Bruno Leti: Thank you. I feel like being a teacher again and I’m not used to being a teacher again. I was just saying to Des, what is it, 25 years I think, I was regularly in front of groups of students. But anyway it’s a nice little intimate gathering. Thank you for that lovely introduction, Des. I have to say first, Shane, thank you, that the Library has treated me incredibly well in many ways, and I can assure you I have been a real book buggy because that’s been the first part of my research. All of the initial part last year from August and onwards it was really a lot of looking, reading, finding, and I have to say that I’ve been in a few libraries of the world including our National Library in Canberra, the New York Public Library and so on, and I think we do incredibly well in the way we serve people. I have been served well by the Library. Thank you.
How did I come by this project? Well when I first decided to approach the idea of application I thought I would do something in relation to the things that I had already been doing. And it was mainly to work with poets, writers; mainly to do with poetry, music, lines, all of those things which relate to the sort of work that I was following. I find the idea of interacting with poets and writers part of how I feed my soul, how I feed my intellect and how I interact. In fact this project that I’ve decided on, a secondary decision after having come back from Europe, and I’ll tell you a little bit about that in a moment. That was to do with the experiences I initially had, and then I was away for about two and a half months in France and Italy, around about this time last year, in fact I was there April, May and some of June. In fact I took in a lot of the Easter festival, and I went back to my childhood town and village and I was very much involved in ideas of the experience, perhaps reliving the past.
So when I came back around about the end of June and I got the news that I had this Fellowship, I thought what am I going to do? I’m going to change this whole idea, I’m not going to do what I had proposed because I literally had written down the title of my project, something like, I’ll read you this little bit, having returned from two and a half months through France and Italy recently, I rediscovered that one experiences many things within the context of one‘s interest. That is visiting galleries, museums, churches, private and public collections, et cetera, as well as engaging in the creative activity of observation by sketching, drawing, photography and so on.
So when I came back I thought the lines of music and the lines of poetry and lines in the landscape from coast to desert was kind of put on the backburner as it were, and so I decided that I would completely re-do this structure, and I ended up calling this the title for this project. I call it The cross and the matrix. So you’ll be wondering why the cross and the matrix. Because during this two and a half months in Franc e and Italy I was overwhelmed by recollections of memories as a child, but I was also overwhelmed by the visual things that I saw and photographed.
And for me it was kind of miraculous in a way, but there were also other little quirky things that happened since I came back. They were the sort of things which kind of spooked me a little, because I thought to myself, okay the cross is something I want to do because I want to research more deeply how this shape evolves or has evolved, and how many artists have used that symbol that showed that form in symbolical ways and visual artistic ways. What spooked me a little bit was that as soon as I came back, I was very much involved in making drawings, charcoal and oil drawings, and I decided by just starting simply with a big image, in fact, sorry these are very small, a big image that I actually entered – and this is from the studio and this is an oil and charcoal on paper; this is a little close up of it. And this image as you can see, simply by its form, I call it double cross.
Within two weeks of this double cross my father died, quite suddenly, and I began to become a little more spiritual again, and two weeks after that my mother-in-law died, and two weeks after that I was selected and made the final list for this list, the Dobell drawing prize with the Art Gallery of New South Wales. So it was all kind of a little bit spooky the way this all happened, and I found myself getting into books and getting back to religious context. But that’s the little story about after I came back, but during the time that I was away – and this is, by the way, almost the total workings of the last eight or nine months which is a journal of the progression of what I’ve done since I’ve been here which is last August. In fact I’ll read you first a little bit here and then I’ll read you a little bit about what I’m talking about. I started on the 16th of August last year and Dianne Reilly gave me the key, the tour, the car, the room and the cross.
I’m just going to read you this little piece which I wrote for this journal. As the journal progressed in the last eight or nine months, as I’ve researched, so in a way I guess this is also the way artists work. You know for me as an artist there is what I call order but there is freedom and there are no rules. And that’s the beauty of art, that’s the beauty of being creative. There is structure and order but there is no rules with which you have to go by. And that is up to you, that’s the passion and that’s the reality.
Now I’m not going to read the whole lot, I’m going to read you the little bit of overview.
For the purpose of this Fellowship at the State Library of Victoria, I wish to delve into the shape and symbol of the cross and the matrix, not merely as geometric forms but as a combination of forms in which meaning and feeling can be found and expressed within historical boundaries. This iconography derives from two sources in my own life’s work; that is, my early religious upbringing and my own historical practice in making art.
Bearing this in mind I’ll return to some of the things that I’ll talk about later on.
Now I’ll read you a little bit about the cross and a little bit about the matrix, otherwise I’ll go on and on and on and it will make it far too long, but this will be brief.
So much has been written, painted and said about the cross in art. Artists and art historians have combined to produce an avalanche of material on the subject, arguably the most widely known universal symbol from ancient times to the present. As a child growing up in a medieval village in Italy, the shape of the cross was imbued with auras of holiness, power, myth, suffering and other religious meanings. It was an emblem often physically carried in various church rites, like the Via Crucis, the benedictions, processions, funerals and the like.
