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Kennys since 1940

Maps & Prints

Looking Forward, Looking Down

Exhibition of Paintings and Batik Light-Boxes
by Malcolm Bennett
2nd - 22nd April 2004

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Opening Speech by Prof. Markus H. Wörner

Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a real pleasure to open this exhibition of such marvelous, bright, energetic and unusual paintings and lightboxes, painted by Malcolm Bennett, the much traveled and celebrated artist. Some of his paintings indicate that Malcolm definitely remains a friend of Irish landscapes, its boglands, bays, rocks and shores, yet brings home experiences and techniques of Sri Lanka or the United States.

This impressive collection of paintings of this exhibition suggests rather than depicts landscapes. To infer from this first impression that Malcolm Bennett suggests more or less abstract representations of landscapes, and that, therefore, he presents himself as a landscape painter may be quite misleading.

It is the view of landscapes insinuated or suggested by him to us which may tell us a more complex story, for the view itself is as important as what is viewed. It is a view which not more than a hundred years ago appeared to be against human nature, not to be had by humans who cannot fly. It used to be thought of as a view from nowhere, a utopian view. Icarus had to die for it.

This is a view far wider than we are used to with our everyday life's horizons. It is also far wider than a bird's eye view. It leaves birds far beneath itself. Of course, cartographers and surveyors constructed such a view in models such as maps or globes long before it became a real view. As a rule, their view was that of potential conquistadors, of possessors of territory. Bennett's view is not possessive; quite the contrary. It is theoretical. It sees without the desire to change things. This none the less is a very modern view.

The view to which Bennett invites us began with the brothers Montgolfier after the French Revolution. It began as the view of the balloonist, a view involving ever widening horizons in space and time, deeply impregnated with the thrilling feeling of dangerously floating in the new dimension of freedom. This view was new and revolutionary just as democracy or the art of flying was.

This view has almost become trivial today after the first images of earth by the Apollo lunar missions or Landsat satellites hit our home television screens in the late 60s and early 70s and made our view of our own dwelling place, of earth, smaller than the smallest view we can possibly have of a landscape in everyday life. Nonetheless, this view is the characteristic mark of the latest stage of modernity. It is the view of the Flyer in the upper atmosphere. Malcolm Bennett's view is the view of the Flyer - but with a difference. Allow me to say a few words about the view of the flyer before I come to Malcolm's view.

The view of the Flyer seems to be curiously strange: It is determined by three spatial directions only and three views only instead of four: down, forward and up. A pilot does not look back.

Space for a flyer appears not to be all - encompassing but basically forward-oriented. Earth and Sky are the upper and lower frames of reference for his own position, the position of a floating Between. The view of the Flyer is neither here not there. It is highly transient.

Time also seems to be curiously strange. It is constituted by only two dimensions instead of three: future and present. Past is definitely gone. It is a matter of memories, however important they may be. There is no direct look back without turning the whole aeroplane. The view forward, due to the widened and ever unfolding horizon, is a view into the future. The future is almost as present as the reality which the look down reveals. Time appears to move towards the flyer rather than the flyer to the future. Time, in this case, does not appear to flow from the past to the present into the future as we normally assume; instead, it opens itself from the future and vanishes into the past. It is the future which gives the flyer time, not the past.

Paradoxically, whatever presents itself to the flyer's view down, Malcolm's favourite view, appears to move more slowly and gently than we ever experienced before. The higher we fly, the more the moving landscapes we see appear to come to a standstill. Time in the flyer's view is, therefore, both accelerated and decelerated, depending on where he concentrates his looks. The faster we fly and the further removed from earth we are, earth will finally turn into an unmoved point in space. Satellites have already taken hold of this view.

Malcolm Bennett keeps his and our view firmly fixed on what suggests itself as landscapes. It is a flyer's view between earth and space. And this view permits a unique view on earth, on life. It permits a unique view on our dwelling place.

Whatever we see with the flyer's view makes cultural and historical engravings on the planet caused by human labour and strife almost disappear. Only the largest and most dramatic features remain. What is unimportant and not decisive for a landscape or a life as a whole (if that is what a landscape may stand for) is weeded out. It fades away. Instead, the most elementary features begin to appear in clear contours, some rough and abrupt, some like the most delicate filament. Whatever features remain are not so much features depending on human history and culture and the desire to be masters and possessors of nature but features of Nature. Man almost seems to disappear.

The flyer's view of Nature's landscapes, particularly landscapes suggested to be Irish, is far from static. It suggests results of labour and strife by gigantic forces of Nature. It appears to suggest the energetic interaction of the classical elements of which Anaximander of Miletus, one of the first Greek philosophers living in the 6th century before Christ, said that "they pay penalty and retribution to each other according to the order of Time": Water interacts with earth, fire with water, air with earth, leaving nothing untouched. Consequently, the flyer's view shows eruption and convulsion, melting and disruption, flow and petrification. In spite of this gigantic struggle, the view suggests that the elements do not fall apart; they form a unity. Rocks and the sea, clouds and coastlines, tides and floods define and re-define each other in geological time. There is struggle and interaction, but no hatred, despair, sarcasm or irony. Maybe there is friendship in struggle.

This is Malcolm's view of the Flyer which he invites us to share. It is the view, almost unreal, yet neither a dream nor a mirror image, of the basic energetic patterns which underlie our place of dwelling, which enable us to dwell. It is a view of the conditions of the possibility of our life. It is a transient view down on what you may call essential. Maybe we an expect Malcolm's flyer's view up next. This would be a look to the stars.

We should all feel honoured to be invited to this view today. We should all feel honoured to have Malcolm Bennett among us.

Markus H. Woerner
(Professor of Philosophy, NUI, Galway)