Leo Asemota The Ens Project_.html_.htmlshapeimage_1_link_0

The Ens Project by Leo Asemota


This is a Temporary website for The Ens Project an ongoing multipartite work of art by Nigerian born London based artist Leo Asemota.


Asemota has been evolving The Ens Project since spring 2005. The Project’s formative and creative impetus are ancient and contemporary Nigeria’s Edo peoples of Benin’s rich tradition of art and ceremony and their annual Igue rite to the Head; Victorian Britain’s history of invention, exploration and conquest in which the sacking and looting of the former Kingdom of Benin is of particular interest; and the essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” by the German cultural theorist Walter Benjamin.


This Temporary website presents an overview of the Project’s phases, its history, list of works and an ens cyclopædia of related subject matter.

Phase 1 First Principles 
first_principles.htmlfirst_principles.htmlshapeimage_2_link_0
Phase 2 The Handmaiden
the_handmaiden.htmlthe_handmaiden.htmlshapeimage_3_link_0
Phase 3 Eo ipso
eo_ipso.htmleo_ipso.htmlshapeimage_4_link_0
Project Historyproject_history.htmlproject_history.htmlshapeimage_5_link_0
Ens Cyclopædia
Contactcontact.htmlcontact.htmlshapeimage_7_link_0
List of workslist_of_works.htmllist_of_works.htmlshapeimage_8_link_0
 

action (or actions)

A notable activity in which an artist uses the performance arts to create an artwork.


altermodern

Postmodernism is dead. Altermodern describes a new emerging modernity that is reconfigured to an age of globalization and of a culture understood in its economic, political and cultural aspects.  As increased communication, travel and migration are affecting the way we live, our daily lives consist of journeys in a chaotic and teeming universe. 

   Multiculturalism and identity is being overtaken by creolisation: artists are now starting from a globalised state of culture, responding to a new globalised perception, traversing a cultural landscape saturated with signs and creating new pathways between multiple formats of expression and communication. This new universalism is based on translations, subtitling and generalized dubbing. Today’s art explores the bonds that text and image, time and space, weave between themselves. (Nicolas Bourriaud, Altermodern Manifesto)


A.R.T.

An acronym coined by Leo Asemota: artistry, ritual, technology. Asemota considers these three concepts as the trinity from which humankind established and continue to build on the human basis of all that exists. They are also Asemota’s artistic precepts for “The Ens Project”. The following definitions and senses of the respective words were compiled from various English dictionaries: Artistry: 1. imaginative skill in the creation of works of special significance and of beauty. 2. the quality of application of human skill to design, representation or imaginative creation. 3. practical skills or its application guided by principles. Ritual: 1. manner of an artistic or dramatic presentation that incorporates other art forms such as sculptures, actions, etc. 2. the prescribed or established form of a religious or other ceremony. 3. any formal act, institution or procedure that is followed consistently. Technology: 1. the total knowledge and skills available to any human society. However, the term is mostly used in three different contexts: when referring to a tool (or machine); a technique; the cultural force; or a combination of the three. 2. skills characteristic of a particular civilisation, group or period. 3. application of practical or mechanical sciences to industry or commerce. 4. the methods, theory and practices governing such application. 5. the practical arts collectively.


aura

The Collins English dictionary describes “aura” as a distinctive air or quality considered being characteristic of a person or thing or activity; of a person, an invisible emanation from the intertwining of character and personality. In all religions this invisible part of a person which has been called the aura is regarded as more important than the body.

   The noun was also used by Walter Benjamin in his essay ‘The Artwork in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility’, where it refers to an artwork’s specificity, particularity and singularity as a requisite to what he calls its cult value. Benjamin identifies the aura as a quality integral to the authenticity of an artwork that cannot be communicated through reproduction by technological means like film and photography.


Bassano (Alexander)


Benin chalk (see orhue)


Benjamin (Walter) 1892 – 1940

Walter Benjamin: Walter Benjamin was (one of the most influential 20th century philosophers of culture) born in Berlin in July 1892 he was forced to flee Germany to Paris in 1933 due to the political triumph of the Nazis. He died tragically on the Spanish border whilst fleeing Paris after the Wehrmacht occupied it in 1940. Benjamin left behind an influential literary-philosophical body of work that includes one of his most celebrated essays “The Artwork in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility”. His work combines formal analysis of art works with social theory to generate an approach which is historical and far more subtle than mere cultural and stylistic chronology. (Julian Roberts, Concise Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy)


body, embodiment
Body is defined most commonly in terms of the human body, the material frame of man, viewed as an organic entity. Though it sometimes refers only to the main portion of an animal or unit, it may also refer to a series of organized units, a collective whole, of things or persons. Within science it refers to any substance, simple or compound, solid, liquid or gaseous. Within Christian texts the body is understood as the sacrament, the metaphorical body of Christ. To Embody is to put into a body an idea or spirit, to give a concrete form to or to express (principles, thoughts, or intentions) within art, action, word combinations, or institutions. Thus, an embodiment of an idea or principle is its physical form, realization or expression, or the incarnation of that idea.


brass / bronze

Symbolically the values of brass and bronze are identical, both being alloys of copper; in the case of brass, with zinc, and of bronze with tin and silver. Symbolically a marriage of opposites, since copper is associated with the sun and with fire and the other metals with the moon and water, the two aspects of this metal’s symbolism are in violent conflict and it is as a whole ambivalent. However unlike the one may be from the other, both are powerful and terrible.

