November 05, 2016

The Mathis der Maler Question

One of the great pleasures and stimulations of working with artists who connect to the cultural moment that is Bury has been the development of the personal creative dialogues that have blossomed over the years. Lots of collaborations have grown out of the confluence of artists meeting through Bury. Some of them have even involved me, as an artist rather than curator. The most recent is the new 'Place' project with Jayne Dyer which has dragged me back into writing poems. One of my last before my 'poetry retirement' in 2010 was my poetic response to a question that Riiko Sakkinen posted back in 2009(ish) - the eternal question for artists - how does the artist engage with the revolutionary struggle (or words to that effect)? This resonated with me because (not a lot of people know [or care probably] that) my favourite composer is Paul Hindemith and my favourite piece of music (since 1982 when I first heard it) is his Mathis der Maler Symphony.  The Symphony is the orchestral version of the opera of the same name in which Mathis the painter struggles for artistic freedom in the Protestant Reformation. My answer to the question is the poem below, which was published in the Bury Poems:

Suddenly Violins

The Mathis der Maler question: demands Riiko Sakkinen must paint.

All length scales in analogous deferment; what does this say about me?

That people are watching/judging or they are not watching/judging.
Looking nostalgic illusion or less ultraparallel
the one breach of principle tested twice.
Later iterations forgetting serves a good functional purpose.
Failed (isotropic and homogeneous) within 
the meniscus didn't ought to have do that and longing
for when defeat used to be romantic.
Homophonic. Sweeping. But as with all things eurotrashed, 
recursion how far?

To digress: the death of distance is also the annihilation of memory. 

Save us from the annoyance of the past described in the present tense:
sessile objects made flat. 

Reading the poem back I was struck by how the Mathis de Maler question now resonates very directly with the global/local danger of fascism/war/environmental catastrophe/Brexit/Trump/etc we face. A tweet I read a few weeks ago came to mind; (words to the effect of) "If you ever wondered what it felt like to be a decent German in 1934, now you know" - which is exactly the situation that Hindemith faced. The Opera was not performed because the Nazi Party banned it, and Hindemith had to flee in 1938.

And here we are in our rerun of 1934; only yesterday, the fascist mainstream British newspapers branded judges 'enemies of the people', whipping up the mob to rise up against the rule of law. 

There is some discussion in Museum circles about how to respond. I plan to savage the inadequacy of the Museum conference mewling in a future blog, but a first curatorial response had to be Riiko Sakkinen. His ABC of Capitalism opens on at Bury Sculpture Centre on Saturday 12 November.

(A footnote, while looking up links to write this blog, I stumbled on a forthcoming rare performance of the opera in Mainz. Having never actually seen it, I'm very excited to see if I can get there in 2017)

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