Rule of Three
Viva la Vida
by Frida Kahlo
Segments of watermelon dominate the shallow space of a canvas. The fruit is angled to give the impression of heavy, boulder-like objects towering over the viewer, about to topple forwards. One bares jagged teeth, its choppy flesh juxtaposed with the more rotund slices. The fruit is positioned precariously in open air, revealed by fragments of cloudy sky. Kahlo’s inscription, ‘Viva la Vida’, seems to celebrate the bright, juicy fruit on a summer’s day, toying with the still-life genre. But we must remember that the English term derives from the Dutch word stilleven, ‘dead nature’.
Words by Sophia Martin-Pavlou
The Last Words of Dutch Schultz
directed by Gerrit van Dijk
The viewer is drawn into a sketched out, fast-moving narrative. Images are scribbled onto a white filmic canvas. Scenes and spaces flow, as clips of faded conversations and everyday noises oscillate. There is no time to think or interpret; we have no choice but to be swept along by these fragmentary visions, sliding and swerving around the screen. At times, pencilled animations slip into real life. One such scene is repeated thrice, depicting a case of triple murder, each time presented from a different person’s perspective. The repetition builds the sense of trauma, at odds with the slow-paced, jumbled voiceover, picked apart from a mobster’s rambling last words.
Words by Sophia Martin-Pavlou
by David Bowie
Two voices intone an invocation above glitching beats and an ominous bass line, one low, the other pitch-shifted up: ‘In the villa of Ormen / Stands a solitary candle.’ The chant is traded for pairs of wordless, airy ‘ah’ sounds, which evoke a flame leaning with the breeze, on the brink of extinguishment. The narrator describes an execution scene, with the victim replaced by another entity upon death. An insistent motif declares it to be not a popstar or a filmstar, but a ‘blackstar’, a cancerous lesion. It opens the track listing and dominates the cover of David Bowie’s final album, released two days before the candle winked and faded away.
Words by John Wadsworth
More to discover
Viva La Vida: Lauren Cocking has written an introduction to Frida Kahlo for The Culture Trip.
Blackstar: Watch the music video for 'Blackstar' here. Alison Bullivant has written about the album's art of elegy for The Oxford Culture Review. Justin Joffe has interviewed Johan Renck, the director of the 'Blackstar' video, for Noisey.
Viva la Vida and ‘Blackstar’ were created by Frida Kahlo and David Bowie, respectively, with the knowledge that they were close to death. The Last Words of Dutch Schultz is based on a real-life mobster's last words.
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