   Bronze was a sacred metal, used to make the instruments of worship from antiquity to Buddhism and Christianity. This tough metal was a symbol of incorruptibility and immortality as well as the transcendent powers of the Obas (Kings) of Benin. (Extract from Penguin Dictionary of Symbols)

British sacking of Benin (The)

In the 19th century, disputes over trade led to strain between Benin and its chief trading partner, Great Britain. This escalated as the European powers moved to divide Africa into colonial territories. This situation culminated in 1897 when a large delegation led by Britain’s Acting Consul General in the region, James Phillips set off for Benin City despite requests from Oba Ovonramwen (enthroned c. 1888) to postpone their visit.

  On January 12, the British delegation was ambushed by an Edo force that by all accounts acted without the Oba’s knowledge. Almost the entire part was killed including Phillips. In quick order, a large British military force – deemed the Punitive Expedition – was assembled, and on February 18, they arrived in Benin City under orders to invade and conquer it. In time they captured Oba Ovonramwen and sent him into exile to Calabar, a town east of Benin.

   With these events, the daily routines of the royal court were disrupted and the Edo people were severed from their leaders. Benin was left in the confusion that followed the devastation of the kingdom. Objects within the royal palaces were now the spoils of war, many of which were sold to defray the costs of the invasion. Others were shared among members of the expeditionary force.

   Upon their arrival in London, Benin’s royal arts were a topic of conversation and speculation.  They sparked immediate interest from museums, particularly in Britain and the German speaking world, which made efforts to purchase the objects for their collections. Eventually works from Benin could be found in museums across Europe and the United States.

   Oba Ovonramwen died in exile in 1914. That same year his son returned to Benin City and was crowned Oba Eweka II, after the first ruler in the history of the dynasty. Benin’s monarchy was thus restored though its power was greatly curtailed. While the Edo people maintained a strong connection to the Oba, the monarchy was reconfigured to be secondary to the colonial system and later to the Federal Republic of Nigeria upon its independence in 1960. 

   Under successive monarchs the kingdom has been able to revive and sustain a vital cultural and political life that is steeped history and tradition. A yearly cycle of important royal practices are observed including the establishment and upkeep of ancestral altars as well as the performance of royal rituals the most important of which is the Igue ceremony.

(Extracted from “Benin - Kings and Rituals Court: Arts from Nigeria. Art Institute of Chicago”; http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/exhibitions/benin/conquest)


carbon paper

Carbon paper is an inexpensive reprographic device used to make a single copy concurrently with an original important document. The first attempt at copying important correspondence is attributed to the Scottish engineer James Watt, who improved the steam engine.  Carbon black is a very fine, spherical, amorphous form of carbon that contains small amounts of oxygen, hydrogen, and sulfur. A typical sheet of carbon paper consists of carbon black and other mixtures that include kaolin, paraffin wax, mineral oil, montan wax, carnauba wax, and methyl violet or gentian violet. Blue carbon paper is normally coated with a mixture made up of iron blue, kaolin, paraffin wax, petrolatum, mineral oil, carnauba wax and montan wax. (http://www.madehow.com/Volume-1/Carbon-Paper.html)


coal

Coal formation began during the Carboniferous Period which spanned 360 million to 290 million years ago. The build-up of silt and other sediments together with movements in the earth's crust, buried swamps and peat bogs, often to great depths. With burial, the plant material was subjected to high temperatures and pressures. This caused physical and chemical changes in the vegetation, transforming it into peat and then into coal.

   The history of coal mining and use is inextricably linked with that of the Industrial Revolution of iron and steel production. More than any other of Great Britain’s natural resources, coal has probably had the greatest effect on the country’s evolution. (The Coal Resource, World Coal Institute)


commemoration


coniunctio

A grey ash substance so-called by Asemota which he derives by combining fine particles of orhue (kaolin) and coal. The material is symbolic of “The Handmaiden” a creative being central to the live art work “Eo ipso”.


coral


culture


Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit (The Artwork in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility)

One of the most renowned and commented upon writing of modern criticism Walter Benjamin’s “Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit (The Artwork in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility)” is arguably the most influential of Benjamin's essays, in which he locates a shift in the status of traditional art as technical means of reproduction such as photography and film begin to dominate the imagination of a mass public. Benjamin defines the characteristic of manual production of the traditional artwork as a historical process unique to the original object, manifest in the object as its "aura." The subsequent proliferations of technical reproductions of a traditional artwork bear only an imagistic similitude to the original, lacking the "aura" and therefore any relation to the actual historical dimension thereof.

