Catherine and Ciara, who are both graduates from the MA in Art and Process (MA:AP) from CIT Crawford College of Art and Design began actively researching ideas as an artistic duo in 2020. The concept to begin developing artworks together stemmed from sharing a work space at the MA:AP postgraduate open plan studios in 2019. Both artists were awarded the MA:AP Graduate Artist in Residence position respectively at the art college; Ciara in 2019, and Catherine in 2020. Their collaborative research partly came about as a means to connect outside of a studio setting during the Covid19 lock-down but also to share ideas, inspirations and concerns about the future of their respective art practices in a time of global crisis.
Examples of Catherine and Ciaras recently exhibited works can be seen below:
This work was part of Catherine’s Degree show and was chosen (along with 2 other pieces) by curator Anne Boddaert from Crawford Art Gallery, Cork, to be part of their major summer exhibition 2019. This sculpture manifests externally the internal trauma caused by child abuse, held by the body through to adulthood. Catherine used traditional hand casting methods with a self-developed, mixed media, cured compound to create the desired texture and doll-like expression.
This exhibition consisted of various visual media: including Polaroid photography and sculptural installation but primarily comprised of large-scale charcoal drawings. Making this body of work, Ciara was drawn to the defunct architectural landscape of Cork City and County as subject matter and fascinated by certain aspects of utopian mid-century modernist architecture such as the retro futuristic legacy of the popular 1960’s animation, the Jetsons. The exhibition title is derived from an early docu-fiction by the artist Robert Smithson titled “A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey”, 1967 which records a journey through an industrial wasteland where the artist reimagines rusty pipelines, buildings and bridges as monuments. Taking a lead from the space aged optimism of mid-century architecture and invention, Ciara shares the desire of Smithson to apply her own fiction to less appreciated landscapes, re imagining what is already there This exhibition included a public talk and workshop on Culture Night 2019. Supported by Cork County Council Arts and Library Services
Loneliness and Isolation; Understanding and Expression through the work of Sophia Coppola, Sophie Calle and Tracey Emin
Chapter Three Where Troubles Begin and Logic Dies, My Bed by Tracey Emin “Bed shows the absolute mess and decay of my life”
In the 1990’s the Young British Artists came to prominence after Charles Saatchi gave patronage to various artists at Damien Hirst’s Freeze Art Show, this entrenched London as the buzzing new centre of the art world. Tracey Emin recounts the zeitgeist of the time in a recent interview: “Back in the 90s, it was all about cool Britannia and the shock factor” Although this world of new artists, galleries, art magazines and art audience was already very busy, Emin achieved a remarkable ascendancy as an artist-celebrity and media star. My Bed was made by Tracey Emin in 1998 when she was living in a council flat in Waterloo. It shows her real bed at the time in all its embarrassing glory, with used condoms, cigarette butts, dirty underwear and empty bottles of vodka accumulated around the crumpled stained sheets of the bed. It was first displayed at the Tate in 1999 when it was nominated for the Turner prize and the polarising work caused such a media frenzy that it pushed the gallery’s visitor numbers up to a record high.
Consisting of a rumpled, unmade bed surrounded by very personal discarded waste, a half-squeezed tube of K-Y Jelly, a used tampon, soiled tissues, empty vodka bottles, cigarette cartons and underwear stained with menstrual blood. It was a representation of a period of depression for the artist where she had recoiled from the outside world and rejected it’s standards for behaviour and societal norms.
Existentialist writer and philosopher Albert Camus wrote about the idea of being a stranger in the world without any true meaning. A stranger for Camus was someone living in the world who was forced to exist in a Christian way even though the individual did not want to be a Christian. The Stranger (1942), set in Algiers and written by Camus, introduces us to a man who cannot see the point in love or work or friendship, not unlike like some symptoms of a depressive period. He shoots a man by accident and is sentenced to death, partly because he shows no remorse for what he has done and doesn’t seem to care of his fate one way or the other. He is in a listless, affectless, alienated condition where he feels cut off from others. Camus describes this as ‘anomie”- someone who cannot share their sympathies and values. The opening line of the book already tells us that the protagonist, Meursault is in a state of grief and depression: “MOTHER died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure.” He sees hypocrisy and sentimentality everywhere and cannot overlook it, he cannot accept the normal explanations given to explain the education system, the workplace, relationships or the workings of government. He is highly critical of high society and its pinched morality. This character says what he is outright, refuses to lie, does not hide his feelings and society immediately feels threatened.
