time that happened to me was in Milan when I came round a corner and saw
Works by Jannis Kounellis and then again the same generous feeling in two works by Manzoni.
Before that other works in other places which are made with a similar capacity to shift
The mind as though from a non-space, a nowhere that is nevertheless there
With the same sense of precision.
This takes a life spent dedicated to things that are not obvious
But are there all the time.
There is something very human about that;
About the idea of a clumsiness that becomes the means,
Or a passing thought that becomes as potent as a powerful scientific formula.
Where does the thought come from…?
Ducks, quack, quack, stuck outside on a rainy windowsill
Inside the plaster speaks of distant things, evoking stuff in your memory
Or misty parts you are not sure of
Perhaps these thoughts are held by the carefully placed blue clamps
Framing the back of the ‘wall’ works, standing like an old Master on an easel
Or maybe the rubber gloves, gardening or trade gloves have become somehow duck-like
From Monet to passing clouds, thoughts drifting, are you here? Says a spectre ghost
Somewhere in the reading, literary or walking round a large gallery full of oil paintings of the bucolic
Sinking and the lifted out, given a voice, all ethereal…then quack, quack and back to the rain, London
What a treat! This is where we are now it seems to say,
But it’s not certain and there is something enrichingly uplifting in that.
Images courtesy Benjamin Fitton and LUNGLEY Gallery.
The British Film Institute selects "the greatest film in film history" once every ten years through votes by film directors and critics around the world. In the 2012 vote, Yasujiro Ozu's Tokyo Story was honoured with top place on the list in total of all the voting film directors . Below the second place in this list are some historic works such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Citizen Kane. Tokyo Story, which was produced shortly after the second world war, was regarded as "too Japanese" at that time, and its screening and evaluation overseas did not spread. Ozu's works have been gradually gaining popularity over the decades.
When Westerners talk about Ozu's works, the words frequently used in association are “simplicity", “absence" and “silence", which are similar to words used to describe Japanese traditional cultures in general, such as Zen and haiku. I myself am a Japanese haiku poet and studied in the UK for two years. Because of this background, I have often experienced similar comments from Westerners regarding haiku.
In fact, from early on, there were Western scholars who described Ozu’s works as ‘haiku-like’ in such a way, and there were objections by some Japanese scholars saying that this view was too stereotyped. Regardless of which view is correct, Ozu had been writing haiku enthusiastically throughout his life, from his twenties to his later years. He even had a haiku-penname “Tomindo (塘眠堂)" (literally, “embankment-sleep-house”), and at Shochiku film studio, he organised a haiku group with his colleagues and put a lot of effort into haiku. The following is one of his earliest haikus :
taller and taller
Although this was made when Ozu was in his twenties, it reminds me of the images of his later films. In my view, in a sense, haiku is literature that has flourished on the dense power emitted from plants or flowers. That could be a reason Ozu sometimes uses plants as implicit but strong backgrounds in his films. In Early Summer, the memorable ending sequence was shot in a wheat field (Moreover, the Japanese title of Early Summer is literally 'autumn of wheat'). Although in Ozu films shooting cameras almost never move, the camera in this ending sequence shows a dynamic move as well as wheat moving in the wind.
Starting in his twenties, he continued creating haikus to the very end of his life as below :
while fishing for sardines
I thought about
also in the dream
of rape blossoms in the eyes
that are still alive
yesterday and today
the eight-year war
the knees of a Buddha statue
With this haiku about fishing, it is interesting that fishing may be one of the most striking scenes in his films. The film There was a Father has a scene in which a father and little son stand side by side fishing in a river, and a similar fishing scene decades later in this film is intentionally repeated to express the change of their relationship. Also, in the film Floating Weeds, you can see a scene in which an old father and young son sit side by side fishing at sea.
Indeed, each of the other haikus seem to be connected to his film world in one way or another.
Aside from creating haiku, Ozu also enjoyed practicing renku. Renku literally means "lined-up haikus" and, roughly speaking, it is the method of creating a literary work as a whole by forming a group and connecting haikus created by each person in that group. And once, Ozu said that renku was hugely suggestive for his film creation.
"The composition in renku has something in common with film montage. We learned a lot from our renku experience” .
If there are some elements haiku-like in Ozu’s films, it is something that should be emphasized rather than the Zen-like "nothingness" or "absence" or seasonal Japanese emotions. As François Truffaut pointed out, Ozu's films have a strange sensibility of space, and I believe it must be an aesthetic cultivated from the sense of composition of haiku and renku.
