At the end of last month an article written by Fran Allfrey and I was published in a special issue of Textual Practice, which introduced the work of the shortlisted and winning entries for the Creative Responses to Modernism Prize, 2015. It was a really rich opportunity to reflect on the curation of our medieval-modern book, A Gift for the Illuminated Sphere, and how the process of making the book related to our practice as researchers.
‘In her 1938 monograph on Picasso, Gertrude Stein described the experience of seeing the earth from an airplane:
I saw there on earth the mingling lines of Picasso, coming and going, developing and destroying themselves, I saw the simple solutions of Braque, I saw the wandering lines of Masson, yes I saw and once more I knew that a creator is contemporary, he understands what is contemporary when the contemporaries do not yet know it.
Just as the de-familiarising effects of Stein’s aerial view gave her new perspective on abstraction, ‘A Gift for the Illuminated Sphere’ – a book curated and produced in response to The Whitechapel Gallery exhibition ‘Adventures in the Black Square: Abstract Art & Society 1915-2015’ – is designed to push the viewer towards a new mode of seeing. The juxtaposition of images from medieval visual, textual, and material culture and abstract art bring about a realisation that medieval art is as contemporary as the radical forms of abstraction conceived in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. As Deborah Levy said of the book, it ‘whips the rug from under modernity’s feet and destabilises it all over again.’’