In 1999, YBA Tracey Emin challenged society in a similar fashion, refusing to pretend any longer, frightening the public with her brashly honest and infamous work of art; My Bed. It is an honest depiction of the aftermath of weeks of depression and confronted the classic ideal feminine boudoir which was addressed in an article for The New Yorker in 2015:
In 1999, My Bed was shocking to reviewers and gallery visitors, whom it helped to draw in record numbers to the Tate, not just because it presented what was an incontestably squalid mise-en-scène. In contrast to other women’s beds as represented in the Western artistic tradition—such as that of Titian’s Venus, with its suggestively mussed sheets— Emin’s bed bore the marks of blood, sweat, and, most likely, tears. The bed could certainly be interpreted as having served as a site of pleasure, but it was also suggestive of a psyche steeped in doubt, self-neglect, and shame. The bed looked like the residuum of a lost weekend, yet it also intimated that the bed’s occupant felt herself to be lost, too.
In various interviews during this period, Emin describes her mind frame at the time of making My Bed as being at a point in her life where she felt so depressed, she did not get out of her bed for four days. She hadn’t been eating properly for weeks beforehand, was drinking to excess on a regular basis and could not sleep at the time because she had not been eating. This represents a vicious cycle of self- neglect that many young women also go through, but which had never been publicised previously in such a blatant fashion. She explains in an interview:
I went out, got absolutely paralytic drunk and didn’t get out of bed for four days. I thought; If I don’t drink water soon, I’m gonna die, but also, I was in this weird nihilistic thing, I thought; well if I’m gonna die, it doesn’t matter.
She describes this time as a complete breakdown and that when she eventually got out of bed to drink some water, she looked at the bedroom and could not believe the mess and decay representing her life that she saw before her. Life had become meaningless, a state which the existentialist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche discusses in his notes The Will to Power (1901):
Let us think this thought in its most terrible form: existence as it is, without meaning or aim, yet recurring inevitably without any finale of nothingness: the eternal recurrence. This is the most extreme form of nihilism: the nothing (the “meaningless”), eternally!
She envisioned the bed and its whole messy glory in a white gallery space almost immediately, it had shocked her so much. “I had to move the bed and everything into a gallery space… had no idea the fuss it would cause.” A bed without a body, it was nonetheless a naked self-portrait of the then 34-year-old Emin.
Like the character of Meursault in The Stranger, Emin was up against heavy public scrutiny for her actions. My Bed caused an uproar, critical and popular, receiving criticism because it was too self-indulgent or not real art. When asked by Melvin Bragg on The Southbank Show in 2001, “Some people suggest, well anyone could make a bed like that and call it art. What is your reaction to that?” Tracey answered this question in her typical, straight-forward, bold and assertive fashion, “To that comment? Well you didn’t, they didn’t, no one has done that. To me, it wasn’t a joke.” My Bed, when it was first made, conveyed not just the specificity of Emin’s own experience of depression, but also spoke to the experience of many other woman who came of age in a similar cultural climate. Its implied occupant was an autonomous sexual actor—Emin’s birth control pills were part of the installation—as well as someone who risked emotional pain with every relationship willingly entered upon, and who knew to expect external and internal judgment. “We’d made our beds; we’d have to lie in them.” Emin’s bed was an interior, self-critical work, but it also enabled its creator to assert her power and self reliance. It speaks of loneliness and depression but also about how some can pick themselves up from these experiences, and Emin shares hers with the world, taking the unspoken and the unspeakable, and creating an installation that is full of visual interest and human vulnerability.
It’s most recent owner through auction, Count Christian Duerckheim says of the bed: “I always admired the honesty of Tracey, but I bought My Bed because it is a metaphor for life, where troubles begin and logics die,” Emin is a natural storyteller and her work is deeply confessional. My Bed is also a constructed piece of art, the bed is a ready made whereby she brings in the contents of her bedroom and challenges the intellectual pomposity of the conceptual art world. Women had made confessional pieces before such as Louise Bourgeois who is generally recognised as the mother of confessional art. One of her best-known works is Maman (1999), a giant sculpture of a spider that she described as an ode to her mother and Yoko Ono does not shy away from exposing her personal struggles either, including her fight for custody of her daughter in Plastic Ono Band’s “Don’t Worry Kyoko (Mummy’s Only Looking for Her Hand in the Snow)”(1971), but we hadn’t seen any of them talking frankly about failed love affairs, slut-shaming and abortions and getting drunk during interviews.
Now aged 53, Tracey Emin is an established figure, a Professor of Drawing with The Royal Academy of Arts, in a new phase of her life, but she is still never less than fascinating. My Bed as an installation returned to Tate Britain in 2015 for the first time in 15 years. Interviewed recently about My Bed, she spoke affectionately of it, explaining that she regards the work as “a portrait of a young woman, and how time affects all of us.” Its reinstallation at the Tate after a fifteen-year interval confirms its status as a landmark work of contemporary art, it has been loaned to the gallery for at least the next decade by Count Christian Duerckheim, who paid £2.5 million for it in 2014. Speaking at the unveiling of the work at Tate Britain, Emin admitted to feeling “a bit tearful” after seeing it installed: It’s fantastic, it’s like the work has come home. Weirdly enough, it was actually first shown in Japan but it made itself when it was at the Tate, and the response people had to it is part of its identity. My Bed now symbolises a distinct part of Emin’s past life, like a time capsule of that era. Speaking at the time of auction on BBC, Emin explains:
When I was going through all these things, y’know, there’s condoms, contraceptive pills, cigarettes, vodka, stains, tiny underwear, all of these things are to do with being a girl and coming through some kind of transition, a going through something, some cathartic state, I don’t live like that anymore.