Interestingly, in fact, even in the world of haiku in the same era as Ozu, innovation was occurring by introducing a new sensibility of space. Haiku is often considered a literary art that pursues the traditional beauty of Japanese culture, but this view is one-sided. In the 1930s, the modernism haiku movement took place, with haiku poets actively trying to describe little-experienced new spaces created by modern civilization, such as underground streets, aircraft, or mechanical warfare. Such modernist haiku was led by haiku poets of the same generation as Ozu.
Ozu's haikus in the era when the modernist haiku movement was going on contain the above-mentioned 'kissing' and 'glare' haikus. It is unclear how much Ozu was aware of such a new haiku movement, but those haikus of his have the vividness of images commonly found in the modernist haiku movement.
You can witness similar kinds of vividness in his films. Take a look at the famous 'sandals' scene here from Tokyo Story.
These sandals are left in the hallway of an inn which indicate an old couple is sleeping inside the room. It might be said this imagery implies a sort of emptiness like Zen. In a way, it may be true, but I don't think it is sufficient.
What about this imagery from Tokyo Story?
The old couple is walking down the staircase at a department store in Tokyo. This image is occupied by the rule of simplicity, you might say. But it is not Zen-like or even haiku-like. In my feeling, this sensibility is generated from somewhere between modernism and haiku-like essence.
Look at this imagery from the ending part of Floating Weeds which features a train passing away.
You may be able to call it a Zen-like image as well, but it is more than that. In my view, Ozu's sensibility in these scenes might be said to be something like modernized haiku essence or haiku essence behind modernism. Interestingly, 20th-century haiku history can be described as a struggle between modernism and tradition. It is often considered a conflict, but a few poets achieved the fusion of these two. I believe Ozu also accomplished this goal in the film field while learning a lot from haiku.
In any case, he began creating haiku in the era when haiku was about to be transformed under the influence of modern civilization, and he never let go of haiku while continuing to make films throughout his life.
 Hidetaka Matsuoka, Yasujiro Ozu's Haikus, Kawade Shobo Shinsha publishing, 2020. Translations into English by Yuzo Ono.
 “The film director Ozu talks,” Kinema Junpo April 1st 1947 issue, Kinema Junpo Press.
Images in order of appearance: From Tokyo Story, Early Summer (2), There Was a Father, Floating Weeds, Tokyo Story (2), Tokyo Story, Tokyo Story, Floating Weeds.
Further film information:
Tokyo Story (1953). https://www.criterion.com/films/284-tokyo-story.
Early Summer (1951). https://www.criterion.com/films/875-early-summer
There Was a Father (1942) https://www.criterion.com/films/22839-there-was-a-father
Floating Weeds (1959): https://www.criterion.com/films/349-floating-weeds
Theatre of Dreams: Anglo/Polish Cultural Exchange, exhibiting the work of artistic collaborators and married couple Andrzej Klimowski and Danusia Schejbal, ran from 21st October – 18th November 2022. The exhibition formed part of the inaugural Anglo-Polish Cultural Exchange Festival organised by the Polish Social and Cultural Association (POSK) in partnership with Ognisko Polskie (Polish Hearth) and the Polish Cultural Institute in London (PCI), marking the first time these three UK-based Polish organisations have collaborated in this way. The Granville-Skarbek Anglo-Polish Cultural Exchange, as it is titled in full, is named after Krystyna Skarbek, known as Christine Granville, Britain's first female secret agent, active during WW2. Included in the Theatre of Dreams exhibition was a new portrait of Krystyna Skarbek by Klimowski, and a new painting representing Anglo-Polish relations by Schejbal.
There is an atmosphere of night in the exhibition 'Theatre of Dreams'. My mind heard Demetrius' lines in A Midsummer Night's Dream:
Are you sure That we are awake? It seems to me That yet we sleep, we dream.
By the end of the play, the suggestion is that it has all been a series of visions appearing within a dream; the theatre has embraced the audience in a united dream.
Danusia Schejbal. Anglo-Polish Cultural Exchange. Oil on canvas, 2022.
The central painting forming the background image announcing the 'Theatre of Dreams', shows a standing lion with its paw meeting the wing of a standing eagle. The work represents a meeting of England (the lion) with Poland (the eagle). Dark blue curtains reveal this exchange, as though on a stage, the animals playing the parts of their countries and cultures. The viewer is invited to enter the exhibition with these curtains ahead of them, as an audience to the exchange, a witness to the dream. Perhaps it is the blue of this work that sets the space's atmosphere to resonate with night, and the use of animals standing upright like actors, that evokes mystery and magic. This resounds in Schejbal's 'real' costume designs for Macbeth which draw out the supernatural, magic and madness of the play itself. The luminous white of the birds as ballet dancers in another painting by Schejbal adds to the evocation of night, like moonlight at the forefront of the dark stage. With the slight blur to the brushstrokes, the sense of dreaminess is strong.
