Putin, Web 2.0 and the ghost of Giordano Bruno

I found this excellent piece in the Washington Post yesterday, on how The Kremlin is extending its reach into cyberspace, rather troubling (via Bloggers Blog). It almost seems as if Russia is edging back, step by step, towards totalitarianism. Here's an excerpt, but do check out the full article:

After ignoring the Internet for years to focus on controlling traditional media such as television and newspapers, the Kremlin and its allies are turning their attention to cyberspace, which remains a haven for critical reporting and vibrant discussion in Russia's dwindling public sphere.

The article reminded me of two things. Firstly, and unfortunately, it was a sharp reminder of how, as Julien Pain, described so well in this article, dictators, too, have entered the world of Web 2.0:

These days, "subversive" or "counter-revolutionary" material goes on the Internet and political dissidents and journalists have become "cyberdissidents" and "online journalists."...New technology allows them to receive and share news out of sight of the authorities.... The Web makes networking much easier, for political activists as well as teenagers. Unfortunately, this progress and use of new tools by activists is now being matched by the efforts of dictatorships to fight them.

Secondly, the dark tidings from Russia reminded me of one of my favourite works of art, "Giordano Bruno" by Jöran Flo. I'm so lucky that I actually have this lithography, as well as many others by the same artist, but unfortunately I've got most of my art locked away in storage. The picture is dedicated to Taslima Nasrin and the international PEN association, and I don't think it would be too far-fetched to suggest it's a tribute to everyone, everywhere, who is being persecuted for their beliefs:


Detail from "Giordano Bruno" by Jöran Flo

Gothic Nightmares

This fun article in The Guardian about how parents whose teens are flirting with the Gothic movement have no need to worry, prompted me to do some serious soul searching.

So much so that it took me a few weeks to write about it and another few months to publish it. Thing is, I'm very much, at least most of the time, in love with life, the future and happy endings, but I've also had, at least in my teens, a preponderance for things dark, complex and deep, like Russian literature and Stoic philosophy. In fact, in my early teens I had a bit of an obsession with Marcus Aurelius, the Cathars and William Blake, the latter also called the rebel par excellencia of English poetry. At the time, I found Blake's criticism of Christianity, like in "The Everlasting gospel", a bit of a revelation.

In reminiscence of my early affection for Blake, I dragged a friend along to see "Gothic Nightmares" when it opened on Tate Britain in February. The exhibition, featuring paintings by William Blake and Henry Fuseli, explores the roots of The Gothic. To quote from Tate Britain's website:

"As a literary phenomenon, the Gothic has had an enduring influence. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), and the novels of Matthew ‘Monk’ Lewis, William Beckford and Ann Radcliffe are still widely read. The Gothic continues to influence film and TV – from classics like Nosferatu (1922) through to Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997–2002). This exhibition is the first to explore the roots of this phenomenon in the visual arts of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century."

We entered through a red curtain, and was met by Fuseli's Nightmare, before moving on to the room of Perverse Classicism, followed by rooms dedicated to witches, apparitions, goblins and other(-worldly) creatures lurking in the subconscious of the period's artists. I must admit I found the exhibition somewhat surreal, tough many of the voyeurs were more scary than the pictures on view. My friend loved it, but the art struck me as the obvious predecessor to kitsch, which means, perhaps I'm cured of my subconscious gothic infatuation.

God as an architect

Sadly, my one favourite etching by Blake," Ancient of Days" (1794) was missing from the "Gothic Nightmares" exhibition. This picture depicts God as an Architect, but when I first fell in love with it I had come to the conclusion that heaven and hell are very much places we create for ourselves here on earth and Man the only architect of his fate. A notion which today makes me willing to consider that I may not be the best architect on the face of the earth: though I've stayed persistently true to the overall structure, the nooks and crannies have often taken on surprising shapes...


Isle of the dead

Sefton Park, Liverpool

I took this picture in Sefton Park, Liverpool, as the scenery reminded me eerily of Arnold Böcklin's painting "The Island of the Dead" (1880) which I've always had a special relationship to after it was pointed out to me by someone who thought it would be exactly the kind of painting I would like. It's something dark and disturbing about Böcklin's painting, but it is also beautiful and it touches something in me I haven't quite found the words to identify. Why this focus on dark sentiments? Well, I captured this scenery from Sefton Park the day after my flatmate H had told me of her car crash and close encounter with death (see my previous blog post).

"The Island of the Dead" by Arnold Böcklin

The Gates of Dawn


Hey, it's spring..... finally! This masterpiece is "The Gates of Dawn" (1900) by Herbert James Draper (1864 - 1920). I was on the verge of issuing a desperate plea to help me find this picture, which first bewitched me at Tate's exhibition "The Victorian Nude" in 2002 (I stupidly forgot to write down the artist and title), but at long last I found it. Enjoy...