1 JAMES NASMYTH
James Hall Nasmyth (sometimes spelled Naesmyth, Nasmith, or Nesmyth) (19 August 1808 – 7 May 1890) was a Scottish engineer and inventor famous for his development of the steam hammer. He was the co-founder of Nasmyth, Gaskell and Company manufacturers of machine tools. He retired at the age of 48, and moved to Penshurst, Kent where he developed his hobbies of astronomy and photography.
His father Alexander Nasmyth was a landscape and portrait painter in Edinburgh, where James was born. One of Alexander's hobbies was mechanics and he employed nearly all his spare time in his workshop where he encouraged his youngest son to work with him in all sorts of materials. James was sent to the Royal High School where he had as a friend, Jimmy Patterson, the son of a local iron founder. Being already interested in mechanics he spent much of his time at the foundry and there he gradually learned to work and turn in wood, brass, iron, and steel. In 1820 he left the High School and again made great use of his father's workshop where at the age of 17, he made his first steam engine. From 1821 to 1826, Nasmyth regularly attended the Edinburgh School of Arts (today Heriot-Watt University, making him one of the first students of the institution). In 1828 he made a complete steam carriage that was capable of running a mile carrying 8 passengers. This accomplishment increased his desire to become a mechanical engineer. He had heard of the fame of Henry Maudslay's workshop and resolved to get employment there; unfortunately his father could not afford to place him as an apprentice at Maudslay's works. Nasmyth therefore decided instead to show Maudslay examples of his skills and produced a complete working model of a high-pressure steam engine, creating the working drawings and constructing the components himself.
Nasmyth retired from business in 1856 when he was 48 years old, as he said "I have now enough of this world's goods: let younger men have their chance". He settled down near Penshurst, Kent, where he renamed his retirement home "Hammerfield" and happily pursued his various hobbies including astronomy. He built his own 20-inch reflecting telescope, in the process inventing the Nasmyth focus, and made detailed observations of the Moon. He co-wrote The Moon : Considered as a Planet, a World, and a Satellite with James Carpenter (1840–1899). This book contains an interesting series of "lunar" photographs: because photography was not yet advanced enough to take actual pictures of the Moon, Nasmyth built plaster models based on his visual observations of the Moon and then photographed the models. A crater on the Moon is named after him. He was happily married for 50 years, until his death. They had no children. In memory of his renowned contribution to the discipline of mechanical engineering, the Department of Mechanical Engineering building at Heriot-Watt University, in his birthplace of Edinburgh, is called the James Nasmyth Building.
2 HIROSHI SUGIMOTO
Hiroshi Sugimoto was born in Japan in 1948. A photographer since the 1970s, his work deals with history and temporal existence by investigating themes of time, empiricism, and metaphysics. His primary series include: Seascapes, Theaters, Dioramas, Portraits (of Madame Tussaud’s wax figures), Architecture, Colors of Shadow, Conceptual Forms and Lightning Fields. Sugimoto has received a number of grants and fellowships, and his work is held in the collections of the Tate Gallery, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and the Metropolitan Museum of New York, among many others. Portraits, initially created for the Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin, traveled to the Guggenheim New York in March 2001. Sugimoto received the Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography in 2001. In 2006, a mid career retrospective was organized by the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. and the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo. A monograph entitled Hiroshi Sugimoto was produced in conjunction with the exhibition. He received the Photo España prize, also in 2006, and in 2009 was the recipient of the Paemium Imperiale, Painting Award from the Japan Arts Association. Most recently, Sugimoto unveiled his “Glass Tea House Mondrian” at Le Stanze del Vetro on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore during the 2014 Venice Biennale.
Sugimoto has spoken of his work as an expression of ‘time exposed’, or photographs serving as a time capsule for a series of events in time. His work also focuses on transience of life, and the conflict between life and death. Sugimoto is also deeply influenced by the writings and works of Marcel Duchamp, as well as the Dadaist and Surrealist movements as a whole. He has also expressed a great deal of interest in late 20th century modern architecture. His use of an 8×10 large-format camera and extremely long exposures has garnered Sugimoto a reputation as a photographer of the highest technical ability. He is equally acclaimed for the conceptual and philosophical aspects of his work.
In 1980 he began working on an ongoing series of photographs of the sea and its horizon, Seascapes, in locations all over the world, using an old-fashioned large-format camera to make exposures of varying duration (up to three hours). The locations range from the English Channel and the Cliffs of Moher to the Arctic Ocean, from Positano, Italy, to the Tasman Sea and from the Norwegian Sea at Vesterålen to the Black Sea at Ozuluce in Turkey. The black-and-white pictures are all exactly the same size, bifurcated exactly in half by the horizon line.The systematic nature of Sugimoto's project recalls the work Sunrise and Sunset at Praiano by Sol LeWitt, in which he photographed sunrises and sunsets over the Tyrrhenian Sea off Praiano, Italy, on the Amalfi Coast.
