7 February 2010

Speaking of 'coincidences' ...

On Friday I visited the Victoria & Albert Museum to see Decode: Digital Design Sensations (which runs through 11 April 2010 - go see it, it's super cool). After spending an hour or so being intrigued and entertained by amazing digital artworks by the likes of Ryoji Ikeda, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and Daniel Rozin, I popped downstairs to the photography gallery, which is always worth checking out (with over 500,000 photographs, the V&A's collection is one of the biggest in the world and the collection exhibition is always really well-curated).

I was really impressed by several of the exhibited photographers' work, particularly Elaine Duigenan, Eva Stenram (above), Nicholas Hughes and Veronica Bailey. I noted that the latter's work, Goodnight Sweetheart (2005), was from a series - titled Postscript - she had made of the love letters between photographer Lee Miller and artist Roland Penrose. The V&A's Bailey work shows the interior of an envelope containing one of the love letters. It is printed large and the envelope is vertical, like an elongated portrait. The image is printed on a glass-like material that gives the work an elusive air - not least because of the letters complete illegibility and the less-than-subtle reference to female sexuality, which its form hints at.

Earlier that day I had purchased the new (Spring Summer 2010) Pop magazine (which is now, in my opinion, one of the best fashion-based periodicals out there - thank you, Dasha Zhukova). The fantastic cover image is of one of my favourite models, Abbey Lee Kershaw, shot cowgirl-style by the inimitable Richard Prince.

After arriving home from the V&A, I sat down with Pop to have a read. The in-conversation between Prince and fellow American artist Dan Colen is quite interesting, but the thing that struck me most strongly was one of Prince's statements: 'I love art history. Especially lost art history... Just read letters from Roland Penrose to Lee Miller...'

If I am to go by what Cartier-Bresson says (and I do), this was, coincidentally, a mere coincidence (i.e. nothing special). Yet, I can't deny this particular coincidence really struck me. Is it not funny that references to letters I had known nothing about - those between Miller and Penrose (an artist I'd never even heard of) - could come to me twice in one day, and from completely separate sources?

When I really think about it, it's not funny at all. It is noteworthy only because of its temporal frame. I mean, if one person is using these letters as a creative reference, it's a given that at least one other person is doing the same thing (somewhere, sometime). It just so happened that I came across two of these people (Bailey and Prince) in one day.

Were I to come across Prince's reference in two years time (2012) instead of last Friday (2010), I would probably have forgotten that I'd seen Bailey's two years earlier and would think nothing of his passing comment to Colen. Factually, however, it would be equally noteworthy, but the temporal circumstance would make it likely not to be noted. That said, were I reading it in two years time, something (anything) else may trigger me to note his mention of the Miller/Penrose letters. (Or, equally, I may not notice them at all.)

If nothing else, Friday's Bailey-Prince/Miller-Penrose occurrence was serendipitous. More importantly, it reminds that these sort of 'coincidences' occur all the time:

You suddenly think of a person you've not seen in years and later that day the person calls; you learn some obscure fact in the morning and a friend randomly informs you of the same fact in the afternoon; you are unwell and have to miss your train, but the train is canceled due to bad weather so you receive a refund for your ticket; someone buys the coat of your dreams at one store before you get a chance, but the next store stocks one of even better dreams and it's on sale; you lose your phone, including the number of the person you met the night before; you run into a friend in a city foreign to you both; you forget your passport; you lock your keys in your room; someone tells you that you look exhausted; you meet someone exciting; you meet someone dull; you get the job you wanted; you don't; you have the correct change; the green man turns red; you fall over; you hurt yourself; someone offers you their seat; you close your eyes; you open them.

Sliding doors - the bus, the tube. All possibilities are equally coincidental. I think that's what Cartier-Bresson is saying.


Blogger Cassie Machado said...

We are indebted to the English author Horace Walpole for the word serendipity, which he coined in one of the 3,000 or more letters on which his literary reputation primarily rests. In a letter of January 28, 1754, Walpole says that "this discovery, indeed, is almost of that kind which I call Serendipity, a very expressive word." Walpole formed the word on an old name for Sri Lanka, Serendip. He explained that this name was part of the title of "a silly fairy tale, called The Three Princes of Serendip: as their highnesses traveled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of...."

10 February, 2010 12:26  
Blogger Eleanor said...

beautiful, cassie. thank you. ( & thank you for sagacity ) xx

10 February, 2010 23:23  
Blogger ash said...

ding dong mcqueen is dead

all things sad right now ;_;


12 February, 2010 13:58  

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