There are things on that bed that now have a place in history for Emin; “even forms of contraception, the fact that I don’t have periods anymore, the fact that the belt that went around my waist now only fits around my thigh”. Since its new installation at the Tate Britain, My Bed now deserves a place in art history. It no longer symbolises the brash hype of the Young British Artists of the 1990’s. Girls and young women can still relish in its true relatability as a depiction of a depressive period, but it does not have the impact that it once had. This time around therefore is different culturally; it is now being displayed as part of 700 years of British Art, displayed among works in the permanent collection at the Tate Britain, The Turner prize however was all about fresh and new work back in 1999. This shows how quick we are moving culturally nowadays, that a work of art that was shocking in its time can become a relevant part of art history after less than twenty years. This work of throw away debris, unpleasant mess, turned out to be not-so-throwaway after all. Curator Elena Crippa echoes this sentiment:
It’s wonderful to have it back at the Tate and Tracey was very thrilled to have My Bed coming back here. It is a very important moment for her as an artist as well as for us as an institution,” she said. “It’s a new moment for My Bed and a moment to reassess it. It is not just about the media hype, it is about looking at the formal qualities of the work and thinking about the work in more historical terms alongside other major figures.
In an interview for Tate-shots, Emin described the process of getting My Bed ready to go back on display at Tate Britain and climbing beneath its sheets to restore them to the correct degree of disarray. It was difficult, she said, because the fabric had stiffened over time and that’s exactly how we can all feel about this work. “It’s sad and depressing when I’m reinstalling the bed, like a time-capsule of my past. All of the things around the bed no longer relate to my life”
Loneliness brings us to the abyss, as Nietzsche describes, and forces us to make a decision. The temptation to eradicate unpleasant loneliness is irresistible for many people, and they seek out any experience that will enable them to forget about it sometimes in negative ways such as drinking to excess as Emin once had. There is an existential safety in living a “relevant” life, being connected to the centre of society, having a respectable job, a family, a few material comforts. In the Will to Power, Nietzsche refers to these individuals: the lower species (“herd,” “mass,” “society”) unlearns modesty and blows up its needs into cosmic and metaphysical values. In this way the whole of existence is vulgarized: in so far as the mass is dominant it bullies the exceptions, so they lose their faith in themselves and become nihilists. Many find meaning and fulfilment in just such a life but that path may also be chosen because freedom and individuality can be viewed as a threat: some would rather turn away from a life that holds out the hope of creativity and fulfilment than endure the existential insecurity that it would require of them.
There are those individuals like Tracey Emin, however, who peer into the abyss and do not cower as she proved to the art world in 1999. This piece of social history is deeply personal, it’s part of why she matters as an artist. My Bed, with its dirty sheets is now more of a time capsule making it powerful in a different sense, more autobiographical than confessional. We all need emotional markers that show we have moved on in our lives. As its moment passes, so does the relevance for many of our own emotions in real time. My Bed also makes us take a look at how far we’ve come in talking about depression and in 1999, Tracey Emin offered us an intimacy, a snapshot of her loneliness that almost physically hurt.