The gradual preference of technical media by the mass public signifies for Benjamin both a radical shift in the arts to the political in the Marxist sense, although this shift in the status of art to the political also allows aesthetic contemplation to become dissociated from the properly lived experience of the autonomous individual. The viewer of art, from the detached position of the technical media itself, becomes a disinterested critic, evaluating the reproduced object merely in terms of its presentability; that it takes place. Hence, Benjamin notes the various attempts by political parties, namely the Fascists whom Benjamin feared and despised, to aestheticize politics, or as he put it: "All efforts to render politics aesthetic leads to one thing: war." There are many varied readings of this text, ranging from the democratic and revolutionary Marxist assertions, to the more complex analysis of the specular and spectacular, as well as the totalizing nature of media mass culture by figures such as Adorno and Horkheimer, Debord, McLuhan, and more recently, Agamben. Indicative of such conflicting debates is the recent translation of the actual title of the work, which has been read, "The Work of Art in the Age of Technical Reproduction." (Walter Benjamin - Biography; The European Graduate School website). http://www.egs.edu/media/library-of-philosophy/walter-benjamin/biography/


Eben


Edge Hill Station

Opened in 1825 Edge Hill station is the oldest passenger train station in the world. The station is the site where George Stephenson’s “Rocket” set off on the historic Liverpool to Manchester Railway Line. The disused Grade II listed buildings which housed the original Engine Room, Boiler House and Accumulator Tower on the station’s platforms 1 and 2 have been transformed by Metal into spaces for art and its development by a community of Liverpool based and international artists in all disciplines.


ens

(noun, plural entia) Late Latin (ens use as noun of present participle formed from esse to be, on the supposed analogy of absens absent. 1. Philosophy, something which has existence; a being, an entity as opposed to an attribute or quality. 2. The essence; the essential part. (Oxford Dictionary of Foreign Words & Phrases)

   In relation to Asemota’s art theory, “ens” relates a whole philosophy of the project, and it connotes a set of fundamental principles under which the project is evolved and thought about.


ens memoralis at the National Portrait Gallery

26 July 2008

Victoria

It was a perfect place to start. The point of departure for an exploration of memory and history with Queen Victoria at its core was a Victorian Institution, the National Portrait Gallery. Victorian idealism founded the museum in the mid 19th century and a generation later the Queen’s imperial image was etched into the minds of her colonial subjects, fixed in a million portraits, many of which hang still in the wood-panelled galleries not far from where Leo Asemota’s performance unfolds. 

   One of these portraits, rarely displayed, usually sits in the Gallery’s archive, a photographic copy of a painting, it shows Victoria seated on a mediaeval throne, dressed in flowing ermine robes, clasping a scroll in her right hand.  The picture is a Victorian glass plate negative by Alexander Bassano of a portrait by 19th century French Orientalist painter Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant. It is not just the features and pose of the aging monarch that make her instantly recognisable, it is the air of moral certitude and historical authority that can be found in the icons of English rulers over centuries, a conviction that lingers even today in the power bases of this country’s monarchy and parliament. 

   In ens memoralis, Leo Asemota’s ritual transformation of a print of this image is in part an attack on the values, then and now, that produced this portrait.  It is a live artwork that unfolds to become a profound meditation on the portrait as a signifier of history, memory and cultural identity.

(Excerpt from an essay by Sumantra Ghose.)


ens sign (The Ens Project)

“The Ens Project’s” ens sign is constructed as a figure of three equal points, an equilateral triangle. Each aspect of the triangle is allocated one of the three sources Asemota uses to inform his ideas for the Project; the Edo people of Benin’s Igue ceremony to the head (cellula cultus), the Victorian age of invention, exploration and conquest (cellula historia) and Walter Benjamin’s essay “an Artwork in the age of its Technological Reproducibility” (cellula rationalis).

   With each stage in the project’s “First Principles” Asemota brings each aspect in focus into coincidence with its corresponding sides. A circle also inscribes the triangle. This circle is like a vessel that contains the essence of the project. Its rotation around the axis of its three sides in interplay with each of the project’s three primary sources acts as the means through which Asemota continues to reduce ideas to their essence.


eo ipso

Adverb phrase Latin (ablative of idipsum the thing itself); by that (or this) very act (or quality); through that alone; thereby. (Oxford Dictionary of Foreign Words & Phrases)


essence

1. An existence, entity now usually spiritual or immaterial.  2. Absolute being, reality underlying phenomena; that of which everything subsists; foundations of being. 3. All that makes a thing what it is, totality of properties etc. without which it would cease to be the same thing; objective character, intrinsic nature as a thing in itself; most important indispensable quality or constituent element of anything. 4. Extract obtained by distillation containing volatile elements to which qualities are due. (Collins English Dictionary)


First Principles

According to its Latin derivation and the equivalent root in Greek, “principle” means a beginning or a foundation. Sometimes it means that which comes

first absolutely, in the sense of being before everything else; sometimes it means that which comes first only relatively, taking precedence over some things, but having others prior to itself.

   In Philosophy as defined by Aristotle, if there are absolutely first beginnings, to which nothing else can be prior, they can legitimately be called “first principles” to distinguish them from principles which comes first only in certain respect. Only the principles of a science which is prior to and independent of all others can be truly “first principles”. Aristotle calls the faculty which apprehends ‘first principles’ “intuitive reasoning”. For Descartes intuition not only supply’s the ‘first principles’ it also certifies each step in the process that leads to a conclusion.

   Kant however uses the word “principle” more restrictively, reserving its status for the general propositions which serve as the major premises in the reasoning. In both the theoretic and the practical sciences, principles express reason’s

understanding of universal and necessary relationships.


form

Coming from the Latin forma, implying beauty, the word 'Form' is more commonly related to the definitions and usage of the Latin eidos, originally signifying recognizable visual characteristics of a thing -- perceptible characteristics such as shape; the meaning was eventually expanded to characteristic nature, type, a cognitive constant having the recognizability and intelligibility as a distinct entity; and then to internal spatial and other relationships between shapes. It should be noted that this latter definition of internal form between shapes leads to the notion of a form within a form, as the original interpretation of eidos is 'shape'.