For those of you who are not Catholic, I’m sorry but that was my upbringing. I was nine years old by the way, and demanded sanctity of respect from the congregations. It was a Russian artist actually who first used the idea of a cross. But part of my research I will make a selective study of a group of contemporary artists and ask why they use this most universal of emblems when making their art, making and marking for meaning in an aesthetic outcome is what interests me most.
So the idea of the cross and the matrix came to me during the ten weeks travel through France and Italy and so on, I’ve already talked about that. Now the matrix, why the matrix? Well firstly as an artist I think in shape. The cross is fundamentally for me four rectangles. The matrix is something that I’ve been working from surface, for example this, as tiny as they are, and I’ve worked on very big matrixes, is a piece of metal to work from. Okay, so the matrix in my case is something I’ve been using for 40 years perhaps, maybe even a little longer. I’ll read you a little bit about the formality of the matrix.
The matrix has been the mother support for much of my image-making over the last 40 years. Metal plates, copper, zinc, steel, aluminium and glass have all been matrixes from which I have worked in a variety of forms in print making.
The Oxford Dictionary in fact defines matrix as a mould in which a thing is cast or shaped, like a gramophone record or printing type or a CD. It is also an environment in which something is developed, like a womb or a culture. In computing it is a grid-like array of interconnecting circuits. I have often found that the ghost of an image left on a plate, often pulling a monotype, often appears as a negative undefinable image which can be further printed, and so on and so on.
For my present purpose this rectangular shape is translated into a visual sign that is two-dimensional rather than three-dimensional, unlike a piece of sculpture. The paintings, drawings, prints and photographs I make have no powerful meaning or back use. One stands in front of the rectangle and he gazes at what is within the boundaries.
In other words we’re not looking at a movie which has a continuation and a time that will lapse. We’re not listening to a piece of music which goes from here to here. We’re not looking at any moving object which has a timeframe. When we look at a painting and we look at a rectangle it’s there, all in one shot in front of you, so that it’s you the viewer that’s confronted by this rectangle which is a lovely book written just recently called the Mysteries of the rectangle, and so much can happen within this study form. In other words it’s there, all in one shot, and this is part of the nature of the art which I’m producing in this particular research and this particular journal.
Some of the trips, some of the photographs I’m going to show you here are really just, they happen quite coincidentally through travel. You know this picture – and by the way all these pictures that I show you, they are not tricks or computer, I don’t even know how to use a computer – they are actual views from a viewfinder. This is a picture of a window in the Louvre in Paris which I took while I was travelling. Or this is a cross shape of a vent in my little town in Italy near Rome. This is a vent in a cemetery wall somewhere in one of the villages north of Italy.
So these are all to do with sort of the form and shapes of the cross which were partly, the first engagement of. And then you know the journal goes on as you’re researching historically people’s art through history and so on. And I write things, I make jottings, do sketches and so on. So that this journal actually progressed right through this past nine months, and the journal has been the feeding ground for the visual art that I’m actually now engaged in and making. This journal – I won’t show you all of it to you, there’s no point – but I brought it bodily just to show you the outcome of some of the activities of this journal.
I brought some samples which are just small things. The first thing I actually started doing were the making of photographs, both here and in the studio using the idea of … that’s my studio bench. You can have a look at some of these later on if you like, and you can have a look at some of these photos. And I started playing around with metal surfaces of the matrix, so photography is part of the project, because in fact the total research is going to be broken down into five separate projects which will make a total, which hopefully, eventually I will show as an exhibition.
Here I started to play around with metal plates, metal plates both here, much bigger than the metal plates you see at the front here. These are very dark because I wanted to imbue the photo with a sense of mystery, a sense of reflection, and most of these were taken in my studio in time-lapsing and it may be hard for you to see them. Most of those intersecting light flashes are actually the fluorescent tubes in my studio, which I was using as part of a shaft of light crossing some image. Maybe sometimes it was a metal plate or perhaps a painting or a variety of metal things. So that I was forming, if you like, incidental, informal crosses by using whatever I could find around the studio.
So this is the first part of the actual project. You probably recognise things like rulers and again the fluorescent tubes and so on across the face of the ruler forming a cross. This was just the way of engaging myself in what I could find around my immediate environment, whether it was upstairs in the studio or whether it was actually my own studio which is only a few hundred metres away. Or whether it was even in paintings such as this, and there’s detail of it. So my first engagement was to do with photography.
One thing I wanted to perhaps remind myself and you that, if I can find it, the list of … here we are. So the outcome of all of what I’m talking about will be a body of work which is in separate media and I’ve already shown you the first sample, combined in a uniform experience. So the working out line for the project is: one, a journal, the progress of the Fellowship through notations, sketches, photographs, diagrams, artwork. This may be editioned, and and I’ll make 20 of them as part of book-making. Two, a series of photographs which I’ve just shown you, finished and experimental. And the finished booklet as an edition of 14 so there’ll be a second booklet, there’ll be a third booklet actually. We’ll have poems and letterpress printed by another poet whom I work with and his name is Alan Loney.