Ciara Rodgers, 2017
Duerckheim, C., Elis-Peterson, H., Tracey Emin's messy bed goes on display at Tate for first time in 15 years, The Guardian, 30th March 2015 49Emin, T., Elis-Peterson, H., Tracey Emin's messy bed goes on display at Tate for first time in 15 years, The Guardian, 30th March 2015 50 Brown, N., Tracey Emin, London: Tate Publishing, 2006, p.6 51 Emin, T., Elis-Peterson, H., Tracey Emin's messy bed goes on display at Tate for first time in 15 years, The Guardian, 30th March 2015 52 Brown, N., Tracey Emin, London: Tate Publishing, 2006, p.7 53 Elis-Peterson, H., Tracey Emin's messy bed goes on display at Tate for first time in 15 years, The Guardian, 30th March 20152454 Kierkegaard, S., Upbuilding discourses in Various Spirits, Denmark: 1847, p.66 55 Adler, F., Laufer, W.S., Merton, R.K. The Legacy of Anomie Theory. New Brunswick, N.J: Transaction Publishers, 1995, p.11 56 Camus, A., The Stranger, translated by Stuart Gilbert, New York: Vintage books, 1968, p.4 57 Mead, R., TWO BEDS AND THE BURDENS OF FEMINISM, The New Yorker, April 6th, 2015 58 Mead, R., TWO BEDS AND THE BURDENS OF FEMINISM, The New Yorker, April 6th, 2015 59 Emin, T., Tracey Emin: The Southbank Show, London: First broadcast 2001 60 Nietzsche, F. W., Kaufmann W., Hollingdale, R., The Will to Power. New York: Vintage Books, 1968 p 353 61 Emin, T., Tracey Emin -My Bed/Tateshots, London: youtube, 2015 62 Bragg, M., Tracey Emin: The Southbank Show, London: First broadcast 2001 63 Emin, T., Tracey Emin: The Southbank Show, London: First broadcast 2001 64 Mead, R., TWO BEDS AND THE BURDENS OF FEMINISM, The New Yorker, April 6th, 2015 65 Elis-Peterson, H., Tracey Emin's messy bed goes on display at Tate for first time in 15 years, The Guardian, 30th March 2015 66 Cole, A., Tracey Emin's My Bed at Tate Britain, review: In the flesh, its frankness is still arresting, The Independent, independent.co.uk accessed 19/11/16 67 Mead, R., TWO BEDS AND THE BURDENS OF FEMINISM, The New Yorker, April 6th, 2015 68 Hoddard, L, Crompton, S., Does Tracey Emins Bed still have the power to shock?, The Guardian, 4th April 2015 69 Elis-Peterson, H., Tracey Emin's messy bed goes on display at Tate for first time in 15 years, The Guardian, 30th March 2015 70 Tracey Emin on THAT Bed, London, BBC Newsnight, first broadcast May 27th 2014 71 Elis-Peterson, H., Tracey Emin's messy bed goes on display at Tate for first time in 15 years, The Guardian, 30th March 2015 72 Elis-Peterson, H., Tracey Emin's messy bed goes on display at Tate for first time in 15 years, The Guardian, 30th March 2015 73 Emin, T., Tracey Emin -My Bed/Tateshots, London: www.youtube.com, 2015 74 Carter, M. A., Abiding Loneliness: An Existential Perspective On Loneliness, Park Ridge Center for Health, Faith, And Ethics, www.parkridgecenter.org, 2003 accessed 22/1/16 75 Nietzsche, F. W., Kaufmann W., Hollingdale, R., The Will to Power. New York: Vintage Books, 1968, p.19
Apart from the obvious- Ground hog Day (Harold Rammis, 1993), the “Bill Murray feeling/sighing” that I seem to be experiencing during this coronavirus pandemic stems from the character, Bob, which he played in the feature film, Lost in Translation (Sophia Coppola, 2003). **Spoilers**
I wrote a chapter back in 2016 giving my sourced analysis and opinion on the artistic significance of this existential, early Indiewood film directed by Sophia Coppola. It’s an early piece of writing (this is a shortened version) but I am confident it holds some interesting points for anyone who is a fan of this movie and wants to understand a little more about existential philosophy.
Loneliness and Isolation; Understanding and Expression through the work of Sophia Coppola, Sophie Calle and Tracey Emin
Chapter One Themes of Urban Alienation in Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation
“Melancholy is a topic I’m interested in more than something I deeply feel. There is indeed some form of melancholy in me, but I’m not the kind of girl who spends her afternoon looking out the window with a sad gaze.” Sofia Coppola’s films appear to be an insight into the directors past experiences and inner personality. She retreated into herself after The Godfather Three due to catastrophic reviews and the films she has made since, seem to embody self-portraits at an arm’s length.
In this chapter, I will be analysing Lost in Translation, 2003 and discussing how, as a work of contemporary art, the writing and directing of the film exposes themes of urban alienation and illustrates the philosophy of existentialism in the twenty-first-century to the audience successfully.
Alienation is a term philosophers apply to feelings of separation from, and discontentment with, society. Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) recognised the notion of alienation quite early, “for him, the present age is one that values objectivity and lip-service to ideals rather than action, publicity and advertising to reality.” The meaning of values has been removed from life, thus leaving many of us feeling isolated or misunderstood. The reality we are left with is that we are all alone essentially, from the cradle to the grave and being physically alone, far from one’s home comforts can only highlight this state of being. This is truer in the present day than it ever was, we travel and move country so often for work, education or pleasure and very often plunge ourselves into an alternate culture to what we are accustomed to, opening ourselves up to vulnerability as well as new and strange experiences. What the existentialist philosophers wanted us to realise, was what Socrates said over 2,000 years before them, “The unexamined life is not worth living”.
They also wanted us to realise that one cannot merely think out all choices in life, we must live them, even those choices that we so often agonise over can become different once physically experienced. Humans do not find meaning in life through pure objectivity, instead, they find it through a direct relationship between themselves and the external world. The self-aware individual must confront an existential uncertainty, instead of following any claimed authority or sacred book.