   Currently, there are three approaches to form, all of which are used with mostly neutral attention. The first is the Platonic, classical definition: collection of perceptible elements which can incorporate the Socratic and Benjaminian ideas of representation and its false implications resulting from mediation, reproduction, interpretation, and translation. The second is the Aristotelian definition: intelligible elements of nature, kind, or type, impressionistic? The third is the modernist approach of internal form in association with and contrasting with external form, and especially the formalist principle of a work's form determining its value as art. Used in combination, these notions are interplayed in media theory to combine formal artistic analysis of composition, consideration of aesthetic value, and relations between mediums or forms of art, on a common term. (Extract from “form” by Mary Garcia, University of Chicago)


handmaiden (The Handmaiden)

In the archaic use, a handmaiden is a personal attendant, exclusively figuratively a role commonly associated to a female servant. The word also describes a subordinate person or thing or concept with a useful purpose.

   Handmaiden was also a common euphemism for a concubine; a man might use a ‘handmaiden’ to bear his child if his wife was infertile - an example of this is the handmaiden Bilhah of the Biblical character Rachel, who gave birth to two of Jacob’s children.

   In Ancient Egypt, the role of a ‘handmaiden’ was important to religious practices. One of the early gods Atum was supposed to have brought the world into being through self-fornication. In subsequent ritual, a priestess would assist the priest in the ceremony, through the use of a carving representing Atum's penis. These female priests were important within the ritual for they assisted in the creation of the world.

   The priestesses were, as well as of being handmaidens, involved in 'sex magic' rituals. It was believed that the culmination of the process of sex brought the participants closer to the higher plane where they could gain enlightenment. In this role, these handmaidens were essential to the religious practices. (Extracts from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Handmaiden)

   Leo Asemota describes “The Handmaiden” in ‘The Ens Project’ as a gender-neutral. Instead he uses the noun to describe the essence of the creative being. It is also possible the being is a type of culture hero or trickster character in folklore and mythology.


heptagon

A plane figure of 7 straight sides and angles.


human head (The)

By definition, the head is the upper or front part of the body in vertebrates including man that contains the brain, sense organs and mouth. From earliest of civilizations, the human head was a prominent symbol within culture on which most religious philosophies is founded. It stood for divinity and was regarded as the essence of being, the seat of the soul, the central powerhouse of the body.

   Generally speaking, the head symbolizes the driving force of the active principle. It also symbolizes the manifestation of the spirit, in contrast with the body which symbolizes the manifestation of matter. The spherical shape of the human head, according to Plato, likens it to a universe.

   All mythologies contain many-headed creatures, animals, men, spirits, gods and goddesses. Each of these heads is a manifestation peculiar to its owner. For example, a three-headed god expresses three aspects of his power. (Extract from Penguin Dictionary of Symbols)

Igue ceremony

In early Roman mythology every man had a ‘genius’ and every woman a ‘juno’, an idea that later became mixed with that of the Greek ‘daemon’. For the Romans, genius was transformed into a protecting spirit, who shaped the character of an individual. Eventually the concept of the guiding spirit was absorbed into the Christian concept of the guardian angel and from the Enlightenment onwards, inspiration was increasingly not gifted by an independent force, but burst forth from within. (Extract from The Roots of Genius; The Observer Book of Genius)

   In the Edo cosmology, each human soul must move between two realms in a cycle of fourteen reincarnations. Before birth, a person comes before the Creator god Osalobua, and his senior son, Olokun to inform them of his or her life’s goal or destiny which is then confirmed by these two deities. The person’s ‘ehi’, the alter ego or ‘guide’ in the spirit world, stands beside the individual and thereafter keeps track of how well that person has fulfilled the destiny that he or she has chosen. Intimately linked with individual destiny are the Benin notions about the mystical aspects of human personality as embodied in the head and hand. (Paula Girshick Ben-Amos; The Art of Benin, British Museum press)

   Established in the 15th century by Oba Ewuare the Great, the first of pre-colonial Kingdom of Benin’s warrior kings, the Igue ceremony to the head is a means of restoring or realigning these life forces that reside in the head, during which the body is sanctified and inculcated to fortify relations between metaphysical and physical domains.

Igun Eronmwon (Edo Brasscasters Guild)

(Daniel Inneh)


International Year of Natural Fibres

The idea of a United Nations International Year dedicated to natural fibres arose in December 2004 from a meeting of Food and Agriculture Organisation's Intergovernmental Groups on Hard Fibres and on Jute, Kenaf and Allied Fibres. In November 2005, the proposal was endorsed by a resolution of Food and Agriculture Organisation's biennial Conference which sought to focus world attention on the role that natural fibres play in contributing to food security and poverty alleviation. The resolution was transmitted to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, with the aim of having the UN General Assembly declare 2009 the International Year of Natural Fibres.

   In December 2006, the 61st Session of the General Assembly declared the International Year and invited UN Food and Agriculture Organisation to facilitate its observance, in collaboration with governments, regional and international organizations, non-governmental organizations, the private sector and relevant organizations of the United Nations system. The International Year was officially launched on 22 January at the headquarters of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. (www.naturalfibres2009.org)


iron

A metallic chemical element recognized by the symbol Fe. The most abundant element on earth, it consists of 33% of earth’s core and is a dense ball of mostly iron with some nickel. In addition to helping build the world around us, iron helps keep plants and animals alive. Iron plays a role in the creation of chlorophyll in plants and is an essential part of hemoglobin, the substance that carries oxygen within red blood cells. Iron sulfate (FeSO4) is used to treat the blood disease anemia.