3 Adrian Ghenie
PAINTER Adrian Ghenie first came to Berlin from his native Romania in 2007. His studio is near the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum in an area now being redeveloped as the new Berlin. The space was formerly a garage and a gallery for contemporary art. There is something funny about an artist occupying a gallery as a studio, particularly one working with gloriously messy paint. I ask about the CAT FOOD on the table. Ghenie confesses it is the last supper for the invading rat. Unfortunately, the creature loves cadmium yellow, which is meant to be deeply toxic. After the yellow it went for titanium white – another toxic brew. "Expensive tastes for rats and painters," he says. Born in 1977 in the Romanian city of Baia Mare, he studied at the University of Art and Design in Cluj, and moved between there and Berlin until 2013 when he finally chose the German CAPITAL. Growing up in Romania was different. His grandmother used to bring animals into the house in the winter – "like the Brothers Grimm". Ghenie's father was a dentist but also in the secret police, which gave the young student a certain cachet. "It was your connection with the structure that has real power, like the secret police. And I remember as a kid I was kind of proud that my father was influential." His parents were not artistic but they had a neighbour, Monica, who spotted Ghenie's talents as and brought him art books and drew with him. "She is guilty for the fact that I am an artist." When the political situation changed so too did his father's psychological state. "He started staying in the basement among the furniture that my mother would throw out of the house." Ghenie himself turned to these memories after having a crisis as an artist. "I had these sessions of remembering. I was just sitting there and remembering, and then I had this image of this garage and I thought, you know what? This is very powerful."
Ghenie's paintings are gestural in the making. He chooses not to use the traditional tools of the painter opting for a palette knife and stencils. There is not a brush in sight. "You cannot paint this with a brush. It's simply the result of an ACCIDENT. Everything is an accident. Very few things are actually painted." From a distance the paintings look neat but when you get close to them you see the incident and spontaneity invoked in the making. "Something is applied to the surface which can destroy the surface, but if it doesn't destroy it turns it into something good. Fifty-fifty. It's a Russian ROULETTE moment." Ghenie is not the only painter from Cluj to emerge on the international scene. He says "They all have this DNA, the fact that they came from there and managed to conquer the West and made a lot of MONEY is unnatural." Ghenie co-founded the Fabrica de Pensule in Cluj, a former paintbrush factory with an art library and studio space that provides "a common playground for discussion". Ghenie takes nothing for granted. His upbringing has prepared him for the worse, "I grew up with the mentality that to lose is the rule and to win is the weird exception!"
Ever since the Wall fell in 1989, Berlin has been the city that artists have defected to—in part for the cheap living and studio space, in part to get away from the hungry MARKET and social swirl, and in part for all of the dirty, glamorous decadence that has made the fraught German capitol a place of myth and mayhem for generations of young misfits. Artists don’t come to Berlin to make it big—they come to be artists, and today, a new crop of international creators have arrived to make the city their own. With figures gnawed and slashed, blurred and speckled, Adrian Ghenie’s paintings involve the big ideas that transform men into larger-than-life emblems. Ghenie’s recent exhibition at Haunch of Venison in London featured humans wildly distorted and many with monkey features. The canvases were inspired by the Nazi’s ideological bastardization of Charles Darwin’s theories of natural selection. “No discovery is ever good or bad—it depends on how you use it,” says Ghenie, although his portraits frequently feel cautionary and almost malicious in their gestural violence. Take for example his depictions of notorious Holocaust doctor and torturer Dr. Josef Mengele, his features scraped away or washed out. Other faces are patchworks of textures, so skin appears as if sourced from different ages. It’s pretty brutal stuff. “Reading the biography of Mengele, you realize the Nazis were normal, obscure bureaucrats—then something happens that corrupts them,” says Ghenie. “It could happen to you or me or anyone.” INDEED, the show included a silhouette of the artist himself, wearing a mask of Darwin’s features. It’s an approach that’s no doubt additionally charged for an artist who is based in Berlin. The 34-year-old moved part-time to the city in 2007 from Cluj, Romania. Growing up in a small industrial town, Ghenie compared official painters from his native country with the classics of the Western canon, while his personal brushes with art come largely from the experiences of his parents. Ironically, the time of communist insularity of the ’50s and ’60s proved to be the era of greatest freedom for his parents, who traveled across Eastern Europe in the ’60s and ’70s and imparted those memories to their son. Ghenie sees a connection with those family tales and his own artistic production: “I like the difference between the official story and the personal perspective.”