Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Martin J Walker on Emma Holister's Far Out Football

Far Out Football 

This was originally published on Emma Holister's former art blog, blocked by Twitter, hence the creation of this new blog.  Click here to see the original post.

An Incomprehensible Correspondance

By Martin J Walker

Emma's drawings arrive with me as an invasion; if drawings
can rain, then I am subjected to a torrential storm. How, I
wonder, does she work with such obsessive commitment?
I answer my own question: it's  because she's an artist and
'real' artists live their work, they are it and it consumes them.

I found the drawings that had just arrived utterly bemusing.
I sat staring at the chain mail of them - I always see them
as very rough sketches, then in black and white and then
colour. Where was my third Foreword going to come
from? As with all Emma's work, the first sketches and the
later drawings were bizarre. No analysis came to mind,
not off the top of my head.

Most of these new drawings were about football, which
I suppose I knew that Emma would finally get round to - but
no, that last statement is not right, none of them were about
football, not football as we know it. Many of them used the
word 'football' and showed an adequate representation of
a football pitch but added to this basic template was anything
from Daleks to underpants and, of course, Emma's usual
enigmatic slogans. There was neither sight nor sound of actual
football or footballers. It became clear to me later that even
the 'football ground', the hallowed 'pitch', was only a metaphor,
a stage, the boards, for Emma's dramas.

I was brought up in Manchester where football is an entirely
serious business. It runs through the whole of Mancunian
culture, it has its own lexicon of iconography and its own
narrative that trots along by the side of Mancunians growing
older, amongst whom 'the crash' is still remembered.  Bill
Shankly, the great Liverpool manager, described football,
which had now replaced Marx's 'religion' as the opiate of the
 masses, in this way, 'Some people believe football is a 
matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that 
attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more
important than that.'

To 'talk football', today, besides a Masters degrees in
International Relations and geography, you have to know the
history of each player, the psychology of each manager and
make a ready assessment of the corporate ownership of clubs
together with their current share price. As Emma admits in her
drawings this language of football is a language which neither
she nor the aliens she knows personally can speak.

I puzzled over Emma's football pictures for a long time.
Evidently they were not about football, in fact, in that, like
most of Emma's drawings, they didn't relate a seamless or
logical narrative. While, with her last drawings, I got to the
party long after everyone else because I was still listening to
the stories the pictures told, this time I found them hard to
translate; they were juxtaposed images and very personal
configurations. When I looked at them, I could feel my
critical faculties deserting me like escaping gas.

I wondered how I was going to find the words to describe
them, let alone interpret them. But fate, and the juxtaposition
 of random dreamlike influences, just like those in Emma's
creations, came to the rescue. That evening I began reading,
for the second time, Short Letter, Long Farewell, written by
Peter Handke, the author of The Goalkeeper's Fear of the 
Penalty, which was made into the Wim Wenders' film of the
same title. I might have known then as I read the words
Goalkeeper and Penalty that out of the hundreds of paperbacks
on my shelves, the book had jumped into my hands as a
consequence of Emma's drawings.

In the first few pages, the central character in the book
wanders into the suite in his hotel in an emotionally distraught
state. He talks to himself and giggles; stopping at the bathtub
he looks down into it and notes:

The bottom of the tub was covered with criss-crossing, 
light-coloured strips of something that looked like 
adhesive tape; they were supposed to prevent the bather 
from slipping. Between the sight of the adhesive tape and 
the thought of my conversation with myself I instantly saw 
correspondence which was so incomprehensible that I 
 stopped giggling and went back into the room.

With the words 'a correspondence which was incomprehensible'
Peter Handke coincidentally whispered to me the secret of
Emma's work and gave me a theme for this Foreword.

A man who is giggling, talks to himself, and has just struck
himself on the head with his fist sees criss-crossed tape on the
bottom of the bathtub. An incongruous mixture of circumstances,
which in one of Emma's drawings would have been topped off
with a slogan such as, 'The agent felt he was slipping'.

After I thought about it for a while, I realised that Handke was
a surrealist like Emma. The difference being that words,
partially at least, need a structure and a logic to be understood
by the reader, while the painter or draftsperson can juxtapose
images in a scary, new and anarchic language which leaves the
'reader' drowning in incomprehension.

Now I was getting somewhere, tentatively creating a language
with which I might describe Emma's 'football' drawings. The
bourgeois world and its culture, I thought, consists of straight
lines, straight pathways and roads to oblivion; that's why hippies
of my generation called middle class people 'straights', as
opposed to hippies or yippies and the more random elements
whose paths were obscured by revolutionary thinking,
drug-hazed other worlds, constant sexual roller coasters and
conspiracy theories of immense gothicity. These later were
clearly far from straight.