Opposite the door into the gallery, two eyes look out directly at the viewer. As two figures in profile appear to kiss across and within some kind of wall or frame, their eyes are directed outwards towards the viewer. This screenprint photomontage Synapse (1983) by Klimowksi, is a portrait of Klimowski and Schejbal. Their eyes, meeting in the centre, are framed in such a way that they become their own face with eyes masked in the manner of masquerade. We are invited to witness the spectacle and meet the gaze of the work.
The approach throughout the exhibition to space and the framing of space is striking. In Synapse, frames do not appear to restrict, but perform as another element to the image, indicating sections of the work that may be read independently, or as lines that are guiding a reading of the work as a connected whole. Klimowski's covers for Harold Pinter's plays published by Faber & Faber seem as though they have been extracted from a larger picture, and are not contained by the space of the page. Schejbal's paintings of stages appear to frame a whole picture, with their subjects largely in the centre, but are depicted as though caught in motion; the legs of the birds elegantly in the middle of walking across the stage. An untitled painting (mixed media on linen on board) shows a woman with fiery red hair in a leotard standing in contrast with the dark uniformly dressed people in the background. She appears in complete control of her encounter with a figure in uniform. Her posture and appearance is otherworldly, and as though she is about to walk directly out of the work. She is like a figure standing apart in a dream, the figure remembered upon waking while the rest fades into the background. Walking out of the painting, she crosses the border of dream states into the audience's waking world.
Andrzej Klimowski, linocuts (series of 6), 2022. Above: Christine Granville aka Krystyna Skarbek, Joseph Conrad, Sir Andrzej Panufnik.
The backgrounds of the linocuts created this year by Klimowski suggest further spaces and worlds opened by the portraits of Anglo-Poles they depict. Each portrait background is different, and there seem subtle references to their subject's work, like the sea behind Joseph Conrad pointing at his maritime background and writing, and the musical score behind Sir Andrzej Panufnik, a conductor and composer. The only background that is blank is for Krysyna Skarbek, perhaps suggesting her silence as a secret agent, and also allowing her face to stand apart for this Exchange that has been named after her.
The exhibition's curation was refreshing, unclustered in a way that allowed the figures within these works to step beyond their frames and invite the viewers' collaboration in the 'theatre of dreams'. The vitrines displaying books show the importance of the book form in this couple's collaboration, and recall Klimowski and Schejbal's statement: ‘We both worked as designers for leading theatres in Poland but on our return to the UK we moved towards painting, illustration and publishing graphic novels.’ The display incorporates the various areas of the couple's history of collaboration across English and Polish cultures and experience. The invitation here appears to be towards the meeting of minds, nations, people and sharing of cultures and ideas. The theatrical sense of staged and framed dream states is powerful and inviting of audience imagination and participation, an optimistic launch for the cultural exchange.
Installation images of Andrzej Klimowski and Danusia Schejbal: Theatre of Dreams at POSK, London.
The Skarbek-Granville Anglo-Polish Cultural Exchange is being led by the Project Curator Julia Griffin and Elvira Olbrich, POSK Arts Director.Project Curator Julia Griffin says: ‘Our project builds on the great interest in the Anglo-Polish cultural links explored in the Young Poland exhibition. The Anglo-Polish Cultural Exchange will double as a cultural and social campaign. Telling our shared history of Anglo-Polish heritage, it aims to create relevant and relatable content for Britain’s diverse audiences whilst countering stereotypes.’ It is delivered in close collaboration with Ognisko Polskie’s Ania Mochlińska-Rakowicz (Vice-Chairman) and her project team, and with the Polish Cultural Institute’s Dr Marta De Zuniga (Director) and Natalia Puchalska (Head of Education, Literature and Communications). The aim of the Exchange, constituting an online museum and research hub with a series of exhibitions and events, is to have it develop into a permanent physical museum located at POSK. The idea for the museum has been instigated by Dr Marek Laskiewicz, Chairman of POSK. Established in 1964 when Poland was under the Soviet rule, its notable avant-garde brutalist premises designed by M. F. Grzesik in 1971, POSK is the largest Polish Cultural Centre in the world outside Poland.
Images courtesy the artists.