Sofia Coppola’s first feature film which she wrote and directed, The Virgin Suicides (1999) earned her a place with the new American cinema’s “smart directors”. Her use of irony and surface aesthetic style seemed to mask a melancholy nihilism. Her second film, Lost in Translation (2003), which she also produced and scripted, stars Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray as the main characters, both alienated in the urban environment of Tokyo. The film seems like it is possibly personal and is produced in a European art-house cinema style, a new genre of film production known as “Indiewood”, a term coined in the mid-late 1990’s to describe the blurring of lines between the indie and studio sectors. These films have a more alternative, distinctive quality that set them apart from more average and conventional features. Other examples include Paul Haggis’, Crash (2004) and Sam Mendes’, American Beauty (1999). These productions offer the irony or sincerity of the indie film but with a larger Hollywood-style budget.
In the opening scenes of Lost in Translation (2003) we observe the female protagonist, Charlotte (Scarlet Johannson), lying on a hotel bed alone at night and the male lead character, Bob (Bill Murray), travelling from Tokyo airport to Tokyo city by taxi, much of our viewpoint is from his perspective looking directly upward at the bright lights, massive skyscrapers and a sea of unfamiliar symbols. He is then greeted at the hotel by a group of Japanese people with gifts, business cards and bowing, there are many scenes like this which highlight the utter absurdity of many cultural differences and the term “culture- clash” springs readily to mind. Also, at over six feet tall, Murray towers above the Japanese hotel guests in the lift.
Bob and Charlotte are residing in a luxury Tokyo hotel for long periods respectively. Charlotte, a philosophy graduate who is feeling neglected by her photographer husband spends long periods staring out at the city skyline, perched on the windowsill, reminiscent of a caged bird yearning for freedom and purpose. She decided to come along to Tokyo while her husband works on assignment as a celebrity photographer, she is feeling lost and doesn’t seem sure where to go next in her life.
Bob, who is in a stagnant marriage but misses his children, is an aging movie star, a bit of a burnout, who is in Japan to advertise products. He spends his time drinking alone on a stool at the dimly lit hotel bar counter or in his hotel room trying to sleep, intermittently turning on the television to only discover once again, everything is in Japanese and even uncovering an old film he starred in that is dubbed over so he cannot even understand his own “voice”
The character of Bob seems to have been inspired by the writer-directors personal experience of the city: “You can’t walk down the street in Tokyo without seeing some familiar western movie star advertising a drink,” says Sofia Coppola. “They get tons of money for a day’s work and they think nobody is going to see it, but none of the Japanese people I know think it’s cool. They think it’s cheesy.”
Feeling alienated and strange in the world at times is only a part of the examination of the self. Kierkegaard explains: “It is a misunderstanding to be concerned with any reality other than one’s own ethical reality. Each individual cannot be defined: he can be known only by himself from within and to think of himself first.” .The film highlights how frustrating and isolating it can feel to be surrounded by things we do not have the scope to bring meaning to. In an interview for Focus Features, Sofia Coppola talks about the contrasts between the central characters whilst also reinforcing the idea that she is painting a self-portrait in some of the scenes:
…and he’s having a midlife crisis in Japan – where it’s already so confusing. In the film, Charlotte is having that early 20s, “what do I do with my life” crisis. She and Bob are two people at opposite ends of something comparable; she’s just going into a marriage and he’s on the other end, having been in one for years. There is camaraderie between them at the moment in time that they’re at. It’s two characters going through a similar personal crisis, exacerbated by being in a foreign place. Trying to figure out your life in the midst of all ofthat…I always do that on trips, just start to think of these issues when I’m away from home.
Another prominent scene that depicts his frustration is when Bob is working onset to promote the whisky he endorses. He is the only non- Japanese speaker and the divide between him and all the other set workers bustling around him is painfully obvious. He looks dejected and fed up and this isn’t helped by the fact that the director is exclaiming wildly and using huge gestures to describe what he would like him to do but, in Japanese. The translator then reiterates these fantastic long outbursts with a single calm, mundane sentence such as,“Please look towards the camera” Bob is flabbergasted and this scene is one of many that captures these alienating, absurd and awkward moments one feels in a contrasting culture.
Albert Camus describes absurdity, philosophically speaking, as our search for answers in an answerless world in The Myth of Sisyphus (1942): I said that the world is absurd, but I was too hasty. This world in itself is not reasonable, that is all that can be said. But what is absurd is the confrontation of this irrational and the wild longing for clarity whose call echoes in the human heart. The absurd depends as much on man as on the world. For the moment it is all that links them together. It binds them one to the other as only hatred can weld two creatures together. This is all I can discern clearly in this measureless universe where my adventure takes place.
