Noel Halifax

The art of resistance

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Gay activists played an important role in anti-fascist resistance. Noel Halifax tells the little-known story of the artist and writer turned freedom fighter Willem Arondeus, who was executed by the Nazis in the Netherlands 75 years ago.

Willem Arondeus was born in 1895, the son of theatre designers, and grew up in Amsterdam one of six children. At an early age he showed an interest in art and writing, which his parents encouraged, and in homosexuality, which his parents did not.

At the age of 17 he came out fully and refused to hide his sexuality. At the time homosexuality was legal in the Netherlands; nonetheless when he was 18 his parents kicked him out to fend for himself. He survived, but in impoverished conditions, continuing his interest in painting and writing.

High and low art

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I don’t disagree with Sabby Sagall’s account of Russian music and modernism (December SR) but I do want to add a few extensions. The article mentions that Stravinsky did not like the revolution and left Russia, but it was more than dislike. As he wrote to the Nazis to get himself listed as an Aryan composer:

Art and Production

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First published in 1926 and written a few years before, this small book is a fascinating read written at a watershed of Soviet history both in the debate over art and the revolution, and more generally over the direction of the revolution. It reflects and was part of a turn away from the experimental art after 1917 to what became social realism of the 1930s and beyond, a move that mirrored the counter revolution.

Art Riot: Post-Soviet Actionism

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Art that attacks the establishment is not new. The Dadaists in Berlin from 1919 held a series of events aimed at the ruling class — they hung from the ceiling carcasses of dead pigs dressed in the uniforms of generals of the German Imperial army; they released a herd of cows among the critics at one of their openings.

Just as the horror at the First World War led to Dada so the current state of Russia has given rise to an art fuelled by anger, Pussy Riot being the most famous.

Gustav Metzger, 1926 to 2017

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The artist, refugee, political activist and influential creator of “auto-destructive” art, Gustav Metzger, died last month. Noel Halifax recalls his radical contribution to the culture of Britain in the 1960s and 1970s.

Art and artists come in and out of fashion, as does their influence and people’s interpretation of it. In recent years Gustav Metzger, who died in March, has been out of fashion. His heyday was the 1960s and 70s when he was central to the shape and direction of the British art world and ironically created one of the foundations on which the current bloated art scene is based. Ironically, because he was politically opposed to the current art world, hated the art market and all that it stands for.

Richard Linsert and the first sexual liberation movement

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The histories of socialism and sexual liberation are entwined, most clearly in revolutionary Germany a century ago, writes Noel Halifax.

The factory system tore apart the working class family. As workers were driven off the land and sucked into the new factories and cities of the industrial age, their ways of living fell apart. Many commentators from both the left and the right noticed this with varying degrees of horror and dismay, from Friedrich Engels in Manchester to the reactionary writer Robert Carlyle in London.

Bleached out pop art for the wealthy

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Neoliberalism has promoted an art market that encourages the rise of artists such as Damien Hirst as "factory" owners, employing students on low wages to churn out works for the world's super-rich dealers and collectors. Noel Halifax asks how we got to this sad state of affairs.

What is art for? Oscar Wilde famously said that art was useless and by implication outside of utility — therefore it was able to transcend the capitalist system. Today the most successful artists seem to have rejected the notion of art as transcending the market and a system of value based on money in favour of a neoliberal art world of “art for art’s sake, money for God’s sake”, as rock band 10cc put it.

The queer and unusual life of Roger Casement

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Knighted by the British crown for his work in Africa and later executed for high treason for his work in Ireland, Roger Casement was a unique figure. Noel Halifax tells the story of this pioneer of human rights, a gay man at the time of the creation of modern homophobia.

Roger Casement had an extraordinary life. He was born in Dublin from an Anglo-Irish background in 1864. Lauded by the establishment for his work in Africa and knighted in 1911, he became one of the most famous men of his age.

In 1913 he resigned from the Foreign Office. In 1916 he was hanged in Pentonville prison for high treason for his part in the Dublin Easter Rising. Though central to the Irish freedom movement he was largely overlooked by the Irish Republicans because, to their great embarrassment, he was also gay.

Violence Against Queer People

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This is a very American book based on American academic assumptions of the world and LGBT politics and sociology.

For example, though it is concerned with class and class bias in US society generally and the LGBT and academic world in particular, the author’s understanding of the working class is not just not Marxist but one that most people in the UK wouldn’t recognise. “Working class” is used to mean poor and low or no-incomed. The fact that most teachers in Britain consider themselves to be working class is completely beyond this framework.

Kick over the statues

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“Theory is grey my friend but the tree of life blooms forever green”, as Lenin put it quoting Goethe. It means that society, class struggle and politics do not develop in simple linear ways but in surprising and unforeseeable forms requiring new tactics and analysis.

History does not move at a uniform pace and in direct ways: it jumps, stops and doubles back on itself. At times it feels less like a tree and more like a bramble patch. Not only that but new movements and social developments do not express themselves directly but often in old forms and languages.

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