Then I’m going to show you in a little while a series of monotypes emanating from matrixes but much bigger than what I’ve shown you there. A monotype is just simply painting in oils on a metal plate and then printing it through a press or through pressure. So this series of monotypes emanating from matrixes responding to/inspired by the photographs. So you see one thing sort of leads into another, but all of this was all done first and put down on paper so now I had the recipe, now I’m following the recipe, now I’m cooking.
A series of small etchings which you’ll see some in front there, but I’ll show you some of the printings from them, a series of small etchings symbolising the stations of the cross to be presented in folio form, with text by Peter Steele, who is the Emeritus Professor at Melbourne University. And I’ll read you something from Peter in a moment. And of course last of all which I can’t show you, because one, they’re not done, and two, they’re far too big to bring down, is a series of large paintings on metal, copper, zinc, aluminium and glass. So that’s really the task which I’ve set myself.
First I’m going to show you a few of these because that’s about as big as I could bring. These are monotypes which have been done, mainly in January, February this year and they are one offs, okay. And now these are not etchings, they are not lithographs, they are monotypes. So it’s painting on a metal plate, putting it through a press and actually getting an image. If you want to, if any of you want to talk more about that technique later, I’m not going to waste time now. I’ll just show you a few of these visualised, become familiar with some of these shapes.
Now don’t forget that all of these images – and I’m showing you lots, lots more which I haven’t brought – have in some way or another an intersection between horizontal and vertical. But fundamentally we go back to the idea that an artist is a visual animal that creates imagery through form, shape and colour. So these are just a few samples and we can have a closer look and you also may handle them after if you like.
You may also pick up, I don’t know if you can pick up a kind of a scintillating surface and I’ve tried to put a little bit of metallic paint in the printing ink so that again I try to bring forth the idea of a metal surface, in other words the matrix. Alright, we’ve had a quick look at those.
Now the second project which is to do with, if you can hold a couple of these up, alright? These are pieces of zinc and the printings of them will be established. So we can call this works in progress, right. I can’t show you everything, just works in progress. These are line etchings on zinc plates which can be editioned. There are 14 of these, which will be the 14 Stations of the Cross formally in that sense, and they will be presented in seven folios and these folios are exactly as I’m showing you here. Again we can look at these and handle them after. I’ve only brought two; there’ll be seven. There’s another two. I’ll show them to you within the folio. Again these are etchings, black and white line.
Now in between each one, this is where I’ve engaged another poet, Peter Steele, we’ll have another piece of paper in between which will show a poem here and a poem there, each of the sheets in each separate seven folios will have a really bright line down the middle, which again is really a very simple shape which is vertical, but the horizontal poems will be the intersecting sort of lines. Peter Steele is an Emeritus Professor at Melbourne University. He’s a poet, he is a writer, he had a Chair of Creative Language and he wrote this letter just recently; in fact it was last Thursday, Holy Thursday.
[Reads the letter]
Dear Bruno, let me begin by wishing you a Happy Easter. It’s a grinding time for me as I go into hospital this coming Tuesday afternoon.
I can’t read that bit.
And the surgeons will get to work on Wednesday morning. I expect to be in St Vincent’s Private for about 12 days.
Peter has just found out that he has liver cancer.
I enclose here an attempt at the Stations of the Cross and the matrix for which we talked about quite a few times. The little entries follow the path of the traditional 14 stations, though some followers of that path might be surprised to hear this. On the other hand I could imagine the order of this position to be quite different and you could use them any way you like.
So Peter, just before he went into hospital with his sad news, wrote these particular little lines. I’m not going to read the whole 14; I’ll just read one or two of them. And this is of course poetry in a form which has to be understood and I think he says, which I want to make sure that you ... I’ll read this again: ‘The little entries follow the path of the traditional 14 Stations of the Cross, though some followers of that path might be surprised to hear this.’ Because as we read them, and I’m going to read three or four for you, it is poetry which is not, we all know that poetry isn’t exactly what it reads; it’s all the undercurrents and so on.
Number one: ‘This way goes justice and that way goes mercy. At the crossroads there is crisis.’
I’ll read you number three: ’Erect as the human fabric is, it keeps on wanting to lie down to fall if needs be.’
Number four: ‘Every mother, a matrix, every child a [inaudible].’
Number six: ‘The ones I meet show me my face and so my form.’
I’ll read you number ten: ‘Garb, disguise, monopoly, shield, glory: all are stripped for night, short and long.’
Number twelve: ‘Every cross bears a notice, living or dead. Something is being squared away.’
I’ll read you the last one. ‘Everyone consigned to the long home dreams for a while of a new raring.’
I mean poetry is, yeah, I think you either get it or you don’t get it, and you have to re-read it. In fact, I think it was recently Chris Wallace-Crabbe who wrote a book which tries to teach us how to read poetry, and it’s simply called Read it again.
Anyway, I think that’s about all I can tell you.