To want and not to have - a new collection
Updated: Sep 6
"To want and not to have, sent all up her body a hardness, a hollowness, a strain. And then to want and not to have- to want and want- how that wrung the heart, and wrung it again and again!"
― Virginia Woolf (1882 - 1941), To the Lighthouse
Nudity has many metaphorical associations in Western art, and its complicated and contradictory cultural associations contain a rich seam of symbolic meanings (see this blog post). In mediaeval times, the term nuditas criminalis echoed a Classical Roman association. It was a wholly negative connotation, which meant, literally, the shameful nakedness of the vain, lustful sinner, a person without any redeeming virtues:
“Thy nakedness shall be uncovered, yea, thy shame shall be seen: I will take vengeance, and I will not meet thee as a man.”
-- Isaiah 47:3 (KJB)
Yet even in mediaeval theology, three other symbolic uses of the nude were recognised as artistically valid. Nuditas naturalis represented the base human condition of animal nakedness as we are born. It represents nature as fallen, perverted or weak, which it was believed should inspire humility and a desire to “… follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness” [I Timothy 6: 11]. Nuditas temporalis stood for the figurative voluntary shedding of all worldly goods, wealth and status to serve God completely. Nuditas virtualis was a form of artistic nudity that symbolised the raiment of the soul cleansed by confession, the blessed company of the redeemed in heaven and of Truth herself. It was symbolic of innocence and purity.
The Never to be loved again collection draws upon mediaeval theological debating-pictures to paint portraits inspired by Virginia Woolf's quote, using the multiple focalization technique that a photographic series makes possible. We wanted the collection to express and update those mediaeval concerns of anxiety, punishment, humiliation and degradation, poverty, wretchedness and vulnerability and, finally, redemption, in a way that updates the mediaeval principles with Woolf's novel's concerns with adult relationships and the problem of perception. The heart of the collection is in a past recollected in anxiety and sadness, an idea the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire (1880–1918) captured in his famous and much-translated poem Zone.
“...Now you walk in Paris alone among the crowd
Herd of bellowing buses hemming you about
Anguish of love parching you within
As though you were never to be loved again
If you lived in olden times you would get you to a cloister
You are ashamed when you catch yourself at a paternoster
You are your own mocker and like hellfire your laughter crackles
Golden on your life's hearth fall the sparks of your laughter
It is a picture in a dark museum hung
And sometimes you go and contemplate it long”
-- Excerpt from "Zone,” by Guillaume Apollinaire, translated by Samuel Beckett
And then, because there's always Shakespeare, his Sonnet 133.
Beshrew that heart that makes my heart to groan
For that deep wound it gives my friend and me!
Is't not enough to torture me alone,
But slave to slavery my sweet'st friend must be?
Me from myself thy cruel eye hath taken,
And my next self thou harder hast engrossed:
Of him, myself, and thee I am forsaken;
A torment thrice three-fold thus to be crossed.
Prison my heart in thy steel bosom's ward,
But then my friend's heart let my poor heart bail;
Whoe'er keeps me, let my heart be his guard;
Thou canst not then use rigour in my jail:
And yet thou wilt; for I, being pent in thee,
Perforce am thine, and all that is in me.