The movies characters meet-cute is at the hotel bar one night, they both cannot sleep, a common symptom of Culture Shock; a feeling of confusion, doubt, or nervousness caused by being in an extremely unfamiliar territory. Charlotte sits down next to Bob on a stool at a respectful distance. It can be noted how Charlotte and Bob exist in relation to one another physically in some frames. The two are often depicted on opposite sides of the screen during mutual scenes, primarily the scenes at the hotel bar or at the Sushi restaurant where Charlotte and Bob are not on good terms after she discovers another woman in his hotel room. They don’t want to admit they care for one another more than might seem appropriate in a friendship yet they do. Always at a distance throughout the film, even while the pair are in the small elevator there is a distinct distance, a divide, a hesitancy. Roger Ebert discusses the feature in his glowing review: Most of the time nobody knows where they are, or cares, and their togetherness is all that keeps them both from being lost and alone. They go to karaoke bars and drug parties, pachinko parlors and, again and again, the hotel bar. They wander Tokyo, an alien metropolis to which they lack the key.
The film has a few disrupting, loud city street scenes with crowds of thousands of people rushing past. The street and party scenes are an overload for the senses; the car exhaust fumes, the constant horn beeping, the flashing bright lights, the eight-bit blipping of gaming arcades, the chatter of a foreign language and incessant beat. Coppola speaks fondly of the city in conversation with Ross Katz: “It’s crowded and really modern and such a mixture of American and Japanese culture. I find it strange and wonderful.” These scenes oppose the quiet views of the city from the safety of the characters’ hotel rooms. The imposing buildings take up most of the frame and the city is often viewed through car windows and train windows, a physical barrier between the character and the city. The characters are watched by the city and it is almost always in our path of viewing, looming threateningly in the background or foreground. There are scenes when Charlotte is looking out her large glass windows, which expand across the whole room width, where she is almost floating high above the metropolis from her hotel room which must be one of the topmost floors due to the proximity of other buildings. She feels dwarfed by the city, her helpless posture, and the cinematography of this panoramic ariel view confirms this. Coppola had her own reasons for choosing this particular hotel to shoot these scenes:
although I didn’t stay there when I was younger because it was expensive [laughs]…I stayed there a few times later on. There’s something very specific and odd about that hotel. The city is so chaotic and here’s this silent floating island in the middle of Tokyo. They have the “New York” bar and a French restaurant – but it’s the Japanese version.
Urban alienation, existentialism, happiness, and culture shock are the main themes of the film and it is anything but a run-of-the-mill romance comedy. As Roger Ebert says: Lost in Translation is too smart and thoughtful to be the kind of movie where they go to bed and we’re supposed to accept that as the answer…They share something as personal as their feelings rather than something as generic as their genitals.
There are almost-romantic scenes but the friendship remains platonic, such as when the two are lying apart on the bed but confessing their deepest worries. Bob no longer feels needed by his family and Charlotte feels like her husband doesn’t know her, mistaking her intelligent and sombre personality for snobbery. Bill Murray discusses this scene in an interview: I think it’s really a key scene in the film, I think that’s when most movie watchers decide that they like the film because there is a romantic encounter structure that we are all familiar with, and usually it gets to a point where the writing is not……. It makes a choice to go one way or the other and usually both ways are sort of incorrect for me, they’re almost not true in a way……. when there is a possibility of an affair, usually people will belittle their other life.
The earlier scenes of an obvious divide between Charlotte and Bob juxtapose starkly with the final scenes where both bodies inhibit almost the entire frame, except for the fast-paced walking of the many Japanese people around them which the pair do not acknowledge. The city that had once seemed imposing and frightening has now been almost cut out of the shot completely. They embrace for some time, she cries a little and he whispers something inaudible into her ear, she says “OK”. “Coppola keeps her film as hushed and intimate as that whisper.” They are in an imaginary bubble alone together, safe from the frightening world out there for a tender moment. They kiss and say goodbye and both leave smiling, it is left ambiguous as to whether they will ever meet again. By leaving the audience in the dark, she is allowing them to withdraw without understanding and leaves them alienated from the pairs intimacy. The song that begins to play has an elated, sweet sound, Just Like Honey by The Jesus and Mary Chain (1985) but the lyrics are full of anguish and despair adding to the overall bitter sweetness of the film. An article in Rolling Stone Magazine surmises that: “director Sofia Coppola uses this punk love song to make the finale seem inspirational, as if all of Scarlett’s wounded romanticism is ringing aloud like the Jesus and Mary Chain’s guitars.
The last thing we see is Bob travelling back to the airport by taxi and our view is of the cityscape once again but this time from a ground level perspective, the city has shrunk down to a more manageable size after his encounter with Charlotte. As if he has left with a feeling of having found something comforting and familiar in a place which had only previously offered feelings of absurdity and alienation.
Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980), an existentialist philosopher, warned us that things are stranger than we believe they are. The world is weird and uncanny, absurd and frightening but it is also rich in opportunities and we have the ability to change our situation. We might forge a friendship with the most unlikely of people in the most unlikely of places, and it may be beyond our understanding of how and why these things happen, but sometimes we need to accept the world, let down our guard and open ourselves up to the possibility of speaking a new language.