   In mythology and folklore iron has a long and varied tradition throughout the world. As human blood smells of iron of which it is largely constituted, blood in many traditions is equated with the life-force. Similarly iron and minerals have been attributed as being the blood or life-force of the earth.

   In Edo mythology and belief system, Ogun is the patron deity of craftsmen, warriors, hunters and all who depend on tools made from the metal. Conceived in both abstract and anthropomorphic terms, Ogun represents the force inherent in metal, a mystical power with the potential to create or destroy. In this capacity Ogun cannot be artistically represented except indirectly through those objects in which the power of metal resides. (Paula Girshick Ben-Amos; The Art of Benin)


Jacob Sheep

The Jacob Sheep is an ancient breed of horned sheep. It is a dual purpose sheep, providing tasty sweet meat and high quality wool. These unusual black and white sheep are also popular for their unique appearance. Both sexes are horned.


kaolin (see orhue)


Leo


Leo Asemota’s ‘After Walter’: The Continued Life of Works

Leo Asemota’s ‘After Walter’ consists of the enigmatic traces and residues of a performance. This being a reading of Walter Benjamin’s text, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.’ (Benjamin, 1999b, pp. 211-244) The reading was performed on Resonance FM on the 80th anniversary of the essay’s completion.

   These residues and traces consist of some polaroid SX-70 photographs taken during the performance, the Polaroid Land Camera that took the photographs. The Sony transistor radio used during the performance to scan AM radio frequencies. A digital video of the performance. A check list, an e-mail, an excerpt from the book Illuminations with annotations, a few notes and symbols, one with carbon paper and a carbon copy residing next to it. A chrome plated steel triangle and beater, and a piece of Kaolin clay.

   These residues and traces are the archive of a performance, but they also appear to be the archive of a ritual. Asemota speaks of a desire to rescue things; and the rituals theurgy, the use of materials and symbolism in the ritual, may have been designed for this purpose. The desire for the archive has always been part of the desire to rescue things. As Eduardo Cadava writes, ‘The archive has always been a name for both what passes away and what remains.’ (Cadava, 2001, p. 58)

(Excerpt from an essay by Paula Fleming commissioned by Dr Catriona McAra, Curatorial and Exhibitions Manager, Leeds College of Art)


metaphor


Millennium Bridge

Officially known as the London Millennium Footbridge, the Millennium Bridge springs from a creative collaboration between architecture, art and engineering. Developed by Foster and Partners with sculptor Sir Anthony Caro and engineers Arup, the commission resulted from an international competition. As London’s only pedestrian bridge and the first new Thames crossing since Tower Bridge in 1894, it links the City and St Paul’s Cathedral to the north with the Globe Theatre and Tate Modern on Bankside.

   Construction of the bridge began in 1998, with the opening on 10 June 2000. Spanning 320 metres, it is a very shallow suspension bridge. Two Y-shaped armatures support eight cables that run along the sides of the 4-metre-wide deck, while steel transverse arms clamp onto the cables at 8-metre intervals to support the deck itself. This groundbreaking structure means that the cables never rise more than 2.3 metres above the deck, allowing pedestrians uninterrupted panoramic views of London and preserving sight lines from the surrounding buildings. As a result, the bridge has a uniquely thin profile, forming a slender arc across the water, and spanning the greatest possible distance with the minimum means. A thin ribbon of steel by day, it is illuminated to form a glowing blade of light at night.

   However, under heavy traffic the bridge exhibited greater than expected lateral movement, and as a result it was temporarily closed. Extensive research and testing revealed that this movement was caused by synchronised pedestrian footfall - a phenomenon of which little was previously known in the engineering world. The solution was to fit dampers discreetly beneath the deck to mitigate movement. This proved highly successful and the research undertaken by the engineers has resulted in changes to the codes for bridge building worldwide. The bridge reopened in 2002.


National Portrait Gallery

Philip Henry Stanhope, 5th Earl Stanhope, first introduced the idea for a “British Historical Portrait Gallery” to the House of Commons in 1846.

A decade later and with Queen Victoria’s approval, the National Portrait Gallery was formally established on 2 December 1856, with the criteria that the Gallery was to be about history, not about art, and about the status of the sitter, rather than the quality or character of a particular image considered as a work of art. This criterion is still used by the Gallery today when deciding which works enter its collection. The first acquisition to be registered was the portrait of Shakespeare, known as the ‘Chandos’ portrait.

   The collection has been housed at St Martin's Place since 1896. The building, designed by Ewan Christian, was the gift of William Henry Alexander. An extension was built in the 1930s from funds provided by Sir Joseph (later Lord) Duveen. With funding from the Drue Heinz Foundation, a permanent home for the Gallery's archive and library, new offices and a conservation studio opened in Orange Street in 1993.

   The Gallery’s most recent addition was the Ondaatje Wing, which opened in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II, on 4 May 2000. Designed by Dixon Jones Architects and with funding by Sir Christopher Ondaatje, the Heritage Lottery Fund and several donors, the new wing added a welcoming Main Hall, which is considered to be the heart of the Gallery, two new floors of gallery space, a new lecture theatre and the rooftop Portrait Restaurant with its amazing views across Trafalgar Square.


