Friday, April 21, 2017

Human Fragility and the Neck

Art is intentionally crafted to visually elicit a reaction from its viewers. Some pieces seek to inspire, while some seek to cause extended contemplation. Others cause their viewers to reflect on the uncomfortable aspects of humanity that are so easy to sweep to the back of the mind. One such reality that is often ignored, subconsciously or otherwise, is the temporality and fragility of being human. The body is riddled with points of weakness that, when touched or threatened, cause one’s heart rate to rise and a few moments of panic to settle into place. Think of the neck; an elongated portion of muscle and bone that, if interrupted, would not cause mere discomfort, but death. Ignoring the vulnerability of the human body is typical, and is often only thought about when one experiences a close encounter with immediate harm. However, another way in which one is reminded of one’s own ephemerality is to be confronted with the temporality of another human. Art often accomplishes this task. The artworks selected for this exhibition are connected through subject matter in that they all reflect anti violent themes by depicting atrocities man commits against his fellow man. These pieces all depict the vulnerability of humans caused by the biologically inherent weakness of the neck. The focus of  this exhibition is to cause the viewer to be disturbed at the reminder that life is fleeting and our body is weak. I hope that this collection would cause one to reflect on the little time that each human is allotted, and that we would be reminded to be thankful and rejoice in the time we have been given.  

Francisco de Goya
The Garroted Man
Etching and burin
This etching is one of Goya’s earliest. It carries with it anti violent themes, by depicting the killing of an unknown man, and unsettling the viewer with a lack of visual narrative. There is no apparent justice for this killing, provided by the image. The viewer can see the band of the garrot strapped tightly around the neck of the man, and a tension is felt as to whether or not this man is dead or dying. The pained expression of his face elicits empathy from the viewer and causes an introspection of the fragility of the human body to have life so easily stolen away.

Francisco de Goya

Plate 39 from 'The Disasters of War': 'An heroic feat! With dead men!'

Etching, lavis and drypoint
This piece comes from Goya’s famous collection of prints depicting the horrors of war time. One of the more violent plates made, Plate 39 depicts three dead men, one terribly dismembered and decapitated. While all the men depicted are quite unsettling to look at, the headless figure is especially arresting. These men all appear strong bodied, and yet they have been conquered. This piece serves to further emphasize the temporality of man, even the strong, and the inherent vulnerable points of the body.

Pablo Picasso
Oil on Canvas
On display at Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina SofĂ­a
Much like the exhibition’s central work, The Garroted Man, by Goya, Picasso’s, Guernica, carries a heavy anti war message. The painting depicts fragmented bodies of both humans and animals, with distorted facial expressions of indicating pain and fear. This work was created in response to the bombing of the city of Guernica, and was meant to serve as a depiction of the chaos and suffering caused by the bombing. Notice the decapitated head in the lower left corner, as well as the disconnected head which seems to be swooping into the image. These separated heads serve to visually create feelings of mortality and disturb the viewer with the disconnection between head and body through the interruption of the neck.

School of Rembrandt van Rijn
Beheading of Anabaptist Martyrs
Pen and brown ink, with brush and brown and gray wash
This work creates a unique tension that is not present in the other works. This man is about to be beheaded, but has not been so already. There are heads of others in front of him, which foreshadow his fate. The neck of this man is about to be severed, thus severing him from this world. The violence of this act against an unknown man with no real visual backstory leaves the viewer questioning what this man’s actions have been which deserved such a death. This work uses the weakness of the neck, and the mortality of man to cause the viewer to reflect on his or her own temporality.

Leon Golub
Vietnamese Head
Acrylic on linen
Golub’s painting carries with it further anti war sentiments by depicting the violence of war against one’s fellow man, specifically pertaining to the war with Vietnam. This painting is both violent in content and creation, with harsh brushstrokes used along the neckline where the head would have been connected to the body. This harsh disconnect between the head and a body not even depicted causes the viewer to face the reality of violence and death during war. The viewer is drawn to feel empathy for this vulnerable broken figure, whose life has been cut short.

Michael J. Gallagher
The Lynching
Wood engraving
This engraving depicts a man being hanged from a tree. Its imagery is powerful in conveying the atrocities of violence against race. This work aligns with the others of the exhibition in its use of death to deter violence, depicting a death caused by a noose around the neck. The images surrounding the body seem innocent, with the glimpse of the sun, the rooster weathervane, and window shutters. These elements make the image feel like it’s set on a quiet farm, and yet the presence of the hanging man greatly interrupts any ideas of a peaceful scene. However, these images serve to cause the viewer to believe that this man was innocent, and undeserving of this death. This work jars the viewer to face death and reflect on mortality once more.

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