Ciara Anne Rodgers
Travers, P., Lost in Translation. Rollingstone.com, movies, reviews, 2003, accessed 12/10/16
Baker, R.E., Sartre and Camus: Nausea and Existentialist Humor, Colorado: Journal of Language and Literature, 2007
JUNCTURES: memory and the built environment, a drawing project.
Castleisland Day Care Centre and Artist in Residence Ciara Rodgers present an exhibition of drawings
Area Services Centre, Station Road, Castleisland, Co. Kerry
Opening event: 2.30 pm, Thursday 23rd January.
Exhibition continues until Thursday 13th February 2020
About the Project
A residency is when a professional artist is formally attached to a university, community centre, etc., to benefit both the artists development, and the locations’ exposure to the arts. Artist Ciara Rodgers spent seven weeks in October and November 2019 at Castleisland Day Care Centre, where she conducted research and created drawings with attendees.
The residency sparked discussion on local history and architecture with the older people while Ciara shared her experience of drawing. The period also included a group field trip to Hartnetts hotel to meet the owner, Jerome Hartnett. The group shared stories, memories and looked at archival material relating to the rich history of this building which has loomed over the town of Castleisland and remained with the same family for over 200 years.
Participants in the project created drawings from selected historical buildings in the town and looked at the Divanes calendar series, commissioned by the local car dealership and the work of a local artist, Kathleen Shanahan for inspiration.
This project came together with generous support from Age and Opportunity, Bealtaine Festival, Creative Ireland and the attendees, staff and wider community of Castleisland Day Care Centre.
Ciara Rodgers (1982) is an artist living and working in Cork. She studied Fine Art at CIT Crawford College of Art and Design. Ciara’s studio practice includes charcoal drawing, polaroid photography and sculptural installation. She is interested in the relationship we have with the historic built environment and the values or lack thereof we impose on it.
Cork County Council Arts Office cordially invites you to the lunchtime opening event of an exhibition by visual artist Ciara Rodgers at 1 pm, Thursday 19th September at LHQ Gallery, Cork County Hall. Opening remarks for Monuments of Abandoned Futures will be given by Dr. Fergal Gaynor, Editor of The Enclave Review, contemporary arts magazine. The exhibition continues until Thursday 10th October 2019.
Catalogue Statement for Memories of a Nervous System:
My practice investigates uncanny vistas and defunct, disappearing buildings and technologies. I research theories surrounding the modern ruin, such as the contradiction between the utopic ideals of Modernity and its current tendency to evoke ideas of alienation, crime and dystopia. Forme, the solid aesthetics and materials of Modernist and Brutalist architecture challenge an increasingly less physical and less truthful relationship with the world.
My multi-disciplinary approach includes taking polaroid photographs of anomalies such as brutalist water towers on the edges of urban areas and cast solid forms from broken or defunct and disposable items are a proposal to transform them into peculiar artifacts. I intend to indicate the off-beat quality of architectural or obsolete elements from recent pasts through large-scale charcoal drawing spaces.
Instant photography assists me to physically represent a singular moment (as a silent witness) and using timeless materials like charcoal and plaster, where the process begins and ends with dust aims to reflect the fluctuating horizon line of the landscape.
Ruined modern spaces interrupt the flow of capitalism’s escalated sense of the present tense by creating somewhere a little more desolate, existing outside of one’s everyday city experience. As author and philosophy researcher Dylan Trigg writes, these spaces are haunting in that they insist upon the integration of the past into the present by troubling the citizen with an uncanny effect, evoking a primal sense of “return” to an earlier period. At such “explicitly uncanny” borders “located in the discrepancy between place and time”, there occurs “a creation of a new place from the ruins of the old”. The current city site becomes a temporal hinterland haunted by relics of a previous era as the hybrid of the old and the new combine and change regularly.
While visiting some European cities, one can see that this is exactly what has happened with the architectural style of Brutalism. These buildings suffered the same fate as the Victorian architecture they were built to replace. Standing now as the ghosts of a vanished and failed Modernism, they haunt the city with a memory that many would like to forget, a totalitarian, regimented and collectivist memory, these structures stand on the edge of ruination, in an eerie solitude.
By the early nineteen-seventies, significant swathes of cities were transformed into either a futuristic Metropolis (according to the architectural elite) or an oppressive, alienating Ballardian dystopia, (according to almost everybody else). As structures, these complexes did not look remotely like any domestic buildings that had come before, even compared to the Bauhaus’s Modernist designs. Brutalists took the Modernist ideal of merging the aesthetics of the industrial and domestic worlds to a new level. There is no single characteristic that one can use to define the style but in general, they shared a bold, sculptural, concrete materiality and a left-leaning Utopian intent in their spatial organisation. Each unique building dominated the landscape they occupied.