Oba

Title established in late 13th century of the ruler of the Edo-speaking peoples of the ancient Kingdom of Benin. Referred to as “the great head” and considered “divine” the oba exercised a great deal of power over the land. They are also subject to checks by a council of chiefs collectively known as “The Uzamas”.


Oba Ovonramwen ne ọ gba isi

Oba Ovonramwen ascended the throne (c. 1888- 97) as the thirty fifth ruler of the Edo Kingdom of Benin during the capture of Benin by British Forces in 1897.

   The kingdom which he inherited was under threat. The British, who were quickly bringing the Niger delta states under their control, presented the major cause for concern. When Oba Ovonramwen asserted his authority by placing restrictions on trade to the coast, the British attempted to enforce a protectorate over Benin. A British mission in 1892 secured the desired treaty, although it is unlikely that Ovonramwen was aware of its provisions for the surrender of Benin’s sovereignty. He ignored the treaty’s restrictions as well as British demands that he honour it, especially the trade articles.

   The British came to see Benin as a challenge, as the last the important state in southern Nigeria to

elude British control. In 1897 Benin was finally captured, its art treasures looted to defer the cost of the “punitive expedition”. Oba Ovonramwen was dethroned and deported to Calabar where he died in 1914. After his death his son, Oba Eweka II was restored to office by the British.

(Mark R. Lipschutz & R. Kent Rasmussen. Dictionary of African Historical Biography; Published by Heinemann)


orhue (Benin chalk; kaolin)

Orhue (Benin chalk; kaolin) is a combination of chalk (calcite) and kaolin derived from the banks of rivers in Benin. Orhue’s (kaolin) ritualized symbolism is as old as the history of the Edo people of Benin. It features in a range of social contexts. It is handed out to celebrate good news and at shrines is linked directly to deities. It is also an embodiment of the Oba (king). The essence of whiteness and symbolic of many qualities: destiny, peace, prosperity, purity.

   Known since ancient times, kaolin, named after Kaoling a mountain in China where it was first

obtained by Europeans is a fine white clay used for the manufacture of hard paste porcelain, bone china,  and the whiteness in paper, it is composed mainly of the mineral kaolinite.  in medicine as poultice.


palm oil

Originally a native of tropical West Africa, Palm oil is extracted from the fleshy part of the fruit of the palm (Elaeis guineensis). The Portuguese reported as early as 1470 that it was “used by the negro population for cooking”. The first recorded export in an English ship was in 1588, when Captain Welsh brought home thirty-two barrels from the Kingdom of Benin. The earliest recorded shipment of any size to England was 150 tons landed in 1806 at Liverpool. (A Progress Book published by Unilever Limited).

   However, the global demand for palm oil is having drastic effect on the environment. Corporations and government development agencies now think of palm oil as liquid gold. Its versatility as a hidden ingredient in the manufacturing of products ranging from food and beauty, shoes and plastics has brought about a huge expansion of oil palm plantations.

   New research shows that the oil palm plantations in places like Indonesia and Malaysia were created by forcing indigenous peoples off their land and the destruction of some of the world’s precious rainforest. Too often this has been linked to human rights abuses and violent conflict, as well as causing the erosion of habitat which is home to critically endangered species such as the Sumatran tiger and the Orangutan.


performance art

Leo Asemota describes performance art as “an art form in which gesture, metaphor and the visual arts, are useful in its live creation”.


performance interpretation

The primary objective of a performance interpretation (or reading) is to maximize the understanding and appreciation of a work, or text or performance and enable us to grasp its values.


plough (The)

The most important star of all is the Pole Star. It is called by this name because it is almost directly over the North Pole and is among the easiest to find in the sky. It was the guide and friend of shepherds, hunters and travellers of ancient times. Sailors also depended on this star to guide them, and even now it is a reliable compass as it always points to the North Pole. (Catholic Book of Knowledge)

   An old Greek legend tells of two bears being placed in the sky by the god Jupiter. The jealous goddess Juno, went to Neptune the god of the sea, and asked him to refuse them the right to bathe in the deep green waters of his sea-kingdom. Since then, the two bears have always been kept away from the horizon and the sea.

   The seven stars of the Plough are only part of the constellation of Ursa Major – the Great Bear.  This and its compassion Ursa Minor – the Little Bear never set in the latitude of the British Isles, so can be seen on every clear night of the year.

   All the other stars seem to move around the Pole Star, but this is really because our earth is rotating on its axis. Actually, the direction of the earth’s axis is very slowly changing and in centuries to come, our world will have other ‘Pole Stars’. (The Stars and their Legends, Roy Worvill; Ladybird Books)


Pope Leo X


postcolonialism

The term ‘postcolonialism’ is sometimes spelled with a hyphen – post-colonial – and sometimes without. There is no strict general practice, but the hyphenated version is often used to refer to the condition of life after the end of colonialism while the non-hyphenated version denotes the theory that attempts to make sense of this condition. The term is regularly used to denote both colonialism and imperialism even though these refer to different historical realities.

   Like postmodernism and poststructuralism, postcolonialism designates a critical practice that is highly eclectic and difficult to define. It involves a studied engagement with the experience of colonialism and its past and present effects at the levels of material culture and of representation. Postcolonialism often involve discussions of experience such as those of slavery, migration, suppression, and resistance, difference, race, gender, place and analysis of the responses to the discourses of Imperial Europe, such as history, philosophy, anthropology and linguistics. Since conditions under imperialism and colonialism proper are as much the subject of Postcolonialism as those coming after the end of historical colonialism, Postcolonialism allows for a wide range of applications and constant interplay between sense of a historical transition, a cultural location and an epochal condition.

