'In this way I shall preserve many things that would otherwise be lost in oblivion. I shall find daily employment for myself, which will save me from indolence and help to keep off the spleen, and I shall lay up a store of entertainment for my after life.'

For James Boswell posts please follow the labels on the right.

This blog mainly contains reviews from the Edinburgh Festivals from 2008 to 2010 which I wrote for the Edinburgh Festivals Magazine. These reviews cover everything from comedy to contemporary dance; children's theatre to Handel.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

The Nomad Tent Review

The Nomad Tent

In these troubled international times, with Russia resurgent and recession looming, we would do well to remember how little things change. In the west for example, there is often a Whiggish tendency to see art as a process of continuous refinement and development towards an increased truth and realism. As this exhibition highlights however, there has been a remarkable resilience and preservation of many medieval themes in Russian religious art.
Each wooden panel - with equally wooden figures - highlights an extraordinary rejection of innovation. Dating mainly from the 18th and 19th centuries, the style looks to a religious art prior to even Giotto in the 13th and 14th centuries. Indeed Russian orthodox art barely altered in over a millennium. This gives it a depth and resonance that other art can lack.
Compassion is shown - though not through the soft humanity of a Raphael - rather by slight, awkward gestures or tilting of heads. If anything, however, this gives the icons a heightened intensity and spirituality: the message is not meant to be aesthetically pleasing, but spiritually fulfilling. Laden with symbols, the icons become unwittingly linked to the Vietnamese propaganda posters.
A St George is replaced by a Ho Chi Minh; a pious message from the church becomes a political idea from the state. Intensity of colour and simplicity are evident in both. However the propaganda of Vietnam is (superficial similarities aside) lacking the curious depth that many of the icons radiate. Unlike much of the Soviet art, the Vietnamese propaganda is also more restrained and less bombastic.

This is an interesting (apparently unintended) juxtaposition of two visually powerful yet stripped styles. Both highlight the power of art to present ideas, regardless of time or space, to an often illiterate audience.

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