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A blue plaque I was most surprised by is that one for Kurt Schwitters, on a house in Westmoreland Road, Barnes. The surrounding suburb is pleasant however to me it was, to partially quote Will Self, definitively (if not ‘effortlessly’) dull; a perception affected by the monotonous work I was doing there. The sight of this particular blue plaque jolted me from the drudgery of seemingly unrelenting visits to letter boxes. That a seminal and radical German Dada artist lived in such a suburban semi in the 1940s was discombobulating.
What trace of the acclaimed father of modern collage remained in the suburban terrace? Was the house a site of a Schwitters’, ‘Cathedral of Erotic Misery’? Elsewhere Schwitters had anti-artistically crammed the interiors of rooms with junk or urban detritus creating ‘merzbau’. These cave-like retreats were shrinking spaces within which the artist flitted about in his own intensely externalised identities. I imagined Schwitters, in a furore of sneezing fits, bouncing off the Dada grotto walls.
Robert Hughes has playfully referred to Kurt Schwitters as, ‘the saint of reclamation’, transposing junk into art. In creating cave like art installations might Schwitters have been attempting to connect with or reclaim the progenitorial in art; a founding essence of why to create?
Joseph Campbell has written about caves and cave art as a mythological realm in which we can be witness to ‘the symbology [sic] of the labyrinthine chambers of the soul’. He understands the prehistoric chambers as progenitors of all temples and cathedrals, embellishing this with a notion of an inscribed cave as a site of a connubium. Frustratingly, or perhaps not, some of Schwitters’ merzbau have been lost; some to the ravages of war. How might the primal artistic spirit be reclaimed? What is the nature of this communion?
Werner Herzog has recently rendered ancient artistic ecstasies in cinematic 3D, with his film, ‘Cave of Forgotten Dreams’. The film features the prehistoric art of the Chauvet Cave in southern France. ‘Lost and Found in E17’ clambered about the exterior of Walthamstow’s EMD cinema feeling and sniffing for celluloid drafts - signs of such long lost cinematic life. Sadly the landslides and coalitions of local history have continued to render this cave entirely out of bounds, at least to film-goers if not the trespass of spray can wielding ravers who have some way to go before emulating the talents of our prehistoric ancestors. ‘LaFiE17’ headed for Stratford Picturehouse instead, to enjoy Herzog’s vivid imagery and other metaphysical interventions. The eminent master of ‘New Wave’ cinema guided us through and about the palimpsestic reliquary.
Philip French’s Observer review fairly reflects my appreciation of the film; in particular the musical content. He comments on the breathtaking beauty of the drawn and painted figures and that the ‘price to be paid for seeing these images is Herzog’s heavy breathing excitement, his wild conjecture and hyperbole, his choice of music upping the ante on the numinous, and his fey playfulness....’. Given Herzog is working on a film about convicts on death row, and that he discussed this with Jason Solomons in the Q&A following the nationwide Picturehouse Cinemas premiere, ‘fey playfulness’ is a particularly pointed criticism.
As with other Herzog films (including, Land of Silence and Darkness) I was drawn into the land of nod where I’m sure I dreamed but of what I do not remember clearly. I have some vague and ironic sense of the interior of the EMD which had become a magnificent ‘merz-bild’ of dripping celluloid formations.
For more information about the EMD cinema: