That Unchangeable Something: The Timeless Genius Of Giacometti

A new exhibit surveys the career of the master sculptor, who captured in physical form the 20th century's fascination for the toughest existential questions.

Giacometti sculptures Annette IV and Bust of Diego (mjk23)
Giacometti sculptures Annette IV and Bust of Diego (mjk23)
Elena Pontiggia

BARD - To estimate how great an artist is, you should compare his most significant period to our current age. Take the Swiss sculptor and painter Alberto Giacometti, for instance. It was around 1946-47 that he became Giacometti.

Paris of that epoch was living the golden age of the neighborhood of Saint Germain-des-Prés and of the philosophical and cultural existentialism movement where people dressed in all-black, listened to jazz in dark cafes, and where the poet Jacques Prévert, the singer Juliette Gréco, and the filmmakers Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut could be spotted around the next corner.

But to see these people for real, you had to look at least once at the skeletal figures Giacometti molded to represent them.

"Homme qui marche" (The Walking Man) is Giacometti's most famous work that lends its name to the exhibition, which runs until November 18 in Fort Bard, in the Italian Aosta Valley.

The sculptor created a man beyond time, part in the past and part in the future. His works represent the doubts about destiny that were at the origin of the philosophy explored by Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. They represent walking without a clear destination, which in the same years was expressed in Jackson Pollock's nomadic drippings, the tangles of the Informal art, the surfaces without cardinal points of the all-over painting.

But they say something else. Whether tiny or gigantic, his figures recall the linearity of Pablo Picasso's surreal period, and some Etruscan or Egyptian sculptures. Sometimes you can look at them and ask yourself if you are at an exhibition of 20th century art or in an archeological site. They make us think about that unchangeable something that man, woman, and even animals have kept through the centuries.

Giacometti looked for this unaltered essence: the instinct of life and death that has not been altered from the creation of the first living cell to our era of the cell phone. His figures lack any details or tools, and thus become universal.

A small-town artistic family

Over 100 sculptures, paintings, and drawings from the Maeght collection on display at Fort Bard, give an exhaustive idea of the sculptor. The exhibition begins with early works such as Head of a Young Man, or Portrait of Diego, from when Giacometti was 16 or 17 years old.

The artist was born in 1901 in the small Italian-speaking village of Borgonovo di Stampa in the alpine Val Bregaglia valley, and came from an artistic family. His father, Giovanni, and his cousin, Augusto, were painters. One brother, Diego, was a designer, and the other brother, Bruno, was an architect.

Despite growing up in this evocative mountain background, Giacometti later decided to live in Paris. The engravings Paris Sans Fin (Never Ending Paris) are on display. But during his childhood, Stampa was an enchanted world, all made of stone. He wrote that when he was 5 or 6 years old, "for at least two summers in a row, among everything that surrounded me, I could only see a huge stone which was 800 meters away from the village. It was a golden monolith at the entrance of a little cave. I felt full of joy when I could huddle up at the bottom of the little cave. All my wishes were fulfilled."

In 1922, Giacometti decided to move to Paris to study under the famous symbolist sculptor Antoine Bourdelle. Later he became acquainted with André Breton and Surrealism. In this period, he created works such as Man and Woman, 1926-1927; Composition and The Invisible Object, 1934-1935. Giacometti found in Surrealism his same love for African art and the will to make the urges of the unconscious emerge in the sculptures. Still, his central theme was always the human being, of whom he explored the subtle cruelty hidden behind an erotic masque.

He was interested in surreality but in reality too. For this reason in the 1930s he moved away from Breton. He went through a realistic period and eventually arrived to his drained figures which merge all the categories, and are at the same time abstract, figurative, expressionist, and surreal. His sculptures come from his unstoppable intellectual attraction for Egyptians, Sumerians, Greeks, Etruscans, Flemish, of whose works he made many copies. Maybe, today they look so contemporary because they are also so archaic.

Read the original article in Italian

Photo - mjk23

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!