   Postcolonialism is seen to pertain as much to conditions of existence in former colonies as to conditions of Diaspora. Both are frequently linked to the continuing power and authority of the West in the global political, economic and symbolic spheres and the ways in which resistance to, appropriation of and negotiation with the West’s order are prosecuted. However the term is construed, there is as much focus on the discourse and ideology of colonialism as on the material effects of colonial subjugation. Because it has its source in the past and continuing oppression, Postcolonialism furthermore has affinities with multicultural, feminist, and gay and lesbian studies. (Ato Quayson; Concise Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy)


Queen Elizabeth II Great Court (The)

The Britsh Museum’s ‘Queen Elizabeth II Great Court’ was opened on 6 December 2000 by Her Majesty the Queen. Designed by Foster and Partners, the Great Court transformed the Museum’s inner courtyard into the largest covered public square in Europe. It is a two-acre space enclosed by a spectacular glass roof with the world-famous Reading Room at its centre.

   In the original Robert Smirke design, the courtyard was meant to be a garden. However, in 1852–7 the Reading Room and a number of book stacks were built in the courtyard to house the library department of the Museum and the space was lost. In 1997, the Museum’s library department was relocated to the new British Library building in St Pancras and there was an opportunity to re-open the space to public. An architectural competition was launched to re-design the courtyard space. There were over 130 entries and was eventually won by Lord Foster

   The Great Court connects all the surrounding galleries. Within the space there are information points, a bookshop and café. At its heart is the magnificent volume of the Reading Room, now an information centre and library of world cultures, which for the first time in its history is open to all. Broad staircases encircling the Reading Room lead to a temporary exhibitions gallery and a restaurant terrace. Beneath the courtyard are the Sainsbury African Galleries, an education centre and facilities for school children.

   The design of the Great Court was loosely based on Foster’s concept for the roof of the Reichstag in Berlin, Germany. A key aspect of the design was that with every step in the Great Court the vista changed and allowed the visitor a new view on their surroundings. The glazed canopy that makes all this possible is a fusion of state-of-the-art

engineering and economy of form. Its unique geometry is designed to span the irregular gap between the drum of the Reading Room and the courtyard facades, and forms both   

the primary structure and the framing for the glazing, which is designed to reduce solar gain. As a cultural square, the Court also resonates beyond the confines of the                            museum, forming a new link in the pedestrian route from the British Library to Covent                        Garden, the river and the South Bank. To complement this artery, the Museum's forecourt was restored to form a new civic space. Together with the Great Court, it is a major new amenity for London.

   The Queen Elizabeth II Great Court won the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Awards for "excellence in design quality and contribution to the local environment".

(Sources: The British Museum website / Foster and Partners website)


Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria ascended the throne in 1837's reign was marked by great innovation, exploration and conquest in which the British Empire became the foremost global power of the time. While she is head of the Empire, Britain grew to control nearly one-quarter of the world’s population. In 1877 the Queen becomes Empress of India. Through her nine children and thirty-one grandchildren, she is related to nearly all the Royal families in Europe.

   The Victorian era represented the height of the Industrial Revolution of coal and iron, a period of significant social, economic, and technological progress in Great Britain. The use of steam powered machines for weaving and spinning cloth, iron production is improved for engineering and transport, making Britain the workshop of the world. It was during her reign that the modern world we experience today – industry, transport, communications, Global economy – was founded.


Scott (Sir Giles Gilbert)

Giles Gilbert Scott was an architect who designed numerous public buildings of note, including Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, Waterloo Bridge and Bankside Power Station, which now houses Tate Modern gallery for international and contemporary art. He is also known for the creation of the iconic red public telephone box, which he designed in 1924 and modified in 1936.


St. Paul’s Cathedral

The Cathedral of St Paul has stood on its site since 604AD, and throughout the Cathedral has remained a busy, working church where millions come to reflect and find peace. The Cathedral is not only an iconic part of the London skyline but also a symbol of the hope, resilience and strength of the city and nation it serves. Above all, the Cathedral of St Paul is a lasting monument to the glory of God and of the British identity.

   The current Cathedral was designed by the court architect Sir Christopher Wren and built between 1675 and 1710 after its predecessor was destroyed in the Great Fire of London. Its architectural and artistic importance reflect the determination of the five monarchs who oversaw its building that London’s leading church should be as beautiful and imposing as their private palaces.

   Since the first service was held here in 1697, Wren's masterpiece has been where people and events of overwhelming importance to the country have been celebrated, mourned and commemorated. Important services have included the funerals of Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and Sir Winston Churchill; Jubilee celebrations for Queen Victoria; peace services marking the end of the First and Second World Wars; the launch of the Festival of Britain; the Service of Remembrance and Commemoration for the 11th September 2001: the 80th and 100th birthdays of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother; the wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales, to Lady Diana Spencer and, most recently, the thanksgiving services for both the Golden Jubilee and 80th Birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. (St. Paul’s Cathedral’s website)

Tate Modern

In December 1992 the Tate Trustees announced their intention to create a separate gallery for international modern and contemporary art in London. The former Bankside Power Station was selected as the new gallery site in 1994. The following year, Swiss architects Herzog & De Meuron were appointed to convert the building into a gallery. That their proposal retained much of the original character of the building was a key factor in this decision.

