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Black rose heaven


No more pussyfooting around; no more prevarication: no more caution. I simply have got to get on and produce some decent works of art. But first I must achieve some sort of closure on the ‘Critical Perspectives’ disappointment.

Here goes: In our mal-functioning small group we had to agree on our understanding of Derrida’s theory (or rather philosophy’) of deconstruction, then apply this to works of art – and then develop and give a ‘Powerpoint’ presentation to our fellow students.

It was a highly unsatisfactory experience for me. Some years ago I had become familiar with Derrida – partly through a four-year philosophy course on the major thinkers of our time, partly through understanding Derrida’s debt to Heidegger and partly because I had read Derrida’s ‘Of Grammatology’ and ‘Writing and difference’. Did I understand exactly what Derrida had to say? No – but I had managed to get the gist of it. (I think he takes a remarkable ‘look’ at many aspects of western Philosophy but his is the kind of writing that requires long and careful engagement. And I never had the time to do this in my professional life.) But it didn’t matter anyway. My knowledge was virtually unusable!

The real problem lay in the fact that we, in our small group, had first to get some clear basic idea  of Derrida’s ‘deconstruction’ – and then communicate this in some worthwhile, clear and instructive way to our peers. But at no stage did I have any confidence that our group had, at the group level, a shared understanding. My sense was that the prior knowledge of one person in our group simply interfered with his appreciation of Deconstruction and I could never grasp what the other two knew. (On reflection, I could have tried a few more strategies; I could have said: ‘We cannot move forward as a group unless everyone articulates what they understand Deconstruction to be.’ But I did not do this. There will have been other strategies, too, but I could not think of any at the time.)

Later, I started to prepare the text for a Powerpoint presentation. I thought about the background to Derrida’s ideas and a basic approach to the practice of ‘deconstruction.’ I wrote out two examples of deconstructing a painting and a photo. I sent the whole Powerpoint outline to two of the group members but some of the text was then altered in a way that seemed to me to obscure rather than illuminate.

When the day of the presentation came I had resolved to remain silent. In fact, I wished that I had had the chance to speak – and to speak without notes. But one member of the group was obviously so intent on speaking that I thought I’d let him get on with it. What, after all,  was the purpose of the exercise? It was to allow MA students to grapple with a critical perspective. In consequence the presentation wasn’t so important. But, nonetheless, I hated the prospect of making a poor fist of things.

The presentation did not go at all well. At half-time – once all the other group presentations had taken place – I had become so disenchanted that I left.

However, since then I have been trying to develop something catalysed by my painting of the immediate aftermath of the fire-bombing of Dresden. That was where some of my mother’s relatives had been living. I am interested in damage and I realised that the damage caused to Dresden was an emblem of the damage done to my mother and then to me. I am interested in the trauma that is (endlessly) visited on individuals, groups and whole populations. So now I am focusing far more explicitly on the personal aspects of damage and being ‘damaged’.

Ideally, in a style that draws from Anselm Kiefer, I am doing my best to relate my mother’s experience to my own. But I need peace and quiet to get on with this. The painting is organised under the heading of ‘Black rose heaven’. (It is a heaven that my mother will have ‘all to herself.’) It is not an idyllic heaven. It is adorned, sparsely, with black-red roses. So far, I have prepared a background and assembled photos, two small paintings (that are self-portraits), some model soldiers and some dried red rose buds. The rose buds will be painted or sprayed black.

Yes: Black-rose heaven.

Post script: The idea of a black-rose heaven is taken from a poem by E E Cummins which begins:

if there are any heavens my mother will (all by herself) have
one. It will not be a pansy heaven nor
a fragile heaven of lilies-of-the-valley but
it will be a heaven of black-red roses …

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