March 2, 2019

9.00 am: Into the city by bus, train, and tube, and onto the Royal Academy to see the Bill Viola [pronounced like the musical instrument] / Michelangelo: Life, Death, Rebirth exhibition:

The gallery was almost entirely dark, which was remarkable enough. There’re few artists who’ve spoken so engagingly, personally, and without embarrassment about spirituality and religious conviction. Michelangelo was a gifted writer, and so admirably human in the acknowledgment of his frailties and failings. Both worked (as we all live(d)) between birth and death. But faced (not as we all do) the latter fearlessly, with hope and anticipation.

Death is another birth, into an altogether better world. Viola’s Nantes Tryptych (1982) depicts a mother in the final stage of delivery on one side and the artist at the bedside of his dying mother, on the other. (I’ve witnessed both events.) In between is the metaphorical realm of a life-lived, conveyed by the slow-moving image of a body in water. To bring someone into the world, and to accompany another out of it, are among the noblest expressions of human love. Both Viola and Michelangelo sought to find themselves through their work. (Don McCullen aspired to do the same.) I do, too; but lag behind them woefully in this respect.

I took lunch in the grounds of St James, Piccadilly:

From there, I travelled to Angel, Islington to look at wools and take coffee:

The Don McCullen exhibition at Tate Britain presented a socially committed photographer who has witnessed and borne testimony to many of the major world conflicts, disasters, and injustices. And, against the odds, he’s lived to tell the tale. The images are an indictment against humanity: our greed, selfishness, and cruelty. It was an uncomfortable view at times.

McCullen prints photographs like an etcher. They’re dark and broody – as though some accursed pall hung over the landscapes that formed the backdrop to the horrors and sadnesses he framed. What did seeing the death of mothers, babies, and coerced soldiers, the destitution of the utterly poor, the plight of the homelessness, and the starvation of young children, reveal to McCullen about himself?

After a hurried fast-food dinner at Leicester Square, we headed for the English National Opera on St Martin’s Lane to see a revival of Philip Glass’ Akhenaton (1983).

It’s an archaeological opera about an Egyptian pharaoh who wished to banish polytheism and introduce the worship of one God – Aten. He also endeavoured to evolve Egyptian art towards a more naturalistic mode of representing, thus unseating a formal style that’d remained static for thousands of years. While engaged in matters of theology and culture, he’d became oblivious to the affairs of state. The kingdom began to crumble, and Akhenaton was overthrown.

Photograph courtesy of Jacqueline Harvey

Hearing what has over the years become one of my favourite operas, as well as an important artwork for my own development, live, was a thrill.

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