Brutalist architects were heavily influenced by Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation, a vast concrete housing complex, linked by elevated walkways (or “streets in the sky”), in which shops, leisure facilities, and flats were all contained on-site and within easy access of one another. Completed in 1952 in Marseille, the building took Le Corbusier’s most famous quote – that a house is “a machine for living in” – and applied it to an entire community. The result was a self-contained concrete vessel that is structured like an ocean liner.
This was how the brutalists saw the future, with the city comprised of a continuous series of these sites which looked as if they had been beamed in from an alien planet, positioned on semi-rural urban edge lands or amid urban centres. In the pursuit of an “honesty” about a machine-dependent society they consequentially presented their buildings as almost pathologically repetitive, standardized and automated in their appearance.
Ideas of symmetry and duplication were now taken to bold new extremes, raw, reinforced concrete, without render, without façade, allowed to stay rough. “A material both futuristic and primal”. So, if one wishes to know why these buildings seem quite so relentlessly and purposefully ugly, it is because they were meant to be. Brutalists wished to keep architecture functional, striking and honest about both its intent for the public and the nature of the world in which it resided.
Many estates eventually fell into a state of crime-ridden disrepair with underfunding and a poor public unhomely image. Architects and planners moved away from the idea of a uniformed urban grid, and gradually began to drift back towards the disingenuous, labyrinthine and disorientating juxtaposition of myriad styles and vernaculars that the Modernists had once sought to replace.
The Robin Hood Gardens housing complex in London, 1972 was designed by Peter and Alison Smithson and is currently in the demolition stage. A fragment salvaged from the site by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London is to be transported to Italy and displayed at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale titled, Robin Hood Gardens: A Ruin in Reverse.The transformation of a once familiar homely space into something repressed and unhomely accentuates an unnerving truth the metropolis: that all structural “connectedness” is merely an illusion. All built structures, at their heart, will engage with an empty void despite an overwhelming desire for proximity and connection, humans remain fundamentally and irretrievably isolated.
This modern unhomely or unheimlich in the Freudian sense is described as such in his essay, The Uncanny:
It seems obvious that something should be frightening precisely because it is unknown and unfamiliar. But of course, the converse is not true: not everything new and unfamiliar is frightening. All one can say is that what is novel may well prove frightening and uncanny; some things that are novel are indeed frightening, but by no means at all. Something must be added to the novel and the unfamiliar if it is to become uncanny.
These gigantic forms often featured continuous block-like and sometimes disorienting geometrical patterns and elevated walkways with the functional frameworks of the buildings, such as elevator shafts, left exposed as though they were simply mechanical components of the structure shown bare.
In his text, Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopia, which formed originally from a lecture he gave in 1967, Michel Foucault (1926-1984) argues that “structuralism does not entail denial of time; it does involve a certain manner of dealing with what we call time and what we call history” Brutalist architecture then seemed to exist within two worlds simultaneously which can be described as a Heterotopia, a concept elaborated on by the philosopher. On the one hand the bold, utopic ideas within the minds of the architects, and on the other the often bleak, post-war reality of the world. There was a large jump between an imagined utopia and the subsequent failure of its realisation. The ruins of brutalism reveal that hidden memory of a utopian modernism which was at one time familiar to the city, creating an uncanny effect. Freud’s findings tell us that “Heimlich thus becomes increasingly ambivalent until it finally merges with its antonym unheimlich. The uncanny (das Unheimliche ‘the unhomely’) is in some way a species of the familiar (das Heimliche, ‘the homely’).”
While most members of the public are vaguely aware that such buildings were once intended as a force of good and intended to house displaced people in post-war times, these ideas now seem very distant. The architectures of the brutalist style were too unhomely for the population at the time. As Modernism fades from our favor, the effect is uncanny, projects that were once considered exciting, shiny and utopian are now decaying, graffiti-covered backdrops in Netflix shows or music videos. Freud’s term “uncanny (unheimlich) applies to everything that was intended to remain secret, hidden away, and has come to the open”
I have found the uncanny to arise most frequently in areas of cities which have remained hidden, denied or left to abandonment and decay. In Berlin for example, on a visit to the few remains of the Berlin wall, one experiences the feeling of uncanniness realising how quickly society moves on from major political events.
These ruins exist barely below the surface of the contemporary city’s life. A common example are the brutalist water towers of Europe (fig.6) placed starkly on the horizon of the city’s most liminal spaces which I am currently photographing in Polaroid format for my studio research. The ability to produce an instant small, physical, framed memento during the on-site experience of an uncanny urban moment feels almost magical in this increasingly digital age of screens. The unabashed truth and representation of dreams of concrete utopia are what attracts some artists to the image of this fading form of architecture as a contrast to what can feel like an increasingly less physical and less truthful experience with the world.