   The iconic power station, built in two phases between 1947 and 1963, was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. It consisted of a stunning turbine hall, 35 metres high and 152 metres long, with the boiler house alongside it and a single central chimney. However, apart from a remaining operational London Electricity sub-station the site had been redundant since 1981.

   In 1996 the design plans were unveiled and, following a £12 million grant from the English Partnerships regeneration agency, the site was purchased and work began. The huge machinery was removed and the building was stripped back to its original steel structure and brickwork. The turbine hall became a dramatic entrance and display area and the boiler house became the galleries.

   Since it opened in May 2000, more than 40 million people have visited Tate Modern. It is one of the UK’s top three tourist attractions and generates an estimated £100 million in economic benefits to London annually.

   Swiss Light 1999 (supported by the Swiss  government) was a temporary enhancement to Tate Modern’s chimney and symbolised the birth of the gallery and the reincarnation of Bankside. Michael Craig-Martin, artist and former Tate Trustee, collaborated with architects Herzog & de Meuron to develop the chimney design.

   The resulting creation was a lightweight luminous roof, fabricated from translucent panels, which illuminated the chimney’s apex like a beacon. Artist and architect together produced a crowning gesture to define the major architectural and cultural achievement of Tate Modern. The light incurred some damage during exceptionally high winds and was dismantled in 2008.

   In 2009 Tate embarked on a major project to develop Tate Modern. Working again with Herzog & de Meuron, the transformed Tate Modern will make use of the power station’s spectacular redundant oil tanks, increase gallery space and provide much improved visitor facilities. (Tate website)


triangle

A triangle is any figure bounded by 3 lines which meet at 3 angles. A figure made up of straight lines is called a plane triangle. Triangles may also be built up of curved lines, such, for example, as triangles formed on a spherical surface.

   The triangle is considered the primary geometric figure; any plane figure may be divided into several triangles by drawing lines from its centre to its angles. The early books of Euclid’s geometry deal largely with the properties of triangles. The relations of a plane triangle to the inscribed, escribed and circumscribed circles form this most fascinating branch of mathematics.

   The symbolism of the triangle is an element of the number 3 which can only be separated from it in terms of its relationship with other geometrical figures. (Edited from Harmsworth Encyclopaedia / Penguin Dictionary of Symbols)


trickster

Almost every world mythology contains a trickster figure: the Greek Hermes; the North American Coyote; the Norse Loki; West African Eshu; the Indian Krishna; the trickster Monkey of Chinese legend, etc. Since the beginning of time these cosmic cross-cultural mischief-makers have been indispensable. In the old myths, a trickster’s interventions changes the shape of the world, upsetting our very sense of what is true and what is false, thereby enabling us re-imagine the world.

Edited from “Seven short essays informing Lewis Hyde’s Trickster Makes This World”


Union Flag (The)

The present Union Flag is composed of three heraldic crosses, viz., the cross of St. Andrew, forming the blue and white basis, upon which lies the red and white cross of St. Patrick and upon the whole rests the red and white cross of St. George, dividing the flag vertically and horizontally.

   The original Union Flag combined only the St. George and St. Andrew crosses and was adopted  on the accession of James VI of Scotland to the throne of England under the title James I in 1603. No further alteration to the flag was made until January 1st 1801 when the Irish Parliament was dissolved and the Act of Union came into force.

   The Union Flag is flown on Government and public buildings among other days on the occasion of the official Queen’s birthday, Remembrance Day and the opening and closing of Parliament by the Queen.


universal and particular

The problem of the sameness of things distinct from one another, the problem of the one in the many or the one and the many, the problem of essences and common names, are other statements of the problems of universal and the particular. Attention to the words themselves confirms this. The word “universal” connotes a unity – the one as opposed to the many, the common as opposed to the unique or special. The word “particular” connotes participation – the part as opposed to the whole, the member as opposed to the class. As the reference already made to essence and the individual indicates, these are not only pairs of terms which somehow correspond in significance to universal and particular, but others, like model and imitation, form and matter, abstract and concrete, are more obscure in meaning. The discussion of universal and particular throws light on them rather than gains clarity from them. (Chapter 96: Universal and Particular; The Great Ideas, A Syntopicon of Great Books of the Western World, Volume II. Robert Maynard Hutchins, Editor-in-Chief)


Uzama n’ihinron

Considered the guardians of Edo culture the Uzama n’ihinron is an order of hereditary nobles.  They constitute the highest order of chiefs descended from the founding elders of Benin: Oliha, Edohen, Ezomo ne’ huna, Ero, Eholo-nire, and Oloton. The seventh, Edaiken, established by Ewuare the Great, is held by the eldest son of the Oba and heir-apparent to Benin throne. When the Edaiken becomes Oba, the title is entrusted to his eldest son. The Uzama n’ihinron performs the ritual of the Oba’s coronation.


vellum

A fine parchment prepared from calfskin and goatskin, vellum is among the earliest use of animal skins for writing.


Victoria Embankment

The curve of the Victoria Embankment on the river Thames in London extends from the City of Westminster to the City of London. Offering an expansive view of many of Britain’s institutional foundations the embankment is itself a memorial to Queen Victoria. The route is also lined with other memorials to British history and identity including the Battle of Britain monument, unveiled in 2005 by HRH Prince Charles, Royal Air Force Monument and Cleopatra’s Needle among others.

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