The world of the straight was the rational world, the logical and
to some extent explicable road where A leads to B, while the
world of the dissident surrealist consists of unswept paths, an
enigmatic landscape without reason, illogical and inexplicable.
So here were Emma and her drawings, both only perhaps
understood through the glass of  'incomprehensible

This is Emma all over, she rarely steps on a straight road or
draws a straight line, she accepts little of the world offered to
her by advanced capitalism in a developed country. We have to
ask ourselves, as she does, where is this straight road leading, so
she questions everything and raises the questions of this revolt in
her drawings. If occasionally Emma does set foot on the straight
road, she quickly finds something bends her reality out of shape
and she has to take immense detours.

While the straight world relies upon a singular division
between states, of sleeping and waking, of conscious and
unconscious, of dream and reality, of work and leisure, of this
world and beyond this world, the dissenting world, Emma's
world, runs all these states together. Like a small child, not yet
educated to the dominance of the material world, Emma
lets it all blur.

One way or another, of course, artists have always done this 
and consequently some portion of most artists' work is beyond 
the comprehension of the viewer. Few modern or post-modern 
artists provide references for their work and while the ordinary 
Joe or Josephine can readily appreciate a factory-painted 
landscape, because it strikes a chord in their history of holidays, 
the symbolism of Giorgio de Chirico, whose paintings consist 
only of 'secret' references, escapes them and they are left with 
the choice of simply liking or not liking them.

Giorgio de Chirico Ritornante

De Chirico comes to mind in relation to Emma, because she
 has a black, headless, armless and legless plastic mannequin
that she calls Norma, which though she only fully appears in
one picture in this collection, 'There woz somethin goin' on
with Kevin n Norma', seems to have escaped from an updated
De Chirico. We might ponder the role of Norma, not only in
this painting but in her life as a whole, for although Emma uses
her as a model for her crochet work, Norma, with her obvious
inabilities, is yet another of Emma's incomprehensible

And consequent upon all this reasoning, I came to an
 understanding of Emma's football pictures, a report from the
trenches, as to why she should choose to infect football with
her surreal madness. Football is the straightest of games, it
bears no illusion of surrealism, it is universally a game of
straight lines which proceeds from end to end and from the
middle to end with an inexorable logic.

Even when the peculiar happens, it is never surreal but always
a consequence of straight-line thinking. Bert Trautmann,
Manchester City's German goalkeeper, broke his neck in the
1956 FA Cup Final against Birmingham, but played on,
helping his side to a 3-1 victory. No surrealism there, that's
what goalkeepers do!

Any surrealism associated with football always occurs
beyond the range of the game itself. The famous photograph of
the London police officer holding his helmet over the genitals
of British sports' first streaker, though taken at a rugby match,
was taken while the game was on hold.

Only in a game which was framed in rationality could its
enthusiasts still be discussing whether the ball went over the
line in the England vs. West Germany 1966 World Cup Final.
But again, surrealism only enters the picture long afterwards,
when we know of England fans making pilgrimages to
Azerbaijan, the home of the linesman Bahramov, who
endorsed Geoff Hurst's goal. And having been to the national
football stadium named after him, English fans in 2004 asked
to be shown Bahramov's grave.

But football itself, despite containing moments of magic, has
no surrealism; were it to have, thousands of male fans and
families would desert it as predictably as nomadic North
American Indians following the buffalo. Football is a straight
game of winning and losing with the occasional frustration of a
draw or serious weather.

To some extent, a part of Emma's dissent, her surrealist heart,
leaves her like a fish out of water, flapping about on arid,
sandy soil. Everything inherent in the developed world is
governed today by rationality, from your bank account to your
medicine, from your education to cops chasing baddies. Life
runs on a rational narrative. You only win the social game
if you stick heel-to-toe to the straight line indicated by the
police officer.

Surrealism and Symbolism take the viewer on a roller coaster
ride through a variety of realities that allows for immersion
but not necessarily understanding. In this sense at least they
are democratic forms of art; you can enter them and make
what you will of them. Occasionally those with a mental
make-up similar to Emma's might gain a glimmer of real
understanding, but in the main the colour prints and drawings
simply allow us to wander within them. A more participatory
and democratic form than the art of the overground and the
straight world, whose authoritative images allow us little thought
or interpretation.

It might be said that Emma Holister is the first artist to introduce
surrealism to soccer. Whether this will bring her any plaudits
from football fans is a question still to be resolved. However,
there can be no doubt that Emma's 'football' pictures will give
considerable pause for thought to the sharply honed minds of
contemporary footballing greats such as the £300,000-a-week
Wayne Rooney. There is surrealism outside the game again;
Wayne Rooney worth £300,000 a week.

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